Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Defense Budget Cuts Could Effect C-17A Production

Two major military aircraft programs that support thousands of Southern California jobs - including Boeing's Long Beach-based C-17 line - could lose their funding if Congress supports Pentagon budget priorities announced Monday. A third program with a major local presence could see reduced funding, according to the Defense Department proposal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the nation should stop pouring billions into the futuristic, super- expensive F-22 jet fighters and the C-17 Globemaster, a heavy-duty military transport plane. He also recommended reduced funding for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. While assembled in St. Louis by Boeing Co., the Super Hornet's center and aft fuselage are made in El Segundo by Northrop Grumman Corp.

Boeing builds the C-17 in Long Beach with subcontractors in the South Bay. The F-22 and super Hornet also have local subcontractors. The Pentagon, Gates said, wants to move away from both outdated weapons systems conceived in the Cold War and futuristic programs aimed at super-
sophisticated foes. "We must rebalance this department's programs in order to institutionalize and finance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead," Gates said.

He also recommended expanding spending on equipment that targets insurgents, such as $2 billion more on surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. That would include funding for 50 new Predator drones such as those that have rained down missiles on militants hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

With recession unemployment rising, Congress may balk at many of the cuts in Gates' proposed $534 billion budget for the coming year. Still, despite all the talk of cuts, the total figure would rise from $513 billion for 2009, and Gates spoke of using money more wisely, not asking for less.
Gates' announcement may mean that the 5,000 jobs at the Long Beach plant (as well as its 30,000 suppliers) may be at risk, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "This would represent a significant hit to the local economy if this comes to fruition," Kyser said. "And you have a down economy and you lay off people and that's just going to slow down the economy."

In an effort to extend the C-17 line, Boeing has been working to secure more international contracts. Some feared that the C-17 line would close this year, but the line will continue until at least August 2010, thanks to a $2.95 billion Air Force contract to build 15 more C-17s.
Some of the Pentagon's defense priorities go counter to those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican whose district includes Long Beach. Rohrabacher's earmark requests for the 2010 federal budget include $4.2 billion for the C-17 program and $3.7 billion for more F-22s.

Rohrabacher said Monday that the C-17 and F-22 represent important programs "hiring thousands upon thousands of people, not only in Southern California, but elsewhere."
"I have recently visited Afghanistan and Iraq, and there's no doubt that the C-17 is a workhorse that enables our troops to get their job done and to be safe," Rohrabacher said. "And to cut the C-17 at a time when you're claiming to be concerned about jobs is absurd.

"At a time when the administration is basically supporting the spending of billions of dollars in the name of stimulating the economy and creating jobs, it's going to pull the plug on a program that already employs thousands and thousands of people. ... It totally reflects a distorted value system." Gates says the Pentagon won't continue the F-22 program beyond 187 planes already planned. Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, the nation's largest defense contractor, has said almost 95,000 jobs could be at stake. While Lockheed Martin Corp. builds the F-22, nearly 380 companies in California supply the F-22 program. The aircraft work amounts to annual revenue of about $575million for California contractors.

Gates also hopes to buy just 31 Super Hornets next year, down from 45 this year.

(Long Beach Press Telegram)

Air Canada ERJ-190 at Orange County

Air Canada ERJ-190-100IGW (190AR) C-FNAW (19000149) rests on the ramp following it's arrival on April 6.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Air Canada brought an Embraer ERJ-190 to Orange County on the evening of April 6. The aircraft is in Orange County to perform 5 noise test flights on April 7 to qualify the aircraft to operate at the airport. The carrier plans to use the ERJ-190 on flights between Vancover, British Columbia and Orange County. A319-114 C-GAQZ (740) performed 5 noise qualifing flights last July 22 as the carrier plans use this aircraft type on flights between Toronto and Orange County. No start up dates have been announced but reports indicate that the carrier would like to begin operations at SNA as soon as possible.

Friday, April 3, 2009

jetBlue Leaving Long Beach?

Citing frustrations with the slow pace of improvements at Long Beach Airport, a JetBlue executive said Wednesday that the airline cannot rule out leaving or reducing services at the city-owned airport.

Company spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said the carrier is not formally considering leaving the airport but that "everything is on the table," as it evaluates its Southern California strategy.
"It's fair to say that we love Long Beach," she said of JetBlue's West Coast hub, "and we love Long Beach as much as our customers do, and as much as our employees, and we want it to work, and if it doesn't, we'll have to make a decision."

