Category Archives: Major News

Delta Launches ‘Delta Comfort+’ Fare

By Contributor / Published November 14, 2015

On Saturday, Delta Air Lines officially launched a “Delta Comfort+” fare type in its reservation system which makes it the first U.S. legacy airline to sell extra legroom seats as its own fare.IMG_7670

For future travel starting May 16, 2016, customers will have the option to book the Delta Comfort+ fare; customers who purchase this will be able to select Comfort+ seats which offer:

  • Customers can take advantage of Sky Priority Boarding instead of boarding in Zone 1
  • There is dedicated overhead bin space for Comfort + customers
  • Extra leg room
  • Free wine, spirits, and regional craft beers for customers 21 and over
  • Snacks on all flights with a premium snack basket being offered on flights over 900 miles
  • Complimentary access to everything on Delta Studio

Plus, Delta has begun installing curtains between main cabin and Comfort+ seats on some of its MD-88 aircraft; eventually, all of the fleet will have this divider.

EXTRA: Op-Ed: Is Delta’s Comfort + A Third Class?

Initial Comfort+ Upgrades

The new fare type comes just 11 months after Delta announced many new upgrades to its existing product, including re-branding Economy Comfort to Comfort+. The airline also made upgrades to its First Class and Delta One products as well as expanded a bit more on its Basic Economy and Main Cabin products.737_ComfortPlus

When the announcement was made last December, there was mixed reaction. Many people were happy to hear that Delta would begin enforcing dedicated overhead bin space for those seated in Comfort+ as long as flight attendants actually enforced it, and many were happy with the addition of the free wine, spirits, and regional craft beers for customers 21 and over, complimentary Delta Studio Access, and snack basket on flights over 900 miles. Plus, Delta re-branded the seats with new seat covers that closely matched the new first class seat covers.

But, there were some negative reactions.

Gold Medallion members lost complimentary access to select Comfort+ seats at the time of booking as they now had-and still do-to wait until 72 hours before departure to select seats. Additionally, Delta began to advertise even more to up-sell more of the seats to customers which disappointed some elites as it would become a bit harder to select them at time of booking or just a few days before departure.

The Changes With the New Fare Class

With the debut of the new airfare, there are not really any new changes to the product; the changes are all about who has access to these seats and when.4d30e37a-2d28-4511-bd59-66923e49b87d

Diamond and Platinum Medallions will be able to continue to select Comfort+ seats at the time of booking for free, unless they book a Basic Economy (E fare) ticket. Gold Medallions will still have access to select Comfort+ seats for free at three days before departure, and Silver Medallions will still be able to select them for free starting at the time of check-in. There are some changes on how Medallions will be able to select the seats at the window they can select them.


Although, many have reported that Delta’s elite services phone line agents are saying that Gold Medallions will receive four certificates each year that would allow them to select Comfort+ seats at the time of booking while Silver Medallions will receive two per year for each year they re-qualify for status. In a way, this is much like how Diamond and Platinum Medallions receive a certain number of global and/or regional upgrade certificates each year.

Upgrading to Delta Comfort+

Over the course of last week, Delta made some changes to their website, especially how it displays Medallion Upgrade Requests to allow the ability for Gold and Silver Medallions to automatically request an upgrade to Comfort+ as long as seats are available at the window that they can select the seats for free; now if there are only middle seats available and customers have selected to be auto-upgraded, they will be upgraded to the middle seat. This part has given some Medallions mixed feelings about the opportunity to upgrade–especially when just middle seats are available–as some say an aisle in the main cabin is much better than a middle in Comfort+.

Selecting Delta Comfort+ Seats for Diamond and Platinum Medallions

Now should a Platinum or Diamond Medallion opt to purchase a Main Cabin fare, they will have to select a regular Main Cabin seat; then, Delta will re-issue the ticket and then they can select a Comfort+ seat for free should they decide to. One phone agent explained that when the ticket is re-issued, they will be in a W fare class which is to help for “better inventory control.”

Companion Access

Another change Delta has made that will be effective May 16, 2016 is that Medallions will only allow one companion to sit with you in Comfort+, and they will receive access to the seats for free at the time that the person with the lowest Medallion status can access the seats.

The companion change is getting a mixed reaction; some are happy that it’ll only be one companion as sometimes an entire party of eight can take up all of the extra legroom seats on a regional jet, but others are not happy as this will mean that some parties will have to split up or not get to select a Comfort+ seat.

Choices, Choices, and More Choices

With the addition of the “Delta Comfort+” fare, customers may have the option to select from four different fare types on some routes, ranging from Basic Economy to First/Delta One, which come all at different prices.2b065540-1666-4372-a2f8-5daa3d11b867 2

Should a customer select a Main Cabin fare, Delta does offer the option to redeem SkyMiles to upgrade to the Comfort+ fare type.

Additionally, customers can purchase an award ticket for “Delta Comfort+,” and yes, these award levels are a bit more than purchasing a regular Main Cabin award ticket. There is no concrete information on how many more miles it’ll cost you for the new fare as Delta removed its award chart from its website several months ago.

“Everything we do starts with customers, and based on their overwhelmingly positive feedback, we have invested to make Delta Comfort+ even easier to purchase,” said Tim MapesDelta Senior Vice President – Marketing. “Today, customers on Delta can choose from a range of flight experiences based on their particular interests, and we’ve updated the way search results display on to showcase the distinct product features that accompany each product.”

Premium Economy Product?

Now, is “Delta Comfort+” a premium economy product? Not necessarily; they still charge for checked-bags and does not offer complimentary meals domestically. There are definitely some benefits that come along with Comfort+, however, but for now, we could say that this is the U.S. version of a premium economy product.

Could this be just another step in Delta becoming the first U.S. airline to offer a premium economy product? Only time will tell; it has been rumored that more changes will come coinciding with the debut of the A350 in 2017, but for now, we will just have to stay tuned.

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WOW Air to Launch Flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco

By: Nicolas Bernier / Published November 6, 2015

WOW Air has announced on Monday its fifth and sixth destination in North America. The airline will fly to the United States West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco starting in the summer of 2016. This announcement follows the successful launch of transatlantic routes to Boston and Baltimore earlier this year.

The Icelandic low-cost carrier will take delivery of three new Airbus A330-300 aircraft. Each plane will be able to carry 342 passengers in a single-class configuration. The standard seat pitch will be 30 inches, but passengers can pay an extra fee to enjoy four more inches of legroom. These aircrafts will be the first wide-body planes in their fleet.

According to the airline, the Brits will be able to connect in Keflavik from London-Gatwick and fly to Los Angeles four times a week and to San Francisco five times weekly. Customers will be able to purchase tickets to fly to California in January 2016.

WOW Air is expanding in North America rapidly. In March 2015, it started nonstop service between Keflavik and Boston. In June, it launched flights to Baltimore. In September, it announced new year-round flights to two Canadian cities, Montreal and Toronto to begin in May 2016.

RELATED: Wow Air Expands with Flights to Canada

“We are thrilled to add Los Angeles and San Francisco to our fast growing network. This is a game changer for WOW air as we cement ourselves as the industry leader in the ultra-low-cost long haul category. With the addition of these long range A330-300 aircraft to our fleet, we will be able to offer fares from Europe to the US West Coast far cheaper than our competitors whilst maintaining great service with a smile, as we did with our routes to Boston, Washington DC, Toronto and Montreal,” said Skúli Mogensen, founder and CEO of WOW Air. “We have had a tremendously positive response to our low prices on our current transatlantic routes and this gives us confidence that passengers will take up the chance to travel even further afield. Equally, we’re sure Californians will welcome our super low fares to Europe.”

The airline says its current routes to the United States operate all year-round and have an average load factor of 90% and above. It has brought down prices industry-wide by 30% between Boston and Keflavik. Iceland’s largest air carrier, Icelandair, operates the route year-round as well.

WOW Air expects its annual passenger capacity to double from 840,000 in 2015, to over 1.6 million in 2016. Since its launch in November 2011, the airline now flies to 20 destinations in Europe and the United States using a fleet of three narrow-bodies Airbus A320s and two A321s.

EXTRA: Icelandair to Add Summer Seasonal Flights to Montreal

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Skuli Mogensen of Wow Air

1525a4bNicolas Bernier is an contributor that has been an aviation passionate since he was young. Nicolas likes travelling, plane spotting, and writing. He lives in Montreal, Canada and studies in Aviation Business Administration at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @nickbernier7, or email him at

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One Final Lookback at US Airways

By Luis Linares / Published October 16, 2015, Updated October 18, 2015

aa_usair_tailsOn October 17, 2015, US Airways (US) finally faded away with the final departure of commemorative flight US1939 as its integration with American Airlines (AA) started its final phase known as the cutover weekend, in which both reservation systems will become one and all flights of the carriers will be under the AA brand.

RELATED: Onboard the Final US Airways Flight 1939

In 2015, there have been major steps towards the final integration of the airlines, which announced the intentions to merge on February 14, 2013. Last April, AA and US obtained their Single Operating Certificate (SOC), and the cactus radio callsign that identified US Airways flights became history.

EXTRA: Henry Harteveldt on the Significance of the US / AA Integration and Cutover Day

EXTRA: American Airlines and US Airways Officially Merge in Dallas

EXTRA: The Cactus Callsign to Fly into the History Books Wednesday

EXTRA: American Airlines to Retire US Airways Brand in October

US Airways and the airlines it composed and acquired during its history will be visible on special American Airlines heritage livery jets for some time to come.  Moreover, many aircraft will still be wearing the US Airways brand particularly the regional fleets and A320s through the end of 2016, while they await a new American Airlines paint job.

RELATED: American Updates New Livery Paint Progress

As the final steps of the merge are underway, let’s look back at US Airways from its origins to the current merger.


In 1939 All American Aviation, founded by members of the famed DuPont family and headquartered in Pittsburgh, began airmail service to communities in the Ohio River valley.  In 1949, the company began passenger service and adopted the name All American Airways.  In 1953, it became the Allegheny Airlines, in recognition of the geographical area at the heart of its growing network.

