Main News August 20th 2013

Unhappy handlers at Houston

A number of employees at the Houston-based handler Servisair have filed a federal lawsuit, saying that they’ve been cheated out of pay.

The lawsuit accuses Servisair of intentionally rounding down employee hours worked in the company’s favor. It also claims that the handler did not reimburse employees who worked during their lunch hours and that the handler has made use of a time-keeping system that automatically reduces time worked for its employees at more than 20 airports around the country. The suit seeks class action status to represent the entire group and it is estimated that each employee has lost around five hours’ overtime per week since 2010, and possibly earlier.

The lawsuit accuses the company of deducting 30 minutes each day from workers’ timecards for lunches that were not taken. It further alleges that the company manipulated its time-keeping software system by rounding up start times. Overall, those pressing the suit believe that some tens of millions of dollars have been withheld by the employer.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that the handler has been sued over its payroll strategy: three separate incidents were recorded in Florida in 2012, for example.

A Servisair representative declared that the company had not been notified about the lawsuit and had that there was no official comment for the moment.

 

 

Gunning for you…

Despite media awareness campaigns, firearms and airports continue to mix and Sea-Tac holds the dubious record of being one of the main offending airports when it comes to passengers carrying guns. The latest data from the federal government reveals that almost 40 guns were confiscated by the Transportation Security Administration and Port of Seattle security personnel in 2012, putting Sea-Tac firmly in the number eight slot of the top ten guilty airports.

The TSA actually reported a 30% increase in the number of guns seized at US airports this year compared to the last. Passengers ought to be aware that attempted carriage of a firearm through an airport security checkpoint is both a state and a federal crime, even if the passenger has a concealed weapons permit.

What was perhaps more worrying was the evidence that purported to show that a large percentage of passengers who were caught were not charged with the crime. In fact, a review of four years’ worth of police and prosecutor office reports has shown that 113 passengers were caught at Sea-Tac checkpoints with guns. Of that total, 53 passengers were never charged.

 

 

TSA comes in for criticism

According to statistics, complaints leveled against US airport security workers have increased by 26% during the past three years. Worse still, the Transportation Security Agency lacks comprehensive systems to ensure that its employees follow its rules, says a government report.

The report says that complaints included use of drugs and alcohol by TSA agents whilst on duty, along with inconsistent use of security devices, which included X-ray machines.

The report also mentioned nearly 3,500 misconduct allegations, which were filed against TSA workers last year: this was up from 2,691 recorded statements in 2010. Most of these concerned violations of attendance and security policies, says the report published by the Government Accountability Office.

 

JBT picks up multiple bridge order

JBT Corporation announced recently that its JBT AeroTech business section has received a gate equipment order in excess of US$5m from San Francisco International airport.

The contract, placed by the Hensel Phelps Construction Company, is for the supply of ten new Jetway passenger boarding bridges. These passenger boarding bridges form a key part of the San Francisco Terminal 3 Boarding Area E Improvements Project, which was recently begun to create an environmentally-sustainable facility with world-class passenger amenities.

 

Main News July 24th 2013

 

 

Them and us?

The US aviation sector remains in a state of paradox, if reports of US Airways senior executive pay are anything to go by.

At several airports served by the carrier, staff have started to call into question the carrier’s operating model that has seen, for example, the company CEO reputedly seek a 44% pay rise. Chief concerns are the lack of security in the job, the absence of much in the way of benefits and the fact that salaries can be as low as US$5 an hour. Disgruntled staff at Newark, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Philadelphia, this latter something of blackspot in terms of unemployment, have been vocal on this subject and a number protested recently about the situation outside a US Airways shareholders’ meeting in Manhattan.

The reality that sees numbers of ramp workers obliged to hold down two jobs to make ends meet is not good news when the sector’s gaze is so firmly fixed on making the ramp a safer place.

 

 

When random is the name of the game

The Transportation Security Administration has said that it is planning to use electronic Randomizers to help funnel passengers into airport security lines. In addition to providing a simple way to direct travelers into different queues, it also would make it more difficult for any passengers with nefarious intent to slip past security with prohibited items.

In June, the TSA issued a Request for Information; in this, it asked interested vendors to share ideas and suggestions for procuring such random directing systems. These applications, it says, would subsequently be deployed at most medium and large US airports.

When asked about the reasoning behind the devices, the TSA replied that it was sticking to a multi-layered approach to security, utilizing measures that were both seen and unseen. Unpredictability would play an important part in this philosophy.

 

 

Delta Air Lines fined again for bumping

The Transportation Department has fined Delta Air Lines US$750,000 for bumping passengers from full flights without asking for volunteers and for failing to provide information about the levels of compensation that are available. Delta committed similar violations in July 2009, when the airline was fined $375,000.

