Saturday, March 26, 2011

Calls for separate seating rise with tensions on flights


It's not that Ian Burford hates children. But the founder of the Facebook page "Airlines should have kid-free flights!" would prefer not to have a wailing tot nearby when he flies.

"I'm 6-4, so seating is always an issue," says Burford, who launched his page a year ago. "But when you're uncomfortable anyway, and then you have some young child screaming or kicking the back of your chair, it just puts you in a bad position, because there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. It's not a case of not liking kids. It's a case of not wanting them sitting next to you or behind you when you travel."

Across the skies, there's a growing debate over whether airlines should do more to segregate the seating of passengers — with designated areas for kids, for example. At a time when increasingly crowded jets have helped to make flying less pleasant for many passengers and social media allow them to instantly tweet their frustrations to the world, a comfortable perch on the plane — and some tranquility around it — has become ever more precious.

Polls of fliers by the travel search site Skyscanner and of business travelers by Britain's Business Travel & Meetings Show indicate a majority of airline passengers want sections set aside for families, or cabins that are for adults only. Overweight passengers have complained about being humiliated as airlines enforce rules that they pay for a second seat so they won't crowd their fellow fliers. And some passenger advocates say that designated rows for those who are tall, heavy or disabled would be a good idea.

"Travel really has become, from the time you leave for the airport to the time you get to your destination ... a stressful experience," says Jami Counter, senior director at SeatGuru, whose website had a record number of visitors in January as fliers sought information on the roomiest cabins and seats.

"When you get on a plane and there's an issue with a seatmate spilling into your space, that makes it that much more miserable," Counter says. "Comfort is an overriding issue, and social-media tools have made it easy to bubble this up to (the) public consciousness."

High-profile incidents have put a spotlight on the tensions.

Last month, Southwest Airlines apologized to a passenger who told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that he was embarrassed when a flight attendant loudly asked whether he'd bought two seats and said that his weight might upset other fliers. In a separate incident, film director Kevin Smith sent a spate of angry tweets in February 2010 after he says he was kicked off a Southwest flight because airline employees thought his weight prevented him from fitting comfortably into one seat.

Qantas settled a lawsuit filed in 2009 by a woman who said a screaming child on her flight caused her to lose some of her hearing. And in 2007, AirTran kicked a family off a flight that was headed to Boston from Fort Myers, Fla., after the family's 3-year-old daughter was disruptive and wouldn't sit down.

Reducing tensions in flight
Some passengers and travel analysts — noting that airlines have begun squeezing more money out of passengers by charging fees for a range of perks, including seats that recline more and even the option of cuddling with your seatmate — say that to decrease tension in the skies, cabins should be cordoned off even more than they are now.

A poll taken in August by Skyscanner found that 59% of fliers supported a section reserved for families. A survey in January of 1,000 business fliers based in the United Kingdom by the Business Travel & Meetings Show found that 74% said they would like to see some flights bar children from the business-class cabin.
"It would be nice if airlines had a section for parents traveling with children, and their own bathrooms," says Jay Burns, a senior construction manager based in Dallas. And, "airlines should have a percentage of seating in aircraft that is for large people. It is difficult enough traveling today without having to put up with other distractions."

Christopher White, a spokesman for AirTran, says it's rare that a family has to be removed from a plane because of an unruly child, as his carrier did in January 2007.

Although flight attendants usually don't have to intervene, noisy children are "an issue where passengers range from slightly annoyed to very frustrated," he says. "People ask to be moved all the time, and we're happy to try and accommodate that."

Burford says he started his Facebook page as a lark, only to see it gain nearly 800 members. Flights for grown-ups-only would be ideal, he says. Short of that, he says, airlines could "have a box on a booking form to say, 'Please don't sit me next to a child.' "

A marketing edge?
Special flights or sections could help a carrier stand out from the crowd, some marketers suggest.
Lopo Rego, a marketing specialist who teaches at the University of Iowa, noted how passengers are paying the fees airlines now charge for extra legroom in the exit row, or to sit in newly created sections of coach.

"Would that work for a whole section of a plane devoted to families? I think it has potential to work," he says. "I'm just not entirely sure what the price premium they can command might be. But it would be a unique way to differentiate themselves."

Even some who might travel with young children say having their own part of the cabin could be nice.
"If I'm traveling with my niece and nephew, I might want the freedom to let the kids play and make a little noise and not worry about upsetting a few people," says Scot Carlson, North America country manager for Skyscanner.

Some travel specialists see exclusive sections as a bad idea.

"It's a dangerous way of thinking," says Anya Clowers, who advises fliers on how to make their trips more comfortable and has a website, JetWithKids.com. "Who's next? Maybe my grandma who's taking a little more time. ... You want a kid-free flight? Put noise-canceling headphones on. You don't want people to kick you in the back of your seat? Sit in first class or the last row of coach. But kicking kids off planes is just not realistic."

