Category: flights

Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents

Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) communitys national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations.

A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.

What is a Smart Cockpit?
Imagine taking advantage of the automation available now to make your flight as safe as possible. The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) has determined that pilots who use smart procedures, including automated checklists for normal and emergency operations, predictive aircraft performance, and performance monitoring, might help reduce their chances for an accident. Is that a good thing? YES!

The smart cockpit takes advantage of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), electronic ignition and engine control, interconnected devices, and flight information stream flow. ADS-B is the first step:

The ADS-B equipage date is firm: All aircraft flying in designated controlled airspace must be equipped with ADS-B Out avionics by January 1, 2020. Only aircraft that fly within uncontrolled airspace and aircraft without electrical systems, such as balloons and gliders, are exempt.

Those who have already equipped know the advantages of ADS-B. It provides more precision and reliability than the current radar system. It also provides improved aircraft position data, which is critical in collision avoidance. ADS-B In has a data link for environmental information, which can also be used for air traffic control (ATC) communications , notices to airmen (NOTAM), and up-to-the-minute temporary flight restriction information.

Time is running out! There are only 21 months left until the deadline. If you have questions, see the FAA Equip ADS-B website.

Electronic Ignition and Engine Control
If your car has a start button, you know what this is all about. Electronic Engine Control (EEC) systems are more reliable, more efficient, and less costly to purchase and maintain than analog systems. EECs evaluate input from engine and environmental sensors hundreds of times per minute, which keep your engine running at peak efficiency for your operational environment. Those same sensors will also give you a clear picture of your power plants health. If theres a problem, a light will let you know you need to schedule maintenance.

Interconnected Devices
Interconnected devices turn your cockpit into an information powerhouse. Air-to-ground data links can provide air traffic clearances and instructions as well as current weather and field condition reports and NOTAMs.

Link your phone to access even more information safely and securely. Youll be able to see where youre going without fumble-fingering your route. Information is transferred directly from your flight plan to your aircraft.

This is not technology of the future. Its here and ready to use, today!

Flight Information Stream
With a flight information stream, you can get complete information on your aircrafts health from a variety of internal and external sources that are available now, or will be soon. This information can be formed, updated, and presented in a graphical and text form.

In the future, ATC communications and aircraft configuration will be integrated, and smart checklists for normal and emergency operations will appear as needed.

With all that information, the aircraft will be able to predict performance in takeoff, cruise, approach, and landing operations. Imagine knowing how much runway youll need for every take-off and landing!! Smart!

By taking advantage of the smart systems available, youll increase the safety and efficiency of your aircraft, and youll have a lot more time to do what you enjoy the most: flying!

Message from Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell:
The FAA and industry are working together to prevent Loss of Control (LOC) accidents and save lives. You can help make a difference by joining our #Fly Safe campaign. Every month on, we provide pilots with Loss of Control solutions developed by a team of experts some of which are already reducing risk. I hope you will join us in this effort and spread the word. Follow #FlySafe on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I know that we can reduce these accidents by working together as a community.

More about Loss of Control
Contributing factors may include:

  • Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
  • Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
  • Intentional failure to comply with regulations
  • Failure to maintain airspeed
  • Failure to follow procedure
  • Pilot inexperience and proficiency
  • Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol

Did you know?

  • From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
  • Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
  • Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight.It can happen anywhere and at any time.
  • There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.

Learn more:
There are only 21 months left! FAAs Equip ADS-B website gives you the information you need to equip now.

Still not convinced? Learn more about what ADS-B can do for you.

This GA Safety Enhancement Fact Sheet will show you how you can improve your personal efficiency with a Smart Cockpit. Or, watch this video.

Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? Its a good idea to stay on top of them. Find current FAA regulations on this website.

TheFAASafety.govwebsite has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.

TheWINGS Pilot Proficiency Programhelps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements.It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

TheGAJSCis comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.

