Friday, July 21, 2017

Southwest Airlines Fires Too Many People, Labor Union Leader Says

This story does not come as a shock to me! I was an Operations Agent / Supervisor with Southwest Airlines before I retired last year after 21 years with the airline. I was hired when Herb Kelleher was running the airline and when you hear all the stories of how good it was in those days well those stories are true, it was fantasic.

Since Herb retired and Gary Kelly has taken over, employee moral has gotten progressively worse over the years. It has gotten much worse since the company bought AirTran Airways a few years back. Kelly has allowed AirTran management to make changes in how the airline is run (doing things the AirTran way) which has driven employee moral down even further.

Southwest does not take care of its front line supervisors as they should either. While I was there the airline continually took away benefits while at the same time telling our group that we must take on even more responsibilities. Sure I got an hourly raise but I would have much rather kept my benefits than the xtra $2 dollars an hour.

When the new 555 contract was signed in year 2016, we were told by station management that corporate in Dallas insisted we now write-up agents for even the smallest infractions (I refused to do this), this is when I made the very tough decision to retire. It has been a year now and though I miss my airline, I have come to realize it is the old Southwest I miss not the new.

It is not the LUV airline it once was, it is a top heavy (management laden) company and as long as Kelly and his AirTran cronies run the store it will make money but at the cost of its most important asset, its front line employees.

Michael Carter
Aero Pacific Flightlines

The president of the Transport Workers Union, the largest labor union at Southwest Airlines Co. has written a scathing letter that condemns "intolerable and cancerous" working conditions for the carrier's ground-workers and decries mistreatment including 2,700 disciplinary actions and 468 terminations since January 2015.

"Ground-workers are flagrantly mistreated and abused by management," wrote John Samuelsen, president of the New York-based union that represents 12,000 Southwest groundworkers as well as 15,000 flight attendants. The letter refers to the ground workers, members of TWU Local 555.

In 2017, Samuelsen said, "Southwest is writing up nearly three workers per day and firing one worker every other day."

"The outright hostility to the workforce has obliterated morale, which can only have a negative impact on the passenger experience," he wrote. "The TWU finds it hard to believe that Southwest finds this to be an ideal business model."

The letter, sent late Wednesday, was signed by Samuelsen, Local 555 President Greg Puriski and 13 other TWU leaders. They said they are available to meet with airline executives as soon as possible.

In morning trading, Southwest shares were down 0.51%.

Russell McCrady, Southwest's vice president of labor relations, said the carrier is committed to "efforts to maintain strong, constructive relationships with our employees' representational groups including TWU 555.

"Discipline is a necessary part of business but any discipline we administer is far from 'arbitrary,'" McCrady said in a prepared statement. "We do not take for granted that Southwest continues to be named a best place to work and best employer by national publications and we are very proud that our employee culture is the foundation for these designations."

McCrady said Southwest will respond to Samuelsen's letter and welcomes the opportunity to meet.

Southwest employs about 54,000 workers including about 7,200 hired in both 2016 and 2015, said spokeswoman Beth Hardin. She said the number of terminations over three years is not atypical for the number of workers involved.

Local 555 signed a five-year contract in 2016. In an interview, Samuelsen said the letter is not related to contract negotiations but rather represents an effort "to fight Southwest on working conditions that are now entrenched on the property, on an antiquated labor relations model designed to drive production {that} drives morale down across Southwest properties."

TWU has about 200,000 members, including 42,000 in Local 100, which represents New York City bus and subway workers. Samuelsen headed Local 100 until he took over the TWU presidency in May.

"I'm a new president, taking note of a situation at Southwest where people are being fired and unfairly disciplined," he said. "I found that to be intolerable."

(Tim Reed - The Street)

Gulfstream proposes nose refuelling for JSTARS candidate

Gulfstream’s proposal for the US Air Force’s JSTARS recapitalization project will include a refueling nozzle mounted on the nose of its G550 business jet, the company’s vice-president of special mission sales has revealed.

The Gulfstream design is still subject to change, with a slide showing the nose receptacle having been a last-minute change to a presentation made to journalists last week, and the airframer has also considered a more traditional refueling position on the aircraft’s "crown", Troy Miller says. The nose-mounted nozzle is not an unusual choice, as both the USAF’s Fairchild Republic A-10 and Boeing B-1 have similar receptacles, he notes.

Mounting the receptacle on the aircraft's nose has little aerodynamic impact, and it may be closed when the G550 is not receiving fuel in-flight.

“There’s nothing particularly overwhelming about this design,” Miller says. “That’s why we’re so excited about it.”

No Gulfstream jet has ever been certificated for air-to-air refueling, although Miller argues its products' endurance has never necessitated the capability. However, the air force has a specific requirement for boom air refueling under the JSTARS recapitalization.

Still, the JSTARS replacement program did not catalyse Gulfstream’s exploration into air refueling. For years, the company has explored such an activity, conducting wind-tunnel tests and flight tests behind Boeing 707s to evaluate flight characteristics. In addition to engineering efforts focused on the boom receptacle, Gulfstream is exploring the probe-and-drogue refueling configuration used by the US Navy, Miller says.

“This is an ongoing project. It will be a new development, but it’s not new science to us,” he says. “Candidly, our engineers are excited about this and they don’t view this as a showstopper in any way.”

In 2006, Gulfstream and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) studied a tanker version of the G550. The JSTARS concept is limited to a Universal Aerial Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation, however, with the aircraft to act only as a receiver.

“I won’t comment specifically on past efforts, but to say that the flexibility of these aircraft and its ability to do anything we’re talking about could lend itself to be a very potent air refueling asset, both as a receiver and as a tanker,” Miller says of the earlier study with IAI.

Miller declines to detail the refueling system under design at Gulfstream, except to point out that unlike its airliner-based competitors, the business jet stores its fuel in the wings rather than inside tanks. While the refueling capability is a new design revealed with the G550 JSTARS proposal, Gulfstream is leveraging a previously designed nose shape, he adds.

(Leigh Giangreco - FlightGlobal News)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The pilot shortage is real and airlines must change before it becomes a full-blown crisis

Editor's note: Patrick Smith is a commercial airline pilot who currently flies Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft. Smith is also a travel blogger and author of the book "Cockpit Confidential.

THE PILOT SHORTAGE is here, and it’s been making headlines. Last month, Horizon Air, the Seattle-based affiliate of Alaska Airlines and one of the country’s biggest regional carriers, announced it would be forced to reduce its busy summer schedule due to a dearth of pilots.

The shortage already caused Horizon to cancel more than 300 flights in June. Earlier this year, Republic Airways, a large U.S. regional carrier that flies on behalf of United, American, and Delta, filed for bankruptcy protection. It blamed the filing, in part, on a lack of qualified pilots. Other carriers have been canceling flights and mothballing aircraft as pilot recruitment departments scramble to fill classroom slots.

Yes, the shortage is real. It’s critical, however, to make it clear which sectors of the aviation industry we’re talking about. First, we are looking specifically at the U.S. airline industry. Civilian pilots in the United States are responsible for securing their own FAA credentials, and for logging hundreds, or even thousands, of hours of flight time before applying at an airline. It’s a long, slow, and very expensive process. Other countries often recruit pilots differently, with a growing reliance on so-called “ab-initio” programs, whereby young candidates are chosen from scratch, with no prior experience, and are groomed from the ground-up, so to speak, in a tightly controlled regimen that puts them in the cockpit of a jetliner very quickly. These programs are ultra-competitive, drawing hundreds of applicants for each available slot.

Even more important, we need to draw a sharp divide between the major carriers and their regional affiliates. The major carriers, also referred to as “legacy” carriers, everyone is pretty familiar with — American, United, Delta, Southwest, jetBlue, et al. There is no pilot shortage at these companies, and unless something changes drastically they will continue to have a surplus of highly qualified candidates to choose from. They are able to cull from the top ranks of the regionals, as well as from the military and corporate aviation pools. Even amidst an ongoing wave of retirements, a steady supply of experienced crews is unlikely to be depleted.

At the regional airlines, it’s a different story. And by “regional” we are referring to the numerous subcontractors who operate smaller jets and turboprops on the majors’ behalf: those myriad “Connection” and “Express” companies, whose actual identities are usually concealed beneath the liveries of whichever major they are aligned with. United Express, Delta Connection, American Eagle, and so on. For civilian pilots, the typical career progression includes a substantial amount of tenure at this level before, assuming he or she is fortunate enough, progressing to a major. And it’s here where the problem is.

How it came to this is both a long and short story. The short story is that pay at the regionals is terrible and working conditions are harsh. This has driven thousands of pilots out of the industry, and/or has discouraged countless others from pursuing an aviation career in the first place. Becoming a licensed commercial pilot, to the point where one is eligible to apply for an airline job — any airline job — requires a huge amount of time and money. It can take years, and the average pilots sinks well over a hundred thousand dollars into his or her flight training and education. Salaries at the regionals, meanwhile, have traditionally started low as $20,000 a year, and have topped out at under six figures. Schedules are demanding and benefits paltry; the relationship between management and the workers is often hostile. On top of all that, the regional sector is highly unstable. These carriers always seem to be coming or going, shrinking or shedding planes, changing their names and realigning themselves with different majors.

