Thursday, 20 December 2007

Open channels: Will 2008 be the year for in-flight mobile phones and broadband?

This gal seems to think so. Check out my connectivity feature now running in Airline Business magazine.

The gist is that 2008 looks to be the year when airlines finally begin to roll out in-flight mobile phone, blackberry, SMS and high speed Internet services. It might remind us why Connexion was oh so cool after all (even if that particular strategy proved unsustainable).

A big shout out to David Field of Airline Business for his very generous plug.

For the nostalgic among us - remember when staying connected on the road looked something like this?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Runway Girl and IAG's Addison Schonland Talk Connectivity

It probably doesn't come as a big surprise that I'm champing at the bit to use my laptop in-flight.

Today I recorded a podcast about in-flight connectivity with IAG's Addison Schonland (seen to the right) and, well, could barely contain my enthusiasm for the subject. Check it out at:

So where do you stand on in-flight communications? Share your opinion by taking IAG's brief survey at:

US Airways Admits "Britney Spears-Like" Spiral, But Manages To Cut More Than Hair

When US Airways began trading as “LCC” following its September 2005 exit from bankruptcy and merger with America West Airlines, the carrier wanted all and sundry to believe it deserved the distinction of being called a low-cost carrier.

Fast-forward to December 2007, and it’s clear that the carrier has a long way to go before its ticker symbol matches its credentials. Major summer disruptions, significant labor issues and an attempted gate grab at Philly led to plenty of negative press for US Airways in 2007.

That said, I have got to hand it to the carrier for admitting that it fouled up this year, and showing a taste of the casual corporate culture normally attributed to true low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines.

A few weeks ago, I received an invite to attend US Airways’ annual media day on February 28 in Tempe, Arizona. In it, US Airways' corporate communications team assures: “Yes, we are still here and kicking...and still LOVING our jobs in spite of spiraling Britney Spears-like during the past year!

“With res migration, operational challenges in the Northeast and the slow pace of labor contracts (just to name a few). At least we didn’t shave our heads, though.”

I’m grateful they didn’t shave their heads too. But let’s look at what they did shave – costs! US Airways saw a sharp improvement in its third quarter earnings, posting a net profit of $177 million versus a net loss of $78 million for the year-ago quarter.

The $255 million year-over-year improvement was achieved on a 2.3% rise in revenue to over $3 billion, and a 4% reduction in expenses to $2.8 billion.

US Airways might not yet be a low-cost-carrier in the classic sense (is there a classic sense anymore?…a question for another time) but if it can keep a tight control on costs, its LCC ticker symbol might not seem so out of place. (Photo from

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Southwest Airlines Rejects Arinc/Rockwell Collins' Bid for In-flight Broadband

A little bit of sccop in the world of in-flight connectivity, for your pleasure...

It seems that the teaming of Arinc and Rockwell Collins has lost a bid to provide Ku band-based broadband connectivity to Southwest Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 737s.

Rockwell has confirmed its joint proposal with Arinc was not accepted by the low-cost carrier. The manufacturer remains convinced that its biggest opportunities in this sector remain with business jets.

Arinc and Rockwell this summer brokered a deal to reintroduce the avionics manufacturer’s Exchange service for business jets, which was disconnected when Connexion by Boeing was shut down last year.

Further to that, Rockwell yesterday completed the purchase of the SkyLink broadband terminal product line from Arinc.

“Through the conclusion of this purchase, Rockwell Collins will be able to offer passengers true broadband connectivity at the lowest service price available for high speed data,” said Tommy Dodson, vice president and general manager, Cabin Systems for Rockwell Collins. “We look forward to providing customers around the world with similar connectivity in the sky to what they experience on the ground.”

So what does Arinc have to say about Southwest's decision? I've called them to find out. You'll recall that the decision to bid for the Southwest deal represented a reversal for Arinc, which launched SkyLink for business jets in 2003, but later postponed stated plans for deploying its service on board commercial aircraft, citing the financial troubles suffered by US airlines.

Southwest, meanwhile, has yet to reveal its broadband provider. The carrier is one of several US operators readying to offer some form of airborne connectivity services to passengers.

JetBlue Airways has begun testing a limited air-to-ground (ATG) offering on board one of its Airbus A320 aircraft. Frontier Airlines is eyeing a similar offering to JetBlue. American Airlines and Virgin America are working with AirCell – owner of the 3MHz broadband ATG licence – to equip aircraft in 2008. Alaska Airlines recently agreed to trial US firm Row 44’s Ku-band-based solution.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Overstepping to Germany: JetBlue CEO No-Show at Aer Lingus Event

Don’t get me wrong. I like the public relations staff at JetBlue. They usually respond fairly quickly to press requests and are all generally very pleasant. Those niceties out of the way, I have to report that confusion reigned at the carrier this morning.

None of JetBlue’s spokespeople, it seems, knew anything about a planned press briefing this morning in Dublin, where CEO Dave Barger had been scheduled to join Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion to discuss details of the two carriers’ tie-up, according to the Irish operator. (Check out the press invite below).

The briefing was cancelled after Lufthansa’s planned 19% investment was revealed. Barger was later spotted in Frankfurt at a press conference with Lufthansa chief executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber.

JetBlue says the media event with Aer Lingus was never set in stone. The invite “should never have gone out to the media”, says JetBlue. “They [Aer Lingus] overstepped their bounds.”

“We still fully intend to go forward with our codeshare partnership with Aer Lingus. The event will be scheduled when we can confirm our executive's presence”

Needless to say, JetBlue's statement left more questions than answers. Will the partnership really take the form of a codeshare? And why does JetBlue's PR staff not know the location of key executives?

JetBlue later corrected its comment about the codeshare. In an emailed message, JetBlue says: “When we spoke earlier about the Aer Lingus event/no-event, I used the word 'codeshare' to describe our partnership. That’s incorrect. We will not be doing a traditional codeshare – EI will sell B6 flights on their website, and our flights will remain branded B6 only.”

Aer Lingus today seemed less certain of the partnership’s status. “Following the announcement by JetBlue that Lufthansa is to make a minority equity investment in JetBlue, we continue to monitor the situation and await further developments and clarification,” says Aer Lingus. “We remain optimistic that the partnership remains on track, and that we will be able to update you on progress soon.”

I can understand why the Irish operator might be a little befuddled. Join the club.

MEDIA INVITATION (PR numbers removed to protect the, um, innocent)

jetBlue CEO to visit Dublin for launch of Aer Lingus partnership

Aer Lingus is delighted to invite you to a media event to confirm details of its industryfirst
partnership with jetBlue, the leading US low fares, high frills airline.

Aer Lingus CEO Dermot Mannion and jetBlue CEO Dave Barger will host a media
event at Dublin Airport on the morning of Friday, December 14th as follows:

Part A tour of a jetBlue A320 aircraft, photos with crew and senior management

Part B media conference

Media wishing to attend either element of the event should note the following:

Part A - The jetBlue experience Arrival Time: 9.00am

Media will be invited onboard a jetBlue A320 aircraft to enjoy the jetBlue experience
first hand. Crew and senior management from both airlines will be available for photos.