Allegheny received its first turboprop, the Convair 580, in 1965, and it joined the jet age when the DC-9 joined its fleet in 1966.  Two years later, the airline began its first commuter service, which was operated by Henson Aviation, the forerunner of Piedmont airlines. Moreover, this marked the beginning of the network of regional airlines that would eventually become US Airways Express.

AWE Allegheny A319 DCA - LFL

A US Airways Airbus A319-100 in retro Allegheny colors and AA titles departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

As the carrier grew, it began to absorb other airlines, including Indianapolis-based Lake Central Airlines in 1968, and Utica-based Mohawk Airlines in 1972.  By 1973, Allegheny was one of the largest carriers in the northeastern U.S., and the sixth largest airline in the world in terms of passenger boarding.  This rapid expansion also resulted in some growing pains, such as being labeled “Agony Air” due to customer dissatisfaction.

EXTRA: US Airways / US Air / Allegheny / Mohawk Timetable, Route Maps, and History


The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 allowed the airline to expand its route network into the southeastern U.S. To reflect this growth, the carrier assumed the name USAir. Furthermore, it added destinations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas.


US Air was the launch customer for the Boeing 737-300, pictured here at New York La Guardia Airport (LGA)

USAir had the distinction of being the launch customer for the Boeing 737-300, the first of the three members of the 737 “Classic” series, and participated during the development of the aircraft.  The airline introduced the -300 into service on November, 28 1984 and also introduced its frequent flyer program that year.  In addition, Piedmont Airlines, which would eventually become part of USAir, launched the larger -400.

In the mid-1980s, USAir embarked on further expansion, acquiring San Diego-based Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) in 1986 and Winston-Salem-based Piedmont Airlines in 1987. PSA gave USAir a hub on the West Coast, while Piedmont provided a presence in the mid-Atlantic. The Piedmont purchase gave USAir its first widebody, the Boeing 767-200, which operated transatlantic service from Charlotte. PSA and Piedmont operate to this day as wholly-owned regional subsidiaries of US Airways.

US Airways Airbus A319-100 PSA and Piedmont Airlines “Heritage Jets” now wearing American Airlines branding at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

EXTRA: Pacific Southwest Airlines Timetables, Route Maps, and History

EXTRA: Piedmont Timetables, Route Maps, and History

By 1990, USAir had a consolidated headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, while maintenance and operations headquarters remained in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, USAir grew its transatlantic operations by complementing the Charlotte-London service with flights to Frankfurt from Charlotte and Pittsburgh. The airline also established routes from Philadelphia to Paris and London, as well as Baltimore to London, and by the mid-1990s, the primary hubs in Baltimore, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh had flights to London, Paris, and Frankfurt.


US Air Shuttle Boeing 727-200s at New York La Guardia Airport

USAir also entered the Washington (National Airport)-New York (La Guardia)-Boston shuttle market by partnering with the Trump Shuttle, and marketing it as “USAir Shuttle”. In addition, the company entered into a brief transatlantic alliance with British Airways but ended up in a court battle in 1996 when British announced a new partnership with American Airlines. In 1996, the airline began service to Munich, Rome, and Madrid from Philadelphia and announced a major fleet modernization order for 400 aircraft from the Airbus A320 family, including the A319, A320, and A321 with deliveries starting in 1998.

US Airways


US Airways Fokker 100 in 1997 livery departing Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport

On February 27, 1997, officially rebranded as US Airways and introduced a new dark blue livery accentuated with red and white lines, with the U.S. flag as its new logo on the tail. That same year, US Airways had full ownership of the former Trump Shuttle, which officially became US Airways Shuttle, exclusively operating Boeing 727-200s and later A320s. In 1998, the company also chose Airbus for its widebody needs with an initial firm order of seven A330s.

US Airways ventured into the low-cost market in 1998 by introducing MetroJet, which consisted of single class Boeing 737-200s to compete with low-cost powerhouse Southwest Airlines. The -200s were among the oldest aircraft in the fleet, and the airline wanted to maximize their utilization before retirement. As the first A320s began to arrive in 1998, calls began for the airline to merge with another carrier, given the high operating costs of its network concentrated in the northeastern U.S.

The first of the company’s A330-300s arrived on March 30, 2000. With a transition to an all-Airbus fleet, the company hoped to simplify fleet types and reduce costs, given their commonality and improved efficiency. Also, in the early 2000s, US Airways began service to new destinations in Europe and the Caribbean. From May 24, 2000 to July 27, 2001 US Airways and United Airlines considered merging, but factors such as labor union objections and antitrust concerns ended the plan.

The aftermath of the tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had a negative impact on most airlines, including US Airways. First, the temporary closure of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport took away a significant portion of the network, resulting in heavy financial losses. Second, MetroJet closed with the de-hubbing of its Baltimore operation, which resulted in furloughs for thousands of employees. Finally, under such a heavy financial burden, the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 11, 2002.

Another casualty of the post-September 11 financial difficulties was the loss of the airline’s hub in its original home – Pittsburgh. The airline attempted to negotiate lower operating fees and lease payments at Pittsburgh, but the Allegheny Country Airport Authority rejected these demands since, under antitrust rules and FAA regulations, it would have to extend the same courtesies to other airlines flying there. As a result, Pittsburgh, despite having modernized the airport especially for the airline, lost its hub status in November 2004, as the airline reallocated flights to its Philadelphia and Charlotte hubs.

US Airways exited bankruptcy in 2003 and began to look for merger partners, as well as much-needed financing. On May 4, 2004, the company became a member of the Star Alliance. It also became one of the first major airlines to eliminate pilot pensions in order to cut costs. Unable to secure any additional financing and facing labor disputes, the carrier entered a second bankruptcy on September 14, 2004. Moreover, US Airways came close to liquidation during the Christmas holiday rush of 2004, as a result of widespread employee discontent that led to a high number of personnel calling in sick.

Merger with America West


US Airways Airbus A319 “Heritage Jet” with original America West colors landing at Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport

On May 19, 2005, Phoenix-based America West Airlines announced plans to merge with US Airways. Doug Parker, former American West Chairman and CEO, would run the new US Airways Group with headquarters in Phoenix. One advantage of the merger was complementary networks and similar labor costs. In August 2005, the company introduced a new livery that retained the U.S. flag as its logo. The airline name kept the US Airways name because of its recognition but retained America West’s Cactus callsign and “AWE” ICAO designator. Furthermore, bankruptcy officially ended on September 27, 2005.

AWE A320 FLL - LFL       US Airways A320-200 with post-America West merger livery landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

In 2006, US Airways exceeded analyst expectations and made a profit during the first half of the year. In addition, Lisbon, Stockholm, and Milan became the latest European destinations, and the company ordered 22 examples of the newly-launched Airbus A350. US Airways also introduced heritage liveries on its A319s to commemorate Allegheny, America West, PSA, and Piedmont, as well as football team liveries from current and former hubs to include, the Phoenix Cardinals, Carolina Panthers from Charlotte, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers. In December 2006, the Embraer 190 joined the mainline fleet, and the airline briefly considered taking over the struggling Delta Air Lines.

AWE Panthers A319 DCA - LFL AWE Steelers A319 DCA - LFL
US Airways Airbus A319 football liveries for Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

In 2007, international growth continued with orders for the Airbus A330-200s to join the carrier’s fleet of -300s and new service to Athens, Brussels, and Zurich from Philadelphia. On September 25, 2007 America West and US Airways obtained their SOC. That same year, the two airlines’ reservation systems migrated into a single platform.

EXTRA: InFlight Review: US Airways A330 Envoy Class

As the merger progressed, US Airways struggled in categories like on-time performance and customer satisfaction. It even took the unpopular step of eliminating complimentary beverages on domestic flights in August 2008, but backtracked and restored the service seven months later. The first good news came in 2008, when US Airways led the six hub-and-spoke carriers in the U.S. in on-time performance, while it continued to lag behind in customer satisfaction, despite starting to close the gap with other airlines.

From a labor perspective, “East” (US Airways) and “West” (America West) pilots struggled with seniority issues. The parties reached an agreement through mediation, in which a new union would be called the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), and it would be the sole bargaining agent for all pilots. Also in 2008, US Airways briefly flirted with United Airlines a second time for a possible merger, but the talks only lasted from late April to late May.

USA A321 CLT - LFL      US Airways A321-200 at Charlotte Douglas International Airport

US Airways served London’s Heathrow Airport for the first time in 2008.  All previous service dating back to the Piedmont days served Gatwick Airport.  Transatlantic service continued to expand into cities like Birmingham and Oslo.  Moreover, Tel Aviv became a new international destination.  Also in 2008, the airline activated its new Operations Control Center in Pittsburgh for its 1,300 mainline daily flights.  In October 2008, America West and US Airways formally completed their consolidation.

2009 – Present

The post-America West merger era began with what could have been a major tragedy for US Airways, but the skills and heroics of the crew of “Cactus 1549” resulted in the “Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009.  Shortly after departing New York La Guardia Airport, the A320 under the command of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger experienced a bird strike that resulted in loss of power to both engines.  Captain Sully was able to ditch the aircraft on the Hudson River, and all 150 passengers and five crew members survived.

EXTRA: Flashback Friday: Celebrating the US1549 “Miracle on the Hudson”

EXTRA: US Airways Flight 1549 Miracle on the Hudson: A Survivor Looks Back 5 Years Ago


Embraer 190 operating as US Airways Shuttle departing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

By 2009, US Airways Shuttle operated Airbus A319/A320s and Embraer 190s for its network. The airline also entered the South American market with service to Rio de Janeiro from its Charlotte Hub.  As part of post-merger route optimization, US Airways closed its focus cities in Las Vegas, Boston, and New York LaGuardia, while growing its focus city at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after trading La Guardia slots with Delta.

In 2010, US Airways considered merging with United for a third time, but those discussions only lasted two weeks, and United went on to merge with Continental Airlines.  Consolidation speculation continued into 2011, as many analysts saw the merger of US Airways and one of the “Big Three” (American, Delta, and United) as inevitable.  During this period, the company continued to suffer from low customer satisfaction, but it achieved its first profit since 2006.