Dervin said the carrier has grown weary of the pace of improvements at the city-owned airport. The company wants a new terminal - though the city is considering scaling back the 89,000-square-foot expansion proposal - to replace temporary trailers and a new parking structure.
"Our expectations were that Long Beach would absolutely be a JetBlue anchor for our West Coast operations, and all of the things that are associated with that - first-class terminal, parking for our customers and the ability to grow responsibly and have a great community partner," Dervin said of when JetBlue began service at the airport in 2000. "What we have today is barely better than what we started with."

At the same time, she said, the company is "highly committed to staying in Long Beach and making it what was promised to us when we arrived there." Several city officials said they had not been told that JetBlue is weighing its regional strategy and that the approval and funding processes for the parking lot and terminal are indeed moving forward, albeit slowly.
Smaller terminal project? However, those projects may not be completed quite as envisioned, the Press-Telegram learned Wednesday.

The economic recession has forced city officials to consider scaling back their plan to expand the terminal from the current 56,320 square feet to even smaller than the currently proposed 89,995 square feet, said airport spokeswoman Sharon Diggs-Jackson.
The terminal expansion has been whittled down since it was first proposed seven years ago, from 133,000 square feet to 103,000 square feet, then to 97,545 square feet before the City Council finally settled on 89,995 square feet. Diggs-Jackson said airport officials have begun discussing scaling down the expansion with the airlines, but she had no further details.
"The possibility exists that the project will be smaller, there could be some redesign to the project," Diggs-Jackson said.

The proposed new parking garage project also may change, being built in two phases instead of one, she said. Workers should break ground on the garage by the end of the year, Diggs-Jackson said. Last year, airport officials reported that they would have to raise passenger fees and parking rates at the airport to finance bonds to pay for the improvements.
Between $50 million and $65 million in bonds would be needed to expand the terminal to 89,995 square feet, while another $65 million in bonds would be needed to build a new parking garage, officials said.

Diggs-Jackson said reducing the scope of the terminal improvements could actually speed work on the project. She said any new proposal would stay within the guidelines of the required environmental impact report already certified by the council in 2006.
Any deviation from the EIR guidelines could mean more delays if a new environmental study were required.

After the council certified the EIR, the Long Beach Unified School District and the Parent-Teacher Association challenged the EIR findings in court. They alleged that an airport expansion would lead to more flights, increasing noise and air pollution at nearby schools.
A judge ruled in favor of the city in 2008, but the court battle had already stalled the terminal expansion.

Disbelief and urgency

Bob Luskin, chairman of the Long Beach Airport Advisory Commission, said he couldn't believe that JetBlue would leave Long Beach, noting that the airline has always been able to fill seats.
"Why would they kill the goose that lays the golden egg?" he said.
Diggs-Jackson said JetBlue flights have been more than 80 percent full on average through the years. In 2008, when JetBlue added some new flights, the average was 77 percent, she said.
JetBlue flies from Long Beach to several major cities, including Washington, D.C.; New York City; San Francisco and Chicago.

Becki Ames, chief of staff to Mayor Bob Foster, said she understands that there have been frustrations with the pace of making improvements at the airport - just like at any airport - but that the permitting and funding processes are "moving forward." Ames said Long Beach is more cost-effective for carriers than larger airports and that the Mayor's Office believes that JetBlue is committed to staying here.

Josh Butler, chief of staff for Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, whose 5th District includes the airport, said his boss was unaware of the rumors about JetBlue but would also like to see the pace of progress at the airport pick up and for the carrier to stay in town.

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, who was elected to the 8th District as an opponent of increasing the number of flights at the airport, said she also doesn't want to see JetBlue leave, but that the city must be realistic about its finances.

Blog raises questions

JetBlue's fate at the airport came up this week after Dave Barger, the chief executive officer of JetBlue, told an aviation industry blog, www.crankyflier.com, that he had problems with the airport. In interview with blogger Brett Snyder, Barger said:
"Municipalities must make good on their commitments. That includes parking, terminals, baggage claim and every other part of the experience. "The message I would give is that especially in a recession, you shouldn't take air service for granted."

Barger called the airport "a huge frustration for us" and that expanding at Los Angeles International Airport, where it plans to begin offering service, is one possibility.
"Well, LAX is part of our L.A. basin strategy, but it becomes a necessary part because of the lack of partnership with the city of Long Beach," he told Snyder. "People might have to go to LAX to use us, because we're actually wanted there."

