Author Archives: Jonathan

Air Force VC-25 and F-16s: What were they thinking?

VC-25 over NYC

Photo: A U.S. Air Force VC-25 and F-16 escort in the skies near New York on Monday morning.

A video from The Wall Street Journal reports on the secretive VC-25 (Air Force One) and F-16 flights over New York City this morning.
The FAA has said the flights were planned and that all agencies were notified. However, someone seems to have forgotten to tell the people living and working nearby, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The NYPD issued this statement, according to The New York Times: “The flight of a VC-25 aircraft and F-16 fighters this morning was authorized by the F.A.A. for the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it but to direct any inquiries to the F.A.A. Air Traffic Security Coordinator.”
Another video uploaded to YouTube illustrates one New York resident’s fears about the low-flying planes. “That’s not normal,” says the woman in a concerned tone. No, it’s not.
Why the secrecy? What were they thinking? My bet is that they weren’t thinking at all. Still, I’m sure the resulting photos of the jet passing by the Statue of Liberty will be very provocative for future Air Force enlistment materials. Never mind the frayed nerves and panic induced by the photo shoot, right?
Update: Late this afternoon, Louis Caldera, Director of the White House Military Office, issued the following statement:

“Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”

Flu outbreak scare will hurt travel, but how badly?

Flu checks

Photo: Health officials use heat-sensing cameras to scan arriving passengers at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

There’s no doubt that outbreaks of swine flu will impact airlines and the entire travel industry. US Airways and United Airlines have already issued travel advisories and are giving passengers to Mexico City options for rescheduling their travel. Asian and European nations are implementing passenger screening. Other governments are looking to ban pork imports, despite few links between the flu and eating any meat products.
The initial repercussion will be on those international airline passengers traveling to Mexico, but how far will the virus — or simply the fear of the virus — spread? Despite the milder cases of flu in the United States and Canada, compared to the nearly 70 deaths in Mexico, the declaration of a public health emergency by the Dept. of Homeland Security and World Health Organization will do little to encourage travelers to make short term plans to visit any affected areas of North America.
The full economic hit won’t be known until after the medical crisis has passed and travel companies have reported traffic numbers. Just like SARS and other health outbreaks, airlines are in the trenches and have to respond fast to these threats. How much more can airlines and public health officials do to curtail the spread of swine flu and future disease outbreaks?

Gustav’s impact on oil production

Active energy platforms in the Gulf of Mexico
While we wait for Gustav to make landfall, and hope that Holly’s family remains safe and sound, we also need to consider the impact of the hurricane on the oil and energy industry. This graphic from NOAA reminds us of the sheer number of energy-drilling platforms, most now evacuated, situated in the northern Gulf of Mexico — almost 4,000 active platforms. What we don’t see here is the shore-based infrastructure. Pipelines, terminals, and refineries along the coast are going to be hit as well.
We don’t know how bad it’s going to be yet, but there’s likely to be a hit at the gas pump for drivers and airlines alike nationwide in the coming days.
Another note as the hurricane approaches, Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans discontinued flight operations at 6:00 PM Central time. Following some of the discussion over at Airliners.net, many airlines ran extra flights and used larger planes to assist in evacuations. AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Sun Country, US Airways, and other airlines all contributed to the flight exodus efforts.

It’s that time again, Delta first up for quarterly earnings

skydollar.jpgIt’s earnings time, once again. To start of this quarter, we have Delta reporting today and Continental on Thursday.
Subscribers to the PlaneBusiness Banter can review the full earnings calendar, including links to the webcasts for each airline’s earnings discussion calls, and earnings summaries for this quarter’s results.
Delta will discuss its earnings at 10 AM Eastern today, while Continental’s call is tomorrow at 10:30 AM Eastern.
During the next few weeks, expect to hear this phrase frequently: “Results were negatively impacted by the price of jet fuel.”

‘Recombobulation Area’ — Security humor at MKE

It’s OK to laugh at airport security in Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. Or, at least at that little zone just past security. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out a new sign that went up last month in Concourse C touting the zone as the “Recombobulation Area”. It’s that place you put yourself back together — shoes, belt, laptop, jackets, and the occasional titanium hip — after the discombobulation of going through security.
Concourse C is home to flights for United Express, Air Canada, American Eagle, Frontier, US Airways Express, Delta and Delta Connection, and AirTran.
Considering the state of Midwest Airlines, perhaps its a good thing they didn’t hang the sign in Concourse D.

