Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

International Service at Miami Set to Expand in Fourth Quarter

By Ian Petchenik / Published September 15th, 2014

Photo by Chris Sloan

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER. Image Credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

International service at Miami International Airport will expand in the fourth quarter of 2014, as American Airlines, Lufthansa, and Finnair launch new service. SWISS, Qatar, Air France, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic will augment their service for the winter season.

American will begin service to Cap-Haiten, Haiti, on October 2, it’s second Haitian destination after Port-au-Prince, which it also serves from Miami. Campinas, Brazil (VCF), will also see new service from American beginning December 2, one day after the carrier launches service to Campinas from New York (JFK). Miami-London service for the winter season will also increase to 17 roundtrips weekly, with three flights per day on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. American will continue to fly the 777-300ER once daily between Miami and London, but will up-gauge all of its Miami-São Paulo flights to the 777-300ER variant, effective December 1.

Qatar Airways 777. Image Credit - Ian Petchenik /  Airways News

Qatar Airways 777. Image Credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

International airlines will be responsible for most of the seasonal capacity increases at Miami during the fourth quarter. Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) will operate 14 flights per week between Miami and Zurich, up from 10, beginning October 27. The added flights will operate Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday though March 27, 2015. Qatar Airways, which launched service from Doha to Miami in June, will expand to five weekly flights. The additional service will operate on Mondays aboard a Boeing 777-200LR.

Finnair will bring an Airbus A340 to Miami from Helsinki twice per week from December 16 through January 2, 2015, when it will increase service to three flights per week through March 21, 2015.

Air France will join Lufthansa in bringing the Airbus A380 to Miami, operating its Miami-Paris service on the superjumbo from December 1, 2014 through March 28, 2015, before returning to a Boeing 777-300. Air France flies the A380 in a 516-seat (9F, 80J, 38 Y+, 389Y) configuration. December 2 will launch Lufthansa’s seasonal Miami-Munich service with flights operating five times per week through April 30, 2015. The German flag carrier’s Munich flights will operate Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

Contact the author at ian@petchmo.com.

Contact the editor at Vinay.Bhaskara@airchive.com

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United Eyes Improvement at Newark Hub

By Airways News Staff / Published September 15th, 2014

OTG's New York La Guardia Terminal C Interior: Image Credit - OTG Management

OTG’s New York La Guardia Terminal C Interior: Image Credit – OTG Management

United Airlines and OTG Management are partnering to enhance the passenger experience for United customers at Newark Liberty International Airport, with OTG set to invest $120 million to retrofit Terminal C at United’s hub. The wide-ranging refresh will bring updated interiors, new dining options, and technology integration to the poorly rated terminal that houses the majority of United’s operation at Newark.

After the retrofit, customers will have access to more than 6,000 iPads, which they will be able to use to browse the internet, check on their flights, and order food and merchandise. More than 10,000 power outlets and USB interfaces will be placed throughout the terminal as well. Dining options will be refreshed, with up to 55 new dining venues, and food and beverage service at 60 of Terminal C’s 68 gates.

The dank interior of Newark Airport Terminal C: Image Credit - Chris Sloan / Airways News

The dank interior of Newark Airport Terminal C: Image Credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

Customers have complained about the poor passenger experience in Newark for years, and OTG’s refreshed design should replenish Terminal C with comfortable seating, better lighting, and less dingy flooring. OTG also has a presence at several other US airports, including Terminals C and D at New York La Guardia, Terminals 1 and 3 at Toronto Pearson, Concourse G at Minneapolis / St. Paul, and Terminal 5 at New York JFK.  In particular, JetBlue’s Terminal 5 has won rave reviews and several awards for its passenger experience, and United is banking on delivering a similar experience to its Newark customers.

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Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

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WestJet to Begin Charging for Checked Bags

By Ian Petchenik / Published September 15th, 2014

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

WestJet announced this morning that it will begin charging a fee for checked baggage on Econo fare tickets, for travel within North America. The low cost carrier (LCC) also introduced new levels to its WestJet Rewards frequent flyer program.

Passengers purchasing an Econo fare—WestJet’s base fare—for intra-Canadian travel or travel between Canada and the U.S. will now be charged $25 for their first checked bag. The fee will not apply to Flex or Plus fares, nor any travel outside Canada or the United States.

WestJet estimates the new fee will affect about 20 percent of its customers, a number that could provide close to an additional $96 million in revenue, based on 2013-2014 passenger data through June 2014. The Canadian low-cost carrier’s announcement comes a week after the American low-cost carrier Southwest stated it would continue its policy of not charging for checked baggage as it entertains a possible entrance in the Canadian market in the future.

WestJet also introduced new tiers to its WestJet Rewards frequent flyer program. The new teal, silver, and gold tiers, which are purely revenue-based, offer “milestone” rewards and differential “WestJet dollars” earning rates. Members spending less than $1,500 will earn 1 percent of their fare. Spend between $1,500 and $3,999 will receive 3% and any spend over $4,000 will receive 5%. WestJet’s milestones include free checked bags, priority security screening, and a free companion flight. The tiers will go into effect on October 29, 2014.

Bob Cummings, WestJet Executive Vice-President, Sales, Marketing and Guest Experience was optimistic about the change in WestJet’s approach to checked baggage, “Today’s announcements are further evidence of our commitment to our guests as Canada’s low-fare leader,” he said. “As we continue to evolve our fare products, we are creating more value by offering our guests the opportunity to purchase only those services they want.”

Contact the author at ian@petchmo.com.

Contact the editor at Vinay.Bhaskara@airchive.com

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When is a Rebranding not a Rebranding? Parsing the New Southwest Identity

By Ian Petchenik / Published September 2014

Ask any executive at Southwest about the graphic identity changes the company unveiled in Dallas yesterday and they are quick to point out that it is not a rebranding. But if it’s not a rebranding, then what exactly is it and why do it at all?

After Monday’s announcement, Southwest’s marketing and brand executives sat down to discuss why they chose to leave the canyon blue behind and what it means for Southwest moving forward.

KevinKroneBrandPanel

Kevin Krone, Southwest’s Chief Marketing Officer, speaking on the brand panel at Media Days. Image Credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

Southwest’s announcement of a new livery and company-wide visual identity comes at time when the airline is preparing to change in a number of important ways. The merger with AirTran is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014, the Wright Amendment is set for repeal in October, and new international destinations are on the horizon. Southwest was also contending with a varied and cluttered internal brand identity.

As Kevin Krone, Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, explained, “We needed a new consistent look. We had the heart, the plane icon, Business Select, Pets, Rapid Rewards,” and a number of other identity pieces. Anne Murray, Senior Director of Marketing Communications was a bit more blunt when she said the new logo meant “no more logo soup.”

ManySouthwestLogos

Slide from Southwest brand presentation describing multitude of logos. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

 

SouthwestHeart

Southwest’s new “Heart” logo. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

Southwest’s goal with the new visual identity is a “simple, keen expression of who Southwest Airlines is,” according to Krone. For this simple, keen expression, Southwest turned to long-time partner GSD&M and Lippincott & Co., a global brand identity consultancy. Lippincott’s previous airline clients include United, Delta, and Avianca. The result of over a year of work is the new Southwest “Heart” motif with a stylized red, yellow, and blue heart squarely at the center of Southwest’s brand identity. Robert Jordan, Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer, sees the new heart as integral to Southwest’s identity, “It’s our symbol like the Apple logo or the Target logo. It’s what makes us different and drives us.”

Part of the idea behind the brand refresh and rollout is priming travelers who don’t already fly Southwest with an image of a modern airline. Southwest wants the chance to make a new introduction to markets that have consistently viewed the airline as a leisure airline, particularly in New York and Washington D.C., and feels the brand refresh provides that opportunity.

Southwest will also be using the brand refresh to update the interiors of their aircraft. Jordan said, “Change in the cabin is coming, specifically new seats. We have found the Evolve seat has had an issue with durability of the seat bottom.” The new seat bottoms will take about a year to get into aircraft due to testing and certification requirements. The rest of the seat will remain physically unchanged save for the updated color scheme. Passengers can expect a bluer look on the inside of the aircraft, along with the heart logo featured prominently.

Krone also discussed Southwest’s much vaunted “Bags Fly Free.” On the question of that possibly changing, he said, “Free bags are a part of the airline’s DNA. People have a right to take stuff with them on vacation. We don’t see this going away.” He also doesn’t see a place for premium economy style seating in the near term, though Southwest isn’t ruling it out. Krone, however, specifically excluded the addition of in-seat power on Southwest aircraft anytime soon, citing the cost and weight of such systems. While he promised additional passenger experience improvements coming later this fall, he did not specify what those were.

SouthwestAdEmployee

One of Southwest’s new television ads, “Attitude”. Image Credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

But the new identity isn’t just for customers. In fact, much of it isn’t directly for anyone outside the company at all. Nearly all of the accompanying marketing materials feature employees and embrace Southwest’s culture. For an airline that believes its culture is what separates it from its competitors, it’s only natural to rely heavily on that image as the face of the brand. In talking with various Southwest executives it became clear that one of the main drivers behind the new branding was leveraging existing brand equity to project an updated image of an airline that cares about its employees.

It remains to be seen if the new branding will have any effect on Southwest’s culture, employees, and—perhaps most importantly—profits, as Southwest wrestles with rising costs and issues with labor contracts. But one thing is clear: Southwest is going to wear its heart on its belly.

SouthwestBellyHeart

Southwest’s new livery featuring the “Heart” on the belly of the aircraft. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

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Contact the author at ian@petchmo.com

Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

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Southwest Airlines Unveils New Livery and Brand

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published September 8th, 2014

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 ("Heart Two" / N8645A) in the new livery: Image Credit - Ian Petchenik / Airways News

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 (“Heart Two” / N8645A) in the new livery: Image Credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

Southwest Airlines unveiled a new brand and livery Monday, marking its first brand refresh since introducing its present logo and canyon blue livery in January 2001. In an event dedicated to Southwest employees at its maintenance headquarters, the Dallas-based airline unveiled a new aircraft livery (named Heart), airport experience and logo. The new brand enhancement—which has been in the works for about a year—and a new take on Southwest’s famed “ding” mnemonic were developed in collaboration with advertising and branding partners GSD&M, Lippincott, VML, and Razorfish and Camelot Communications.