April 24, 2018 at 11:41PM News and Updates

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia Prepare for …

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia Prepare for Battle as Joint Venture Ends:

It’s not often we see a joint venture unravel, but that’s exactly what’s happening across the Tasman as Air New Zealand has informed Virgin Australia that the party is over. Beginning October 28, the 8-year old joint venture between the two will end, and the partners will turn into enemies. You might think this would result in fewer flight options, reversing the justifications airlines often use to get joint ventures approved, but that’s not the case. The airlines are instead ramping up service to try to battle with each other.

Virgin Australia has been a mess for several years. Its strategy to try to move upmarket and compete head-to-head with Qantas has just not turned in acceptable financial results over time. It has had to raise money time and time again, and it now has 5 different major owners (Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Group, HNA Group, and Nanshan Group) pulling in every direction. Things have improved in the most recent half-year, but the airline is still in a challenging spot.

Air New Zealand used to own about a quarter of Virgin Australia. Back in 2010, the two carriers started their joint venture for travel between Australia and New Zealand so they could better compete with Qantas. A couple years back, Air New Zealand became so fed up with Virgin Australia that it tried to get new leadership installed. That failed, and Air New Zealand ended up selling its stake. The joint venture wasn’t killed immediately, but it required submitting for approval to renew this October. Air New Zealand declined, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise thanks to the history here.

Forgetting about the soap-opera level of drama here, does it make sense to end this partnership? Probably. If two airlines don’t have the same goals, then a partnership isn’t likely to work. And things have changed for Air New Zealand in particular.

Air New Zealand has spent a lot of time building up Auckland into a gateway to Australia for North American travelers. It has upgraded flights in the bigger Trans-Tasman markets to use long-haul aircraft with international premium cabins. It has also added a great deal of capacity into the US with Houston and soon, Chicago, flights coming into the mix. In other Trans-Tasman markets, Air New Zealand has focused on serving the local market with all-coach airplanes. Air New Zealand is much bigger than Virgin Australia in the Trans-Tasman market, and it thinks it has built up is presence enough that Virgin Australia isn’t as necessary.

When airlines make their pitches for a joint venture, they usually talk about all the additional traffic that tie-ups will create. The increased connectivity and coordinated schedules are supposed to result in an increase in service. So, if that’s the case, then we should expect service options to fall when a joint venture breaks up, right? Well, not in this case.

Both airlines have announced that they’ll be ramping up service individually. Here’s the plan for each.

Air New Zealand

  • Auckland – Brisbane goes from 17 to 20 flights per week
  • Auckland – Sydney goes from 5 to 6 daily
  • Christchurch – Brisbane goes from daily to a mix of 1 to 2 daily flights
  • Christchurch – Melbourne goes from daily to a mix of 1 to 2 daily flights

There are also a lot of strategic increases during seasons or on weekends. You can see those details here.

Virgin Australia

  • Sydney – Wellington up to 5x weekly (new flight)
  • Melbourne – Queenstown up to 4x weekly (new flight)
  • Sydney – Auckland gets one additional daily flight
  • Melbourne – Auckland goes from 11 flights per week to 14
  • Brisbane – Auckland sees a couple extra flights per week

It’s not all an increase here. Virgin Australia is also decreasing Melbourne – Christchurch from 11 to 7 weekly flights and Brisbane – Wellington down from 14 to 9 weekly. (You can see full details.) But overall, you can see this is an increase in capacity for both airlines. So what gives?

Well, Virgin Australia says that it is changing the times on its schedules to “better suit the needs of both leisure and business travellers.” Scheduling no longer requires coordination with Air NZ’s services, so this re-timing makes sense and may help Virgin Australia to fill more seats. But is this really going to result in a huge increase in passengers? I can’t imagine so.

Instead, this to me appears to be an example of airlines trying to continue to offer the same level of service so that they can fight for the travelers who now have to pick an allegiance. In markets like Auckland to Sydney, there will be a fair bit more capacity with two additional daily flights between the two airlines. That should mean that fares will come down as the two airlines try to jockey for position.

