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Archive for January, 2009

  • Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood has already weighed in on a matter under DOT review: whether to grant antitrust immunity to an American Airlines-British Airways-& co. transatlantic alliance. He’s in favor, but will likely have to recuse himself from any involvement. [WSJ Middle Seat Terminal, Things with Wings]
  • Acting FAA administrator Robert Sturgell will step down on January 16, replaced by new deputy administrator Lynne Osmus, who will also remain on board as acting administrator until Obama’s next appointment. [Things with Wings] Editorial comment: you can now see the congressional Democrats’ savvy in stonewalling the Sturgell nomination for the past year. The FAA administrator has a five-year term, so the Dems knew that if they delayed long enough, they could get their own person nominated in due course. Never mind the effect of a leadership vacuum. . . .
  • On that note, Rob Mark has some thoughts on the caliber of leadership needed at the FAA. [Jetwhine]
  • The TSA now wants to include private aircraft over 12,500 pounds in security screening procedures. [New York Times]
  • U.S. airlines have not (yet) partaken in the bailout-o-rama, but Chinese airlines have been lining up for aid. [ATW Daily News]
  • There are a few new papers worth a look on liberalizing international aviation services agreements. [Macilree’s Weblog]
  • Dan Webb takes issue with the airline lobby’s claim that its Stop Oil Speculation Now campaign helped bring down the price of oil last fall. [Things in the Sky]

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On Tuesday, Senators John McCain and John Ensign introduced the Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act, which would lift the 1,250-mile flight perimeter rule at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and would end federal support for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s 1,500-mile perimeter rule at LaGuardia Airport. This is an old hobbyhorse of McCain’s, as it stands to benefit his Arizona constitutents.

I’ve written previously about McCain’s efforts to undermine and abolish the perimeter rules — and about the other ways in which Congress likes to meddle in Reagan National Airport’s operations. Congress should support the McCain-Ensign bill. The perimeter rule has outlived its usefulness now that Dulles Airport has come into its own, and a pricing mechanism would be a better way of rationing scarce terminal and runway space at Reagan National.

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Hey Lexington, oversight much?

Out of Lexington, Ky., (h/t to Erin Lamos) comes the jaw-dropping news, reported over the past six weeks in the Lexington Herald-Leader, of the Blue Grass Airport director’s wildly excessive and inappropriate spending — and the lack of oversight that allowed him to get away with it for two years.

On November 23, Jennifer Hewlett reported that Michael Gobb, the airport’s executive director since 1998, racked up $200,000 in travel and expenses between 2006 and 2008. The airport, a “component” of the Lexington-Fayette County consolidated government, paid $13,000 for a twelve-day trip to St. Petersburg for a conference,$8,100 for a conference in Croatia, $5,500 for a conference in San Diego (“Gobb spent $834 at Island Hoppers, a store that sells resort wear. He later reimbursed the airport $313.”), and $3,800 for a conference in Washington, D.C. According to the airport, Gobb networked at these conferences in an effort to bring new air service to Lexington. But according to the paper:

Airlines that have come to the airport during Gobb’s tenure include ATA Connection, TWA, American Eagle and Allegiant Air, according to Lovely. (The first two have since left. ATA went out of business, and TWA was bought by American Airlines.) . . .  According to FAA figures, the number of passengers boarding planes nationally increased by 13 percent from fiscal years 1999 through 2007, while the number boarding at Blue Grass was down 1 percent for calendar years 1999 to 2007.

Subsequent articles followed, detailing a chain of absurd expenses (in addition to Gobb’s company car and gas, pricey cell phone service, and numerous club memberships on top of his $219,450 salary):

  • “Tens of thousands of dollars” spent on gifts, ostensibly airport clients, including $6,500 worth of bourbon and other liquor and “$6,000 . . .  spent during the same period at toy stores . . . to keep airport employees and vendors, not clients, happy.”
  • “Gobb travels business or first class internationally because of back problems.”
  • A $26,000 conference trip to Hawaii for Gobb, airport chairman Bernard Lovely, and three other airport officials.
  • A $4,500 Texas strip club excursion in 2003 ostensibly for entertaining American Airlines executives. (“No American Airlines executives attended the strip club outing.”)

As the scandal mounted, the state auditor was called in to review the airport’s expenses, then Gobb was suspended before he resigned. Now the county council, which oversees the airport board, has asked Bernard Lovely to step down as airport board chairman. In developments reported today, the state auditor has put law enforcement on notice of “possible criminal wrongdoing” at the airport.

(more…)

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If your dollars and mine weren’t at stake, I would probably have to refrain from criticizing or poking fun at the Essential Air Service. It’s like hunting cattle: it’s just not very sporting. That said, Ben Mutzabaugh shares a doozy of an EAS grant over at Today in the Sky. Hagerstown, Maryland, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will both be getting Cape Air service (five times daily for Lancaster) to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Hagerstown is about seventy-five miles west of BWI and a similar distance northwest of Washington, D.C. Lancaster, which was aided a few years ago when Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation helped jury-rig the EAS qualifications, is ninety miles from BWI.

The ridiculous thing is that Lancaster is only a forty-five minute drive from Harrisburg International Airport, which has seven airlines serving thirteen destinations, eleven of which are major connecting hubs. “Major connections” is not what Lancaster and Hagerstown’s Cape Air passengers will enjoy at BWI: “‘Cape Air has ticket- and baggage-sharing agreements with all major airlines except Southwest and AirTran, so customers won’t need separate arrangements for separate legs of a trip.’ Of course, Southwest and AirTran are the top two carriers at BWI, so the lack of agreements with those two airlines will limit connecting possibilities out of BWI.”

Of course, the combined $2.6 million in subsidies for these cities isn’t even a rounding error these days, but come on. It’s a new year. Let’s have a new approach to small community air service.

Subsidies help Lancaster restore air service; Hagerstown also to get flights [Today in the Sky]

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