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.” 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.



Main News February 28 2013

Profitability passed on to employees

Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines paid out around US$372m in profit sharing in recognition of its employees and their rôle in achieving financial and operational goals in 2012. Delta says that employees’ individual payouts will be equivalent to 6.67% of their eligible 2012 earnings.

“This year’s profit sharing payment is a reflection of the hard work and dedication Delta people have shown in delivering what our customers have come to expect – great operations and service,” stressed Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson. “Profit sharing is not only a demonstration of appreciation for employees’ hard work in 2012, it’s an investment in improving our customer experience on Delta now and in the future.”

Government economies could impact US air travel

With the ongoing belt-tightening in the US has come the unwelcome news that up to US$1bn in spending cuts could be sought at the Transportation Department – and of this total, more than US$600m would be trimmed from the Federal Aviation Administration, the body that oversees US air travel.

On the cards could be cuts in the working week as well as the closure of air traffic control facilities in regions where flights are fewer: up to 100 might be involved in the cutbacks, it has been suggested.

The Regional Airline Association has expressed its fears over the proposals that would almost certainly lead to delays in journey times for passengers. Since the regional carriers account for around 50% of the total scheduled passenger traffic, it foresees some communities losing their only lifeline and others operating with a reduced schedule.

Searches giving cause for concern in Kansas

Some Kansas House members have voiced disapproval over pat-downs at the state’s airports, saying that the searches are getting out of hand. A bill sponsored by 21 House members would declare it illegal for Transportation Security Administration screeners to touch an airline passenger’s private parts during a search. The bill would also seek to prevent an agent from taking a child under the age of 18 away from a parent or a guardian for the purposes of conducting a further search. Kansas is joining other states in objecting to what is considered aggressive searches of people who are unlikely to be potential security threats.


Swissport brings job boost to Newark Liberty

The Christie Administration has launched an initiative with handler Swissport USA aimed at the employment of around 1,000 New Jersey residents for posts at Newark Liberty International airport. This is in line with the latter company opening a new cargo and baggage handling operation this spring.

Swissport USA has asked the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to help fill the positions, giving priority consideration to people displaced by Superstorm Sandy and New Jersey’s long-term unemployed, particularly those who have been involved in clearing up after the storm.

“Swissport USA is eager to get its cargo operation up and running, so our department has moved quickly, by lining up potential hires from people withrésumés in our search engine, people who joined our Jersey Job Clubs, our Talent Networks and our veteran outreach services,” explained LWD’s Commissioner, Harold J Wirths.

The available positions range from warehouse agents and cargo office agents to supervisors: prospective applicants will be expected to possess a valid driver’s license, an education certificate, a clean record and a steady work history.

“We are happy to partner with the New Jersey Department of Labor to help us find qualified individuals to staff our operations at Newark airport,” commented Gregory Reeves, Swissport USA’s Senior Vice President Human Resources.

In all, Swissport USA has been given 60 days to staff its Newark Liberty airport operation, and candidates accepted into the company’s training programs will receive pay while awaiting Federal Aviation Administration certification and background checks. Swissport USA has said that it intends to offer any staff hired the flexibility of working at two other facilities, namely at LaGuardia and JFK.


JetBlue enhances the check-in process

JetBlue Airways has made traveling even easier with the introduction of a mobile boarding system. Customers in eight of the airline’s largest cities are now able to download electronic boarding passes on to their cell phones using the newly re-launched version 2.0 of the JetBlue mobile app. This translates into a saving in both time and paperwork during check-in, security and the boarding process proper. Mobile Boarding Passes are now available for those traveling from Boston, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Juan, San Francisco, Orlando and New York.

Miami setting the pace in cargo

The aviation department at Miami International airport has set a new record of just over 2m short tonnes of cargo handled, which surpasses its 2007 record by more than 15,000 short tonnes. This represents an increase of 4.6%.

While the total domestic cargo tonnage for 2012 exceeded 2011’s tonnage by almost 14.5%, it fell short by about 10% when compared with 2007 figures. The airport’s total international cargo tonnage for 2012 set a new record, surpassing the tonnages of both 2011 and 2007.


Main News February 15 2013

Outsourcing at Frontier confirmed

Frontier Airlines has revealed that the jobs of around 700 of its employees are to be outsourced and that this will affect all of its destinations, save Denver International.