Some airline officials and analysts say that exclusive sections on flights are unlikely to help an airline's bottom line and could turn into a logistical nightmare.

Planes are flying full as carriers pare back flights and seats. So what is there to do with a family who missed their flight when the kids' section on the next flight has no space? And if you're sitting in the back of the grown-up section and a baby is crying in the next row, would being in a separate section really make a difference?

"In the airline industry you can never say never, but it's not in any type of short-term plan for us," says AirTran's White. "I don't know if any airline could sustain profitability with an adults-only route if it's going anywhere that's at all family-oriented, like Orlando. ... Any kind of tourist destination, you're going to be hard-pressed to run a flight without kids."

Counter of SeatGuru agrees that it's unclear airlines could make any money from such sections. "Customers are still price-sensitive. So even though they'll say they'd pay to sit in a child-free section, I'd be fairly skeptical," he says.

Some heavy travelers and their supporters say they'd gladly pay for a few rows of their own.

"We'd like a section of the plane or particular seats on the plane that are more accommodating for people of size," says Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the Oakland-based National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. "If they're going to cost me a little bit more, I don't care. They're charging for everything these days, so give me a seat that doesn't cost as much as first class but is wide enough to accommodate a little extra weight."

Howell says her organization is troubled by the arbitrary enforcement of rules regarding heavy passengers buying a second seat. She also is concerned that such rules potentially discriminate against women, who tend to have wider hips, and certain ethnic groups.

And, she says, complaints about heavy seatmates often are rooted in a bias many passengers had before they boarded the plane.

"Many people start out with a fat bias already in their minds," she says. "When they see a fat person ... they're thinking for the most part, 'Don't sit by me.' "

'A delicate balancing act'
In 2009, United began requiring fliers who couldn't put down their armrests and needed more than one seatbelt extender to purchase a second seat. The policy followed a number of complaints from fliers who said their personal space was being infringed upon.

Southwest also requires fliers who can't lower both armrests or who intrude on the space next to them to buy an extra seat. If the flight isn't oversold and a second seat is available, the flier can get a refund.

"We could no longer ignore complaints from customers who traveled without full access to their seats," the airline's website says.

Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, has a problem with what he calls the "fat tax."

"We think it's bad policy," says Macsata, whose group suggests airlines set aside one or two rows for fliers who are tall, overweight or who have disabilities — those who "don't fit into the standard cookie-cutter, coach-class seat."

Counter says the policies at United and Southwest offer fairly objective criteria to deal with touchy situations.
"It is a delicate balancing act of how do you meet the passenger's needs while being fair to other passengers on the plane," he says.

In the end, some flights or sections of the cabin are dominated by one group or another, even without an official policy.

"I think it happens on its own in some instances," says AirTran's White, noting that few children are likely to fly the shuttles that ferry business fliers up and down the East Coast, while flights headed to Orlando's amusement parks are full of families.

Southwest, which has an open-seating policy, also lets families with young children who aren't in the first group to board, get on right after.

"They end up sitting together," spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger says. "This works for Southwest, and we are not currently considering changes to this process."

Friday, March 18, 2011

US checks passengers, cargo from Japan on radiation


(Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Thursday passengers and cargo arriving in the United States from Japan were being checked for radiation from an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant.

Napolitano, however, told reporters that no harmful levels of radiation had been detected by the checks, which she said were being carried out as a precaution.

"And so in an exercise of caution and just to make sure that everyone remains safe, we are doing screening of passengers and/or cargo if there happens to be even a blip in terms of radiation," she said.

"We have seen no radiation, by the way, even on incoming cargo or passengers that comes close to reaching ... harmful levels," Napolitano said.

She said the screening occurred in a variety of different ways. "It depends on whether you're talking about passengers or cargo and where it's departing from," Napolitano said, adding that the Department of Homeland Security was working with other U.S. agencies to ensure the safety of Americans.

The United States on Wednesday showed increasing alarm about Japan's nuclear crisis and urged U.S. citizens to stay clear of the Fukushima nuclear plant, going further in its warnings than the Japanese government.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Paul Simao)

Source:http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/17/uk-nuclear-usa-napolitano-idUSLNE72G06I20110317

Thursday, March 17, 2011

UK airlines reject BAA plan to take control of scheduling during irregular operations

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK said it is "surprised and dismayed" at a BAA proposal to impose so-called emergency timetables on airlines as a means to handle extreme weather or exceptional situations—such as last December's snow that led to major disruptions at several UK airports including London Heathrow. Under the proposal, these greatly restricted operating timetables could be imposed by the airport operator, a concept the organization categorically rejects.

