Tag Archives: FAA

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Good evening earthlings! This week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is now posted.

This week I talk a lot about US Airways. For good reason. I attended the airline’s “Unplugged” Media Day last week. The airline used the occasion to announce it is upgrading its regional airline fleet with first class cabins. But that was not the only news to come out of Tempe. We’ll give you the low down.

That doesn’t mean we’re done talking about Southwest Airlines and its recent fuselage problem. Nor have the late night talk show hosts.

Last week Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly and American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey both sat down with Terry Maxon from the Dallas Morning News at the SABEW Conference in Dallas. Gary talked about the Southwest incident and Gerard talked about the recent bogus offer to buy the airline from that outfit in Florida. Yes, as we assumed, the SEC is looking into it.

Speaking of Dallas, the DOT reported its February Air Travel Consumer Report last week. As expected, it was not a good month for airlines based in Dallas. (February ….ice…snow…Superbowl on ice.)

Expedia and American Airlines kissed and made up this week. But this news leaves a lot of very ragged and messy things to clean up on the corporate travel terrain. We like TheBeat’s Jay Campbell’s take on the news. We’ll share his take with you.

While pilots for United and Continental Airlines keep working on a new contract, all is not apparently warm and fuzzy on the United Airlines pilot side of the house. Reports say that there was a recall vote originally scheduled for Monday’s UAL ALPA MEC meeting. The intended victim? The pilot’s current MEC Chairwoman, Captain Wendy Morse.

Meanwhile the flight attendants at American Airlines offered up a deal for the airline. An immediate 6% raise for its members — and the rest of the contract details would be tabled for 18 months. The airline said no.

Speaking of American — April 20 is just around the corner. That’s the day you can expect to see protests from airline employees over the airline’s latest PUP bonus distributions.

We talk also take a look this week at just how much additional revenue and/or capacity cuts the airlines would need to make — in order to cover the current price of fuel for the remainder of the year. That’s a sobering chart. Thanks to Dahlman Rose analyst Helane Becker for the analysis.

As always, all this, and more in this week’s issue.

Subscribers can access the issue here.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello to all on this rather sunny Sunday here at the Worldwide Headquarters.

PlaneBusiness Banter is posted a bit early this week, as yours truly is headed West to the Valley of the Sun later today. It’s time for the 28th Annual ISTAT Conference and this year it is being held in Scottsdale, AZ. What is ISTAT you ask? It is the trade association for those who make their living leasing, buying, and selling airplanes. You know, those metal things we voluntarily put ourselves into from time to time.

I heard last week that there were already 1600+ attendees registered for the event this year. Amazing. I remember when I was on a panel discussion at the event in 1998 and they thought it was good when they had about 400 folks show up in Boca Raton.

It’s always one of our favorite industry events to attend. I’m looking forward to it.

Yes, there was an earthquake that hit Japan last week. We talk this week a bit about how that has affected not only the Japanese airline industry, but how major international airlines who fly to Japan have been affected as well.

We’re also talking about the latest DOT Air Travel Consumer numbers. January was a very good month for the airlines — and their passengers. Except for one glaring category. Guess which one that was. And yes, it’s directly related to the DOT’s Three-Hour Rule.

Airline stocks had a very good week last week, as investors shrugged off concerns over higher fuel prices — but yet another fare increase that American Airlines tried to put into place failed as the week ended.

Spirit Airlines is up to no good again — as the airline rolled out a “Charlie Sheen” inspired ad. Meanwhile Allegiant Air is proposing a “variable rate” fare which would be finalized on the day of departure — based on that day’s fuel cost.

We talk a lot about airplanes and Wi-Fi this week. Will Boeing announce a new twin-aisle narrow body at the Paris Air Show this year? Is Wi-Fi making some Honeywell instruments go haywire in Boeing 737s? Did Aircell just blow up Row 44′s chance at long-term survival?

Never a dull moment around here.

All that — and more — in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello all.

Live and direct from the PlaneBusiness Worldwide Steaming Hot Headquarters, we bring you a 150 plus-page issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

Yes, this is, without a doubt, the mother of all earnings issues.

We have full transcripts and PlaneBusiness Banter earnings summaries for Southwest Airlines, AirTran, JetBlue, Alaska Air Group and Allegiant Travel this week.

Not only that but we give you the numbers that were just reported from Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways, ANA and Singapore Airlines.

Whew.

All of this plus our take on the more “newsworthy” topics from the past week including the meltdown at Mexicana (and no, we’re not talking about the FAA’s downgrade of the Mexican aviation safety rating) and the showdown between the pilots and management at Philippine Airlines.

So what do you think? Do you think the pilots and flight attendants at Mexicana should have taken up management’s offer to buy the airline?

Or — should they have cut their pay and benefits essentially in half?

As we were posting this issue, the news came down: Mexicana has filed for bankruptcy.

One thing that will do — it will stop airline leasing companies from taking their aircraft back. Apparently at least three of the airline’s aircraft had already been snatched back by their owners.