In 2011, US Airways and Delta settled disputes that originated with their La Guardia and Reagan National slot swaps.  The company also faced tough negotiations with USAPA that led to prolonged legal action.  By the end of 2011, international flights out of the Charlotte hub grew to six cities in Europe and 25 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

2012 started with new merger speculation with another struggling legacy carrier – American Airlines.  By the end of the year, on December 7, US Airways announced a proposal to merge with American, which was already under bankruptcy protection.  Under the deal, the new airline would keep the American Airlines name and would be based at American’s headquarters in Fort Worth.

EXTRA: American Airlines and US Airways Tie the Knot

EXTRA: US Airways Retires Boeing 737-400

EXTRA: Final US Airways 767-200ER Flight Quickly Approaching

The US Airways Group and American’s parent AMR Corporation formally announced their merger on February 14, 2013.  Doug Parker, who was already CEO of the US Airways Group, became the CEO of the new American Airlines Group.  The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block the merger in August 2013, claiming it would result in less competition.  Three months later, all parties reached a settlement that allowed the merger to proceed on December 9, 2013, forming the largest air carrier in the world.

The story met its crescendo Saturday morning with the 5:51 AM arrival of US 1939 as it blocked a US Airways Airbus A321 came home to Philadelphia for the last time. 

RELATED: Onboard the Final US Airways Flight 1939

AWE A333 MIA - LFL        US Airways A330-300 with new American Airlines livery departing Miami International Airport

t_6_dsc249036125Luis Linares is an correspondent. Born in New York City and raised in Colombia, Luis was exposed to commercial aviation from a very early age and served in the U.S. Air Force for twenty years. He is fluent in Spanish and Brazilian-Portuguese and has almost two million miles of domestic and international travel under his belt.  Follow him on Twitter @LUISFERLINARES, or e-mail him at

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Southwest Frees Houston, Inaugurates International Terminal

By: Alex McIntyre in Houston / Published October 15, 2015

Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly has repeatedly dubbed 2015 as the “year of Houston.” He wasn’t kidding.

Photo Oct 15, 10 55 32On Thursday, Southwest Airlines officially unveiled its new five-gate international terminal in Houston. The airline launched six new international routes from the facility, with two more set to debut in November. After all are inaugurated, Southwest will offer service to a total of nine international destinations from Houston, with flights to Aruba commencing earlier this year.

The destinations gaining Southwest service today include Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose (Costa Rica), and Belize City. In November, Southwest will usher in flights from Hobby to Liberia (Costa Rica) and Montego Bay as well.

Southwest’s expansion boldly leaves an international footprint at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and signifies traffic abroad coming into greater focus for Southwest. Houston represents just one of the three cities Southwest designated as “international gateways,” with Fort Lauderdale and Baltimore/Washington also preparing to shoulder much of Southwest’s international growth in the coming years.

Photo Oct 15, 07 34 04The party started early this morning for Southwest. Flight 305 to Cancun took center stage, marking the first one out of the new terminal building. A scheduled 8:10 am departure, boarding began slightly earlier than usual at 7:30 am to sufficiently allow for the festivities. CEO Gary Kelly and Houston mayor Annise Parker helped with the boarding process, taking tickets from passengers as they headed onboard.

Doors closed at 7:56 am, allowing the highly celebrated flight to depart on-time. Fire trucks were standing by to give the plane, coated in the airline’s new “Heart” livery, a ceremonial water salute as it taxied toward the runway. Photo Oct 15, 08 05 20 (1)The same plane served as the terminal’s first international arrival, with Flight 306 making the return trip from Cancun, pulling in about fifteen minutes earlier than its scheduled 1:35 pm arrival time.

A news conference honoring the launch began shortly after 8:00 am. Bob Montgomery, Southwest’s VP of Airport Affairs, took the microphone first. Motioning out the window to the water salute, he boasted that “this is how Houston celebrates an aircraft leaving.”

“Hobby has been freed,” he exclaimed, kicking off the event.

Photo Oct 15, 08 09 41Montgomery continued to speak to Southwest’s historically strong presence in the city, naming the airline Houston’s “hometown carrier” with Southwest having offered service from Hobby since its first day of operations over forty years ago. He believes Southwest’s mission of providing “friendly, reliable, and efficient” service will continue to benefit the area greatly, especially now as the airline begins flying over international waters.

CEO Gary Kelly stepped up to the podium next, drawing loud applause from the crowd. “Well, what do you think,” he asked, drawing favorable cheers from the audience.

22007549248_37ef906986_oKelly highlighted two major obstacles that Southwest and the city faced in launching international service. Firstly, he pinpointed obtaining a building permit as a hurdle to clear. However, he went on to say the city of Houston “knew it had a problem and that competition was lacking” when international fares from Chicago, another hub city for United, outpriced international fares from Houston. Thus, Houston was eager to work with Southwest, ultimately resulting in bolstered international competition from Hobby. Many of Southwest’s employees sported shirts reading “Houston, you have an option,” highlighting the competition fostered by the airline’s international moves.

Secondly, he identified obtaining “customs and border protection officers” as new territory through which Southwest had to navigate. Prior to the airline’s recent additions, Hobby supported no international flights whatsoever, so Southwest needed to prepare carefully for the particular nuances of flying abroad.

Kelly concluded by noting that Southwest’s growth reflects its fundamental goal of providing affordable service and broadening its reach to more customers: “We go in, we lower fares, and it makes flying affordable,” Kelly said of the airline’s approach. “We don’t get to do this everyday,” referring to the surrounding festivities, “but this is what we do.”

“It’s all about transfarency,” he proclaimed, touting Southwest’s newest marketing slogan, and joked as the only problem was that “[he didn’t] get to be on that flight to Cancun.”

22195302095_49a2988efd_kMario Diaz, Houston’s airport director, addressed the audience next, perhaps receiving the most thunderous applause. Diaz oversees both of the area’s most significant airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Hobby. He expressed that much skepticism surrounded the project from the start: “A lot of people who looked at this facility said ‘you’re not going to make it,’ But we made it,” he proclaimed.

According to Diaz, the introduction of international service from Hobby marks a big and necessary step for the city of Houston at-large. He emphasized the need to connect “this culturally diverse city with the world.”

22008446259_ce1c762d6d_kHouston’s mayor Annise Parker was next in line. She cited some difficulty from the federal government during the process, which “[she wasn’t] quite sure was ready for our international passengers.” Furthermore, pushback from “another airline” injected some tension, she briefly added. While she left the airline’s identity unnamed, United Airlines, which maintains a prominent hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) across town, vocally opposed allowing Southwest to fly internationally from Hobby on numerous occasions.

While the first international flight out of the facility was bound for Cancun, a traditionally-leisure oriented destination, she believes that the expansion captures well the interests of both “the leisure traveler and the business traveler.” Flights to Mexico City, for instance, connect Houston with a key business market south of the border. She described working with Southwest, which the city knew would “negotiate in good faith,” as a “good partnership.”

Other speakers at the news conference included Gene Green, a Congressional representative from Texas’s 29th district, and Gil Kerlikowske, on behalf of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Photo Oct 15, 08 36 31Gary Kelly wrapped up the news conference by presenting Mayor Annise Parker with an enlarged ceremonial passport, celebrating the freeing of Houston Hobby.

The effect of the new terminal on Hobby as well as the broader Houston area should be huge.  A study commissioned by the Houston Airport System estimates the facility will impact the region in an economically material way. The international expansion should add approximately 10,000 jobs and inject about $1.6 billion annually into the area, reinforcing the local economy. The study also expects the terminal to bring an additional 1.6 million fliers annually to the area, increasing passenger traffic through Houston.

Southwest entirely financed the project, which it happily announced last week clocked in at about $10 million under budget. Due to its investments in the terminal and its status as the airport’s primary tenant, Southwest will maintain exclusive access to four of the five gates, with the last one open to common use.

With Southwest’s growth, the stars are shining a bit more brightly in the Lone Star State these days. What started as a modest link along Southwest’s original intrastate triangle has grown into one of Southwest’s largest cities operationally and an asset to the city of Houston. No doubt, it’s a big day in Houston.

And as Southwest Flight 305 lifted off from Hobby, international traffic can now officially say hello to Houston.

Photo May 25, 0 53 04Alex McIntyre joined to more heavily pursue his relentless passion for the airline industry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, growing up in the shadows of two major airlines’ headquarters and in a vibrant aviation-minded city. Alex attends Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, double-majoring in business and political science.


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Hobby Airport Set to Inaugurate International Terminal

By: Seth Miller / Published October 15, 2015

Southwest Airlines inaugurates the new international terminal at Houston’s Hobby airport this morning with service to eight destinations. In advance of that service launch the carrier hosted its annual Media Day event outside of Dallas for the first time ever, showing off the new facility and the amenities it will bring to passengers. With a price tag just shy of $150mm the facility includes five new gates (four are leased to Southwest; the fifth is common use today) and a full immigration and customs facility.

RELATED: New Uniforms on the Horizon for Southwest Airlines

RELATED: Southwest Puts New Seats on Display

RELATED: Southwest Fights Back on ‘Bundling’ Fares

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The check in area of the new terminal is ready to go

On the departures level the new terminal offers plenty of space in each gate area, plus new dining and shopping options for passengers. There are no standing work areas which are commonly seen in other Southwest gate areas but every seat has 110V and USB power outlets available for travelers. New dining options include Pappasita’s (Tex Mex), Yia Yia Mary’s (Greek) and Chick-fil-a. Shopping outlets include a news stand, Brookstone’s and Desigual. There is also a Pappasita’s Cantina bar situated in the middle of the terminal towards the far end, drawing passengers down the space for a pre-flight cocktail.

hou-houston-hobby-international-terminal (2)

The new gate area is bright and spacious

hou-houston-hobby-international-terminal (3)

Every seat gets power outlets in the new Hobby International Terminal

All of the gates are capable of handling either international or domestic arrivals and departures. When an inbound flight requires immigration and customs clearance the doors are arranged such that passengers are routed downstairs into the secure arrival area.

hou-houston-hobby-international-terminal (1)

That arrivals space is typical of a US immigration setup, though it has a few distinct features based on its design and construction timeframe. The Global Entry and Automated Kiosk setup, for example, is native to the build rather than a retrofit. Global Entry members are greeted with six kiosks available to process their arrival.