“Airline passengers deserve to be treated fairly, especially if they are forced to miss a flight because an airline oversold seats,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in announcing the fine. “Consumers have rights, and we will continue to take enforcement action when airlines violate our rules, to protect the traveling public.”

Federal regulations require airlines to seek volunteers willing to give up their seats when flights are oversold. If passengers still need to be bumped, they are entitled to up to $1,300, depending on the cost of their tickets and length of delay.

The Transportation Department’s aviation enforcement office reviewed 310 bumping complaints against Delta from November 2010 to January 2012. The complaints said that Delta didn’t seek volunteers, didn’t provide written notices about cash compensation and counted some bumped passengers as volunteers.

 

Have fees, will raise?

Alaska Airlines has just announced that it is raising its fee for a checked-in bag to US$25.

It has said that for tickets purchased on or after October 30 this year, passengers will pay a fee of US$25 each for the first and second checked bags. Any additional bags will cost US$75 each. At present, the airline charges US$20 per bag for the first three suitcases. Work out the sums and you will see that for a passenger carrying three bags, this is effectively doubling the ancillary revenue. That represents a 100% hike in fees.

In its defense, the airline says that it will keep its unique baggage service guarantee. If a passenger’s bags are not at the baggage claim area within 20 minutes of the aircraft parked at the gate, Alaska says that it will issue a refund of US$20 for use on a future flight or 2,000 extra frequent flier miles. This discount is set to increase to US$25 and the allowance to 2,500 miles on the above-mentioned date.

 


VIP bag delivery service

Customers are now able to have their bags delivered directly to their home, hotel or business, thanks to Bags VIP delivery. Travelers can schedule and pay for a Bags VIP delivery up to one hour prior to their scheduled departure by visiting maketraveleasier.com/usairways Once scheduled, customers then need only to drop their bags off at the airport and pay any applicable baggage fees. Items will then be delivered within four to six hours of arrival. This convenient delivery service starts at US$29.95 and is offered in all domestic locations that the airline serves.

 

 

Main News July 5th 2013

A sustainable future mooted

The Federal Aviation Administration has contacted the world’s fuel producers and requested that they submit proposals for fuel options that would help the aviation industry make the move towards a greater usage of unleaded fuel.

The FAA has said that it is looking to develop a new unleaded fuel by 2018 that would minimize the effect of replacing 100 octane low-lead fuel for most of the general aviation fleet.

“General aviation is vital to the US economy and is an important form of transportation for many Americans,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced recently. “We need to work with industry to develop an unleaded fuel that advances aviation safety and improves the environment.”

The FAA will assess the candidate fuels in terms of their effect on the existing fleet, their production and distribution infrastructure, their effect on the environment and toxicology and economic considerations.

Fuel producers had to submit data packages by July: thereafter, the FAA will choose up to ten suppliers to participate in the first stage of laboratory testing at William J Hughes Technical Center, in Atlantic City.

It is understood that the FAA will select perhaps two fuels from the initial phase for phase two engine and aircraft testing. Over the next five years, the FAA is expected to ask fuel producers to submit 100 gallons of fuel for phase one testing and 10,000 gallons of fuel for phase two testing.

 

 

 

 

Firearm philosophy due for a re-think?

According to reports, during the first six months of this year Transportation Security Administration screeners detected almost 900 guns, either on passengers or in their carry-on bags: this equates to a 30% increase over the same period in 2012. In May, in just one week, 65 were found. That was 30% more than the previous record of 50 guns, set just two weeks earlier.

Overall, in 2012 the TSA found a total of 1,549 firearms on passengers attempting to go through screening, this figure up 17% from the year before. In all, 85% of the weapons intercepted last year were loaded, the most common type being a .38 caliber pistol. Airports in the South and the West, where the American gun culture is more dominant, recorded the greatest number of guns intercepted, according to recent TSA data.

Many passengers found to have guns by screeners are arrested, but this is not always the case: it depends on the gun laws in the state wherein the airport is located. If the state has tolerant gun laws, TSA screeners will frequently hand the gun back to the passenger, recommending that it be locked away.

 

 

 

Efficiency the name of the game in Atlanta

Hartsfield Jackson has been named as the most efficient airport in the world for 2013. This, in fact, will be the tenth year that the airport has been the recipient of the Efficiency Excellence Award, which is given by the Air Transport Research Society, an international association of air transport academics.