Aside from all this turmoil, we then have the latest attempt by the U.S. government to “make the airline industry a better and safer place.”

Yes, from the same folks who brought us the Three-Hour Tarmac rule, the Senate and the House passed a bill last week that will see the minimum number of flight hours required for a regional airline pilot position jump to 1500.

Needless to say, I can understand why members of Congress want to look like they are making the industry a safer place — but is a 1500 hour flight time minimum the way to do it?

One of our regular contributors gives us his take on the potential ramifications of this legislation in this week’s issue.

One thing that is a constant in this industry is that it always has a lot of debt.

But while most of the airline’s debt ratings are in the “junk” category, shrewd investors know that investing in airline debt can be quite profitable.

This week I assemble the latest credit and debt comments on the major airlines from Mark Streeter — the man who does this for a living for JPMorgan Chase. I think Mark is the sharpest guy on the Street when it comes to airline debt.

As for airline stocks — a Foreign Flyer took the first place nod last week in terms of gains. Overall, it was a good strong week for the sector.

All of this — and much, much, more in this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter.

Subscribers can access this week’s issue here.

PlaneBusiness Banter Now Posted!

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Hello earthlings.

Subscribers to PlaneBusiness Banter can access this week’s issue here.

What are we talking about in this — our last mega-earnings issue for the quarter?

Well, obviously we’re talking about earnings. This week I grouped the three remaining regional carriers together — SkyWest, Pinnacle and ExpressJet.

While institutional investor interest in the regional sector is understandably less than enthusiastic, I still found it interesting to listen to the calls from the three airlines. Clearly SkyWest is obviously the dominant carrier of these three, and the airline ended the first quarter with more than $700 million of cash in the bank. Gotta love it.

But even SkyWest has had to become creative over the last several years — as the major airlines keep trying to cut, cut, and cut some more costs from their regional airline contracts.

Regional airlines, in turn, have been forced to get creative.

Nowhere have those efforts been more obvious in this group than with ExpressJet. The airline has dabbled in the corporate charter business, it started its own branded operation, and now it’s struggling to keep the doors open while saddled with a big chunk of convertible debt that is coming due. The airline also paid some nice fees to United Airlines — in return for United throwing some business in its direction.

As for Pinnacle, it didn’t have a particularly good quarter. CEO Phil Trenary said that it was one of the worst he had ever experienced — in terms of the weather-related costs to the airline.

Mekong Air? Heard of it? Apparently Jesup & Lamont analyst Helane Becker has as she grilled SkyWest CFO Brad Rich about the airline’s potential involvement with it.

While Brad was not forthcoming with much information, other reports suggest that SkyWest is, in fact, behind the new start-up.

In other news we talk about a lot of labor issues this week — and of course that includes the situations at British Airways, American, AirTran, and Spirit.

A reminder: The 30-day cooling off period for the pilots at Spirit ends on June 12. A strike here could be nasty — as Spirit does not have the deepest pockets on the planet.

On Wall Street it was ugly for airline stocks last week. This week hasn’t started off all that well either — although a bullish JP Morgan analyst note this morning seems to have lifted the sector. Shares of US Airways seem to be enjoying the nicest ride today — a result of both a positive comment from JP Morgan and because of a note from Avondale Partners in which analyst Bob McAdoo discusses the reasons why an American/US Airways deal would make sense.

Which reminds me. I’ll be talking a lot about mergers. And potential mergers — in next week’s issue.

All of this — and more in this week’s edition of PlaneBusiness Banter.

FAA Proposes $5.4 Million Civil Penalty Against US Airways; $3.8 Million Against United Airlines

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Hark! Today there is news of two proposed FAA penalties — and the news does not involve an airline based in the Dallas area.

Today the FAA announced that it has assessed a proposed civil penalty of $5.4 million against US Airways, and a proposed civil penalty of $3.8 million against United Airlines.

in the case of US Airways, the FAA said in a statement that the airline allegedly operated eight aircraft while out of compliance with safety directives or its own maintenance program.

In a letter to employees issued just a few minutes ago, US Airways COO Robert Isom wrote,

“It is important to remember that today’s announcement references situations that are in the past, and in several cases, date back to two years ago. This isn’t to make light of the findings or our corrections to those findings, rather it’s to say these occurrences are behind us, and today, we have improved upon an already solid maintenance program.

The FAA proposed civil penalty dates back to challenges we faced related to our America West/US Airways maintenance integration in 2007. The integration presented some challenges in the areas of inspection and records during 2007, 2008 and early 2009. Our team has worked cooperatively with the FAA to investigate and correct any discrepancies to the FAA’s satisfaction.

More specifically, over the past nine months, we and the FAA have completed a formal review of our aircraft maintenance tracking systems as well as a comprehensive review of our maintenance program. This collaborative process included efforts to identify the issues, drill down to find the root cause and develop comprehensive fixes.”