The idea was floated by BAA's CEO Colin Matthews at last week's hearing of the Transport Select Committee but was shot down by BAR UK, which represents 86 carriers.

“The idea to impose emergency airline timetables appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to take the heat off the airport operator during the inquiry into the December snow crisis and has not even been discussed with the airlines,” said BAR UK CEO Mike Carrivick. “An emergency timetable would not have worked, since the airport operator had simply no idea what would open and when. So why should they be in a position to dictate schedules to individual airlines when they can’t get their own act together?”

In a comment to ATW, Carrivick said he believes it would be “very perverse if the airport operator, responsible for the mismanaged airport closures in December, was arbiter of who could or could not fly,” noting that there were a “huge range of other issues” with the proposal, including the fact that it does not take into account long-haul flights already en route.

Moreover, he pointed out, it would remove the incentive for airports like LHR to reopen quickly while simultaneously imposing lost revenue and added costs onto airlines through EU262 denied boarding regulation. “Do the airlines think such a plan would work? No,” he added. “Instead [of emergency timetables] airline requirements in the first instance are a robust snow plan, one that will be implemented effectively. Let’s keep to the established system of the airlines setting the timetables and the airport operators efficiently managing operations.”

Source : http://atwonline.com/airports-routes/news/uk-airlines-reject-baa-plan-take-control-scheduling-during-irregular-operations?cid=nl_atw_dn

New anti-terror measures make toilets the most dangerous place on planes, unions say

New anti-terrorist measures have made toilets the most dangerous place on passenger planes, trade unions warned today.

From next week Air France will remove all oxygen cannisters from WCs on all A320 aircraft and three Airbus A340s because of fears that they can be turned into bombs.

The decision was made by France’s Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGCA) following advice from the United States.

But the national pilots’ union SNPL (Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne) fears that anyone using an airline toilet will be liable to serious illness if the plane suddenly depressurises.

‘Without emergency oxygen anyone could suffer burst eardrums and hearing problems, and indeed pass out,’ said Captain Louis Jobard, the union’s spokesman.

Cap. Jobard said that pilots using the toilet would also be at risk from a sudden loss of pressure – meaning a co pilot would have to cope with an emergency alone.

At the normal cruising height of around 35,000ft, crew or passengers would black out in five seconds.

It would take between four and 10 minutes for the plane to descend to where there was breathable air at 14,000ft, said Cap. Jobard.

Over the past eight months there have been 19 incidents of sudden decompression in Europe.

France is currently on a high state of security alert following bomb warnings from a number of terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda.


Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1366841/Anti-terror-measures-make-toilets-dangerous-place-planes-unions-say.html

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

European companies divert Tokyo Flights South as Nuclear Risk Mounts

Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA) rerouted its Tokyo flights to the southern-Japanese cities of Nagoya and Osaka, citing the risk of nuclear fallout and aftershocks following last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

The German carrier’s services are also stopping in Seoul for a crew change to avoid having staff stay overnight in Japan, spokesman Michael Lamberty said in an interview. Air France-KLM (AF) Group is likewise routing flights via the South Korean capital and other European carriers are taking similar steps.

“We’re doing this to be prepared for all possible scenarios,” Lamberty said by phone from Lufthansa’s hub in Frankfurt. “The radioactive particles are the main concern.”

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant was today rocked by two further explosions and a fire as workers there struggled to avert the risk of a meltdown, heightening concern about radiation leaks after March 11’s earthquake and tsunami.

Austrian Airlines, a Lufthansa unit, said it would delay today’s flight from Vienna to Tokyo by eight hours to avoid winds that may cause radioactive contamination.

Air France is operating flights via Seoul while continuing to serve the Japanese capital, spokesman Cedric Leurquin said by phone. Prime Minister Francois Fillon told lawmakers in Paris that the carrier has been told to “respond without delay” to demands from French nationals who want to leave Japan.

Extra Crew

Austrian’s flights are also being routed via Seoul, and Alitalia SpA said it has added extra crew on routes to Japan so personnel don’t have to spend the night there. The Italian company introduced the policy on March 13, according to a spokesman who declined to be identified, citing company rules. Flights are otherwise operating normally, he said.

Lufthansa’s Swiss International Airlines unit scrapped a flight from Zurich to Tokyo on March 13 before resuming its daily service yesterday, spokeswoman Sonja Ptassek said. Flights are stopping in Hong Kong for a crew change, she said.

British Airways has put its Tokyo operations “under review” while sticking with its usual timetable, spokeswoman Cathy West said by telephone.

There are almost 24 hours until the next daily flight to Narita airport and the five times-a-week service to the capital’s Haneda terminal doesn’t depart until Thursday, giving the London-based company time to mull options, she said.

