Vote for the Top Commercial Aviation stories of 2013

This is self-explanatory. We’ll publish the results December 31.

Feel free to nominate other stories in Reader Comments.

Odds and Ends: Recovering WWII flying boat; Constellation restorations; Eastern Air DC-7B; Where will 787-10 be assembled?

As the holidays approach, we’re going to lighten up a bit and provide some links to feature stories. There continues to be news, of course, and a couple of items are in this post. But enjoy the break.

Recovering WWII Flying Boat: A World War II Sunderland Flying Boat has been recovered from the waters and is set for restoration. Here is the story.

Lockheed Constellation: The Airline History Museum in Kansas City is raising money to return to flying status a previously restored Lockheed Constellation. Officials want to recreate the history-making trans-continental flight of Howard Hughes and Jack Frye in April. Lufthansa Airlines continues work on restoring a 1649 model, which would be the only such Connie to be returned to airworthy condition. Here is a website detailing this effort as far as we could determine.  Here is a website that talks about surviving Connies with some data about the LH program. It’s out of date, having predicted a first flight this year.

Eastern Airlines DC-7B: N836D still sits at the Charlotte (NC) airport, having returned here shortly after takeoff when an engine shut down. US Airways 1549 pilots Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles were on board. The airplane is owned by the Historical Flight Foundation in Miami. In May 2011 we flew on the plane from Miami to St. Maarten and back. The Foundation needs $50,000 to return the plane to Miami and $10,000/mo to keep it insured and operational for flight-seeing trips.

Back to some news:

787-10 assembly site: Overshadowed in all the hubbub surrounding the Boeing 777X is where the 787-10 will be built. Boeing launched the program at the Paris Air Show and plans a 2018 EIS. Boeing plans to increase production rates of the 787 from 10 to 12 and ultimately to 14 by the end of the decade (our information is, not without coincidence, 2018). Plans are to have Boeing’s Everett plant and the Charleston plant each producing seven per month.

The Everett plant can accommodate the 787-10, but only on a slant basis, not nose-to-tail, we’re told. Charleston will be able to do nose-to-tail.

The Charleston Post and Courier reports that a decision on the 787-10 assembly site will be made in the first quarter.

The Post and Courier Tweeted that Greensboro (NC) is off Boeing’s list now. Update: North Carolina is off the list entirely, the newspaper reports.

Odds and Ends: AirAsiaX plans A330 order; AA’s livery; vote for TWA heritage livery

AirAsiaX plans A330 order: AirAsiaX, the long-haul low cost carrier, plans a large order for the Airbus A330 this week, according to Bloomberg.

A380’s future: Bloomberg News talks about the future of the Airbus A380 with CEO Fabrice Bregier. Among his comments: no stretch anticipated until 2030.

American Airlines livery: Doug Parker, the new CEO of American Airlines, says employees will get to vote whether to keep the new American livery or restore the double AA/eagle livery to the tail. American will also add a TWA “heritage” livery airplane. US Airways has several heritage paint jobs in its fleet.

So…which TWA era would you like to see? Vote in the poll following the photos.

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Odds and Ends: From EADS’ Investors’ Day; Illinois and 777X; Air Canada; LOT gets $33m from Boeing

From EADS’ Investors Day 1: Airbus parent EADS is having two days worth of briefings for aerospace analysts. Here’s initial news coverage from Day 1:

Reuters: EADS strategy stresses Airbus

Reuters: EADS IDs new dividend policy, A350 target

Illinois and 777X: Add the Prairie State to those submitting bids to Boeing for the 777X assembly site. Illinois was previously not included in any list that we saw.

Air Canada: The airline’s Board of Directors meets today to ratify staff recommendations to replace the Airbus A319/320/321 fleet. Airbus and Boeing are competing with their A320neo and 737 MAX families. This competition is said to be only for the 150-200 seat sector. A separate decision for the 100-149 seat sector is expected to come next year. Bombardier hopes to win that part of the deal.

Update, 10:30 PST: The Wall Street Journal says Air Canada and Boeing are negotiating a deal for 50 737 MAXes.