Aside from that Seoul, Sydney, Copenhagen and Minneapolis-St Paul all came out top in their respective categories. Further down the list, amongst airports with fewer than 15m passengers per year, Oklahoma City and Geneva were ranked highest.
Considered the most comprehensive independent evaluation of global airport performance, the Air Transport Research Society compares the efficiency of 195 airports and 26 airport groups spread around the Asia Pacific region, Europe and the US. ATRS ranks individual airport efficiency through use of a ratio that divides the output index created by a consistent aggregation of aircraft movements, passenger volumes and non-aeronautical revenue generation activities by the input index, which is the result of a consistent aggregation of full-time equivalent labor and other operational expenses.

 

 

Signature buys share in Starlink

 

Late in June, Signature Flight Support announced that it had agreed to purchase a majority share of Starlink Aviation’s FBO in Montreal. The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions and it is expected to be completed during the third quarter of this year. Starlink Aviation will continue to fully own and operate the real estate and aircraft management, aircraft maintenance, corporate shuttle and aircraft charter services.

Back in 2010 Starlink Aviation signed a licensing agreement with Signature Flight Support in which the FBO became co-branded as Signature Flight Support. As a Signature network location, Starlink Aviation was able to access Signature’s global sales and marketing programs, the Signature Status loyalty program, proprietary customer service and safety training, as well as tap into Signature’s global purchasing power.

 

In Brief

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health recently issued citations to a handler for a total of 23 violations at Los Angeles airport. The department found numerous unsafe working conditions in Menzies Aviation’s operations at the airport, two of which it deemed to be of a “serious” classification.

Main News June 21st 2013

 

A drop in the ocean?

United Airlines has confirmed a deal with the low carbon fuel maker AltAir Fuels that will see it purchase biofuel and other renewable products for future flights. Under the terms of the contract AltAir Fuels will produce the fuel from a retrofit portion of an existing refiner.

As many readers will be aware, biofuel is a substitute for traditional petroleum-based jet fuel, and it requires no modification for use with existing engine technology. United has said that it has plans to buy 15m gallons of the fuel at a rate of 5m gallons per year over a three year period: this will start in 2014. Further, United has the option to purchase more if required. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that United has revealed that it is purchasing the biofuel at a cost that equates to that of traditional fuel.

This Los Angeles facility thus becomes AltAir’s first fuel production project. Although in terms of the environment the quantities under discussion are minute, nonetheless the initiative should be welcomed by the sector.

 

 

 

Knife ruling overturned

It’s been some time coming but finally a decision has been made on the topic of blades on board aircraft. The TSA’s John Pistole has decided not to permit passengers to carry small knives on aircraft: this comes in the wake of much criticism from both the public and airline cabin crew.

John Pistole had earlier proposed to slacken the regulations over knife carriage, regulations that date back to the 9/11 disasters. April 25 was mooted as the date that the law would change but this announcement caused so much outcry that the TSA was obliged to reconsider its stance. This latest decision seems likely to restore the status quo.

 

 

Air Canada looking for savings

Canada’s principal carrier has announced that it will be looking to trim costs by up to 15% in the medium term. To achieve this it will seek to add capacity whilst introducing more fuel-efficient aircraft; also planned is the launch of a low cost carrier.

The airline believes that capacity for the coming year will be expanded by 9-11%, this in part occasioned by the acquisition of five B777-300ER aircraft along with seven Dreamliners. Air Canada added that its transfer of Embraer 175 aircraft to Sky Regional would assist it in reducing the overall cost per seat mile by up to 15%.

 

 

Staff representation still far from clear

The Teamsters union has been escalating its campaign to oust other unions within the industry.

Teamsters’ officials have said that they have filed a petition with a federal labor agency to try and force an election against the Transport Workers Union in the representation of mechanics at American Airlines. Moreover, the Teamsters are seeking to represent mechanics at US Airways who are currently represented by the machinists’ union. The outcome of both elections will determine which union will eventually negotiate with the newly-merged airline. It is expected that American and US Airways will seal the merger deal within the next few months.

The Transport Workers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said earlier that they would share the representation of the mechanics and other ground workers after the two carriers merge. However, such a deal would be unworkable if either loses an election to the Teamsters.

By law, the Teamsters need the support of at least half of the American Airlines’ mechanics to force an election.

 

 

Delta to scale down at Memphis

Delta Air Lines has said that it is planning to drop Memphis as a hub later this year. This will entail making 230 staff redundant, whilst it cuts back on flights to make the location more profitable. Delta has said, though, that some staff will be offered buy-out packages and that others will have the option of other jobs. The carrier added in a memorandum to its staff that escalating fuel costs and its reliance on uneconomical 50 seat regional jets have contributed to an essentially unprofitable situation. The job cuts, which will involve customer service staff and Delta Cargo workers, will take effect from the start of September.

 

In Brief

According to data recently released by the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US scheduled passenger airlines employed 2.7% fewer staff in March this year compared to figures from March 2012. This represents the seventh consecutive month that employment levels have been lower than those of a year ago.