The new brand image appears to have been prompted by several substantial changes in the Southwest Airlines business model, including major expansions at Northeast airports New York La Guardia and Washington Reagan, the end of the Wright Amendment in October of this year, the first international flights in the company’s 47-year history, and the completed integration with AirTran Airways later this year. At the event, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly highlighted these developments, also crediting the inspiration for the heart motif to Southwest’s team of 46,000 employees:

Gary Kelly on stage at Southwest's announcement. Image credit: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Gary Kelly on stage at Southwest’s announcement. Image credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

“2014 is a big year and today puts an exclamation point on it, especially with the Berlin Wall of the Wright Amendment coming down in 1 month,” said Mr. Kelly. “The world has changed and we have had to evolve. The heart has stayed the same… and you are the heart. We have a record 2014 and it’s all because of you… Southwest Airlines is built on love by our people and for our people. Our heart is strong and healthier than ever.”

 

The first plane on display at the event was a newly delivered Boeing 737-800 (registered as N8642E) and dubbed “Heart One,” following the naming convention for all of Southwest’s new and special liveries. A second Boeing 737-800, christened as “Heart Two,” performed a flyby at the event.

Southwest's new branding at Dallas Love Field. Image credit: Ian Petchenik / AirwaysNews

Southwest’s new branding at Dallas Love Field. Image credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

Overnight, Southwest also unveiled a new branding concept for airports at its home base at Dallas Love Field. Implementation of the new airport branding will be spread over the next two and a half years through the end of 2016, and integrated into existing and upcoming airport improvement projects so as to remain cost-neutral. Three airports are expected to be converted by the end of 2014. Southwest’s employee uniforms, aircraft interiors, and customer facing brand elements will also be updated to match the new brand image. New service items will be introduced later this fall, while the divisive Evolve seats will begin to be replaced as early as next year. The carrier’s Spirit inflight magazine will be renamed Southwest, and a new edition featuring the new brand will be released on September 15,

Southwest's new airport branding, which was unveiled today at Dallas Love Field: Image Credit - Southwest Airlines

Southwest’s new airport branding, which was unveiled today at Dallas Love Field: Image Credit – Southwest Airlines

Repainting of aircraft is expected to take place over seven years, slower than rivals such as Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines or Chicago-based United Airlines. Southwest operates a fleet of 637 Boeing 737 aircraft, including 136 classic 737-300s and 737-500s, 427 737-700s, and 74 737-800s. It also has 285 737s on order (40 737-700s, 45 737-800s, and 200 re-engined 737 MAXs) with purchase options for a further 227. Given the extended timeline of repainting, it is unclear whether the 737-300s and 737-500s earmarked for retirement will be repainted. However, Southwest’s special liveries such as “Arizona One” will be repainted to incorporate the new Heart paint scheme.

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-200 in the 1971-2001 livery: Image Credit - Chris Sloan / Airways News

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-200 in the 1971-2001 livery: Image Credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

Founded in 1967, Southwest has had just three brand identities in its lifetime. Until 2001, its primarily livery was Desert Gold, red, and orange, with the word Southwest written along the upper edge of the tail, as shown in the photograph at right.

Current Southwest Airlines Livery on a Boeing 737-300: Image Credit – Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airways News

In 2001, Southwest introduced the “Spirit” livery that graces most of its airplanes today, retaining the red and orange stripes on the fuselage and tail but replacing Desert Gold with Canyon Blue. The “Southwest” title remained on the tail, and the aircraft’s belly remained red. The “Spirit” livery is shown at left.

The new livery unveiled today features Bold (not Canyon) Blue, Warm Red, Sunrise Yellow, and Summit Silver. While the two tail colors are similar to the present tail, their order has been inverted, with the lighter Sunrise Yellow placed higher than Warm Red on the tail forward of it on the fuselage. The Southwest title has been removed from the tail and moved to the fuselage; a first for the carrier. Another major change occurs along the belly of the fuselage, where the red line extending the length of the fuselage (and covering the belly) has been eliminated in favor of a simple heart, dedicated to Southwest’s employees.

Southwest's snack options in the new branding.

Southwest’s snack options in the new branding. Image credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

Southwest’s cabins will also see an update in color and style, but Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Krone stated there are no imminent changes to Southwest’s passenger experience. “Free bags are a part of the airline’s DNA,” he said, “People have a right to take stuff with them on vacation. We don’t see this going away.” He also doesn’t see a place for premium economy style seating in the near term.

The branding in the cabin will get a refresh, including Southwest’s snacks, as seen here. The cabin will include more blue with silver accents and feature Southwest’s heart prominently.

 

As part of Southwest’s changes, new advertising focusing on Southwest’s employees premiered during Monday Night Football. Other ads, including “More than a Machine,” seen here, will show in markets around the country.

 

Image Credit -  Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines

Image Credit – Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines

At a panel conducted after the unveiling event Monday, Southwest Chief Commercial Officer Robert Jordan stated that the airline wanted to avoid the “white” and bland liveries that so many other airlines have opted for and retain its “bold” color scheme. Additionally, Mr. Jordan noted that Southwest has several different logos and branding elements in airports, onboard its airplanes, and in advertising. Reducing brand confusion was thus a key impetus behind the redesign. “No other airline can put a heart on a plane and have it look authentic,” said Mr. Jordan, “The heart is now our symbol at Southwest Airlines.”

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

Ian Petchenik and Chris Sloan in Dallas also contributed to this report

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Storm Chasing with the Honeywell IntuVue NextGen Radar Onboard a Convair 580

By Chris Sloan / Published August 26, 2014

We are holding short of Miami International Airport’s runway 9R as a slow-moving line storms takes its sweet time clearing the airport. While the ominous dark cloud deck seems to descend to the ground, lightning erupts and thunder crashes all around. ATC crackles with reports of a 55 knot micro-burst at the airport.

In other words, this a fairly typical summer afternoon in storm-laden South Florida. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, MIA and its airport brethren to the North, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport, experienced 56,508 (39 days) of weather delays just in the first six months of 2014. According to U.S. Travel Association Research, every hour a flight is delayed costs the U.S. economy an average of $3,300 in passenger-related lost economic activity. That means that the direct economic impact of flight cancellations and delays cost the economy $3.5 billion in 2013.

Image by Chris Sloan, Airchive.com

Image by Chris Sloan, Airchive.com

This is a perfect day and perfect place for flying. If you’re going storm chasing, there is no place more reliable then the tropical, flat terrain of South Florida where the Everglades, heat, and sea breeze conspire to reliably produce copious numbers of thunderstorms each day during the area’s rainy season. Ironically, today’s storm chasing flight is delayed over an hour by a ground stop at the airport due to, you guessed it; storms. The airport taxiways and ramps are virtual parking lots as the field comes to a complete standstill. Even though our conveyance is a Convair 580, first built in 1952, we are the first aircraft or “test balloon” allowed to take-off. It certainly helps when up in the pointy end of the plane lies the most advanced weather radar in commercial aviation service today: Honeywell’s IntuVue RDR-4000. While most flights are routed to avoid the worst of weather, our flight crew’s goal today is to seek it out.

Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Chasing Cabin - 6 Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Chasing Cabin - 1

Since its introduction in the 1950s, weather radar had evolved incrementally. Though power, range, and displays have evolved, most systems still utilize the same single or dual scan approach that they did in the 1950s. Most current airborne radars in use only show a single slice of the weather at a time depending on where the azimuth of the radar beam is positioned, rather than a full-range picture of the weather from the ground to the upper fringes of the troposphere, where most weather forms. The manual operation is not only labor intensive for pilots, but it’s as much art as science: operations and interpretation (and thus effective) usage is only as good as the person who’s running it. Most current radar technology leaves out crucial information that makes flying safer, more comfortable, and more cost-effective owing to fewer diversions from the filed flight plan.

ConventionalRadarIntuVueRadarGraphics courtesy Honeywell

As our elderly Convair test bed, under the control of Honeywell chief test pilot Markus Johnson, finally lurches into the foreboding, tempestuous skies, we are about to experience first-hand the advantages of IntuVue. Our vantage point is the open flight deck and mid-century cabin of an original United Mainliner Convair 580, where old meets new. Though the seats are modern and generously pitched affairs, the rest of the heavily vibrating cabin with its hat racks, original passenger service units, and square windows easily convince us we are flying a 1950’s milk run. Snapping us back into reality, is the extensive compliment of test equipment, workstations, and large LCD flat panel screens allowing us to see the radar functioning in real-time, and a live cockpit-view camera. We are seeing what the flight crew sees. From this reporter’s perspective, think of this as United’s Channel 9 taken to a whole other level.

Honeywell Convair 580 Engines Window View - 3 Honeywell Convair 580 IntraVue Cockpit Cam and Radar - 2 Honeywell Convair MIA Aerial - 2 Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Avionics - 2

HazardRadar

Turbulence, wind shear, hail, and lightning icons indicated on IntuVue radar with Hazard 2.0 Graphic courtesy Honeywell

The flat panel screens from the flight deck and our scuffed up windows display a virtual atmospheric mountain range of towering cumulus-nimbus clouds. Our Convair is quickly swallowed by the clouds and buffeted by light to moderate turbulence. The magenta painted on the IntaVue confirms we are around the edges of a turbulent part of the storm. “The radar detects movement of humidity and radar indicating turbulence cause by precipitation though not CAT”, remarks Captain Johnson.

Turbulence detection is one of the obvious passenger features of the radar. While weather radars paint the intensity of precipitation from echo returns, the escalating colors of greens, blues, and rains don’t necessarily provide data leading to the safest and smoothest rides. Dangers can be embedded in lighter precipitation areas while conversely more intense areas of convection may actually produce less hazardous conditions. The RDR-4000 goes much further, using predictive algorithms to analyze which storm cells are producing turbulence (up to 60nm in advance), wind shear, lightning, and hail. The radar’s 320 nautical mile detection range gives the pilots valuable decision time with these aforementioned hazard warnings coming at 5-10 minutes in advance based on the current flight plan. Warning icons appear on our screen which are pilots avoid.

