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Archive for the ‘Evan’s Fiskings’ Category

Boo to Hot Air, which posted this headline: “Good news: Feds pulling workers away from FAA to staff exploding Cash for Clunkers bureaucracy” (I found it via Volokh.) The Hot Air post plays up the possibility that thin-on-the-ground air traffic controllers are being taken from towers to process paperwork. The article cited, from the Washington Times, however, makes it clear that this is not the case:

But Ms. Zuckman said that only support personnel, such as in finance and operations, were asked to work on the clunkers program.

“Nobody is being ordered to do anything; we weren’t asking air traffic controllers to leave their posts. We’re using budget and accounting people primarily,” she said.

“It was made clear that no core mission activities of the FAA are to be affected by this effort, especially as they could relate to air traffic operations.”

A union spokeswoman confirmed the account Friday.

“Air traffic controllers are not being asked to do this,” said Alex Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Basically, the actual story doesn’t live up to Hot Air’s scare headline. You don’t have to think that Cash for Clunkers was a good idea (I don’t) to think it’s a bad idea for federal support personnel to spend a few days helping to clear a backlog that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

Unless something develops in this story, there’s nothing to see here.

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The Senate is set to vote on a bill that would “establish a nonprofit corporation to run a nationally coordinated travel promotion program.”

[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said the corporation “would market the U.S. around the globe as a tourist destination.” Reid told reporters earlier in the week that the bill could create 40,000 new jobs in the U.S. [B.S.--ed.]

Initially the corporation would receive $10 million in federal funding from money collected from travelers under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system currently being established by the Department of Homeland Secretary. After Fiscal 2010, the corporation would have to raise matching contributions to qualify for additional federal funding.

Radley Balko comments that “this is all because tourism is down, due all the money we’ve spent on post 9-11 efforts to make it more difficult for foreigners to come here.” (Reason piles on, too.) I’m sympathetic to that line of reasoning — want to talk about winning hearts and minds around the world? Then try making it not so much of a hassle to get through our ports of entry. But the numbers just don’t back Balko up. According to a 2008 report (with data up to 2007) from the Department of Commerce, after dropping off sharply post-9/11, foreign tourism began to rebound (not from every country, but a slight upward trend is clear). It wasn’t until after the financial crisis last year that foreign arrivals began to tank year on year, continuing to post steep declines in the first part of this year.

The fact is, regardless of the effectiveness of U.S. border security policies, the downturn in tourism is primarily due to the current economic contraction, not post-9/11 security procedures.

Now, whether it’s helpful for the government to get involved in the tourism marketing business is something else altogether. But I guess with all the work the administration has done to discourage U.S. companies to bring tourist dollars to places like Vegas, it might as well make up the balance by bringing in some foreigners.

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A Reuters item from Friday offers up a factual error that betrays a very shallow understanding of the potential for airline “merger mania 2009.” The factual error doesn’t actually appear to be in the original Reuters piece (here as it appeared on Friday; if the error originally appeared in the Reuters item, then it has been corrected but not flagged with an erratum) but rather in a paragraph added in the International Herald Tribune‘s version of the story yesterday, here: “Other sizeable U.S. airlines that could potentially be involved in mergers are US Airways, Southwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Jet Blue Airways.” This assertion is based on what exactly? It’s not reported in the Reuters item, so I really have no idea why it was inserted. It’s as if some copy editor had a general idea of some U.S. airlines’ names and threw them in. I am amused by the inclusion of Northwest, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, in a list of airlines looking to merge. I am even more amused that the IHT has not had the good sense to correct this error on its site, and that Today in the Sky is uncritically citing the story. Way to go, news media!

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An interesting item in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, my hometown newspaper:

FedEx issued its first Global Citizenship Report Wednesday, touting plans for big cuts in pollution by jets and delivery trucks. . . . On the environmental front, the company aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by FedEx Express jets by 20 percent within less than 12 years.

The article continues:

FedEx fuel consumption of about 1.5 billion gallons last year ranked behind the largest passenger airlines, which put more flights in the air. Fuel was 12.1 percent of the company’s total operating costs in fiscal 2008.

“We’re a large user of fuel, but we’re not the largest,” [sustainability director Mitch] Jackson said.

No, but according to an interview with CEO Fred Smith in the Wall Street Journal, it’s the second-largest user of energy in the world — after the U.S. military. See comment below.

To curb the appetite for oil, FedEx Express in 2005 set goals of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by its jets and a 20 percent increase in fuel mileage for delivery vehicles.

The report showed that jet emissions have been reduced 3.7 percent on a pounds-per- available-ton-mile basis in three years, while vehicle fuel economy is already up 13.7 percent.

This article might lead you to think: “Good for FedEx. Look at the way they care about the environment. What an upright corporate citizen.” It’s good for the reader that at least one outlet has gotten the rest of the story. According to ATW Daily News:

Key to the increased efficiency will be the replacement of its 90 727Fs with at least 87 757-200 converted freighters by 2016. The 757s will reduce “fuel consumption up to 36% while providing 20% more payload capacity,” it said.