But this is nothing new. Pay and working conditions at these companies have always been substandard. Yet filling jobs has seldom been a problem, so what gives? Well, what’s different is that the regional sector has grown so large. Today, regional jets account for an astonishing half — 53 percent was the last number I saw — of all domestic departures in the United States. As recently as twenty years ago it was somewhere around fifteen percent. In those days, pilots saw a job with a regional as a temporary inconvenience — paying one’s dues. It was a stepping stone toward a more lucrative position with a major. Pilots are now realizing that a job at a regional could easily mean an entire career at a regional. Thus, a diminishing number have been willing to commit the time and money to their education and training when the return on investment is somewhere between unpredictable and financially ruinous. An aspiring aviator has to ask, is it worth sinking $100,000 or more into one’s primary training, plus the time it will take to build the necessary number of flight hours, plus the cost of a college education, only to spend years toiling at poverty-level wages, with at best a marginal shot at moving on to a major? For many, the answer is no.

In the meantime, the FAA has enacted tougher hiring standards for entry-level pilots. Over the past two decades, as the regional sector grew and grew, thousands of new jobs were created. To fill these slots, airlines sharply lowered their experience and flight time minimums. Suddenly, pilots were being taken on with as little as 350 hours of total time, assigned to the first officer’s seat of sophisticated regional jets. Then came a rash of accidents, including the Colgan Air (Continental Connection) disaster outside Buffalo in 2009. Regulators began taking a closer look at hiring practices, eventually passing legislation mandating higher flight time totals and additional certification requirements for new-hires.

Some airlines blame the shortage at least partly on these tougher rules. Technically they’re right, but really all the new regulations have done is returning things to historical norms. My first job with a regional — “commuters” we called them in those days — was in 1990. Competitive applicants at the time had between 1,500 and 2,000 hours, and most of us had an FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate as well. That’s more or less what the FAA requires today. The difference, of course, is that there are far more jobs to fill.

Things are beginning to change, if slowly. To their credit, many regionals have started upping their salaries and improving benefits. The cost structures of these carriers, whose existence is primarily to allow the majors to outsource flying on the cheap, limits how much they can lavish on their employees, but if they want to stay in the game, they frankly have little choice. New-hires at companies like Endeavor Air (a Delta affiliate) and PSA (American), for example, can now make first-year salaries in the $70,000-plus range. That’s around three times what these pilots would have been making in years past. Some companies are offering signing bonuses of several thousand dollars, and work rules too are getting better. Air Wisconsin, a United partner and one of the nation’s oldest regionals, says that new-hires can now earn up to $57,000 in sign-on bonuses. It promises earnings of between $260,000 and $317,000, including salary, bonuses, and what it calls “elected benefits,” over the first three years of employment. Numbers like that are unprecedented.

For those considering a piloting career, the situation is looking better. The problem for the industry, though, is the lag time. For a pilot just learning to fly, any cockpit job is still a long way off — probably years away. So while the mechanisms are falling into place to curtail a full-flown crisis, the shortage is going to be with us for a while.

(Patrick Smith - / Business Insider)

EasyJet Europe launches operations

Easyjet Airbus A319-111 (c/n 2578) G-EZIW taxies at London - Gatwick (LGW/EGKK) on October 1, 2016 sporting the special "Linate-Fiumicino Per Tutti" livery.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

UK low-cost carrier (LCC) easyJet has confirmed EasyJet Europe has launched operations after securing an air operator’s certificate (AOC) and an operating license by Austrian aviation authorities.

The first aircraft registered to easyJet Europe, OE-IVA, an Airbus A320, operated from London Luton to Vienna July 20.

EasyJet will slowly re-register the remaining 110 aircraft, which are required for its European Union (EU)-based operations into easyJet Europe over the next two winters. This process will be completed in advance of the UK leaving the EU, or Brexit. When this happens, ATW understands easyJet will become Austria’s largest carrier in terms of aircraft.

EasyJet’s network depends heavily on EU route rights. The EU AOC will safeguard the LCC’s network, should the UK and EU fail to agree on a new air transport accord before the UK exits the EU.

EasyJet Europe’s principal place of business will be in Vienna and its management will have full operational control and financial oversight of the company.

EasyJet is a pan-European airline group with three airlines based in Austria, Switzerland and the UK. All of these will be owned by easyJet, which will be EU-owned and controlled, listed on the London Stock Exchange, and based in the UK.

“Today’s announcement is the result of an extensive and thorough regulatory process in Austria and I am pleased to confirm that easyJet Europe is now flying,” CEO Carolyn McCall said in a statement.

“In addition, like all other European airlines, we continue to lobby for an EU UK aviation agreement which, as a minimum, will enable flights between the EU and the UK,” McCall said.

EasyJet country director-Germany, Austria and Switzerland Thomas Haagensen has been appointed as MD of easyJet Europe.

“As the process of re-registering easyJet’s EU27 aircraft to the Austrian AOC continues over the coming months, I look forward to working with my team and Austro Control to ensure that easyJet Europe’s operations continue to meet the highest operational and safety standards,” Haagensen said.

EasyJet Europe will create a number of new jobs in Austria, but no jobs will move from the UK to Austria. All of easyJet’s UK employees will continue to be based in London Luton and its 11 UK bases, and be employed as they are today, according to Haagensen.

EasyJet currently bases around 100 aircraft and employs around 4,000 people across six EU27 countries that will form the basis of easyJet Europe.

ATW understands the Austrian AOC is essential for easyJet as half of 75 million passengers annually come from the EU’s 27 member states.

EasyJet has operated flights from Austria for 11 years. The carrier has transported 1 million passengers from four airports in Austria to 20 European destinations so far this year.

The LCC flies over 260 aircraft on more than 870 routes to over 138 airports across 31 countries.

(Kurt Hofmann - ATWOnline News)

Russia’s MC-21 and IL-114 win new orders at MAKS Air Show

(Irkut Corp.)

Russian-manufactured aircraft—the Irkut MC-21 and Ilyushin IL-114—won new orders on the second day of the MAKS Air Show in Moscow.

Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC) signed a letter of intent with Saratov Airlines to lease six MC-21-300s July 19. The 211-seat aircraft is scheduled to be delivered from 2022-2025. The Saratov-based carrier has not yet decided which engine—the Pratt & Whitney PW1400 or PD-14—will be chosen for the aircraft. The regional airline currently operates a fleet of Embraer E195LRs, Antonov An-148s and Yakovlev Yak-42Ds.

IFC also signed an agreement with UEC-Perm Engine Co. for eight PD-14 engines for the MC-21-300 ordered by Red Wings Airlines the day before. The carrier will take delivery of 16 aircraft of the type; four of them will be equipped with PD-14s.

Irkut Corp. signed a letter of intent with Russian regional Angara Airlines for three MC-21-300s. Details were not disclosed. Irkutsk-based Angara currently operates a fleet of Antonov An-148s, An-24s, An-26-100s and An-2s.

Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. (UAC) signed a letter of intent with State Transport Leasing Co. for 50 Ilyushin IL-114-300s. Although the delivery schedule is not disclosed, the manufacturer and lessor are expected to sign a preliminary agreement on terms and conditions before the end of this year.

The 60-seat regional turboprop IL-114-100, a previous modification of the aircraft, was assembled in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but the production line was closed in 2012. In 2015, the Russian government announced plans to relaunch manufacturing of the aircraft and developing the new modification.

(Polina Montag-Girmes - ATWOnline News)

JetBlue pilots request federal mediation

jetBlue Airbus A320-232 (c/n 1327) N517JB "Blue Moon" rotates from Rwy 12 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on April 21, 2017 bound for New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK/KJFK).
(Photo by Michael Carter)

JetBlue Airways pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), requested mediation services from the National Mediation Board (NMB) July 18 to assist with contract negotiations.

The request was made after two years of negotiations between the pilots and management of the New York-based carrier have shown little progress. JetBlue’s pilots made their first request of JetBlue management for open contract negotiations in March 2015, in an effort to secure the pilots’ first contract with JetBlue since organizing as a union in 2014.

“We’re hopeful that a mediator will help us speed along the process and come to an agreement that recognizes our contributions to JetBlue’s success,” ALPA’s JetBlue unit chairman Patrick Walsh said.

ALPA said the pace of negotiations “has slowed in the last few months, prompting the pilots to request professional mediation from the NMB.” JetBlue’s pilots are in “pursuit of a contract that includes market-rate compensation, compared to pilots who fly similar routes and aircraft,” ALPA said in a statement, adding JetBlue’s recently proposed pay structure would provide limited increases and keep pilots “near the bottom among major carriers.”