In short, this increase in service isn’t likely a result of actual market needs. This is about trying to get the upper hand. It would be more interesting to see what happens in a year. Will there still be as much service from these two airlines in November 2019 as there is in 2018? I would expect that someone will have to either blink or get comfortable with reduced margins.

April 24, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disa…

Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disappears and Alaska Is Prepared:

Virgin America’s time is almost up. After the last flight goes tomorrow night, April 24, the airline will officially be gone from the public eye. Starting Wednesday, all those Airbuses operate under the Alaska Airlines name. There are many milestones in a merger, but for the public, the passenger service system (PSS, aka reservation system) cutover in the big one. Sometimes these migrations have gone horribly wrong (US Airways/America West and United/Continental are the poster-children) while others have gone extremely well (most recently, American/US Airways). How will this one go? After talking to the team running this cutover, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t go smoothly.

I’ve written about how American and US Airways set the gold standard for how to do a cutover, but Alaska and Virgin America are making things even more fool-proof. I spoke with Charu Jain, Alaska’s Chief Information Officer as well as Sandy Stelling, Managing Director of Process Engineering (and project lead for the migration) who walked me through the plan.

You’ll remember that American and US Airways did a “drain down” meaning that at 90 days before the day they wanted to cut over, they stopped accepting reservations on US Airways and sold the flights as American only. That meant that there were very few reservations that needed to be migrated to the new system since most bookings happen within 90 days of travel. Alaska and Virgin America are taking this one step further. They won’t have to migrate a single booking.

About a year ago, Alaska made the decision to set April 25, 2018 as the date that all flights would operate under the Alaska name. So at 330 days before departure when reservations would normally open for sale on Virgin America… they didn’t. Oh sure, you could keep buying tickets on Alaska’s Boeing fleet. But the Virgin America Airbus routes just didn’t go on sale for travel past April 24. In fact, they kept cutting down the booking window for the Airbuses, not taking any bookings past April 24 until October 5 when the schedule finally opened for sale… as Alaska flights.

That means Alaska had to migrate exactly ZERO bookings from the Virgin America reservation system. Every booking was made on Alaska Airlines. So, uh, end of story, right? What else matters? Well, there are a few things.

Airport Training
While the bookings had all come in on Alaska, there’s still the issue of making sure the Virgin America people at airports know how to use the new Alaska systems. It certainly helps that both airlines use Sabre, but they each have different graphical overlays, so the Virgin America people had to learn something new.

At the time of the merger, Virgin America operated at 29 airports, and all but 2 were also airports where Alaska flew. Those two, LaGuardia and Love Field, got Alaska flights soon after the merger, and the airlines worked hard to co-locate in all of those airports as quickly as possible.

With the teams working together, Alaska decided to install both Alaska and Virgin America systems on every workstation. Training of Virgin America airport employees began last November and has been happening continuously. So Virgin America employees have been exposed to Alaska’s system for several months, and have used it in real-life on Alaska flights as well. They should be well-prepared.

Call Center Training
What about in the reservation centers? This one was easy. Virgin America outsourced its call centers to a third party, so, as Virgin America bookings wound down and volume increased on Alaska, Alaska started hiring in its own call centers in Boise, Phoenix, and Seattle. There are today more than 300 additional res agents on the Alaska side.

At the same time, Virgin America stopped using one of the outsourced call centers as volume shrunk. There are fewer and fewer people working in the second one. On April 25, calls will all go to Alaska’s in-house team, so no training of the old outsourced agents was needed.

Why Wednesday?
As I was going over this information, I stopped and realized how weird it was that they would make the switch on a Tuesday night into Wednesday. Why do that when most airlines do Friday night into the quieter weekend? Alaska had a lot of reasons, actually.