FedEx has been planning this fleet transition for years (with a focus on fuel and labor savings and increased medium haul capacity). How great for FedEx — they get environmental plaudits while doing exactly what they were doing all along. Unfortunately, this kind of reporting is par for the course at the CA, which years ago — through a series of redesigns and changes in editorial leadership — shifted away from serious reporting into local cheerleading, soft and fluffy features, and barely edited press releases.

In other news: FedEx has a blog! Welcome to the aviation blogosphere!

FedEx will do its part for cleaner environment [Commercial Appeal]
FedEx sets target to lower aircraft CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 [ATW Daily News]

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A misleading lede

I was surprised by this lede in a recent Financial Times story: “Most Americans spurned air and road travel over the Labor Day holiday weekend but flocked on to trains as high oil prices and the economic downturn continued to hold sway over US consumers’ spending patterns.”

First, most Americans (like me) did spurn weekend travel. According to the FT story, 51 million people traveled by air, train, or more than fifty miles by car. The story is right that air travel is down and train travel is up, but look at the figures:

  • Airline passengers: down 1 million people, or 6.5 percent, to 16 million people.
  • Road warriors: down 320,000 people, or 1 percent, to 34.4 million people.
  • Amtrakkers: up 10 percent to a total of 322,000.

Does that sound like “flocking” to you? 1,300,000 fewer people traveled on airlines and highways over Labor Day than last year, and the FT would have you believe that 30,000 more travelers on Amtrak constitutes a massive shift in mode preference.

(And why does the FT reporter leave out bus travel? Greyhound serves almost as many passengers per year as Amtrak at 25 million, let alone all the other motorcoach operators. Surely coaches can be much more easily substituted for travel than Amtrak.)

Outside of the dense northeast corridor, Amtrak is simply not a viable substitute for air and car. Its cross-country routes are too long, its schedules too infrequent, its destinations too few, and its delays too common. That’s not to say that some sort of high-speed rail system won’t work here–just that Amtrak ain’t it.

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Barack Obama has been watching the Olympics and marveling at how amazing China’s infrastructure is.

Here’s the text:

Everybody’s watching what’s going on in Beijing right now with the Olympics. Think about the amount of money that China has spent on infrastructure. Their ports, their train systems, their airports are vastly superior to us now, which means if you are a corporation deciding where to do business, you’re starting to think, “Beijing looks like a pretty good option.”

China’s infrastructure may indeed look impressive, but I wouldn’t say that “their airports are vastly superior to us now.” The new Beijing airport is very fancy, but according to Anming Zhang and Andrew Yuen of the University of British Columbia, “travel delays have become a serious problem at some of the major Chinese airports,” the military has a chokehold on air traffic control and routing, and air traffic control staffing is at “20-40 percent of the level needed to meet the minimum safety standards” (much worse than the FAA’s staffing shortages). To the extent that China’s aviation system has improved, it is as a result of liberalization and privatization. (See their chapter in Aviation Infrastructure Performance.)

But let’s assume for a moment that China does actually have a better transportation infrastructure than we do. How did they get it? By being a repressive, authoritarian regime. If the Party wants to build something, it does! It’s easy to displace ten thousand people to expand your airport, or two million to build the Olympic complex. Compare this to Chicago O’Hare, whose long-awaited expansion continues to be impeded by homeowners protecting their property in court. (Of course, given Obama’s connections to Mayor Richard Daley, perhaps he secretly admires Daley’s “easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission” approach to airport planning.)

There’s none of this messy environmental review process in Beijing. That’s one of the main reasons it takes so long to build a runway here. And China takes advantage of cheap labor in terrible working conditions. Here, governments are required by the Davis-Bacon Act to pay prevailing (read: union) wages for public works projects, which drives up costs further. Obama supports Davis-Bacon and cosponsored legislation in 2005 to repeal George W. Bush’s suspension of Davis-Bacon in Katrina-afflicted areas. Is Obama really admiring China for its exploitation of labor?

No, the Olympics are just another excuse for Obama to beat up on the Bush administration. Fair enough, it’s an election; but he owes it to us to get the facts straight. The United States has an infrastructure problem. We have especially failed to provide an aviation infrastructure that can grow to meet demand. Looking to China will not provide useful solutions.

H/T: Hot Air

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B-roll

The following post has nothing to do with aviation policy; it’s just a rant. This story came across my reader today. What’s wrong with the screen cap below?

If that jet in the picture looks like it’s in Continental’s livery, you’re right. The editors chose the do a screen grab of a Continental aircraft on a story about United. Why? Beats me, but it seems to go along with a general illiteracy about commercial aviation in the mainstream media.