ALPA said JetBlue’s pilots have been briefed on strike preparation activities the union may deploy if negotiations prove unsatisfactory.

JetBlue told ATW: “This week, we were notified by ALPA that it has decided to file for mediation with the NMB in our negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement for JetBlue pilots. As we work through this next stage of negotiations, our objective remains the same—to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable to both our pilots and JetBlue.”

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

Air France names Boost airline ‘Joon’

(Air France)

French Skyteam carrier Air France has christened its new lower-cost airline, which was previously known as the Boost project, as ‘Joon’ and named Jean-Michel Mathieu as CEO.

With pilot backing for the startup recently secured, Joon will launch this autumn, initially operating medium-haul flights from Paris-Charles de Gaulle, before branching out to long-haul routes in summer 2018.

The new airline will be led by Air France-KLM veteran Mathieu, who has spent most of his career with the group in network, revenue management, digital services and customer relations.

Joon is aimed at young working millennials, aged 18 to 35. “We started with our target customer segment, the millennials, to create this new brand that means something to them. Our brief was simple: to find a name to illustrate a positive state of mind,” Air France VP-brand Caroline Fontaine said.

Air France said digital technology will play a large role for the new brand; however, the company added: “Joon will not be a low-cost airline, as it will offer original products and services that reflect those of Air France.”

The underlying desire to funnel more passengers back to Air France is clear. “Joon is Air France’s complementary younger sister, which will also inspire its customers to travel with its elder sibling,” Air France said.

At strategic level, Air France is hoping to use Joon to fend off low-cost competition on short- and long-haul routes, as well to win market share back from its Gulf-carrier rivals.

“Joon is another step in the deployment of the Trust Together strategic project. Its creation will improve the profitability of the Air France Group, enabling it to reduce its costs and ensure the sustainability of its business model,” Air France CEO Franck Terner said.

Air France said further details about Joon, including the airline’s product, network and prices, will be revealed in September 2017.

(Victoria Moores - ATWOnline News)

Study uncovers cultural tensions at Air France-KLM

Air France-KLM has admitted there is room for improvement, after a research report exposed a cultural rift between the Dutch and French sides of the group.

The study was performed by Philippe d’Iribarne from the French Institute of Science and Niels Noorderhaven of Tilburg University, involving 47 interviews with Air France and KLM staff between January and April 2017.

Detailing their findings in a report called “The relationship between Air France and KLM as experienced by the employees,” the researchers identified cultural friction between the two airlines and their respective nationalities.

“Mutual understanding between the French and the Dutch is often weak,” the report concluded.

KLM replied to the findings, noting that the report was commissioned by Franco-Dutch trade unions.

“We understand the sentiments expressed and acknowledge the circumstances sketched in the report. There is room for improvement in some areas. However, the report also addresses other areas which are performing well. We will consider these sentiments with all due diligence. During the coming period, we will join hands with Air France to see how we can learn from this and bring about improvements wherever necessary,” KLM said.

Air France also responded to the report, saying the research was supported at group-level as a way to restore trust between Air France, KLM and Air France-KLM under the Trust Together strategic plan.

“The conclusion of this study identifies cultural differences and different visions, sometimes leading to difficulties, but also a common interest and the desire to find solutions in the interest of Air France-KLM group and each airline. During the coming period, we will see within Air France, KLM and Air France-KLM how we can learn together from the outcome and bring about improvements wherever necessary,” Air France said.

(Victoria Moores - ATWOnline News)

American Airlines dedicates Boeing 777 to 91-year-old mechanic for 75 years of service

After 75 years with American Airlines, Azreil “Al” Blackman says he isn't thinking about retirement.

"That's not my style," he told ABC News.

Based out of New York City his entire career, the 91-year-old aviation maintenance technician started off making 50 cents an hour as an apprentice in the sheet metal shop, when American was known as American Export Airlines.

Since then, Blackman has worked on some of aviation's most storied aircraft, from the Sikorsky flying boat that kicked off American's trans-Atlantic service, to the original jumbo jet, the Boeing 747.

The former U.S. Navy service member has dedicated his life to American Airlines aircraft.

On Tuesday, his long-time employer returned the favor.

At a ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport, a curtain dropped to reveal a Boeing 777 dedicated to his 75 years of service.

The aircraft is capable of holding at least 247 people and flying American Airlines' longest routes. For the remainder of the jet's life at American Airlines, his name and signature will be inscribed to the left of the aircraft's main cabin door.

Guinness World Records also awarded Blackman with the title of "Longest career as an airline mechanic."

At the Tuesday ceremony the New York native climbed into the jet -- before it makes its inaugural trip to London Wednesday sporting its new paint job -- and received a sky-high tour of his hometown.

Blackman took off from JFK at 2:59 p.m. and and flew north up the Hudson River to West Point before turning right and looping around the northern edge of Long Island at an altitude of just under 3,000 for before returning to the airport. The flight lasted about an hour-and-a-half to commemorate a lifetime's worth of service to country's largest airline.

"Slightly hazy," he said of the view from the flight deck. "Very calm, quiet."

Blackman says he has no plans to retire from his work any time soon.

"What's the big deal about retirement, really? What do you do when you retire?" Blackman told ABC News. "You stay home and watch the television, that's not my style."

(Jeffrey Cook, David Kerley, Whitney Lloyd, Nathan Luna, Erin Dooley and Connor McCarthy - Good Morning America / ABC News)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Alaska Air CEO weighs in on replacing Virgin America's Airbus fleet with Boeing jets

Alaska Airlines will likely shed the Airbus jets it inherited in its takeover of Virgin America and slowly replace them with Boeing aircraft, Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said Tuesday.

"My dad was a 32-year Boeing guy," Tilden told a Seattle business audience at a breakfast organized by the Puget Sound Business Journal. "This company could not be more in love with Boeing, or loyal to Boeing."

"We actually just need to get this worked out with Boeing because we have 63 – growing to 73 – Airbus airplanes and they'll likely be in the fleet for some number of years," Tilden continued. "If I were to guess, they won't be in the fleet permanently."

"It will take some time to get a transition done," Tilden added.

Airline industry analysts have speculated for months that Alaska Airlines would phase out Virgin America's Airbus fleet, much of it involving leased aircraft, but Tilden's remarks were his clearest yet in terms of the airline's long-term plans for the Airbus planes it inherited.

In February, Alaska Air executives revealed they were working to extricate the company from a lease deal that Virgin America signed before the takeover. The deal involved 10 Airbus A321neo (new engine option) jets.

In a securities filing last year before the takeover by Alaska, Virgin America reported maintenance costs for its Airbus aircraft fleet increased a whopping 33 percent to $16.9 million during one financial quarter.

Virgin America had five major jet maintenance events during the 90 days compared to none in the 2015 period.

Though Virgin took delivery of a trio of new Airbus A320 aircraft, it also warned that the average age of the Airbus A320 jets in its fleet was 6.3 years, and those aircraft were starting to need more "scheduled and unscheduled maintenance" as they get older.

"These more significant maintenance activities result in out-of-service periods during which certain of our aircraft are unavailable to fly passengers," Virgin said at the time.

Alaska's fleet is mostly made up of Washington-made Boeing 737 jets, but its Horizon subsidiary also operates Embraer E175 regional jets and twin-propeller Bombardier Q400 aircraft.

The morning breakfast event at Seattle's Rainier Club was organized by the Puget Sound Business Journal and featured Tilden in a conversation with Providence St. Joseph Health CEO Dr. Rod Hochman.

(Andrew McIntosh Puget Sound Business Journal)

American Airlines says 'passed gas' did not cause flight evacuation

American Airlines officials say reports that a flight was evacuated Sunday after flatulence caused passengers to become ill are false.

WNCN-TV reported that passengers were "forced" from a flight at Raleigh-Durham International Airport after experiencing headaches and nausea spurred by a foul-smelling odor in the cabin.

According to the station, a Raleigh-Durham International Airport spokesperson said the odor was from a passenger who "passed gas."

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein refuted the "passed gas" claim late Sunday, AP reported.

“We did have an aircraft from Charlotte to RDU this afternoon, that landed at 2:19 p.m. ET, and arrived the gate at 2:21 p.m. ET, that is currently out of service for an actual mechanical issue – and odor in the cabin. But It is not due to “passed gas” as mentioned,” Feinstein said.

In another statement, the airport confirmed that the flight was never evacuated. According to the airline, a medical call for people affected by the scent came in after the plane deplaned.

“Plane was not evacuated. Medical call for persons affected by an odor came in after plane deplaned normally.”

(Mary Bowerman - USA Today)

JetBlue Airways Details the Next Phase of Mint Expansion

JetBlue's Mint premium seats convert into 76-inch beds.
(Image source: JetBlue Airways) 

JetBlue will offer more than 80 daily flights on its Mint premium fleet by mid-2018, transforming its financial performance on transcontinental routes.