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are quieter operational days with fewer flights.
  • Demand is lower, so load factors are lighter and they could thin out the schedule by cutting more redeyes that night without having a big negative impact.
  • Middle of the week tends to have more experienced travelers who are more likely to understand how things work and need less hand-holding.
  • Lastly, Alaska’s most senior employees tend to be working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and not on the weekend.

Adding all that up, Alaska thought mid-week was the way to go.

What to Expect
So what exactly can you expect to see that’s different between April 24 and April 25? Not much. The last departure goes surprisingly early on the 24th. It’s Virgin America flight 1947 leaving Los Angeles at 9:35pm and arriving San Francisco at 11:04pm. If you wanted to be on that flight, too bad. It’s a celebration flight for Virgin America employees who were there since the beginning. But there are flights which will land later, including a couple of the only redeyes still flying like SF to Newark and LA to Philly.

When the 25th arrives, things will only look mildly different. Alaska has already replaced Virgin America signage where it could. In some places, the Alaska signage is hiding beneath a Virgin America sticker which will just be removed. Alaska has already installed enough of its own kiosks to handle the full passenger load for both airlines. The old Virgin America kiosks aren’t being rewired. They’re being retired.

Possibly the most noticeable difference will be the extra employees in the airport. Alaska is staffing up in the Virgin America stations just in case there’s an issue, but really, there shouldn’t be….

What Could Go Wrong?
With all the bookings being made in Alaska’s system and employees already proficient in the new system, what actually could go wrong? Very little, but there are a couple points to watch.

The first is flight status, or what Alaska calls “flight movement.” The Airbus fleet will still run on the legacy Virgin America system for now when it comes to flight movement, and Alaska had to make sure that the res system would work with that. The work has been done and it’s been tested, but I’ll be looking for errant flight status information on that day if things don’t work right. Still, that shouldn’t be a major source of delays even if there is a hiccup.

The bigger threat could be the the passenger counts used for weight and balance. That’s also on a legacy system for the Airbus fleet, and it too has been tested with the Alaska reservation system. If that goes wrong, there are backups. But if you see them manually calculating weight and balance, then you know things have gone really wrong. That could cause delays if it were to happen, but that’s a pretty small risk compared to what we’ve seen in other migrations.

There are just so few potential points of failure in this cutover that it’s remarkable. Chances are, it’ll go smoothly and you’ll never even know anything changed. That is, unless you’re a Virgin America fan. Then you can recognize this as a key point in the ultimate demise of the airline. Sure, some of those airplanes will still have the name painted on the side and purple mood-lighting for awhile longer, but the end is near.

April 23, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats Aft…

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats After Southwest 1380:

Window seat or aisle? After Southwest incident, some fliers think twiceCNN Money
If you read the title of this post and rolled your eyes, then we’re in the same boat. When I got the call saying some people were suggesting that they would reconsider window seats because of the death that occurred on Southwest 1380, I started to rant. The odds of something like this happening in the same exact way are so incredibly tiny. You’re more likely to die by getting run over by a cart in the aisle, or something else equally improbable and ridiculous. But, I did change my tune toward the end of my conversation. I think people should definitely start choosing aisles more. That leaves more window seat options for me.

April 21, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

FAA Issues Emergency Airworthiness Directive (…

FAA Issues Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD):

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) that requires operators to inspect fan blades on certain CFM56-7B engines within 20 days.

The directive is based on a CFM International Service Bulletin issued today and on information gathered from the investigation of Tuesdays Southwest Airlines engine failure. The inspection requirement applies to CFM56-7B engines. Specifically, engineswith more than30,000total cyclesfrom new must complete inspections within 20 days. The EAD becomes effective upon publication. The engine manufacturer estimates todays corrective action affects352 engines in the U.S. and 681 engines worldwide.