Separately there are 14 Automated Passport Control (APC) Kiosks, a public/private partnership between the Houston Airport System and USICS. The APC kiosks operate in six languages and are available to process US Citizens, Permanent Residents, VWP travelers as well as limited visa travelers including foreign crew. Most visa-carrying passengers will still be processed manually but the kiosks are running v4.0 of the APC Kiosk software, the newest available for the systems.

Baggage claim and Customs clearance are just after the immigration area, as is the secondary inspection area. The total capacity of the immigration facility, if fully staffed, is estimated around 800 passengers per hour between 6am and 10pm daily.

hou-houston-hobby-international-terminal (4)

One of the swankiest bathrooms I’ve seen in an airport terminal

Southwest expects to be able to handle about 25 daily arrivals with the gates as currently configured. That leaves plenty of room for expansion to additional destinations. No word yet on exactly when or where that expansion will happen, but based on comments during the day it is safe to assume that more international service is being studied for Hobby. And there’s a gorgeous facility available to handle it.

IMGP2946Seth Miller is an contributor specialized in Loyalty Marketing, Connectivity and Passenger Experience and will drop everything if he gets an opportunity to go flying. Bit by the travel bug 30 years ago, Seth flies ~200,000 miles annually. Follow him on twitter at @WandrMe, or his site at The Wandering Aramean blog.

Editor’s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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Lessons Learned? AA/US CRS Integration & Cutover Coming This Weekend

By: Seth Miller / Published October 14, 2015

A well-effected merger integration day should be completely transparent to the traveler. American Airlines gets to put that theory to the test this weekend when the US Airways reservations and Passenger Service System (PSS) is retired and the entire company’s operation is consolidated on to the American Airlines PSS platform. Looking back at this merger’s history as well as that of other mergers gives some insight as to what travelers can expect this weekend.

US Airways has some history when it comes to merger integration days, history it would likely choose to suppress if it could. The America West integration was nothing short of a complete mess, with kiosks across the network failing and missing reservations for thousands of travelers. It was, as integration efforts go, a disaster. And current CEO Doug Parker also oversaw that effort, providing plenty of opportunity to learn and not repeat the mistakes. United Airlines and Continental’s integration day was not quite as bad, but it was also not especially smooth. Similar platform integration challenges and training issues left many travelers in the lurch on that fateful March weekend 3.5 years ago. Both of those transitions were accomplished through a “shot-gun” approach to the work, fully maintaining the legacy systems in parallel until the appointed hour when all the data on the platform being retired was migrated to the PSS being kept. Recent history suggests that for a major airline migration effort that’s a bad plan.

The Delta/Northwest integration was run as a “drain down” process. Some months in advance a deadline was set and all new bookings for travel after the integration date were handled only on the new platform. As the integration date approached fewer and fewer reservations existed on the old system meaning there was not as much effort required to retire it; for the vast majority of travelers on the integration day there is nothing to migrate. For this week’s merger American Airlines is choosing that approach. American’s CIO Maya Liebman previously suggested that fewer than 5% of bookings will need to be migrated on integration day.

Sin título-2The combined company has been pushing more and more reservations into American’s SABRE system for months now. It finally disabled the ability to book on the US Airways side of the operation three months ago and has been pushing customers into the American platform since. While that avoids many potential pitfalls the company still faces challenges.

Airport agents are the other main group which is affected by any such migration and the different systems can create havoc when those agents are called upon to help passengers. For this integration there are two factors working in favor of the company. First, the larger half of the company is the legacy American Airlines group which means the training curve to use the new system is much lower. And for the legacy US Airways side of the operation the company has built an overlay on to SABRE which mimics the GUI those agents are used to working with. The United/Continental merger did not have such an overlay available for the legacy United employees who switched back to a text-based interface during that integration; it did not go well.

Industry pundit Henry Harteveldt suggests that the company has made the correct choices thus far in the planning process, “The approach is very smart. I like the draw down strategy and that they’re going on to Sabre. They’ve learned lessons from previous mergers. It’s very smart that they created a US Airways UI on top of an existing AA platform.” And, even considering the IT hiccups along the way (some customer service functions remain disabled on the front-end even today), it appears that American has put itself in a position to succeed. Keep your eyes peeled on Saturday morning to see just how well it works.

IMGP2946Seth Miller is an contributor specialized in Loyalty Marketing, Connectivity and Passenger Experience and will drop everything if he gets an opportunity to go flying. Bit by the travel bug 30 years ago, Seth flies ~200,000 miles annually. Follow him on twitter at @WandrMe, or his site at The Wandering Aramean blog.

Editor’s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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First in Europe and First to Fly to North America: Finnair Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350

By Cody Diamond in Toulouse / Published October 7, 2015

Today, Finnair took delivery of its first Airbus A350-900 XWB, making it the first European and the world’s third operator of the type. In a ceremony at Toulouse, the aircraft was handed over at the Airbus Delivery Center.



IMG_5815The first airplane, registered OH-LWA, is the first of nineteen A350-941’s that Finnair is to receive through 2019, and it is the 18th A350 built. Finnair will receive the second aircraft in November and five additional A350s in 2016, four in 2017, four in 2018, and the final four in 2019, all of them powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines. OH-LWA rolled out of the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse in June of this year, with test registration F-WZFM applied. The airliner made its first flight on September 16, 2015, and has undergone flight testing and pre-delivery checks since that date.

The Airbus A350 fleet will replace the existing seven fuel thirsty A340-300s, which are due to be retired between 2016 and 2017. The A350s will serve alongside eight A330-300s, all delivered to Finnair in the last few years.

As the A340s retire, the A350 will be considered for the leisure market Finnair serves. Pukka Vauamo, CEO of Finnair stated that “it will be our main airplane”.

IMG_5618“The A350 is a new and exciting chapter in Finnair’s 92 year history and will give our passengers a new and modern experience. It is truly a proud moment for all Finnair employees who have worked on this airplane. We are extremely proud to be the first European carrier to receive the Airbus A350.” Vauamo added “This aircraft takes customer service to a new level. Finnair’s A350 has already won awards for its design. We are a service company and this is what we do. The A350 will provide every passenger with a unique Nordic experience and wireless connectivity should they desire,”

Finnair relies on the A350 to expand into Asia, and intends to twofold its Asian traffic by 2020. launching service to Guangzhou and Fukuoka next year. Its European destinations are optimally timed for connections to the Far East.

The Chief Pilot of the A350 at Finnair is Captain Marko Valtonen. Captain Valtonen has flown the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, DC-10, and Airbus A320 and A330. “The airplane is a joy to hand fly, it is even more precise than the A330, which already has excellent flying characteristics,” he remarked.

The A330 and A350 share a common EASA type rating, and will be one pilot group at Finnair. Every A350 at Finnair will be delivered with 180 minute ETOPS certification, and the type itself is capable of 370 minute ETOPS.

Beginning on October 9 through October 18th, Finnair will fly the A350 to Amsterdam, Oslo, Barcelona, Malaga, Hamburg, Brussels, Berlin, Gothenburg, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Munich, London-Heathrow, and Copenhagen. Not all destinations will be served daily by the A350. Long haul flights to Shanghai will begin on November 21. The A350 will eventually be used for flights to Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore in the near future.

“We intend to be the first to fly the A350 to North America by December. JFK is a premium destination for us, and we certainly want to fly the A350 there, seasonally at first,” Juha Järvinen Finnair’s Chief Commercial Office explained. He went on to say that the future at Finnair is one with Airbus aircraft. Finnair is also the launch customer of the Airbus A321 sharklet variation.

At the Airbus Delivery Center, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Brégier recalled that Finnair’s history with Airbus goes back to the Caravelle and the A300. “The A350 is an exchange of culture between Airbus and Finnair, and we are so grateful for Finnair’s input I’m developing the airplane for all of our customers. We are proud that Finnair is the first European operator and the third A350 operator in the world,” he added.

Finnair is a first-time operator of this new generation of Rolls-Royce engines (the airline’s Caravelle were equipped with Avon engines). Rolls-Royce President Eric Schulz is proud that the operator has chosen the XWB and will provide a total care package to Finnair.

The first passenger flight will be to Amsterdam-Schiphol on October 9, and will be under the command of A350 Chief Pilot Captain Marko Valtonen.


Finnair’s A350s boast a 1-2-1 business class cabin, featuring 46 Zodiac Cirrus fully lie-flat seats with touchscreen In Flight Entertainment (IFE) and power outlets. The airplane is also equipped with 43 economy comfort class seats (35 inch pitch), and 208 economy class seats (31 inch pitch), for a total of 297 passengers, making it the highest capacity airplane in Finnair’s fleet.

Following delivery, Finnair will use the airplane on its European network, flying to several destinations for special one-time flights, serving a dual role of sharing the passenger experience and crew familiarization.

For crew familiarization, each flight must be a minimum of one hour of block time. Juha Jarvinen explained that the flights within Europe are a great opportunity to share the uniquely Nordic experience and accomplish landing requirements for the crews. Finnair has three qualified A350 captains presently and all initial flights will be flown with two Captains.

While the first eight A350s will have the same initial configuration, the last eleven may have variations. The A350 will be the first airplane in the Finnair fleet to have a purser instead of an in flight leader, which will enable the airline to deliver a more personalized service. Finnair’s A350s will also have a dedicated ladies’ restroom,


IMG_5590Today’s delivery flight, symbolically Finnair Flight 1350, featured approximately 200 invited guests to celebrate the arrival to Finland of the new flagship aircraft. Boarding was complete at approximately 1:35 pm and just before pushback from Spot Z130 at the Airbus Delivery Center, Captain Jari Paajanen announced “let’s go home”.


A flight time of just over three hours was announced, and at exactly 2 pm local time, Finnair 1350 departed Toulouse-Blagnac’s Runway 32R into partly cloudy afternoon skies. Right after takeoff, in accordance with Airbus delivery tradition, Captain Paajanen rocked the wings, saying goodbye to Toulouse. After a brisk climb, OH-LWA leveled off at FL430 (43,000 feet). Once leveled off, lunch and champagne were served. The airplane was amazingly quiet, and there was no turbulence throughout the entire flight. We cruised high above the overcast covering much of Central Europe. Inside the cabin, the mood lighting simulated both blue sky and sunset, as our flight encountered both.