Head South

French Prime Minister Fillon said citizens who don’t need to stay in the country have been advised to fly home or head to the south of Japan.

Air France has switched planes on its two daily Paris-Tokyo flights to add 100 seats a day, spokesman Leurquin said. Clients can use a ticket on any flight and special one-way fares are on offer for people who aren’t sure when they’ll return, he said.

In the U.S., The Federal Aviation Administration is working with airlines to ensure that flights to Japan comply with airspace restrictions around the stricken nuclear plant. United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL), Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) and American Airlines said they haven’t made any schedule changes.

United Continental and Delta have the greatest exposure to Japan among U.S. carriers, Citigroup Inc. said in an investor note. In Europe, Finnair Oyj (FIA1S), Alitalia and Air France-KLM are most exposed, according to London-based analyst Andrew Light.

Finnair is “monitoring the situation closely” while continuing to operate services to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, spokeswoman Maria Mroue said from Helsinki.

Kan Appeal

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan appealed for calm as he said the danger of further radiation leaks was rising at the crippled Fukushima facility, 135 miles (220 kilometers) north of Tokyo. Sea water is being pumped to cool the reactors and prevent the uncontrolled release of radioactive material.

About 140,000 people within a radius of 20 to 30 kilometers were ordered to stay indoors, Kyodo News reported.

The March 11 earthquake -- updated yesterday to a magnitude of 9 from 8.9 by the U.S. Geological Survey -- and subsequent tsunami have led to what Kan called the country’s worst crisis since World War II. More than 2,000 people are confirmed dead and there have been 405 aftershocks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Earthquake Halts Flights Across Asia

Flight operations throughout Asia have been heavily impacted by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that was centered around northeast Japan. The worst hit airport was in the city of Sendai. Abroad, concern is growing for the economic after effects of the disaster, which could have a long-lasting impact on Japanese airlines.

The already weak Japanese economy could worsen, with disruptions potentially further depressing growth and affecting passenger numbers. Analysts worry that tourism could also be hit. These concerns have caused airline stocks to fall sharply. Asian airlines are already struggling to absorb higher fuel prices.

source : http://www.jma.go.jp/en/quake/20110312195754391-121953.html
JAL reports no damage to its aircraft, but is experiencing serious service disruptions. Finnair has called all flights to Japan, Air France cancelled some of its operations, and British Airways has warned of service disruptions that could last several days. All Nippon Airway, the country's largest carrier, cancelled 131 flights and diverted another 24. Tens of thousands of travellers have been affected.

Source : http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/16227

Friday, March 11, 2011

World's greenest airlines unveiled

The world's greenest airlines have been named at the ITB Berlin travel show, with European carrier Monarch topping the list.

The study of airline efficiency was conducted by Atmosfair, a carbon offsetting company, and looked into factors such as how efficient an airline's fleet was and how full its planes normally fly.

Monarch, a charter and scheduled airline operating predominantly from the UK, was judged the world's most efficient airline, with Atmosfair praising its efficient aircraft and high seating density.

German carrier Condor, owned by holiday giant Thomas Cook, won second place thanks to its high occupancy and Canadian Air Transat was ranked third, making it the most efficient long-haul carrier.

Some of the world's better-known airlines fared less well, with Emirates in 30th place, Delta in 33rd, Air France in 37th, Lufthansa 52nd, British Airways in 61st, American Airlines in 63rd and Virgin Atlantic in 99th place.

Although the airline index covered 92 percent of global air traffic, it deliberately excluded budget carriers because of problems with comparing them on an equal footing, most obviously because low-cost carriers often receive subsidies and fly to airports further away from cities, causing additional emissions.

Atmosfair Airline Index 2011

1    Monarch Airlines
2    Condor Flugdienst
3    Air Transat A.T.Inc.
4    Air New Zealand Link
5    Kingfisher Airlines
6    EVA Airways
7    Air Europa
8    Srilankan Airlines
9    TAM Regional
10   Edelweiss Air

See the full list at http://www.atmosfair.de

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/worlds-greenest-airlines-unveiled-2238390.html

Airlines studying flight cuts, grounding planes to deal with higher oil prices

Evolution of oil price
As airlines push airfares higher to counteract surging oil prices, they also are dusting off the flight plans they crafted to navigate 2008's fuel spike, when crude peaked at $147 per barrel.

United, Delta and American airlines are raising fuel surcharges on overseas flights to levels not seen since 2008 and are laying plans to ground fuel-guzzling aircraft and prune seat capacity, with the deepest cuts coming after the peak summer travel season.

Carriers realize they can't hike fees and fares indefinitely without alienating consumers. So they're looking at ways to curb fuel costs and trim unprofitable flights as oil hits the stratosphere. As in 2008, Chicago-based United is charting the deepest cuts among its peers.