Currently some 60% of Frontier’s stations are staffed by employees from other companies. This latest announcement will have an impact on gate, ticket counter and ramp staff at 28 locations.

“We need to take every reasonable measure to ensure the future stability and viability of our company and to keep our costs low for our customers,” the airline’s spokesperson, Kate O’Malley, said in a statement. The outsourcing initiative is not expected to compromise customer service, and the replacement employees will receive the same Frontier training as current employees. Frontier has said that it will also work with other companies to help their employees apply for jobs with a new employer.

Having been through the bankruptcy process and relocated its headquarters from Indianapolis, the carrier has been looking hard at means whereby it can gain a competitive edge.

Load factors show promise for 2013

WestJet Airlines has revealed that its January load factor was a record 80.9%, which was slightly better than the comparable 2012 figure of 79.9%.

Traffic, as measured by revenue passenger miles, climbed by 7.7% year over year, while capacity, in available seat miles, was up 6.4% on the previous year.

The January load factor was the seventh consecutive monthly record for WestJet.

Similarly, Air Canada reported higher monthly passenger levels for January, as demand for air travel remained strong in the wake of the holiday season. Air Canada said that its load factor rose to 79.4%, again a record for January: this compares with 79.1% that was posted a year earlier.

On time delivery is getting even better

Airlines for America, which is the industry trade organization for the leading US carriers, has said that airlines are continuing to deliver a strong on-time performance. In particular, it notes the second best November on-time results that have ever been recorded. According to the latest Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report, airlines also had the best November on record for baggage handling performance.

The DOT Report records that 85.7% of flights arrived within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival time, which was second only to November 2009, which set a record of 88.6%. Encouragingly, these results are up from November 2011, which posted an on-time arrival rate of 85.3%. In addition, 99.7% of all US airline passengers had their bags correctly handled, yet another encouraging result.

As an update, United Airlines has just announced that it exceeded its 80% on-time arrival domestic and international performance goals for the month of January, and that it would be rewarding its eligible employees with a US$100 on-time bonus to recognize this fact. Despite challenging weather conditions across the system, the airline ended the month with an 82.8% domestic on-time arrival rate, and an 80.5% international on-time rate, resulting in the best combined domestic and international performance figures for the month in a decade.

On-time arrival rates are based on flights arriving within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time.


United invests in static assets

Last month United Airlines unveiled its new United Club lounge in Terminal 2 at Chicago O’Hare International airport.

The carrier has said that this lounge will become the first of several new lounges that it will be introducing worldwide. The 13,300 square foot facility has an expansive bar and lounge area, redesigned furniture and additional workstations and power outlets. Members will receive complimentary snacks, beverages and free wi-fi use.

United has added that it plans to spend more than US$50m this year on the renovation of several of its 51 locations. This is in addition to over US$550m that it will be investing in fleet-wide changes.


FAA finds simple solution to airport efficiency

The Federal Aviation Administration reports that it has boosted overall efficiency at Memphis airport by more than 15%, all through the expedient of reducing time separation between the majority of FedEx’s aircraft.

These new standards, which were initially rolled out at Memphis late last year, are set to be expanded to other airports which feature concentrations of wide-body aircraft: these include San Francisco, Louisville and Atlanta. The changes will occur over the course of the next two years, says the FAA.

In order to effect the environmentally-friendly changes, minimum spacing between departing aircraft was reduced to 2.5-3 miles; latterly, this gap was typically 4 miles. Wake turbulence is the deciding factor here, for it is important that a following aircraft is not affected by the wake of the one in front. FedEx’s fleet comprises many MD-11, B767 and A300 types and it has managed to cut an average of three minutes off the taxi-ing time by having aircraft proceed directly from the stand to the runway. This translates into a time saving of 30 seconds in the run-up to takeoff clearance. The overall gains are apparent in the areas of fuel consumption, noise levels and emissions.

Perhaps best of all is the fact that this initiative has done away with any requirement for new runway areas or other airfield development. The scheme is just one part of the FAA’s long term plan that will see it overhaul the air traffic system with a combination of new technology, equipment and procedures that is known as NextGen.


Looking after one’s assets

On January 18, United Airlines opened the airline’s new employee health clinic at O’Hare International. The clinic, managed by Walgreens, will serve employees’ health needs, such as urgent care for routine illness, travel and other immunizations, including ’flu shots, prepackaged medications, job-related physical training and pre-employment physical check-ups, at no cost to the employee. These, and other health care services, are now available to all United employees, including more than 10,000 co-workers around the Chicago area.

