Category Archives: Uncategorized

Xiamen Airlines Takes Delivery of First Wide-body Jet

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 29, 2014

Xiamen 787-1EVERETT, WA: Xiamen Airlines took delivery of its very first wide-body jet, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, on Friday.

The airplane is outfitted for a passenger count of 236; four first class, eighteen business class, and 214 economy seats.

First class is configured 1-2-1 across with the Zodiac Apollo seats. Each is lie-flat with 6.4 feet of leg room, and a 15.4 inch wide screen. Business is also set up in a 2-2-2 across. The eighteen seats are split between a cabin of two rows and second, smaller cabin of only one row. The product is Zodiac’s Aura Lite. Economy will be arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration with 33 inches of pitch each and a 9-inch touchscreen. All seats appeared to have at least one power & USB port. The IFE system will run on Panasonic’s eX3 system.

Xiamen 787-5 Xiamen 787-2
Xiamen 787-3 Xiamen 787-4

The airline will fly the jet home to China on Saturday. Like many first-time operators, the carrier will utilize the aircraft on domestic routes before transitioning to long-haul down the road. Initial schedules will see the jet operating between Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Beijing in the first weeks of September.

Xiamen President Che Shanglun says the Dreamliners will be used to replace the carrier’s fleet of Boeing 757-200s, which currently operate near-international routes to southeast Asia, as well as Seoul, South Korea, and Osaka, Japan. Presently the carrier operates only domestic Chinese and regional international routes, primarily with Boeing 737s.

Che-1 Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014The addition of Dreamliners to its fleet brings the capability to expand beyond its current perimeter. Indeed the carrier’s own press release noted that it expects to deploy the jet to Australia, Europe, and North America. But Mr. Shanglun wouldn’t was reluctant to share any details on exactly where or when such expansions might take place. “That’s top secret,” said Mr. Shanglun, adding that it will be taking “measured steps” toward a more global network in the coming years. Likely destinations, at least for North America, could include New York City, which has a heavy concentration of Chinese from the Fujian region where the carrier is based.

The carrier has five more 787s on order, expected to be delivered by the end of 2015. It also has a number of 737s, including the MAX 8, on order as well. The new jets will contribute to a 200-plus strong fleet by 2020. China Southern owns a 51% majority in Xiamen.

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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TGIF: Thank-Goodness It’s Flyday Week-End Wrap Up: August 29th Edition

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 29, 2014

Thank-goodness it’s Flyday…err Friday, everyone! In this week’s edition Southwest labor relations turn sour, Qantas defers Dreamliners, smokes on a plane, and more…

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Mediation: Is what the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) requested this week in an attempt to resolve ongoing contract issues between its members and their employer, Southwest Airlines. The carrier has agreed to the process, and the matter will proceed to the National Mediation Board (NMB). A federal mediator has already been assigned to the case.

The NMB cannot force a resolution, per se, but does work to bring about a resolution between the two parties. More importantly, if the NMB declares that the two cannot reach an agreement, it opens up either party to take more aggressive actions such as strikes and lockouts.

Like many labor disputes, the two have reached an apparent impasse over pay. The IAM charges, via a statement, that “management is hell-bent to move to a risky variable compensation system as opposed to offering guaranteed wage increases.” Southwest responded by saying it was “shocked and disappointed” by the request, saying via its own statement that it had sent over a proposal that was ignored by the IAM. The dispute has been ongoing since the previous contract ended in late 2012.

IAM represents around 6,000 employees at the Dallas-based carrier.

Southwest has historically had excellent labor relations, and many would argue that the relationship is still above average. But as profit margins have trended downward, the airline has been looking to cut costs, and employees are fighting back.

Unfortunately for them, their pay and benefits remain one of the juiciest fruits to squeeze. The carrier’s labor costs continue to spiral upwards at a concerning pace, growing 8.3% year-over-year (YOY) in the second quarter of 2014 and contributing to a 8.7% YOY rise in its contribution to operating costs per seat-mile.

Photo courtesy Boeing

Photo courtesy Boeing

First 787: Congrats are in order for Royal Jordanian, which received its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this week. The Amman-based carrier will utilize the jet to replace older jets in its fleet. The jet is expected to serve routes to North America primarily, though will be found on routes to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, the company said.

The airplane is outfitted with 24 business class and 246 in economy.

Malaysia Airlines overhaul: Malaysia Airlines, still reeling from its double-hull losses from the past six months, announced it would be cutting 6,000 jobs – or about 30% of its current workforce. The move likely signals, though MAS hasn’t confirmed, a corresponding drop in capacity.

It was clear big changes were in the offing after the carrier was taken over by Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund and subsequently privatized.

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Qantas defers Dreamliners: In its ongoing battle against its own balance sheet, Qantas this week reported that it has deferred the first five jets in its 787-9 order. First reported by Australian Business Traveller, the airline pushed back delivery as it was due its first jets next year. It still maintains 50 options.

The carrier has been struggling financially for some time, and has been deferring wide-body deliveries such as its A380s for some time. Whether the jets, when and if delivered, will go to Qantas is another matter. The Aussie flag carrier has been spinning off its 787-8s to low-cost subsidiary Jetstar. It is believed that the LCC may wind up doing the vast majority of long-haul flights as Qantas International continues to whither.

All by myself: Want to fly your 12 to 14-year old on American? It’ll cost you an extra $150 each way to do it effective September 3rd. The carrier currently applies the charge up through age 11, and says it made the change to align with US Airways’ policy. For comparison, United charges $150 for ages 5-11, Delta charges $100 for 5-15, while Southwest charges $50 for ages 5-11.

Air New Zealand welcomes “new” 777-200: ANZ unveiled its first refurbished Boeing 777-200 late last Friday. The airplane’s new interior will match that of the carrier’s new 787-9, delivered only a few weeks back. Some highlights are the carrier’s unique Skycoach product, Panasonice eX3 IFE system, and a new business-class product. ANZ has eight of the jets.
Premium Economy Economy Skycouch
Photos courtesy Air New Zealand

Can’t we all just get along?: The first of several diversion incidents this week took place on Monday aboard United 1462 as it made its way from Newark to Denver. Things got heated when a passenger in the Economy Plus cabin went to recline, only to discover the man behind her had installed a knee defender. In case you aren’t familiar, the $15 dollar device fits at the base of the fold-down tray, thus preventing the seat from reclining. United requested the offending passenger to remove the device, citing its policy of banning the device (as all US carriers do). The man refused, which prompted the woman whose seat the device was attached to turn around and throw a cup of water at him. The crew decided they’d have enough, and landed in Chicago. The two faced Chicago police at the gate. After an in-field investigation the airplane continued on to Denver without them, though neither was arrested.

It happened again on Wednesday, apparently, on an American flight from Miami to Paris. The airplane diverted after two people got into an argument. An on-board US federal air marshal wound up stepping in after one of the parties involved grabbed the arm of a flight attendant who attempted to break it up. He was arrested in Boston.

Photo by Raul Lieberwirth, creative commons

Photo by Raul Lieberwirth, creative commons

Smokes on a plane: Two Canadian women wound up causing a Sunwing flight from Toronto to Cuba to turn back over South Carolina, and apparently became concerning enough that the airline called in a military escort. Authorities say the women snuck into the restroom, where each downed a healthy dose of duty-free alcohol just to get the party started. It was followed up by lighting up some smokes, while still in the bathroom, which predictably set off the aircraft’s smoke detectors. Then they proceeded to fight with one another (presumably while still in the bathroom??), and threatened the airplane, which sealed their fate. The women were escorted off the airplane in Toronto, and promptly arrested. The two face a litany of charges including, but not limited to, smoking on an aircraft, mischief endangering life, uttering threats, and endangering the safety of an aircraft.