A little more than three years ago, JetBlue Airways introduced its upscale Mint service on select flights between New York and Los Angeles. Mint flights use a dedicated fleet of Airbus A321s, featuring a premium cabin with 16 lie-flat seats, whereas other JetBlue planes have an all-coach configuration.

Customers in JetBlue's Mint premium seats are treated to gourmet meals and a variety of other amenities. Coach class customers also benefit from larger seatback TVs with an expanded selection of satellite TV channels, unlimited premium snacks, and more frequent flights.

Not surprisingly, Mint flights have become extremely popular. As a result, JetBlue has steadily expanded the dedicated Mint A321 fleet and converted numerous routes to Mint service. On Monday, JetBlue announced the latest expansion of its Mint service, which could help it produce strong profit growth in 2018.

Mint has been a big success

Originally, JetBlue created the Mint product to solve a specific problem: the poor financial performance of its routes from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. As the profitability of those routes improved by leaps and bounds, JetBlue added more flights on those two routes. It then began expanding Mint to more cities. During 2016, JetBlue converted its Boston-San Francisco and Boston-Los Angeles routes to Mint service.

In mid-2016, JetBlue's management made Mint the linchpin of a long-term growth strategy for the transcontinental market. JetBlue ordered more A321s from Airbus in order to support the rollout of Mint to seven more routes: Fort Lauderdale-Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale-San Francisco, New York-San Diego, Boston-San Diego, New York-Las Vegas, New York-Seattle, and Boston-Seattle.

This growth strategy is just starting to kick in. In the first half of 2017, JetBlue added four Mint planes to its fleet, allowing it to begin service on the two Fort Lauderdale Mint routes. By contrast, Airbus will deliver 10 more Mint planes to JetBlue in the second half of the year. JetBlue also has another 11 A321s on order for 2018, many of which will come in the Mint configuration.

A new wave of Mint expansion is coming

With all of these new planes arriving soon, JetBlue is set to ramp up its Mint expansion. Between now and year-end, it will convert its New York-San Diego and Boston-San Diego routes -- and some of its New York-Las Vegas flights -- to Mint service. It is also adding an extra daily flight on the Boston-San Francisco and Boston-Los Angeles routes.

On Monday, JetBlue announced its Mint expansion plans for early 2018. First, it has decided to offer two daily Mint flights between Boston and Las Vegas, beginning in early January. In February, it will convert its two daily Boston-Seattle flights to Mint service. Its New York-Seattle flight will convert to Mint service in April, with a second daily flight being added later in the year.

JetBlue will also add extra Mint flights on the Boston-San Francisco and New York-Los Angeles routes in early 2018, giving it up to five daily flights on the former and up to 11 daily flights on the latter. JetBlue is also adding more Mint flights to the Caribbean, but most of those routes only operate on Saturdays.

A lever for profit growth

The initial rollout of Mint coincided with a period of falling oil prices, leading to a huge increase in JetBlue's profitability. Adjusted earnings per share surged from $0.70 in 2014 to $1.98 in 2015 and $2.22 in 2016. However, EPS growth has ground to a halt in the past year, as JetBlue lost the benefit of falling fuel prices at the same time that its Mint expansion slowed.

As JetBlue moves through its current round of Mint expansion during the next several quarters, earnings growth could accelerate again. Indeed, JetBlue has consistently seen big unit revenue improvements after converting routes to Mint service.

If the new Mint flights are as successful as JetBlue expects, the company could announce another batch of Mint routes later this year or in early 2018. By late 2019, JetBlue could even offer Mint flights to Europe using Airbus' new A321LR, which will have 4,000 miles of range.

Airbus is certainly rooting for JetBlue to succeed. After all, the bigger Mint's expansion potential, the more airplanes Airbus will be able to sell in the coming years to fuel that growth.

(Adam Levine-Weinberg - The Motley Fool)

World's largest firefighting aircraft grounded by U.S. gov't

More than 50 large wildfires are scorching land this morning across the western U.S. But a new firefighting tool is sitting idle in an airport hangar in California because the U.S. Forest Service refuses to let it fly.

The converted Boeing 747 jet, nicknamed the SuperTanker, can drop almost twice as much fire retardant as the largest airtanker currently in service.

"We're the very largest in the world -- there's nobody out there that comes close," said Jim Wheeler. His company, Global SuperTanker, turned a 747-400 series passenger jet -- one of the biggest in the sky -- into the world's largest fire extinguisher.

"We can drop a line of retardant about three kilometers long, about a mile-and-a-half," Wheeler told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann, as the plane performed a test run in Colorado last fall.

But in this country, it's virtually worthless unless the U.S. Forest Service gives it permission to fight fires -- something the agency has yet to do, even though the plane was certified by the FAA last September, and has since fought fires in Chile and Israel.

"The frustration factor is exceptionally high," Wheeler said. "It's very hard to watch property burn and lives lost, and we can't get in and help."

In May, the Forest Service issued a request for new airtankers, but said it would only give contracts to planes with a dispensing capacity of between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons. The supertanker can drop more than 19,000 gallons of water or retardant at a time.

Wheeler said, "It begs the question: if your house is on fire, are you going to call the smallest, slowest fire truck?"

Some firefighter advocacy groups suggest the Forest Service might be trying to control its budget, causing delays for the plane, which could cost as much as $250,000 a day to operate. The Forest Service says it can't comment on the dispute because Wheeler filed an official protest last month.

According to Wheeler, the aircraft can be filled in less than 30 minutes. But it's not just the speed and size that make the Supertaker powerful; its pressurized tank system atomizes the water when it's released, rather than just dumping it, like a bucket. "It doesn't break down tree limbs, it won't crush cars or buildings," Wheeler said.

And a firefighter or a stranded resident who happens to be under this big dump of water will be be fine. "You'll get wet, but won't be killed," Wheeler said.

Strassmann asked, "Why hasn't someone done this until now?"

"There's a lot of cost involved in doing this, a lot of testing and a lot of paperwork, and I think that scares most people," Wheeler replied.

California's fire agency currently has an agreement to use the plane, but can't deploy it until the Forest Service gives its approval. It's an expensive aircraft, but at a time of ever-growing wildfires threatening lives and property, Wheeler feels his service is a bargain. "You're not going to put out a 4,000-acre or larger fire with buckets and helicopters. It's just physically impossible," he said.

(CBS News)

Iran Air's First Female Chief Executive Takes The Helm

Iran Air’s first new Airbus A330-200, delivered in March 2017 in the first stage of a wide-ranging overhaul of its fleet.
(Photo: P Masclet / Master Films / Airbus)

The first woman to serve as chief executive of Iran’s national airline, Iran Air, officially took over at a ceremony in Tehran on July 16.

Farzaneh Sharafbafi had been appointed to the job in a decree issued by Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi on July 11. She replaces Farhad Parvaresh who was appointed Iran’s permanent representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in May.

The 44-year old Sharafbafi, who is reportedly the first Iranian woman to hold a PhD in aerospace, takes over at a critical time for the airline. The country’s flag carrier is rebuilding its fleet after years of having to make do and mend with an aging collection of planes during the years of international sanctions.

Since most of the trade barriers were lifted in January 2016, the airline has been on a spending spree, placing orders for 220 new aircraft from Airbus, Boeing and ATR, as part of a multi-billion dollar revamp. Some new Airbus and ATR aircraft have already been put into service, but the first deliveries from Boeing are taking longer to arrive.

According to local media reports in Iran, Sharafbafi has been tasked with restructuring the airline so that it is competitive both regionally and globally. Among her other priorities is to upgrade the safety record of the airline and providing more jobs opportunities for women.

Sharafbafi was previously a member of Iran Air's board of directors, heading up the airline’s research department. She gained her PhD from Sharif University of Technology, the country’s top-ranked higher education institution, and has also taught at Amir Kabir University of Technology and Shahid Sattari University of Aeronautical Engineering.

Sharafbafi is not the first CEO of an airline in the Middle East. Syrian Air is led by Ghaida Abdullatif and Rasha Al-Roumi was chief executive of Kuwait Airways until April this year when she resigned after three years in charge.

Al-Roumi’s resignation letter to interior minister and chairman of the Supreme Aviation Council Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, in which she complained about a lack of government support for the airline, kicked off a political furor at the time.

Despite the breakthrough that Sharafbafi’s appointment represents for the local aviation sector, Iran as a whole fares extremely poorly when it comes to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, Iran is ranked 139 out of 144 countries.

While that is dire, from an Iranian perspective it is at least still two places ahead of the country's arch regional rival Saudi Arabia. Some commentators have been quick to highlight the differences between the two countries, with a woman now running Iran’s national airline while their Saudi peers are not even allowed to pilot a car.

The aviation industry as a whole is little better. A 2014 survey by Skift found that only 12 of the 248 airlines it looked at had a female leader.

