Monthly Archives: December 2006

Happy New Year….Almost

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It’s Sunday. New Year’s Eve. Do you have your list of resolutions for 2007 edited and posted on your computer monitor?

I thought not.

We took a few days off from following the antics of the airline biz last week. Hope all of you also had a chance to enjoy a few days over the holiday season enjoying friends, family, and just generally recharge the batteries. (And I’m not talking about the ones that power all those electronic goodies that Santa left behind this year for many of us.)

If you’re out and about tonight, be careful. I’m always a “stay-at-home” New Years person myself. Way too many “amateur drunks” out on the road for me.

But whether you venture out and party hardy, or stay at home with a nice cold bottle of something sparkling, have a good one no matter how you choose to celebrate.

Talk to you again next year!

We Told You So: Virgin Denied


Our take on the Virgin America DOT application has been the same for the last year. That take? That the airline’s application was not going to be approved by the DOT.

Today, after weeks of rumblings that this is what was going to happen, the DOT finally made it official.

Here’s the DOT release:


Virgin America would have to revise its ownership, corporate structure and associated agreements to be 75 percent owned and actually controlled by U.S. citizens before it can receive an operating certificate, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said today in tentatively denying the company’s application.

Under the Federal Aviation Act, to be certificated as a U.S. airline, a company must first show that it is actually controlled by U.S. citizens, that the president and two-thirds of the board of directors are U.S. citizens, and that at least 75 percent of the voting interest is owned or controlled by U.S. citizens. The Department recently withdrew a proposed rule that would have amended its interpretation of the statute’s “actual control” requirement so as to allow additional foreign investment.

In its show-cause order, the Department tentatively concludes that Virgin America’s close relationship with the U.K.-based Virgin Group indicates that the carrier is not under the actual control of U.S. citizens. The order cites the Virgin Group’s and its executives‚ pervasive involvement in the creation of Virgin America, the funding Virgin Group provided to the carrier, various interlocking financial agreements, and the Virgin Group’s ability to influence decisions of the carrier’s board.

The Department also said that the restrictive name-brand licensing agreement between Virgin Group and the airline impedes the carrier’s independent decision-making authority. However, the Department’s tentative decision reflects its review of the specific terms of the Virgin America licensing agreement, and DOT emphasized that properly structured licensing or franchise agreements between U.S. and international carriers are now, and will continue to be, permissible.

The Department also tentatively found that less than the required 75 percent of voting interest in Virgin America is owned or controlled by U.S. citizens, with most of its voting equity held by companies that are majority-owned by non-U.S. citizens.

In order for an application to be granted, Virgin America would have to demonstrate that it is independent of the Virgin Group and other non-U.S. citizens, and that at least 75 percent of its voting equity is held by U.S. citizens.

On July 12 the Department found the company’s application to be complete. DOT’s tentative decision follows an extensive review of Virgin’s heavily contested submissions and public comments.

Virgin America may file an objection to the proposed decision within 14 calendar days. Answers to objections will be due seven business days afterward. The show-cause order and other documents in the case may be found on the Internet at <> , docket OST-2005-23307.

Our friend Steve Lott over at Aviation Daily advised today that we all need to look at the show cause order, especially the appendix at the end, where the DOT tries to “sketch out” the ownership structure. Steve said it is hilarious. It is. And I think it gives us a pretty good idea of the impossible battle Virgin has in trying to convince the DOT of its ownership structure. Or rather, what it wants the DOT to think is its ownership structure.

Does this mean Virgin America is really dead? No, as the DOT comments said, objections can be filed in the next 14 days. After that, answers to objections are due within 7 days.

But I don’t see the airline being approved. Not enough is going to change between now and then. There are way too many attachments to the mother ship here. Always have been.

Anyone want a brand new headquarters? How ’bout some nice never-flown Airbus aircraft? I know. How about a bank account in the Cayman Islands?

More on this mess in next week’s PlaneBusiness Banter.

Taken that God-Awful Present Back Yet?


Just wondering.

Hard to believe that it’s already December 27. Every year it seems to me the earth’s orbit begins to speed up around Labor Day, and by the time Christmas is here — we’re all movin’ along at warp speed.

It just seems that I never have enough time to finish what I need to do, I never have enough time to enjoy the company of those I’d like to visit with a little longer (then again those nights with obnoxious relatives can go on forever), never have enough time to simply relax and listen to Christmas music — enjoying the downtime.

Before you know it, January 2 rolls around and the world automatically goes right back into “normal” mode. Crank it up!

Anyone else feel that way? Maybe it’s just my warped brain.

Then again, if I had spent four or five days at Denver International Airport this Christmas season, I think maybe I’d be happy that January was just around the corner.

Speaking of — I read this morning that there are still thousands of passenger bags out at DIA, bags that never made it to their destination during the Christmas blizzard event. Not particularly good news anytime, but especially not considering weather forecasters are now predicting that Denver may be looking at another storm in the next couple of days.