Update, 11:15am PST:

LOT gets $33m from Boeing: Reuters reports that LOT Polish Airlines will receive $33m from Boeing for the 787 problems. Payments will be in cash, the news agency says.

New American Airlines now a reality; big challenges ahead

December 6 passed without fanfare, but the New American Airlines is a reality.

The first day of stock trading, under the symbol AAL, begins today. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram–the hometown paper of the Ft. Worth-based AA–has this story, posted Saturday. The New York Times provides this analytical piece.

We know the US Airways management team reasonably well and we think they will be much better than the former American management. American hasn’t been the same since Bob Crandall retired in 1998. Crandall’s successor, Don Carty, had a lousy tenure. He originated the acquisition of Reno Air, a small airline headquartered in Reno (NV), for reasons that passed all understanding. In doing so, he created ill will with the AA pilots union (which, in fairness, wasn’t hard to do with this bunch of malcontents), creating all sorts of labor issues. Carty also acquired Trans World Airlines, another merger of mysterious motives that appeared more to do with market share than business sense. TWA’s only US hub by this time was St. Louis (MO), a mere 250 miles from AA’s massive Chicago O’Hare hub. TWA’s fare structure was low, competing as it was with fellow-hubber Southwest Airlines and able to attract traffic on price rather than quality.

We’ll never know whether the TWA merger would have been a success. The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened shortly after the acquisition, and by 2003, American was on the ropes. Carty negotiated steep concessions from the employee unions, but the deal unraveled when it was revealed that management simultaneously lined up for tens of millions of dollars in executive bonuses. Carty was forced out in the quid pro quo to complete the concession deal.

Carty’s successor, Gerard Arpey, gained respect from the employees. Over the next few years, more concessions were sought by Arpey as he strove to keep American from following all its peers into bankruptcy. But those bankruptcies allowed all the competitors to shave pension plans, cut wages and benefits and other costs while American remained burdened with higher costs across the board. In November 2011–10 years after 9/11–American finally succumbed and filed for Chapter 11. Arpey, who disagreed with the decision, resigned and was succeeded by Tom Horton.

We were never impressed with Horton, particularly with his view that he deserved $20m in the bankruptcy restructuring. He’s non-executive chairman of American but will leave the company soon. He provided this farewell message to employees.

Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways and America West Airlines, who engineered the merger, is the new CEO of American. Parker and his team never got the respect we think they deserved for keeping US Airways alive, profitable and competitive with perhaps the weakest route system of the US legacy airlines.

Parker was an early proponent of adopting ancillary fees, a practice passengers really don’t like. But the industry had changed dramatically and free meals, free checked baggage and other stuff of history became just that for all the airlines: history. Today, most carriers make their profits from fees and not the tickets they sell.

Parker will have challenges to bring American back into the forefront of top tier airlines. Its reputation and employee morale have been battered. US Airways continues to rank near the bottom of passenger surveys. Employee group integration at US Airways from the merger with America West continues to be difficult; now add American to the mix.

AA and US will continue to fly under separate banners and certificates for some time, following the examples of United-Continental and Delta-Northwest. Integration of reservations systems, frequent flier programs and so on will undoubtedly present huge challenges. We fully anticipate passenger disruptions, also following the pattern of the other mega-mergers.

One of the things we expect to see is an employee contest for a new livery to replace the one adopted by Tom Horton. The tail logo is just awful, though the fuselage and stylized eagle are fine. When America West and US Airways merger, Parker held an employee contest and the winner is what’s painted on the US Airways planes today. It was a good was to involve employees. Then legacy paint jobs of the predecessor airlines were added to the fleet. We have no doubt this will happen at the New American. There are plenty of aviation geek ideas for an American livery. Some may be found here. From this link, you can click through to various other sites for some pretty creative ideas. We like several of the renderings at this website. The last two are what Horton should have adopted.

