Archive for October, 2007

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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  • Report: The Transportation Security Administration can damage your stuff, and, if you complain, arrest you. [Aero-News.Net]
  • Regional jet operators that contract with big airlines are facing a pilot shortage, and it will affect the entire industry. [Dallas Morning News]
  • Outsourcing short hops and thin routes has been commonplace for a long time, but what about long-haul flights? Can an Indian crew operate JFK-Mumbai for less? [Upgrade: Travel Better]

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So the A380 flew for the first time in commercial service, yippee. I just can’t get all the excited about the overdone Airbus-Boeing rivalry hype and the endless back-and-forth in the mainstream media about how every setback/leap forward means that Airbus/Boeing’s business plan is great/terrible. But I can get excited about this:

Safety concerns have been raised about the A380 super-jumbo after two passengers were attacked by lions during their on-board safari. The two business class passengers had to be rescued when their Land Rover became bogged down near a watering hole and they tried to get back to their flat-bed seats on foot.

The incident comes as Airbus announced that the next generation of A380s will feature a 25,000 seat auditorium based on the Roman Colosseum. Vasily Borodin, vice-president of Russia’s Aeroflot, said first class passengers will be able choose up to a dozen people from economy and then command them to fight to the death. “The winners and their families will be upgraded, so we should get some terrific contests,” he added.

Also on board: golf courses, hunting, and a six-story waterslide!

Safety Fears after A380 On-Board Safari Incident [parody from Daily Mash via Nuts about Southwest]

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The title above has nothing to do with inflight meals, unfortunately, and everything to do the airlines wanting to have their cake and eat it too in the congested airspace brouhaha (see yesterday’s post). There are several options the FAA is currently weighing to resolve the delay problem:

  • Charging more for slots at congested times of day (I think this is preferable)
  • Imposing arbitrary schedule cuts
  • Fines for chronically delayed flights (due to lack of truth in advertising about scheduled flight times)

The airlines are having none of it. “‘We’re disappointed that they’re taking this course of action given the effort by industry to significantly reduce delays,’ said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association,’ reported the AP. I’m as leery of fines like this as the airlines, but do the airlines like any alternatives? AP: “But airlines say that so-called ‘congestion pricing’ approach would simply result in higher fares and pledged to challenge mandates for it, or mandated schedule cuts, in court or legislatively.” Oh, I see. So the airlines oppose any measure that will reduce delays. Combined with their insistence that they cannot cut schedules on their own, this leaves them rejecting every possible alternative.

Now, the airspace redesign and other ancillary improvements at JFK can cut delays, but will such cuts keep pace with the airport’s recent and ongoing dramatic growth? The airlines’ only solution is the long-term issue of air traffic control’s technological and financial transformation. They claim to want to avoid delays and yet they reject any measures that might actually stop delays. I tend to support self-enforcement, but when the airlines refuse even to consider it, then market forces should be permitted to make congestion unprofitable.

U.S. May Fine Airlines for Chronically Delayed Flights [AP via Aviation.com]

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Well, it’s been an exciting few days in the aviation policy world. I’ve been swamped with work at my day job, but I’ve been looking forward to this post for some time. Last Thursday, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters came much closer to endorsing a congestion-pricing plan for crowded airports than ever before. The next day, the FAA released its targets for caps on operations at New York’s delay-prone JFK airport–much to the ire of the airlines. Over the weekend, Delta’s buildup at JFK (a major contributor to congestion since 2005) was featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Today, the FAA began meeting with airlines and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the agency that runs JFK.

First, congestion pricing: Secretary Peters’s testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee was a sort of “state of transportation” in which she pulled no punches about the problems facing U.S. aviation, especially in terms of delays. I covered these a while back in a post about a big House hearing. Peters:

There is a pressing need to overhaul the Nation’s aviation system infrastructure to improve economic efficiency and maintain an impressive record of safety performance. . . . We project tremendous growth in the system. We expect over a billion passengers to be flying on U.S. commercial carriers by 2015, partly as a result of the success we have had in gaining access to international aviation markets around the world. This increased demand will bring new airlines, aircraft, flight crew, and controllers into the system. That is clearly a safety challenge, but it also is an increased burden on system performance. More and more, our skies and our airports are choked with aircraft, passengers are badly delayed in reaching their destinations, and the inefficiencies that we see are hampering growth across the economy. Simply put, today’s air traffic management system is incapable of meeting the challenges presented by projected air travel demands in the future. . . . (more…)

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Robert Sturgell to head FAA

The current acting administrator will be nominated for a full five-year term. He is likely to continue the policies of former administrator Marion Blakey and current secretary of transportation Mary Peters.

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SUX to be Sioux (City)

After years of trying to get the FAA to change its airport’s three-letter code, Sioux City, Iowa, has embraced its memorable identifier.

The code, used by pilots and airports worldwide and printed on tickets and luggage tags, will be used on T-shirts and caps sporting the airport’s new slogan, “FLY SUX.” It also forms the address of the airport’s redesigned Web site – http://www.flysux.com.

The airport had at one point been offered some replacements deemed unacceptable, including–I kid you not–GAY.

After fight, airport embraces SUX code [AP via Dave Barry’s Blog]

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In a post about Northwest Airlines’s new Airbus A330s, Ben Mutzabaugh reminds us that Northwest’s workhorse aircraft, the DC-9, is still in use with no planned replacement. NWA has 134 DC-9s, which seat 90-130 depending on configuration, and it has 130 of its other domestic workhorse type, the A319/A320 family, which seat between 125 and 150, meaning that the narrowbody Airbus jets are not a direct replacement. Northwest’s smaller-jet contractors are operating (at the high end) 76-seat Embraer E-175s and CRJ-900s, the max allowed under union rules. The business angle is that NWA needs a replacement for the DC-9. Will it be the 90-110-seater the E-190/E-195? Something else? It’s interesting to look at.

But this blog is about policy, and I wanted to point to the discussion in the comments about the safety of NWA’s old DC-9s. There’s a lot of claptrap about how unsafe the old birds are (as usual, people use “Internet grammar and spelling”):

  • “One accident with a Northwest DC-9 will ground the entire fleet. Their playing the numbers game.”
  • “How is that the FAA can regulate the maximum age for pilot but not the planes?”
  • “35 years old? No wonder I am afraid its going to be my last flight everytime I get on one, those planes are older than me!”

Fortunately, there are some common-sense commenters too, driving home the fact that old planes are not necessarily any less safe than new planes. So there’s really no reason for the FAA to “regulate the maximum age” of planes. Every aircraft in commercial service has to have a Standard Airworthiness Certificate. If the plane passes, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Wright Flyer; it’s considered satisfactorily safe.

NWA’s international fleet gets younger, but DC-9s still flying [Today in the Sky]

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A federal task force of aviation stakeholders is meeting to discuss ways to reduce delays in the New York area, per Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’s orders.

The talks, led by the Federal Aviation Administration, have been closed to the public, but participants report that one of the primary topics will be “congestion pricing,” a scheme to reduce delays by making airlines think twice about scheduling flights during the busiest times of the day.

Generally, the plan would implement higher fees for planes operating at the airports during the aviation rush hours, which, in New York, coincide roughly with morning and evening commutes.

Good idea.

FAA and Airlines Brainstorm on NYC Airport Gridlock [AP via Aviation.com]

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