 Moving on: I announce today, with a little sadness, that this is my last day on staff with Airchive, and thus my last TGIF. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to guide the site over the past year, and provide you, our readers, with news and information that matters in the aviation industry. And of course there were the great adventures that I will remember fondly, from the first A350 ride to the last DC-10. I’ll miss working with our talented staff, and look forward to seeing Airchive, now AirwaysNews, grow to even greater heights. As for me, you can keep in touch on Twitter: @photoJDL, or via my business site, JDLMultimedia.com. Thanks so much for tuning in!

From the editor-in-chief: Jeremy joined us as our first co-editor-in-chief one year ago this week, when Airchive began to morph from a largely historical site into what it is today. He has been a major force, working tirelessly and passionately to evolve Airchive (now AirwaysNews) into a respected, daily industry news source. During the year he has also become an expert in fighting jet lag. In his first weekend on the job he flew SEA-YYZ-LHR-LAX-SFO-SEA in what was only the beginning of a year that took him everywhere from Dhaka to Farnborough to Warsaw and many places in between.  His leadership, creativity, artistic eye for photography, and all around grace will be missed by not only the staff, but me as well. I am sure our readers feel the same. We’re all better for having JDL in our midst and look forward to seeing what he does next.

Just a few days ago, Airchive relaunched as AirwaysNews. We will not miss a beat. Vinay Bhaskara will take over as interim co-editor-in-chief starting Tuesday, supported by our ever growing team of correspondents. We will be naming our new co-editor-in-chief soon.

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

JAL Places Substantial Regional Jet Order

Airchive Rebrands and Re-launches as AirwaysNews

JetBlue Opens Hotel at JetBlue University

Southwest Unveils New “Listening Center”

PHOTOS: First Production Airbus A350 for Qatar

InFlight Review: KLM World Business Class: MD-11 Edition

American Airlines Drops Orbitz

PEOPLExpress expands to Orlando

GE-Powered Boeing 787-9 Receives Green-Light

BOC Aviation Places Order for 82 Boeing Jets

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

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Contact the editor-in-chief at Chris.Sloan@Airchive.com

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Southern Air Transport: An Uncommon Carrier (Best of Airways, Part Two)

By Maurice J Wickstead / Published August 29, 2014
This article originally appeared in
Airways Magazine.

This is the second of a two-part series on the history of Southern Air Transport. Miss part one? Catch it here, and don’t forget to come back!

Going legit

L-100 BG5Southern Air Transport acquired a dozen L-100s previously flown by Transamerica Airlines after that company folded in September 1986. Rugged and reliable, the Hercules afforded SAT the reputation for being able (and willing, for a price) to haul loads into often otherwise inaccessible places. The Herc’s 6,000cu ft (170m³) and 50,000lb (22,700kg) payload led to SAT being the first airline to gain CAB worldwide outsize load certification.

Using this capability SAT transported helicopters, generators, and even a complete zoo from Florida to Bermuda, along with ‘just-in-time’ contracts for the automotive industry, principally Ford Europe. Other work involved palletized cargo, aircraft-on-ground movements, oil spill, and pesticide spraying operations. As one commentator wryly put it, SAT exchanged ‘guerrillas for gorillas’ when, in 1976, it carried the 40ft (12m)-high, 6.5t mechanical ‘King Kong’ for the Dino De Laurentiis remake of the famous film for Paramount. A decade later, another ‘king’ handled by the airline was Pharaoh Ramses II, movement of whose treasure was entrusted to the airline during US and international exhibitions.

From the mid-1980s SAT’s Hercules fleet was also a familiar sight in many of the world’s conflict hot-spots, especially in the troubled Horn of Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, and famine-ravaged Ethiopia. To overcome the problem of washed-out airstrips in the rainy season, SAT developed an effective pallet airdrop system, delivering the cargo from altitudes as low as 700ft (200m).

While these operations were associated with humanitarian aid organizations such as the United Nations, Caritas Internationalis, and the International Red Cross, a contract with a diamond mine in war-torn Angola aroused widespread speculation that the airline was still in cahoots with its former owner.

Such missions were not without hazard. In September 1991 a Herc was written-off after striking a land mine while taxiing at Wau, in Sudan, fortunately without fatality.

707-323C N8404 Southern AT-BAX Global OKC 05Jan89 [denis goodwin] e300In 1985, SAT became the first cargo airline to offer aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) contracts. Boeing 707-300Cs were acquired for operation on behalf of BAX Global and CF AirFreight, and wet-leases to carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines, LAC Colombia, and the Swiss-Soviet Metro Cargo Airlines. By 1991 these varied activities brought in annual revenue of $150 million ($253m).

Change of direction

Since its early days Southern Air Transport had been a prominent contractor to the US Air Force LOGAIR (logistics airlift) and US Navy QUICKTRANS networks, which occupied half the Hercules fleet and accounted for 30% of total revenue. As part of the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) the airline played a significant part in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91, with SAT 707s flying regularly between McGuire AFB, New Jersey, and Jeddah and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This involvement culminated with a 707 ferrying doctors and medical equipment into the newly liberated Kuwait International Airport in March 1991.

This profitable business began to wane in the mid-1990s after significant cutbacks in the defense budget were instituted by the Clinton administration. Nevertheless, attempts at diversification were already underway with delivery in February 1991 of the first two of six Douglas DC-8 Series 70 freighters as part of an effort to capture a greater percentage of the US freight forwarder and overseas wet-lease markets.

A joint-venture was established in January 1993 with the formation of Polar Air Cargo in conjunction with aircraft leasing company Polaris, a subsidiary of General Electric Capital Services, and California-based NedMark Transportation Services. Polar lifted off in May 1993 using a couple of 747s, initially on charter work. Within a few months several more aircraft allowed the initiation of east and westbound scheduled routes linking New York with Hong Kong.

Southern_Air_Transport_Boeing_747-200 N741SJ Paul SpijkersSAT pulled out of the partnership in March 1994 to develop its own cargo business with 747s, the first appearing in summer 1994. Customers included Atlas Air, China Airlines, Emirates, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, and Varig. Although the overall cargo market had grown by more than 50% in the preceding decade, the number of new companies offering tailor-made contract and leasing packages had also increased.

After moving in 1995 from Miami to Columbus, Ohio (although SAT became a Nevada corporation), toward the end of the decade the burden of new equipment costs and increased competition led to financial problems. Proposed acquisitions by Fine Air and Kitty Hawk failed to materialize after a buyer for the L-100 fleet could not be found, and Southern Air Transport ceased operations on September 25, 1998. On October 1, with liabilities of $101 million ($150m), SAT filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Eventually the L-100 fleet was auctioned off to Transafrik to pay major creditors. During the bankruptcy proceedings it was discovered that the proceeds of a sale of a Southern Air Transport subsidiary, SimuFlite Training International, had been retained by the Bastian family (Jim Bastion died shortly after the collapse of the company). Several million dollars was eventually recovered and paid to former SAT employees.

Transformation

Out of the ashes arose a new Southern Air. In February 1999, SAT’s remaining assetswere acquired by a Connecticut investment group known as Devon Partners, which included several former SAT managers. In an effort to secure SAT’s certificate and authority, a joint filing was made to the Department of Transportation in the names Southern Air Transport and Southern Air. The DOT, however, declined the transfer application and instead issued a new certificate in November to Southern Air for interstate and foreign cargo charters. Southern Air took off early in 2000 with a 747-200F employed on an ACMI contract for Lufthansa Cargo.