Odds and Ends: Alaska strikes back; boost for Q400; Airbus CEO speaks; Groveling

Alaska strikes back: Alaska Airlines has finally struck back at Delta Air Lines, which has been announcing loads of new service into Alaska’s Seattle hub. Alaska announced this morning:

Alaska Airlines will begin daily nonstop service between Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, Calif., starting June 9, and will add a third nonstop flight to its existing service between Salt Lake City and Seattle. Sale fares on the new flights will be available for booking Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Salt Lake City is a major Delta hub.

Boost for Q400: Bombardier inked a Letter of Intent for 30 firm orders for the Q400 turbo-props with Nantong Tongzhou Bay Aviation Industry Co., Ltd. Nantong plans to launch commercial airline service in China through a new carrier called Sutong Airlines.

Airbus CEO speaks: Arabian Business has a long interview with Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier. Once you get past the fluff, there is some interesting information.

Groveling: This story via ABC has nothing new but we love the headline. Add Georgia to the list of grovelers.

This article discusses the prospects of Huntsville (AL) in the competition for Boeing’s 777X assembly site.

The IAM 837 union head at Boeing’s plant in St. Louis has reversed course (and declared a news blackout). More goofiness from the International Association of Machinists.

Points to ponder in Boeing 777X site selection

Boeing last month issued Requests for Proposals from 15 states and locations for some or all of the work for its new 777X.

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Deadline for responding to the RFP is mid-December, essentially three short weeks away.

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Richard Aboulafia, a consultant with The Teal Group, marked Boeing’s shopping around the 777X assembly site appears more driven by anger at one of its unions than by economic sense.

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The RFPs were issued in the wake of the International Association of Machinists IAM District 751 rejecting the contract Boeing offered on November 13, a quid pro quo: accept deep concessions on pension, health care and wage progression in exchange for siting the 777X assembly at Everett (WA), where the 777 Classic is built.

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IAM 751 members, who provide the touch labor, rejected the contract with 67% of the vote.

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Boeing’s scouring the nation is viewed as a plan to get away from unions. However, here are some things to ponder:

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Odds and Ends: 777X Shell game; CSeries updates; EADS unions; More oops

777X Shell Game: TheStreet.com asks whether the Boeing 777X orders announced at the Dubai Air Show amounts to a massive shell game. By this, the column means whether these orders merely will come from other airlines as traffic is diverted from the legacy European, US and Asian airlines to the Middle Eastern carriers as the latter expand their services.

There is no question there will be a diversion of traffic. Boeing a few years ago pointed out the diversion, then at around an estimated 5%, as the Middle Eastern airlines–Emirates, Qatar and Etihad–rapidly expanded into markets. But this is what competition is about. And this is what has got Delta Air Lines of the US so exercised over the US Export Import Bank financing the likes of Emirates Airlines.

Air traffic growth will accommodate some of the competition.

There are more than 1,000 Boeing 747-400s and 777 Classics in operation or on order that will require replacement by the 777X and the Airbus A350-1000. Business Week raises the question, how will Boeing maintain sales of the 777 Classic now that the 777X program has been launched?

CSeries Updates: Bombardier is “mulling” a new program schedule for the CSeries, according to this story from AIN Online. BBD should announce any new timeline for its flight test program, and presumably entry-into-service, within a few weeks. Flight Global reports that the program will see the addition of the second flight test vehicle shortly, which will increase the frequency of flights. Flight Global also reports that BBD officials see more orders and better pricing starting to flow as more flight tests and data from the program comes forth.

Bombardier now has 419 orders and commitments for the airplane.

Here is a profile of BBD’s top official in China.

EADS unions: Lest one forget, Boeing isn’t the only aerospace company with union issues. Airbus parent EADS is facing a walkout next week by one of its unions. Reuters reports the walkout is to protest layoffs as EADS restructures its defense subsidiaries.

Speaking of oops: Yesterday we reported that a Washington State advertisement supporting the Boeing 777X used a picture of an Airbus airplane. This lit up Twitter and made news all over the country. Today we woke up to find Twitter and the news lit up with reports that a Boeing Dreamlifter landed at the wrong airport in Kansas.