April 21, 2018 at 01:41AM News and Updates

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hamm…

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hammered, Rolls Royce Has Engine Problems Yet Again:

This week’s TWO featured links:
I decided to feature two links this week, because they shine light on two sides of the same coin…

Allegiant Air: The Budget Airline Flying Under the Radar60 Minutes
In case you missed it, 60 Minutes ran a scathing half-hour piece on Allegiant’s safety issues last Sunday. It makes the FAA look pretty bad too. Now the question is… how much is right? Had Allegiant bothered to actually comment on the story, maybe some of the inaccuracies could have been resolved easily. But no, Allegiant inexplicably wouldn’t talk to 60 Minutes, and that instantly made the airline look guilty in the public eye. After the story went live, Allegiant finally woke up…

Personal message from Allegiant CEO Maury GallagherYouTube
Here’s a video from CEO Maury Gallagher that was uploaded on Tuesday talking about the report. He refutes some of what was in there, and I’ve talked to people who have been crunching the numbers. It’s not easy getting to some of the exact data points mentioned in the story, so I don’t quite know what to believe and what not to believe. But as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire (inappropriate pun intended). There are issues here in one form or another.

Either way, I don’t think this hurts Allegiant in the long run. People will still keep buying tickets because it’s cheap and in many cases, it’s the only nonstop option. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap?

One for the road:
FAA imposes restrictions on Boeing 787s powered by some Rolls enginesThe Seattle Times
Remember when Rolls Royce had those A380 engine problems? Well, now it’s time for the 787s to have trouble. No US airlines are impacted since they don’t have Rolls onboard, but British Airways, Norwegian, and ANA all do. And now they have to fly closer to alternate airports while this gets worked out.

April 20, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the …

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the Right Way, But The Road is Long:

At first, it seemed like a routine engine failure. Sure, the pictures coming off Southwest flight 1380 looked bad as did the panicked passenger response, but we’ve seen that plenty of times. It was only in February that a United 777 lost an engine cowling and those images looked just as bad. But the more we learned, the more the severity of this situation became clear. The window was knocked out by the debris from the engine, and one passenger was killed. Southwest’s crisis response team jumped into action, and it did a commendable job. But this is just the beginning of a long and difficult path.

Southwest has been flying for more than 45 years, and it has never lost a passenger due to an accident until this week. (Yes, a little boy was killed when a Southwest aircraft over-ran the runway in Chicago. Not that it’s a distinction that really matters, but he wasn’t on the airplane.) Like most big airlines, Southwest had a response plan in place, but it hadn’t been tested in a real-life accident like this. Heck, no US airline has been tested in this way since 2009 when Colgan Air had an aircraft crash in Buffalo.

This particular aircraft was flying from New York to Dallas near cruising altitude when the engine failed. The pilots descended quickly and landed in Philadelphia just before 11:30am Eastern. By all accounts, they did a textbook job of getting the aircraft on to the ground safely, though I’m sure that will be scrutinized carefully in the investigation, like every other detail.

It looks like Southwest’s first official tweet about the accident was at 12:39pm (all times Eastern from here on out).

An initial press release was put out confirming that something had happened. Southwest continued to operate Twitter as normal by responding to customers as quickly as possible, but no proactive tweets went out except for those related to the accident.

As we’ve seen other airlines do in other parts of the world, the airline then scrubbed its public presence to make sure it appeared focused on the accident and not on selling tickets. The logo on Twitter was changed from the usual multi-color heart to a gray one. And the background was just a flat blue.

On the airline’s website, it took off any sale advertising and left a generic blank spot with the logo in the middle. (That was eventually shrunk down in size and a link to information about the flight was posted.)

Another press release was put out around 4:30pm with more detail, including the fact that one person had died. The press release linked to a video of CEO Gary Kelly talking about the accident.

I thought the video was well done. I know he’s just reading a script, but Gary still seemed somewhat shaken. Leaders are at their best when they don’t try to hide emotions in times like these. That somber tone carried through to the media briefing Southwest held at 6pm. (Ok it was more like 6:15pm by the time it got started, but that’s excusable. There’s a lot going on.)