Mark_Smith_N777SA_777FSurviving a post-September 11, 2001, Chapter 11 reorganization, Southern Air expanded, being acquired in 2007 by Oak Hill Capital Partners and merged with its Cargo 360 airline. Older 747s were retired after Southern Air took delivery of 777Fs.

Southern Air’s holding company entered Chapter 11 in September 2012with debts of $285 million, citing defense cutbacks as a major factor. The restructured company emerged from bankruptcy protection in April 2013 and is now based at DHL’s hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport.

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Contact the editor-in-chief at chris.sloan@2cmedia.com

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JAL Places Substantial Regional Jet Order

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 28, 2014

Japan Airlines (JAL) announced orders for up to 52 regional jets on Thursday. The order includes both Embraer EJets and Mitsubishi’s new MRJ.

JAL EJetJapan-based JAL signed a firm order with Embraer for fifteen E-Jets, split between the E170 and E190. It did not say how many of each would be delivered. The order also included options for up to twelve more of the jets. Deliveries will begin in 2015, with the airplanes going to its regional subsidiary, J-Air.

JAL MRJThe carrier also penned a letter of intent with Mitsubishi for thirty-two MRJ aircraft. It did not say which version it had ordered. JAL says the airplane will function as the next generation of regional jet for the company, with deliveries scheduled to begin to J-Air in 2021.

ANA, JAL’s chief rival, placed an order for up to 25 of the jets in 2008.

The order is welcome news for both manufacturers, but especially for Mitsubishi. Of the 400 commitments for the jet only about half are firm. It has been battling production delays for some time, and is currently set to make its first delivery in 2017.

Once aloft, it will compete in the 70-90 seat jet market against Bombardier’s CRJ700/900 and Embraer’s revamped E2-175 & E2-190.

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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Airchive Rebrands and Re-launches as AirwaysNews

By Chris Sloan / Airchive & AirwaysNews Editor-In-Chief

2Last March we announced Airchive and Airways would join forces in a strategic alliance combining our powerful digital and print operations into a key industry force covering every facet of the commercial aviation industry. Now Enrique, our combined teams, and I are proud to introduce a new site for our new brand: AirwaysNews.com.  With this broad stroke, we have combined both of our websites, social media networks, editorial teams, and news-gathering operations.

Facebook_Cover_Website_TestThough the look has changed, our mission has not. Our content continues to evolve reaching those working in and allied with the commercial aviation industry, frequent travelers, and enthusiasts aka AvGeeks. As always, our team is passionately dedicated to be timely, topical, accurate, and on-location. Basically, if it happens in the skies (and on the ground), you’ll see it on these pages. With the rebrand to AirwaysNews and site re-launch, we have endeavored to find a more user-friendly, organized way to surface our content and provide a one-stop destination for Airways Magazine offerings as well from subscriptions, digital issues, to the store.

So what becomes of Airchive? Though the name served us well for almost 12 years, it was created when our mission was that of a “webseum” or digital archive. As we delved into daily, relevant news and feature coverage, the brand no longer fit the mission. Airchive will live on as a historical sub-brand online and in Airways Magazine. As well, Airchive will continue to be the holding company for all the Airways & Airchive.com digital assets.

56Airways, meanwhile, relaunched in June with an all-new design following the take-over by Enrique’s team after twenty years of continuous publication under the helm of John Wegg – the magazine’s founder and former Editor in Chief. Since June, five issues have been published with an updated look and feel, new departments, and stunning photography that has revamped the magazine to the standards of today’s industry. Airways will continue to grow both in its printed format, and soon, in a unique, all-new digital platform that will be available for tablets, smartphones, and computers worldwide. Airways will also be increasing its pages and improving its paper quality, delivering the best product at the most affordable prices for our aviation community.

We would like to tip our hats to our webmaster Joel Mena and Airways Chief Designer Mariana Quintero who have worked tirelessly over the last few months on this rollout.

We are still early in this strategic alliance adventure with many changes and additions on the horizon. We’ll also be debugging as well, so please be patient if you encounter the occasional snafu. As always, we appreciate the feedback and are delighted to have you along with us for the ride.

RELATED: “Airways Magazine” Changes Ownership and Joins Far-Reaching Alliance with Airchive

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Contact the author at Chris.Sloan@Airchive.com. Follow us on Twitter @Airchive

 

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JetBlue Opens Hotel at JetBlue University

By Taylor Michie / Published August 28, 2014

IMG_2937ORLANDO: JetBlue Airways is well-known for its rather hospitable service, with 32+ inches of pitch standard across its fleet, as well as plenty of on-board snacks and customer-focused marketing. But the New York-based carrier is making a deeper foray into the hospitality business, sort of, with its first hotel in central Florida.

At a ceremony today at JetBlue’s Orlando Support Center, the airline unveiled a nearly-finished hotel, The Lodge at Orlando Support Center, which will house crewmembers studying at the adjacent JetBlue University during initial and recurrent trainings, as opposed to putting them up off-site at various nearby properties.

IMG_2899Speaking in front of a crowd of about two hundred employees, construction personnel, and support staff, CEO Dave Barger touted the Lodge’s benefit to JetBlue’s culture, as the property keeps employees close, allowing for collaboration even during off-times. It’s difficult to argue with the convenience of the Lodge provides, just a seconds-long walk to the main University building as opposed to a circuitous shuttle ride to the offsite hotels.

It seemed that today’s event served a dual purpose, as both a  rally for the employees, and a display of appreciation for the construction workers in the midst of constructing the facility. Perhaps a testament to the culture of the company, JetBlue raffled off gift cards, gift bags, JetBlue tickets, and DeWalt drills, as well as more unique gifts like hour-long flight sessions in one of the company’s flight simulators.

The 196-room, 115,000 square foot, $25 million Lodge was originally slated for construction beginning in 2006, but the economic downturn put the project on ice. Phil Brown, Executive Director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, wasted no time in joking about the building’s somewhat turbulent past, obviously relieved that a physical structure exists today.

RELATED: Inside JetBlue University

The building’s exterior is generally complete, and drywall is hung indoors, so it appears that the majority of the work to be done before next spring’s opening involves installing the building’s interior. Complete with a fitness center, full kitchen, pool, softball fields, and basketball courts, The Lodge at OSC seems like a pretty good place to spend some time, with plenty of opportunities to unwind after intense training days. The property is part of a $110 million investment in the airline’s Orlando facilities, which include the University and a hangar for JetBlue’s former subsidiary, LiveTV.

After various speeches, we all headed outside to watch the e join the JetBlu already mounted on the building, as employees clapped and whistled. A ceremonial final piece after nearly a decade of efforts, displayed proudly on the side of the building.

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

Disclosure: AirwaysNews was a guest of JetBlue for this event, and received two tickets for travel to and from Orlando. Our opinions remain our own.

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Southwest Unveils New “Listening Center”

By Airchive Staff / Published August 27, 2014

140616listening_center_1Southwest Airlines opened a brand new information hub at its Dallas headquarters Tuesday night.

Dubbed the ‘Listening Room’, the facility combines as a sort of nerve center. It integrates multiple information sources from traditional and social media, to real-time airline operations in order to meet customer needs. It will be staffed, with representatives from customer relations, communications and marketing departments ready to answer questions and deal with challenges as they arise.