“We’re continuing to make significant investments in United, including investments in our co-workers,” confirmed Jeff Smisek, United’s Chairman, President and CEO. “This clinic will offer convenient health services at no charge to keep our co-workers feeling and performing well.”

The 5,200 square foot facility is located in the airport’s Terminal 2 arrivals area, and is the only one of its kind for any airline at O’Hare.

In brief

Horizon Air passenger service agents in Vancouver and Victoria, who are represented by the Canadian Auto Workers, have announced that they have ratified a new three-year contract. All of the agents at the airports who participated in the ratification vote approved the contract, which expires on February 14, 2016.


Main News January 16 2013


United rewards employees and offers bag option

United Airlines has awarded US$125,000 to employees across the company for excellence in customer service as part of the company’s Outperform Recognition Program: a celebration was duly staged at George Bush Intercontinental airport in Houston.

Launched in June 2012, the Outperform Recognition Program invites customers who are MileagePlus members to nominate eligible employees for service at the airport, on the phone, on a flight or at any other stage of their travel with the carrier. Employees from all work groups, including pilots, flight attendants, ramp and customer service employees, may be nominated. The airline randomly selected 16 winners from more than 9,000 customer nominations submitted during the first four months of the program running.

Separately, United Airlines has launched a new baggage delivery option, enabling customers to have their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, within 100 miles of their arrival airport, thereby avoiding the baggage claim process. A single bag to be delivered within a 40 mile radius will cost just under US$30; an additional charge will apply for a more distant drop-off.

Baggage delivery by BagsVIP will initially be available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. The airline plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports in the coming months.



Delta and Pinnacle: a joint future

The future of Pinnacle Airlines was up in the air at the start of the new year, when it was revealed that it could exit bankruptcy as a Delta Air Lines subsidiary. Delta’s potential ownership stake in this regional airline partner was simply one of several possibilities that had been suggested within agreements that currently await US Bankruptcy Court approval.

Some weeks later, Pinnacle Airlines confirmed that it would be emerging from bankruptcy as a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, based on a new agreement struck with the regional airline’s unsecured creditor’s committee, Delta and its pilot group.

“The reorganization plan will provide for Delta or an affiliate to acquire the equity in the reorganized Pinnacle Airlines Corp. after it emerges from bankruptcy,” Pinnacle stated in a press release. Although the new agreement is still pending court approval, the plan is for it to continue to fly under its own operating certificate.

Pinnacle has until mid-February to submit a reorganization strategy to the bankruptcy court. If all goes according to plan, the bankruptcy court could rule on Pinnacle’s reorganization scheme by May.

The whole of Pinnacle’s new common stock will be issued to Delta; indeed, Delta has served as Pinnacle’s debtor-in-possession lender throughout the entire reorganization process. The carrier agreed to issue US$74.3m in financing, a decision made last May, and has agreed to seek repayment in the form of exit financing and common stock to allow Pinnacle to emerge from bankruptcy.


Wildlife: a cause for concern?

The event last year at Tweed New Haven Regional airport has underlined once again the dangers posed by the environment immediately surrounding an airport.

In the case of Tweed, a deer bounded across the runway, just as a Lear Jet was taking off. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the aircraft and the deer, and the Lear’s occupants survived what could have been a fatal incident. The event has prompted the airport authority to erect fencing around the airport although it points out that there is a history of it working with the US Department of Agriculture in order to reduce the threat of wildlife colliding with aircraft.

The occurrence, though, is perhaps not so uncommon.

Bradley International, for example, had recorded 570 such incidents by the end of September 2012, whilst Denver International had logged a worrying total of 4,173.


Moving people in Florida

Orlando International has announced plans to build a new automated people mover system and parking garage to help cope with the growing levels of passenger traffic that it has been experiencing.

The new people mover system should be in operation by 2015 and will function as the terminal point for new passenger rail services into the airport. It will connect with a new parking garage, thereby providing the airport with additional capacity until the new south terminal is built in 2017.

The airport has said that this new people mover complex would allow private rail companies like All Aboard Florida to begin a passenger service between Orlando and Miami.