The name of the passenger who died soon became public. Jennifer Riordan was from Albuquerque. She was married with kids. This made the story much more human. Southwest didn’t flinch, however, and stayed on message that its focus was on helping the family and not on anything else. By the end of the day, when people were talking about Southwest, they were talking about the actions of the pilots and not about any potential culpability of the company. But that will inevitably change over time as the unfortunate race to assign blame begins.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt said yesterday that in the preliminary investigation, they had found that one of the fan blades in the engine had broken away. And in this “preliminary examination,” they saw that there was “evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated.”

We don’t know more than that, but that is the kind of news that makes everyone nervous. Certainly there will be questions about whether Southwest properly inspected the engines on this airplane. The engine manufacturer, CFM (a joint venture between GE in the US and Safran in France), will come under scrutiny as well. This is one of the most popular engines in the world, and it has had a handful of issues that may be similar to this one. In fact, there was an airworthiness directive issued the last time this happened (also on a Southwest aircraft). Undoubtedly the FAA will be under the microscope. Looking closely at every party involved is what makes for a good investigation.

Right now, we don’t know why this happened, but the NTSB will figure this out. And there will be inspections and changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Ultimately, there will be learnings that make flying even safer than it already is. That’s the best thing that can happen in any accident and it’s what really matters, not the blame game.

As Southwest CEO Gary Kelly kept repeating over and over, this was a sad day. Southwest communicated well throughout the early hours of the crisis, but it will be tested further as this investigation unfolds.

April 19, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

FAA Statement on Issuing Airworthiness Directi…

FAA Statement on Issuing Airworthiness Directive (AD):

The FAA will issue an Airworthiness Directive (AD) within the next two weeks that will require inspections of certain CFM56-7B engines. The directive will require an ultrasonic inspection of fan blades when they reach a certain number of takeoffs and landings. Any blades that fail the inspection will have to be replaced.

April 19, 2018 at 05:14AM News and Updates

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for…

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for Giving No Options to Stranded Customers:

When it comes to major weather problems, I’m a pretty forgiving person. Weather wreaks havoc on an airline, and recovery can be really difficult. But even if it takes a week, it’s still important for an airline to make sure it completes its recovery by getting everyone where they need to be. Sun Country failed that test this weekend when it stranded scores of passengers in Mexico. I hoped the airline would change its mind, and I reached out for comment today thinking maybe it would have. But even in the face of widespread (well-deserved) criticism, Sun Country has stuck to its guns. And for that it gets the Cranky Jackass award.

Let me set the scene here a bit. A bunch of pale Minnesotans hopped on an airplane to fly down to Cabo and Mazatlán to catch some sun. Spring break is over, and Sun Country is getting ready to pack it in for this year’s season before moving airplanes to different markets. But in the dying days of winter, there are still Minnesotans looking to escape.

While they’re there, Mother Nature gets involved. She says, “You think winter’s over? HELL NO. I hope you like Dairy Queen, because it’s BLIZZARD TIME!” And Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP), home of Sun Country, gets absolutely walloped with a late season storm. I’ll let Sun Country’s VP of Marketing Kelsey Dodson-Smith tell you just how bad it got for the airline.

MSP was closed to all arrivals and departures for a total of 9 hours on Saturday causing us to cancel 25 flights, combined with other carriers, the cancellation count came to 495. Network disruptions continued into Sunday due to weather challenges and runway closures at the airport. We had to cancel 15 of our flights, 315 flights were cancelled in total.

We understand that it has been difficult to call through to our reservations call center based on the significant increase of call volume and recognize the hold times are unacceptable. Our staff continues to work around the clock to reduce the call volume and assist every passenger affected by the extreme weather. We continue to staff to the fullest in an effort to decrease the wait time and assist our passengers as soon as possible. Some of our agents have literally worked from one day, through the night, and into the next to help passengers and to cover for colleagues who were unable themselves to get to work due to the storm.