Such centers and services are not necessarily new to the industry. As passengers utilize devices that are increasingly connected to the world around them, they’ve increasingly taken to social media channels to ask questions and voice complaints. Airlines were quick to jump on the social bandwagon as a way to harness and resolve with those questions and complaints.

Indeed, most major carriers in the US have been staffing their social media channels for some time now to do just that. For many tech-savvy travelers, seeking resolution via Twitter has proven far more effective (and timely) than making the traditional phone call or waiting in line at an in-terminal customer service center.

For those wary of going mobile, Ashley Pettit, Social Business Adviser for Southwest, is quick to point out that staff inside the center have all of the same resolution tools available to traditional customer service representatives. “They are able to go in look up in the system…get an update [on a lost bag, for example], status report, or track down the bag,” she says. Stuck at the airport? Reach out to Southwest’s Facebook page and someone will soon contact you about your options.

But Southwest insists it is more than just customer service. “The objective is to move from insights to action…to constantly have that 35,000 foot view of what’s going on in the world,” says Pettit. That means utilizing the team’s content creators and community builders to look for opportunities to insert Southwest into social conversations. So not only can the team help find that lost bag, it can only wish you happy birthday, she says, or participate in trending topics.

For now, the center will be online 18 hours a day, while Southwest airplanes are flying. Pettit says they hope to expand to 24 down the road.

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
 

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PHOTOS: First Production Airbus A350 for Qatar

By Airchive Staff / Published August 27, 2014

Qatar Airways released photos of its first production Airbus A350 jet on Wednesday. It is the first of 80 of the jets the Gulf carrier has on order.

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15028954706_9a45a1f145_o

The airplane, seen above, is still missing its Trent XWB engines.

The jet is still scheduled for delivery to the airline in late 2014. Of course Airbus had already painted up an A350 in partial Qatar colors, but the airplane is part of the test fleet.

Of course whether or not the carrier will accept the airplane may be another matter. It was originally scheduled to take delivery of another Airbus product, the super-jumbo A380, last June. To date, it still has yet to sign off on the jets and fly them away. The carrier has chalked the decision to forgo the jets on unresolved cabin issues.

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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InFlight Review: KLM World Business Class: MD-11 Edition

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 27, 2014 / Photos by author

KLM MD11 YYZ JDL

A KLM MD-11 in Toronto.

The journey, it is said, is half the fun.  Thus I found myself at Dubai International Airport very early on a Saturday morning, prepping to head back to Seattle – via Amsterdam and Paris. This unnecessary journey, hours out of the way, came about when it occurred to me that KLM flies the MD-11, an airplane quickly on its way out of service, from this desert oasis to Amsterdam. Realizing it might be the only shot I’d have to get on one, a ticket was booked (via Delta), and an adventure set to begin.

Dubai’s airport is enormous, but the check-in counters are separated from the departure/arrival terminals. The process was quick and easy thanks to being ticketed in World Class, KLM’s business class cabin. A checked bag disappeared down the belt,  my ticket printed, and off I went on the long walk to the lounge.

KLM’s Crown Lounge in Dubai is a relatively muted affair, consisting of a mid-sized room outfitted with comfy chairs, a modest food tray, and a few TVs. It was nice, in a cozy sense, though clearly not the signature lounges found in the carrier’s major hubs. Several glasses of water, a browse of my email on the free WiFi, and a few finger snacks later it was off to the gate.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Thanks to a World Class ticket, boarding took no time at all. I settled into seat 5J, located on the right-hand side of the airplane in the rear premium cabin. The location is enclosed by a bulkhead both fore and aft, and is misaligned between center rows 5 and 6, leading to a very private feel. The remainder of the cabin is a 2-3 setup, while the front cabin is 2-2-2. Bags found a quick place overhead while preflight glasses of water and orange juice were offered.

Departure was on time as the airplane rocketed, seemingly literally, out of a warm Dubai. A big left-hand turn set our direction to the northwest, towards Amsterdam, and off we went.

KLM MD11-28A breakfast service began shortly after departure. The choice was between pancakes with mixed berries, and poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce. Pancakes won out the day, complimented with pineapple compote, roll, fruit salad, and a selection of cheese and cold cuts. Unfortunately, hindsight quickly showed the eggs were likely the better choice. While the middle of the pancakes tasted great, the edges were tough and rubbery in texture, probably a product of a warming microwave. The rest of the meal was great, in particular the pineapple compote.

Settling in for the rest of the six hour, thirty minute flight, it was time to play with the seat. Two generations removed from its current flagship product, the pod-like seat shows its age. For one, it’s an angled lie flat, bottoming out at 150 degrees of recline and 60 degrees of pitch. The inflight entertainment system was on the small size, and its graphics a bit dated.

Yet appearances can be deceiving. While the seat might be getting along in age, it was perfectly clean and perfectly comfortable; essentially a flying, customizable Lazy-Boy. A working power port, something that seems to frequently fail on much newer premium products, worked flawlessly. And while the interface graphics and screen resolution on the IFE were less than impressive, it was well stocked and played movies (such as Argo) and TV shows without issue. An intuitive tethered remote controlled the system.

KLM MD11-26 KLM MD11-12

RELATED: Tri-Jet Twilight Inflight!

Following a movie I took the opportunity for a short nap before a light meal was served. The tray held a number of enticing items: baba-ghanooush, humus and red bell pepper stuffed with cheese, Waldorf salad, chicken teriyaki skewer and beef kibbeh, and a passion fruit mousse with blueberries. Unlike the earlier meal, which was a bit disappointing, this sampler-like meal was truly excellent.

Not long after the second meal service had wrapped up we were on final approach to Amsterdam. The airplane landed on time, followed by a long taxi not uncommon to the sprawling airport. I was off the plane in short order and ushered into the terminal, ready for my connection to Paris.

KLM MD11-30 KLM MD11-29

Bottom Line:

Overall, good, but not overly impressive. The food was tasty, though held back from above average only by the tough pancakes. The flight crew kept a close, but not imposing, eye on the cabin throughout the flight with a generally dispassionate disposition. The cute little Delft Canal house souvenirs make a wonderful parting gift, even if I somehow didn’t realize it was full of liquor until nearly six months later.

KLM MD11-12The product, however, was a bit long in the tooth.  The angled lie-flat product might have been top of the line when it came out several years back, but it’s long been replaced by generously-sized true lie flats on many airlines, including KLM. Likewise, the IFE system wasn’t top of the line either, occasionally showing its age in response times and graphics quality.

That isn’t to say that the experience with the product was bad (it certainly wasn’t); it was just noticeable that it wasn’t the carrier’s latest and greatest. For a day flight it really didn’t make any difference: comfortable enough for a good nap (like a Lazy-Boy), movies played fine, etc. A night flight would likely be different, with the lie-flat seats found on the carrier’s other widebodies probably being much preferred by frequent premium travelers. If you find yourself on it, seats  5G & J come highly recommend as both of occupy their own cloistered mini cabin. Seats 5 & 6E, being middles, should be avoided.

KLM MD11-4But let’s be honest, this was mostly about having an opportunity to fly aboard an MD-11 while the party lasts. To that end, it fit the bill perfectly. A robust departure with one seriously impressive attack angle, gazing out the enormous windows, a visit to the flight deck (on the ground), and even a free safety-card souvenir (crew-approved) made for a truly wonderful experience.

But as any av-geek knows the MD-11’s days are quickly drawing to a close. KLM plans to retire its four remaining jets, the last in the world, later this year. Get ‘em while you can; you won’t regret it.

As for World Class, we enjoyed it. But we think we’d enjoy the experience on one of the carrier’s Boeing 747s or 777s even more.