The second safety demo seemed better than the first…

SAN FRANCISCO — In this day and age of continuous airline service, wage, staff, and in-flight cutbacks, plus a myriad of new fees, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the industry is driven by humans.
We see the faces of the gate agents, baggage handlers, pilots, and flight attendants every day. But we also might forget that they’re humans too. On Sunday night, June 8, I saw some of the brightest shining examples of airline employees doing everything they could to keep a plane full of passengers from bouncing off the walls in a riot.
mke-radar-20080608.jpg
I was one of those passengers on Midwest Airlines flight 421, scheduled to depart Milwaukee at 7:45 PM for Washington Reagan National Airport. I’ll save you the suspense and spill the secret. We didn’t get to DCA until 2 AM Eastern, having spent an extra three hours sitting in the plane, on the ground in Milwaukee, as waves of severe weather blew through. The radar image here shows the first line of storms about to hit Milwaukee, as we boarded and pushed back from the gate.
After finally making it back to DCA, I had another hurdle to face, a transcon trip to San Francisco for a conference, on a flight that left at 6 AM. Yep, four hours after landing, I was back in the air on a Delta flight to Atlanta where I connected to SFO. After being awake for close to 36 hours, I recounted my experience to Holly in an e-mail:

On the bright-side, we had a great crew on Midwest last night. They did everything they could to make it bearable. We had taxied out just before the storms went though, hoping to takeoff before the weather hit… but we got to the threshold of the runway and the wind really started to blow. So we parked out there for a couple hours. Brenda and Vicki [the flight attendants] served cups of water and warmed up the chocolate chip cookies for us.
Finally we taxied back to the gate, and they made sure we got replenished with more jugs of water and a fresh batch of cookies for later in the flight. Vicki searched the terminal for any snacks they could serve us during the delay. The pilots and dispatchers worked for another couple hours getting a new route and more fuel loaded before we finally left. They were all amazing, and I can only imagine how other crews would have been after that much time in the plane dealing with us. “Nasty” and “unpleasant” are adjectives one might expect utilized to describe what might have been.
Brenda, the lead flight attendant, came on the PA after we landed and apologized and then thanked us for being the most patient plane full of passengers they’d ever had. In fact, I was in row 2 and there wasn’t one single complaint or unhappy passenger during the entire delay. Several had questions about possible rebooking in the morning and one woman did get off when we got back to the gate, but nobody was impatient or rude… even though we definitely could have made it out before the weather if we’d pushed on time (we were about 10 minutes late out of the gate).

Brenda even managed to make many of us laugh and smile when she explained that they had to do the safety demo a second time, just in case we forgot in the prior three hours. (Of course, it’s also an FAA requirement, she went on to clarify.)
In the end, it wasn’t an experience I would want to replay anytime soon. Or ever. Or even wish on my worst enemies. But it’s also nice to recount the tale and hope that Vicki, Brenda, the flight crew, and ground staff of Midwest 421 get some recognition for their amazing work Sunday night and early Monday morning.
Thank you.

United’s 737 Census

A quick search over at JetPhotos.net’s aircraft census database shows 94 active Boeing 737s in the United Airlines fleet. To peruse the list, click the link above and then select United, Boeing, 737, and check active, then click search. According to the database, the oldest active plane is a N301UA, a 737-322 delivered on Nov. 12, 1986. The newest plane of the soon-to-be-retired fleet is N942UA, a 737-522 delivered on Oct. 28, 1996.

And we’re back…

Your friendly server admin here, just posting to let you know that the PlaneBusiness/PlaneBuzz server had migrated to its new confines and is up and running again. It took a little longer than anticipated to update the software and perform other maintenance (it has been over a year since it was seen in person for updates and fixes), but we’re excited to have the server online again. If you see anything that looks out of order, please don’t hesitate to let us know here in the comments or by e-mail.
Update: In testing the comments, I found that it may be necessary to first sign out, and then re-authenticate with your TypeKey username and password, before posting your comment, in order for the Movable Type software to correctly recognize you. Sorry for any inconvenience.

TPG, Northwest to acquire Midwest

tpglogo.jpgMidwest Air Group announced tonight that it has entered in to an agreement with TPG Capitol to sell the Milwaukee-based airline holding company for $16 per share in cash. This comes just hours after AirTran allowed its hostile tender offer to expire.
No mention was made of any other investors, such as the “passive” investor mentioned by AirTran, in Midwest’s statement, but The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the investment group does include Northwest Airlines.
AirTran’s offer was valued at $15.75, a mix of cash and AirTran stock. Midwest Air Group is the parent of Midwest Airlines and Skyway Airlines.
We’re still waiting for comments from Chip the Cookie, the Midwest Airlines mascot.
[Read "Private equity group to buy Midwest Air" at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.]