Main News June 5th 2013

 

March statistics: good overall

Airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours’ duration on domestic flights in March, although there was one tarmac delay of more than four hours on an international flight. This data was gleaned from the US Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, which was released recently. It is understood that the long tarmac delay, which involved a Bogotá flight, is under investigation by the Department.
All the big US airlines have been required to file complete reports on extended tarmac delays for domestic flights since October 2008. Moreover, in 2011, carriers operating international flights mere not entitled to permit tarmac delays at US airports to last longer than four hours without giving passengers an opportunity to disembark. The only exceptions to the time limits for domestic and international flights are those involving safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.

 

Travel light for better treatment

American Airlines has extended preferential boarding to customers flying with small bags or no carry-on bags.

The carrier says that customers not needing to stow a bag in an overhead storage bin will be able to board between the Group 1 and Group 2 boarding queues. Currently, American gives boarding priority to its first class and elite level fliers before moving on to Groups 1 through 4. The carrier adds that it successfully trialed the new process at seven airports earlier this year and in conclusion, it has now rolled out the change system-wide, in an effort to reduce its boarding times.

American cites on-time performance as being a key factor in the airline’s dependability rating: simply put, every minute saved during boarding allows American to push back from the gate earlier, thereby resulting in a more timely departure and arrival.

The other side of the coin also relates to airline behavior. Airline officials reckon that boarding times have increased in the last few years: this is because the airlines have cut back on flights, which in turn makes aircraft more crowded; added to this are charges for checking baggage, which encourages passengers to take their luggage on board the aircraft. The subsequent scenario is not difficult to imagine… less space in the bins can cause tempers to rise.

However, American believes that this initiative should trim around two minutes off the boarding time, which constitutes a useful saving.

In a further announcement, American has said that customers at the gate who decide they’d like to board prior to Group 2 will be able to gate-check their carry-on bag at no charge. Clearly, some fliers may want to benefit from this and move up the queue although the corollary is that these passengers could effectively fly without paying a baggage fee. And, by extension, if more and more travelers decide to gate-check their bag, then that will tie up the check-in staff, to the detriment of the whole operation that is seeking to be more efficient and improve departure times.

 

Better conditions on the horizon?

Low paid workers within the ground handling sector is not exactly news. Whatis news, though, is when activists start lobbying a city council to improve the working conditions and wages of airport handlers. Exactly this has happened at Philadelphia International, where community activists, along with an inter-faith group, have been trying to secure better conditions for the 1,500 or so workers employed at the airport.

To that end, the POWER group (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) has held a prayer vigil and been vocal in its representations for the staff affected, who are employed by a subcontractor, PrimeFlight Aviation Services, of Nashville.

Part of the problem hinges on the two year lease extension that will allow for a US$734m cash injection at the hub. However, the lease must secure council approval first – and the deadline for this falls at the end of June. Unless that is in place, then airlines would be bereft of a contract and would be able to pull out of the airport with just 30 days’ notice.

Check out the check-in check

Airlines are collecting record baggage fees – this fact has been aired at length in the media. In fact, some 55% of all travelers still check in their luggage, either all or some of the time. These were the findings of a recent survey conducted by The GO Group, an international ground transportation service provider and GO Airport Express, a GO member and Chicago-based ground transportation company that serves O’Hare International and Midway airports.

In the recent survey, more than 570 travelers were questioned on their luggage habits. Just 27% said that they always check in their luggage, while 28% said that they both check in and carry-on bags. A mere 19% admitted that they always carry luggage on board.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the country’s 15 largest carriers collected in total US$3.5bn in bag fees in 2012 as part of their attempts to boost their balance sheets.

Main News May 20th 2013

Money, money, money…

US airlines collected more than US$6bn in baggage and reservation change fees from passengers last year, the highest amount since the fees were adopted.

Airlines first started charging for a checked suitcase in 2008 and the fees have inexorably climbed ever since. Today, it’s common for an airline to charge around US$20-25 each way for the first checked bag, US$35 for the second bag and then a range of fees for overweight or oversized bags thereafter.

The nation’s 15 largest carriers amassed a combined US$3.5bn in bag fees in 2012, which was up 3.8% over 2011: these are the findings of the Bureau of Transportation, which has just published some updated data on the subject. Of equal interest were the fees for changing a reservation: these totaled an impressive US$2.6bn, which was up by 7.3% on last year’s figures.

On the plus side of the equation, airlines garnered US$159.5bn in revenues in 2012, a figure that has to be reconciled with their outgoings of US$153.6bn, according to government figures. Looked at baldly, though, their profit margin has been derived entirely from the baggage and reservation change fees.

Should this be a worry to investors?