Have you flown it? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Disclosure: KLM partner airline Delta provided the flight to Airchive at no charge. Our opinions remain our own.

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American Airlines Drops Orbitz

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 26, 2014

AA Tails JDL Airchive 2014 -1American Airlines Group announced it will no longer sell tickets via the popular online ticket agent, Orbitz.

The change is effective immediately for all American Airlines fares. US Airways fares will disappear from the site effective September 1st. The decision delists the world’s largest airline from the site, along with several subsidiary sites including CheapTickets.com and ebookers. The news sent shares of Orbitz tumbling down as much as 5% in trading.

“We have worked tirelessly with Orbitz to reach a deal with the economics that allow us to keep costs low and compete with low-cost carriers,” said Scott Kirby, President of American in a short statement. The carrier has not dropped similar online ticket sites such as Kayak or Expedia, suggesting that the problems stem from a poor financial relationship rather than a problem with online ticket retailers.

Tickets already purchased via the site will be unaffected, though changes to such itineraries must go through the carrier. It will not affect corporate contracts handled through Orbitz for Business.

It is not the first falling out that American has faced with Orbitz. The carrier pulled its fares from the website in late 2010 and into 2011 after a contract dispute took an ugly turn. The matter, which surrounded how transactions were funneled through distributors such as Orbitz into American’s system, wound up in federal court when the airline slapped the site with an antitrust lawsuit (the suit also involved Sabre and Travelport). The suit claimed that Orbitz intentionally raised prices and blocked competition. A federal judge wound up ordering American to post its fares on the site in June of 2011.The dispute was settled in April of 2013, nearly two years later.

Orbitz first appeared online in 2001. It was created as a joint venture between five major airlines, American included, in order to compete against newly created online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity.

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

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PEOPLExpress expands to Orlando

By Luis Linares / Published August 25, 2014

PEX route map - from PEX press releasePEOPLExpress announced new service to Orlando International Airport (MCO) on Monday, effective October 16. This will be the eighth destination for the newest low-cost carrier in the U.S. Based at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF), PEOPLExpress launched flights on June 30.

The new Orlando frequencies starting October 16 will be Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  Starting today, the new service to MCO is available for booking through March 31.

Orlando is also the first new destination from PHF since the carrier announced its initial seven cities in May. Current cities include PHF to Newark, N.J., Boston, and Pittsburgh, along with West Palm Beach, and Atlanta. Flights to New Orleans start on August 28, followed by Saint Petersburg on the 29th to complete its initial growth spurt.

The PEOPLExpress fleet consists of three Boeing 737-400 aircraft operated by Vision Airlines.  According to today’s press release, since its inaugural flights, PEOPLExpress has carried nearly 40,000 customers on more than 450 flights.

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Follow the author on Twitter at @LUISFERLINARES.

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GE-Powered Boeing 787-9 Receives Green-Light

By Benjamin Bearup / Published August 25, 2014

Photo courtesy Boeing/United

Photo courtesy Boeing/United

Boeing announced that General Electric-powered 787-9s have received a go-ahead by the FAA on Friday. The airplanes are thus cleared for delivery.

The green-light clears all existing engine types for the jet to fly. The stretched Dreamliner offers two options, the GEnx manufactured by General Electric and the Trent 1000 manufactured by Rolls Royce.

Flight testing to certify the GEnx-powered 787-9 was conducted on-board United Airlines bound N-38950 (LN181). The plane made its first flight on July 11th and is now awaiting delivery in Everett, Washington. N-38950 will be the first of 26 787-9 aircraft bound for the Chicago carrier, which currently operates a growing fleet of 787s including the original -8 model.

A Rolls Royce-powered 787-9 variant received its type certification in late June, and has since seen aircraft delivered to Air New Zealand and All Nippon Airways.

Production the the 787-9 has greatly increased in recent weeks due to both types receiving their amended type certificates. At this time, 10 787-9’s have completed final assembly with two deliveries (Air New Zealand and All Nippon Airways). The Boeing North Charleston plant is expected to begin production of their first 787-9 later this fall when line number 269 destined for United Airlines comes around.

Any induction of a new plane type brings new customer aircraft as well. The next few months will welcome many planes rolling off of the Everett assembly line destined for new carriers to the 787 program. Some newcomers to the 787-9 family will include Etihad, Scoot Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

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Contact the author at theaviationbeat@gmail.com>

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BOC Aviation Places Order for 82 Boeing Jets

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 25, 2014

Boeing 737 MAX BOEINGLeasing firm BOC Aviation announced an enormous order for 82 Boeing jets on Monday. The deal, at list prices, is worth $8.8 billion.

The Singapore-based lessor split the order between several jet types. The 737 program received the vast majority of the orders, with 30 Next-Generation (NG) 737-800s and 50 737 MAX 8s. The 777-300ER rounded out the remainder with a small order for two of the wide-body jets.

A customer has already been found for the two 777 classics, though the company declined to say who that was.

The order comes not long after the Farnborough Airshow, in which BOC placed an order for 43 A320-family jets. That order was likewise split between Airbus’ current-generation A320 family and the next-gen product, the NEO.

BOC previously placed orders for Airbus jets in 2013, and for 50 737 NG jets in 2006.

Narrow-body aircraft have been in increasing demand in the south-east Asian region, where low-cost carriers have been growing like wildfire to meet fresh demand.  The jets are also popular with carrier’s replacing aging fleets.

BOC currently has 251 airplanes in its fleet, with jets operating with dozens of carriers around the world.  The company reported that it currently flies 118 Boeing’s, 95 of which are 737NGs.

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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TGIF: Thank-Goodness It’s Flyday Week-End Wrap Up: August 22nd Edition

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren & Luis Linares / Published August 22, 2014

Thank-goodness it’s Flyday…err Friday, everyone! In this week’s edition, FAA flight bans, long-haul LCCs, sky-high fashion, and more!

Graphic courtesy OCHA, Creative Commons

Graphic courtesy OCHA, Creative Commons

NOTAMs: The FAA finally got around to barring US airplanes from overflying Syria this week, only a few years after hostilities began. It replaced the existing NOTAM (notice to airmen) that had merely advised that over-flying the country probably wasn’t the greatest idea, and required the FAA be notified if any US carrier planned to take the risk. In making the decision the FAA cited the ongoing threat of anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of opposition forces (this isn’t new), and their shooting down Syrian military aircraft (again, not new).

Why the FAA suddenly decided to act after years of allowing flights over the war-torn nation is likely related to the recent downing of MH17. The Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot out of the skies over Ukraine in June by a potent surface-to-air missile, sparking an international outrage. The aviation community, and its regulatory bodies, has since become super sensitive (understandably) to operations over conflict zones, erring closer to caution.

Whether or not the Syrian opposition forces currently possess weaponry capable of reaching jets flying at altitude, though, is another matter. Currently they are believed to only have MANPAD surface to air systems, whose range tops out at around 20,000 feet. Most airliners in cruise fly well above that altitude. The missile system that is believed to have downed MH17 is considerably more advanced, with triple the range of a MANPAD system. Either way, the FAA is clearly moving to a safer is better than sorry attitude, even if it may be a bit late in coming.

In other NOTAM news, the FAA moved to continue a ban on flights over riot-ravaged Ferguson, MO that began last week. The current restriction bans flights under 3,000 feet in order to “provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.” The decision sprouted out of a report that a low-flying helicopter was shot at during the riots, though others believe it was to keep news choppers out of the area. Maybe (probably) both. In either case, the ban currently extends through August 25th.