(Dominic Dudley - Forbes)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is This Tiny Airline About to Challenge Delta Air Lines?

For the first time in several years, Sun Country Airlines has a CEO with lots of experience in the airline industry. Some big strategic changes could be coming soon.

For most of its 35-year history, Sun Country Airlines has been a perennial also-ran in the airline industry. It's hard to survive as a smaller airline in the U.S., and Sun Country has been further hampered by periodic mismanagement.

However, Sun Country may finally be serious about improving its competitiveness. Last week, the company hired longtime Allegiant Travel executive Jude Bricker as its new CEO. Bricker's appointment will likely usher in a new strategy at Sun Country Airlines. This could give it a better shot at competing with market leader Delta Air Lines in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sun Country's main base of operations.

Weak profitability has been a constant

Sun Country Airlines was lucky to survive the Great Recession. The combination of record oil prices and plunging demand caused several airlines to go bust in 2008. Moreover, Sun Country found itself in the midst of a scandal that year, as its chairman and CEO was arrested on fraud charges. The company was only able to survive by filing for bankruptcy and forcing employees to take a massive temporary pay cut.

Sun Country eventually emerged from bankruptcy in 2011. However, it hasn't joined in the recent airline industry renaissance -- and profitability has been sinking recently.

During the 12 months ending in March 2017, Sun Country Airlines posted a meager operating profit of $3 million, putting its operating margin well below 1%. In the prior 12 months, Sun Country's operating profit had been significantly higher, at $32 million. Yet even then, its 6% operating margin was far worse than the double-digit margins common at other U.S. airlines.

Professional management is coming

In addition to its small size, Sun Country has also suffered in recent years from not having an experienced management team. In 2011, the company was bought out of bankruptcy by the owners of Cambria: a Minnesota-based company that specializes in kitchen countertops. Additionally, Sun Country was led for most of the past two years by Zarir Erani, an executive with no previous experience in the airline industry.

By contrast, new CEO Jude Bricker worked for Allegiant Travel -- a highly successful ultra-low cost carrier -- for more than a decade, most recently as chief operating officer. Thus, Bricker will bring fresh ideas and much-needed industry know-how to Sun Country Airlines.

Costs are too high

Right now, Sun Country's biggest problem is that its costs are too high for a low-cost carrier (especially a small one with little pricing power). During the 12-month period that ended in March, Sun Country's cost per available seat mile (CASM) was 10.57 cents. For comparison, Allegiant posted CASM of 8.36 cents during the same period, despite facing significant cost pressures related to its ongoing fleet transition.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines' CASM has been around 13 cents recently -- but Delta can generate much higher unit revenue due to its full-service hub-and-spoke business model.

With more than 70% market share at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Delta is by far Sun Country Airlines' most important competitor. (Nearly all of Sun Country's scheduled flights touch Minneapolis-St. Paul.) In order to thrive, the carrier will need a bigger cost advantage.

Can Sun Country be fixed?

At this point, the clearest path forward for Sun Country Airlines would be to transform itself into an ultra-low-cost carrier. Its new CEO is already familiar with the ULCC business model from his time at Allegiant. Furthermore, Frontier Airlines successfully reshaped itself as a ULCC a few years ago and has become strongly profitable since then despite facing customer backlash in its hometown of Denver.

One of the most basic ways that ULCCs keep costs down is by squeezing as many seats as possible onto their planes. Re-configuring Sun Country's fleet might take a year or two, but it would be a straightforward way to reduce unit costs.

Ultra-low-cost carriers also generally implement substantial fees for using high-cost amenities like reservations call centers and agent-assisted check-in. By prodding customers to take advantage of self-service options like booking online and printing a boarding pass at home, they can further reduce their costs.

Sun Country Airlines could also go a different route, such as trying to position itself as a "premium" brand like Virgin America. However, such a transformation would be far tougher to pull off. Converting to an ultra-low-cost carrier business model is both the most promising and the most likely path that Sun Country will take under its new CEO.

(Adam Levine-Weinberg - The Motley Fool)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Flying Gulfstream's Flagship from the Nation's Capital

Gulfstream G650ER flight crew prepares to take off from Runway 15 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
(Photo: Bill Carey)

This writer was fortunate to be there when Gulfstream rolled out the ultra-long-range, large-cabin G650 from its Savannah, Georgia manufacturing site on Sept. 29, 2009, and then to revisit the jet when the National Aeronautic Association awarded it the prestigious Collier Trophy in June 2015. But until recently, that exposure did not include actually flying on the G650.

So it was a pleasure to accept a Gulfstream invitation to fly with other defense reporters to a special-missions aircraft briefing in Savannah on none other than its flagship business jet. For the July 13 trip, the manufacturer reserved a G650ER it uses as a demonstrator; the newer, extended-range variant has wing tanks that accommodate 4,000 additional pounds of fuel over the G650, pumping up its range to 7,500 nm. Our trip was considerably shorter: we flew back and forth between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Gulfstream’s headquarters at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which takes about an hour.

For a passenger more accustomed to wedging into a narrowbody chair with 31-inch seat pitch, this was a real treat. The cabin of the G650ER was subdivided into four “living spaces” to include a private state room aft, each with plush chairs or divans offering ready access to the big jet’s signature panoramic windows. The G650ER is certified to carry up to 19 passengers; this one was configured for 16 passengers with “berthing” or sleeping capability for up to nine. There were two options to stay connected with the real world, via Inmarsat’s Ka-band Jet ConneX or GoGo Business Aviation’s Iridium-based Aircell Axxess satcom systems.

Up front, Gulfstream chief pilot for large cabin demonstration Brian Dickerson pointed out some of the features of the G650ER’s Honeywell-based PlaneView II flight deck, which is distinguished by four large-format displays that pilots manipulate with side-mounted cursor-control devices. One of the bells and whistles is an enhanced vision system that projects infrared imagery on the left-seat pilot’s head-up display as well as one of the panel LCDs.

“The airplane is a dream to fly,” said Dickerson, a former U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot who captained the press flight with copilot Ray Slocum. “It’s the only airplane in the world that can do the things that it does as far as the distances and providing comfort for the passengers. I’ve flown the airplane from Columbus to Shanghai, from Dubai to Charlotte—very long legs no other airplane can do.”

Despite congestion that afflicts most major airports, DCA can also be charming. Located across the Potomac River and southwest of downtown Washington, D.C., it affords panoramic views of famed landmarks for aircraft departing to the north or arriving from that direction. The airport of choice for lawmakers commuting to and from the nation’s capital, it is closer-in and more inviting than its sister airport, Washington Dulles International.

After leaving FBO Signature Flight Support and taxiing past a pair of U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopters that serve to intercept threat aircraft encroaching the Washington special flight rules area, we fell in behind idling American, Alaska and JetBlue narrow-body airliners. Delayed by ATC due to a reported bird encounter, Dickerson has time to snap a photo with his smartphone of the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol appearing through the windscreen to the northwest. The pilots are given the option of redirecting from Runway 19 to 15, which they accept. They select an RNAV departure—JDUBB—and we take off on a southerly heading.

The national capital region airport is interesting for another reason—it remains subject to the DCA Access Standard Security Program, a vestige of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Promulgated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2005, the program requires GA aircraft to follow strict security measures to access DCA, and unscheduled operations require a slot reservation from the FAA. Each flight must carry an armed security officer onboard, as did this Gulfstream flight.

Memorably, the press corps as well as employees of Gulfstream and parent company General Dynamics accompanying the trip were subjected to thorough pat-downs and bag searches by TSA officers at Signature’s Savannah airport base, before being allowed back on the G650ER for the return flight to DCA.

“There are security protocols that are in place,” Dickerson explained. “You have to have permission to get in, you have to list by name all the crew and all the passengers. You can’t make any changes within 24 hours of that.”

Asked if DCA is friendly for business aviation, the Gulfstream pilot was diplomatic. “As specific as the rules to get in and out of here are, places like Signature and the TSA make it as easy as possible,” Dickerson said. “We understand why the rules are in place, with the [airport’s] proximity to the Capitol and the national government. Being able to follow those rules provides a level of protection.”

(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)

First Embraer Legacy 500 Assembled in Florida Flies

Embraer Executive Jets flew its first Legacy 500 (c/n 55000073) N31MW midsize jet assembled at its assembly facility in Melbourne, Florida, on July 13.
(Photo: Embraer)

Embraer flew its first Legacy 500 midsize jet assembled at its assembly facility in Melbourne, Florida, on July 13, eight months after the first Legacy 450 mid-light jet assembled in Melbourne took flight. “The aircraft performed as expected and all flight-test procedures were successfully completed,” the company said.

“We are very pleased with yet another milestone for the Legacy 500 and we look forward to delivering this aircraft in the third quarter,” said Embraer Executive Jets president and CEO Michael Amalfitano. “This flight also marks a key milestone for our Melbourne operations, where we expanded our production facility and doubled our footprint.”