Clearly not, if carriers can continue to extract such sums from the traveling public…

 

Air General spreads its wings

After over half a century in the cargo handling business, Air General expanded its portfolio last year to include Air General Security; and it has now announced the inauguration of its Passenger Handling Division.

Donna Blanchard, Vice President Business Development, commented on the initiative: “This third division of our company represents a natural progression, building upon a successful and long-term relationship with our cargo customers who value the medium-size and family value appeal of the Air General culture.”

Donna, formerly the Director of Customer Service Delivery for North America and Asia Pacific at British Airways, is set to couple in-house expertise in international and domestic passenger handling with proven techniques for hiring the right people to offer the special skills required to safely and efficiently guide passengers through the airport process.

Separately, Air General has announced that it had earlier been awarded its first contract with Southwest Airlines to handle cargo in Manchester, New Hampshire.

 

Representation gets underway

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, along with the Transport Workers Union of America, have announced a partnership with a view to representing upwards of 30,000 ground workers at the reborn American Airlines. This is in the wake of the merger between American Airlines and US Airways.
Joint agreements have now been signed which will embrace the Mechanic and Related, Fleet Service and the Stores employee work groups. The new labor partnership, which henceforth will be known as the TWU/IAM Employee Association, is to ask the federal National Mediation Board to hold elections among the combined employees for each classification upon the final stage of the carriers’ merger. This election will formalize the agreement that was recently reached.

And end to delays?

Following three days of furloughs for air traffic controllers in response to the much-criticized government sequestration, the FAA returned to regular staffing levels and resumed normal operations on April 30.

The Federal Aviation Administration has thus cancelled its budget-driven plans to close almost 150 air traffic control towers at smaller US airports: this occurred just two weeks after Congress passed legislation to end air traffic controller furloughs, which had been widely reported as delaying flights around the US.

The US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, stated that federal officials had determined that the legislation would give the FAA enough flexibility to keep funding the towers that had been due to be closed in June this year as an economy drive.

The White House had announced plans for both the furloughs and the tower closures earlier this year to meet automatic spending cuts required by Congress under the so-called sequestration law aimed at reducing the US budget deficit. Congress took up the case when it was revealed that these furloughs were causing problems for travelers at major airports across the country.

Main News May 3rd 2013

New Southwest and AirTran facility

On April 14, Southwest began shipping cargo on AirTran Airways under the Southwest Airlines Cargo brand.

Southwest has introduced four new destinations on its freight route map, these being Charlotte, San Juan, Rochester and Richmond. This newly-established connectivity between the carriers’ networks will have the effect of generating hundreds of new flights as well as almost 70 new markets for cargo customers.

Thus today Southwest Airlines Cargo can connect through Southwest-to-AirTran flights as well as through AirTran-only or AirTran-to-AirTran flights.

San Jose to get FBO

San Jose International has received approval from the City Council in the US for the construction of an US$82m corporate aviation facility. The City Council has also approved a 50-year lease agreement with Signature Flight Services to build the facility on the western side of the airport.

Under the deal, San Jose airport will receive US$3m rent every year. Signature Flight Support, in turn, will build and operate the fixed base operation facility on the 29 acre site on the western part of the airport. Signature Flight will be working in collaboration Blue City, which serves private jets.

More modest scanning proposals mooted

It looks likely that Canadian airline passengers will be feeling slightly less exposed at airport security checkpoints in the future. This is in the wake of criticism over body scanners by privacy advocates, who are seeking less invasive methods of screening. In an overhaul, new software for the millimeter-wave scanners is to be employed, which will produce a computer-generated so-called stick figure that can detect weapons or explosives concealed under clothing, without revealing any of the person’s physical features.

Lambert-St Louis figures look encouraging

If you read the story in the May/June edition of Ramp Equipment News you will know that Lambert-St Louis airport has been struggling in terms of cargo processing. However, the station has just posted its best first quarter cargo results for two years.

Encouragingly, outbound freight was up 3.6% on 2012 figures, while outbound mail rose 39.5% to 252,080 kilograms, an increase of 9.5%.

Inbound cargo totaled 8,452,217 kilograms (which was up 2.5%); meanwhile, inbound mail was up 7.7% at 260,746kilograms.

The total of all cargo and mail for the first three months of 2013 was 16,904,289 kilograms, an improvement of 3.5% on 2012, and the best first quarter since the post-recession bounce of early 2011.

According to Lambert-St Louis’s Cargo Development Director, David Lancaster, the airport has seen healthy growth in all sectors of the business so far this year.

“This includes domestic and international cargo and mail. It’s too early to say whether this trend will hold up throughout the year, but there is certainly more optimism among our community than has existed for some time.

