Archive for December, 2008

A few observations from my holiday travels:

  • The Delta-Northwest merger is going swimmingly. My layover in Atlanta demonstrates that Delta has already adopted and integrated Northwest’s famous approach to customer service.
  • By the way, the Westin Hotel near the Atlanta airport (not my final destination) has very comfortable beds.
  • On the flight back from Memphis, we boarded from the ramp, which meant walking out of an abbreviated jetway and down a set of airstairs attached to it (look out the window a few seconds into this video). As I was about to go through the boarding door, a woman ahead of us turned back, a look of bewilderment on her face, and called back to the gate agent, “There’s no plane there!” She kept insisting that there was no plane until another passenger and I gently pointed out that the CRJ900 on the ramp was our aircraft and that we just had to walk down the stairs.

I hope you all enjoyed the holidays. Back with more this week!


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I think this action — the Department of Transportation’s plan to further reduce flights at LaGuardia — can reasonably be interpreted as a final gesture from the outgoing administration: “You didn’t like our slot auction plan? Well, then chew on this, suckers!”

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Merry Christmas, folks! I’ve got some loose ends I want to tie up here before heading off to Memphis for Christmas with my family.

  • US Airways’ pilots have joined American’s in leaving the FAA’s voluntary Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). The pilots union is concerned that there are not enough protections for pilots who self-report. Are union officials using ASAP participation as a bargaining chip? [Cranky Flier]
  • After a year’s wait, Sean O’Neill takes a look at the files the Department of Homeland Security maintains on him. What kind of records do they have for you? [This Just In]
  • Criticize the Kremlin? Then don’t expect them to be forthcoming with bailout cash. Which serves, in the end, to consolidate state control of Aeroflot. [FT]
  • Compagnia Aerea Italia (CAI), the new owner of Alitalia, is filing to assume Alitalia’s U.S. foreign air carrier permit under the name CAI Alitalia. [Daily Airline Filings]
  • BA and Qantas have lost the urge to merge. They couldn’t agree on which airline would be less equal than the other. [FT]
  • Continental jet veers off a runway at Denver and ends up in a ditch; plane burns but all escape. [WSJ]
  • Former FAA chief Marion Blakey tries to scare us into pursuing manned moon exploration again. Isn’t it interesting that the industry she now lobbies for would stand to gain much from such an exploration program? Hmmm. [Aero-News.Net]
  • Attempting to mend its ways, Indonesia passes a new air safety bill. [Aviation Safety Network]
  • John R. Byerly, deputy assistant secretary of state for transportation affairs, offers a perspective on how the United States negotiates international air services agreeements. [via Macilree]

Oh, and confidential to all who’ve inquired about this: I did indeed finish, 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. There are actually several scenes involving aviation. (Write what you know, huh?) Now on to the editing process!

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The way TSA thinks?

Why does the Transportation Security Administration seem so slow to adapt to new threats — and so fast to ramp up older responses when new threats emerge? David Henderson at EconLog offers a personnel-based supposition:

Here’s a quote from my book, co-authored with Charles Hooper, Making Great Decisions in Business and Life. You’ll wonder why I’m quoting it, but be patient. I wrote:

“A few years ago, I volunteered to serve hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggie burgers at a barbecue held at my daughter’s high school. When it looked as if we were running out of any of the three items, one of the cooks would put more of those items on the grill. At one point, the line got long, with about 12 people suddenly waiting for their meal. That was the symptom of the problem. The cooks quickly put more burgers on the grill. That was their solution. But I looked down and saw that I had about four each of hot dogs and veggie burgers. I realized that the cooks were implicitly assuming that everyone wanted hamburgers. But, I wondered, what if some of them were in line for hot dogs and veggie burgers? There was a simple solution that addressed the real problem: ask them. So I announced, in my booming voice, ‘Anyone who’s in line for hot dogs or veggie burgers please come up here.’ Immediately, six people came up, cutting the apparent hamburger line in half. Interestingly, the server who had made the panicked request to the cook for more hamburgers was a high-level manager at a logistics firm. He didn’t see any easy way around the problem.”

When Charley and I tell a story of poor thinking, we almost never give the name of the person. But here I’ll make an exception. This high-level manager of a logistics firm? Well, his name is Kip Hawley and he’s now head of TSA.

The Brains of TSA [EconLog]

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New aviation resources

In addition to his podcast series, my friend Addison Schonland has recently unveiled a couple of nifty and useful resources for those who follow the airline industry. One is AirportButler.com, which offers reports that offer targeted results from DOT consumer air travel data. Even better is AirInsight.com, which makes the useful information logged in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ endless spreadsheets and data sets easy to access and use. Take a look!

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. . . besides being an Illinoisan. From John Kass at the Chicago Tribune comes this dispiriting item about Obama’s DOT nominee Ray LaHood:

Obama selected outgoing Illinois U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Combine) for the post of secretary of transportation, putting LaHood in charge of Obama’s planned trillion-dollar public works bonanza being sold as a jobs bill.

“Every dollar that we spend, we want it spent on projects that are there, not because of politics, but because they’re good for the American people,” Obama said. “If we’re building a road, it better not be a road to nowhere.”

Not because of politics? What does the great reformer take us for, a bunch of chumbolones?

