Tag Archives: Aviation Week

TSA Seeks New Devices To Cut Back On Pat-Downs – Really?

11 Jun

I am one of those people who is blessed — or cursed — with a long memory.  I can’t tell you what I ate for dinner last week, but I can probably tell you where we met and even what you were wearing when we met.  This blessing comes in really handy as a writer, because I do tend to remember most of my aviation stories.

So when I saw this headline — Handheld device sought to reduce frequency of controversial pat-down searches at airports — in Government Security News magazine, a little bell went off in my head.  Regular readers know that I covered airports and security for almost five years at Aviation Week.  I also created the now-defunct Towers and Tarmacs blog, which covered the same topics.

GSN reports that TSA has put out a proposal to potential vendors for the following in a handheld device: (a) the device should be able to be operated with only one hand during screening, (b) it should weigh less than five pounds, (c) it should not be “tethered” to a desktop computer, power supply or external detection unit, (d) it should be able to detect metal and explosives, (e) it should handle the sampling, scanning and analysis as a single step, (f) results should be obtained in less than 15 seconds, and (g) the device should be ready to screen the next passenger in less than one minute.

So as my brain scanned the phrases “TSA” and “hand-held devices,” several things popped up.  I remember all this new technology TSA was exploring to make the whole security process quicker but still help the agency meet its mission.  These include:

  • In August 2006, TSA started exploring a shoe x-ray that would have allowed us to keep our footwear on during the screening process;
  • In October, my former AvWeek colleague John Doyle wrote about a Canadian company that had created a device that attached to existing x-ray machines to scan liquids for explosives and weapons that was so sensitive it could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi;
  • A month later, TSA announced it had purchased 600 bottle scanners and would start by deploying 200 of them at six airports; and
  • In January 2007, TSA was testing CastScope, a device that could scan passengers wearing casts

According to the New York Times, the Dept. of Homeland Security has spent almost $40 billion on rebuilding aviation security.  And despite that, we’re still subjected to basic pat-downs if technology fails. There’s got to be a better — and cheaper — way.

Pssst-Wanna Buy A Regional Jet Cheap?

22 May

American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145s at DFW Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I covered the regional aviation industry from 1993 to 2001.  During that time, I watched as regional carriers grew up and became almost mirror images of their larger airline partners.

I had a front row seat to the rise of the 50-seat regional jet.  The big players were Canada’s Bombardier, with its CRJ and Brazil’s Embraer ERJ-145.  The major airlines wanted them for several reasons.  One, they were constrained by pilot scope clauses that didn’t allow regional pilots to fly larger jets. Two, they saw the jets as a way bring service to cities that weren’t quite big enough for larger jet or even do some point-to-point hub bypass service.

During the RJ frenzy heyday, regional carriers couldn’t sign contracts fast enough.  Cincinnati-based Comair led the pack, becoming the U.S. launch customer for the CRJ, while Continental Express was the same for the ERJ-145.  Mesa Air Group (my former employer) became the first regional to operate both types in its fleet.

But now, regionals can’t get rid of them fast enough as fuel costs made them more expensive to operate and major airlines began cutting traditional RJ routes.  You can read my May 1 interview in Aviation International News with my former boss, Jonathan Ornstein, on how this affected Mesa.

So where are all those RJs going? An April 30 story in AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler reports that the current RJ glut “presents a rare opportunity to acquire a relatively new large-cabin jet at near-turboprop prices.”  I wrote a blog post in Aviation Week’s Business Aviation Now on Sept. 11, 2009 on Dubai-based Project Phoenix, a company that turns CRJ-200s into VIP business jets.

According to BJT, by the end of 2011, nearly 400 RJs were grounded in the U.S., many of them less than 10 years old, including BAE 146/Avros; Bombardier CRJ100s, 200s and 900s; Dornier/Fairchild 328Jets; Fokker 100s; and Embraer ERJ-135/145s. And, the publication notes, the Chapter 11 filing of American Airlines could see hundreds more ERJs in the American Eagle fleet be put into storage.

If you’re looking for a pretty nice aircraft that is a little slower but tougher than the average business jet at a bargain basement price, a converted CRJ might be for you.  For a mere $10 million, according to BJT, you can have one with “all the bells and whistles,” with a range of 3000nm carrying eight passengers and bags.  A similarly sized super mid-sized jet, like the Bombardier Challenger 605 (a loose cousin of the CRJ) could cost  more than double.