Those wishing to participate in the onboard element of the day must:
- For security reasons confirm their attendance no later than 24 hours before the event

- Arrive at the DAA Customer Service Desk on the Arrivals Level with photo id (either driving licence or passport) at 9am on the day to be issued with an airside pass at the Airport Security Office and travel by bus to the aircraft on the tarmac

Part B - Media Conference Arrival Time: 10.30am

The media conference will take place at 11.30am in the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge in Pier B. Media wishing to attend the media conference only must:

- For security reasons confirm their attendance no later than 24 hours before the event

- Arrive at the DAA Customer Service Desk on the Arrivals Level with photo id (either driving licence or passport) at 10.30am on the day to be issued with an airside pass at the Airport Security Office and escorted airside to the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

JetBlue and Lufthansa - Nice to See Ya Together

Star member Lufthansa is taking a 19% stake in JetBlue. Initial blast here...conference call later.

Erecting Dysfunction: APA Says Allowing 65 Year Old Pilots to Fly is Dangerous, Calls For Veto

Well, it didn't take long for the Senate to pass companion legislation to the House bill that raises the US commercial pilot retirement age to 65.

Last night, the Senate received a copy of the "Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act", read it twice, considered it, read it a third time, and "passed without amendment by unanimous consent".

Now the bill heads to the Prez for signature. But let's look at what the Allied Pilots Association (APA) thinks about all of this. American Airlines' pilot union says it is downright unsafe to let a bunch of 65 year old pilots fly the open skies. The union has sent Bush a letter urging him to veto the bill.

"The reality is no one knows what would happen with large numbers of 65-year-old pilots in the cockpits of modern commercial airliners operating in today’s demanding environment. The data doesn’t exist because it would be unprecedented. Prudence therefore dictates that we proceed with caution. For safety’s sake, it’s the right thing to do," says the APA.

Wow, those are some strong words. The APA makes it sound like these pilots should be put out to pasture. Never fear boys. There are plenty of ways to stay healthy at 65. And, apparently, a strong erection is still very much attainable.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Who Are You Calling Grandpa? House Moves To Raise Pilot Retirement Age

If 65 is the new 45, then the latest push to increase the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age to 65 shouldn't ruffle any feathers. But it has!

A hastily-created bill, called the “Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act” was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives late yesterday evening.

Pilots are split on whether they want the legislation to move forward.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was long opposed to proposed changes to the mandatory retirement age, but in May its executive board decided its resources would be better spent protecting pilots’ interests as new age rules are drafted.

However, American Airlines pilots' union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), has been quick to bash the new bill.

This link will take you to the bill. But here are some key phrases from the legislation.

In General...a pilot may serve in multicrew covered operations until attaining 65 years of age.

(To meet ICAO standards) A pilot who has attained 60 years of age may serve as pilot-in-command in covered operations between the United States and another country only if there is another pilot in the flight deck crew who has not yet attained 60 years of age.

No person who has attained 60 years of age before the date of enactment of this section may serve as a pilot for an air carrier engaged in covered operations unless - such person is in the employment of that air carrier in such operations on such date of enactment as a required flight deck crew member; or such person is newly hired by an air carrier as a pilot on or after such date of enactment without credit for prior seniority or prior longevity for benefits or other terms related to length of service prior to the date of rehire under any labor agreement or employment policies of the air carrier.

Any amendment to a labor agreement or benefit plan of an air carrier that is required to conform with the requirements of this section or a regulation issued to carry out this section, and is applicable to pilots represented for collective bargaining, shall be made by agreement of the air carrier and the designated bargaining representative of the pilots of the air carrier.

No person who has attained 60 years of age may serve as a pilot of an air carrier engaged in covered operations unless the person has a first-class medical certificate. Such a certificate shall expire on the last day of the 6-month period following the date of examination shown on the certificate.

Each air carrier engaged in covered operations shall continue to use pilot training and qualification programs approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, with specific emphasis on initial and recurrent training and qualification of pilots who have attained 60 years of age, to ensure continued acceptable levels of pilot skill and judgment.

Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this section, and every 6 months thereafter, an air carrier engaged in covered operations shall evaluate the performance of each pilot of the air carrier who has attained 60 years of age through a line check of such pilot. Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, an air carrier shall not be required to conduct for a 6-month period a line check under this paragraph of a pilot serving as second-in-command if the pilot has undergone a regularly scheduled simulator evaluation during that period.

Not later than 24 months after the date of enactment of this section, the Comptroller General shall submit to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a report concerning the effect, if any, on aviation safety of the modification to pilot age.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

What's Ten Years After All? Airbus A350 Slots Available in 2017

The Airbus PR machine has been rather busy, announcing that Taiwan’s China Airlines (CAL) has received board approval to order up to 20 Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered A350-900s; Afriqiyah Airways has signed a firm contract for the purchase of six A350-800s; and Libyan Airlines has inked a firm contract for the purchase of 15 Airbus aircraft, including four A350-800s.

With the exception of CAL – which picked the A350 over the Boeing 787 – there is nothing unexpected in Airbus’ announcements. Afriqiyah and Libyan made initial commitments for A350s at the Paris Air Show in June.

What does bear note, however, is the delivery dates for these aircraft. Of the three carriers, CAL holds the earliest slots, with delivery between 2015 and 2020.

The two Libyan operators won’t start receiving their A350s until 2017! How either airline knows what its lift requirements will be in ten years is beyond me. It seems akin to selecting your child's first car - a decade before he or she turns 16. But such is the predicament that future A350 customers must consider.

Airbus chief salesman John Leahy recently said Airbus’ production lines are now sold out for several years, with the next A350 slots available in 2017.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Bring it On: American Airlines Pilots' Union Seeks to Conduct All Flying at the US Major

American Airlines pilots' union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), doesn’t tend to mince words.

It was pretty clear, therefore, what was being demanded when the APA last week issued a scope proposal to management, which states the union expects “all flying performed by or on behalf of the company shall be performed by pilots on the American Airlines seniority list – with no exceptions".

Be it flying mainline or regional service, the APA wants its members in the cockpit. Yep, that means feeder service too! The timing is clutch. American parent AMR Corp recently announced plans to divest regional feeder American Eagle Airlines next year.

The APA's proposal is part of a larger offer tabled by the union under collective bargaining negotiations with management.

This summer the union called for American to provide pilots a 30.5% pay increase, annual pay raises of 15% and signing bonuses to pilots. That was rejected, as was a proposal submitted in October that called for “adjusting current pay rates to account for post-1992 annual inflation, as reflected by the consumer price index”.

See for yourself if American’s pilots deserve a raise. This handy calculator, based on figures derived from the APA’s 2003 contract, tells you just how much the pilots are making now. (Photo above from APA web site)

Friday, 7 December 2007

JetBlue Airways and LiveTV Agree to Talk Connectivity

JetBlue and subsidiary LiveTV have agreed to talk about the carrier's WiFi connectivity services (dubbed BetaBlue) in advance of a December 11 statement. Thanks guys. Here are notes from my conversations this morning.

LiveTV vice-president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller says:
1) "When we stated this process, we sat back and ... David Neeleman, our chairman, held up his Blackberry and said 'if you make that work on the aircraft, you have solved the problem'."

2) "This is the start. That’s why we call it beta. We want to make it better. We will continue to make software upgrades. [We'll] see what passengers like and dislike, find the kinks in the system and continue to make it better."