I was once interviewed last fall for a segment on the Essential Air Service. The segment focused on flights at Washington Dulles Airport; all of the “b-roll” — the background footage that airs as people talk — came from Reagan National. But at least they shot the right airline.

TV shows and movies get it wrong a lot, too, confusing airline liveries and aircraft types. A sitcom episode I saw not long ago, set in 2007, showed an establishing shot of the Delta terminal at New York’s JFK airport. The aircraft were L1011s and Boeing 727s — decked out in Delta’s mid-’90s livery — types Delta has not operated since 2001 and 2003, respectively. The worst offender in this category is the terrible short-lived sitcom The Loop, which focused on a young executive at a major airline. This show had every reason to be accurate; after all, it was about the airline industry. Instead, its understanding of the industry was juvenile, as if the writers merely skimmed a few newspaper articles. But its visual cues were much worse. It used footage of LaGuardia and Newark airports as establishing shots of Chicago-O’Hare. It would show a narrowbody plane in an establishing shot, then reveal a widebody interior — and vice versa. And no wonder the fictional airline was hemorrhaging money — they were, according to the show, operating 747s on domestic routes like Chicago-Denver!

This is, of course, a trivial tip of the iceberg. Patrick Smith nearly has a full-time job pointing out errors in the mainstream media’s reporting of much more serious aviation issues.

Rant over. Now back to your regularly scheduled wonkishness.

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This AP story on Aviation.com has a troublesome lede. Check it out: “China plans to set up its own company to make passenger jumbo jets, making it less dependent on Boeing and Airbus, official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.” (Emphasis added.) I’ve blogged previously about China’s aerospace ambitions. Here, the reporter errs in his word choice. China and its airlines are not dependent on Western jumbo jet manufacturers any more than any other airline. Dependency does not bear on fair commercial transactions. A Chinese airline pays for an Airbus product, and both sides theoretically benefit. Dependency assumes that one party to a deal is a benefactor — a very different relationship than that between a vendor and a customer. Unfortunately, what China will do is make its airlines more dependent on the state-run Chinese aerospace firms.

And here is the second error in the article — or at least what should be a category error. Paul Krugman famously argued that countries don’t compete; firms do. The reporter should not be referring to China, Airbus, and Boeing in the same category. But China’s state-run aerospace firms make the country virtually identical to the firm. Here, the country is competing with the firm. The media have a regrettable habit of treating Airbus and Boeing as national proxies, but China has a regrettable habit of actually having state proxy companies.

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In a BusinessWeek op-ed, House Transportation Committee chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) has come out firmly against airline mergers involving the big six.

Yet this latest round of rumored mergers, which includes a United-Continental scenario, as well as a Delta-Northwest combination, is significant. It would mean further consolidation in the airline industry, further reductions in choice for consumers, and probably fewer flights, fewer jobs, and higher fares.

I think Oberstar’s jumping the gun here. The Justice Department will do a full review of any proposed merger. (See here, and see my analyses of Delta-Northwest and United-Continental.)

Deregulation held out the promise of a market-driven industry that would give rise to a host of new entrants, bringing more competition, lower fares, and better service. The immediate aftermath of deregulation saw the expected flurry of airline startups and new market service. That activity, however, was short-lived.

Actually, deregulation did bring new entrants to markets, introduce more competition, and lower fares. Service may or may not have improved (premium service certainly has), but you get what you pay for. Lower fares are a form of better service. And what does he mean by “short-lived”? Changes in the industry have been pretty much constant since 1978. There has never been any shortage of airline startups and new service. It’s a very dynamic industry, and since deregulation, that has redounded to consumers’ benefit. (more…)

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If you build it, they will come.

This sort of wishful thinking too often infects policymakers seeking to improve and expand air travel systems. Sometimes, unfortunately, they choose the most expensive option: building an entirely new airport. As I’ve written earlier, this does not happen very often (at least not in developed countries, but check out all the crazy airport construction going on in the UAE). Developing a brand-new airport is a multibillion-dollar project requiring decades of planning, permissions, environmental mitigation, NIMBY lawsuits, and more. The easier course is to expand capacity at existing airports, although this is not always possible. But it is certainly cheaper in the long run than building white elephants like MidAmerica St. Louis Airport or Montreal’s ill-conceived Mirabel International Airport. Mirabel reflects many of the problems with the new-airport concept: it must be built far away from a city center to avoid extensive legal challenges; transit links are often an afterthought; the local market for and technological aspects of air travel may change dramatically; and travelers may hate the airport. A new airport may require regulatory protection, like the Wright Amendment for Dallas-Ft. Worth, the perimeter at National for Washington Dulles, and the international flight rules at Mirabel and Dorval (now Trudeau).

Against this inauspicious history comes the Times of London with a leader arguing for a new airport for London in lieu of expanding Heathrow. The paper writes that Heathrow is too central, too congested, too miserable, and that it cannot be suitably expanded.

Therefore, says the editorial: (more…)

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