Proving the radar’s atmospheric metal, our ride turns nearly smooth as we exit the magenta reading of the display. This being a demo flight, we aren’t subjected to the full gamut of severe weather that Honeywell tests its radar in. “We can get rocked around a bit during testing and certification when we fly into wind shear, hail, and other hazardous weather. What we see on radar in the air is also verified by ground detection systems. The Convair is a sturdy aircraft which suits the mission well”, volunteers Captain Johnson as he picks his way around the edges of another ominous cell. In a move suggesting a bit of humor and caution, Honeywell’s crew begins an in-flight service of water, candy, Dramamine, and barf bags. The company had served us a generous lunch just prior to the flight and wasn’t taking any chances, nor were some of the more nervous flyers aboard.

Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Catering - 2 Honeywell Convair IntaVue Radar Flight Deck - 2 Honeywell Convair 580 Flight Deck in flight - 3 Honeywell Convair 580 Flight Deck in flight - 1

Introduced in 2006, The IntuVue RDR-4000 is the world’s first airborne 3-D weather radar. Beyond hazardous weather detection, IntuVue represents a quantum leap forward in situational awareness and automation. Older generation only display the weather on the azimuth that the beam is scanning. While tilting below or above the flight path, the current weather ahead isn’t accurately displayed. Likewise, weather above and below isn’t painted when the beam is focused straight ahead. It’s obvious that gaining the most complete picture requires lots of manual intervention on the part of the flight crew.

Conversely, Honeywell’s product is fully automated. Rather than focusing on operating the radar, pilots are able to focus on detection and analysis. Honeywell claims the IntuVue reduced operator training as well. The RDR-4000 scans from the ground to 60,000 feet in 30 seconds in an interlaced tilting scans of eight slices up and nine slices downs, and does this all automatically. This ultra-fast scan and a 3-D graphics buffer display a constant complete picture of the weather above, below, in front of, and around the plane out to 320 nm. Weather above and below a 4,000 foot slice of the current flight level is displayed in a crosshatch pattern giving complete situational awareness, but with a focus on the current altitude.

Often radars will falsely indicate black indicating “no weather” behind more distant and intense cells which potentially mislead crew into believing the weather is clear up ahead or providing no or false. IntuVue displays predictions as to what is ahead, but identifies those readings as being of a lower degree of confidence. IntuVue allows for manual over-ride which allows easy to determine storm cell height for example, yet keeps the full buffer display from ground to 60,000 feet displayed on the other pilot’s display.

As we begin our initial descent into Miami, the radar looks quite active, but most of the weather indicated on screen is above us, as indicated by the cross-hatched display. On previous generation radars, it would take a lot of manual tilting and scanning of the radar’s beam along with communication with ground control to determine the actual weather along the flight path. Alleviating the pilot’s workload during the critical aspects of flight such as landing contributes mightily to their appreciation of IntuVue.

Honeywell Convair 580 IntraVue Radar Suite - 7
Ground clutter returns are also attenuated and earth curvature is corrected by IntuVue via use of software tied to Honeywell’s worldwide terrain mapping. As we noted back in May on a flight on this very aircraft in Phoenix, this capability is tied to the company’s Enhanced Ground Proximity Radar System product. This expansive feature allows pilots to make informed decisions earlier for re-routing and altitude changes leading to safer, more comfortable, and more efficient flying.

Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Chase T-ShirtDescending to 8,000 feet with a few cells separating us and MIA’s runway 9L, we are asked to return to our seats. As a testament to the accuracy of the IntuVue, Honeywell has kept the seat belt lights extinguished most of the flight. With the pilots deviating around weather, our flight has been quite smooth. True to its billing, the pilots seem to spend most of their time flying and analyzing the radar with the manual controls only accessed at our request for demo purposes.

Honeywell produced a piece of swag that elicits some guffaws: a t-shirt decorated with a lightning cloud and the words. “I survived storm chasing with Honeywell and all I got was this t-shirt.” Indeed, we did a lot more storm chasing than storm penetrating, though keeping us out of the most hazardous weather was the point.

To date, over 2,200 aircraft are flying with IntuVue radars under the colors of around 70 airlines. Current customers includie Southwest, USAirways (American), British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Korean, and Lufthansa ,with more operators coming online in the future. The RDR-4000 is available as SSFE/BFE equipment on the Airbus A320, A330, A340, A350, and A380 (which utilizes dual motors and receivers for long-haul backup), Boeing’s 757, and now the Gulfstream G650 executive jet. The A320neo and 737 MAX will fly with IntuVue from their entry-into-service.

Surprisingly, IntuVue isn’t offered either as original equipment or a retrofit on the 747-8, 787, or upcoming Bombardier CSeries. No public decision has been announced for the upcoming 777-X. “The split of original IntuVue installations at time of delivery to retrofits of existing aircraft like 757s and older 737s, A330s, and A340s is 80% to 20%”, according to Greg Schauder, Honeywell’s Director of Product Marketing.

Honeywell is perpetually scanning the skies for new opportunities for safer flying into the future. With the move to tablets and electronic flight bags, Honeywell is introducing the Weather Information Network Plus (WINN+). This provides a data-link of weather data to the pilot’s EFB. According to the company, this provides “strategic only in-flight decision making, with respect to weather information by providing up-to-date weather data for selected areas per a flight crew request.” Honeywell claims this leads to reduced fuel burn and emissions, better alternate route planning, reduced maintenance, increased safety, passenger comfort, and reduced delays at the destination.

Honeywell Convair 580 IntraVue Radar Suite - 1Honeywell Convair 580 IntraVue Radar Suite - 2

The next major update, billed as Hazard 3.0 scheduled for 2017 will add cell tracking for diversion planning. Clairvoyantly, this feature will predict if storms will cross the current track at the time of aircraft arrival allowing pilots to plan diversions, thus minimizing fuel burn. While there is much attention paid to high altitude icing, a new IntuVue feature will allow for high-altitude ice detection. These small ice crystals that form at altitudes greater then 30,000 in warmer storms, can cause engine damage and power loss. Trials have been completed with Airbus on an A340.

With both Allison 501D turboprops shut down, we shuffle down the built-in air stairs of Honeywell’s anachronistic steed, the 60 year old Convair. We can’t help what the future holds for this trusty ol’ bird. Johnson points out that though an aircraft with 102,000 cycles and 67,000 hours built before most of its pilots were born won’t last forever but it’s still a great aircraft for the job. “The aircraft’s long 30 inch nose allows us to test different types of antennas. It has instant thrust and lots of lift, and it’s built like a tank.” The CV 580, which has flown for the company since 1991, acts anything like a senior citizen.

It also supports other Honeywell test programs such as its Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, Traffic Collision Avoidance System, and SmartLanding / SmartRunway systems. For other missions such as high – altitude & high speed tests where the 580’s limited 20,000 foot ceiling and pokey 297 kt maximum speed isn’t adequate, Honeywell also uses a Boeing 757, North American SabreLiner, and test equipment mounted on manufacturers aircraft during testing such as the A350. An AeroStar helicopter and Beach King Air are also part of the company’s fleet. Pilots are all cross-trained to fly 3 aircraft in the stable. The 737 and MD-80 are rumored one day perhaps to replace the Convair.

Honeywell Convair 580 Storm Chasing Before Takeoff-1 Honeywell Convair 580 Safety Card

It’s ironic that so much of the future of airborne radar is being tested and refined on a plane that began its life when weather radar was just being introduced. Though Honeywell’s venerable test bed is in its twilight years, Honeywell’s IntuVue technology clearly appears to loom large in the next generation of aviation.

RELATED: Honeywell’s Convair 580 – Testing Tomorrow’s Tech In Yesterday’s Plane

PHOTOS: More photos from the flight!

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Contact the author at Chris.Sloan@2Cmedia.com

Disclosure: Honeywell provided the demo flight in Miami at no cost to Airchive. Our opinions remains our own.

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InFlight Review: Virgin America Economy

By Benjamin Bearup / Published August 5, 2014

Virgin AmericaWhen presented the the opportunity to fly Virgin America from San Francisco to Seattle, I decided that it would be worth forking over a little extra money to experience one of America’s newest and most contemporary airlines. As with many aviation enthusiast, I like to experience airlines that I have never flown on before in order to knock them off of my “bucket list”, and since I am from Atlanta, Georgia (a city not served by Virgin America), I knew this would be a flight that I had to take, but did it meet my expectations?

The Day Before Departure

After flying to San Francisco the day prior to my Virgin flight, I found myself spending a day sightseeing around the Bay Area and spending the night near Fisherman’s Wharf, but all too soon, I was making a little checklist as I always do before a flight. I made sure to check in online, prepay for my checked baggage, and make sure my camera was fully charged. With all things packed and ready to go, it was time for a quick night’s sleep.

The Day of Departure

IMG_6073The morning of departure called for an early wake up call, having to be at San Francisco International Airport by the ripe hour of 4:30 AM. After arriving at the airport, I was able to check my bags, and I was at security in no time. To my surprise, I received TSA Precheck for today’s flight, a first. With its speed and more lax procedures it is worth the price if you are a frequent traveler. After clearing security, I found a restaurant to enjoy a hot breakfast and enjoyed the views before boarding started.

Time To For the New Experience

As I boarded the Airbus A320, I was amazed by the club-like purple and pink lighting aboard. I was seated in seat 22F, a window seat a few rows behind the wing (budget traveling). Shortly after push back, the hilarious and entertaining (as well as educational) safety video was shown, and then we were off to the Emerald City!

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I tried out the Inflight Entertainment System, RED, on-board once in the air. After using the new American Airlines IFE system the day before, Virgin America’s system seemed outdated and not nearly as user friendly. However, it did offer a wide variety of movies, television shows, music, and my favorite-the “My Flight.” This shows you your altitude, airspeed, heading, and real-time position on Google Maps.

The on-board service was above average, but it was not very special. We were served a choice of Coke soft drinks, coffee, water, alcohol, and several juices. I opted for Diet Coke to wake me up a little. The young looking flight attendants were helpful and professional throughout the flight.