What Obama forgot to mention is that with LaHood in charge of the roads, they’ll lead to one place:

Bill Cellini.

Cellini, the Republican boss of Springfield who has been indicted in the Blagojevich scandal for allegedly shaking down the producer of the movie “Million Dollar Baby,” is a strong LaHood ally. Cellini runs Sangamon County, and LaHood has enjoyed Cellini’s political support.

They also joined to help oust the last true reformer in Illinois politics, former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, the Republican who was denied an endorsement from his own state party after he brought federal prosecutors to Illinois with no connection to the bipartisan Combine that runs things here.

Republican money man Cellini is not only the Chicago political connection to machine Democrats and Mayor Richard Daley‘s City Hall—and a Blagojevich fundraiser—he’s also the boss of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association.

H/T: Frum

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One of the surprises about the rumored Ray LaHood nomination for secretary of transportation — set to be announced tomorrow — is that he has so little transportation experience. He is on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and would thus be well positioned to oversee Barack Obama’s planned burst of infrastructure spending. LaHood did serve on the Aviation Subcommittee back in the late 1990s, and during that time, he cosponsored — which, in Congress, usually means you slapped your name on the bill for some political reason — several aviation-related pieces of legislation:

  • Federal Aviation Administration Revitalization Act of 1995 (HR 2276, 104th Cong.). This legislation would have made the FAA an independent agency no longer under the authority of the DOT, although DOT approval would have been required for FAA rulemaking. Also gutted the aviation staffers at DOT who report to the secretary. This legislation passed the house in 1996 before stalling in a Senate committee.
  • Airline Passenger Safety Act of 1996 (HR 3618, 104th Cong.). Prohibits chemical oxygen generators from being transported by aircraft. Went nowhere in the House.
  • Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 (HR 3923, 104th Cong.). Requires the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates airplane crashes, to appoint a liaison for families of plane-crash victims and name a national nonprofit to handle post-crash care for victims’ families. Also requires airlines to submit plans for their dealings with victims’ families and urges state bar associations to forbid their ambulance-chasing members from contacting victims’ families for thirty days. Passed by House; not taken up in the Senate.
  • HR 2252, 105th Cong., directs the transportation secretary to retaliate against foreign countries that violate air service agreements with the U.S. with respect to cargo carriers. Hearings were held.
  • Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (HR 1000, 106th Cong.). The FAA reauthorization bill.
  • HR 4529, 106th Cong., which amends federal aviation law to prevent people with criminal convictions that “indicate a propensity for placing contraband aboard an aircraft in return for money” from holding aviation-security jobs. No action.
  • Small Airport Safety, Security, and Air Service Improvement Act of 2002 (HR 1979, 107th Cong.). This bill, which never made it past the Senate, would have provided funding for construction of control towers and installation of equipment.

Interestingly, LaHood voted “no” on the 2007 FAA Reauthorization Act — the as yet incomplete FAA legislation. The House’s version, spearheaded by Rep. James Oberstart (D-Minn.) did not include a provision for user fees for air traffic control services, unlike the Senate version that saw the two houses at loggerheads. Why did LaHood join most Republicans in voting no? I’ll try to find out.

LaHood is an Arab-American (of Lebanese and Jordanian descent). In 1998, he vociferously opposed the use of profiling in rooting out potential terrorists or hijackers. He insisted that screening systems be entirely non-discriminatory.

Adrian Schofield offers a couple of notes over at Things with Wings. One may be related to one of the bills above and involves a vigorous response on international air services agreements. The other places him in opposition to FAA commercialization or restructuring in 1995.

Now, the secretary of transportation works on more than aviation. But the FAA is the largest subagency within DOT, and LaHood’s aviation record is pretty thin on the ground.

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I’ve got a busy morning, so more on Ray LaHood’s transportation (and especially aviation) record soon, but I’ll just say that the likely appointment of retiring Republican congressman Ray LaHood as secretary of transportation seems to indicate that Barack Obama does not plan to devote a great deal of attention to transportation issues — much like our current president, whose cabinet’s token Democrat was also at DOT.

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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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Here’s a air-travel problem for the mathematically inclined:

Suppose you are trying to get from one end A of a terminal to the other end B.  (For simplicity, assume the terminal is a one-dimensional line segment.)  Some portions of the terminal have moving walkways (in both directions); other portions do not.  Your walking speed is a constant v, but while on a walkway, it is boosted by the speed u of the walkway for a net speed of v+u.  (Obviously, given a choice, one would only take those walkways that are going in the direction one wishes to travel in.)  Your objective is to get from A to B in the shortest time possible.

  1. Suppose you need to pause for some period of time, say to tie your shoe.  Is it more efficient to do so while on a walkway, or off the walkway?  Assume the period of time required is the same in both cases.
  2. Suppose you have a limited amount of energy available to run and increase your speed to a higher quantity v' (or v'+u, if you are on a walkway).  Is it more efficient to run while on a walkway, or off the walkway?  Assume that the energy expenditure is the same in both cases.
  3. Do the answers to the above questions change if one takes into account the various effects of special relativity?  (This is of course an academic question rather than a practical one.  But presumably it should be the time in the airport frame that one wants to minimise, not time in one’s personal frame.)

[H/T: Greg Mankiw]

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