3) "When you advertise broadband, people want to use YouTube, streaming video. Even if someone had all 4MHz (of ATG spectrum) it’s difficult to solve that." [LiveTV has 1MHz, AirCell 3MHz]

4) "We started discussion with them [RIM] earlier this year. This has all been kept very, very secret."

5) "The ultimate experience[for passengers is to have] a TV in front of them with 36 channels, watching the game, Blackberry is working, and look at flight attendant and have your beverage. We think that is the ultimate 'died and gone to airplane heavy'."

A JetBlue spokeswoman says:
1) JetBlue feels it has the capacity available to support the service because “at any given one time, there is going to be customers who are watching their television or listening to their radio …how many would press send at the same time versus composing or reading an e-mail?”

2) “We will continue to listen to what our customers want as we test current offerings available on BetaBlue and … based on that will develop a plan and time frame to roll out fleet wide.”

3) We’ve optimized the network for e-mail without attachments and for instant messaging [as well as] instant text messaging through Yahoo Messenger”.

4) “We’re looking at the next logical step in the evolution of our products, what connectivity we can offer. Shopping would be one of the next services we could provide. But right now we’re focused on perfecting what we’re offering – allowing customers to keep in touch with folks on the ground when in flight.”

5) "Yahoo as well as RIM have been a huge part of the development process with us. Yahoo is the number one e-mail provider in the US with 262 million e-mail accounts and they are a popular service. Blackberry is also an extremely popular service. We thought it was important to focus on brands that customers know and love on the ground and bring it to them in the air as well. "

6) Forging partnerships with the likes of MSN and Google to offer passengers access to other free e-mail accounts “is something we’re going to pursue in the future”.

7) With respect to satellite-based broadband service: “We could do it potentially, and we could do it with LiveTV but the business model for that is cost prohibitive. If you look at Connexion by Boeing, they had to charge customers $20 to $30 dollars and [customers] weren’t willing to pay $20 or $30 for that service. We think that is a business model that would be cost prohibitive to provide it for free to all customers and that is something we want to focus on to be able to offer it free for everyone.”

8) JetBlue does not have a time frame for the length of the trial. It will last “several months at least”.

9) Devices used by JetBlue passengers will need to “have an independent on and off switch for WiFi and cellular” as in-flight cellular services remain banned by the FCC and FAA.

10) JetBlue is not interested in eventually allowing passengers to use their mobile phones for voice calls during flight, even if regulations are relaxed. “We believe that our customers really would value a silent connectivity experience ... We would support silent options like text messaging, but we’ve heard loud and clear from our passengers, and we will not be pursuing any cell phone usage calls.”

Sifting Through the Hype: Just What Can JetBlue's Connectivity Solution Offer?

JetBlue Airways today confirmed it will start testing wireless connectivity services onboard an Airbus A320 beginning Dec 11.

Kudos to JetBlue for this well-timed marketing move – the carrier will technically be the first in the US to offer connectivity over WiFi-enabled devices. But let’s put their announcement in perspective, shall we?

First of all, JetBlue’s offering will be limited at best. The carrier says passengers who have WiFi-enabled laptops – AND Yahoo Mail or Messenger accounts – will be able to send and receive messages during flight. Passengers who have RIM’s new WiFi-enabled Blackberries – the 8320 and 8820 models – will have access to emails and messaging.

JetBlue’s LiveTV subsidiary last year won a 1MHz narrowband license during the FCC’s auction of 4MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band allocated to air-to-ground services.

AirCell, you’ll recall, won the exclusive 3MHz broadband license at the FCC auction, and is preparing to offer service onboard American Airlines' transcontinental Boeing 767s (the test begins as early as March). Passengers will have access to e-mail, Internet and VPN accounts via virtually all WiFi-enabled devices.

I’d love to know more details about JetBlue’s offering (just how many passengers will be able to send/receive Yahoo email at one time, at what speed, etc, etc), but JetBlue has told me they don’t intend to discuss the issue until next week. Spoil Sports.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

AirCell to Launch on American Airlines Boeing 767 as Early as March

American Airlines could launch AirCell’s wireless broadband connectivity service on its transcontinental Boeing 767-200ERs by the end of March, says AirCell senior vice-president airline solutions Fran Phillips.

This is a few months earlier than the mid-2008 launch previously predicted, and could indicate just how eager is American to offer connectivity to passengers.

Installation on the first 767 is slated to begin on or around December 18 in Kansas, says Phillips. Once completed, supplemental type certification (STC) on the type will be sought. If the trial is successful, equipage of the domestic fleet is anticipated.

So, just what types of WiFi-enabled handheld devices will the AirCell service support?

Here is the list: Alltel PPC 6800, Apple iPod Touch, AT&T 8525, AT&T Tilt, Blackberry 8320, Blackberry 8820, Cingular 8125, HTC PPC6700, Mogul by HTC, Nokia N95, Qwest 6700Q, Samsung SCH–i760, Sprint PPC-6700, T-Mobile Dash, T-Mobile MDA, T-Mobile Wing, Verizon Wireless XV6700 and Verizon Wireless XV6800.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

American Airlines and British Airways May Try Again to Seek Antitrust Immunity

Consolidation and capacity reductions were among the hot topics addressed by airline executives today at the Calyon Securities Annual Airline Conference.

But AMR executive VP of finance and CFO Thomas Horton had some interesting thoughts about American Airlines' alliance with Oneworld partner British Airways (BA), and how that might be expanded in the future.

American is one of four carriers, including BA, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, with rights to serve Heathrow from the USA. An open skies accord brokered between the USA and the EU, which goes into effect in March, will overturn these restrictions and open up access to the UK airport.

Even though this will add competitive pressure for American at Heathrow, the carrier believes some good will come of it.

"The good news is that we think it will remove one of the regulatory entitlements to us being able to expand our relationship with BA to include antitrust immunity," says Horton, noting that most other US majors have been able to achieve immunity with their transatlantic partners.

American has previously tried and failed to gain clearance to expand its relationship with BA.

"We haven’t reached any conclusions on that, but it would seem that the marketplace would make that more likely as we move forward," says Horton.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Panasonic Claims Global Connectivity Solution After Solving "Network and Coverage Issues"

At the risk of turning this blog into in-flight connectivity central (would that be so bad?), I have another little nugget to share.

In recent months, Panasonic has been rather quiet about its Ku band-based connectivity solution. Today, it became a little bit more verbal.

“We now have solved the network and coverage issues so as to provide a global solution. We have also solved the size and weight issues so as to provide a solution for all commercial aircraft including regional jets,” says Panasonic director of strategic product marketing David Bruner.

“Finally the cost of the system is now relatively small making this service feasible to even the most thrifty of the low cost carriers.”

Rival Thales recently confirmed it will focus on offering airborne broadband connectivity solutions using Inmarsat’s new aeronautical service SwiftBroadband, after determining there are “significant economic challenges” with Ku band outside of the continental United States.

Specifically, Thales VP and general manager for IFE Alan Pellegrini said: “Ku-band may take hold, primarily in the USA, but frankly given Connexion by Boeing’s demise, the significant investment they made, the lack of business model they’ve proven, I think it is prudent to move at a modest pace with that particular technology.”