Finnair-A350Shortly before 5:45 pm, we commenced our descent for Helsinki-Vantaa, and we landed on Runway 04R at 6:08 pm. A water cannon salute was received and we blocked into the gate at 6:16 pm after being towed in, as Gate 31 was not fit for powered on A350 arrival..yet.

Editor’s noteKeep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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Alaska Airlines Announces Codeshare with Icelandair

By: Nicolas Bernier / Published September 24, 2015

Alaska Airlines announced yesterday a new codeshare and frequent flyer partnership with Iceland based airline Icelandair. 

According to USA TODAY, both airlines previously had a frequent-flier pact that started in 2010 but discontinued in 2013.

The restoration of the codeshare agreement will take place on November 1, pending government approval. Members of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and of Icelandair’s Saga Club will be able to earn miles and/or points as early as October 1. Customers with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MVP Gold and Gold 75K, as well as Icelandair Saga Gold and Silver status members will enjoy complimentary access to to the reciprocal airline’s airport lounge in Reykjavik, Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, and Los Angeles.

Icelandair currently operates flights to 15 destinations in North America from its hub in Reykjavik which connects to more than 20 cities in Europe. Next spring, it is adding flights to Montreal, Canada.

RELATED: Icelandair to Add Summer Seasonal Flights To Montreal

“This new partnership with Icelandair is another example of how Alaska is raising the bar to allow its Mileage Plan members to travel and earn miles to all corners of the globe through a diverse network of international carriers,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines’ executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “Icelandair offers our frequent fliers a unique option for flying and earning miles to Europe from our Seattle, Portland and Anchorage gateways.”

“With today’s announcement of our Alaska Airlines partnership, Icelandair continues to expand its network, including more flights, more gateways and more destinations,” said Helgi Mar Bjorgvinsson, Icelandair’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Our codeshare flights and mileage partnership will make travel seamless from the West Coast, reward frequent travelers on both Icelandair and Alaska Airlines, and offer our passengers even more options when traveling to Iceland and beyond.”

New nonstop service to Nashville

Alaska has also started service to Nashville from Seattle. With the addition of Nashville to its network, the airline now flies to 84 destinations from Seattle. The outbound flight to the Music City departs at 9:30AM and arrives at 4:05PM. The return flight leaves Nashville at 5:05PM and lands in Seattle at around 8:20PM.

This route is already operated by another airline, which is not Delta, surprisingly.  Southwest operates a daily nonstop flight between the two cities.

“Our new nonstop flight between Seattle and Nashville connects two of the country’s largest and most popular music capitals. Loyal Pacific Northwest customers will enjoy our convenient schedule, and our new Nashville customers will appreciate our great service, complimentary assigned seats and our premium cabin experience,” said John Kirby, the airline’s vice president of capacity planning.

EXTRA: The Battle For Seattle: Alaska vs. Delta – Part One / Part Two / Part Three

1525a4bNicolas Bernier is an contributor that has been an aviation passionate since he was young. Nicolas likes travelling, plane spotting, and writing. He lives in Montreal, Canada and studies in Aviation Business Administration at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the Daytona Beach campus. You can follow him on Twitter @nickbernier7, or email him at

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Last US Airways Flight will End in Philadelphia

By: Roberto Leiro / Published August 26, 2015

As previously reported by, the last flight for US Airways will take place this October, and one more name in the history of commercial aviation will fade, and your AirwaysNews staff will be onboard this historical farewell flight.

RELATED: American Airlines to Retire US Airways Brand in October

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

The final US Airways Flight 1939 operated by an Airbus A321 is scheduled to depart Philadelphia at 10:05 local bound to Charlotte. Then, leave Charlotte at 14:35 local to fly to Phoenix, and finally depart at 17:10 local to San Francisco where is scheduled to leave around 22:00 local, to land in Philadelphia after 06:00 local on October 17, marking the onset of the cutover weekend in which American Airlines will start operating as a single airline, putting over two years of integration to an end.

In the last decade a series of mergers have taken out of the market names such as Northwest, Continental and AirTran, and before that, iconic airlines such as Pan Am and TWA disappeared. Others have attempted to make a comeback but failed such as PeopleExpress, while Eastern Air Lines has returned to the skies again.

RELATED: Eastern Air Lines Returns Home to Miami

dfw-american-airlines-ops-tower-view-3-term-a_27270The biggest challenge for American Airlines lies ahead: the combination of two large reservation platforms without glitches have been a constant mayhem for airlines. After three years of the merge between United and Continental, the Chicago-based carrier has experienced issues that plague its system. Last July, all United flights were halted due to a “network connectivity issue” as stated by the airline.

RELATED: Computer Issues Grounded all United Airlines Flights in the U.S.

Besides the integration of the reservation systems, American will have to combine crew-scheduling and maintenance-tracking systems. The Dallas-based carrier has a labor force of approximately 113,000 employees, including its wholly owned regional subsidiaries such as Envoy Air.

RELATED: American Offers Integrated Purser Training Program Under “Going For Great” Campaign

Although flight 434 will be the final US Airways flight, it will be at the end of 2016 when all the US Airways fleet repaint with the New American livery are fully repainted.

RELATED: American Updates New Livery Paint Progress

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

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Qantas Confirms Profits, to Order Eight Dreamliners

By: Roberto Leiro / Published August 20, 2015

Qantas has announced and order for eight Boeing 787-9, intended to replace part of its aging Boeing 747-400 fleet, and add further capacity for future international growth.

The airline placed an initial order in December 2005 comprised by 45 Dreamliners, with 20 options plus purchase rights for additional 50 airplanes. Four years later, the airline opted to cancel part of this order for 15 aircraft and defer the delivery of 15 more, due to delays in the 787 program and the poor performance from its international division. Later, in 2014, the order was further deferred, casting doubts about its future.

The current order, much smaller than the original one, comprises five purchase options exercised from the original order plus a reallocation of three 787-8 from its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar. Deliveries have been splitted between 2017 and 2018, and further includes 15 options plus 30 additional purchase rights. If all exercised, Qantas would become one of the largest 787 operators in the world.

“We’re halfway through the biggest and fastest transformation in our history. Qantas is rapidly growing fitter, stronger, and smarter. These aircraft are a fitting emblem of that evolution – they show that we are revitalised and here for the long haul” says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

The annoucement of the order came out as the airline announced a net profit of US$717 million. largely attributed to earnings before interests and taxed from the now booming international business division. According to the Australian Financial Review, “If Qantas combines that with a share buyback, as is expected by many analysts, it will be a blockbuster day for the carrier.”

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

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Mitsubishi Aircraft Opens Seattle Engineering Center for MRJ

By: Paul Thompson / Published August 4, 2015

Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation on Monday celebrated the opening of its Seattle Engineering Center (SEC), which will support the forthcoming Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). The facility, run in partnership with AeroTEC, will add an additional 150 jobs to the aerospace industry in the Puget Sound. Fifty of these jobs will be brought over from Japan, while the remaining 100 will be sourced locally.

The Engineering Center currently houses 52 employees, so with nearly 100 spaces to fill, there is a lot of growth yet to be done. At a press briefing prior to Monday’s opening ceremony, Nobuo Kishi, Senior Executive Vice President, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation told members of the media, “I am very happy and very glad that we have made a big milestone with the opening of SEC. Here we co-work with AeroTEC, Mr Lee [Lee Human, President of AeroTEC] to combine engineering between the US and Japan.”

One of 52 new workers at Mitsubishi Aircraft Seattle Engineering Center. Photo by Paul Thompson

One of 52 new workers at Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Seattle Engineering Center. Photo by Paul Thompson

Following the media briefing, an opening ceremony was held at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, where Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto acknowledged the “many difficulties” throughout the development of the MRJ, but also cited the milestones of the engine power-up (October 2014) and taxi tests (June 2015) as signs that progress is being made. Washington State Governor Jay Robert Inslee said, “Washington is honored to play a supporting role in the development of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet. With more than 100 years of history designing and building the greatest commercial airplanes in the world, Washington is the global leader in aerospace. We are thankful to the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation for its investment in our state, and are proud of the assistance we can provide in bringing this important aircraft to the worldwide market.”

RELATED: Mitsubishi MRJ Rolls Out After Four-Year Delay

RELATED: Mitsubishi MRJ Flight Test Program Update

A traditional Sake barrel is opened by (L-R) Consul General of Japan Masahiro Omura. WA Governor Inslee, Mitsubishi's Sr. EVP Nobuo Kishi

A traditional Sake barrel is opened by (L-R) Consul General of Japan Masahiro Omura, WA Governor Inslee, Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromici Morimoto. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Mitsubishi says the MRJ is designed to provide mainline jet comfort, with 4-abreast seating, large overhead bins, and nearly seven feet of head clearance when walking down the cabin aisle. The jet will be powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1200G geared turbofan engines. On the flight deck, pilots will receive information via four 15-inch Rockwell Collins ProLine Fusion LCD displays. In the cabin, Zodiac Aerospace will provide slimline seats, galleys and lavatories.

RELATED: Mitsubishi’s MRJ Program Faces Continued Challenges

In comparison to its competitors, Mitsubishi says the MRJ noise area will be reduced by 40% versus the Embraer 190, with a 20% lower carbon footprint than the E-190. To date, the MRJ has 407 orders, with 223 of those being firm orders. 170 of those firm orders belong to U.S. based airlines, Sky West (100), Trans States Holdings (50), and Eastern (20). The MRJ90 launch customer will be Japan’s ANA, who has 15 firm orders plus 10 options. Although the majority of MRJ orders lie in the United States, one big obstacle to overcome will be the scope clauses as defined by the airline pilot unions, which limit the weight of the aircraft that certain labor groups within airlines or their regional subcontractors can fly. As it currently stands, the MRJ is too heavy to be flown as a “Regional Jet” though Mitsubishi expressed confidence that the weight clauses can be amended as has happened in the past.

Static model of the Mitsubishi MRJ-90. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Static model of the Mitsubishi MRJ-90. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Mitsubishi is building seven test aircraft – five of which will be used for flight testing, while the remaining two will be used for static strength and fatigue strength testing. All seven aircraft are expected to be completed by Q3 of this year. The inaugural flight of the MRJ is expected to take place this September or October in Nagoya, Japan, with additional flight testing taking place at Moses Lake, Washington by the second quarter of 2016.