“The real improvement in our tonnages, however, will come when our international marketing effort gains traction. Our main target is freighter operators, for whom we can offer a convincing business case centered on our ideal location, our impressive resources and our incentives program.”

The airport has identified that a substantial amount of cargo from its region is currently trucked to and from Chicago and other larger hubs, to connect with their international widebody and freighter services. “This is time-consuming, costly and not environmentally friendly,” he notes. “Freighter operations face huge challenges right now, with a perfect storm of soft rates and high fuel costs. So we believe the opportunities at Lambert to tap into a huge market catchment, while reducing operational costs, represent an appealing offering.”

He concludes: “Just one scheduled freighter operation will dramatically impact STL’s cargo statistics; and we are quite confident that the first will quickly lead to the second and third. It’s about changing habits, and it’s a waiting game, but we are in this for the long term.”

Sequestration starts to bite

The recently-announced aviation furloughs haven’t gone down well in the US. Flight delays have been continuous because of the cut-backs in air traffic control officers and sequestration has become something of dirty word within the aviation sector. Indeed, some analysts are predicting that flight delays and congestion at airports could well increase as the summer season gets underway and that this would be likely to impact far more travelers than at present. Currently some 10% of air traffic controllers (around 1,500 staff in all) are involved in the process, which is set to run until October this year.

One problem is that when the major hubs are affected, then the ripple process ensures that the ramifications are felt elsewhere in the network. The FAA has estimated that up to a third of passengers will face delays during the furloughs, with up to 6,700 flights arriving late at more than a dozen major airports each day. Opponents to the procedure have lobbied the FAA and urged the body to seek its cost-savings elsewhere or by other means.

Main News April 17th 2013

Orlando first with automated form

Orlando International has been selected as the first airport in the nation to automate the I-94 arrival/departure form used by the US Customs and Border Protection. The main factor contributing to Orlando’s selection has been that of the dramatic increase in international traffic. So far this year, the airport has experienced a 13.7% growth in international travel.

“To be named first in the nation to expedite the international arrival process will not only increase efficiency, it will also provide the capacity for more international growth, which is already responsible for over US$2.8bn in annual economic impact to the entire Central Florida region,” stated Frank Kruppenbacher, Chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

“Increasing efficiency and streamlining processes, automation of the Form I-94 will minimize paperwork required for travelers and the administrative duties for CBP officers,” added Vernon Foret, Miami Director of Field Operations. “This will save millions of dollars for both CBP and the travel and tourism industry.”

The automation will be phased in from April 30 onwards. On average, it is anticipated that passengers will see a decrease in waiting time by at least 20 seconds.

 

 

Strike looks set to continue at St John’s

A spokesman for the striking maintenance workers at St John’s International airport has said that there seems to be no end in sight to the seven month long labor dispute. The spokesperson, Chris Bussey, added that his members were resolved in continuing to fight for what they have termed a fair collective agreement with the airport authority. Bussey added that the union had provided essential services to the airport through the winter months, although this arrangement was due to end in the near future.

 

Going cleaner in Baltimore

Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, North America’s largest supplier of natural gas fuel for transportation, recently opened a new public access compressed natural gas fueling station at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport.

Owned and operated by Clean Energy, the facility provides CNG fuel for public and private vehicles and fleets, including airport shuttle buses, shared ride vans, taxis, trucks and personal use CNG vehicles. Among key Clean Energy station users will be a new fleet of CNG airport parking shuttles that are operated by IMPARK.

Representing Clean Energy at the opening was Mark Riley, Vice President, Eastern Region. He said: “With the expanding availability of natural gas vehicles, fleet operators across the nation are adopting natural gas power. Among their goals are adding fuel diversity, curtailing harmful emissions and helping reduce America’s dependence on imported oil. Airport and allied ground transportation fleets have become magnets for natural gas vehicle usage. We are delighted to have the opportunity to provide the benefits of natural gas fuel to the Baltimore/Washington International airport area and the neighboring communities.”

Natural gas fuel costs up to US$1.50 less per gallon than gasoline or diesel, depending on local market conditions. The use of natural gas fuel not only reduces operating costs for vehicles, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30% in light duty vehicles and by up to 23% in medium to heavy duty vehicles. The US Department of Energy reports that 98% of the natural gas consumed in the country is sourced within the US and Canada.

 

Southwest’s customer service on the line?

At the end of March Southwest Airlines ground workers who belong to the Transport Workers Union Local 555 began information picketing and leafleting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International as well as at 15 other airports. The picketing came in response to concerns that contract proposals from the airline could compromise the company’s customer service, according to a press release.