Switcharoo: Two major carriers announced plans to shift some, and in one case nearly all, long-haul flying to low-cost (LCC) subsidiaries and/or partners in the coming year.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

First was Lufthansa, whom ATW reported is planning to start a long-haul LCC in the fall of next year. It cites possible names as Intercont-Wings or Cont-Wings. Lufthansa wouldn’t comment on possible names to us, but a spokesperson did say it plans to operate up to seven Airbus A330 or Boeing 767 aircraft. The spokesperson added operations were likely to begin in winter, 2015. Where exactly this venture would be based was also not a topic Lufthansa wished to discussed, though ATW said Munich and Cologne are in the running.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

Qantas is the second. The Aussie flag carrier has been fighting to stay afloat after massive losses stemming from currency problems and a runaway expense sheet. According to reports from the region, the carrier is planning to shed many of its international routes, replacing the Flying Kangaroo with its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar. The new airline has been gaining momentum over its legacy parent for some time, evidenced more recently by its taking delivery of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners instead of Qantas.

Qantas International has been one of the group’s most unprofitable departments as of late, having hemorrhaged $262 million single-handedly in the second-half of 2013. The switch to Jetstar would help Qantas save big on labor costs, which have been especially high and damaging. The airline is on a trek to cut billions from the balance sheet, including thousands of job cuts.

The spin-off switcharoos for either Lufthansa or Qantas are far from set in stone, however. Labor unions representing staff for both carriers are expected to protest and obstruct the efforts. ATW reported that Lufthansa’s pilot union is expected to take a vote on possible actions.

Base of operations: United has said it will open a Boeing 787 pilot base at its San Francisco hub next month. The decision comes as the carrier expands its fleet of 787s to nearly one dozen. Many of them are utilized to serve destinations in Asia, such as Chengdu or Osaka Kansai.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

Frontier now at Dulles:  Frontier Airlines inaugurated service at Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) this week. The Denver-based carrier will serve a total of 18 destinations from IAD by November 22. It has already announced Nassau, Bahamas as a new destination starting November 20 with fares starting at $69 one-way.  Flights to Atlanta, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and Orlando began on August 19th; to Charlotte on August 20; and to Tampa on August 21.  The remaining schedule for the new service is as follows:  September 8:  Detroit, Las Vegas, Memphis, St. Augustine/Jacksonville and St. Louis; September 9:  Cincinnati, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers; September 15:  Chicago-O’Hare; October 1:  Cleveland; November 21:  Palm Beach; and November 22:  Cancun.

Uber excited: United will be the first to offer ground-based Uber transportation services via its mobile app, enhancing its usage throughout the whole travel experience.  United’s app is available for mobile iOS and Android devices.  Via release, United added that customers who sign up for Uber via the United app, and complete their first transaction, will receive 1,000 MileagePlus award miles.

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Filling it out: JetBlue has filled out the last of its new Reagan National slots, after announcing flights from the DC airport to Jacksonville, Florida on Tuesday. The twice-daily service will begin on December 18th, utilizing the carrier’s E190 aircraft.

JetBlue won the extra slots – 24 – thanks to the AA/US merger and consequent divestiture. Other cities that will see new service to DCA with JetBlue include Charleston, Hartford, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, and Nassau.

Cathay to Boston: Beantown will become Cathay Pacific’s newest destination next May with four-times weekly flights to Hong Kong. It will be New England’s first direct flight to the city as Boston’s connections to Asia begin to grow. The city, which has long sought service to the continent, recently added service to Tokyo and Beijing. Elsewhere it has also added Dubai and Istanbul to its growing international profile.

Sky-high fashion: Southwest recently partnered with Macy’s to put on a full fashion show at 35,000 feet. Six models on board the New York to Chicago flight got up and put on a full show, using the center/only aisle as the world’s highest runway. Check out the video here!

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Photo Courtesy JDL Multimedia

Silver Airways starts FLL-Jacksonville: Silver Airways, a regional airline serving intra-Florida routes among others, marked the start of Fort-Lauderdale-Jacksonville flights this week. The airline now serves sixteen intra-Florida routes, as well as throughout the Bahamas. The carrier also operates United Express routes out of Dulles airport. It operates a fleet of roughly two-dozen Saab 340 turboprops.

Primate business: Continuing in the theme of cute animal-based cap stories, British Airways recently flew a small Bengal Slow Loris primate from the Maldives to its new home in the UK. The animal was confiscated by authorities in Male after a drug raid, and spent 8 months in sub-par living conditions before his new home was located. Such operations require significant planning thanks to international rules governing transport of live animals. They can include the size of the carriage container, temperature in the hold, and the manner in which the container is secured. Only a few thousand of the primates exist, thus making it a vulnerable species.

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

Taking a Look at Delta’s Domestic Loads at Seattle

Technical Problems Make for a Bad Sunday at Miami International Airport

Photo Tour: TAM MRO

Hawaiian Diversifies Its Route Network:  Analysis

Flagship Detroit:  Onboard the World’s Oldest Flying DC-3

Columbia Regional Airport Faces Uncertain Future

US Airways Retires Boeing 737-400

Best of Airways:  Southern Air Transport:  An Uncommon Carrier (Part 1)

United to Refresh Premium Class, Add to Shorter Flights

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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Photo Tour: TAM MRO

By Jason Rabinowitz / Published August 22, 2014

Welcome!

Welcome!

Three hours north of São Paulo, Brazil, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, there is a sprawling facility known as TAM MRO. The MRO facility, or maintenance, repair, and overhaul, is tasked with keeping the TAM fleet in tip top shape. From paint touch ups to heavy D-checks, this facility does it all.

Opened in 2001, the MRO facility is located at the prior site of a tractor assembly line. Now employing over 1,400 people 24 hours a day, the facility is responsible for the 40% of LATAM groups fleet of Airbus A319/320/321, A330, and Boeing 767. The Boeing 777-300ER is currently maintained off-site, as the taxiways at this facility are not wide enough to support the massive aircraft.

Aside from its own fleet (and that of sister airline LAN), the MRO facility is also responsible for the maintenance of several direct competitor’s fleets, such as Avianca, GOL, and Azul. The facility can also accept Embraer aircraft of any airline, and is even responsible for the maintenance of a few government-owned aircraft.

Heavy checks at the facility can run anywhere from three to 60 days, and about 130 LAN and TAM aircraft will make their way through the facility every year. The facility houses machine shops, a metallurgy lab, paint facilities, a composite shop, upholstery rooms, electronics testing, and even a top secret landing gear electroplating process. On top of it all, a warehouse stocks everything from sharklets to the seats that leased aircraft were originally delivered with.

Speaking of composites, the MRO facility will also host the composite built Airbus A350, which the airline expects to take delivery of in late 2015. Although the aircraft will be delivered within a year, the MRO facility does not expect to see it come in for any heavy checks until a few years into its life, so preparations are still needed.

Check out the photos of the facility below!

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Photos by author

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Taking a Look at Delta’s Domestic Loads at Seattle

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published August 22, 2014

Delta Connection airplanes on the ramp in Seattle. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive

Delta Connection airplanes on the ramp in Seattle. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive

Delta Air Lines is now more than a year into its Seattle experiment, so Airchive decided to take a look at some of the data coming out of Seattle through the early part of this year. Delta has positioned Seattle as its West Coast Asian gateway and accordingly, it has added service to several Asian destinations from Seattle. However, in order to support that Asian growth, Delta has also added service to several US destinations in order to provide feed for long haul departures and connectivity for long haul arrivals from and to Seattle.