Four of the five flight test aircraft are slated to be doing their flight tests in the United States. The Moses Lake, Washington facility will house an expected 200 employees, plus 65,000 square feet of hangar space. Its long runways are suitable for flight testing, and have been used by Boeing for both the 787 and 747-8 programs. Aside from Moses Lake, specialized flight testing will be carried out in Roswell, New Mexico (Special Runway Testing), Gunnison, Colorado (High Altitude takeoffs and landings), and the McKinley Climactic Laboratory in Florida (Extreme Weather Environment).

RELATED: Mitsubishi Regional Jet Program Update

Mitsubishi says the purpose of engineering and flight testing in the U.S. is to capitalize on the knowledge and skills of the U.S. design, testing and certification engineers. In addition, the weather in Washington will be more advantageous to allow increased flight test frequencies.

The first MRJ delivery to ANA is still targeted for the second quarter of 2017. Although the MRJ order book has remained flat since JAL’s firm order for 32 planes in January, Mitsubishi remains optimistic that new orders will come once the planes begin their test flights within the next weeks.

IMG_7483Paul Thompson is a freelance aviation and travel writer, with over 14 years of experience in the airline industry. In his free time, he enjoys leisure travel, photography, and enjoying local craft beers wherever he goes. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and two daughters. He may be reached on Twitter at @FlyingPhotog.

Editor‘s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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Avianca Brasil Joins Star Alliance

By: Roberto Leiro / Published July 22, 2015

Sao Paulo-based carrier Avianca Brasil has officially become the newest member of the Star Alliance today, in a move that seeks to fill the void left by TAM Airlines after leaving the alliance in March 2014 following its merge with LAN Airlines, a oneworld member.

In a ceremony that took place in Guarulhos Internacional Airport, Mark Schwab, CEO Star Alliance assured “Adding Avianca Brasil to our network is an important step in enhancing our customer proposition in Latin America. Brazil is the most important aviation market on the continent and we are pleased that from today onwards, we can once again offer domestic connections in Brazil.”

Currently, Avianca Brasil is the fastest growing airline in the country. From 2010 to 2014 it increased its market share from 2.6% to 8.4%. Until May of 2015 the airline continued this trend, reaching a cumulative market share of 9%.

Avianca Brasil operates a sound fleet of 50 aircraft. (Photo Credits: Magnus Manske)

Avianca Brasil operates a sound fleet of 50 aircraft. (Photo Credits: Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons)

In November 2010 the alliance accepted the group Avianca Holdings to join the network as a member. However, Avianca Brasil was not included at that time. According to Jose Efromovich, President and CEO of Avianca Brazil, the integration took approximately two years in which the airline’s IT platform was revamped among further adjustments in programs and procedures up to the standards of the alliance. “We are proud to be part of the most experienced airline alliance and are pleased to put Brazil back on the Star Alliance map” he commented.

In total 13 member carriers (Air Canada, Air China, Avianca, Avianca Brasil, Copa Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAP, Turkish Airlines and United) now serve Brazil, which further strengthens Star Alliance’s position as the alliance with the most airlines in this market. Avianca Brasil adds 15 new destinations in Brazil to the existing 12 which the Star Alliance member carriers already served, bringing the total to 27.

In addition to Avianca’s Brasil membership, Star Alliance seeks to add low-cost carrier Azul Linhas Aereas to its network. The airline, the third largest in Brazil, was elected in 2015 for the fifth time in a row by Skytrax as the best low cost carrier in Latin America. Last June, United Airlines bought a 5% stake in the airline, which may open the road to a future integration in the alliance.

To have two large players in the same region under the same alliance is not new for Star Alliance. In Latin America, the alliance is represented by Panama-based Copa Airlines and Avianca, the flag carrier of Colombia.

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

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Airbus Kicks Off A350 XWB Americas Tour

By: Roberto Leiro / Published July 7, 2015

After one year of having completed its Route Proving Round-The-World Tour, the Airbus A350-900 XWB has begun a tour in the Americas, as the next generation airliner has entered into service with Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines this year.

RELATED: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

RELATED: Vietnam Airlines Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350 XWB

During this tour, aircraft MSN002 will be presented to its customers in Brazil, TAM and Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras, with visits to Sao Paulo and Viracopos, respectively. Back in August 2014, LATAM Airlines Group placed an order for 27 aircraft with a value estimated in $7 billion.

The airline expects to take delivery of its first two A350 in December, and plans to have an initial domestic operation from Guarulhos (Sao Paulo) to Manaus, for a late deployment to Miami in March 2016 and Madrid one month later.

A350_XWB_TAM_02 (1)

Caption: At the present time, the first A350 for TAM Airlines has entered in the final assembly line in Tolouse, thus becoming the fourth operator of the type. (Photo Coutesy: Airbus S.A.S.)

Azul Linhas Aéreas is also another A350 customer in the region, with a firm order for four A350-900 placed in April last year. The airline, one of the leading domestic carriers in Brazil, has started international service to the United States, and it is expected to operate seven Airbus A330 aircraft by the end of this year, all of them retrofitted with new cabins and IFE system.

RELATED: Azul Orders Widebody Jets, to Fly to US in 2015

After Brazil, the A350-900 XWB will be visiting Colombia and the United States, where the EAA has confirmed its presence on EAA AirVenture opening day with an aerial demonstration during the afternoon air show. This is not the first time in which Airbus presents one of its airliners in this event. Back in 2009, the Airbus A380 featured a presentation showing off its handling qualities, maneuverability and performance.

Editor‘s note: Our readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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ANALYSIS: DOJ Overreaches with Investigation Into Airline “Collusion”

By: Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 6. 2015

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was investigating US airlines for collusion Wednesday afternoon, building a striking parallel to current efforts by major US carriers to restrict access to the U.S. market for Middle Eastern airlines and European low-cost carrier (LCC) Norwegian Air Shuttle. The DOJ has subpoenaed several major U.S. airlines as part of its investigation into “possible unlawful coordination” to limit capacity and boost airfares. News of the DOJ investigation comes roughly two weeks after Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to the DOJ asking them to probe possible collusion amongst US airlines.

RELATED: DOJ Subpoenas Airlines over Alleged Collusion The DOJ has broad latitude in proving collusion.

According to the DOJ website:

Most criminal antitrust prosecutions involve price fixing, bid rigging, or market division or allocation schemes. Each of these forms of collusion may be prosecuted criminally if they occurred, at least in part, within the past five years. Proving such a crime does not require us to show that the conspirators entered into a formal written or express agreement. Price fixing, bid rigging, and other collusive agreements can be established either by direct evidence, such as the testimony of a participant, or by circumstantial evidence, such as suspicious bid patterns, travel and expense reports, telephone records, and business diary entries.

The DOJ’s investigation is the most far-reaching probe by the U.S. government into the behavior of U.S. airlines in a long while, perhaps ever. Still, the investigation has a high burden of proof. In order to prove that U.S. airlines actually colluded, the DOJ must not only prove that the actions of the U.S. airlines reduced competition, but also that these illegally communicated with each other in order to achieve this state of reduced competition.

This second requirement would appear to be the biggest weakness in the DOJ’s case. It appears that the DOJ is (at least partly) relying on public statements made by airline executives at various conferences, as well as the more common practice of providing capacity guidance to investors and the media to prove its case. This seems like weak evidence at best. There’s always the possibility that the DOJ has some sort of whistleblower at one of the U.S. majors, but it seems unlikely given how many resources and employees U.S. carriers devote to regulatory compliance that they’d slip up.

Airlines are certainly a convenient political target given the broadly unfavorable consumer views of U.S. carriers (excluding Southwest and JetBlue?), and the veritable smorgasbord of negative stories from a media primed to view everything involving businesses almost exclusively through the lens of the consumer, without considering the other stakeholders involved (more on this later). Given that context, one almost wonders if the DOJ is looking to score cheap political points by extorting a few million dollars per airline to make this issue go away quickly. Airline stocks are certainly being punished enough such that executives have a pretty strong incentive to do exactly that.

The other plausible outcome from this case is a consent decree (basically a diktat from a federal agency saying “stop this practice or else…”) that would require airlines to stop issuing specific numbers for capacity guidance, or even to stop making public statements about capacity altogether. But airlines primarily issue those statements for the benefit of their owners (i.e. shareholders). They’re not required by SEC regulations, but they are pretty standard practice worldwide because they allow an airline’s owners the ability to react in real time to an airline’s plans and force adjustments that they deem necessary, which is a pretty fundamental shareholder’s right. Moreover, even if the DOJ bans capacity guidance, airlines will just shift to providing PRASM guidance, which will send enough of a message regarding capacity that shareholders will be able to pressure airlines into doing what they want anyway. The DOJ also technically has the ability to break up the US majors, but that’s not a realistic outcome.

Contextualizing the Problem

The argument for the anti-competitive market situation largely rests on two data points: capacity discipline by U.S. airlines and sharply rising airfares. To start with the latter, the rise in airfares is a common talking point. For example, in a CNN report on the probe yesterday, a pundit noted that “Fares have skyrocketed…. according to government data, airfares have increased 16.4% since 2010.” But this data is misleading if not outright disingenuous. First and foremost, using 2010 as a base doesn’t make sense given that 2010 was still in the midst of recovery from the global financial crisis in late 2008-2009. A better design would begin in 2008, which has the added benefit of preceding enough of the mergers such that you start with a fundamentally more competitive industry than today. Then you have to talk about the use of base fares, which are affected by a variety of factors, most importantly stage length. You would expect airfares to rise as stage length rises, and given the 6.6% rise in stage length for U.S. airlines from 2008-2015, that immediately wipes away part of the rise. Luckily, airlines have metrics that account for length of flight, namely PRASM and yield.

While PRASM is the more widely reported metric, PRASM is also affected by load factors and the balance between capacity and demand, so a better metric is adjusted yields, which reflect the average price a passenger is paying for a seat-mile on an aircraft. So just how monstrous is the rise in airfares per this metric? Between 2008-2015, they went up 6.6%, a whopping 1.08% per year. Meanwhile, stage-length adjusted cost per available seat mile (CASM) rose 5.4%. 1.2 percentage points more than costs is what fares have risen since 2008. The inclusion of ancillary revenue like checked baggage fees and change fees complicates the picture, but even so, out of pocket travel costs don’t end up coming out much higher than CPI inflation over the period, at 9.9%.

