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Archive for August, 2007

Airport security restrictions apparently apply to vials of holy water received from Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites, the AP reports. Several pilgrims returning to Rome from Our Lady of Lourdes in France had their holy water confiscated if it was in bottles that exceeded EU airline safety limits. The travelers were flying on the just-launched, Vatican-backed, charter service of Mistral Air. The airline, perhaps blessed with the gift of prophecy, offered a travel-size bottle of Lourdes holy water to each passenger once on board.

Holy water seized from fliers at Lourdes airport [AP, via Today in the Sky]

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At his excellent travel blog, Mark Ashley answers a question about the best way to connect to flights to Europe. His suggestions are good: avoid Heathrow, make no connections after arriving on an overnight flight, and avoid making connections in the United States on the return trip. This, he says, is because of more stringent U.S. homeland security requirements. With flights at record capacities, luggage to be claimed after immigration and rechecked after customs, and foreign nationals required to be fingerprinted and photographed, passengers can wait for hours in line at major international hubs and miss their connecting flights. (more…)

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Is it a bit unsettling that Russia’s newest low-fare carrier has adopted the colors identified with the Soviet Union? Coincidence, or part of the “Putin restoration”?

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China’s booming with a 10 percent growth rate, but there’s one area of the economy that’s been put on hold: aviation. China’s airline sector is growing at 16 percent per year. New airlines are sprouting up, and demand is growing, especially in advance of the 2008 Olympics. The airline sector is growing faster, the main aviation authority CAAC says, than it can safely accommodate. Beijing’s main airport is too crowded, the air traffic control system cannot keep up with the growth, and there are too few qualified technical air traffic control personnel and pilots.

So CAAC is taking drastic measures: a ban on new airline start-ups until 2010 and massive capacity cuts at Beijing Capital Airport. These measures will certainly crimp the industry and drive up fares, as many new airlines are low-fare carriers. The Chinese situation is a more severe parallel of the U.S. situation, in which the government agency overseeing air safety cannot keep up with demand for growth. And so, in both China and the United States, government failure to keep up with their dynamic aviation markets has adverse consequences for travelers.

China to cut domestic flights, ban new airlines [MSNBC]

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Make no mistake: Salt Lake City has bought Paris service. Per my post a few days ago, state and local authorities have ponied up $1.9 million in incentives and subsidies, and Delta has rewarded their “investment” with nonstop service to Charles de Gaulle. “There is something different about a state and a city that has direct links across the Atlantic and across the Pacific,” said Utah governor Jon Huntsman. “It is a huge deal.” What keeps people thinking that their cities’ reputations and growth depend on the magic transoceanic flight? The price of prestige: $1.9 million.

It’s official: Delta gives Utah its first trans-Atlantic route [Today in the Sky]

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Aero-News.Net reported today that the go-ahead has been given to begin construction on the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport, scheduled to open in 2010. The current airport’s longest runway is only 6,300 feet long, and there is no room for growth nearby. The airport has been located in its current place, very close to where people live in Panama City, Florida, in the Panhandle. The new airport will be much larger, but also much farther away, annoying some residents who would prefer not to travel so far.*

This could be read as an attempt to spend a lot of public money unnecessarily to attract unprofitable flights on larger jets. After all, Panama City is 100 miles away on either side from Pensacola and Tallahassee, both of which have larger populations, more service, and more choices.
(more…)

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Salt Lake City, like Cleveland, is playing the prestige game. It wants flights to Europe–Paris, in particular. And it’s going to pay for them. But does Salt Lake need flights to Europe? That’s not clear. What is clear is that Salt Lake has irrational hub-loss fear, and that often goes along with the sort of civic boosterism that sees no problem in throwing money at a service that would be otherwise a market loser:

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has pushed hard for a route to Europe.

“The chance of a direct flight to Europe would plant the seeds for many of the aspirations that we have for the business community, namely, to become a world city,” chamber spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour said.

I hope Utahns are satisfied with paying for Salt Lake’s “aspirations.”

Utah approves $250,000 for Delta flights to Europe [AP, via Today in the Sky]

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Climate change protesters are now putting their retro-radical tactics to use at airports. Protesters clashed with police over the weekend near London’s Heathrow airport, where a planned (and needed) third runway has raised the ire of environmental activists. Aviation, they say, contributes 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and therefore needs to be limited, or stopped altogether–and certainly not encouraged with airport expansion. Britain has an aggressive anti-aviation coalition, from traditional NIMBY protesters and think tanks to “plane stupid” advocates and no-fly pledgers. While the NIMBY folks have the best cases–we bought our homes here long ago; BAA said it wouldn’t expand Heathrow anymore–many members of the coalition want to end air travel altogether, grounding the British and world economies too.