The Legacy 500 is the fourth business jet model to be assembled at Embraer’s Melbourne facility, after the the Legacy 450 and Phenom 100 and 300. The Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 are also manufactured at Embraer’s production facilities in São José dos Campos, Brazil, though it said earlier this year that it eventually plans to assemble most of the Legacy 450/500s in Melbourne. All Phenom production was shifted to Melbourne a year ago.

Embraer began assembling aircraft at its Melbourne facility in early 2011 with the entry-level Phenom 100, followed by the Phenom 300 in August 2012, the Legacy 450 in June 2016 and the Legacy 500 this past January. Over the last seven years, the company has delivered close to 250 Phenoms and Legacys, valued at about $2 billion, from its Melbourne facility to customers across the U.S. and to countries around the world.

(Chad Trautvetter - AINOnline News)

Several IndiGo A320neos Sitting Idle Due to GTF Glitches

Premature wear of carbon air-seals and combustor liners have plagued IndiGo's A320neos.
(Photo: Airbus)

Indian low-fare carrier IndiGo, one of Airbus’s biggest A320 family customers and the first A320neo operator in India and Asia, now has at least seven neos sitting idle following technical hitches with the airplanes’ Pratt & Whitney PW1100 geared turbofan engines. Since IndiGo’s contract includes replacement of the full engine, slow deliveries from Pratt & Whitney continue to hamper its efforts to place the airplanes into service while the engine maker concentrates on deliveries for newly parked neos in queue for the powerplants at Airbus’s plant in Toulouse.

IndiGo’s present fleet of 137 Airbus A320 family includes 22 neos. To date, the airline has ordered 530 aircraft, including 430 A320neos. Deliveries have stalled from the original plan of four neos a month to three neos in three months.

Last week two more aircraft joined the list of AOGs (aircraft on ground), even while Pratt delivered two engines for IndiGo neos. While the cost conscious carrier has had to cancel flights due the problem, its financial strength and influence should help its negotiating position with the OEMs, minimizing its losses.

Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney insists it has made progress in resolving the engine problems, and that it continues to “actively work” and support its customers’ daily operations in India. “Pratt & Whitney’s on-wing carbon air-seal improvement package received certification in April and has been deployed to our customers,” it said in a statement. “These changes are designed to improve the carbon seal’s durability for PW1100G-JM engines on the A320neo fleet.”

A main gearbox failure also required premature removals, according to a February report from India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation. It added that about 25 percent of the degradation of the engines’ combustor liners resulted from operation in coastal environments.

Last year, when IndiGo took its first neo delivery, the airline’s president, Aditya Ghosh, expressed enthusiasm about the engines’ promise of fuel burn savings. “The fuel efficient aircraft will be part of a new phase of our growth and will enable us to offer more regional and international destinations at the best price,” he said in an Airbus statement.

In fact, one engineer told AIN that Indian carriers GoAir and IndiGo had expected higher fuel burn than they generated in actual practice. “This depends on the geographical area the plane is flying in,” he said. “For instance flights in Europe get higher burn than flights in Asia.”

(Neelam Mathews - AINOnline News)

A Day in the Life of a Corporate Pilot

Make no mistake: the years I’ve spent as a corporate pilot have been the most rewarding in my professional career, but there are many times when we really earn our paychecks. One recent two-day trip that took my first officer, Greg, and me from Southern California to the United Kingdom was beset with last-minute snags, reroutes, and diversions that conspired to turn what should have been a routine journey into a constant fight against Murphy’s Law.

That said, everything worked out in the end and, even more importantly, our passengers were never inconvenienced. I'd like to take all the credit, but truthfully, none of it would have been possible without the resourcefulness of the Flight Sentinel team at Honeywell.


Our trip began under bright sunshine at Van Nuys Airport, home base for our small, three-aircraft flight operation. I was looking forward to the next couple of days of shuttling our CEO and her staff to meetings across the country, and then across the Atlantic Ocean; sometimes, this really is the best job on Earth.

Alas, things began heading south from the very beginning, as our maintenance director stopped me as I walked towards the sleek jet to begin my preflight inspection. “We’re AOG thanks to a leaking oil seal in the APU,” he said. “The part will be here tomorrow, probably right around the time you’ll be landing in Luton. We’re pulling [another aircraft] out of the hangar for you now.”

Ugh. I wasn't looking forward to spending the next hour computing our new weight and balance and fuel burn, and changing around identifiers on our flight plans. So, I did what any reasonable captain would: I delegated those tasks to Greg.

Imagine my surprise when he walked over less than 20 minutes later. “All done!” he said. “Honeywell Flight Sentinel has data for the entire fleet; I gave them our new N-number, and they switched everything over right away. Oh, and here's the updated fuel load and weight and balance.”

Maybe this trip wouldn't be so bad after all. By this time, the replacement jet had already been fueled, and I was nearly done with my walkaround. Our passengers arrived minutes later, and we were soon on our way to our first stop in Wichita.

Honeywell Flight Sentinel had already advised us of more favorable tailwinds above our filed altitude, and ATC granted our request for higher altitude without any complaint. A few minutes later, a message came across ACARS of a new challenge. “Looks like there's a connectivity outage about 50 miles ahead,” Greg reported as we flew across northern Arizona.

Over the past few years, inflight connectivity has become a critical flight-planning consideration, as important as total trip time and fuel burn. Furthermore, I knew our CEO had planned a teleconference en route to Wichita, and I didn't relish having to inform her that those plans were off.

Just as I considered delegating another task to Greg, however, he continued his report. “Honeywell Flight Sentinel suggests we deviate north a bit. That’ll keep us within satcom coverage over the Rockies.” 


By mid-afternoon, the skies were much greyer over Kansas than they'd been in California. As I looked at the low cloud cover hanging over Eisenhower National Airport, I was much more concerned about the weather at our destination for the evening in Boston. A band of summer storms approaching from the south looked likely to force a traffic-management initiative (TMI) over the northeast right around our filed departure time in 90 minutes.

Great minds think alike, and when my cell phone rang a few minutes later the team at Honeywell Flight Sentinel was on the other end. “TMIs will go into effect shortly, and ground delays into Logan International will soon follow,” advised the helpful voice. “Are you able to take an earlier departure? You’ll beat the GDP (ground delay program) if you leave within the next 45 minutes.”

After a quick call to the CEO (who, as luck would have it, had finished her lunch meeting earlier than anticipated) we were loaded and on our way. Honeywell Flight Sentinel had already cleared our earlier departure, and a good thing, too: we were climbing through 10,000 feet when ATC advised that all later departures into the Boston area would be held on the ground.

Over the next three hours, the Honeywell Flight Sentinel team provided a constant stream of critical updates along our flight route, including a helpful message regarding a pop-up cell over Cleveland. ATC granted our request to divert south while were still more than 100 miles out, well before the steady stream of calls began from other flights in the area asking for deviations.

Our weather-related woes weren't quite over yet, though. Just as we entered the planned hold over BOS, the ACARS flashed with another message from Honeywell Flight Sentinel: plan to hold for 30 minutes due to weather and high volume of traffic. “We’re good on fuel, right?” Greg asked.

“Plenty,” I replied. “I asked for an extra 400 pounds in Wichita just for this situation.” Sure enough, we were on the ramp at BOS within the hour. Thanks to Honeywell Flight Sentinel, Greg and I were enjoying a fine seafood dinner in Boston while other pilots were stuck on the ground waiting for that GDP to lift. 


You can never be too prepared for a flight across the “pond.” In addition to our own extensive preflight planning, Honeywell Flight Sentinel was there to offer Greg and me up-to-the-minute information about our trip, including a weather update favoring a lower flight track than we’d planned. Thanks to that bit of news, there was ample time to file for the switch ahead of our departure.

“Looks like our luck may be changing,” said my young first officer.

“I wish you hadn’t said that out loud,” I replied, exasperated.

Sure enough, after five hours in the air—around the time we anticipated starting our descent—the sat phone rang. “We just received word of a disabled aircraft on the runway at Luton,” Honeywell Flight Sentinel advised. “You'd best plan to head to Biggin Hill instead.”

“Oh, boy,” I thought. Biggin Hill was more than 70 miles from Luton away by car, and we'd be landing in late afternoon. Our CEO would need to leave immediately after we landed to be on time for a critical business meeting.

Again, though, Honeywell Flight Sentinel was there. “I've already made arrangements for the car service to meet you at Biggin Hill,” the friendly voice continued. “She should still make her meeting in plenty of time.”

I looked at Greg. “You’re lucky Honeywell Flight Sentinel is here to rescue us from your tempting fate,” I said with a grin as I pulled up the approach charts for Biggin Hill.

Corporate pilots are more than aviators; we’re the face of our flight departments, responsible for the safety, security, and convenience of those we’re carrying in the cabin. When challenges arise, Honeywell Flight Sentinel allows me to provide solutions to our passengers before they are even aware of a problem.