This could be another doozy,” Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder said of the impending storm in USA Today this morning. “Right now we’re in an amazingly active storm track.”

Airport officials are scheduled to go on full “snow alert” later today — the storm is expected to roll in on Thursday and current forecasts call for the storm to drop between 8-10 inches before it’s over.

American Airlines: Every Breath You Take We’ll Be Watching You


Looks like American Airlines has a new suitor. Just what this suitor wants is not clear. What is clear is who they are and what they have been involved with in the past.

This week it as disclosed that the FL Group now holds more than a 6% stake in the U.S. carrier.

For those not familiar with this group, this is the same entity that began to buy up shares in European low-cost carrier easyJet in 2005.

In February 2006 FL Group announced plans to list its subsidiary Icelandair Group on the Iceland Stock Exchange.

FL sold its 16.9% stake in easyJet in April 2006 for $427 million, returning a profit of $184 million on its investment. FL had first invested in easyJet in October 2004, taking an 8.4% share. The company continued to increase increase this stake over the course of 2005.

In October 2006 FL Group secured the sale of Icelandair Group.

Today, following the AMR news that was made public earlier this week, the group announced that it had sold off its Danish airline Sterling Airlines for 20 billion kronor ($293 million dollars).

The investment company had acquired Sterling in October 2005 after it merged with Maersk Air, and has operated the group during the past year.

FL also previously held a 23% stake in Finnair.

With FL’s acquisition in AMR shares, it is now AMR’s third largest shareholder with 12.8 million shares.

Who are number one and number two? Tontine Management, which owns 16.8m shares, and Primecap Management, with 16.5m shares.

Looking at the FL Group’s track record with its previous airline-related investments, it would seem to me that FL is looking for a quick profit-taking opportunity here. I don’t see any takeover attempt here. Besides, FL would be limited in the number of shares they could control in any such scenario because of foreign investment limits.

Then again, when any entity starts putting together large chunks of stock in a company — it can be unsettling to management. Now the third largest shareholder of AMR shares, FL has bought itself a “seat at the table” as we say, giving them more say in any future moves by the airline.

It also goes without saying that this move also signals that FL feels American is not going to be left out of the merger mania dance.

Embry Riddle Aircraft Destroyed by Tornadoes

Erau Damage1

Forget snow. In Florida this week Mother Nature decided to throw down a few tornadoes to ruin everyone’s Christmas dinner.

And nowhere was she more nasty than in Daytona Beach, home to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

According to reports, at least two tornadoes ripped a 100 foot swath across the campus, destroying the university’s maintenance hangar and destroying or damaging the majority of aircraft that were parked.

According to the university’s website, “There is substantial damage to several buildings on campus, including the administration building, Spruance Hall, and the Student Center. The recovery is already under way and every effort is being made to have everything operational when classes resume in January — including using rental planes for the flight line.”

The university now says that about 50 of its 65 aircraft were destroyed or damaged.

Santa Fills Pinnacle and SkyWest Stockings Early


Big news for two regional airlines today.

First, Northwest Airlines announced a new ten-year deal with Pinnacle. (PNCL:Nasdaq) Even though the deal will see Pinnacle get lower margin rates for its flying for Northwest, the pluses here easily outdistance the negatives. One, the deal keeps Pinnacle as a Northwest partner flying as Northwest Airlink. Maybe more importantly, however, Northwest gave Pinnacle the right to fly for other carriers.

The agreement will allow Pinnacle to fly aircraft with up to 76 seats, above the previous 56-seat limit. It also lets Pinnacle fly for other carriers, except into and out of Northwest’s hub cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit and Memphis.

Pinnacle also receives an unsecured claim of $377.5 million, in settlement of all pre-bankruptcy claims against Northwest. In return, Pinnacle will take an 8% margin and give up any fuel-surcharge revenue to Northwest.

In addition, Pinnacle will also redeem its Class A preferred shares held by Northwest for $20 million, eliminating Northwest’s right to name two directors and dictate the size of Pinnacle’s board.

Woo hoo.

The news, in conjunction with a couple of nice analyst comments, caused shares of Pinnacle’s stock to soar earlier today, and as of this writing it is now up 54% on the day. Nice chart, as you can see below.


In other news, those of you who are subscribers to PBB may recall that I talked this quarter after SkyWest (SKYW:Nasdaq) announced earnings that I thought we’d hear about a new contract for the airline sooner than later.

Well, it took a bit longer than I had expected, but today Midwest Airlines announced a new contract with SkyWest to fly 50-seat regional jets.

Skywest Mini

Not only was this a nice win for SkyWest. This contract is also notable for another reason. Mesa Air Group (MESA:Nasdaq) was aggressively trying to snare this one.

Midwest said SkyWest, flying as Midwest Connect, will operate a minimum of 15 and up to 25 Canadair Regional Jets for Midwest for five years under the pact. The flying is scheduled to begin in April.