As we started our approach into Seattle, IMG_6101we passed by Mount Rainier. At a peak elevation of 14,411 feet, the mountain peaked out from the clouds below, providing an amazing view that very few airport approaches offer.

The wind gods were in our favor that morning as we landed in a North to South pattern that would give us great views of sites such as downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, the Port of Seattle, and Boeing/King County Airport which is home to much of Boeing’s flight-test program as well as the popular Museum of Flight.

IMG_6116We rolled right into our gate ten minutes early. On the way out I got a good look at the first class seats, which seem very nice. While taking the pictures, the pilot offered for me to visit the flight deck, and he was very informative about the A320 and shared several stories from his previous military experience.

Did it meet my expectations?

Overall, I loved flying on Virgin America. The product offered for the low price of $80 (one-way), along with friendly staff made this experience well worth it. The modern and trendy feel made flying more enjoyable. I will definitely fly with Virgin America again if I have the opportunity (please come to Atlanta soon).

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The author’s opinions are his own.

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Delta’s BusinessElite Farm-To-Tray-Table Meals

By Jack Harty; Photos by Chris Sloan / Published July 31, 2014

???????????????????????????????The farm-to-table movement encourages healthy eating, introducing sustainable agriculture practices, and supporting local farmers. It has been widely endorsed by local agriculture, food service, and restaurant communities. Now, it is starting to gain traction for meals served at 35,000 feet.

Meet the farm-to-tray-table movement. It is just like farm-to-table, but the food is served in an aircraft cabin at 35,000 feet. Since there is not a lot of humidity in this restaurant in the sky, the average person loses approximately 30% of their taste.

However, meet Chef Linton Hopkins. Last fall, Delta named him the winner of the “The Cabin Pressure Cook-Off” which was a culinary competition to find the next Delta chef.

He has been hard at work crafting meals with ingredients from local farmers in Georgia to serve to more than 500 BusinessElite customers every night. Currently, these meals are only available to customers flying to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, and Paris on flights from Atlanta.

Completing this task every day is nothing short of a team effort.

???????????????????????????????Chef Hopkins created Eugene Kitchen with the sole purpose of serving Delta’s premium class customers. The kitchen works with small farm operations and other suppliers who provide fresh ingredients for the meals and to ensure that the supply chain doesn’t become stressed. After the food is cooked, it is off to Gate Gourmet at the airport to be plated and delivered to the aircraft.

While the supply chain can be a challenge, Chef Hopkins must also make sure that the food tastes good at 35,000 feet. He explains that “we don’t lose taste buds at altitude. Traditionally it’s about using more salt to fight dryness.” So, he crafts his food based on what he knows will taste good, and he always asks if he would serve it to his family.

???????????????????????????????But, it’s not just food. Chef Hopkins explains that “this food is sacred and represents friends of mine because we are supporting local businesses.” This partnership with Delta has saved and helped grow many local businesses.

On tonight’s menu, we would have a five course meal that somebody would be having at 35,000 feet.

We started with a Corn Soup with a pickled shrimp salad and Benton’s Bacon. Followed by that, we enjoyed Sturgeon Caviar on top of a french omelette with sauce nantua.

Now, we moved into the main courses with vegetables a la grecque which had ham crisp, parseley pecan pistou, and many fold farm brebis. We continued with beef tenderloin with friend vidalia onion rings and mushroom fondue.

To finish it up, we enjoyed a peach mousse.

To sum up the experience in one word, I would say it was amazing. I realize it sounds cliché, but it was fascinating to learn about how Chef Hopkins is changing airline food. Plus, the food was delicious.

——
Contact the author at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

Disclosure: Delta Air Lines provided round trip airfare for two, meals, and accommodation for us to attend this event. Our story remains independent.

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TGIF: Thank-Goodness It’s Flyday Week-End Wrap Up: August 1st Edition

By Jack Harty / Published August 1, 2014

Thank-goodness it’s Flyday…err Friday, everyone, and Happy August 1st! In this week’s edition we take a look at a documentary coming soon, Southwest and Sea World announced they will end their partnership, a Malaysia Airlines aircraft almost crashes into another jet, and more.

Epic Documentary: The first trailer of an new aviation documentary debuted on Monday, and it quickly won the hearts of aviation enthusiasts.

The documentary will take a look at the first 100 years of commercial aviation, and it is scheduled to debut next year.

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Photo courtesy of Jack Harty

Ending Partnership: Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld will be ending their more than 25 year old marketing partnership at the end of the year.

For quite sometime, Southwest has been urged by animal rights activists to terminate the relationship due to alleged animal cruelty cases that SeaWorld has been connected to, and Southwest was approached with a petition that had 32,459 signatures asking the airline to help stop animal cruelty.

SeaWorld officials said the decision was mutual as it plans to focus on growing markets in Latin America and Asia.

As part of the partnership, Southwest has painted various SeaWorld animals on its aircraft with the first unveiled in 1989. With the partnership coming to an end, these aircraft will be repainted with the regular Southwest livery by the end of the year.

Progress: Delta Air Lines has reached a deal with Venezuela to repatriate $15.5 million, but it is still planning its frequency cuts as more than $160 million is still held in local currency by the government.

Close Call: On July 29, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 116 was told to slam on its brakes to abort its takeoff to avoid colliding with a Tigerair jet.

Malaysia flight 116 was taking off from Adelaide Airport in South Australia for Kuala Lumpur.

The aircraft landed safely in in Kuala Lumpur a few hours later.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH136 from Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur today had a scare when the aircraft was instructed to discontinue its takeoff to avoid colliding with an incoming flight, the New Straits Times (NST) reports.

The flight, which had 167 passengers, was already on the take-off roll when it received instructions from the Adelaide Air Traffic Control to stop.

The NST said the landing plane was in the same flight path as the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

 

“MH136 stopped its takeoff safely and waited the required cool-down time on its brakes before departing from Adelaide.”Flight MH136 departed Adelaide at 8.56am and arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 3.15pm.

July has been a tragic month for aviation with three aircraft disasters in the space of a fortnight.

On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine.

All 15 crew members and 283 passengers lost their lives in the disaster.

On July 23, TransAsia Airways flight GE222 attempted a forced landing at the Kaohsiung International Airport in Taiwan.

However, the flight crashed in a small patch of empty land a distance away from the landing strip, resulting in the deaths of 48 passengers while 10 others were injured.

On July 24, Air Algerie flight 5017 crashed in Mali after departing from Burkina Faso bound for Algeria.

All 118 crew and passengers of the flight died in the incident. – July 29, 2014.

- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/mas-flight-mh136-stops-takeoff-to-avoid-crashing-into-another-jet#sthash.NRHeb3LU.dpuf

Malaysia Airlines flight MH136 from Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur today had a scare when the aircraft was instructed to discontinue its takeoff to avoid colliding with an incoming flight, the New Straits Times (NST) reports.

The flight, which had 167 passengers, was already on the take-off roll when it received instructions from the Adelaide Air Traffic Control to stop.

The NST said the landing plane was in the same flight path as the Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

 

“MH136 stopped its takeoff safely and waited the required cool-down time on its brakes before departing from Adelaide.”Flight MH136 departed Adelaide at 8.56am and arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 3.15pm.

July has been a tragic month for aviation with three aircraft disasters in the space of a fortnight.

On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine.

All 15 crew members and 283 passengers lost their lives in the disaster.

On July 23, TransAsia Airways flight GE222 attempted a forced landing at the Kaohsiung International Airport in Taiwan.

However, the flight crashed in a small patch of empty land a distance away from the landing strip, resulting in the deaths of 48 passengers while 10 others were injured.

On July 24, Air Algerie flight 5017 crashed in Mali after departing from Burkina Faso bound for Algeria.

All 118 crew and passengers of the flight died in the incident. – July 29, 2014.

- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/mas-flight-mh136-stops-takeoff-to-avoid-crashing-into-another-jet#sthash.NRHeb3LU.dpuf

Curaçao Here We Come: JetBlue Airways will launch new flights between New York JFK and Curacao this December. Starting December 2, 2014, the carrier will operate twice weekly service on Tuesdays and Saturdays between the two cities.

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Photo courtesy of JDL Multimedia

“We are really excited to be able to offer customers the only nonstop route from New York to Curaçao and more nonstop flights to the Caribbean than any other airline,” said Robin Hayes, JetBlue’s President. “This well preserved island is our 31st Caribbean destination, and is a favorite among diving enthusiasts for its healthy coral reefs, and is considered one of the nicest Caribbean escapes for discerning travelers thanks to its pristine beaches and clear water. These natural attractions make the island a natural choice for JetBlue.”

“We have been working closely with the team at JetBlue to bring this flight to the island and are thrilled it has come to fruition and we’re able to announce it today,” said Stanley Palm, Curaçao’s Minister of Economic Development. “Curaçao continues to thrive as one of the Caribbean’s most diverse and culturally-rich islands and we look forward to now being able to share it with more visitors. New York is a top market for the island, and we are confident that the new nonstop service on JetBlue will meet the demand we’ve seen from the northeast and international travelers alike.”

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Photo courtesy of Jack Harty

Reducing Staffing: United Airlines will reduce its below-the-wing staffing at its hubs in Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco. Dur to changes in its flight schedule as well as new technologies that provide more efficiency, the carrier will need to make staffing adjustments.

It notes that some of the staffing levels are partly due to seasonal schedule adjustments, and staffing levels at Boston Logan will change as it has integrated its operations at the airport.

The carrier is also outsourcing some employees in Denver. It will move all of its de-icing operations to vendor who will be dedicated to the United operation, but the airline is quick to not there will be no pay cuts nor layoffs.

Aer Lingus Plans To Grow in US: Aer Lingus says it is looking at adding service to Dallas/Ft. Worth due to unexpected success of its new routes to San Francisco and Toronto. The airline’s CEO says it is intending on increasing capacity and starting new routes to North America.

There are also rumors that the carrier will begin flying to a new destination in Florida next year.