(AINOnline News / Honeywell Aerospace)

Ruag, Happy Design Team on 'Carboneum' Paint Scheme for Global

Happy Design Studios and Ruag teamed to repainted SBK Holding’s Bombardier Global Express XRS with a “Carboneum” design with "hand-painted, precise customization graphics highlighting the intricate patterns found in high performance, fiber-reinforced technology materials, such as carbon and honeycomb structures."
 (Photo: Ruag)

Ruag’s aircraft painting facility in Munich recently repainted SBK Holding’s Bombardier Global Express XRS with a unique “Carboneum” scheme created by Strasbourg, France-based Happy Design Studios. According to Happy Designs owner Didier Wolff, “Carboneum is designed with race and power spirit and is enhanced with honeycomb patterns. The engines show elegance and technology and the overall Ferrari gray color adds a touch of supremacy to the flight experience.”

The Ruag shop optimized the downtime for the repainting job by including a 15-month inspection. SBK Holding chose a full repaint of its eight-year-old aircraft “to express its own dynamic and innovative image.” Ruag’s aircraft painting specialists, in coordination with Happy Design, reproduced a series of “hand-painted, precise customization graphics highlighting the intricate patterns found in high performance, fiber-reinforced technology materials, such as carbon and honeycomb structures.”

Reproducing the design required the digital creation of “extraordinarily detailed” templates for the honeycomb effect on the engine surfaces, the precise blending of nearly 40 gallons/150 liters of the specially mixed, dark gray mica-metallic paint and the hand-painting of the woven pattern on the vertical stabilizer. Despite this, the project was completed within the designated time frame, Ruag said.

“Ruag Aviation’s craftsmanship and painstaking attention to every last detail allowed it to accurately reproduce my design, especially the intricate honeycomb effect on the engines and the carbon fiber weave pattern on the tail,” said Wolff. “Hand painting this particular detail, while time intensive, ideally captures the innovative beauty of the design, as well as ensures improved durability, over and above the pre-printed adhesive foils generally used within the industry.”

(Chad Trautvetter - AINOnline News)

Steelers get new airline for charter flights in 2017

The Pittsburgh Steeler were on the search for a new airline after American Airlines dropped them as a provider for their charter flights. But according to the team, Miami Air International will take up those duties at least for the time being.

It was reported back in April that American Airlines was dropping several teams from their charter contracts including the Steelers. Pittsburgh and American had been working together since 2015 when American and United merged.

According to Jill Beckman of the Post-Gazette, the team indicated that Miami Air International is the current charter airline, but they will continue to seek out a more permanent solution after this season.

The team has typically been among the least-traveled teams in the NFL. This season they will fly to Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Indianapolis in addition to their AFC North road games.

(Curt Popejoy - Steelers Wire)

1940 DC-3 stops at John Wayne Airport in attempt at record-setting world tour

Breitling Douglas DC-3 (2204) HB-IRJ climbs from Rwy 20R at John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA/KSNA) on July 13, 2017.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

A World War II-era aircraft took off from John Wayne Airport on Friday as part of its quest to become the oldest airplane to circle the globe.

The Douglas DC-3 HB-IRJ, built in 1940, is going for the feat under the sponsorship of Swiss watchmaker Breitling, which also puts on the Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow.

The twin-engine airplane was in Van Nuys on Thursday and the Bay Area earlier this week. It was scheduled to depart Orange County for Page, Ariz., and continue flying over the United States, Greenland, Iceland and eventually finish its trek in Switzerland in September.

Breitling’s DC-3 is carrying 500 limited-edition watches on the worldwide journey. The Navitimer models won’t be available until the fall. They’re priced at $8,950.

The world tour began in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 9 — 77 years to the day that the plane, then called the Flagship Cleveland, took its maiden flight.

From Switzerland it flew east, with stops throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Its longest nonstop leg was a 10-hour flight from Japan to Shemya Island, part of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. After stops throughout Alaska, the plane flew south to Seattle and Oregon. It’s scheduled to have a total of 55 destinations in 28 countries, taking about 220 hours of flight time.

The DC-3 has been modified to have fewer passenger seats than its original design so it can hold extra fuel for the long trips, said its Swiss captain, Francisco Agullo. It also has upgraded communication and navigation systems, though its engine, propellers and wings are original. It has no autopilot.

As part of its tour stop Friday outside the Lyon Air Museum, Breitling invited media and other guests for a short flight that left JWA at around 10:30 a.m. and circled around south Orange County before returning to the airport.

Agullo noted how he and his co-pilot, Paul Bazeley, flew about 1,000 feet off the ground during the flight, which enabled passengers to see details like people walking on the sidewalk. The takeoff and landing from JWA were unique, Agullo said, because JWA closely incorporates both commercial airliners and general aviation in its everyday operation.

Agullo said he didn’t have a favorite stop yet on the tour.

“All the places have been special,” he said. He added, however, that Thursday’s passing over Santa Monica was noteworthy because it’s where the DC-3 was built in 1940.

Breitling’s DC-3 was first used by American Airlines. It went into service for the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1944, carrying troops from the East Coast to Europe. It was used commercially after the war for trips including flights from Florida to the Bahamas.

It was restored in 1995 and 2008. At 77 years, it has some 74,500 flight hours under its wings.

Agullo said DC-3’s were very influential in the history of aviation, particularly as profitable, comfortable and reliable aircraft in the early years of commercial flights. About 16,000 were built.

(Bradley Zint - Los Angeles Times)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Breitling Douglas DC-3 (c/n 2204) HB-IRJ

This lovely lady, Douglas Aircraft Company (DAC) DC-3 (c/n 2204) HB-IRJ operated by Breitling passed through Van Nuys Airport (VNY/KVNY) yesterday and over-nighted at John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA/KSNA) lastnight.

She performed at least one 25 minute flight this morning for invited guests prior to heading for Phoenix from Orange County.
(Photos by Michael Carter)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

SexyJet LLC Gulfsream G-V (c/n 509) N888XY

Captured at Van Nuys Airport (VNY/KVNY) on July 12, 2017.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Qantas passenger checks single can of beer for flight across Australia


Only pack the essentials when you fly. Essentials like beer.

A man on a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Perth, Australia, decided to check an unconventional (but totally necessary) item as his luggage: a single can of Emu Export.

The passenger, who wishes to remain anonymous, checked the single can to be sent through baggage claim, much to the surprise of airport staff.

According to The Daily Mail, the scheme was concocted by a friend who works at the airport.

“We hatched the plan as a laugh — I half didn't expect it to come out the other end,” he said.

The tiny can was loaded up with other baggage and miraculously made it to the baggage claim conveyor belt in Perth: “It was sent out well in front of all the other luggage, so the baggage handlers obviously appreciated it,” said the passenger.

Peter Ellis, who works for the site FlightMood, told the Daily Mail that sending the Australian beer is pretty common. “Export being checked in as baggage is not an uncommon sight so I wasn't even surprised,” he said.

Hopefully the passenger brought a frosty glass in his carry-on.

(Andrea Romano - Travel Leisure)

Network Airline Mangement renews MD11F deal

Network Airline Management (NAM) has renewed its long-standing freighter deal with Western Global Airlines (WGA) covering Africa-Europe operations.

Under the terms of the agreement, WGA will continue to operate up to three MD11Fs on behalf of NAM, with operations based in Liege, Belgium.

The aircraft support NAM’s operations with Allied Air of Nigeria, as well as their scheduled cargo services throughout Africa.

Andy Leslie, Group Chairman, Network Aviation Group, said: “Our renewed contract builds upon an already strong and successful 4-year partnership between Network Airline Management and Western Global Airlines.

“The new, long-term agreement will enable us to strengthen and expand our route network in the future as we take further aircraft, and complements our B747-400F aircraft that we offer via Astral Aviation in Kenya.”

Jim Neff, chief executive of WGA, added: “Western Global Airlines is proud to serve Network Airline Management and its customers with our efficient fleet of MD-11 aircraft, and build upon our relationship and position in the market as the leading provider of MD-11 air cargo capacity.”


Sully Sullenberger wants to save the FAA

US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III prepares to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Dec. 16, 2009.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

One of the things Congress must do in the next two months is pass legislation reauthorizing the existence of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates air traffic in the United States and is operating under a law that expires Sept. 30. A bill that would privatize the air-traffic-control system has been introduced in the House; the Senate is considering a different version. 
Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who famously piloted US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009, has some serious concerns about how these bills would affect the safety of aviation and access to air travel. He recently spoke with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

The following is a condensed transcript of the conversation.

Katie Couric: Tell me about this FAA reauthorization bill that’s being considered and why you’ve gotten involved?