The bigger question is what will happen to all those smaller regional jets?  Is there enough of a market for them to be a strong alternative to a new business jet? Is there a market for these aircraft in other parts of the world, including China, Africa and South America? Only time will tell.

Travel + Leisure Rates Best & Worst Airports – Did They Get It Right?

21 May

The iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know that I covered the airports/security beat at Aviation Week for almost 4 years.  And my decades of travel have found me parked in the best and the worst airports around the globe.

So I always read these polls with great interest.  The last time I wrote about this was back on Jan. 17, when the Frommer’s travel website picked its 10 worst airport terminals.

So now one of my favorite travel magazines — Travel + Leisure — has done its first-ever look at American’s best and worst airports.  You can check out the sideshow here, but I just have to weigh in with my thoughts on some of their choices.  My overall impression is that you can’t judge some airports as a whole.

For example, a big pet peeve with me is when JFK Airport automatically makes the worse list (#4 according to Travel + Leisure). Regular travelers know the experience can be night  — Delta’s horrific Terminal 3 – the Third WorldPort — or day — JetBlue’s ubercool Terminal 5.  To be fair, Delta is building onto Terminal 4, and says it will provide a better experience for travelers.

I was surprised to see Washington Dulles (one of my personal favorites) on this list.  The airport has opened a new security check-in that is much faster in processing travelers.  And my beloved rolling jetbridges have mostly been replaced by a people mover.  And Boston Logan is another one where travelers can have different experiences (Terminal A great; Terminal B, meh).

I was  surprised to learn that Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport came in first.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice airport, but I  happen to think that Orlando should have rated higher than number four. And as much as I love my hometown airport, San Francisco International, I don’t think it rates number five — unless you’re judging it purely based on the International Terminal and the new-ish Terminal 2.

And I’m happy to see that my current hometown airport — BWI  — is number six on the list, despite Concourses B, C and D looking a little long in the tooth.  But the airport has announced a $100 million program to spruce up the facility.  But I was surprised to see Miami as number 10 on the list.  While the South Terminal is lovely, it is long and sprawled out.  The facility has been undergoing upgrades for years, and some concourses (G) are relics from an earlier age.

Some airports I would have added to the list, including: Portland; John Wayne; Jacksonville; Savannah; San Jose; and Nashville.  So what do you think? What airports — good or bad — should have been on this list?

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

5 Mar
  1. All the true airline geeks (including me) were excited over a major aviation event this past weekend — the final steps to a complete merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines.  In this phase, the airline now has a single reservation system, a single check-in and one frequent flyer program — MileagePlus. But there’s always some problems when you’re merging two systems, including “late flight departures and arrivals, missed connections, problems at check-in kiosks, long lines and extended wait times to reach reservations agents as United agents tried to master the new system,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
  2. I’m a fool for anything written about my favorite aircraft — the Boeing 747.  So I thoroughly enjoyed a blog post by my former Aviation Week colleague Guy Norris, who gave us a sneak peek of the inside of a VIP 747 delivered to a Middle East customer in the Things With Wings blog.
  3. Back in late 1999, I took a trip to Israel for the delivery of the first ATR-72 to Arkia Israel Airlines. I was in New York City for a family event, so I flew on TWA to Tel Aviv. I could do several blog posts about that particular flight, but one of the things I remember is the flight attendants rolling down the aisles selling TWA-branded items — and being quite aggressive about it. Which is what I thought about when I read this New York Times article on the new revenue sources airlines are now chasing, including insurance, branded items and TV commercials.
  4. With Terrafugia Inc, about to debut its flying car at the New York Auto show next month, I read this Lifehacker blog post on the first true flying car.  The AVE Mizar was a Ford Pinto merged with a Cessna Skymaster plane. The wings were detachable, and that was the plane’s downfall.
  5. Back in the spring of 2005 when I was working for Delta Air Lines, I had to go out to Salt Lake City for a business meeting. One of my co-workers took me to the home of a flight attendant who had turned his basement into a Delta/Pan Am museum, complete with a reconstructed first class cabin, uniforms, travel posters and a huge pile of memorabilia. One thing he had was the wine-in-a-can Delta served passengers in the 1970s. So I thoroughly enjoyed a  post from Mary Kirby of the APEX Editor’s blog on Delta’s selections of wine in a box.