New Airline: Elite Airways plans to begin flying scheduled passenger charter service between Melbourne, Florida and Washington Dulles on September 8. Initially, the flights will be two round trip flights per week on Mondays and Thursdays. The carrier will utilize a 50 seat CRJ-200 on this route.

Currently, the company operates charter service based out of Portland, Maine, but it does not have the license mandated by the FAA to operate long-term scheduled passenger flights. However, it expects to receive one by the end of the year.

Elite Airways has big growing plans, and it plans to purchase a 757-200 to assist.

In case you missed it, Airchive had a lot of great coverage right here. This week’s stories:

Delta To Launch Salt Lake City-Amsterdam Flights In May

Can Bombardier’s Q400 Save Regional Air Service in the US?

Virgin America Files For IPO

New and Free IFE Options Coming to a Delta Flight Near You August 1

Republic Airlines To Start Flying E-175 Out Of Miami For American Airlines October 2

Video: Departing Miami With A ‘Happy Ending’

United Introduces New Safety Video

ANA Receives Its First 787-9

Delta TechOps: Behind the Seven Story Tall Hangar Doors

Airbus Terminates Skymark Airlines’ Airbus A380 Order

WestJet Reports Record Earnings and Announces It Will Begin Flying 767s

Boeing Delivers 500th 777-300ER

ANALYSIS: JetBlue Reports Second Quarter Profit of $60 Million

Boeing to Build 787-10 in South Carolina

ANA To Fly Its First 787-9 Flight August 7

ANA, Airbus, and Boeing Finalize Major Aircraft Order

Best of Airways: Virgin America – Doing Things Differently

Delta To Make Cuts in Pacific and Retire 25% of Its 747 Fleet This Year

ANALYSIS: Spirit Continues to Generate Excellent Financial Results

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com.

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Delta To Make Cuts in Pacific and Retire 25% of Its 747 Fleet This Year

By Jack Harty / Published July 31, 2014

6800002537_2dd598b172_z2Delta Air Lines will retire four of its 16 Boeing 747-400s by the end of 2014, further announcing that it will make some cuts and changes to its Pacific route network.

The carrier presently has 16 747-400s in its fleet, which were inherited when it merged with Northwest. The decision means twenty-five percent of its 747 aircraft (4) will be retired by the end of the year. Delta says it is speeding up the retirement of the 747s due to “a re-evaluation of options to improve our international performance.” Three are slated to be retired by the end of September.

Some are slightly surprised by Delta’s decision to speed up the retirement as all 16 aircraft recently went through a major cabin refresh.

Pacific Network Changes

Delta says it will cancel its flights between Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong as well as flights between Nagoya and Manila effective October 26, 2014.

With four of the 747s departing the fleet by the end of the year, the carrier will have to redeploy its aircraft on some of the existing 747 routes. The carrier will begin operating a 777-200 between Atlanta and Tokyo as well as between Los Angeles and Tokyo starting on September 30. On October 26, it will downgrade its flights between Detroit and Nagoya to an Airbus A330-200 from a 747.

The A330s, 767-300s, and 777s are all being redeployed in the Atlantic and Pacific networks since there were some other service reductions.

——
Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com. Photo courtesy jplphoto.

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Best of Airways: Virgin America – Doing Things Differently

 By Michael Manning / Published on Airchive July 31, 2014

This article first appeared the in the June 2014 issue of Airways magazine.

SQUEEZED BETWEEN THE POWERFUL U.S. domestic network airlines and the aggressive ultra low-cost carriers, an airline that offers an award-winning travel experience to both leisure and business flyers might not have a chance to grow, much less survive. Virgin America begs to differ with a unique marketing advantage.

Over the past year alone, thirteen million airplane seats have been VirginAmericaInFlight9_v2removed from the skies by airlines as they reduce capacity. With little ability for growth projected for 2014, only the “ultra low cost carriers” of Allegiant Airlines, Frontier and Spirit Airlines are poised to expand. Indeed, the average domestic load factor reached 87.1% during the second quarter of 2013. Beyond this dire analysis, an argument can also be made that true marketing differentiation among airlines in the domestic U.S. market is almost non-existent, if not a source of apathy among passengers whose sole focus is the five letter word: P-R-I-C-E.

In the “low cost carrier” (LCC) category, Southwest Airlines has a unique marketing advantage, with its contagious corporate culture that encourages all employees to carry out their duties (on the ground and in flight) with humor and panache. After all, this was the first airline where this author experienced a passenger safety briefing sung in the Rap music genre by a flight attendant over the on board public address system. Outside of Southwest, a passenger would be hard pressed to associate anything significant about “flying in the aluminum tube” that would distinguish one airline over another.

When Airline Branding Mattered

In the “legacy carrier” category of U.S. airlines, one would have to go back to defunct Eastern Airline’s highly touted television and print campaign called the “Corporate Rate”. Created by marketing executive Jim O’Donnell, passengers in 1990 could purchase a First Class seat for the price of an unrestricted Coach Fare. In an aggressive bid to lure business flyers back to Eastern, passengers received an extra wide leather seat (aboard select aircraft), extra legroom, full meal service, and an extra-designated flight attendant. While unthinkable in today’s commodity-driven economy, Eastern took the bold step of doubling the size of their First Class cabins. The closest competitors to this program, TWA and American Airlines, merely offered extended legroom in Coach Class, only to abandon the program a short time later to maximize yields.

In the late-1990s, British entrepreneur and Virgin Atlantic Airways founder and chief, Sir Richard Branson, felt that there had to be a better way. He also observed the struggle that his archrival British Airways endured, after they were stymied from increasing their 24.6% investment in US Air.

Under U.S. law, a foreign investor is restricted to less than 50 % of the capital, and only 25 % of the voting rights on the board of directors. Convinced that regulatory authorities in the U.S. would eventually relax these restrictions and allow an increase in foreign investment, British Airways executives soon became fed up and divested themselves of their US Air stock. Branson was convinced that the U.S. commercial aviation industry had succumbed to a lamentable state of affairs. Passengers complained of surly service in the airports and in-flight. What Branson saw that was missing was the lack of any distinguishable service characteristics when deciding upon which carrier to fly. To this end, he reasoned that U.S. domestic passengers deserved better service and more amenities for their money.

No More Business As Usual

In early 2004, Branson decided to “shake things up” when his Virgin Group announced the intention to start a new United States-based airline named “Virgin USA” (later changed to Virgin America). He envisioned a low-fare airline that differentiated itself from competitors by providing domestic travelers with a higher level of comfort. Branson also envisioned offering coach seats at prices well below the fares of larger rivals.

To cite an example, Virgin America’s introductory fares between its base at San Francisco to New York were set at $278 round trip, at least $50 lower than the lowest advance fares available from United and American – the route’s two dominant carriers.

Similarly, Virgin America’s first-class service aimed to become a more comfortable experience, taking advantage of a high tech in-flight entertainment system at each seat called “RED” (a nod to the red-painted aircraft tails). Virgin’s then-CEO Fred Reid described “RED” as “arguably two or more generations ahead of anything in the U.S. market today”, offering 18 channels of TV from the Dish Network, pay-per-view movies and a wide variety of electronic games and music. Further, passengers would be able to text message each other, send drinks to one another, and order meals through the system at an extra cost in coach class.

A Change of Mood

Beyond technology, Virgin endeavored to introduce “mood lighting” VirginAmericaPlane1inside its fleet of 53 Airbus A320’s to improve the passenger’s perception of the cabin environment and the passage of time through multiple time zones. These settings include “dawn”, “dusk” and “blue sky”. Further, the Virgin sense of “loosening the tie” (in self-deprecating fashion, Branson refers to himself as a “tie-loathing lothario”) and having fun has extended to the naming of various aircraft in the fleet.

Rock icon Grace Slick was on hand in 2006 to dedicate Virgin America’s new corporate headquarters, and an aircraft dubbed “Jefferson Airplane” after the legendary 1960’s band. Other aircraft names promoting this sense of fun include “Virgin & Tonic” and “Mach Daddy”. This attention to informality and on board amenities differed significantly from competitors, who were scaling back on such services to lower costs and improve yields. Clearly, Virgin America is no “peanuts and soft drink” only airline.

At the time of The Virgin Group’s announcement of its intentions to the press, the newly organized airline expected to become aloft by the following year. However, in a scenario reminiscent of Southwest Airline’s initial start up efforts in 1967, Houston-based Continental Airlines and the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) met the initiative with strenuous opposition. Both groups alleged that the upstart would not be under U.S. ownership, but rather, operated as a subsidiary of Branson’s Virgin Group in England. This argument appeared to hold some sway with regulators at The Department of Transportation (DOT), who denied Virgin America’s initial application for an operating certificate on December 27, 2006. Indeed, The Virgin Group had provided an initial loan to Virgin America. However, formally, the airline is an independent licensee of the Virgin brand rather than a subsidiary of Virgin Group.

Undaunted by the DOT’s ruling, Branson ordered 33 new Airbus A320’s and selected veteran airline executive Fred Reid as CEO of the fledgling carrier.

Virgin America’s First CEO

A native of San Francisco and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Fred Reid was raised in Africa and has lived in Asia and the Middle East. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Reid held marketing and management positions with Pan American World Airways and American Airlines. He went on to become President and Chief Operating Officer of Lufthansa. After privatizing the latter and restoring it to profitability, Reid became president of Delta Air Lines, where he led the creation of the airline’s low-fare branded airline ‘Song’, the Delta Connection regional subsidiary, and oversaw the acquisition of Atlantic Southeast Airlines and Comair (Airways, February 2014). Under his tenure, the SkyTeam global airline alliance was also created.Regarded as asavvy negotiator, Reid’s first 18 months at the helm of Virgin America in 2004 was spent lining up $162 million in financing from Black Canyon Capital and Cyrus Capital Partners. By November 22, 2005 the airline was capitalized and earned the support of city and state representatives from California and New York.

Eventually, the airline met the government’s fitness test, requiring that it was able to operate for at least one business quarter without any revenue.