Gate catering for United

Late in 2012, gategroup announced contracts totaling more than CHF430m (US$462m) in revenues over the three-year life of the agreement signed with United Airlines. This award was part of a tender that covered the majority of United’s contracts with the gategroup brand, Gate Gourmet.

Gate Gourmet renewed more than 90% of its contracted revenue on tender. The contracts include extensions in catering and provisioning service at three of United’s core connecting hubs, at Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco and Washington Dulles, as well as further volumes in San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

In addition to the three hub locations, Gate Gourmet will continue to provide services to United in the following spoke cities, for which tenders were held: Columbus, Jacksonville, New Orleans and San Antonio. The agreements took effect in January this year and will run through to December 2015.


Guns: is the TSA over a barrel?

The Transportation Security Administration has revealed that it discovered more than 1,500 firearms at airport checkpoints in 2012, according to a report.

Despite the fact that travelers are forbidden to carry firearms on board aircraft (although they can be checked in, provided that counter staff are informed and that the weapons are unloaded and put into a secure, robust container), the 2012 figures exceed those of 2011, when just over 1,300 weapons were discovered.

The TSA spokesperson said that he assumed the vast majority were seized because people were unaware of the rules – a statement which seems to border on the naïve, given the high profile attached to guns in the wake of recent killing sprees in the US.

For the record, Atlanta came out with the worst statistics, with the number of guns found totaling 80 in all. Close behind in second place was Dallas.


Main News January 1st 2013



Dispatchers join up

The flight dispatchers at Allegiant Air have voted to join Teamsters Local 986, the Teamsters Airline Division has announced. The flight dispatchers at Allegiant, a subsidiary of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company, are joining approximately 350 Allegiant pilots who voted to join the Teamsters back in August 2012.

In explaining the decision, dispatchers have said that they are looking for fair treatment, a strong voice relating to their work and the security of a Teamster contract.


No hassle endorsement

Airlines for America has firmly put its support behind the House of Representatives in its decision to pass the No-Hassle Flying Act (2012).

The act sets out to simplify and streamline the process of baggage security measures appertaining to international flights arriving in the US from Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean that already have US Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities.

The bill duly went before the White House to seek Presidential endorsement, giving the TSA the right to decide whether supplementary baggage inspection is due on items that have already been screened at the start of their journey. Currently all baggage entering the US is subject to a second screening, regardless of its origin. Gaining approval, this new proposal was made law on December 13.



Topping up the pot

Once again we can report that airlines are doing rather well when it comes to the topic of ancillary revenue.

Data released by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has revealed that Delta Air Lines had the second-highest operational profit margin among US airlines in the third quarter of 2012; moreover, it also accrued most checked bag-fee revenue, at US$233.1m.

Interestingly, all the major carriers recorded an operating profit during the third quarter of 2012 and analysts point to bag fees, seat allocation charges and meals as prime contributors to the collective bottom line.

Top of the pile was Alaska Airlines, which pocketed more than US$44m from baggage fees. This performance outpaced that of Allegiant and Spirit, airlines that have been much in the news of late because of their controversial extra fees.

Whilst this has been encouraging for the carriers which continue to battle against a volatile fuel market, the story won’t end here. Southwest, for example, has stated that it is to further augment its ancillary fee structure as 2013 unfolds.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, over US$900m was collected in baggage fees by the industry in that third quarter, in addition to just over US$650m accrued from flight change fees. And all this doesn’t include other ancillary revenue which carriers are not obliged to report.



Fire detection a priority

The National Transportation Safety Board recently announced recommendations aimed at the reduction of harm caused by fires aboard cargo aircraft, a move that has been endorsed by a pilots’ union. The board urged the Federal Aviation Administration to require fire-suppression systems in all cargo compartments of aircraft and to improve fire detection within cargo containers and pallets. The recommendations follow three fire-related accidents worldwide during the last six years. One of these incidents involved a UPS freighter that crashed in the United Arab Emirates in 2010; on another occasion, a UPS aircraft caught fire in Philadelphia, back in 2006. A third example centered on an Asiana Cargo aircraft that was lost in the ocean off South Korea in 2011.


In brief

Signature Flight Support has announced that Airside FBO Operations, its second licensed location in Canada, has completed its transition to a full service fixed based operation as Signature Edmonton located at Edmonton International airport.