Panasonic clearly disputes this assessment of the market. The devil is in the details of its offering, of course. And a customer announcement would be nice. But I’m keen to explore…

Friday, 30 November 2007

American Airlines Mulls Satellite-Based Airborne Connectivity Options

By now it’s well known that American Airlines will test AirCell’s air-to-ground (ATG) broadband solution next year on board its transcontinental Boeing 767-200 aircraft.

But the Oneworld alliance member is also “actively engaged" with connectivity suppliers in the satellite area, says American manager of in-flight communications and technology Doug Backelin.

You may recall that American was one of three US majors, including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, to sign on as equity partners in Boeing’s now-defunct Connexion (CBB) in-flight broadband service. All three carriers pulled out of the project following 9/11.

AirCell can offer ATG service across the USA, and expects to expand to Canada and Mexico. But overseas flights require a satellite link.

“We’re concentrating most of our efforts right now to make the AirCell test a success, but at the same time keeping an eye on satellite solutions, talking to satellite providers,” says Backelin.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Japan Airlines to Remove Connexion Antenna from Boeing Widebodies; Seeks New In-flight Connectivity Solution

Well, it has finally happened. A former Connexion by Boeing (CBB) customer, Japan Airlines (JAL), has confirmed plans for removing from its Boeing widebodies the Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO) antenna that supported the now defunct airborne connectivity service.

Over the last year, the in-flight entertainment/communications industry has speculated about whether the likes of JAL - and CBB launch customer Lufthansa - might seek out a provider willing to assume the service requirements of CBB (and let that big ole MELCO antenna stay put).

Panasonic, for one, proposed a solution that would support that very scenario, as part of a wider commitment to its own Ku band-based connectivity system.

But it wasn't meant to be for JAL, which says the MELCO antennas will come off in 2008. “At the moment we are focusing on broadband connectivity options similar to CBB rather than using an on-board mobile phone station called a ‘picocell’," says a JAL spokesman.

As previously reported here, Lufthansa is strongly believed to have selected a team that includes T-Mobile for its connectivity needs.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Bombardier Discusses CSeries Launch and Remarketing of SAS Q400s

Key notes from Bombardier's third quarter earnings conference call:

1) Don't expect an update on a CSeries launch this year. Bombardier, which recently selected P&W's GTF geared turbofan for the CSeries, is updating its business case given that the product has evolved and the latest variation in currency. Continue to expect a launch decision in 2008. Bombardier's plan to have components made in Belfast and the aircraft assembled in Canada remains unchanged.

2) Development costs for the CSeries have changed, however. "For sure costs have changed over the years," says Bombardier, declining to discuss a "specific increase" until next year's update.

3) Bombardier continues to see negligible financial impact from the three SAS Q400 prangs. These kinds of events are insured and are mainly the responsibility of suppliers (Goodrich supplies the Q400 landing-gear). The third incident appears maintenance-related. In this case, the manufacturers would not be liable.

4) Bombardier is working with SAS to remarket the batch of Q400s grounded by the carrier. The manufacturer doesn't own these aircraft - they are leased and the responsibility of SAS. The demand is very high for these aircraft and Bombardier is looking to reach agreement with SAS on which would-be customers should be focused on.

5) Despite some predictions that SAS's decision to dispose of its 27 Q400s could reduce market values by 10%, Bombardier management "don't view that the Q400 will take a hit".

6) Production of CRJ700s and CRJ900s is being stepped up due to very high demand. Bombardier will produce one aircraft every three days (compared to the current four-day rate).

7) Bombardier's CRJ1000 development costs total about $300 million dollars. This is spread through 3.5 years. "That’s our cost, and we would have some supplier contribution in that," says Bombardier.

8) There is no order activity or campaigns arising in the 50-seat RJ sector. "We do not anticipate that in the US or outside of the US," says Bombardier. Overseas, larger RJs will be more effective for regional general travel.

(Photo from Bombardier)

Monday, 26 November 2007

Has Lufthansa Wrapped Up Deal for Connexion Replacement?

While Lufthansa has yet to officially confirm how it will replace the in-flight connectivity service previously provided by now defunct Connexion by Boeing (CBB), industry insiders believe a deal is all but wrapped up.

One executive with deep knowledge of the industry says Lufthansa has apparently made a decision on its replacement for CBB and that it involves a partnership with T-Mobile.

The two firms are already well-acquainted. HotSpot by T-Mobile is available in nearly all Lufthansa lounges around the globe.

The launch customer for Connexion, Lufthansa issued a request for proposals for a Connexion replacement in February of this year, following Boeing’s decision last year to drop the system.

This summer the Wall Street Journal reported that T-Mobile, satellite operator SES Global and ViaSat, maker of wireless communication products, were in talks to provide an airborne broadband service to Lufthansa.

The airline has not yet announced its selection. But in-flight broadband providers are anxiously awaiting an official announcement from the German carrier, as its decision could have a significant impact on the broadband selection of other former Connexion operators.

Given that Lufthansa was Connexion's largest customer, the T-Mobile team "can very much get a head start" in offering a Ku band-based broadband solution to airlines, notes the executive.

(Photo from

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

American Airlines Seeks to Shore-Up Rights to Firm-Up Bombardier CRJ700 Options, says the Allied Pilots Association

It seems there is some confusion over at American Airlines and its regional sister American Eagle Airlines over whether management has the right to exercise options for 25 more Bombardier CRJ700 regional jets.

A tentative agreement (TA) covering seniority protection for American's pilots and career progression for Eagle's pilots has fallen apart after management attempted to insert language into the pact that would establish rights to purchase the 25 70-seaters, according to the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents the mainline pilots.

The APA claims management has been unable to document rights to purchase these aircraft under the pilots’ existing contract, and that its language add-on demonstrates "underhandedness".

American Eagle began operating the CRJ700 in January 2002 (photo from

There IS language covering the CRJ700 purchase in a 2003 agreement between American and the APA. See for yourself if the pact covers a firming of those 25 options now.

Here’s the “Letter Agreement on CRJ700 Aircraft” in its entirety:

This Agreement is made and entered into in accordance with the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, as amended, by and between American Airlines, Inc., hereinafter known as the "Company" and the Air Line Pilots in the service of the Company as represented by the Allied Pilots Association, hereinafter known as the APA.

Whereas the APA and the Company have agreed that in the future, Commuter Air Carriers operating under Section 1.D. of the Agreement shall utilize only aircraft that are not certificated in the United States or Europe with a maximum passenger capacity of more than 50 seats and that are not certificated in any country with a maximum gross takeoff weight of more than 64,500 pounds;

Whereas American Eagle Airlines currently has twenty five CRJ700 aircraft in service or on firm order, and also has options on an additional twenty five CRJ700

Now, therefore, the parties hereby agree to the following:

1. The Company and APA shall have one year from May 2003 to meet and negotiate in good faith the transfer of the CRJ700 aircraft currently in service, on order, or on option at American Eagle to the Company's operating certificate in a manner that shall be cost-neutral as to labor costs under collective bargaining agreements.

2. The APA hereby grants to the Company an exception from the 50 seat and 64,500 pound limitations on aircraft at American Eagle for the CRJ700 aircraft during the time period of negotiations pursuant to paragraph 1, above, and for one year after reaching agreement with the APA under paragraph 1, above, in order to effect the transfer to the Company's operating certificate of all CRJ700 aircraft operated by the Company or an Affiliate.

3. If the parties do not reach agreement under paragraph I of this agreement, the APA grants to the Company an exception from the 50 seat and 64,500 pound limitations on aircraft at American Eagle specifically for the CRJ700s currently in use, on order or on option as of the signing of this letter. This exception is for a maximum of fifty (50) CRJ700 aircraft with the understanding that the cancellation, transfer or expiration of any of the current (as of DOS) orders or options reduces this maximum number by a like amount.

For the American Airlines, Inc.
signed/ Mark L. Burdette
Director, Employee Relations

For the APA

signed/ Captain John E. Darrah
President, Allied Pilots Association

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

U-Turning Back to China: US Airways Vows Commitment to Philadelphia-Beijing

Should further evidence be needed to prove that US Airways has no intention of withdrawing plans to offer Philadelphia-Beijing service, one should look no further than the carrier’s latest filing to the US DOT.

Replying to a request by Maxjet Airways for back-up authority to US Airways’ China rights, the Star Alliance member tells the DOT: “Maxjet’s assertion that US Airways is not committed to the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia-Beijing service is wrong.

“US Airways’ discussions with the City of Philadelphia are intended to ensure that sufficient gates are available so that the company can operate current and future international services from Philadelphia, including service to China.

"It would make little sense for US Airways, or any carrier, to bargain for additional international gates to support a service it does not wish to operate.”

The filing follows US Airways' announcement that it has delayed a decision on withdrawing Philly-Beijing until the Pennsylvania city's Mayor-elect Michael Nutter can see what might be done about gate space at the airport (the whole reason for US Airways' gripe in the first place).

For the record, US Airways told its employees in a recent newsletter that it has informed the airport authority, city and Pennsylvania Commonwealth officials "that if the airport moves Delta domestic flights to three international gates, we will have to reconsider international expansion from Philadelphia next year, and withdraw our authority for Philadelphia-China service that we hoped to begin in spring of 2009”.

Delta made the move last week.

Peddle fast and backwards.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Priming the Masses: Las Vegas Carrier Primaris Continues to Tout All-Business Boeing 787s; Hires for 757 Charters

A Las Vegas-based operator that made headlines in October 2004 when it announced its intent to acquire 20 Boeing 787-8s (then known as the 7E7) and 20 Boeing 737-800s is still touting plans on its web site to operate both types in all-business class configuration.

I’m sure Primaris Airlines does not mean to be disingenuous when it says: “As early as 2009, Primaris will be the first US airline with a fleet of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner – a new airliner for a new world”.

It also says its initial new aircraft deliveries, which will be “from the Boeing 737 family”, will offer 2x2 wide leather seating and separate restrooms for ladies and gentlemen.

In June 2006, Boeing stopped recognizing Primaris as a potential customer for either its 787 or 737-800.

What Primaris does offer – and what its web site should more clearly state – is Boeing 757 charter service. Trinidad-based travel agency Constellation Travel Service contracts Primaris to fly charters to Fort Lauderdale, Florida; New York; and Toronto as well as to Guyana.

Flight International’s ACAS database says the carrier’s fleet comprises two 757-200s on lease from Lehman Brothers and Pegasus Aviation.

Primaris is also in a hiring push, but not for the aircraft types its web site most vocally promotes. Rather, the carrier is seeking Boeing 757 and 767 mechanics, as well as flight attendants and a crew scheduler.

What’s the deal, Primaris? Or rather, what isn't your deal?

(Photo Above: Copyright Carlos Borda)

Aurela's first Boeing 757 spotted

Lithuania’s Aurela, a private airline that flies charters for tour operators in the Baltic States, is pressing ahead with plans to expand its fleet with Boeing 757s.

Spotters in Germany have scored some of the first shots of Aurela’s first 757, an ex-Vim Airlines bird.

The carrier’s current fleet comprises two Boeing 737-300s on lease from Pembroke and Triton.
Aurela has also said it will add a 737-400 to the fleet.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Flushing the Bombardier Q400 and Using Playboy as Toilet Paper

Just as it was inevitable that Kyla Ebbert, the scantily-clad Hooters waitress who suffered untold mental anguish at the hands of Southwest Airlines, would pose for Playboy, so too is Bombardier assured that every Q400 glitch – no matter how minor – will be scrutinized for some time to come, following SAS Group’s decision to axe its Q400 fleet after three prangs.

Take an incident that occurred on November 5, which was only just picked up by the press this week (including by myself). A Q400 being delivered to Algerian operator Tassili Airlines experienced problems with its landing-gear shortly after taking off from a refueling point in Portugal.

To be precise, one of the landing-gear doors failed to close. The aircraft is currently being repaired at Flybe’s facility in Exeter, UK and is likely to be delivered to Tassili this weekend.

That the incident received any coverage at all is a sign of just how much the Q400 remains under the microscope, despite broad industry backing and regulatory clearance.

As a close colleague of mine said, after hearing about the Tassili glitch: “Ye Gods, hey the toilet didn’t flush first time – stop the presses!”

Stop the presses, indeed. And while we're at it, let's give a hand to Kylie, who has parlayed her agonizing Southwest experience into big bucks (photo above courtesy of Crissy Pascual/Union-Tribune).

Kylie's Playboy shoot, by the way, is titled "Legs in the Air" (sarcasm aside, you gotta love that).

Air New Zealand Begins Flogging 747s

Anyone want to buy a Boeing 747? Air New Zealand (ANZ) has begun a dedicated effort to shed its 747-400 widebodies.

The carrier is listing four 747-400s for sale – three powered with Rolls-Royce engines and one with General Electric CF6 powerplants for delivery in 2012. There’s nothing like having a four- or five-year time period to make a sale.

The aircraft, with build dates ranging from 1989 to 1998, are being replaced with Boeing 777-300ERs that ANZ has on order with the manufacturer. The 777s will be delivered in parallel with already-ordered Boeing 787-9s between late 2010 and 2011.

Once the 777s are in service and have replaced the carrier’s 747-400s, by 2012, ANZ’s fleet will be made up entirely of twin-engined aircraft.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Nutter Takes the Cake; Convinces US Airways to Hold-off on Decision to Withdraw Philadelphia-Beijing Plan

Philadelphia’s Mayor-elect Michael Nutter must be a powerfully persuasive guy. He has apparently succeeded where Senators Arlen Specter, Bob Casey and a host of state and local officials have floundered – convincing US Airways to delay a decision on withdrawing plans for offering nonstop service between Philadelphia and Beijing.

“Mayor-elect Nutter has asked us to ‘refrain from taking action’ until he and his staff have time to study the gate issue and we will honor that request,” says US Airways in a statement.

No doubt US Airways is glad he asked. The request could not have been any better timed. For the moment, it relieves US Airways from making good on a threat to scuttle Philadelphia-Beijing service should Delta Air Lines move over to Terminal A-East – which Delta did last night!

Just what remedy might Nutter produce to satisfy US Airways, which claims its international growth is being hampered by Delta’s move?

Previous ideas that have been floated – and ceremoniously rejected by one party or another - include constructing an additional wing, as well as building a brand new terminal at the airport.

Referring to the latter plan, Specter last week said: “Well I don’t know that I’m going to back federal expenditures on a new terminal for Philadelphia with the way that this company [US Airways] conducts itself.”

According to US Airways, Nutter and his team will “evaluate options that would meet the dual goals of expanded domestic gate capacity for new domestic service and dedicated gates to allow US to jointly grow Philadelphia as an international hub”.

It all sounds so simple. And maybe it will prove to be just that.

Does anyone really believe US Airways will give up its China rights, flying in the face of all those Philadelphians who supported its application to the DOT? Or that US Airways will allow Maxjet Airways to slip in and take the authority?

Maxjet has already called on the DOT to investigate US Airways’ threat, and to give the all-premium operator back-up authority to fly Seattle-Shanghai.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Supermodels, Elvis and Naked Flight Attendants, Oh My...Airline Marketing Exposed

Virgin America is receiving a lot of press this week for flying a group of Victoria Secret supermodels from New York to Los Angeles in advance of a lingerie show. A lesser-known group of Angels are shedding some clothing, but for a good cause.

Meet this year’s Cabin Fever girls, a group of flight attendants who pose for an annual calendar with proceeds benefiting The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.

This year’s calendar, aptly titled “In the Wings”, depicts “the many roles that flight attendants play both on and off the aircraft”, including, but not limited to, hostesses, public speakers, bartenders, therapists, firefighters and security personnel, according to the web site.

A shot of a flight attendant acting as paramedic is sure to be a crowd pleaser (scroll down the page).

Now back to Virgin America. It appears the marketing machine that is behind the Virgin brand may be facing a little competition.

AirTran Airways tomorrow will celebrate its new service between Indianapolis and Las Vegas by treating passengers to an in-flight performance by “a resplendent Elvis in full stage-wear” (the tight, white jump suit!!).

Supermodels and The King. What’s next in the world of in-flight entertainment? Naked flight attendants? By George, You've Got It!

State-based Aerospace Group Resurfaces; Plans ITAR Hearing

A bi-partisan body that promotes state-based initiatives to strengthen the nation’s aviation, aerospace and space development is about to resurface, and become a lot more vocal.

The Aerospace States Association (ASA), which is comprised of all the US States’ Lieutenant Governors and associate members including Rockwell, Gulfstream and Orbital, has been flying under the radar for some time (it's web site hasn't been updated for about 11 months).

The site, which on all accounts could use freshening up, will start posting new information in December, reveals an ASA spokeswoman. She insists that ASA remains "very, very active".

To that end, ASA’s Policy Committee is presently developing a Hearing on International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that will be held at the Rayburn building on March 11, 2008 and will consist of testimony from three panel groupings that include industry, government, and academia. The agenda and speakers are in the process of being defined.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

From The Horse's Mouth: US Airways Confirms Plan To Scuttle Philadelphia-Beijing if Delta Makes Terminal Move

Lest there be any lingering doubt that US Airways has in fact threatened to scuttle plans for serving Philadelphia-Beijing, the carrier released the following statement to employees:

“…The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Wednesday [November 7] that US Airways may give back its authority to fly PHL-China because international gates may not be available. This is the result of decisions by PHL airport officials to boost domestic flying in Terminal A at the expense of international operations.

“These news reports are true, and may become an unfortunate reality. We’ve told the airport authority, city and Commonwealth officials that if the airport moves Delta domestic flights to three international gates, we will 1) have to reconsider international expansion from PHL next year, and 2) withdraw our authority for PHL-China service that we hoped to begin in spring of 2009.”

“We’ve pledged that we wouldn’t subject our customers or employees to an unreliable international operation again. We haven’t given up. US Airways and Philadelphia worked hard to win this award together, and in that spirit of partnership, we hope to find a solution.

“We’ll continue to work for an agreement right up until the time the airport finalizes its decision, and we’ll keep employees posted as these events unfold.”

US Airways’ threat is being made in response to Delta's move tomorrow from Philadelphia’s Terminal E to Terminal A-East, which will make more room for Southwest Airlines at Terminal E, and strip US Airways of three of 16 widebody gates at the international concourse.

Last week, during a heated joint press conference between Senator Arlen Specter and US Airways CEO Doug Parker, the former likened US Airways' threat to extortion. At that time, Parker did not outright confirm the accuracy of the Inquirer's report, but said: "What we have simply said, and very careful to say in a way that we’re not trying to threaten anybody, simply to give facts that if indeed we have fewer gates than we had last summer, not only can we not expand, we are going to have to contract on our international operations."

Delta confirmed today that it plans to move to Terminal A-East tomorrow.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Could Air Canada Jazz Make an SAS Q400 Asset Grab?

It didn't take long for operators to start sniffing around SAS Group's grounded Q400 fleet.

Air Canada Jazz officials revealed yesterday during an earnings conference call that they are checking out the goods.

It makes perfect sense. Well over two years ago, Jazz said it was looking to add 70-seat Q400s "at some point" possibly by trading in some older, 50-seat CRJ100s (it flies about 22 of the type).

At that time, Jazz said the Q400 would be useful for some of its high-frequency turboprop routes such as Vancouver-Victoria.

Toronto City Center-based newbie Porter Airlines - of which Jazz is locked in a fierce legal battle - also happens to operate Q400s and claims to be doing quite well after one year of service, thank you very much.

When SAS grounded its 27 Q400s in the wake of three landing-gear incidents (two related to corrosion, and the last revealed as a maintenance error), analysts predicted the turboprops wouldn't have a problem finding homes.

Looks like the talking-heads were right.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Parking in a Pile: US Airways CEO Faces the Specter of Common Sense

Every now and then, when I emerge from my home office in Lancaster County, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I catch a whiff of the Dairy Farm down the road. It’s a powerful scent, but it’s no longer entirely unpleasant. My tolerance for shit, it seems, has increased.

Why then did I find yesterday’s joint press conference of Senator Arlen Specter and US Airways CEO Doug Parker so uncomfortable to watch? Perhaps it’s because a 77-year lawmaker, who has battled a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and Hodgen’s Disease, with somewhat halting speech was able to back Parker into a corner, and make his carefully tailored explanation for why US Airways is threatening to withdraw plans for Philadelphia-Beijing service seem, well, foul-smelling.

US Airways’ threat, by the way, is being made in response to Delta Air Lines' move next week from Philadelphia’s Terminal E to Terminal A-East, which will make more room for Southwest Airlines at Terminal E, and strip US Airways of three of 16 widebody gates at the international concourse.

It’s a deal struck by Philadelphia a couple of years ago when US Airways was floundering under its second Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, and made sense for the airport at the time, Parker admits. Now-profitable, the dominant carrier at Philadelphia doesn't quite see the sense anymore. In addition to its warning about Beijing, the carrier says it may have to shrink its entire international operation at Philly, and divert service to its Charlotte and Phoenix hubs.

The most-talked-about moment of the press conference came when Specter – still furious over US Airways’ planned draw-down at Pittsburgh – responded to the carrier's new Phillly threat by saying: “In talking to Mr Parker, I said to him, and I don’t use this word lightly, it sounds like extortion.”

But for me, things turned most interesting at the end.

Asked repeatedly by Specter if US Airways – which claims to have a bevy of solutions to solve the gate problem - has ever in fact offered to give up two or three of its total 67 domestic gates to facilitate Delta’s plans, Parker hemmed and hawed and finally said: “I don’t know that we said that specifically because there are other airlines flying less domestic than we do.”

Specter retorted: “You don’t know. That’s the answer.”

Stating the Bleeding Obvious: SAS Won't Buy More Bombardier Q400s

This one gets filed in the "No Shit Sherlock" folder. SAS CEO Mats Jansson reportedly said today that the company will not buy a new generation of Q400 aircraft.

His last statement is a little curious, however. Referring to the fact that SAS will not rule out buying other aircraft types from Bombardier, Jansson is quoted by Dow Jones as saying: "This is about a long-term relation and then the recent accident isn't of major importance."

Say what? Has something been lost in translation here? Did Jansson actually say this? If so, is it safe to assume that the back-peddling has begun?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Travel Detective Peter Greenberg has Strong Words About FAA's Response to SAS Q400 Incidents

Last night, I attended a party in DC to celebrate the launch of Today Show travel editor Peter Greenberg’s new Travel Detective Bible. After the event, I sat down with Peter (aka the Travel Detective) to discuss his take on the latest topic de jour – the spate of SAS Q400 landing-gear-related incidents, and the company’s subsequent decision to axe its entire Q400 fleet.

Of particular concern to Peter is the FAA’s decision to wait until October 30 to issue an airworthiness directive (effective November 14) covering Q400s certificated for operation in the USA - six weeks after seperate SAS Q400s suffered gear-collapses at Aalborg and Vilnius. Corroded retraction actuators, which had then disconnected, were found on the Q400s involved.

Horizon Air (sister to Alaska Airlines) operates a fleet of 33 of the type. Peter says he is “amazed that the FAA of this country did not ground these planes until their airworthiness could be proven. It’s more then just erring on the side of caution, it’s erring on the side of intelligence".

That the FAA has given operators so much time to complete the inspections “could border on what some might say is criminal negligence".

He later added: “If you have a problem which could jeopardize people’s lives and you make a conscious decision not to ground the aircraft immediately, then you are criminally negligent”.

Suffice it to say that a Travel Detective and a Runway Girl don’t always see eye-to-eye (actually, at 6ft tall, I don't see eye-to-eye with most folks, but that's beside the point).

While the FAA’s timeline for issuing it’s own AD does seem rather “Johnny come lately”, I think it’s important to note that, in the wake of the gear-collapse accidents at Aalborg and Vilnius, Horizon grounded its Q400 fleet and began conducting immediate landing-gear inspections in response to a Transport Canada airworthiness directive (which was preceded by Bombardier's own call for inspections).

Horizon gave all of it aircraft “a clean bill of health” and returned them to service on September 25.

The FAA's AD (released after reviewing Transport Canada's findings) does not address the Q400 accident on October 27 at Copenhagen. Danish investigators have indicated that a maintenance error led to that gear-up landing, and is unrelated to the accidents in Aalborg and Vilnius.

Additionally, the European Aviation Safety Agency today announced that the Q400 accident at Copenhagen was “not due to a design error” and adds that the airworthiness of the aircraft “is maintained”.

Nonetheless, Peter believes the FAA should be held to task for its response time to the initial two incidents, noting that the latest findings concerning the Copenhagen incident “still doesn’t get them off of the other two”.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Mickeying Around: Maintenance Error on SAS Q400 Accident Aircraft

When my three year old daughter asked to ride a train on Saturday at Disney World and I responded by taking her on Thunder Mountain Railroad, it became pretty clear about 10 seconds into the ride that we were in fact on a roller coaster, and that mommy had made a big mistake (easily judged by my wee one's ghostly white complexion and insistence that she doesn't like trains anymore). I quickly regained ground by acquiescing to every whim and fancy for the rest of the day. But the fact remains: I could have avoided a lot of anguish (and money) had I not rushed headlong into a decision before becoming well-informed.

It's a lesson that SAS Group might be pondering right now, after Danish investigators indicated that a maintenance error led to the landing-gear actuator blockage which caused a Scandinavian Airlines Bombardier Q400 to conduct a gear-up landing at Copenhagen last month, and SAS to axe it entire Q400 fleet.

The hoopla and negative press that followed may prompt Bombardier to take legal action. But the Canadian manufacturer has received a resounding vote of confidence from the industry, which largely sees SAS's decision as a knee-jerk reaction. Should SAS start back-peddling like a apologetic mom at Disney World, or stand it's ground? The roller coaster ride is just beginning, me thinks.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Level Heads Prevail At Austrian After Q400 Hiccup (And Goodrich Weighs In On SAS Withdrawal)

File this in the Bombardier "just can't catch a break" folder. Today an Austrian Airlines Q400 was forced to turn back on the runway at Vienna International due to a faulty propeller part. But kudos to Austrian, which quickly put the incident in perspective by calling the turn back "purely a security precaution", and to CEO Alfred Otsch, who says the carrier's trust in its Q400 fleet is unbroken "particularly as we have carried out around 116,000 takeoffs and landings with the fleet, without any problems".

Bombardier has faced an avalanche of bad press lately (particularly in Sweden), after SAS Group decided to ditch its entire Q400 fleet following three landing-gear incidents, the latest in Copenhagen. Q400 landing-gear manufacturer Goodrich today announced its disappointment in SAS's decision given that the latest incident is still under investigation by the Danish aviation authority.

"Goodrich is supporting Bombardier and the Danish aviation authority in the investigation of Saturday's incident and has sent a team to Copenhagen to assist with the investigation. Goodrich concurs with Bombardier's assessment of the situation which did not identify a systemic landing gear issue," says Goodrich.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Knee Jerking...Did SAS Make Mistake With Bombardier Q400 Withdrawal?

SAS Group's decision to withdraw its entire Q400 fleet, following three landing-gear incidents in less than two months, is the fodder for many discussions this week.

Industry players are considering the possible fall-out on Bombardier's reputation, Q400 residual values, and passenger perception. One conversation that deserves notes can be found at the ever-popular IAG blog. Could the SAS grounding be a big mistake? Is it related to the company's internal procedures, or maintenance practices? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, a glut of Q400s on the market would in fact be welcome news to airlines seeking large turboprop lift. As prominent consultant Doug Abbey points out, if the aircraft come available, they will "find homes and they’ll find homes rather quickly".

Monday, 29 October 2007

Eight is Great: Embraer Reveals Timeline for Next Generation Aircraft

Embraer could introduce its next generation aircraft in under eight years. The Brazilian manufacturer has revealed it is looking at a "mid-next-decade" timeframe. Hey folks, that's right about the time that Boeing is expected to introduce a new-technology replacement for its 737.

Far be it for me to speculate, but could Embraer be gearing up to challenge Boeing - and Airbus for that matter - in the mainline sector? CEO Frederico Curado in July told Bloomberg that the company is mulling it over. A decision now, he said, would be "premature" because "there'd be no sense bringing to the market a product that will be similar to existing products". New engine technology must first be developed, he said.

Nonetheless, the use of composites seems almost assured. Embraer VP market intelligence-airline market Luiz Sergio Chiessi says composites will probably be considered for the next generation airliner's wing and fuselage. He sees no point in rejigging the current E-Jet line with these materials.

Bombardier, meanwhile, is looking to bridge the gap between regional and mainline with its proposed CSeries. As currently defined, the CSeries will be made up of 46% composites, but retains an aluminium lithium fuselage. A launch decision is expected by calendar 2008 with a targeted entry into service in 2013.

Chiessi says he is "almost sure" Bombardier will opt for Pratt & Whitney's geared turbofan (GTF) to power the 110- to 130-seat aircraft.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Canada's Submission in EU-US Subsidy Row is Standard Practice

Some journalists got excited this week over the news that Canada has jumped into the EU-US row taking place at the WTO concerning large aircraft subsidies. In a third party submission, Canada says Europe’s argument fails on a number of levels. The home of aircraft maker Bombardier certainly has reason to care about the case since it could set precedent in other commercial discussions, like the previous one fought between Canada and Brazil, where rival manufacturer Embraer is based.

What hasn't been mentioned yet is that the submission is standard practice. Oh yes, and Brazil has made one too, as has China, Korea, Australia and Japan (let’s try to sniff these out…such submissions are confidential unless made public by the submitting country)!

The EU says it feels Canada’s submission “is fully appropriate” since WTO Members frequently intervene as third parties to express views. After all, the EC does this in almost every case.

It hasn't yet responded to Canada’s arguments, saying the appropriate time to do that would be at the so-called third-party session, a meeting in Geneva with the panel, the parties, and third parties, currently scheduled for January 15.

Both the EU and the USA have filed separate subsidy complaints with the WTO. The core of the EU’s challenge is the alleged research and development support provided by the US government to Boeing. The EU claims the US airframer will have benefited from more than $23 billion worth of subsidies between 1987 and 2024.

The USA, meanwhile, alleges the benefit of EU member state financing to Airbus alone amounts to as much as $205 billion.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Out of the Tub…JetBlue Overflies Hub

Just as my mother used to push the boundaries of our tub’s capacity by squeezing at least three of her five children in a bath at one time, so too have airlines stretched New York JFK to its scheduling limits. To unmuddy the waters, the US government has vowed to intervene at JFK and is expected to release details of a scheme after meeting with airlines today and tomorrow in Washington DC. Inhabitants at JFK already know what to expect; the FAA last week released a set of proposed schedule reduction targets for peak hours at the facility.

US major airlines, represented by lobbying group the Air Transport Association, hit back today, saying it’s clear the government intends to cut or cap flights rather than to allow the carriers to agree on schedule changes. A calm voice amidst the clatter, however, was a somewhat unlikely subject. JetBlue, which alongside Delta is largely responsible for JFK’s evolution from a international gateway to a domestic hub, said it welcomes the government’s assistance. And one more thing, it’s going to focus on over-flying JFK – meaning, the carrier is going to increasingly avoid it’s own hub by adding point-to-point service down the East Coast such as between Syracuse, New York and Orlando, Florida.

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger says that of the 12 new routes being introduced between November and January, only two – to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and St Maarten – will “touch JFK”. Plans are in place to terminate service at Columbus, Ohio (home of no-frills start-up Skybus Airlines) and Nashville, Tennessee, two markets “tied to” JFK. Tied to? Barger's verbiage begs the question: With all the problems at JFK, is JetBlue rethinking its choice of tub? Check out my article at

Monday, 22 October 2007

40 Years Old But No Virgin

Northwest Airlines has begun touting its international fleet as "the youngest" of any North American airline, after taking delivery of its 32nd Airbus A330 aircraft. The self-promotion certainly makes sense. Travelers like flying in brand spanking new aircraft because they're seen as safer, more comfortable and friendlier to the environment. Is there anything less reassuring than stepping onto an old, paint-peeled aircraft that looks like it is being held together with masking tape?

Why then does Northwest continue to push back a decision on replacing the over 100, aged McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft in its domestic fleet? Some of these jets are 40 years old, boasting build dates from 1967 - the same year that Lyndon B Johnson was President; Elvis and Priscilla were married; the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; and Pamela Anderson was born. Unlike Anderson, however, Northwest's DC-9s haven't received much plastic surgery of late. Some of them look downright decrepit.

Northwest says it expects to make a decision about DC-9 replacement next year. The company claims it is holding off to see if a manufacturer makes a new 100-seater that has the same carbon composites as the 787, of which Northwest is the North American launch customer with an order for 18.

The airline remains one of the leading candidates to launch Bombardier’s proposed 110-to 130-seat CSeries (it is also evaluating the Embraer E-Jet, and the Sukhoi Superjet 100). But Bombardier isn't expected to make a CSeries launch decision until calendar 2008 with a targeted entry into service in 2013. If Northwest opts to replace it's DC-9s with CSeries aircraft, will travellers be flying on near 45-year old DC-9s by the time CSeries deliveries take place?

That’s a question only Northwest can answer. For now, however, the carrier’s decision to advertise the newness of its international fleet only serves to highlight the fact that it’s domestic DC-9s are anything but.

Friday, 19 October 2007

SkyBusted at Bellingham

Bellingham, Washington, population 75,000, is one of those diligent US cities that fight endlessly to enhance air service to their airport, but get repeatedly burned in the process.

Take the recent announcement from no-frills start-up Skybus Airlines that A319 flights to Columbus, Ohio will be axed on January 6 - just seven months after launch. Bellingham is not the only one taking a hit; San Diego will see its Skybus service end on July 16. Of the two airports, however, there is little doubt that Bellingham will feel the most impact.

The airport had anticipated revenues would increase by $351,000 if Skybus flew once daily and about 36,000 passengers annually. Might seem like small potatos, but to Bellingham - which can call itself an international airport because tiny, Cessna operator San Juan Airlines flies to British Columbia - it was clutch. Why? Because SkyBus was advertising Bellingham as Seattle to consumers even though the two cities are a solid 90 miles apart. Had the experiment succeeded, Bellingham could have sold itself to airlines as a true reliever airport to Seattle.

There must have been some early evidence that the plan was flawed. Ah yes, here it is. In a statement released in advance of SkyBus' May launch at Bellingham, the president of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism Bureau said the following: "Since Skybus announced service, we have received more than 60 phone calls and e-mails from people in the Columbus area wanting visitor packets."

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Steeling Pittsburgh

For a city that has for years laid out the red carpet to US Airways, Pittsburgh got a punch in the face two weeks ago. The blow didn't come from US Airways' continued retreat from the western Pennsylvania airport - that's been predicted for some time. It came when US Airways began shouting to everyone who would listen that Pittsburgh isn't a viable hub - for any airline!

After announcing plans to slash 40 more daily flights from the airport, close a crew base, and eliminate hundreds of jobs, the carrier went on record to say that the market simply can't support an operation that's much larger than what its own schedule will look like early next year. Accurate or no, the move was akin to rubbing salt into a very sore wound, and could make it even more difficult for Pittsburgh to convince other major airlines to grow operations there.

Sure, low-cost carriers AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest have been gradually ramping up service at Pittsburgh. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said today the carrier will probably add a couple of flights from Pittsburgh next year. But such gains, at most, are slight.

The fact is that the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers - and lets not forget Iron City beer - has been without any direct transatlantic service since US Airways eliminated flights to London Gatwick and Frankfurt in November 2004. In light of US Airways' continued draw down of domestic service, and its latest remarks about the airport's future potential, it doesn't seem likely that Pittsburgh will regain hub status anytime soon.

That's not to say that Pittsburgh won't make a valiant effort. The city that loves Black and Gold doesn't like to see red.