With the big switchover this weekend, the Continental Airlines name is no more.  So I’ll end this post with a classic commercial from the 1970s that featured a young Farrah Fawcett in the “We Really Move Our Tails For You” tag line. Enjoy!

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

27 Feb

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

  1. Last July, I flew to Chicago O’Hare to celebrate United Airlines passenger Tom Stuker flying his 10 millionth mile. My blog post on that event is here. During the event, United CEO Jeff Smisek presented Stuker with several gifts, including a Boeing 787 model. And in his remarks congratulating Stuker, Smisek made a not-so-subtle dig at Boeing over its delay in delivering the aircraft.  And now it seems the gloves are off.  The airline filed an SEC 10-K report that noted it was seeking damages for the aircraft’s delay, reports Aviation Week.
  2. Before filing for Chapter 11 in late November, American Airlines had been working hard to cut its labor costs.  In mid-November, the carrier’s  Allied Pilots Association rejected a contract, and less than two weeks later, the airline filed for bankruptcy protection in order to cut labor costs and slash debt.  American has already announced it was cutting 13,000 jobs; now management is warning its labor groups that it “needs concessions from its labor groups in a matter of weeks, not months, in order to emerge from Chapter 11 in the near term,” reports Reuters.
  3. Back in late August 1997, I flew down to Memphis to do some articles on Express Airlines II, now known as Pinnacle Airlines.  The company, which flew as Northwest Airlink, had been privately held, but was bought by Northwest Airlines. Its headquarters had just moved from Atlanta to Memphis, and then-CEO Phil Trenary, who had been brought in to take the airline to the next level, was optimistic about the future. Fast forward to now, where the airline is teetering on the edge of a Chapter 11 filing, reports the Commercial Appeal.  “Unless we have long-term agreements in place, the best way for us to improve our financial performance and ensure a viable future for our company may still be the court-supervised Chapter 11 process I explained earlier,” wrote CEO Sean Menke in a letter to Pinnacle’s employees.
  4. I want to thank Huffington Post for this story on why we really need to keep our cell phones off in flight.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) wrote in a confidential report that was leaked to ABC News “that between 2003 and 2009 errant electronic signals caused 75 incidents of “possible electronic interference” on airplanes, 40 percent of which were attributed specifically cellphones.”
  5. I’m a big fan of KLM’s efforts to incorporate social media as a way to reach out to their customers.  When I flew the carrier from Washington Dulles to Geneva in May 2010, I sent out a tweet about watching movies on the flight. The airline tweeted back a link to their movie selection and continued to check on me via Twitter until the end of my flight.  But I’m not sure about this latest initiative, which allows passengers to use Facebook or LinkedIn profiles to help select their seatmate, reports the New York Times.

Last week I wrote two posts on Pinterest – one on how I’m using the boards to show off my love of travel and one on what travel-related Pinterest members you should be following.  Since the second post, some of my favorite aviation/travel folks have joined up.  They include:

 

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

20 Feb

It was a busy week, catching all the news from the Singapore Air Show and Heli-Expo.  We also saw President Obama release his FY 2013 budget and FINALLY sign the $63 billion Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, which keeps the agency funded through 2015. So here’s what else went on.