In an interview with the Press-Telegram, Snyder said that he asked Barger questions at a Phoenix aviation symposium Friday. He published his interview with Barger in two parts on Monday and Tuesday. Dervin confirmed as accurate Barger's quotes in the Crankyflier blog.
JetBlue has about 29 of 41 available daily departures from the airport. The airline would also like some of the 25 unused commuter-plane slots, an issue also addressed in the blog posting.
Snyder asked, "So what exactly is the problem? Is it that you can't use your E-190s (a type of jet) in the commuter slots?"

At 115,000 pounds, JetBlue's new Embraer E-190 aircraft exceed the 75,000-pound weight limit set by the city's noise ordinance.
Barger said: "We would like to be able to use our E-190s in those commuter slots. That's the perfect use of those slots, because these aircraft are very quiet.
"But the best example is that it took us 30 months to build a brand new terminal at JFK, but we're still stuck in temporary trailers in Long Beach.

"I don't think communities always realize what an economic tool an airport is. You can't take commercial air service for granted." JetBlue's review of the Southern California market is not specific to Long Beach and not a comment on the city, airport or the community, Dervin said.
"It's all part of a larger L.A. basin story," she said. "Whatever makes the most sense for JetBlue is what we'll do." But she also said the company is interested in growing and if it cannot at a given location in its network, "We're not shy about making decisions."

(Long Beach Press Telegram)

Martin Mars Coming to SoCal for 2009 Fire Season

One of two Martin Mars waterbombers based in Port Alberni has been hired to battle California wildfires this summer and fall, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to announce today.

The Hawaii Mars waterbomber, long a fixture on Vancouver Island, has made it to "the Superbowl of firefighting, " said owner Wayne Coulson earlier this week. The contract calls for the aircraft to be based at Lake Elsinore June 15 to Nov. 15 and includes an option for renewal in 2010. A spokesman for the fire service wasn't available for comment on the contract award yesterday.

The U.S. gig means the former war-time troop carrier won't be available to fight fires in B.C., where it's mainly been used in special circumstances mainly on the south coast. It is not instrumental to the province's overall preparedness, said a forest ministry spokeswoman. The Hawaii Mars got the attention last summer of President George W. Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who circled overhead in a helicopter while it was working at Lake Shasta. The aircraft will likely be given the star treatment and a higher profile this year when it works fires in the Los Angeles area.

The massive flying boat with its 61-metre wingspan dips down to lakes and scoops water at a tonne a second. Last spring, U.S. authorities came to Port Alberni to watch the water bomber being tested on various aspects of its performance. They were impressed, Coulson said. Through the summer, Californians watched 567,000 hectares of the state burn in one of their worst fire seasons. Costs topped $1 billion US. The Martin Mars was on short-term contracts in Lake Shasta and then farther south around Lake Elsinore.

If all goes well in California this year, the Philippine Mars might be returned to service and sent to fight wildfires in Australia, said Coulson, whose company, Coulson Group, owns both aircraft. It's hoped the Martin Mars will help save California homes and structures. Last year, more than 2,300 homes and buildings in the state were destroyed by fire, despite the efforts of helicopters dropping buckets of fire retardant.

The Martin Mars now has the go-ahead to drop fire retardant on homes as it has done on woodland, covering a 1.4-hectare swath encompassing four or five homes. It's the only fixed-wing aircraft in the world with that capability, said Coulson, who noted U.S. Fire Service officials were impressed with the waterbomber' s performance at Lake Shasta last season -- particularly its ability to drop 416,000 litres of retardant in seven hours. "It was a low-cost tool that was highly effective. That drove discussions into the fall, through winter and until now when we signed off on the contract." The contract was a direct award, meaning there was no competitor.

High-tech adaptations include replacing the bird dog, or lead aircraft, from a Cessna fixed-wing aircraft to a Sikorsky S76-B, similar to the Helijet. The chopper has infrared cameras on board and images are sent to fire bosses on the ground. The images will help authorities predict the growth rate of fires and plan attacks, said Coulson. "[The Americans] have been looking for aircraft that can change the game, and that means knock the fire out. The Martin Mars is one of very few assets they can call up and change the game."

(Victoria Times)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New jetblue ERJ-190 passes through Long Beach

jetBlue ERJ-190 N298JB "Cool Blue" rolls for takeoff on Rwy 30. (Photo by Doug Kerr)

ERJ-190 N298JB (19000249) "Cool Blue" the latest addition to the jetBlue ERJ-190 fleet passed through Long Beach yesterday afternoon.