While United intends to hold capacity flat for 2011, the world's largest carrier is planning to reduce its domestic flying by 5 percent during the fourth quarter, United told employees this week. Regional subcontractors will bear half of those cuts.

"Although we've raised our fares recently, we aren't fully recovering our increased costs, and higher fares reduce demand," United CEO Jeff Smisek said in the communique. "As a result, we need to reduce our capacity and allocate our aircraft carefully to markets where we can make money."

If rising oil prices send the U.S. economy into a tailspin, other carriers will ratchet down domestic capacity to keep prices high and avoid flying half-empty jets, analysts predict. So far, Delta and American have trimmed growth plans for the year but haven't announced plans to cut capacity below 2010 levels.

For now, carriers have plenty of pricing power. While airlines have raised domestic airfares by about 25 percent from prior-year levels, travel analyst Rick Seaney expects planes to remain full and prices to stay high for the next few months, regardless of what happens in the Middle East.

"If you're planning a trip for March, April or May, you'd better lock in, and be prepared to hold your wallet in some cases," said Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.

Leisure travelers planning summer trips within North America should wait until late this month to purchase their airline tickets, on the outside chance that oil prices stabilize, Seaney said. Chicago travelers plotting July trips to Paris and London should also wait to see if there is any relief from fares approaching $2,000 round trip.

"It's the highest I've tracked in 10 years," he said.

Navigating a world where crude oil trades north of $100 per barrel isn't nearly as disconcerting to airlines, or their customers, as it was three years ago.

"People understand it," said William Baker, partner with Chicago executive recruiter Baker Montgomery. "There have been so many other problems."

U.S. carriers learned that they could control their own destiny by capping capacity so that markets weren't flooded with cheap seats. They also looked to a host of new fees, including for baggage, that generates greater profits than flying, an estimated $9.2 billion in 2010, according to the Consumer Travel Alliance. And they started preparing for the next fuel spike.

"I think it's fair to say the industry as a whole is getting smarter about how to deal with these situations," said aviation economist Daniel Kasper.

Added airline analyst Michael Derchin, of CRT Capital Group, "They were better prepared for this than they've ever been."

Following the October merger of United and Continental airlines, the carriers' parent created the Fuel Council to look for ways to reduce fuel consumption, which exceeded 9.6 billion gallons in 2010. Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs United an extra $100 million on an annualized basis.

The council is looking into hundreds of initiatives, focusing on those that could provide immediate savings, said Alex Marren, senior vice president for operations control and United Express for United Continental Holdings Inc., the parent company of the combined carriers.

Borrowing a practice at Continental, United is outfitting 52 Boeing 777s with tweaked software and hardware that lead to reduced drag on the jets' wings and trim the fuel burned by wide-body jets by 1 percent. That adds up to a savings of 5 million gallons of jet fuel annually, or about $18 million, at United's current prices.

Other initiatives under way include "tankering," or directing aircraft to top off at airports where fuel is cheapest. United ferried fuel on about 20,000 flights in 2010, saving more than $2 million, Marren said.

"It's all about being smarter," Marren said.

Texas-based American also has a program aimed at conserving energy, known as Fuel Smart. The 5-year-old initiative saved the airline 123 million gallons in 2010, or $285 million, said Sean Collins, an American spokesman.

As in 2008, United, Delta and American are studying parking inefficient aircraft and shifting more flying to newer, fuel-sipping planes. American is gradually replacing its fleet of 224 aging MD-80s with Boeing 737-800s that burn 35 percent less fuel.

American won't disclose how many of the 20-year-old jets it intends to park this year, but the planes give it "significant flexibility should we determine that a change in how much flying we do is an appropriate response to the current environment," Collins said.

Atlanta-based Delta is accelerating the retirement of its DC-9 jets, which have an average age of 34 years. The carrier has also shed more than 200 50-seat jets and turboprops since 2007 in favor of larger, more fuel-efficient mainline jets, said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter.

United hasn't disclosed which jets it is considering parking in the fourth quarter. But its pilots union leaders point out that, as in 2008, the oil spike could be a distant memory by the time the capacity cuts announced Monday are slated to take place.

"This is the airline industry," said Capt. Jay Pierce, who heads Continental's pilots union. "I'll believe the (fourth quarter) actions when we're in (the third quarter)."

Added Wendy Morse, his union counterpart at United, "I think the company has maintained the flexibility to move in the other direction should things change."

Source : http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0311-airlines-oil-20110310,0,638066.story

Sunday, March 6, 2011

21 airlines fined for fixing passenger, cargo fees

When the airline industry took a nose dive a decade ago, executives at global carriers scrambled to find a quick fix to avoid financial ruin.