In an effort to assuage concerns of regulators at the DOT, Virgin America amended its proposal for an operating certificate by restructuring voting shares of the new airline to be held by a DOT-approved trust. Under this structure, only two Virgin Group directors would serve on the eight-member board. In addition, the airline offered to remove Sir Richard Branson from the board and, amazingly, even drop the “Virgin” branding entirely. Fortunately, the latter proved to be unnecessary.

The Launch

On March 20, 2007 Virgin America was given tentative ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????approval by the DOT to commence operations, contingent upon changes to its business structure. These changes included replacing Fred Reid as CEO (to assure that a non-U.S. citizen wouldn’t have de facto control) thereby, significantly curbing the Virgin Group’s influence on the airline. The airlines first flights commenced on August 8, 2007 from New York and Los Angeles to San Francisco. Virgin America fought unsuccessfully to retain Reid as CEO; ultimately, he was permitted to stay on nine months after the airline’s certification. This agreement called for him to serve for six months as CEO, and three additional months as a consultant. Fred Reid was succeeded by David Cush on December 10, 2007.

Virgin Receives an American CEO

Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cush served at American Airlines for 20 years as Senior Vice President of Global Sales, Vice President of American’s St. Louis hub, and Vice President of International Planning and Global Alliances. In addition to his tenure with American, David Cush also served as Chief Operating Officer of Aerolineas Argentinas, the national carrier of Argentina.

He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Broadcast/Film, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology, and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University

May I have the envelope, please?

Virgin America selected San Francisco as its base of operations, with its headquarters at nearby Burlingame, California. Operating from San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2, the airline states that it has created 2,600 new jobs and 36,000 related jobs in the Bay Area. Service routes include flights to Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Washington D.C. (IAD and DCA), Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Cabos, Cancun, Chicago, Puerto Vallarta, Palm Springs (seasonal), Philadelphia, Portland, San Jose, and Austin.

In a strange dichotomy, Virgin America has become a multi-award winning airline, but since its start in 2007, the airline has lost approximately $700 million. In 2013, Consumer Reports named Virgin America the “Best U.S. Airline”. The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) awarded Virgin America “Best Overall Passenger Experience” and “Best Ground Experience” in 2013, and Skytraxawarded Virgin America with its 2013 “Airline of the Year” award. Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards chose Virgin America as “Best Domestic Airline”, and “Best Business/First Class” in the Condé Nast Traveler’s Business Travel Poll for five consecutive years (2008-2012). Travel + Leisure awarded Virgin “Best Domestic Airline” for six consecutive years (2008-2013), and Zagat’s Global Airlines Survey rated the airline #1 in Class in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

On May 21, 2009, Virgin America became the first U.S. airline to offer Wi-Fi access via the Gogo Inflight Internet on every flight. To inaugurate service, television personality Oprah Winfrey chatted with flight attendant Mandalay Roberts, aboard Flight 780 between Seattle and Los Angeles using Skype. Voice over IP, however, is not ordinarily allowed during flight.

In March 2010, Virgin America announced flights to Toronto from ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Los Angeles and San Francisco to begin on June 29th as the airline’s first international destination. However, high operating costs led the airline to cease Toronto service in favor of the higher demand at Dallas/Fort-Worth International Airport (DFW). Service to DFW began on December 1, 2010 with non-stop service to LAX and SFO. With typical Virgin flourish, Sir Richard Branson flew aboard the inaugural flight, which included a water canon salute for the arriving A320 aircraft, theme music from the iconic television series “Dallas”, an outdoor press barbeque, and live cattle in a partitioned corral on the airport tarmac. In his opening remarks, a jovial Branson dressed in Western clothing stated: “You’ve got a choice. You can either go on that other carrier, and get their kind of service—which is sort of a bit like those animals over there”, he said, gesturing to the cattle nearby. “Or you can come on the Virgin carrier, and you’re going to have a blast”.  

American Airlines responded immediately to Virgin America’s incursion on its home turf by dropping prices twenty to thirty % on duplicate routes flown.

In April 2011, Virgin America’s hub at San Francisco International Airport relocated to the newly remodeled Terminal 2, sharing gates with American Airlines. A much reported reservation system outage in late October, during its migration to Sabre’s global distribution system (GDS) was resolved, and today Sabre handles Virgin America’s reservations, management of the carrier’s “Elevate” frequent-flier accounts, flight operations data, and crew scheduling.

On December 12, 2012, Virgin America introduced tits first airport lounge, entitled the “Virgin America Loft” in Los Angeles at the LAX Terminal 3, where drinks, snacks, and Wi-Fi are complimentary. Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver members receive a select number of complimentary day passes each year, while passengers flying Virgin America, or another Virgin America airline partner, can purchase day passes to the Virgin America Loft.

The Virgin America Cabin Experience

Virgin America offers dual-class service on all flights it operates. Both cabins feature the aforementioned “Mood Lighting”, and all seats are equipped with Panasonic Avionics’ RED personal in-flight entertainment system dubbed. Quite apart from texting and sending drinks to other passengers, features include a position mapping system, in-flight shopping with open tab capabilities, and enabling passengers to surf the Internet on the seat-back device without the need for a laptop. As the first U.S. airline to offer WiFi service, Virgin America also introduced “network on the fly”, the nation’s first in-flight social network application, using geo-location technology at 35,000 feet. Based on surveys of passengers conducted in San Francisco, Dallas and New York markets, the tech-savvy airline partnered with Here On Biz to enable passengers to download the free app (before their flight) through the Apple store. After signing in via their LinkedIn accounts, connections can be made with complimentary business passengers on their specific flight, other Virgin America flights in the air, or fellow travelers at their destination.  Users can also manage their privacy settings, so that travelers can shut off or limit their visible connections to others onboard.

First Class cabin seats offer 55 inches (1,400 mm) of pitch VirginAmericaFirstClass_v2and are 21 inches (530 mm) wide with power-ports, adjustable headrests, a massage function, and recline controls. Passengers receive complimentary meals, refreshments, alcoholic beverages, dedicated airport check-in, security screening, and aircraft pre-boarding. In First Class, RED offers free live satellite television, free on-demand movies, free on-demand television programming and a selection of games.

Main Cabin Select refers to Virgin America’s premium economy product. While not a distinct class (the service is located at Main Cabin seats in the exit rows and behind the bulkheads) passengers are afforded a 38 inch (970 mm) seat pitch, 17.7 inches (450 mm) of width and dedicated luggage bins. As with First Class, meals, VirginAmericaPlaneRED_v2refreshments, alcoholic beverages and premium priority services are complimentary.

Main Cabin offers 32 inches (810 mm) of pitch and 17.7 inches (450 mm) width with power-ports and adjustable headrests. RED is available with free live satellite television, pay-per-view on demand movies and on-demand television shows, a small selection of free games (with a larger selection of games for purchase).

Passengers may also purchase snacks, meals, and alcoholic beverages from their seats via RED. Flight attendants orders via a tablet computer for prompt food and beverage service.

Financial Performance and Fleet

Despite the industry’s highest customer service awards, becoming profitable has been an uphill battle for Virgin America. The airline’s 2012 net loss was $145.4 million.

In the first quarter of 2013, its bad streak continued losing $46.4 million – a slight improvement from its $76 million loss during the same period in year.

In the second quarter of 2013, however, the airline posted a net income of $8.8 million. This allowed for a third quarter operating income of $44.4 million and net income of $33.5 million. The airline posted an operating margin of 11.5%.

Between the second quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2012, the carrier took delivery of 25 Airbus A320 family aircraft. The airline has recently been cutting interest payments and deferring deliveries of new aircraft. Fleet plans now include accepting one new A320 beginning in July 2014, and four more by the end of the year. Five additional A320’s are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2015. Virgin America currently operates a fleet of 53 Airbus A320’s.

As 2013 drew to a close, Virgin America released an upbeat operational performance report for December and, indeed, the full year. The airline’s December traffic (RPMs) rose 7.1% on capacity (in available seat miles) that was 0.8% lower than the same month in 2012. Load factors in December were 81.9%, an increase of six points from the same month the previous year. The number of onboard passengers rose 10.7% from December 2012. Load factor for the full year were 80.2%, up one point from 2012.

In late October 2013, Virgin America created quite a stir in social media outlets when it released its Safety Video, which was set to song and dance. Relishing opportunities for fun themes, a little over a week later, “Operation Chihuahua” was implemented. Working with The San Francisco Animal Care and Control, and the ASPCA, an airlift flew puppies from overpopulated West Coast shelters to East Coast shelters, where demand exceeded availability.

First Full Year of Profitability in 2013

Virgin America’s Fourth Quarter 2013 results yielded $14.2 million VirginAmericaInFlight8_v2in net income. This, compared to a quarterly loss of $25.0 million a year earlier. Total operating revenue of $359.9 million reflected an increase of 2.7% from the fourth quarter of 2012 as well. Revenue per Available Seat Mile (RASM) increased 4.1% to 11.70 cents. An increased load factor of 78.5% (up 1.6%) and yield (up 2.4%) contributed to the improved revenue per available seat mile. Capacity decreased 1.3% during the fourth quarter, while stage length decreased 8.1% to 1,426 miles.

Perhaps the brightest news for the airline was reaching a milestone of its first full year of profitability for 2013. Net income of $10.1 million reflected an increase of $155.5 million from a loss of $145.4 million in 2012.

Addressing Losses and Debt

The airline recently converted $290 million of debt (mostly owed to Richard Branson’s Virgin Group) into conditional equity that the debt-holders will own after an IPO, providing the stock hits predetermined targets.

According to Virgin America’s CEO, David Cush, a share offering would allow Virgin Group and other shareholders to recoup some of their investments. How much of the company might be offered to the public is wholly contingent on the strength of its finances. However, launching an IPO could come as early as mid-2014 to late 2015. The airline is also cutting interest payments and deferring deliveries of new Airbus A320’s. Slowing growth is a key component of making the airline profitable, Cush stated.

Meanwhile, the airline is intensely focused on expanding to Hawaii. It is currently considering targeting the large business hubs of Denver, Phoenix and Atlanta, according Cush, all of which are heavily fortified by United, US Airways, Southwest and Delta respectively. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to go into those places,” said David Cush.