However, In the case of United Airlines, the FAA alleges that the airline flew one Boeing 737 aircraft on more than 200 flights after “violating its own maintenance procedures.” That’s the “official” language. In plain language, the airline apparently continued to fly a plane that had shop towels stuffed in the aircraft’s engine.

On April 28. 2008, a United 737 returned to Denver after shutting down an engine due to low oil pressure indications. During teardown of the engine a week later, United mechanics found that two shop towels, instead of protective caps, had been used to cover openings in the oil sump area when maintenance was done in December 2007. As a result of United’s failure to follow its maintenance procedures, between February 10 and April 28, 2008, the airline continued to fly the airplane on more than 200 revenue flights when it was not in an airworthy condition.

Wonderful. Shop towels?

As is the case with all proposed FAA fines, each airline will have 30 days in which to appeal the proposed fines. In the past, this would then be followed by a little horsetrading between the airlines and the FAA — in an attempt to lower the fine amounts.

Will be interesting to see how much these fines are reduced. Especially the United one. While the US Airways’ transgressions seems to be based on issues involving proper record keeping of the newly merged airline — the shop towel incident with United strikes me as a much more serious “safety” issue.



Vacation Coming To An End….Sigh

Thanks to all of you who have been attempting to get me to comment this week on any number of goings-on in the airline industry.

But, I am happy to say — I resisted.

Until today.

No, I said, I am on vacation, and damn it, I am going to stay offline. Until Tuesday.

Until today.

And what got me to finally break my silence? Something wickedly funny. Of course.

Most of you probably saw the recent YouTube effort in which some enterprising Boeing employee ( I would bet) did a take off on Boeing’s continued delays with the 787. The video used? A now-familiar clip from a recent Hitler made-for-television movie that seems tailor-made for such antics. In fact, there are scores of these parodies now on YouTube, including one dealing with Brett Favre’s sign-up with the Vikings. I know. Just one of those things that seems to be tailor-made for mischief.

This week das Fuhrer has made yet another appearance.

But this time it appears that a Southwest Airlines’ pilot is the one responsible for the sub-titles. And Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly is the one barking out German invectives to his underlings.

I’ve had more than a handful of you inquire as to whether moi had anything to do with this. I think the reason is because there are some very “inside” management barbs in this new satire. So I guess the assumption is that this was something right up my alley.

But I am here to say — I am completely innocent.

That is not to say that I didn’t chuckle out loud more than once when I watched it, though. (Yeah, you know Business Select takes a hit in here, along with…..”It’s ON!”) But I think I may have laughed the loudest at the “deck party” comment.

Not sure some folks over on Denton Drive are going to be too amused, however. This one hits just a little too close to home. On more than one front.

Serious stuff? Oh of course there has been a lot of serious stuff going on in the industry this past week — including headline-grabbing FAA interventions with both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. I mean, if this continues, the FAA should just move their headquarters to Dallas, don’t you think?

And yes, Southwest, when not feverishly repairing aircraft this week, also announced a new “fee” for passengers. I’ll be talking about this news this next week, along with a whole lot more. When my vacation finally ends on Tuesday.

Sigh.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend everyone. Tennis in the greatest city in the world, college football at a stadium near you, and cooler temps almost everywhere.

Life simply doesn’t get any better than this. Get out there and enjoy it.

Babbitt Formally Announced as Administration Pick for FAA Head

This afternoon the White House announced that it will, in fact, nominate Randy Babbitt, former ALPA President and aviation consultant, to be head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Randy, who is here in Phoenix at the Phoenix International Airline Symposium (actually he’s up on stage right now moderating the executive panel) denied reports that he will bring his Hawaiian shirt dress code to the Washington FAA offices in Washington.

Delta Air Lines And Pilots Agree to Reinstate ASAP Program

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This is great news.

As I had written in PlaneBusiness Banter in December, it did appear that Delta Air Lines and its pilot union were close to coming to an agreement which would see the airline reinstate its Aviation Safety Action Program.

This morning the airline announced just that.

From the airline’s release:

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to reinstate its Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) covering pre-merger Delta pilots. The revised program mirrors an existing Northwest Airlines pilot ASAP program.”

In addition to the reinstated pilot ASAP, Delta has formal ASAP programs in place for its dispatchers and Technical Operations employees, and other safety reporting programs for flight attendants and ground employees. Delta also will continue ASAP programs currently covering pre-merger Northwest pilots, dispatchers and load planners, and other safety reporting programs for its other workgroups.

This means that almost 17,000 employees of the airline are now covered by some form of voluntary safety reporting system at Delta.

Excellent news. Just makes me want to do a little happy dance outside. Only problem is that if I did, I’d probably fall on the ice and break a limb. So — happy dance will be postponed until it’s a little warmer. (Yes, I’m at the Dallas-Ft.Worth branch office this week.)

We have two more major airlines and their pilots groups to beat into submission in regard to ASAP participation. And we all know which two airlines I am talking about. American Airlines and US Airways.

And no, as I told my PBB subscribers not too long ago, I’m not going to shut up until the last two stragglers are back in the fold. ASAP program participation is too valuable to all concerned.