Capacity moves have been driven by Wall Street

On the capacity side, the DOJ can at least point to plenty of evidence of US carriers making statements about capacity discipline and de-hubbing airports like Memphis or Cincinnati that weren’t a fit post-merger. And on an aggregate, level, the US airlines, particularly the legacies, but also Southwest and the rest have embraced capacity discipline, with post-recession capacity growth under the rate of growth of GDP (the economy) whereas in the past, capacity usually grew at 1.5 – 2x the rate of GDP. But is the cause of this really coordinated action derived from illegal communication? Or should we apply Occam’s Razor and look for the simplest answer?

Like most publicly traded companies, U.S. airlines are in many respects beholden to their shareholders (i.e. their owners). And while Wall Street is oft maligned in industry circles for driving too much short term thinking (occasionally in this space), by and large Wall Street analysts and ratings agencies are a pretty good proxy for most shareholders, who tend to lack a sophisticated understanding of the industry and its vagaries. And Wall Street, for very food reasons, has decided that it likes capacity discipline; and that by extension it will reward it, and punish a lack of discipline. One need look no further than the recent response to Southwest’s share price when the Dallas-based carrier announced that its capacity growth for 2015 would come in around 8% instead of 7% as it had previously guided. Southwest’s share price was hammered (along with that of much of the industry) and it was forced to walk back those plans.

While this might seem to be an overreaction, airline investors have a very good reason to value capacity discipline. It is only in the last five to six years, as investors have pushed airlines to engage in capacity discipline, that they have finally got something resembling a reasonable return for the first time in more than a decade. And unlike the late 1990s, these returns are not contingent on an incredibly positive macro environment in the U.S. and the world. And when a firm’s owners want something, it usually happens (look no further than the ousting of Dave Barger in favor of Robin Hayes at JetBlue). Has this changed the behavior of U.S. airlines in aggregate? Yes. Is it collusion? No.

A situation of the DOJ’s own creation

The real dramatic irony is that the present state of competition in the US airline industry is pretty much the fault of the DOJ itself. If fares are rising and capacity is being constrained, the DOJ has no one to blame but itself. Through a mix of antitrust immunity/joint ventures, mergers, and slot swaps, the DOJ has allowed many of the more anti-competitive situations in the U.S. to develop. There are only three major airline groups across the Atlantic? The DOJ signed off on that. Six legacies merged into three? The DOJ signed off on that too. Delta and American now have fortress hubs at New York La Guardia and Washington Reagan respectively? The DOJ okayed that one as well. We are unquestionably living in an air travel oligopoly. But it’s a bit rich for the DOJ to bluster about the resultant situation today when it signed off on every one of the steps that created it.

And the federal government’s various agencies have the ability to rectify this situation pretty quickly. The US3 campaigns against Norwegian and the Middle East Big 3 can be overruled pretty quickly. Why not go further and sign Open Skies agreements with any country that’s willing? And to solve the issue of domestic competition, why not ease rules on foreign ownership and offer unlimited cabotage? The federal government has plenty of tools to increase competition in the US airline market. None of them involve a politically convenient “investigation” based on exaggerated charges.

The most important philosophical question is which stakeholders matter 

The current U.S. airline market is not the best it has ever been for consumers. It’s still better than everything before deregulation and most of the 80s and 90s, but except for high yield and business travelers, the early 2000s were probably the golden age for purchasers of air travel in terms of convenience and low fares. And the reduction in competition through consolidation and capacity discipline absolutely plays a role on that. But is the consumer’s interest the only thing to consider?

Airlines have three primary stakeholders: consumers, employees (including executives), and shareholders, as well as several other minor ones (like airports, airframers, suppliers, etc.). But when the media and broader public think about airline issues, they solely focus on the consumer’s needs and perspective. But shareholders can’t be ignored, if only because they own the airline. Ultimately, an airline, like any for-profit business, is beholden to its shareholders, and largely required to comply with their wishes and act for their benefit. There are very good reasons for this. The original rationale for the shareholder system was to allow the pooling of capital to create large companies while spreading risk. There is no way that the massive, complex, and risky airline networks that exist today would be able to function without the money of the shareholders.

But there’s a funny thing about shareholders: they like getting a return on their money. And by 2007/2008, airlines had burned investors one too many times (Southwest notwithstanding). There was no way that airlines could continue to act in the irrational and aggressive manner they adopted between 2000-2008, if they wanted to continue to access the myriad benefits (such as capital) provided by shareholders. So they decided to buckle down and get serious about delivering returns. In the process, fares went up and planes got fuller. But we have a very good reason to want shareholders, not in the least because they provide the capital for new entrants/growth agents (like Spirit Airlines) who are ultimately the most effective form of competition. Especially given the higher barriers to entry created by additional FAA and DOT rules and regulations, investors who can pool large sums of capital are critical for the US airline industry to develop new entrant activity moving forward. Investors have just begun to trust airlines again. Do we really want to take action against the capacity discipline that has allowed that trust to regrow?

Employees haven’t done anywhere near as well as investors have, but they are also better off than they were in the dregs of the 2000s. Pilot groups have probably gotten the best deals (helped by the pilot shortage), but across the board, employees have begun to share in the profitability of their employers through increased wages, profit sharing, or both. And so amongst the three stakeholders, consumers might be slightly worse off, but investors and employees are way better off. Arguably consumers have gotten the best deal from commercial aviation over the past 30 years, enjoying lower than realistic fares while being cross subsidized by employees and investors taking a hammering. The tables have turned, and we’ve hit a more stable equilibrium. But is that something that the broader populace can accept?


Editor‘s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly Newsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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DISCLAIMER – The Author is long/short on several US airlines, including AAL, DAL, SAVE, ALK, JBLU, and ALGT, as well as several global airlines. 

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Free Checked Bags Come to an End on JetBlue

By Roberto Leiro / Published July 1, 2015

No More Free Checked Bags on JetBlue. As of June 30, the airline introduced new fare options when booking tickets online, which include charges to checked bags, unless passengers pay for its premium fares.

RELATED: JetBlue May Begin Charging Passengers For First Checked Bag Next Year

jetblue-jfk-t5-curb_10535Passengers purchasing Blue fare—JetBlue’s base fare—will now be charged $20 for the first checked bag when purchased during web check-in or at a kiosk, or $25 at the check-in counter, and a $35 fee for a second checked bag.

For JetBlue’s “Blue Plus” fares, one checked bag fee is included in the fare while the second checked bag fee is $35l. Blue Flex and Mint fares include two checked bags.

JetBlue will not charge the first bag fee for its flights to or from Dominican Republic, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Colombia and Mexico. However, the $35 second bag fee and a $100 charge for any additional piece is in place, regardless of the fare.

The airline company, which claims to have the most legroom in coach of any U.S. airline, assured that its perks, including free snacks, soda and TV will remain in place.

BagsFlyFree_2According to the Department of Transportation, baggage fees brought almost $865 million for the U.S. airline industry during the first quarter. Delta Air Lines leads the list after collecting $198 million, while JetBlue reaped almost 22 million, standing in the 9th position.

After JetBlue’s move to start charging for bags, Southwest Airlines remains now as the sole major U.S. airline not tacking on checked bag fees… yet.

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ANALYSIS: United Buys a Stake in Azul

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published June 26, 2015

Azul's flagship Airbus A330-200 aircraft / Image Courtesy of Alexf.

Azul’s flagship Airbus A330-200 aircraft / Image Courtesy of Alexf.

United Airlines is making an aggressive play for the Brazilian market. The Chicago-based carrier will be purchasing a 5% stake in Azul Brazilian Airlines, the Sao Paulo based low cost carrier that is Brazil’s third largest airline after oneworld alliance member LATAM Airlines Group (South America’s largest airline) and low cost carrier Gol. United will spend $100 million for its minority ownership stake, valuing Azul at $2 billion. The two airlines will also deepen ties through code sharing in both the US/Caribbean and Brazil, optimization of schedules in Brazil, and reciprocal frequent flyer program earnings and benefits.

Initial Network Synergies might be Sub-Optimal Due to mismatch

United is by far the most Sao Paulo-centric of the three US legacy carriers in its Brazilian long haul network, with daily service from Houston, Chicago O’Hare, Newark, and Washington Dulles. It also serves Houston – Rio de Janeiro nonstop to feed into Houston based oil traffic. By comparison, Delta has double daily service from Atlanta to Sao Paulo (daily to Detroit/New York JFK), as well as daily Atlanta service to Rio and Brasilia. Delta will also be adding nonstop service from Orlando to Sao Paulo and Brasilia.  And American Airlines is of course in a different hemisphere, with service to 10 different Brazilian destinations thanks to its hub at Miami.

Azul for its part, primarily offers nonstop service from its hub at Viracopos International Airport in Campinas, about an hour north of Sao Paulo, where it operates nearly 170 peak-day departures to 48 domestic destinations. It will also operate 12 flights per week to Fort Lauderdale and 14 to Orlando this winter, leveraging its recently delivered fleet of Airbus A330-200 aircraft. In addition, Azul will offer daily nonstop service from Belo Horizonte (its second largest hub with ~80 daily departures) and Sao Paulo Guarulhos (GRU – Sao Paulo and Brazil’s primary international gateway) to Orlando. And while it has not yet announced schedules or frequencies, Azul also plans to add nonstop service from Viracopos (VCP) to New York JFK later this year.

This represents a fundamental network mismatch. United’s Brazil operations are concentrated on GRU, and while Azul does have roughly 50 daily departures to 16 domestic destinations at GRU (it’s fourth largest base by capacity), connectivity for United’s four arriving flights (between 10:40 and 11:40 am) isn’t quite as expansive. In terms of feasible connections (i.e. more than 1.5 hours connecting time [which is cutting it close] and fewer than 4-5 hours), United customers at present will have convenient connections to Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cascavel, Curitiba, Goiania, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro (Santos Dumont), Salvador, and Vitoria. Feed for United’s northbound flights from GRU (Which all depart after 11:00 pm) is more expansive, adding Campo Grande (barely), Maringa, Navegantes, and Recife to the aforementioned destinations. But there are still enormous gaps, with suboptimal or nonexistent connectivity to Recife (unidirectional), Fortaleza, Belem, Florianopolis, Natal, and Foz de Iguacu amongst major Brazilian origin centers for US demand.