What they came up with, according to federal prosecutors, was a massive price-fixing scheme among airlines that artificially inflated passenger and cargo fuel surcharges between 2000 and 2006 to make up for lost profits.

The airlines' crimes cost U.S. consumers and businesses - mostly international passengers and cargo shippers - hundreds of millions of dollars, prosecutors say.

But the airlines caught by the Justice Department have paid a hefty price in the five years since the government's widespread investigation became public.

To date, 19 executives have been charged with wrongdoing - four have gone to prison - and 21 airlines have coughed up more than $1.7 billion in fines in one of the largest criminal antitrust investigations in U.S. history.

The court cases reveal a complex web of schemes between mostly international carriers willing to fix fees in lockstep with competitors for flights to and from the United States.

Convicted airlines include British Airways, Korean Air, and Air France-KLM. No major U.S. carriers have been charged.

The price-fixing unraveled largely because two airlines decided to come clean and turn in their co-conspirators.

In late 2005, officials with German-based Lufthansa notified the Justice Department that the airline had been conspiring to set cargo surcharges. By Valentine's Day 2006, FBI agents and their counterparts in Europe made the investigation public by raiding airline offices. After those raids, British-based Virgin Atlantic came forward about its role in a similar scheme to set fuel surcharges for passengers.

Investigators eventually found a detailed paper trail laying out agreements, stretching back to 2000, to set passenger and cargo fuel surcharges The probe expanded to airlines doing business between the U.S. and Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia.

The Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic mea culpas allowed them to take advantage of a Justice Department leniency program because they helped crack the conspiracies.

Former Associate Attorney General Kevin J. O'Connor, who oversaw Justice's antitrust division in the late 2000s, said he doesn't know why they confessed, but the result "demonstrates the effectiveness of that amnesty program."

Now in private practice, O'Connor said companies that confess for amnesty may be wisely trying to limit liabilities from illegal conduct.

"Generally speaking, if they have an inkling they might get caught, they come in," O'Connor said. "The theory might be that eventually these things will be exposed and why risk continuing."

Federal prosecutors and investigators declined to discuss details of the cases because they are still investigating.

"Lufthansa Cargo fully cooperated with the investigation launched by DOJ," Martin Riecken, Lufthansa's director of corporate communications for the Americas said. Virgin Atlantic referred all questions to the Justice Department.

Airlines and executives who didn't come forward were charged with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Two former airline executives were sentenced to six months in prison; two others were ordered to prison for eight months. Charges are pending against 15 executives, nine of whom are considered fugitives.

Bruce McCaffrey, one-time vice president of freight for the Americas at the Australian carrier Qantas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to restrain trade. He was sentenced to six months in prison in 2008. He admitted working with other airlines to fix cargo fuel surcharges between 2000 and 2006.

Keith H. Packer, a former senior manager of sales and marketing for British Airways, pleaded to conspiracy to restrain trade and was sentenced to eight months in prison in 2008. He admitted joining the cargo conspiracy in 2002 and participating until February 2006.

British Airways and Korean Air pleaded guilty to violating the Sherman act; each was fined $300 million in August 2007.

British Airways admitted fixing cargo surcharges from 2002 to 2006 and passenger fuel surcharges from 2004 to 2006. Korean Air admitted fixing cargo and passenger surcharges from 2000 to 2006.

Announcing four guilty pleas in June 2008, O'Connor said the case "conservatively, has affected billions of dollars of shipments. Estimates suggest that the harm to American consumers and businesses from this conspiracy is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"As an example of the impact of the conspiracy, fuel surcharges imposed by some of the conspirators rose by as much as 1,000 percent during the conspiracy, far outpacing any percentage increases in fuel costs that existed during the same time period," O'Connor said.

In one of several lawsuits by passengers and cargo shippers now being heard in a California federal court, San Francisco-based lawyer Christopher Lebsock and others allege airline officials routinely gathered at industry meetings to discuss fuel costs and how to make up losses.

Lebsock said they agreed to add or increase the fuel surcharges that are tacked onto passenger fares and cargo fees.

"We have seen in public documents that they were concerned and wanted to raise revenue to offset the increasing price in fuel," Lebsock said.

According to published notes of an October 2005 meeting of airline representatives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a host of executives openly spoke about surcharges already in place. One official, identified in meeting minutes only by the initials" GF," suggested the group create "a subcommittee to study this subject and come up with a joint proposal."

According to published notes of another meeting of airline representatives in Saudi Arabia in September 2004, "the participants agreed to make uniform policy for such (insurance and fuel) surcharges to be applied."

Not all airline officials at these meetings agreed to join the conspiracies.