Maybe it was just me, but I found this particular paragraph in the Midwest announcement interesting. “We chose SkyWest because of their experience, their excellent record of operational performance, and a commitment to customer service that mirrors that of Midwest,” said Scott R. Dickson, Midwest Airlines senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

A not-so-thinly-veiled sharp stick in the eye to an airline we all know, maybe?

Mesa Copy

Speaking of Mesa, the airline announced a joint venture agreement with Chinese airline Shenzhen Airlines this week.

The new airline (name not yet decided but we figure it should be China 5-0) is expected to start scheduled services within 12 months, initially operating 50-seat regional jets on domestic routes within the People’s Republic of China.

This is great. But I’d be happier for Mesa stockholders if I heard good news about improvements in Mesa’s domestic operations. Something about “sticking to your knitting” before you go off and tackle a new project.

I think the loss of the Midwest contract is yet another indicator that Mesa needs to get its domestic house in order. Sooner rather than later.

Oh, one other note about Mesa. The flight attendants there have asked for help from the National Mediation Board, as negotiations between the airline and the flight attendant union are not progressing. The flight attendants are not a particularly happy bunch there right now. That rather non-existent health insurance Mesa now provides its employees (the one we gave them a BuzzBomb for) is one reason.

Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas.

Judge Tells Comair It Can Impose Wage Cuts on Pilots


From MarketWatch:

“A federal bankruptcy judge has ruled that Comair can impose wage cuts and other changes in work rules on its 1,500 pilots, according to a report after Thursday’s closing bell. Judge Adlai Hardin gave the regional airline permission to throw out its contract with the pilots, the Associated Press reported. Comair is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc. Earlier this month, the pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, voted to authorize a strike if their contract was rejected by the court.”

I’m Dreaming of a ……Warm Bed

I’m sure that’s what folks are saying who are stranded at Senor Pena’s Palace of Planes right about now. (That would be Denver International Airport.)

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By now you’ve all heard the numbing stats. No flights in, no flights out. Maybe tomorrow. If they are lucky. Thousands of travelers remain stuck in the airport.


Then there is Heathrow, which has been gripped by a bout of freezing fog. Anyone want to fly to London this weekend for Christmas? Good luck.

Meanwhile, here in the swamp, that same moisture that is coming down as snow in Colorado is coming down here as rain — flooding many streets and homes in New Orleans. Some areas have had as much as 6 or 7 inches of rain since yesterday.

Looking out our door at the Worldwide Headquarters, I see rain, rain, and more rain.

Mother Nature seems unusually cranky this week. Maybe she needs someone to spike her eggnog. Anyone got any extra Wild Turkey?

Northwest and Mesaba: Let’s Make a Deal


Late today the Pioneer Press reported that Northwest Airlines is considering a merger deal with its regional partner, Mesaba. Northwest mentioned the potential deal in a note to employees on its employee website. Both airlines have now confirmed they are in talks.

According to the article,

“Officials of the airlines said the idea of a merger came from recent discussions on how Northwest and Mesaba can work together. Both airlines are based in Eagan, and both have had a difficult year of cutting costs, cutting jobs and negotiating labor contracts as they’ve restructured under bankruptcy protection.

The airlines discussed Northwest becoming a co-sponsor of Mesaba’s bankruptcy reorganization plan whereby Northwest would become the owner of Mesaba “in a principally non-cash” deal, said Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon. Such a deal would require approval by the bankruptcy court.

Airline officials said the discussions continue as the two carriers work toward a definitive agreement.”

Doug Abbey, consultant with the Velocity Group in Washington was quoted as saying,

“The Mesaba saga has really been a soap opera of the highest magnitude,” Abbey said. “It solves a number of problems: Mesaba’s future and Northwest’s need for a high-quality regional partner.”

Abbey believes Northwest would operate Mesaba separately, and that such a deal would not affect Northwest’s planned internal Compass regional operation.

Will Wonders Ever Cease….

I must say, it’s rare that a news item actually surprises me. But this one did.


Don Carty, a former PlaneBusiness Ron Allen Airline (Mis) Management Award winner, was named CFO of Dell (DELL:Nasdaq) late Tuesday. (I take it I don’t have to remind any of you of the circumstances under which Mr. Carty departed American Airlines.)


While Carty has been on the board at Dell for 14 years, I do find it a bit odd that he stepped into the position — as the company faces two SEC investigations that cover periods of time when Carty was the audit-committee chairman for Dell.

Or, as the MarketWatch article we linked noted,

” We are not sure if Carty is the best choice as he has been a Dell board member since 1992 and was the audit committee chairman who oversaw financial activities that are now in question by the SEC,” wrote Shaw Wu, analyst at American Technology Research, which has a neutral rating on Dell shares.”

Guess Don got tired of waiting for that call about that airline CEO position.