  1. As American Airlines parent AMR Corp. continues its stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its labor unions, which have a seat at the creditors table, are doing what they can to keep as many jobs as possible, despite the airline’s recent announcement of 13,000 job cuts.  As an alternative to those cuts, two of the carrier’s largest unions — the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants — has said the company should consider offering lump sum buy-outs, reports Aviation Week.  TWU is proposing $75,000, with health insurance and other benefits retained for 9,000 employees facing the chopping blog. APFA is asking for a year’s salary and current health, travel and pension rights for members with more than 15 years’ seniority.
  2. Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog or who follows me on Twitter (@AvQueenBenet) knows that I think allowing cell phones during flight is another circle of hell. Do you hear the chatter that starts as soon as a plane lands? Can you imagine hearing that on a DC-San Francisco flight? One provision under the newly passed FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is that Congress is requiring the FAA to study the impact of cell phones for voice communications on aircraft where such service is currently permitted by foreign governments, reports Mary Kirby (@APEXMary) in her APEX Editor’s Blog. Here’s hoping that the study will continue to uphold the inflight ban on cell phones.
  3. Back when I was in college in the 1980s, I was always trying to find the cheapest way to fly from D.C. home to San Francisco. My savior was PeoplExpress, also fondly known as People’s Distress. They had $99 fares, you paid to check bags and for food/drinks onboard. You even paid your air fare onboard. It wasn’t a luxury ride, but it got you from point A to point B at a pretty reasonable price.  The airline shut down in February 1987 and it was folded into Continental Airlines. Fast forward 25 years later, and it may be coming back. Some of the folks from the original airline are proposing to bring back the low-cost carrier and headquarter it at Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport in Virginia, reports the Washington Post.  The carrier plans to initially serve destinations in Florida, New England, the Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions, then expand to other cities, such as Pittsburgh, Providence, West Palm Beach and Newark, where airline consolidation over the past few years has led to a reduction of non-stop air service.
  4. Like most frequent travelers, I’ve been watching with interest as the Transportation Security Administration continues to expand its PreCheck trusted traveler program. I covered the airport security beat for four years, which gave me a front-row seat to the private sector operated registered traveler program.  You can read my post on the APEX Editor’s Blog about how we got from a private RT program to an effort overseen and blessed by TSA.
  5. It’s Black History Month, and I’ve always had a particular fondness for those who were pioneers in the aviation/airline industry.  My brother from another mother — Greg Gross from the I’m Black and I Travel blog — shared the amazing story of Norma Merrick Sklarek, who died this year at the age of 85. Ms. Sklarek’s claim to fame was that she was the first black woman in America to be licensed as an architect. But her place in aviation history was secured as the leader of the team that designed Terminal 1 at LAX, which received the millions of visitors for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  She also designed the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Not bad for a woman who began her career designing bathrooms for the New York City building department.

I was a busy bee last week, with an APEX Editor’s Blog post about JetBlue’s food choices at its flagship Terminal 5 at JFK Airport, two stories in Aviation International News’ Singapore Air Show publication (on Enterprise Florida and Canada’s Manitoba Department of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade) and a stint as guest host on episode 185 of the Airplane Geeks podcast. And last — but certainly not least — I got to be a judge, along with Henry Harteveldt and Brett “Cranky Flier” Snyder in a 12th anniversary cake contest to celebrate JetBlue’s 12th anniversary, as retold on the carrier’s Blue Tales blog.

Top Five Interesting Stories Of The Week

30 Jan

It was another busy week in the aviation business, with airlines now required to show air fares that include all taxes and fees, US Airways confirming it is looking at a merger with American Airlines while Delta Air Lines is allegedly mulling a merger with US Airways.  But there were other things going on, so let’s get on with the news.

  1. I began covering the business aviation beat for Aviation Week in December 2008, a mere three weeks after the Big Three auto makers flew their private jets to Washington to beg Congress for bail-out funds.  I had a front-row seat to the collapse, which included almost 30,000 workers laid off, several aircraft programs shuttered, aircraft manufacturers sold, order books and backlogs vaporized and a president that bashed the industry at every turn.  So I read this AvWeek story by my former boss, William Garvey, entitled “Faint Signs Of Recovery In Biz Av, with great interest.  We now see a tiny light at the end of the tunnel.
  2. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw the demise of Spain’s Spanair after the carrier was unable to get the financing it needed to continue operating, reports BusinessWeek.  The immediate shut-down of the airline was not good news for the 23,000 passenger stranded because of it.  Spanish flag carrier Iberia, along with Spain’s Vueling Airlines and Air Europa, will offer special fares for those affected by Spanair’s shut-down.
  3. Being in the aviation business for almost 20 years, you get to meet some really great people.  One of my many favorites is George Hamlin.  Hamlin has been in the business for more than 40 years, working for two airlines and two aircraft manufacturers. He’s also a world-class aviation photographer.   He’s currently a consultant, and writes a column for Air Transport World magazine.  This month, Hamlin has a great article on the naming of aircraft fleets.  I’m partial to Pan Am’s former Clipper Queen of the Sky, for obvious reasons!
  4. I have to give a shout out to consumer travel columnist Christopher Elliott for using his blog to write the Transportation Security Administration a tongue-in-cheek memo on how to differentiate between medical devices and weapons of mass destruction.
  5. Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld co-opted a private jet theme for his Chanel Haute Couture show at the Grand Palais in Paris, reports MSN Her.  The “runway” featured numbered seats, floor lighting, emergency exits and a bar.

We’ll end this with a great infographic passed along by one of my readers.  The Frugal Dad blog gives us the visuals on why the airlines are bankrupt.  Enjoy!

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