During a 2004 industry meeting in Thailand, executives from U.S. based-United Airlines and Northwest Airlines left the meeting when others started discussing setting fares and fuel surcharges, according to a court filing by lawyers in one class action suit.

Warren Gerig, an international manager for United when he walked out of that meeting, declined to discuss the case. The Northwest executive was identified only as Sarathool M. and could not be reached.

While meeting notes make it appear the discussions were open to anyone who accidently walked into the wrong ballroom, Lebsock and Justice officials believe executives were more careful to hide their activities.

"My sense is they weren't really open to the public," Lebsock said. "They weren't that stupid."

Lebsock said documents obtained in pretrial discovery make clear that many surcharge discussions carried over from large group meetings around the world to more private office settings and e-mail discussions

According to one passenger lawsuit, several Asian airlines - including Cathay Pacific Airways, Japan Airlines, and All Nippon Airways - confined many discussions to phone calls and e-mails. Lebsock said evidence shows some airline executives tried to hide or destroy incriminating documents and e-mails.

Lebsock believes the conspiracies were so well hidden that it's possible they would have continued undetected had Lufthansa not come forward.

"In the absence of someone coming forward, and ratting it out, it is very, very difficult to establish that there was a (conspiracy)," Lebsock said.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

FAA approves iPads for pilots' electronic charts

From the earliest days of aviation, pilots have relied upon paper maps to help find their way. Even in an era of GPS and advanced avionics, you still see pilots lugging around 20 pounds or more of charts.

But those days are numbered, because maps are giving way to iPads.

The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing charter company Executive Jet Management to use Apple's tablet as an approved alternative to paper charts. The authorization follows three months of rigorous testing and evaluation of the iPad and Mobile TC, a map app developed by aviation chartmaker Jeppesen.

The latest decision applies only to Executive Jet Management, but it has implications for all of aviation. By allowing the company's pilots to use the Apple iPad as a primary source of information, the FAA is acknowledging the potential for consumer tablets to become avionics instruments.

The iPad has been popular with pilots of all types since its introduction last year. But until now, it could not be used in place of traditional paper charts or FAA-approved devices such as more expensive, purpose-built electronic flight bags. The iPad was OK for reference, but not as a pilot's sole source of information. The new FAA authorization changes all that.

To receive FAA authorization, Jeppesen and Executive Jet Management went through a rigorous approval process. It included rapid-decompression testing from a simulated altitude of 51,000 feet and ensuring the tablet will not interfere with critical navigation or electronic equipment.

Executive Jet tested the iPad and Mobile TC in 10 aircraft flown by 55 pilots during 250 flights.

The first thought many pilots, not to mention passengers, may have is: What happens if the iPad or the app crashes?

Jeff Buhl, Jeppesen's product manager for the Mobile TC app, says the Apple iOS operating system and the app proved "extremely stable" during testing. In the "unlikely" event of a software crash, he says, it takes but a moment to get them running again.

"The recovery time for an application crashing or the OS crashing is extremely rapid," Buhl says.

During the evaluation period with the FAA, the production app did not crash. But even if it did, Buhl says it's ready to go again "in 4-6 seconds from re-launch to previous state."

The FAA says each individual operator -- in this case Executive Jet Management -- must develop specific procedures for dealing with system or software crashes and other issues. Under the authorization, Executive Jet Management will require a second approved electronic device, which most likely will be another iPad, in the cockpit.

Pilots may get magic fingers to keep them alert

Although this authorization applies to just one company, it is a milestone for all operators, including major airlines, because it opens the door for them to embrace the iPad. Though any company wishing to follow Executive Jet's lead will have to endure equally rigorous scrutiny by the FAA.

Agency spokesman Les Dorr says the process is no different from what is required for any other electronic device used to display navigation information.

"As far as the iPad is concerned, we do that on a case-by-case basis when an airline applies to be able to use it," Dorr says.

The FAA is already seeing more requests to use the iPad in the cockpit. Alaska Airlines began testing the iPad back in November and there are about 100 pilots currently evaluating the device according to spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

She says in addition to the convenience, there is a practical weight-saving aspect to using the iPad as well, "it's replaced about 25 pounds of manuals and charts."

Jeppesen's director of portfolio management, Tim Huegel, says several carriers are looking into using the iPad and TC Mobile, and with the FAA granting one approval, it should become increasingly easy for others to follow Executive Jet's lead.

"We'll be able to reuse a lot of the documentation and the lessons learned working with Executive Jet Management to help our commercial customers as they now begin to pursue FAA authorization," he says.

The charts available with Mobile TC include charts for visual flight rules and for instrument flight rules, which are more commonly used by commercial operators. The app only shows an electronic version of the paper charts Jeppesen has been producing for years, but Huegel says future versions could incorporate the iPad's GPS capability.