The carrier will continue to add service in Seattle throughout the remainder of 2014, however, it is not too early to begin evaluating its performance in early 2014 in Seattle. Fare data for the first half of 2014 will not be available for some time, however load factor data is available as recently as May 2014. With that in mind, we tabulated Delta’s inbound and outbound load factor for every domestic destination from Seattle (using DOT data) for May 2014, which are presented in the table and chart below.

Destination Outbound Load Factor Inbound Load Factor
Anchorage 91.9% 87.4%
Atlanta 92.3% 89.3%
Cincinnatti 86.4% 91.3%
Detroit 91.7% 93.4%
Fairbanks 70.6% 65.6%
Honolulu 81.9% 93.2%
New York JFK 84.9% 87.4%
Juneau 41.5% 28.0%
Las Vegas 60.6% 62.7%
Los Angeles 76.9% 82.8%
Minneapolis St. Paul 90.2% 94.3%
San Francisco 59.4% 66.6%
San Jose 51.4% 70.0%
Salt Lake City 77.1% 90.7%
May 2014 - Source: T100

May 2014 – Source: T100

Load factors for Delta in Seattle were mixed. Flights to other Delta hubs (excepting Los Angeles) and Anchorage performed extremely well in terms of loads, as one would expect during the beginning of the peak travel season. The seasonal services to Fairbanks and Juneau performed poorly, though the number of flights in May wasn’t huge. Services to non-Delta hubs continued to perform poorly in terms of load factors, likely due to the spool-up process. Given that fares to Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles aren’t exceedingly high, the poor loads imply that on a stand-alone basis, these routes are not fantastic performers. That being said, without a picture of what international loads and fares look like, it is still too early to conclude anything too firmly. However, the load factor data does indicate that Delta’s early returns in Seattle are mixed.

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Contact the author at Vinay.Bhaskara@Airchive.com

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United to Refresh Premium Meals, Add to Shorter Flights

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 21, 2014

united-airlines-boeing-737900er-dinner-2013_30668United Airlines will be introducing refreshed meal choices in its premium cabins this fall, the carrier said on Thursday. It also said, via release, that it would expanding meals to shorter flights.

Passengers flying in business and first class with the carrier can expect new options for their palettes this fall. United says new salads, wraps, and sandwiches will be on tap, along with Prosecco sparking wine. Some of those new items will include an Asian-style noodle salad, and Italian prosciutto sandwich on tomato focaccia.

United Express flights will also receive “fresh meal options, replacing the existing snack boxes. Longer, transcontinental mainline flights will continue to offer one of three choices: beef, chicken, or pasta.

The carrier also said it would be significantly revamping its offerings across the board, including in long-haul economy. It did not elaborate.

RELATED: So Long: American Airlines Axes Short-Haul First Class Meals

Most interestingly, however, was the carrier’s announcement that it would be expanding full meal options to flights over two hours and twenty minutes (or 800 miles). The previous cutoff was 900 miles.

“These changes mark the beginning of an extensive overhaul of our North America and international food service, offering travelers a level of service above that offered by our peers,” said Lynda Coffman, United’s vice president of food services.

That contrasts with rival American’s recently announced decision to cut meal service on flights under two-hours, forty-five minutes. It cited the need to align experiences with merger partner US Airways as the primary reason for the change, prompting reactions from ambivalence to rage from its frequent fliers.

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive 2014

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Best of Airways: Southern Air Transport: An Uncommon Carrier (Part One)

By Maurice J Wickstead / Published August 21, 2014
This article originally appeared in
Airways Magazine.

727-100C N5092 Southern AT SGN May67 [Rodger D Fetters-Wayne Mutza-c] e300Frederick C (Doc) Moor Jr returned home to Tallahassee, Florida, after wartime military service with the dream of starting his own airline. He bought a down-at-heel twin-engine Cessna UC-78 Bobcat with the intent of running charters, but meanwhile had to earn a living. After a brief spell with National Airlines, he went to work for Skyways International of Miami. This was one of the plethora of what the Civil Aeronautics Board called Large Irregular Carriers, which had sprung up to capitalize on the glut of surplus transport aircraft and aircrews.

Moor was well-qualified, with 3,000 hours and 60-plus Atlantic crossings under his belt. A former instructor with the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, Moor joined Pan American Ferries and then the US Army Air Forces’s Air Transport Command, flying the Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express on the ‘Fireball Express’ supply run between Miami and India.

DC3 N310KUnder Moor’s sole proprietorship Southern Air Transport (SAT) was established early in 1947, joining the ranks of the Large Irregulars. Operations began in July with a Douglas DC-3 leased from George Batchelor’s Arrow Airways. The new outfit’s first significant customer was Paramount Aquariums of New York, and SAT’s aircraft was soon regularly trundling south to Belém in Brazil to bring back consignments of exotic fish in 5USg (20l) drums.

Among the early pilots was Everett E Jones, something of a salesman. During layovers he began to take orders from locals for much-desired consumer goods and medicines. To satisfy this demand and fill the otherwise empty southbound leg, Southern Air Trading was borne. By the end of 1947 this business had netted some $50,000 (equivalent today to $500,000).

Southern Air Transport, formally incorporated on October 31, 1949, had been looking for its own aircraft. Coincidentally, the US Air Force was selling off large quantities of surplus Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando twin-engine transports through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. SAT snapped up four examples from storage at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, reportedly for a total price of less than $30,000 ($300,000 today).

C-46A YV-C-ERF RANSA MIA Jul67 e300According to Moor’s biography, pending certification for commercial operations, one was retained and the remainder were sold by the ever entrepreneurial Jones to Rutas Aéreas Nacionales SA (RANSA), an emergent Venezuelan cargo airline, in return for a 50% holding. The RANSA operation expanded quickly mirroring the trading pattern set by SAT. A growing fleet shuttled between Miami and Venezuela’s major cities carrying consumer goods both for individuals and under contract to the likes of GEC, Whirlpool, and Lucky Strike. After a while, Moor tired of his increasingly dominant partner and sold his stake in RANSA to Jones, who later became the airline’s chairman. Just as well as it turned out, for in July 1960 RANSA’s principal, Carlos Chávez, was arrested on charges of attempting to assassinate Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt and the airline was subsequently nationalized.

Being willing to tackle almost anything, through the 1950s SAT found sufficient work to keep going, mainly in South America. Until late in 1952 it operated US government Commercial Air Movement (CAM) flights transporting military personnel. One of these missions carried scientists to Las Vegas to observe atom bomb tests at the Nevada Proving Grounds. Another contract involved the transfer of overhauled engines from Robins AFB, Georgia, to air bases around the country.

SKYWAYS INTERNATIONAL NC1651M e300Southern Air Transport also carried immigrants from San Juan to New York, Brahma cattle to South America, racehorses, and exotic tropical animals. On one occasion a crate containing live snakes broke open and it took a couple of days to catch all the reptiles hiding in the darker reaches of the C-46. All manner of general cargo was hauled, not least seven tons (6,350kg) of gold bullion from Medellín, Colombia, to New York.

In 1959, the CAB granted SAT a Supplemental certificate for cargo operations and authority for flights around the Caribbean.

Enter the CIA

While the Central Intelligence Agency already had its own air arm, Air America, created in 1950 (as Civil Air Transport Inc) to support US foreign policy objectives in the Indo-China region, there was a desire to create a contingency ‘air force’ with an eye toward future ventures in Latin America. In summer 1960 a search began for a suitable established ‘front’ carrier, especially one in possession of a Supplemental certificate, which Air America lacked. This was now a mandatory requirement to enable bidding for lucrative military airlift contracts to offset running costs, while still remaining available to fulfill CIA operational needs.