Theoretically Azul could re-time some of its GRU flights or add destinations, but given the scarcity of slots at GRU, an en-masse re-timing and/or the addition of new destinations could be difficult. When compared to Gol (who Delta code shares with and owns 3% of) with 109 daily departures to 31 domestic destinations (and 13 daily departures to 8 South American ones) or TAM (closely tied with American) with 90 daily departures to 25 domestic destinations (and 26 to 10 South American ones), Azul is clearly suboptimal for feed at GRU. Theoretically, United could add service to VCP. Campinas is an important and growing economic center in its own right, and the Sao Paulo metropolitan area increasingly resembles Tokyo, New York, or the Pearl River Delta in that is getting so spread out that multiple airports are more than justified by demand dispersal. Still, VCP is far less preferred by premium travelers than GRU or Congonhas in Central Sao Paulo, and that will work against United. Nonstops from VCP to Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles are absolutely out of the question. Houston and Newark would have a better shot at success, but so far the only US airport that has proven its ability to sustain a US airline flight to VCP is Miami for American Airlines.

At Rio de Janeiro’s Galaeo airport, Azul is a nonentity, with just 10 daily departures, mostly to VCP. Once again Gol (69 daily departures/23 domestic destinations) and TAM (46 departures/16 destinations) provide far better connectivity. United can of course layer Azul’s connectivity with that of its Star Alliance partner Avianca Brasil (a subsidiary of Colombia-based Avianca) in Rio (16 departures/9 destinations) and Sao Paulo (36 departures/14 destinations), but even so, United will be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to feed.

Image courtesy of JDL Multimedia

Image courtesy of JDL Multimedia

On the US side, United isn’t doing much for Azul either. Azul’s US operations are currently concentrated in South Florida, and both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are spokes for United, with little connectivity beyond United’s hubs. And of course United is exiting the New York JFK market entirely, so they’re not much help there. One immediate fix would be for Azul to alter its New York plans to focus on United’s hub at Newark Liberty International Airport, where United offers a massive amount of connectivity (roughly 430 daily departures and close to 150 destinations). Newark might not be as preferred for New York travelers as JFK, but the feed should more than offset that.

JV Seems Imminent, Star Alliance Less So

The US-Brazil market will be liberalized through an Open Skies agreement beginning in October of this year, which would enable US and Brazilian carriers to secure antitrust immunity (ATI) for joint venture (JV) partnerships. Assuming alignment along current partnerships, United and Azul would be prime JV candidates, as would Delta/Gol and American/TAM, which would solve the network misalignment problems by allowing better coordination, planning, and marketing through a profit-sharing agreement. Service from United’s hubs to VCP would also be a lot more viable under a JV.

Whether Azul would join United in Star Alliance is less immediately clear. Azul founder David Neelman’s recent acquisition of Portuguese Star Alliance carrier TAP (who operates a massive long haul operation from Lisbon to Brazil and will open 10 new US routes as per Neelman’s announced plans) would point towards deepening ties for Azul and Star Alliance. The counter is that Star Alliance already has a major Brazilian presence in Avianca Brasil (admittedly a distant fourth in market share), and the history of two airlines from the same country co-existing in an alliance is mixed. It remains to be seen whether Azul will formally tie itself to Star Alliance, but United’s investment is unquestionably a step forward for the global alliance in the all-important Brazilian market.


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JetBlue Mint Arrives at Boston, Adds Nashville

By Roberto Leiro / Published June 23, 2015

After several months of speculation in the industry,  JetBlue has announced today the launch of its praised Mint premium service to Boston, intended to enhance coast-to-coast service, as part of its long-term commitment to serve both business and leisure travelers to Logan International Airport where it is the dominant carrier.

Mint service will take off between Boston and San Francisco beginning in March 2016, with up to three daily round trips. Bookings will be available as of July 8. Mint service to Los Angeles will follow suit in fall 2016, with up to three daily round trips as well. The delays in introducing service are largely attributed to last week’s announcement of upping Mint frequencies from JFK to LAX and SFO as well as the arrival of further Mint configured A321 aircraft to its fleet.

RELATED: JetBlue Mint Preview

jb-a321-highres-200-fc-cabin-seating-render-0199“Customers traveling between New York and the West Coast can’t get enough of Mint, and we can’t wait for Boston customers to experience it,” said Robin Hayes, president and CEO, JetBlue. “We saw the opportunity to bring humanity back to premium coast-to-coast travel, traditionally offered at high prices and with mediocre service.”

ANALYSIS: The Economics of JetBlue Mint

Boston has been a destination which has undergone massive reductions in service, as legacy carriers dwindled their presence in Logan during the last years. This service upgrade of JetBlue in both product and frequencies not only seizes a opportunity to catch a market where JetBlue has a 50/50 mix of business and leisure travelers, but also fills the gap at a substantially lower price than its competitors.

jb-photo-inflight-mint-11Since its launch one year ago, JetBlue raised the bar in air travel with Mint, which offers private suits, tapas-style dining, custom amenity kits, a comprehensive in-flight entertainment system including satellite TV, radio and Fly-Fi broadband Internet.

A Mint with a Caribbean Twist

Besides the Mint coast-to-coast service to Boston announced today, JetBlue will also offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean  in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday round trip between Boston and Barbados—a premium holiday destination.

Additionally, JetBlue will offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean beginning in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday roundtrip between Boston and Barbados, one of the airline’s most luxurious leisure destinations. – See more at:
Additionally, JetBlue will offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean beginning in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday roundtrip between Boston and Barbados, one of the airline’s most luxurious leisure destinations. – See more at:

RELATED: JetBlue to Bring Mint to the Islands for Winter 2015-2016

Nashville to become the 60th destination from Logan

JetBlue also announced its intention to serve Nashville International Airport from Boston, thus becoming the 60th non-stop destination of the airline from Logan. Two daily frequencies operated by Airbus A320 aircraft as of spring 2016. The airline also announced that ticket sales will begin during this summer.

FLIGHT REVIEW: JetBlue Mint “Suite” Inaugural

RELATED: JetBlue Reveals New Fare Structure, Offers Mint Update

“We came to town in 2004 with the renegade idea that we could bring humanity back to air travel for customers under-served and overcharged by other carriers,” commented Hayes. “Boston welcomed our unique approach with open arms, and we quickly grew together. We may be the top airline in Boston today, but we aren’t even close to finishing our growth” he said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Mint Inaugural Service

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First Major Airbus A320 Family Aircraft Components Arrive to Mobile Assembly Line

By: Roberto Leiro / Published June 22, 2015

After a three-week journey from the Finkenwerder Airbus plant in Germany, the First major Airbus A320 family aircraft components have arrived to the Port of Mobile, Alabama, and transported to the manufacturer’s new U.S. premises.

Aircraft components are loaded onto special sea transport frames for its transportation from Germany to the U.S. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Aircraft components are loaded onto special sea transport frames for its transportation from Germany to the United States. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Five different Airbus A321 sections under manufacturer serial number (MSN) 6512—to be delivered to JetBlue Airlines once pieced together—were cleared from U.S. customs and loaded onto heavy-duty trailers for its transportation to the U.S. Airbus assembly plant last Sunday.

This major milestone in the U.S. Airbus production plant program was witnessed by thousands of onlookers, who according to Alabama Today, lined up a few miles amid a Mardi Gras-style parade to celebrate the event.

“Since July 2012, Airbus and the city of Mobile have been anticipating the day when aircraft production would begin Mobile. The vision was there.With the arrival of these assemblies, and this special first convoy, we hope everyone can see that without doubt that the vision has become reality,” said Ulrich Weber-Vice President-Airbus Final Assembly Line, Mobile.

Klaus Fischer, Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility - Logistics Project Leader (right) "hand off"  the parts from the logistics function to the production function.  Accepting the task is Dr. Ulrich Weber (left), Vice President, Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Klaus Fischer, Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility – Logistics Project Leader (right) “hand off” the parts from the logistics function to the production function. Accepting the task is Dr. Ulrich Weber (left), Vice President, Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

On the other hand, and according to Alabama Today, Alabama State Port Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Lyons called Sunday’s festivities “a big step toward the manufacture of airplanes in Alabama” and the region “becoming a premier aircraft manufacturing” hub, but he emphasized that the real work is only beginning.

Airbus Mobile Assembly Plant pose with the first part received. The first aircraft to be rolled out from the plant will be an Airbus A321 to JetBlue. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Airbus Mobile Assembly Plant pose with the first part received. The first aircraft to be rolled out from the plant will be an Airbus A321 to JetBlue. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

“More sets of airplanes coming in will become an ongoing process, where the movement we’re seeing today is routine,” Lyons said, adding as much as anything valued at about $150 million can be considered routine.

The front section of MSN 6512 arrives to Brookley. Once assembled, the first A320 family aircraft will be delivered to JetBlue. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

The front section of MSN 6512 arrives to Brookley. Once assembled, the first A320 family aircraft will be delivered to JetBlue. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Additional to these major aircraft components, 4,000 parts general cargo are loaded into sea containers at the Hamburg hub, transported then by truck to Bremerhaven and from there by container ship to Mobile under the logistics of DHL Global Forwarding.

In the course of this project, DHL will transport a total of 80,000 tons of freight volume for the assembly of aircraft in the U.S.A., comprising general cargo and major aircraft components including rear fuselage, forward fuselage, wings, and the vertical as well as horizontal tail plane.

Though aircraft production will actually begin in the next couple of weeks on the A321 destined for JetBlue, Airbus will officially open the U.S. Manufacturing Facility in September with a ceremonial ribbon cutting event. Construction on some of the buildings on the campus will continue through the rest of the year. There are currently 160 Airbus employees at the facility, with others in training with Airbus in Europe, and hiring is ongoing. First aircraft delivery is scheduled in 2016.

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