He sees a day when tablets provide "door-to-door management" of a pilot's information, from crew scheduling to weather information to navigation charts.


Source : http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/02/28/FAA.approves.iPads/index.html

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Haneda Airport sees big boost in passengers, freight since opening int'l terminal



Tokyo's Haneda Airport is enjoying a surge in passenger and freight volumes since the opening of its international terminal three months ago, stepping up its presence as a regional hub.

Three months have past since Haneda Airport resumed regular international flights for the first time in 32 years.

Thanks to its accessibility from central Tokyo and smooth connections with domestic flights, the airport now has twice as many international passengers as the same period last year, when most international services available at the airport were chartered flights to China and South Korea.

Furthermore, the volume of international freight transport here has jumped fivefold from a year earlier.

With American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and British Airways set to start operating their respective flights to North American cities and London later this month, Haneda Airport is expected to play a bigger role as Asia's hub airport.

Nowadays, Haneda's new international passenger terminal is full of a vibrant atmosphere on Friday nights as a total of nine international flights to North American and Southeast Asian cities depart from the airport at around midnight one after another. There are a lot of passengers who catch the last plane of the day from regional airports and make their international connections here.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, a total of 560,000 people departed from Haneda Airport for overseas destinations in November 2010 -- 2.3 times as many passengers as the same period a year earlier.

Roughly one fourth of all passengers on All Nippon Airways' four midnight flights to Los Angeles, Honolulu, Bangkok and Singapore are transit passengers mostly from Sapporo and Fukuoka, according to the company.

"Midnight flights are becoming popular as they allow passengers to make better use of their time at their destinations," said an official with All Nippon Airways (ANA) of the revival of Haneda Airport, which had lost many passengers to more convenient Incheon International Airport in Seoul.

ANA says its international flights from the airport were at 85 percent capacity in November and December last year, surpassing the average figure for the company's overall international flights by slightly over 5 points. The number of passengers taking ANA international flights from Haneda Airport has exceeded the company's forecast by about 10 percent.

Due to its accessibility to central Tokyo, the airport is also enjoying a steady increase in business travelers. Most of Japan Airlines (JAL)'s flights to South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan were booked to around 90 percent of capacity in November and December 2010.

"A lot of people make late bookings due to unexpected business trips, resulting in an increase in average sales per customer," a JAL official said.

Along with the opening of the new international terminal, a new storage facility capable of controlling room temperatures 24 hours per day has been constructed at the airport's Tokyo International Air Cargo Terminal (TIACT), enabling Haneda Airport to export fresh produce, such as marine and agricultural products.

For example, fresh fish landed in Japan's southwestern island of Shikoku will be available at a Japanese restaurant in the United States the next day if transported by air from the island via Haneda Airport.

Before the introduction of the fresh food storage system, maritime products from Shikoku were transported by truck to the city of Fukuoka to be exported from the international airport there. By airfreighting fresh products directly to Tokyo, the time required for transportation has been reduced significantly.

In December last year, the volume of international freight at Haneda Airport increased fivefold from a year earlier to 7,500 metric tons.

But as the total international freight volume at Haneda is only 5 percent of the volume at Narita International Airport, there still is considerable room for growth.

TIACT President Hiroshi Yokoyama says the new food storage system is capable of storing a lot more goods.

The company is hoping to tie up with regional airports without international flight services in Hokkaido, and the Hokuriku and Sanin regions, in a bid to promote exports of high-value-added local products such as fruit.

While Haneda Airport enjoys strong growth in international passengers and freight volumes, Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture saw the number of passengers decline to about 2.14 million in November 2010, marking a year-on-year drop of some 400,000 people.

In an attempt to prevent the number of international flights in the Tokyo metropolitan area from exceeding demand, JAL has shifted all its Tokyo-San Francisco flights from Narita to Haneda, while ANA has introduced smaller planes for all international flights from Narita to destinations that are also accessible from Haneda. The company has reduced the number of seats from Narita to the overlapping destinations by 20 percent through these measures.

In search of new business opportunities, Narita International Airport Corp. (NAA) is planning to attract more low-cost air carriers to the airport.

In late January, NAA President Kosaburo Morinaka attended an international meeting of low-cost carriers held in Singapore to meet with executive officers of Asian budget airlines for possible future operations at Narita airport. The company plans to compile a project outline by the end of March, taking into consideration the construction of a new terminal for discount carriers.

Furthermore, NAA hopes to maintain its presence as a hub airport by inviting private jets.

By fiscal 2013, the number of departure and arrival slots for international flights at Haneda Airport is scheduled to increase by 50 percent from the current level to 90,000 per year, while the figure is also set to increase 1.4-fold for Narita International Airport to 300,000 annually.