The TWU Local 555 bargaining committee, representing more than 9,400 ground crew workers at Southwest, began negotiations for a new agreement back in July 2011. However, talks have since been aborted through management demands that would have a negative impact on customer service and which, it is felt, would impose unnecessary concessions on members of Local 555.

“Southwest Airlines is widely recognized as one of the most successful airlines in the industry, with 40 straight years of profitability,” TWU Local President Charles Cerf said in a statement. “Our members, who are the most productive airline workers in the industry, play a huge rôle in the company’s success. The work of ramp, operations, provisioning and freight agents is crucial to flight safety, timely departures and to providing our passengers with Southwest Airlines’ legendary customer service.”

 

How good is your airline?

According to the annual Airline Quality Rating report, now in its twenty-third year, Virgin America came out on top for customer satisfaction. Bottom of the list was United, although passengers reported an overall better performance at this carrier.

The performance of the 14 leading carriers in 2012 compared favorably with results from 2011 and the study noted that there had been improvements in both on-time performance and baggage handling. At the same time, involuntary denied boarding and customer complaint rates were higher.

Virgin America posted the best baggage handling rate of just 0.87 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, whilst at the other end of the scale, American Eagle logged 5.80 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. Overall, Hawaiian Airlines came out best for adhering to schedules, which contrasted with Skywest ExpressJet and American Airlines, who were thought to be much less efficient.

Perhaps most telling of all were the customer complaint statistics per 100,000 passengers: this figure increased from 1.19 in 2011 to 1.43 in 2012. Interestingly, just three of the 14 airlines improved their customer complaint rates for 2012. The most criticized in this context was United Airlines whereas Southwest Airlines had the lowest complaint count.

 

 

 

Main News April 2nd 2013

Better baggage routing at Lester Pearson

Air Canada is becoming an attractive option for travelers connecting to the US, thanks to a simplified baggage handling process at its Toronto Lester B Pearson International airport hub. The new system sends checked baggage to connecting flights, so that connecting customers no longer have to retrieve their checked bags for US customs’ inspection.

“Air Canada’s Toronto Pearson hub is already recognized as a North American gateway and this simplified baggage process makes it even more attractive. It strengthens Toronto’s position as a preferred routing by making transit through Pearson easier for customers who are increasingly choosing to travel our international network because it offers some of the best elapsed travel times between the US and other global centres in Europe and Asia,” commented Ben Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Air Canada.

 

Sequestration starts to bite

The US Federal Aviation Administration has decided to close one third of its air traffic control towers that are located at smaller airports. This will come into effect on April 7.

In all, just under 150 towers will be affected, involving 46 states. These towers are part of FAA’s contract tower program that hires third-party controller staff to manage towers at small airports.

Immune will be 24 federal contract towers that had previously been proposed for closure; further, 16 towers under a cost share program will also continue to operate through congressional statute funding.

The US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, admitted that the agency had heard from communities across the country, stressing the importance of their towers, but nonetheless, closure decisions had had to be made.

 

Profits take a tumble at LatAm

LatAm Airlines’ net profit dipped by 96.6% in 2012 to US$10.96m, says a company report. This was in large part due to the cost of LAN’s takeover of Brazil’s TAM airline, coupled with higher taxes in Chile.

That said, Latin America’s principal carrier revealed that it had seen a significant improvement in its major market, Brazil, this year; however, it would still cut its planned capital expenditure for the 2013-2015 fleet by a total of US$1.2bn. Simply put, the group is in the process of adjusting its fleet plan in order to match its capacity expansion plans. The company said that it would continue to evaluate alternatives in order to rationalize its fleet orders.

The group revealed that fleet investment would total US$2.047bn this year, US$1.993bn in 2014 and US$806m in 2015: cost of its future aircraft would be partly assisted through debt issues. Total merger synergies should reach between US$600m and US$700m, and will be fully achieved by June 2016, LatAm said.

 

Have knife, will travel…

The TSA has modified its list of prohibited items that can be carried on aircraft on an overall risk-based security approach: this comes into effect on April 25. The modified rule will allow passengers to carry small pocket knives with non-locking blades smaller than 2.36 inches and less than 1/2 inch in width. Passengers will also be allowed to carry small and toy bats, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, billiard cues and two golf clubs. However, the list does not allow razor blades and box cutters, full-size baseball, softball or cricket bats.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said that the decision was made in order to bring US regulations more into line with ICAO standards, and that it would also assist in offering an improved passenger experience.

“This is part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows transportation security officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher threat items such as explosives,” he explained.

The US Flight Attendants Union Coalition has expressed its dismay at the decision and,amongst others, US Airways’ CEO Doug Parker has asked the Transportation Security Administration to reconsider its decision to allow such implements past airport security.

