I’ve done several off-blog items on the subject of international airline alliances lately. Here they are:
- The Airplane Geeks podcast with Max and Court
- A guest post on the Cranky Flier
- An IAG podcast with Addison Schonland
As of March 5, according to new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules, English proficiency is now be the required of all pilots and air traffic controllers. In the past, controllers and pilots could communicate in a local language if both spoke it, even though English was the most common standard. More than anything else, this affects communications at major international airports. A number of air disasters have been attributed to language barriers. A pilot I know was once taxiing to the runway at General Mariano Escobedo International Airport in Monterrey, Mexico, and was instructed — in English, as he flies for a U.S. airline — to proceed to a particular location. Over the radio, he heard the tower, in Spanish, direct an Aeromexico MD-88 to the same location. The U.S. pilot speaks Spanish fluently, so he was able to radio the tower and request clarification. Had he not spoken Spanish, there might have been a collision. The implementation of this rule is a concrete step toward making air travel safer.
English to become compulsory for pilots [Telegraph]
Air traffic control commercialization can change the incentives in the ATC system, Eugene Hoeven (pictured at right) said during a panel discussion last Wednesday, leading to dramatic improvements in the industry. Hoeven, the director for ICAO affairs of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the trade association for air naviation service providers (ANSP), spoke at an American Enterprise Institute panel on February 20. (Here are event information and media, and here’s the speech.)
Hoeven said that today’s airline troubles are a result of bad policies, including the failure of lawmakers to recognize ATC as an integral part of the air traffic system. He said that satellite-based technologies would be the long-term operational answer. But “all this costs an awful lot of money.” Hoeven looked at the debates over FAA funding that have consumed the aviation community for the past several years, and he concluded that “the FAA, just like the airlines, is a victim of bad government policy, constant political meddling and bipartisan politics.”
So, he asked, is commercialization the answer? He flatly rejected “privatization,” the selling off of the ATC system — echoing moderator Ron Utt’s statement that privatization would be a no-go — but he said that by focusing on how to fund the FAA, we are only responding to symptoms. Commercialization might have a role in “creating the right institutional environment that will make the U.S. air traffic system more responsive to the needs of the nation.”
He pointed out that the United States is one of only a few major industrialized countries that have not commercialized their ATC systems. In Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, there are autonomous government corporations to handle ATC. In the UK, the ANSP runs ATC through a public-private partnership. NavCanada is a fully privatized, nonprofit corporation. “Where governments have ‘let go’ of ANS provision,” he said, “and granted greater autonomy for the ANSP, there has resulted a greater responsiveness to the needs of the aviation community.” (more…)
The Guardian reports that the U.S. government is circulating a memo and beginning negotiations in Europe to intensify security measures:
If this turns out to be accurate — I cannot entirely trust the Guardian‘s slant — then let me be the first to say: What. Is. The. TSA. Thinking?!
First, waived visa requirements allow massively valuable financial, business, political, educational, and cultural interchanges. If the U.S. slaps visa requirements on a noncompliant country, retaliation is likely. One might say that the other country stands to lose more, but the United States is the country with the low-value currency. More and more, we are a tourist destination for Europeans, and imposing visa restrictions will stanch that valuable flow. Beyond that, it constitutes a giant middle finger to a lot of countries that are — if not our best friends — security allies and trade partners. Why is the TSA conducting foreign policy?
Second, who trusts the TSA to administer programs like this? This is the agency that lost a hard drive with the personal info of 100,000 employees. This is the agency whose U.S. passenger database has been held up by Congress pending confirmation that it will have adequate privacy protections. The TSA’s track record will not reassure our European allies nervous about privacy concerns.
I’ll be checking for more news reports to verify the Guardian story and will update here as the situation warrants.
Bush orders clampdown on flights to US [Guardian]
Patrick Smith’s column this week is a delightful meditation on “country-bagging” in which he argues that one does not count having visited a country without leaving an airport or train station for at least a few hours and seeing the place. In this situation, I am a strict constructionist of borders: pass through one, and you can check off that country, state, or territory.
In my lackadaisical quest to visit all fifty states (I’m up to thirty-nine), I count Michigan. My only time in Michigan was waiting in the very nice Detroit airport. A Michigander friend told me that unless I had stood upon and taken in the rich, verdant soil of the Wolverine State, I had not actually “been” there. By that standard, I wonder, has any resident of Detroit has ever been to Michigan?