Main News December 4 2012


Self-service – from Canada

WestJet has introduced self-service baggage tagging for those flying to the US from Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Having launched the same service in November in Calgary, WestJet becomes the first Canadian airline to introduce this bag tagging on non-stop trans border flights. Self-service baggage tagging allows WestJet flyers to use a mobile, the Web or a kiosk for checking in for their flight. They are then able to print their own baggage tags when they arrive at the airport. Those checking in via a kiosk may print their boarding passes and baggage tags at the same time; and once the tags have been attached, travellers simply drop the baggage off at the appropriate location.

In most Canadian airports, WestJet flyers have had the ability to print their own baggage tags for domestic flights since 2010.


Pollution not confined to the ramp

Average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas in airports are five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. This is one finding from a study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was conducted around five large US airports, which revealed that air pollution levels inside designated smoking areas were up to 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. In the study, designated smoking areas in airports included restaurants, bars and ventilated smoking rooms.

Overall, five out of the 29 largest airports tolerate smoking in designated areas that are accessible to the public. However, more than 110m passenger boardings (around 15% of all US air travel) occurred at these five airports during 2011.

Although smoking was actually banned on all US flights through a number of federal laws (from 1987 to 2000), as yet there is no federal policy that requires airports to be smoke-free.

Secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in non-smoking adults and it is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks. Even a mild exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger a heart attack.

Whether the findings will persuade the authorities to look anew at smoker provision remains to be seen.


Apps now becoming commonplace

The just-published 2012 ACI-NA (North America) Concessions benchmarking survey makes for interesting reading. Within its compass there is detail on the rise of the app, that useful item that allows travellers to quickly log on to all sorts of sites for updates and information. According to the survey, some 33% (that is, 32 out of 98 responding airports) now have a mobile application ready. It is also worth recording that of those airports that have a mobile application, over 70% promote concession offerings using these mobile platforms. In terms of how the app was developed, the most common route was that of a joint venture involving the airport and a third party: this accounted for 50% of responses. Close behind was the third party approach, with 44%.


Chaos in store at US Airways?

US Airways cabin crew have been threatening sudden strikes unless the airline management looks at agreeing new contracts for flights attendants.
Staff have the backing of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and have held protests around the US in the light of the airline’s failure to agree on contracts for its cabin crew. The association says that flight attendants continue to work under separate contracts, in separate operations, some seven years after the merger of US Airways with America West. It further suggests that US Airways’ proposed takeover of American ought to be put on hold until US Airways has completed its merger with America West, and agreed a single contract for all attendants.



On time statistics take a knock

Internal problems at American Airlines contributed to a slight fall in on-time departure statistics during the month of September. For the purposes of recording, to be on time flights have to arrive no more than 14 minutes behind schedule.

According to the Transportation Department, some 83.3% of all flights were on time although this was slightly down from the figure of 83.9% recorded during September 2011.

The best on-time performance statistic was recorded by Hawaiian Airlines, which totaled 96%. Runner-up was AirTran Airways, scoring 91%, whilst Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines rounded off the front runners with nearly 90% each.

There were no plaudits for American Airlines, which only managed to post on time figures of 58%. American blamed its poor performance on a work slowdown by pilots, who have been unhappy that the airline has used the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process to trim their pay and benefits package.

Concurrently, American Airlines also had the highest cancellation rate (3.1%), which represented a total of 1,304 flights. All the other major airlines submitting figures posted statistics below 1%. In all, American accounted for a third of all canceled flights during the month.

On the other side of the coin, passengers reported a slightly lower rate of lost or mishandled baggage: in this context, wayward bags were a bigger problem on regional airlines. Conversely, the chance of being bumped from one flight to another grew over the summer period: this was up by 38% from July through September, compared with the same period last year.


Main News November 6 2012


Bags of money for the big carriers

Reports suggest that major US airlines had a good second quarter in 2012. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the largest air carriers reported a 6% profit margin in this period, up from 5.3% from the same quarter in 2011. Once again, it was baggage fees that swelled the coffers. Overall, the industry set a record in the first half of this year, which saw in excess of US$1.7bn levied in such fees. Top of the tree was Delta Air Lines, which earned in over US$420m in the first six months of the year. United Continental was not too far behind.

In the final analysis, Delta’s revenues stood at US$429m, with United posting a total of US$351m. In third place was American Airlines, despite Chapter 11, with US$288m. US Airways took the fourth position on revenues of US$260m.

