Archive for March, 2008

  • The FAA’s aviation industry forecast conference is today. Check out what Adrian Schofield has to say about it. [Things with Wings]
  • Don Brown reminisces about the founding of the PATCO successor union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, two decades ago. [Get the Flick]
  • Big Sky closes shop, and Montana communities are left without “Essential” Air Service. (See my take here.) [Aero-News.Net]

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The FAA has filed an action for a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines on account of operating aircraft without conducting a particular routine inspection on them. Here’s the story: For some unstated reason, Southwest failed to conduct “mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking” on forty-six Boeing 737 Classic-series aircraft from June 2006 to March 2007. Southwest notified the FAA of its lapse on March 15, 2007, and according to the airline, “The FAA approved our actions and considered the matter closed as of April 2007.” Apparently not. According to the FAA, “after Southwest Airlines discovered that it had failed to accomplish the required repetitive inspections, between March 15, 2007 and March 23, 2007, it continued to operate those same 46 airplanes on an additional 1,451 flights. The amount of the civil penalty reflects the serious nature of those deliberate violations.” Southwest is not denying that it operated these flights, and according to a statement from Boeing, “Southwest Airlines contacted Boeing for verification of its technical opinion that the continued operation of SWA’s Classic 737s, for up to 10 days until the airplanes could be reinspected, did not pose a safety of flight issue.” Boeing did not believe the safety of Southwest’s fleet was ever compromised. So, to recap: Southwest thought that the FAA had approved operating the aircraft between discovering the lack of testing and the conclusion of testing, and the FAA says it never approved such a plan.

At the heart of this issue, as best I can see it, is the phrase “deliberate violations.” What did Southwest think constituted FAA approval? We need to wait and see how Southwest officially responds to the FAA’s action to learn more. I’ve queried Southwest, and if I hear more details, I’ll post them. This is a very serious issue. Some observers (including the usual suspects in Congress) are jumping to conclusions, but I think we need to wait and see what else Southwest has to say.

FAA accuses Southwest of ‘deliberate violations,’ proposes $10.2 million fine [ATW Daily News]
We Take Safety Seriously [Nuts about Southwest]

Photo credit: Flickr user Cubbie_n_Vegas. Used through a Creative Commons license

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Yes, this sounds like a good idea: start a low-fare carrier in an era of $100+ oil. Compound that brilliance by making it point-to-point only, but based at an airport with less than 285,000 enplanements in 2006 and a metro area of 300,000 people. Throw in the fact that even scheduled charter services masquerading as airlines are having trouble in that market, and you have the recipe for a great airline!

. . . Well, OK. This might be a recipe for disaster, but at least you can get the city — Charleston, W.Va., in this case — to pony up $3 million to support the theoretical “hometown airline.” Behind this plan is the same guy who did this with Skybus in Columbus, Ohio, and he seems to have come up with a pretty good shtick.

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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]

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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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The Internet is abuzz about the latest example of “eco- scandalous” airline behavior. An American Airlines flight from Chicago to London flew February 9 with only five passengers, using — reportedly — 22,000 gallons of Jet A. Why is this causing an uproar? The advocacy group Friends of the Earth considers it an “obscene waste of fuel” that raised each of the five travelers’ carbon footprints by “45 times.” Of course, there’s a sensible explanation for why the airline didn’t just scuttle the flight: “However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly back to the US on the same aircraft. . . . We sought alternative flights for the west-bound passengers but heavy loads out of London that day meant that this was not possible.”

What is the environmentalists’ solution? “Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international agreements to tackle climate change.” These measures would have changed nothing about the total environmental impact of the February 9 flight. American needed the plane to be in London that day, emissions trading scheme or not, so it would just have to had bitten the bullet and to ponied up for its environmental impact. Emissions trading programs are meant to reduce the environmental impact of aviation systemically, not in one-off circumstances. It’s dishonest of Friends of the Earth not to acknowledge that their solutions would end up costing travelers more without ending these rare sorts of trips.

Plane flies five passengers from US to London [Telegraph]

Photo credit: Flickr user dyobmit. Used through a Creative Commons license.

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Fascinating website for map lovers

One of the reasons aviation intrigues me is the spatial/geographical aspect of the industry, and I find resources like Airline Route Maps to be both useful and endlessly engaging.

But I want to recommend a new site I’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks: Strange Maps. The blogger posts unusual maps that he comes across. Today’s entry is a Yugoslav map of the planned invasion of the United States; other maps have included a cartogram of the United States based on number of country music songs referencing a state and a map of Europe done in marzipan. Strange Maps: highly recommended for your feed reader or bookmarks.

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An apology for the recent posting gap. I’ve been unusually busy with work and some (non-aviation) writing and editing projects. Here’s the latest in the aviation policy world:

  • When people like “Air Travelers Association” head David Stempler talk about air traffic control, read someone who can actually do ATC. [Get the Flick] (See Cranky for the scoop on Stempler’s curious organization.)
  • How much are Heathrow slots going for these days? Over $200 million, apparently. [ATW Daily News]
  • Hillary Clinton may have regained momentum with primary wins in Texas and Ohio yesterday, but her stands on DHS aren’t much to write home about — or much to write about at all, reports Benet Wilson. [Towers and Tarmacs]
  • The airline lobby suddenly thinks the crown jewel of NextGen — ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, using satellites instead of radar exclusively to manage aircraft — is too pricey. Why the turnaround? [ATW Daily News]
  • In China, airlines pay for pilot training, but that means that pilots have to stick around. Hainan Airlines is in a dispute with pilots who want to quit due to “frequent overtime” and “long delays in getting their salary.” [ATW Daily News]
  • Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) blames the gridlock over FAA reauthorization on the general aviation interests, whose lobbyists disagree. [Aero-News.Net]
  • Robert Mark no longer trusts Government Accountability Office reports on aviation. [Jetwhine]

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