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Posts Tagged ‘world’

Irwin Stelzer, a very intelligent commentator on economic issues, indulges too much air rage in his latest column. After running through a laundry list of typical air travel complaints, he reveals that his understanding of air traffic control funding, for example, is shaky:

Now consider the world’s airlines’ roles in all of this. They have by and large acted as if their customers’ experience in airports is none of their concern. . . . Unless, of course, he or she is sitting on the tarmac for a few hours, in which case the airlines are guessing that their customers are not completely up-to-date on the carriers’ reluctance to fund a new air-traffic control system that might eliminate such annoyances.

Well, the airlines are actually trying to set up a “new” system, which has its own merits but no hope of alleviating such annoyances in the next few years. They want general aviation to bear a greater share of the ATC funding burden. The airlines are indeed “reluctant” to continue funding an air traffic control system that cannot accommodate the increasing demand for air travel. The key to relieving congestion is to charge higher prices at the (less than ten) crowded hub airports where such congestion occurs. Of course, this will increase fares, but it’s a rational way to allocate seats on flights at premium times of day–times when Mr. Stelzer presumably prefers to fly. (more…)

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After a fifteen-year-old Russian boy survived a two-hour flight at high altitude as a stowaway inside the wheel well of a Boeing 737, his story received some attention. He stowed away at the Perm Airport by sneaking through a hole in the airport fence. Everyone wondered how a modern airport could allow such a major lapse–how did the boy get from the fence to the wheel well without being stopped? Well, it looks like the lapse continues. Six days later, two newspaper reporters found the hole intact, entered the secured area, and in poorly translated English:

When the correspondents had reached the runway, no one stopped to ask them what they were doing at a closed object. . . . In the middle of the day, when all of the airport’s services were working, two men (correspondents) freely accessed a plane standing in front of the airdrome control point and looked into the plane’s right wing. Finally, one of the technicians noticed some strangers near the plane, looked at them, and . . . went on working.

Well, da, that sure inspires confidence in the safety of Russian aviation. This is surely not what they wanted on the day after the unveiling of the Sukhoi SuperJet 100.

Experiment: Zero Security of Russian Airports [Russia-InfoCentre]

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The Department of Transportation has awarded new China route authority (see my earlier post on this), and all the major airline applicants took home a prize. Delta goes first, with immediate approval for Atlanta-Shanghai. The 2008 route is for Guangzhou only, and only United submitted a bid, for service from San Francisco. Finally, in 2009, US Airways will begin serving Philadelphia-Beijing, Northwest will fly Detroit-Shanghai, American will add Chicago-Beijing, and Continental will launch Newark-Shanghai service.

What’s too bad about this is that there is so much pent-up demand for China flights stymied by trade restrictions and tight control. Chinese airlines won’t even use all their allocated routes, but U.S. carriers can’t step in and take them over. Hopefully, recognition of this demand will stimulate movement toward an open skies agreement with China.

What’s great about this is the increased connectivity. By 2009, virtually every U.S. airport with commercial service will have one-stop access to China. This is an impressive gain since deregulation, when Pan Am and Northwest Orient dominated Asia routes (and often flew through intermediate gateways like Honolulu, Anchorage, and Seattle), and especially with respect to service to nonstop service to China itself, which was very limited and did not begin until the 1980s. The remarkable expansion of accessible China service to almost everywhere in the United States is something to applaud.

Delta, United get first crack at new China routes [USA Today via Today in the Sky]

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The British government is pressuring British Airways to purchase UK-made products in the interests of British jobs, the Times reports. “Government ministers and officials are understood to be urging Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA, to ‘buy British’ by supporting Rolls [engines] and Airbus, both of which have large manufacturing operations in the UK.”

I can’t even begin to go into how backward this is, but I’ll try: First, if Airbus and Rolls Royce offer products superior to their competitors’ (they are both certainly right up there with their competitors), then the decision would require no intervention. Second, BA is a mostly-Boeing airline, although the Times article fervently pushes a scenario in which BA might need to buy the A380. But it doesn’t make sense for BA to buy Airbuses unless it gets a good deal, which is something it needs to negotiate with Airbus. For the British government to get involved in a pricing deal with a private company would be illegal.

That’s right, illegal! (more…)

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One of the media’s tropes is the battle royal between Boeing and Airbus, with the two companies as respective proxies for the United States and Europe. This is really no more than a trope, as both companies have been making their operations more international. The new Boeing 787 is really only American-assembled, not American-made–its parts are produced all over the world and shipped to Everett, Wash., for assembly.

Boeing has announced that China is now its largest supplier, with over $2.5 billion in contracts on all Boeing models. This is a sign of healthy trade interaction. When China’s state-owned aerospace companies start producing “homegrown” Chinese jetliners, one hopes that they will have learned a lesson about the value of international business cooperation and not follow the nationalistic path they seem inclined to.

China Now Largest Foreign Parts Supplier for Boeing [Aero-News.Net]

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As the BRICs develop their aerospace industries, they will decide whether they will participate in the international trading system or sell to a bloc of client states. Unfortunately, Russia seems to be returning to familiar paths as it attempts to produce 4,500 aircraft by 2025. Russia’s state-owned UABC is selling several Tupolev 204s to the Islamic Republic’s state-owned Iran Air. U.S. and European sanctions on Iran prevent the airline from buying the spare parts needed to maintain its Boeing and Airbus fleets. The sanctions are in place to pressure Iran to drop its nuclear program.

By constricting the Iranian economy, the West may persuade the regime in Tehran to give up its expensive nuclear ambitions and open up to true wealth. Russia’s decision to sell to Iran–not only airplanes–undoes that work. Russia is expressing its disdain for the multilateral trading system and bucking up a state sponsor of terrorism, a force for regional instability, and one of its old Cold War clients.

Russia is allowing its need for an outlet for production of new jets to supersede its interest in a stable regional neighbor. Moscow’s course, while it may bring good business in some quarters, indicates the path Russian aerospace and commerce in general will take in coming years.

Iran Turns to Russia for Airliners [AP]

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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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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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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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