Long hold times, canceled flights, rolling delays. I get it. It’s really uncomfortable, and people will have their plans disrupted, but that’s just life when weather hits the one hub of a small airline, especially a newly-minted ultra low cost carrier. There isn’t the same capacity to recover as there is with the bigger guys. None of that is Jackass-worthy, but wait, there’s more. Remember those people in Mexico? They were supposed to come home during the blizzard, but instead, flights were canceled and their options were… well… I’ll let Kelsey describe it from here.

Our most challenging recovery situation remains to be our Los Cabos and Mazatlán flights and we cannot apologize enough to those passengers who were hit by the one-two punch of an April snow storm and the seasonality end date of our winter schedule. Our fleet was already allocated to fly other operations and unfortunately, we were unable to send additional aircraft to Los Cabos and Mazatlán without cancelling more flights causing further disruptions to more of our passengers. We felt the best option for these passengers was to provide them a full refund on their airfare so they could get on their way as quickly as possible. If their tickets were booked directly with us, the refund is being automatically credited back to their account. If passengers booked through a travel agency or online travel provider, we are working with those partners to assist with those refunds. Sun Country may take up to 7 days to process the refund. Dependent on the passenger’s bank it may take longer for the refund to be reflected in the passenger’s account. We have expedited processing these refunds ahead of all others.

That’s right. Sun Country has its fleet flying hard, and it doesn’t have the slack to send a rescue mission down to pick up those people who are stuck. So what did it do? It just punted. That is not a solution. People who likely got a bargain flying at the end of the season were now told to go buy a ticket on another airline out of pocket. You can be sure they had to pay a whole lot more than they did in the first place. Of course, a refund should be an option for people who need to get home. But Sun Country should provide more options for those where cost is a greater concern.

I sent follow up questions asking if the airline had thought about other options, but I didn’t receive a response before publishing. Here are just a few of the things Sun Country could have done.

  1. Find some spare aircraft time and send a rescue mission. I know, Sun Country says it has no spare aircraft time. But guess what? You can cancel one of the three daily flights to Vegas and reaccommodate those passengers so you can send a plane to rescue the Mexican tourists. There has to be some way to make this work.
  2. Charter a plane. This isn’t cheap, but it’s an option. If the airline wanted to prove it was the ULCC with a heart, then this would have given good press for miles.
  3. Put people on other airlines. It’s true, the big guys don’t have interline agreements with Sun Country, so the airline would have to just pay for tickets out of pocket on most. But Sun Country does have an interline agreement with Alaska, and Alaska flies to both of those places. This seems like a cheap solution for Sun Country, especially in Cabo where Alaska has a lot of flights back to the US (if not Minneapolis) and a lot of seats available to sell in the next few days. Mazatlán is tougher since Alaska has much less service, but it’s still an option that could be offered to some people. But Sun Country could have just bought the tickets outright. Maybe, what, $150,000 total to do that? It’s worth it.

I don’t know why Sun Country has decided that the “best option” was to give no option. But you would think the airline would be more sensitive to its public persona right now as it morphs from a well-liked hometown carrier with a Minnesota attitude into an ultra low cost carrier. That move made sense to me, but part of the pitch was that the airline was going to keep that “Minnesota nice” attitude. This says very loudly, very publicly, otherwise.

April 17, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire No…

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire Norwegian:

There is nothing quite like watching CEO Willie Walsh and the team at the generically-branded International Airlines Group (IAG) work. Every so often, the company (parent of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus and LEVEL) comes up with seemingly hare-brained ideas that, after further review, don’t seem so crazy after all. The latest news is that IAG has taken a stake of 4.61 percent in Norwegian, and it’s interested in talking about a takeover. Why would a company like IAG want a money-losing, debt-ridden mess like Norwegian? There are so many good reasons, and the fact that IAG is making a move shows that the company remains at the top of its game.