Odds and Ends: Boeing Everett; SkyWest raises doubts about MRJ; Boeing and Charleston on 777X

Boeing’s Everett Footprint: With the news that Boeing will build 1.5m sf of space for a new 777X Final Assembly Line and wing production facility if the IAM 751 members ratify the new contract and Washington State ponies up on incentives, the obvious question is: what happens with the current Everett plant?

It had been assumed the 777X would be built in the current facility, integrating with and ultimately replacing the current 777 line; or starting off in the space now occupied by the 747-8, which is struggling to stay alive and which many–ourselves included–believe will die off with the advent of the 777-9.

Let’s consider this latest twist.

  • The 787 Line 1 is assumed to eventually reach a production rate of 7/mo, with Charleston also target for 7/mo, with the goal of the combined lines going to the announced rate of 14/mo by 2018/19.
  • The KC-46A tanker, which occupies half of one bay, goes to two a month in a few years, though it has capacity to go to three. The other half of this bay is currently occupied by the 787 surge line, but in theory this is supposed to go away once Charleston is up to rate 3. Boeing now says this will happen in the first quarter (it was supposed to by year end) but this may not be achieved by then, according to some. But one has to believe Charleston will be ready to rock by 2016, when the 777X is gearing up.
  • The current 777 line, now at 8.3/mo rate, is assumed to have a two year overlap from 777X EIS, or around 2022, when it’s been assumed the current generation 777 would be discontinued. But the 777-200LRF may live on, both in its current form and as a replacement for the KC-10 tanker. Although the USAF is reportedly looking at a 2040 procurement date for the KC-10 replacement, some believe this is too far out into the future and this date will be brought forward.
  • Then there is the 747-8 production space. It’s also assumed this airplane is living on borrowed time. The USAF says it wants to replace the Air Force One fleet in 2021, and this is a long time to keep this line alive. Boeing is counting on the cargo market to return in 2014 to spur demand of the 747-8F, but some believe main-deck freighters of this size will have a very tough time when cheap 747-400 conversions can be had for a fraction of the cost.
  • If space at the primary Everett plant does open up, what is there to fill it if not the 777X? Any number of potentials: the Y-1 737 replacement, closing the Renton factory in the process and splitting the Y-1 between Washington and South Carolina (or Texas, or some off-shore location). A maintenance, repair and overhaul operation: Boeing wants to dramatically increase this service business. Component production.

Over to Readers for your thoughts.

Meanwhile, The Puget Sound Business Journal has this long story on the expected use of robots in building the 777X.

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Delta’s growth in Seattle cause ansgt among Alaska Air fans, but ALK the likely winner

Delta Air Lines is boosting its domestic service to Seattle, causing a lot of angst among Alaska Airlines fans, the hometown airline here.

Alaska (stock symbol ALK), which has about 50% of the market at Sea-Tac Airport, is a Delta code-sharing partner. Delta is overlaying a number of AS routes to Seattle, causing a bevy of news articles and wonderment about just what AS (the OAG code) had done to piss off Delta, and more to the point, if AS’s very existence will be threatened by Delta’s aggressive moves.

Delta also canceled a ground services contract with Alaska, another sign, some think, of the growing “war” between the two airlines.

Delta’s growing domestic presence in Seattle has to be taken into context with its international ambitions here. Delta is making Seattle an international hub. Once with just a few flights, all inherited from its merger with Northwest Airlines, Delta is adding trips, including re-introducing Seattle-London Heathrow, a flight NWA flew for a short period then dropped in the face of long-established service by British Airways.

Source: Delta Air Lines, Great Circle Mapper

Delta Air Lines International Service from Seattle

Sources: Delta Air Lines, Great Circle Mapper

Seattle has historically been a difficult international market. Routes are often very seasonal. Air France offered its own flights here from Paris for a short time before agreeing with Delta to take it over. United Airlines had London service but couldn’t sustain it. American Airlines once had Tokyo service that connected to its Miami hub for onward flights to South America, but also dropped it.

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