“People are going to want to see some profit” before determining how much Virgin America is worth, he said. In January 2014, Virgin America announced the appointment of Intel Corporation Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Stacey J. Smith to the company’s board of directors. The appointment was heralded by the airline’s Chairman Donald J. Carty “as the airline prepares for the next phase of its growth”.

Virgin America’s Bread and Butter: Trans-con Routes

Virgin America does much of its flying between New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It has recently added the San Francisco-Newark service, which puts it in head-to-head competition with United Airlines with hubs in both of those cities. Cush says that Virgin America’s flights to Newark are already profitable, but how long can this profitability last against the entrenched United Airlines (which assumed the Cleveland hub from its merger with Continental)?

“We can sustain it forever. We think it’ll be profitable at current fare levels,” said Cush. “All it did was reduce Newark fares to the same level as JFK fares”.

Virgin America’s coast-to-coast flying has been met with fierce VirginAmericaInFlight7_v2resistance from other airlines. The carrier flies from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington with two-thirds of its capacity in the California-East Coast markets. Cush said the JFK Airport routes are the most profitable. JetBlue announced in late July that it will add new first-class cabins with premium sleeper seats for transcontinental flights aboard its Airbus A321s. “JetBlue is a great airline with a great product, just as we are,” Cush responded. “But it’s a question of whether you can create a first-class product and first-class service in a small percentage of your markets”, he added. JetBlue’s new product would be offered initially on 16 seats on trans-con flights from New York. “We have first class in all our markets,” Cush said. “It’s not as simple as throwing a lie-flat seat on your plane and calling it a first-class product.” Meanwhile, United Airlines increased its flying from nine flights per day to 15 between San Francisco and Newark.

The remaining “legacy carriers” (American, United and Delta) are pitted against low-cost carriers (Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America), and “ultra low cost carriers” (Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines). Of the low-cost carriers, JetBlue and Virgin America have embarked on a strategy to target the business flyer.

Commenting on Virgin America’s incursion into Newark, New Jersey in April 2013, a United Airlines hub, Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay criticized the strategy with harsh words, citing the move as “an example of behavior that still keeps many longer term equity investors out of these stocks.”

Virgin began flying from Newark to San Francisco and Los Angeles with $99 one-way fares. Keay, feels her criticism is justified.

“[United] responded by nearly doubling its frequencies in that market, which now has 111 % more capacity than it did over the prior decade, on average. Fares remain depressed, with both airlines charging an identically sickening $381 for travel less than two weeks away”, she said.

In separate interviews, Virgin America CEO David Cush and Chairman Donald Carty (former chairman and CEO of American Airlines) defended their strategy by stating that the airline’s business model is far more sensible and realistic than industry analysts consider it to be. “The efficacy of the model is showing up, and we’re making money,” Carty said. “That sort of belies the thesis that you can’t make money doing things differently.”

New Routes from New York’s LaGuardia & Washington’s Reagan National Airports

In early December 2013, Virgin America purchased 12 of the 34 takeoff and landing slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport that American Airlines had given up for government approval of its merger with US Airways. Southwest Airlines purchased the remaining 22 slots.

In February 2014, Virgin America also acquired 4 takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport (DCA).

US Airways and American agreed to give up 52 slot pairs at LaGuardia, Boston’s Logan Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Reagan National Airport in Washington, Miami International and Dallas Love Field. The slot divestiture is central to settle a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice seeking to block the airlines from merging.

The Justice Department selects which airlines are eligible to buy the assets, and maintained that the slot and gate sales would give low cost competitors better access to some of the country’s busiest airports.

Since its launch in 2007, Virgin America flies to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Washington D.C. (IAD and DCA), Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Cabos, Cancun, Chicago, Puerto Vallarta, Palm Springs (seasonal), Philadelphia, Portland, San Jose, Austin and Anchorage (seasonal).

With the much heralded news of finally achieving its first full year of profitability, one this is certain. The airline has withstood years of an uncomfortable dichotomy of distinguishing itself from competitors with inflight amenities and cabin service not seen in the U.S. since the early 1990’s. With sheer tenaciousness, the airline is positioned for an initial public offering to expand services and survive with a unique marketing advantage against all odds.

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All photos courtesy of Virgin America.

Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com.

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ANA To Fly Its First Scheduled 787-9 Flight August 7

By Jack Harty / Published July 30, 2014

KBFI-4_9_14-9ANA will begin flying scheduled domestic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flights on August 7. It will introduce the 395 seat aircraft on routes between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Fukuoka, Osaka (Itami) and Matsuyama.

ANA will take delivery of two more 787-9s before the end of the fiscal year ending March 2015, and the carrier plans to start 787-9 international flights around these times. The carrier plans to use these aircraft on long haul routes to Europe, North America, and other key destinations. In the mean time, the aircraft will help with maximizing passenger numbers and lower operations costs on domestic flights.

Although the first aircraft have 395 seats, the aircraft will be converted before international 787-9 flights begin next year. There will be 215 seats which is 46 more than its 787-8s have.

Here is the flight schedule the airline has set:

Flight No. Departure Arrival Flight No. Departure Arrival
NH241 Tokyo (Haneda) 7:25 Fukuoka9:15 NH248 Fukuoka10:05 Tokyo (Haneda) 11:50
NH25 Tokyo (Haneda) 13:00 Osaka(Itami) 14:05 NH30 Osaka(Itami) 15:00 Tokyo (Haneda) 16:15
NH595 Tokyo (Haneda) 17:15 Matsuyama 18:40 NH598 Matsuyama 19:30 Tokyo (Haneda) 21:00

In the press release, ANA says it will become the first airline in the world to operate a scheduled flight with the 787-9. However, Air New Zealand was the launch customer, and via Twitter, it said that it will fly the first scheduled flight. The carrier says it will begin flying the 787-9 between Aukland and Sydney on August 9, but when asked which flight, it said that not all of the details have been worked out.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com.
Cover photo curtesy of JDL Multimedia.

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WestJet Reports Record Earnings and Announces It Will Begin Flying 767s

By Jack Harty / Published July 29, 2014

While WestJet Airlines Ltd. reported record profits this morning, the westjetcarrier announced that it will begin flying four Boeing 767-300ER aircraft for flights between Alberta and Hawaii beginning during the late winter in 2015.

The airline announced a second quarter profit of $51.8 million or 40 cents per share which is up from $44.7 million or 34 cents per share a year ago. The profits beat analysts expectations as it was estimated that the carrier would earn a profit of 28 cents per share.

Despite costs growing (excluding fuel) by 1.9%, the company saw a revenue increase of 10.3% to $930.3 million which is up from 843.7 million year over year.

Growth Is In The Future

Last month, the carrier launched its first flights to Europe when it began flying between St. John’s, N.L., and Dublin. More growth in overseas markets is expected starting in the 2016 summer.

“We continue to execute on our growth plans, including new service to Dublin, Ireland, success with our fare bundles initiative, and the expansion of WestJet Encore,” WestJet’s president and CEO, Gregg Saretsky, said in a statement.

The carrier announced that it will begin flying the Boeing 767-300ER aircraft in late 2015 for flights between Alberta and Hawaii. The carrier plans to have four 767s in its fleet which have a range of 6,000 nautical miles, and they will be replacing  the two Boeing 757-200s operated by Thomas Cook that operate these flights.

Additionally, the carrier says it will use its option to purchase five more Bombardier Q400 turboprops as its regional service, WestJet Encore, continues to expand.

Related: WestJet to Introduce Wide Body Aircraft in 2015

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com.

Latest photo courtesy of JDL Multimedia.

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United Introduces New Safety Video

By Jack Harty / Published July 28, 2014

This evening, United Airlines uploaded a new safety video on its YouTube channel, and it’s a departure (no pun intended) from the old.

The theme of the new video is “Safety is Global.” In the description of the video, United explains that “nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and employees, so we’ve incorporated creative elements to maintain the interest of even our most frequent flyers flight after flight. Underscoring the message that safety is global, the video showcases locations throughout United’s broad route network.”

The video starts off just like the old one with employees welcoming you on-board in different language. But, things quickly change as we find ourselves with a United pilot at a local Paris cafe. Then, we are whisked away on a journey around the world.

Watch out for a few funny moments. Since we don’t want to spoil it, sit back, relax, and enjoy the video.

Initial reactions about the new tone appear to be very positive. Though, some are wondering if there will be different themed ones like Delta.

RELATED: United’s “Fly The Friendly Skies” Iconic Ad Campaign Returns

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com.

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Republic Airlines To Start Flying E-175 Out Of Miami For American Airlines October 2

By Jack Harty / Published July 28, 2014

Starting October 2, the E-175, operated by Republic Airlines ????????????????under the American Eagle brand, will begin flying out of Miami, Florida. Initially, the airline will operate flights to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee.

The E-175 is being used to replace some of the flights that are currently operated by Envoy’s ERJ-145s. There is no frequency change on any of the routes.

When comparing the October 1 and 2 schedules, three of the ERJ-145 flights between Miami and Atlanta will be upgraded to a Embraer 175 while four ERJ-145 flights between Miami and Jacksonville will be upgraded to E175s. Only one flight to Tallahassee will be upgraded to a E175, but both flights to Indianapolis (where Republic’s headquarters is located) will be upgraded to the E175.

All of the routes will see an increase in capacity as the E175s have 76 seats and are replacing 50 seat E145s. There are 12 first class seats, 20 Main Cabin Extra seats (economy seats with extra legroom), and 44 regular economy seats.

Currently, Republic Airlines operates 22 E175s under the American Eagle brand, and there are plans for it to operate 33 more E175s for American.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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New and Free IFE Options Coming to a Delta Flight Near You August 1

By Jack Harty / Published July 28, 2014

On August 1, new and free inflight entertainment options are coming to more than 1,000 Delta mainline and regional aircraft near you with the “Delta Studio.”

Welcome to “Delta Studio”

Delta’s customers will have access to movies, television shows, music, and games through seat-back entertainment systems or on demand video streaming onboard Delta’s Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft, regardless of what class they are seated in. However, the Delta Studio will only available on flights longer than one and a half hours.