Norwegian, as I’ve written here before, is a mess. It has grown like a weed but not in a wise way. Though it was successful as a low-cost carrier flying 737s around Europe, its expansion since then has tanked the airline’s financial performance. Now, as things have become more dire, the airline looks increasingly vulnerable. Its stock has been trading near a 52-week low, and that means it’s the perfect time to ponder an acquisition… if there’s anything worth acquiring.

IAG has been very deliberate about the airlines it has brought into its portfolio over the years, so it might seem strange that Norwegian would be of interest. But IAG is always looking for something that would better the group’s performance, and this has the potential to do just that. It would be a great way to eliminate an irrational competitor and pick up some assets along the way. This is a forward-thinking move. While Air France/KLM bumbles around with regular strikes and poor strategic decisions and Lufthansa continues to cobble together its Frankenstein-esque monster in Eurowings, IAG continues to outpace them both by a mile.

The most obvious benefit to IAG would be to simply get rid of a ton of competitive capacity from an airline that doesn’t seem to be interested in actually making money. Norwegian has been aggressive over the Atlantic not only with 787s on big routes but also 737s on smaller East Coast-Europe runs. And unlike competitors, IAG has not been taking this threat lightly.

At British Airways, Norwegian’s large-and-growing Gatwick hub has been of real concern. Without Norwegian, there’s no way BA starts flying London to Oakland or Ft Lauderdale. Those flights, operated by 777s in a dense configuration, are merely meant to put pressure on Norwegian. Then there’s LEVEL, the quickly-whipped-up long-haul, low-cost competitor to fly from continental Europe to longer haul destinations, many overlapping with Norwegian. This may seem like an overreaction from a competitive standpoint, but it’s really not, as I’ve come to appreciate. IAG realizes that if Norwegian doesn’t make it work, someone will. If Norwegian disappears, that will be quite the vacuum to fill, but IAG can get ahead of the game by acquiring Norwegian and re-shaping it into something worthwhile.

It could take the long-haul routes that work and bring them into the LEVEL operation. Or really, it would go the other way since LEVEL is still mostly piggy-backing off the Iberia operating certificate. It could use the Norwegian operating certificates in the UK as well as Ireland. For short-haul, IAG could find a way to have some of that mesh nicely with what Vueling has built. This would rationalize routes while letting IAG cherry pick what make the most sense. The continuity of the whole transaction would give little daylight for others trying to take advantage of Norwegian’s vulnerability.

Presumably an IAG-owned Norwegian would be much smaller than today’s Norwegian, but many of those shiny 787s and 737 MAXs could find a home elsewhere in the networks of IAG’s portfolio airlines. The airplanes it doesn’t want, it can use its heft to negotiate out of (or it can lease them out through Norwegian’s leasing company, though that would seem odd). It’s not just the airplanes either. Imagine how British Airways would like to have all those Gatwick slots under its control. Oh sure, some divestiture would be necessary to pass a competition review, but BA would still end up ahead of where it is today. Then there are the ancillary businesses, like Norwegian’s staffing operation. As Jon Ostrower notes, that could be of real interest as well.

The basic idea is that Norwegian doesn’t work as a whole, but there are pieces of interest. And if Norwegian fails, there will be a race to fill that void. This gives IAG pole position in that race.

Of course, this may go nowhere. Norwegian had no idea this was coming. Early signs don’t indicate that the CEO (who owns over a quarter of the airline) is jumping at the chance. But guess what? Even if it falls apart, IAG still gets rich off its investment. Just announcing it had taken a small stake caused Norwegian’s stock to rocket up 50 percent. If this works, IAG gets to shape the competitive landscape in a meaningful way. If it doesn’t work out, Willie will be able to walk away and count his kroner. Either way, IAG wins.

April 16, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: