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…