The latter groups and people don’t just want airports in their backyard. They’re NIMPies–Not In My Planet. They don’t want people flying at all. They detest low-fare carriers like easyJet and Ryanair–one of the only airlines scrappy enough to fight back–for making air travel cheap. Aviation is not just an industry that pollutes; no, to fly is an act of “ecocide,” and travelers and airlines are climate criminals. The NIMPies surely realize the effects of killing aviation. They also know that no matter how drastic Britain’s actions, airplane emissions in China, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and other growing economies would offset any reductions. The NIMPies would sacrifice modern standards of living for . . . nothing.

So a complete ban on flying or new airport construction won’t work. What else is on the table?

  • David Cameron’s silly idea of an annual flying allowance above which travel would be taxed, based on misapprehension of how Britain’s working class travels today.
  • A “FLYING KILLS” warning on airline ads. (In Britain, cigarette packs are labeled with a giant message like “SMOKING KILLS.”) This would be about as effective as the surgeon general’s warning.
  • The preferred plan seems to be including aviation in Europe’s emissions trading scheme. But cap-and-trade has been rightly criticized elsewhere as promoting rent-seeking and stifling competition. Imagine: currently operating airlines get allowances based on their current flying. Any new entrants would have to buy allowances, often at prohibitive cost. Airlines can sit on their allowances free of competition. This sort of system governs airport slots at places like Heathrow, with similar effects on competition. If any airline wants to enter Heathrow, it has to acquire slots from an incumbent. Such policies keep inefficient and costly airlines in the business longer than otherwise, inhibiting competition that drives down fares and improves service expectations. But then the climate change activists would prefer high fares and bad service, if only to get people off planes.

If the British government deems it necessary to curtail carbon emissions, the best way is through a tax, such as its Air Passenger Duty. Its climate change related increase has already had an effect of cutting travel. Whether an increase is a good policy or not is a separate question, but increased taxes are the fairest way to cut down on air travel.

The other development is cleaner, greener, better airplanes. The Boeing 787 is a good example. But these airplanes are very expensive to develop and require healthy airlines to buy them. Without airlines lined up with cash, no one will engage in the costly R&D that will yield real improvement in aerospace technology. To get better airplanes tomorrow, we need profitable and growing airlines today.

You tell me who’s “plane stupid” now.

Heathrow protest reaches its climax as peaceful protest turns to clashes with riot police [Independent]
Air travel latest target in climate change fight [Christian Science Monitor]

See also: Hapless over Heathrow

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Patrick Smith always has something worth reading in his Ask the Pilot column over at Salon.com, whether it’s musing on the the ugliness of the A380 or defending the safety record of Latin American airlines. Today, he calls attention to the remarkable fact that despite all the reports of bad service today, skies clogged with regional jets, and regulation-happy governments, there’s a bright side to aviation today:

[W]e have lost an appreciation for just how cheap and accessible flying has become. The fact that for a few pennies per mile we have the ability to zip ourselves halfway across the country, or halfway around the world, in a matter of hours, in nearly absolute safety, is almost entirely taken for granted. Regardless of whether you’re a biased romantic like me or a semi-occasional traveler who wouldn’t know a 747 from a fire hydrant, that’s just wrong.

Let’s look at airfares for a minute. Whenever people moan about the cost of flying, I think of that old American Airlines ticket that sits on my bookshelf. It’s a flea market find, and it dates from 1946. That year, somebody named James Connors paid $334 to fly one-way from Ireland to New York — roughly the same that you’d pay on Aer Lingus today. Using the Consumer Price Index conversion, that $334 is equivalent to well over $3,500 in 2007.

Airline deregulation was only a spur to lower fares. Since the 1970s, better technology, more competition, and less regulation have combined to bring air travel into nearly everyone’s grasp. Watch this 1958 Pan Am commercial for its 707 transatlantic service. Back then, air travel was the province of the well-dressed elite, paying the modern equivalent of thousands of dollars to fly in style (cigarette and all!) across the ocean. The very practices that our zealous regulators (like New York governors or inane West Virginia senators) seek to undo are those that made air travel democratic. Public policy should reward the innovators that opened up American skies to a broad cross-section of society by continuing procompetitive policies.

And thanks to Smith for pointing out what needs to be pointed out again and again.

Tired of long delays? Look at the bright side of flying: It’s cheaper and more accessible than ever. [Salon.com]

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After several worrisome “near misses” at airports, the FAA will launch an emergency program “to reduce the risk of runway incursions and wrong runway departures.” Too bad the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control system is years overdue. The FAA not only fails to grow to accommodate the dynamism of our air travel sector, its lack of progress makes our airports less safe.

FAA unveils ‘short-term’ plan to improve runway safety [ATW Online]

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