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The Chinese were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of jumbo jets danced in their heads.
AVIC I and II will be reworked to produce parts and equipment for the jumbo jet program, in addition to continuing their own product lines. These developments raise the question of why China is going this direction. The global market for large aircraft is well-served by Boeing and Airbus, both of which produce excellent aircraft without being centrally managed by the state. Furthermore, both Airbus and Boeing compete in an open international market. I’ve written elsewhere that China may attempt to use its emerging network of proto-client states in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America as a market for uncompetitive Chinese products.
More worrisome is China’s insistence on “homegrown” aircraft. Just as the major aircraft producers are developing sophisticated international supply chains and moving toward truly global jets (the B787 is 25 percent foreign-produced, and parts are manufactured all over the United States), China wants to move in the direction of nationalism. They’re not there yet (many components of the ARJ21 are U.S.-made), but China’s jumbo-jet drive illustrates a troubling trend.
China’s determination to produce a large jet (as if that is a sine qua non of superpower status), combined with the fact that the industrial drive is being managed from Beijing, means that China is ignoring the market for the jets which it will produce. Maybe the market will accommodate the Chinese product, but it might not. Famously, Boeing almost went bankrupt in the 1960s producing the eventually successful B747 for an untested widebody market. The state-owned company that will produce the CS2000, CS2010, and larger jets will probably not be exposed to such risk, and the absence of risk may severely distort the market for commercial aircraft.
The Economist writer brings in the intervention dimension:
[S]o politicised an industry as air travel need not fear dislocations in any case; governments would react incredibly quickly to pull back on any part of an agreed-upon energy bill that appeared to cause significant damage to airlines or aeroplane manufacturers. This, in fact, is one of the arguments made by carbon pricing sceptics–that governments will not allow the necessary pain to be felt.
McArdle follows this with
[G]overnments will not allow anything to harm the airline industry.
What I don’t quite understand is why this is so. Why is everyone obsessed with having protected domestic airlines, and indeed, airplane manufacturing capacity? . . . Now China, too, wants its own airframe manufacturer. And everyone wants to protect their national airlines.
Why is flying so emotional? And so heavily, heavily protected by the heavy hand of the state?
Two things to say about this: amen, but things may be looking up.
Well, I’m back from a little-longer-than-usual Thanksgiving break. My day job has been busy and I have a couple of side editing projects that have been butting into my blogging time. But I was rousted from my bloggy slumber by this piece of non-news from Reuters:
New pact? Why, what new pact? Who signed a new agreement? This is big news. Oh, wait:
A new international aviation pact signed by the United States and the European Union could lead to lower prices for trans-Atlantic air travel and cause a shake-up among airlines, according to a report in Barron’s.
You mean the open skies agreement signed this spring? The one already extensively covered in the business and aviation press, including your humble blogger in an article that predates this blog post? Welcome to the party, Barron’s–you’re only more than six months (fashionably) late. Also, good for Barron’s: I see your analysis is the same as everyone else’s. Glad to see that it only takes you several months to come out with the conventional wisdom.
The Cranky Flier draws attention to a little-noticed aspect of this past weekend’s end of daylight savings time: its effects on airline schedules. Normally airlines deal with these sorts of things by making necessary adjustments (especially complicated, he says, for flights between the northern and southern hemisphere, where daylight savings is going on when it’s not for us.). But Congress’s extension of DST for two weeks in October is really throwing a monkey wrench into transatlantic scheduling:
[A]t congested airports like London/Heathrow or Frankfurt, the airlines don’t have slot flexibility so I assumed they’d have to just change around their flights in the US. But what about when that involves flights at New York/JFK or Chicago/O’Hare, also congested airports? This gets very tricky and the result is a hodgepodge of schedule changes for some airlines. . . .
Look at JFK, however, and the London flights change both their US departure and arrival times. As you can imagine, arriving into the US an hour later means missed connections and longer waits for the next flight.
Aviation policy turns up where you least expect it
How Daylight Savings Time Impacts the Airlines [The Cranky Flier]
I mean, I expect this from Michael O’Leary . . .
“Don’t talk to me about global warming… I just do not buy it whatsoever,” Maurice Flanagan, Emirates executive vice chairman, said at a regional aviation conference in Singapore.
“Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’ is absolute rubbish,” added Flanagan, who said he had watched the documentary three times.