 

Boeing to trim its workforce – but will add staff

Boeing has said that it has plans to lay off about 800 machinists this year as it reduces its workforce on its B747 and B787 aircraft. The reductions are part of a long term plan but do not necessarily signal changes in production rates for either model.

Interestingly, Boeing is doubling its output of the B787, even though the model is currently grounded and cannot be delivered to customers. By the end of 2013 it aims to produce ten a month.

The eliminated positions are the only layoffs the Chicago-based company plans as it trims its workforce by 2,000 this year in the Puget Sound region. The remainder of the reductions will be through attrition and redeployment, the company says. These layoffs will mainly affect machinists involved in change incorporation work, or those reworking aircraft that have left the factory for the B787 and B747 programs.

On the plus side, Boeing is looking to take on 8,000 to 10,000 workers this year across the company.

 

 

 

Main News March 16 2013


PRM case to be reviewed

An appeals court has revived a lawsuit against United Airlines.

The case was brought by a woman who claimed that she was not promptly provided with a wheelchair in an airport when she requested one. The opinion, from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, said that federal law did not pre-empt the woman’s personal injury claims under state law.

In an e-mail, a United spokeswoman said that the airline was strongly committed to providing equal treatment and quality service to its disabled customers.

Mark Meuser, an attorney for plaintiff Michelle Gilstrap, who has difficulty walking, said that some lower court judges had disagreed about whether individuals should be able to bring claims for damages suffered within an airport or on board an aircraft.

“This is a really big deal for disabled Americans across the country,” commented Mark Meuser.

Michelle Gilstrap experiences difficulty in walking because of a collapsed disc in her back and osteoarthritis. On two separate aircraft trips (in 2008 and 2009) she alleged that United failed to supply a wheelchair on some occasions. She has added that United agents apparently yelled at her, and expressed doubt over whether she really needed a wheelchair. Further, they ordered her to stand in a line, an action that was impossible because of her medical condition.

Michelle Gilstrap duly sued the carrier but a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed her case. In the above-mentioned ruling, the 9th Circuit said that Michelle Gilstrap could not pursue her claims under the Americans for Disabilities Act.

However, the court ruled that her state law claims, including emotional distress and negligence, were not pre-empted by the Air Carrier Access Act. The appeals court remanded the case for further proceedings.


Triple award for ASIG

ASIG has announced that three of its US airport refueling operations have received 2012 performance awards from Southwest Airlines. ASIG performs aircraft refueling and other airside handling services on behalf of Southwest Airlines at 20 airports across the US. Award metrics center on on-time performance, quality assurance and customer service (ie fuel accounting). Refueling operations are further classified by the number of flights handled, ranging from under 10,000 to more than 40,000 flights a year.

ASIG’s Sea-Tac International airport operation was named Fueler of the Year, Level 3 Operations (10,000 to 20,000 flights in a calendar year). ASIG’s Nashville International operation was named Most Improved Station and Super Fueler for Level 2 Operations (20,000 to 40,000 flights in a calendar year). A Super Fueler is an operation that has less than one flight delay per 5,000 flights fueled. Finally, ASIG’s Las Vegas refueling operation at McCarran International was also named Most Improved Station and Superior Performance for Level 1 Operations (over 40,000 flights a year).

Better baggage options for customers

United Airlines has expanded its new baggage delivery option, thereby enabling customers to circumvent baggage claims upon their arrival at the arrival airport and have their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, which can be up to 100 miles away.

Baggage Delivery by BagsVIP is now available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in 36 cities. The airline says that it has plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports in the fullness of time.

 


Alaska shares its success with workforce

Alaska Air Group has paid annual bonuses totaling almost a month’s pay to nearly 13,000 employees for exceeding the company’s 2012 operational and financial goals. The bonus, which is about 8% of annual pay, is in addition to the US$1,100 in bonuses, on average, that each employee earned last year for achieving monthly on-time and customer satisfaction targets. The combined monthly and annual bonuses amounted to nearly US$88m in all.

“We’re pleased to share the company’s financial success with our amazing employees at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “Their teamwork and dedication to our customers are at the heart of our success. On behalf of the leadership team, I want to thank and congratulate our people for their outstanding efforts.”

FlightStats.com recently ranked Alaska Airlines the top, on-time major airline in North America for the third year in a row and JD Power and Associates has named the carrier as garnering highest levels of customer satisfaction amongst traditional network carriers for the fifth consecutive year in 2012.

More than US$42m in annual bonuses (62.4% of the total) is being paid to some 6,700 Alaska and Horizon employees in Washington state, with a further US$9m going to nearly 2,000 employees in the Portland, Oregon area. Around US$6.5m is to be paid to 1,580 workers in the state of Alaska while US$6.2m will be paid to some 1,470 employees working in California.

 


 

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