Chesley Sullenberger: I learned to fly 50 years ago, just over 50 years ago. The Wright Brothers first flew 114 years ago in December. So I’ve been flying for 44 percent of the entire history of aviation, and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I care about being able to fly, people’s access to it and every facet of aviation. You know, most of aviation is not airline flying; that’s how most people travel, but in terms of total airplanes and numbers of operations, there’s much besides airline flying that’s important to our economy: general aviation, non-commercial flying, which includes corporate aviation and recreational aviation and a variety of other things that have a great benefit.

My real issue, and I think for many people, is that we have a wonderful and unique freedom in this country, this unfettered wonderful aviation system that anyone can participate in safely and efficiently. In most countries it’s either too restrictive or too expensive for an average person to fly, and the only way you can go is on an airliner or a military flight. It’s just prohibitively restrictive or expensive to do it any other way. That’s something that we need to protect and preserve, and so why in the world would we give the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines? Because they definitely have their own agenda to lower their costs. Commercial aviation, airline aviation, has become an extraordinarily cost-competitive industry globally, and it becomes more so by the day.

KC: How does this new bill give the keys of the kingdom to commercial airlines?

CS: By removing oversight of the air traffic control system from the FAA and much of the oversight that Congress currently has and giving it to a group of people, stakeholders basically controlled by the largest airlines, to control access to and pricing of access to the air traffic control system. That’s an extreme solution to what’s really a political budget problem.

KC: I thought the Senate bill doesn’t have privatization in it?

CS: Well, the House bill still does, and even if the Senate bill passes in its current form, it’ll have to go to conference. I’m worried about what the end result will be and not about particular individual bills. I’m worried about the direction this has been headed [in] for a number of years and [which] people are still trying to propose. It means bad things for everyone who flies, but especially for people who fly in non-airline ways. That’s a big part of the system.

KC: You’re worried about overall safety as a result of this bill?

CS: I’m worried about access. I’m worried about equitability. I’m worried about safety. There are other, better ways to solve this political budget problem — by giving the FAA, in running the air traffic control system and making capital improvements to the air traffic control system, more predictable multi-year funding — without giving away the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines to control access and fees and pricing too.

KC: I know one of the things you’re really concerned about in this bill are the pilot experience requirements, which changed in 2013 thanks to the urging of families of victims of a 2009 crash in Buffalo that killed 50 people. The new rules require co-pilots to get the same 1,500 hours of flight time as pilots for their certification to fly passenger and cargo planes. Before then, co-pilots were required just 250 hours of flight time. So you’re worried about this changing back to what it was before 2013?

CS: There are no proposals currently to try to change it back to 250 hours that I’m aware of.

KC: But it’s to get rid of it, right? That co-pilots need to have the same amount of experience as the pilots on these planes?

CS: There are people who are absolutely trying to weaken it, but in sneaky ways. They’re trying to give more credit for non-aviation, non-flying-related activities. You know, like as Senator Tammy Duckworth said recently, some of the regional airlines are trying to get additional credit toward that 1,500 hours of flying time by not flying part of it, but instead, for example, watching videos in hotel ballrooms or having a non-aviation degree from some non-aviation accredited university. They’re trying backdoor ways of diluting this new standard that’s been proven to be effective because since we have had the improved safety rules, the last passenger fatality even at the regionals was in 2009. So eight years ago. Now is not the time to try to be weakening and diluting the pilot experience rules for giving credit for non-flying activities to count toward the 1,500 hours of flight time that is now required.

KC: Why is it so important, Sully, that co-pilots are trained equally?

CS: Because every pilot who sits in the pilot seat of an airliner, must be able to be the absolute master of that aircraft and all its systems and the weather conditions you’re experiencing, the situation you’re facing at that moment continuously throughout the flight. We no longer can have an apprentice getting on the job training. Every safety protocol that we have is based upon having two fully qualified, well-trained experienced pilots in the cockpit. The captain of an airliner should be the leader of a team of experts and not relegated to the role of flight instructors still teaching basic skills and knowledge to someone who has not yet attained the requisite experience and flying time. So this would be a giant step backwards. We need the first officer to have the confidence, the skill, the judgment as the first officer in the Hudson flight, Jeff Skiles, to question the captain’s decisions if they’re not the best ones, if they’re not the safest ones.

KC: How important was it that Jeff Skiles was as well trained as he was when you were piloting that US Airways flight that you successfully landed in the Hudson River back in 2009?

CS: It was critically important. It literally meant the difference for everyone on the airplane between life and death.

KC: Really? You don’t think you could have done it on your own?

CS: No. Jeff also has 20,000 hours of flying time like I do. He had been a captain before the most recent layoffs and cutbacks had forced him back into the co-pilot seat. Had he not been so experienced we could not have had the same outcome. People likely would have perished. And let me tell you why. Because this extraordinarily unforeseen event for which we had never been specifically trained, never anticipated, happened so fast that the time, pressure and the work load [were] so intense we didn’t even have time to talk about what had just happened or what we should do. I didn’t have time to direct his every action. I had to rely upon Jeff immediately and intuitively understanding this developing crisis as I did and knowing on his own what he should do to help me. Had he not been able to do that, had we not been able to collaborate wordlessly, something that’s difficult for people to comprehend, we wouldn’t have been able to save every life.

KC: So let me ask you about regional airlines. They provide about half the country’s flights and those airlines argue training requirements make it cost prohibitive to get a license, which has also contributed to a pilot shortage. What’s your response to those concerns?

CS: Let me pose to you an analogy based upon a real world example. From time to time, we have had a difficult time finding enough primary care physicians, family care physicians, to serve rural counties in this country. … Would we accept a proposal to reduce medical school by a year or two to make it cheaper, easier, faster to provide doctors to serve rural areas? I think the answer obviously is no. That’s crazy and that’s because it is crazy because people who live in rural areas deserve the same standard of care as people in the rest of the country do.

KC: What do you do about a pilot shortage though, Sully? …How can we get more capable people attracted to this very important job?

CS: Well they’re crying wolf. In this country right now for most carriers there is not a pilot shortage. They are still able to attract qualified, experienced applicants, the number they require. We need to make sure that the industry as a whole can find efficient pathways, and some now exist. There are some good examples where major airlines are partnering with regional airlines and partnering with universities that provide aviation degrees and training.

It’s really only a few of the real bottom feeders that are the least well run, the least capitalized companies that are having the most trouble. A couple come to mind. Great Lakes and Mesa. There is still a few of them that have extraordinarily low starting pay, in the $20,000 range, barely above food stamp wage levels, and they’re the ones that are still trying to continue to use what is a broken economic model and one that is not sufficient in this market to attract sufficient numbers of fully qualified candidates. They’re the ones that are having the most trouble.

They’re the ones regional airlines and other associations are pointing to saying the sky is falling and we got to change the rules because there’s no other way to do it. That’s a big lie. And they’re doing it cravenly for their own reasons to make it more convenient and less costly for them to fill those pilot seats with people who have less experience. What they should be doing is trying to find a way to keep their tacit promise to all their future passengers that they will take the best care of them that they know how to do and have one level of safety across the entire industry.

But some of the regionals that are better run and better capitalized are doing some of the safety methodologies that big airlines do, are still hiring qualified applicants and training them well. We should be helping the less good operators and bring them up to the same standard as better operators.

KC: I read one statistic Sully that regional airlines are claiming that by 2026 there will be a pilot shortage of 30,000.

CS: Well they need to do a better job of recruiting people to enter that profession. As with any profession passion only takes you so far. At some point the financial and lifestyle portion of it have to be sustainable. At some point no matter what you’re doing you’re going to want to buy a car, house, have a family have a life. The economics and the lifestyle that that profession accords you are not sustainable even if you have a lot of passion for it. So we need to do a better job as an industry of reminding people this is a good job, this is an important job. What we do and how we do it is important because we literally hold people’s lives in our hands. And the compensation should reflect that.

KC: In closing Sully I wanted to ask, why should people care about this impending legislation?

SC: It affects not only everyone who flies but it affects everyone. Because everyone knows someone who flies. You know when I talk to audiences of aviators, I talk about the reasons that we became professional pilots. Why we do what we do. And I say that when we enter this noble profession of piloting that I consider a calling, we do literally make a promise to our passengers that we will keep them safe, that we will do the best that we know how to do. And so many of us feel that obligation intensely. We know when we get in an airplane, we have incredible responsibility. I’m trying to remind every airline executive that runs airlines, every FAA regulator that oversees aviation, every lawmaker that oversees aviation that they should also feel and act on that same obligation.

KC: If people want to learn more about this legislation and get involved is there any place that you’d recommend they go? Call their member of Congress?

CS: Absolutely. Call your members of Congress. Contact especially the chairman of the aviation subcommittees of the House and the Senate. Get involved. They do listen when the numbers are great enough they do listen. And I keep coming back to the Buffalo families, the families of the victims of the February 2009 crash of the continental connection, a needless accident that should not have happened.

KC: Well Sully, thanks again for your time it’s always great to talk to you.

(Katie Couric - Yahoo News)