Southern Air Transport, by now unprofitable and with assets of around only $100,000 (approximately $775,000 today), proved an attractive candidate and the airline changed hands on August 5 for $307,506.10 ($2.42m), ostensibly to Actus Technology, a front corporation. The transaction was handled through two government nominees, Percival F Brundage, director of the Bureau of the Budget and Perkins McGuire, Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. Although under the overall supervision of the CIA, Doc Moor and his number two, Stanley G Williamson, were retained as chairman and president, respectively, to handle the commercial side of the business and, no doubt, to maintain a veneer of ‘respectability’.

Williamson, a former Navy pilot, had joined SAT in 1950 to help manage the business after working for Prince Alexis Obolensky’s short-lived Miami-based International Air Freight. Profits jumped to some $75,000 within three months of the CIA takeover and the balance sheet soon showed assets exceeding $2.5 million.

N90781 BG1In September 1960, SAT took over the MATS Inter-Island contract from Air America, along with two of that company’s Douglas DC-6A Liftmasters. Over the next few years several more followed. The four-engine propliners were used to operate between Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan, and—from 1967—on the Booklift contract carrying the Stars and Stripes newspaper from Tachikawa and Yokota, Japan, to Korea. The SAT DC-6As also included missions to ‘Oak Tree’ (a code-name for Charbatia, in eastern India) in support of clandestine operations against Tibet.

Together with a couple of DC-4s and DC-7C freighters, the C-46 fleet, now standing at five, soldiered on hauling cargo around the Caribbean and to South America until 1969, when the survivors were transferred to another CIA proprietary, Intermountain Aviation in Arizona. Two former SAT C-46s, suitably ‘sanitized’, provided logistical support to Operation Pluto, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Another C-46 used in the operation later became part of the SAT fleet.

707-323C N8404 Southern AT-BAX Global OKC 05Jan89 [denis goodwin] e300Three passenger-cargo convertible Boeing 727-100Cs, ordered by Air Asia, the Taiwan-based maintenance arm of Air America, arrived late in 1966. These were leased by SAT for routine Military Airlift Command personnel and cargo contracts out of Yokota and Tachikawa Air Bases, Japan. One of the 727s was leased to Civil Air Transport and was destroyed in a fatal accident on approach to Taipei in February 1968.

By September 1964 some $250 million ($2 billion) worth of military contracts had been diverted from US independent carriers to SAT and five other CIA-linked entities. Unsurprisingly perhaps, by 1967 SAT’s profits had risen to $1.68 million ($11.6m).

L-100-20 N7984S  [4362] Southern Air Transport FRA Feb 82More modern heavy lift equipment, ideally suited to the Latin America region, began to arrive at the end of 1968in the form of the Lockheed L-100 (the commercial variant of the military C-130 Hercules). While awaiting the ‘call to arms’, using its new four-engine turboprop freighters SAT soon developed a reputation for handling outsize loads—a hovercraft from the UK to Yellowknife, a complete street lighting installation from Brussels to the Congo, and a space capsule from Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver to Cape Kennedy. Another lucrative operation was the transport of jet engines for the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar and Boeing 747 production lines.

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, in 1972 Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms ordered the CIA to divest itself of ownership and control of Air America and related companies. In line with this SAT was put up for sale, but unloading the airline proved to be a problem. When The New York Times broke the story in August 1973, the news immediately invoked a storm of protest from several legitimate airlines arguing that SAT had been built up with government money and received lucrative contracts, thereby representing unfair competition. As a result, SAT surrendered its Supplemental common carrier certificate to become a private contract operator, greatly reducing its value. Apart from which there were now only three aircraft remaining in its inventory. On December 31, 1973, SAT was sold to its long-serving president and CEO, Stan Williamson, for a reported $2.1 million ($11.1m). Doc Moor had died two years earlier, continuing to pursue his life-long love of competitive power-boat racing up until the day before his death.

C-123 Air America 1990 Columbia Pictures Frank Connor Carolco (4) e300The change did not end the CIA connection. According to the affidavit of Stephen L Crittenden, a former Army Special Forces and Air America pilot, he was selected to front a new CIA venture, Crittenden Air Transport (CAT). Provided with a $20 million budget and five Fairchild C-123 Providers, the company, based in Bangkok, undertook its first clandestine mission in 1976. Shipments, allegedly comprising armaments and narcotics, were trans-shipped to and from Southern Air Transport aircraft at Manila and these transfers continued until 1978 when Crittenden received C-130s and a Boeing 707 to take over CIA-linked Pacific Rim operations.

Meanwhile, in 1977 the CAB gave Southern Air Transport the authority to contract with the Department of Defense. The following year it received domestic all-cargo authority, and in 1980 was approved for worldwide all-cargo charters.

Southern Air Transport changed hands again in 1979, when James H (Jim) Bastian, a former director of Air America and SAT’s legal counsel through the CIA years, became the sole shareholder, taking over as president and CEO. Bastion became chairman in 1983, retaining his CEO title, and named William G (Bill) Langton, previously with another CIA contractor, Evergreen International Airlines, as president and COO.

The Iran-Contra connection

Although Southern Air Transport’s connection with the agency had been revealed in the 1974 exposé, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, any link between SAT and the US government’s more questionable activities went largely unnoticed until 1986. But on October 5 that year the relationship was blown wide open. A C-123K bearing a fake Panamanian registration was downed by a Sandanista SAM over Nicaragua. The sole survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, a contracted cargo handler, was captured and after interrogation admitted that the aircraft was on a covert mission carrying Soviet-made arms destined for Nicaragua’s Contra rebels. The aircraft in question was one of two, earlier flown by notorious drug-running pilot and Medellín Cartel associate Adler (Barry) Seal, on a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation to Nicaragua. For this latest sortie it had been leased from Doan’s Helicopter Service by CIA shelf company, Corporate Air Services, and paid for by a $300,000 check drawn on a SAT account, which also performed the maintenance. Moreover, the one of the dead pilots was reported carrying SAT identification.

The resulting furor surrounding these revelations rumbled on for many years to become known as the Iran-Contra Affair, an undercover National Security Council ‘enterprise’ run by Lt-Col Oliver L (Ollie) North and his ‘fixer’, Maj-Gen Richard V Secord. The scheme was concocted to sell armaments to embargoed Iran in exchange for US hostages and use the profits to fund right-wing opposition forces in Nicaragua.

Starting in February 1986, SAT transported shipments of anti-tank weapons and Hawk missiles to Israel for onward movement to Iran, while its aircraft had been frequently seen at San Salvador’s Ilopango International Airport, a known transfer point for the CIA’s Central American operations.

Shortly after the shoot-down incident, the FBI and US Customs Service began an investigation into the airline’s activities, but were forestalled by pressure from North and his associates, as were Congressional investigations into SAT’s alleged involvement in the Iran-Contra episode. The airline’s PR machine had always strenuously denied any such complicity, but its claim for libel against a 1987 investigative feature in Newsweek magazine was denied by the courts, though they did not find widespread allegations of drug trafficking proven. A parallel action for defamation was brought against ABC over a 1987 TV program alleging collusion between SAT and South African cargo airline Safair—the source of several L-100s—in the movement of arms to Latin America. SAT, however, was forced to concede that on one occasion a chartered Safair Hercules had been involved.

Join us next week for part two, as Southern Air Transport works to go legit!

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgre@Airchive.com

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