If these figures seem disproportionate, it is as well to point out that the fifth in the list, with a mere US$80m accruing from baggage fees, was Spirit Airlines. Whilst it has some way to go to start worrying the likes of US Airways, its latest initiatives (if that is the right word) will see it levy US$100 for a bag being checked in at the gate. That represents more than a doubling of the current fee of US$45. By doing this, Spirit is hoping that the new fee will persuade passengers to pay in advance instead of waiting until the day of travel. Within the carrier’s low cost, low service business model, current fees make up about 40% of its revenues.



Airport investment continues

Kansas City Aviation Department is moving forward with plans to replace the existing triple terminal design at Kansas City International airport with a newUS$1.2bn multi-storey building. According to a US$4m case study carried out by the agency, construction on the existing site of Terminal A will not involve major highway reconstruction and would be completed in a shorter time compared to construction on undeveloped land. The study also revealed that a replacement terminal would be preferable because of its proximity to the main runway, the fuel farm, the cargo facility and the de-icer area. The project will be funded through federal grants, fees received from airline passengers and carriers and remaining from a bond sale.

Separately, Port Columbus International airport is considering undertaking a three-year, US$80m terminal modernization program to increase its passenger handling capacity.

Expected to commence in November 2012, work on the 835,000 square foot multi-faceted terminal modernization program will include enhancement of the ticket lobby, baggage claim and concourses A, B and C, along with mechanical, technological and security advances.

Columbus Regional Airport Authority President and CEO, Elaine Roberts, said that some US$627m had been invested in airport enhancements, which included roadway, runway and baggage handling upgrades.



Ten years – a suitable time limit?

There was recently an unusual case at Charlotte Douglas International airport, where an employee was apprehended at work after it was discovered there had been a warrant out for his arrest. What was interesting in this instance was that the warrant for his arrest dated back to something that had occurred over a decade ago.

In 2000, the man was accused of stealing from his employer in Concord. That same year he began working at the airport and was with Delta at the time of his arrest. The accused stated that he thought that the case had been dismissed. In consequence, the question of background checks has come under the microscope. A representative from the airport confirmed that in addition to the checks performed by Delta Global Services, the airport also would have followed TSA standards. Inter alia, these standards outline what would disqualify an employee from having unescorted access into secure areas and a number of potential crimes are itemized. The standards also say that potential employees cannot be convicted of any of such crimes within the last ten years. That said, there appears to have been no correlation between those standards and being wanted by the police.

The case against this individual was actually dismissed because of its age and the fact that there was a lack of evidence.


Putting the personal touch back into flying

Whilst many bemoan the hard-nosed attitude that has come to typify the aviation sector, a few airlines, including US carriers, have been looking at ways and means whereby they can differentiate their product. Currently faced with competition from price comparison websites, they are trying to win back customers through a personalized service offering.

To that end, IATA has been promoting an experiment that involves customized ticket pricing to include such factors as baggage fees and seat assignments. However, travel agents are concerned that such a “personalized price product” will entail difficult comparisons – and might lead to concerns over customer privacy.

Under the terms of this new comparison plan, airlines could ask potential customers for personal information, which might include membership of frequent-flier programs, travel history or even credit card usage. Armed with this information, airlines could then tailor a ticket price to each passenger, one that would embrace, for example, meal choices, extra legroom requirements and seat preferences. Then, an intermediary would collect the prices offered by various airlines and furnish these to the customer.

Currently, airlines say that they are unable to offer regular customers a lower price or eliminate a bag fee on comparison sites, simply because those potential customers are anonymous.

IATA’s Tony Tyler sees this as a valuable opportunity for a revolution in airline retailing, and says that this plan would allow airlines to customize their offering, even through travel agents. The industry association has now agreed to move forward with what it terms a new distribution capability. This experiment is scheduled to begin early in 2013 and could be rolled out before 2016.

Currently, around 40% of tickets are sold through airline websites and it costs the industry’s carriers significant sums annually to market their wares through these Internet outlets.



Pinnacle decision finally made

On November 6, Pinnacle Airlines flight attendants, who were represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, ratified a six-year agreement that will see salary levels maintained, attendants in receipt of affordable healthcare provision and guaranteed job security for over 1,500 staff in all. The agreement includes US$6.4m in concessions demanded by the management through the Chapter 11 restructuring process.

The agreement was reached with the assistance of the National Mediation Board.

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