In a press release, Delta calls its move “the most far-reaching effort by an airline to provide hit movies, popular television shows, music and video games for free.”

“Through the introduction of Delta Studio our customers have yet another reason to choose Delta and a different travel experience,” said Tim Mapes, senior vice president – Marketing. “Delta continues to be driven by customer feedback which has consistently placed the desire to be entertained at the top of the list of ways to improve our customers’ time in the air.”

New IFE Options on International Flights

Delta customers seated in BusinessElite, First Class and Economy Comfort will have free, unrestricted access to in-flight entertainment on all international flights worldwide. Customers traveling in economy on all international flights will also have access to free content. Delta completed installation of seat-back entertainment systems on its international fleet in 2013.

New IFE Options On Domestic Flights

Customers traveling on domestic flights in BusinessElite, First Class and Economy Comfort will have free access to all in-flight entertainment. Domestic economy customers will have access to free content which includes all of Delta’s live satellite TV channels, music selections and game options through seat-back entertainment systems as well as movie or TV selections such as ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ or ‘Frozen’ on seat-back systems in August as well as streaming content through in-flight Wi-Fi.

Want More Content?

Additional premium content will be available for purchase in economy including the latest movie titles such as ‘Need for Speed’ or ‘Rio 2,’ HBO and SHOWTIME programming as well as on-demand TV shows like ‘About a Boy’ or ‘The Middle.’ Delta’s full entertainment line-up for the month of August is available in Sky magazine.

How does it work if you don’t have seat-back entertainment options?

Delta explains that “customers traveling on any domestic Delta or Delta Connection aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi will be able to stream free movies and TV options directly to their mobile devices while in flight by using Gogo’s video player app. The Fly Delta app will include an integrated player for iOS devices. Customers who have downloaded the app before their flight can easily access streamed content from Delta aircraft for playback while in-flight.”

Delta’s Current IFE

Delta currently offers 18 channels of live satellite TV and up to 250 movies, hundreds of TV shows, 2,300 songs and a selection of games on aircraft with seat-back entertainment systems on select aircraft.

There are 140 domestic aircraft with seat-back entertainment systems installed, and the carrier will be adding seat-back entertainment to 56 Boeing 757-200, 43 Boeing 737-800s and 57 Airbus A319 aircraft through 2016. Additionally, more than 100 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft are already scheduled to be delivered with seat-back entertainment through 2018.

More than 900 domestic and international aircraft are equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi, and all of its Boeing 777, 767, 747, Airbus A330 and transoceanic Boeing 757 aircraft are scheduled to receive Wi-Fi by the end of 2015.

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You can contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com.

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Can Bombardier’s Q400 Save Regional Air Service in the US?

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 28, 2014

KSEA 6_9-17America’s regional airlines, which are contracted by mainline airlines to provide feeder services at mainline hubs and once operated an army of 50-seat Bombardier CRJ-200s and Embraer E145s, are today faced with an acute and worsening pilot shortage. The threat of a pilot shortage was in the back of the aviation industry’s collective consciousness, even before recent events conspired to speed up the onset of the shortage. Pilot graduation rates in the US have been dropping for some time due to ever-increasing costs, and with mandatory retirements for thousands of mainline pilots coming up shortly, the pilot shortage was almost assuredly going to hit within the next decade. Meanwhile, a glut of pilots in the mid-90s and early-2000s allowed regional carriers to negotiate sparse deals with little guarantee of job ascension to pilots, who often earn less than minimum wage on a pro-rated basis.

Pilot Shortage Speeds Up

But in recent months, thanks to the combined effect of the FAA’s new 1500-hour rule (shrinking the pool of available pilots with enough experience to qualify under new guidelines) and its FAR Part 117 crew rest rules (enacted in response to the Colgan Air crash in 2009, the timeline for the pilot shortage has begun to move up rapidly. Already the economics of 50-seat regional jets were dicey at best due to rising fuel and maintenance costs, and the now worsening pilot shortage only exacerbates that problem. Carriers such as Delta have already taken the proactive step of replacing routes served multiple times daily on 50-seaters with 70-seat jets operating at a lower frequency. Routes that cannot support the larger aircraft will lose service.

Small Cities Set to Lose Service

But with the ascension of pilot shortage, there is a real danger of the same process cascading upwards into the 70-seat RJ segment of the market (replacement by mainline – such as Delta’s 717s), and once again, plenty of incremental service on the margins will be lost due to the conversion process. All of these factors taken together imply that small airports and communities, places like Texarkana, Texas, Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, are set to lose a significant proportion of their traffic, and thus a key tie to an increasingly globalized business environment. Our analysis finds that the threat of the pilot shortage, combined with the pre-existing decline in the fortunes of small air travel markets, could see between 40 and 50 US airports wiped off the commercial airline route network in the United States, and between 350 and 450 air routes from these airports and others lost over the next five to seven years. But the solution to these problems might already exist – in the form of Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop.

The Q400: Superior Economics ,up to certain Distance

Q400-1Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop is an aircraft that seats between 70-84 passengers, depending on configuration. The Q400 has a maximum range of just under 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 statue miles) at a payload of 7,000 kg (15,400 lbs), and is capable of traveling at a speed of 360 knots (414 miles per hour). This speed, higher than the 200-250 knots that rival turboprops such as the ATR 72 typically fly at, allow the Q400 to compete effectively with regional jets up to about 400-450 nautical miles according to sources at Bombardier. Essentially, on a 350 nm route, our analysis finds that the Q400 has about a 65-72% advantage in terms of fuel burn per seat versus the E170/CRJ-700, and a 100-110% advantage versus a 50-seat regional jet. This, along with rising RJ maintenance costs, translates into roughly a 15-17% and 48-52% advantage in terms of operating cost per seat on the route. However, increasing the distance to 450 nautical miles causes that cost advantage to evaporate, as the slower speeds (RJs are about 80 knots faster than the Q400) lead to longer flight times, which in turn lead to higher capital and labor costs.

However, until that threshold, the Q400 presents a unique opportunity to replace RJ services at a lower cost. The trip costs up to about 350 nautical miles for the Q400s and present day RJs are similar, which means that the same revenue pool (let alone a market stimulated with lower fares) would allow 50-seat RJ routes to be replaced. Moreover, because the Q400’s fuel costs are lower, airlines could afford to pay higher pilot salaries, thereby offsetting some of the severity of the pilot shortage while preserving CASM at a reasonable rate. At present, we estimate that the Q400 would be an effective replacement aircraft of between 50-60% of the routes in questions, and help preserve service at more than 20 airports.

A Potential Q400X; RJ Speeds at Turboprop Costs

But the real opportunity on the Q400 lies in a re-engined, upgraded Q400X turboprop, which has been rumored for launch since 2011. The Q400X, whether stretched or kept at the same capacity, might operate at a speed of 420 knots or more, using a new turboprop engine from GE derived from GE’s CPX 38 helicopter engine. If Bombardier opted for a higher speed Q400, the cost equalization point would bend outwards to around 700-750 nautical miles. While our sources at Bombardier do caution that a higher speed Q400X would require significant aerodynamic re-design, such a product would allow the Q400 to do 90% of RJ routes worldwide, most of them with superior economics than present and next-generation RJs (thanks to improvements on the CPX-38 derivative). For Bombardier, whose Q400 is already lagging severely behind rival ATR’s cheaper ATR 72, such a development could make a lot of sense. And most of the small town RJ service could be preserved.

Questions about Passenger Uptake

KPHX 5_22_14-12Of course there are several potential problems with this scenario, not the least of which being that the Q400X does not exist. Moreover, US passengers are notoriously skeptical of turboprop aircraft, which could leave airlines hesitant to invest in the product. Mike Arcamone, President of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, says the perception is changing: “I think a lot of operators are starting to realize its quiet; the turboprop is quiet […]  how smooth it is. So the fear of flying a turboprop, is reduced. So there are a lot of markets where the Q400 could absolutely replace… at the lower end…. jets.” It would certainly benefit small cities if he’s right, where the profit contribution that they could make to airline networks with better operating economics, the Q400 and subsequent developments might prove to be an essential tool.

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Contact the author at Vinay.Bhaskara@Airchive.com. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren contributed to this report. Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive

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ANA Receives Its First 787-9

By Jack Harty / Published July 29, 2014

KBFI-4_9_14-7ANA has received its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

The airline will begin flying the jet on domestic flights next month, and it will be deployed on international routes in April 2015.

Before paying passengers will fly on the 787-9, ANA will be operating a special commemorative flight “Dreamliner” with American and Japanese elementary school children in Japan on-board. The aircraft will fly over Mount Fuji, after departing from Haneda. Additionally, the TOMODACHI logo will be displayed on the aircraft to support the initiative to strengthen Japanese-US ties.

“The 787 Dreamliner is a key element in our growth strategy and we are proud to be the first airline to fly both models of the 787 family,” said Osamu Shinobe, ANA president and CEO. “The new 787-9 will build on the exceptional efficiency of the 787-8 and will allow us to meet growing demand that is anticipated ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Our customers have expressed their pleasure with the comfort of the 787′s innovative cabin features and we are excited to introduce the new 787 variant into our fleet.”

“This milestone delivery adds yet another chapter in our long and successful relationship with ANA,” said John Wojick, senior vice president of Global Sales and Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “ANA continues to demonstrate the market-leading efficiency and comfort of the 787 family.”

The first 787-9 will arrive with domestic route specifications with 395 seats; 60 more than the 787-8.

Currently, ANA has 28 787s in its fleet, and in a press release last week, the carrier said that “The fuel savings achieved from the 787 aircraft already in service are sufficient to operate 500 round trips from Tokyo to Frankfurt and are reducing CO2 emissions by 150,000 tons a year. When all 80 Dreamliners are in operation, the CO2 reduction will be 450,000 tons, with enough fuel saved to operate 1,400 round trips to Frankfurt.”

Two weeks ago, Air New Zealand became the world’s first airline to take delivery of the new 787-9.

United will take delivery of its first 787-9 next month, and the carrier plans to begin flying it in September. Virgin Atlantic will fly its first 787-9 flight at the end of the October, and Etihad will fly its first 787-9 flight in December.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive

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