American’s plans for its fleet, and other aviation stories of the past week

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. Photo credit: American.

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. American is taking delivery of six 777-300s this year, which will bring the total number in the fleet to 16. Photo credit: American.

What’s news in the world of aviation? These are the stories I have enjoyed most in the past week or so:

The size of American’s combined fleet will be just about the same this December as it was in December 2013, the Dallas Morning News reports. But the mix of the mainline airplanes will change a lot. “AAG plans to take delivery of 83 new airplanes in 2014 for American and US Airways, led by 42 of the Airbus A321s,” Terry Maxon writes. “That’s one new airplane every 4½ days, approximately. But AAG also plans to park 80 older airplanes, including 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and 22 Boeing 757s.” The size of the total fleet will be about 970 airplanes.

Did you know that on 72 days in 2013 Delta did not cancel a single flight? And already this year, Delta told the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, it is already ahead of that pace. What’s Delta’s secret? McCartney breaks it down. One of the most interesting things? Delta moves flight crews around the system to ensure a flight does not necessarily need to be canceled just because the original pilots have gone illegal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on an interesting study on airline price volatility. Among U.S. airports, Bloomberg reported that San Francisco had the most volatility, while New York LaGuardia had the least. Among carriers, Alaska Airlines and US Airways played with their prices the least, according to the study.

In her regular column on Flyertalk, flight attendant Sarah Steegar says your flight crews like to mix things up with pranks. Apparently pilots will sometimes tell new hires that they have “forgotten the keys” to the airplane.  Hah!

Is Spirit interested in moving some flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami? The Miami Herald says it’s a possibility. But that seems odd considering Miami has unusually high costs for airlines. Any ideas on why Spirit is floating this option?

And finally, one of my stories. I wrote a trend piece asking whether airlines have instituted something like an on-board caste system as they have added perks in premium cabins and taken them away from economy class travelers. “I just find it distasteful.” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a consistent airline critic. Others, of course, see no problem with airlines rewarding their most lucrative customers.

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First United Airlines Boeing 787-9 is almost ready

United's first 787-9, which it will fly from L.A. to Melbourne, is just about ready to fly for the carrier. Photo: United.

United’s first 787-9, which it will fly from L.A. to Melbourne, is just about ready to fly for the carrier. Photo: United.

The first United Airlines Boeing 787-9 has rolled off the assembly line in Everett, Wash., the carrier said this week.

This will be the airplane United uses on the Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia route, a flight the airline intends to begin in October. It will be operated six times per week.

Yes, United already has 787s, but those are 787-8s. This is a new version. It’s 20 feet longer than United’s current 787 fleet, and it carries 30 more passengers. It also has slightly longer range. It can fly an additional 300 nautical miles, according to United.

Boeing is actually using the United airplane to secure certification for the 787-9 program. It’s one of five airplanes being used that way, United said.

According to Forbes, the L.A.-Melbourne route will be the world’s longest 787 flight, at 7,927 miles.

Air New Zealand is officially the launch customer for the new model. Boeing published some photos of Air New Zealand’s first plane earlier this week.

Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9

 

air-new-zealand-787-9-dreamliner-black-livery-3

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San Bernardino International Airport: A quick chat with the director

AJ Wilson has high hopes for San Bernardino International Airport. Photo: Rick Sforza, staff photographer.

AJ Wilson has high hopes for San Bernardino International Airport.  But presumably even he knows scheduled 747 service is not likely. Photo: Rick Sforza, staff photographer.

When San Bernardino International Airport started showing off its new more than $20 million international arrivals building last month, some airline industry analysts questioned the value of the new facility.

The airport, the former Norton Air Force Base, already had a domestic terminal. But that existing terminal accommodates no regularly scheduled commercial flights, so experts were quoted as saying they wonder whether the airport actually needed a new building international arrivals building.

I spoke this week with AJ Wilson, the airport’s executive director. He has read the criticism, such as in this KPCC radio piece, but Wilson said he is undeterred. The flights will come, he promises.

“I don’t feel that I need to argue with any so-called experts,” Wilson said. “We are carrying out a plan to market our airport and that’s what we intend to do.”

What’s this plan, you ask?

Like just about every airport head, Wilson wants to wow airline executives and persuade them to start flights in San Bernardino. He would not tell me which airlines he has spoken with, but he suggested that he understands that major and mid-major airlines — American, United, Southwest, Delta, Alaska, Virgin America and Jetblue — are probably off limits.

That leaves low cost carriers like Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier in the United States, and probably Volaris and Interjet in Mexico. But even those will be difficult to attract, especially since there’s another struggling airport nearby — L.A. Ontario International Airport — seeking the same type of tenants. Ontario recently attracted Volaris. 

“We are doing fine,” Wilson said. “We are having discussions with a number of airlines. It’s simply a matter of when the market is ready and airline business plans are able to consider service. We are just in those preliminary discussions.”

There has been some discussion that the fees charged to airlines at Ontario airport, which is about 23 miles away, are too high. Presumably, San Bernardino’s costs to airlines would be lower. But Wilson said it is too early to know what the cost structure would be for a new market entrant in San Bernardino.

“That’s not necessarily even determined at this point,” Wilson said. “We will work out business deals with the people when there are greater in-depth discussions.”

The good news, Wilson said, is that the general aviation portion of the airport is flourishing.

“Everybody thinks an airport is only passenger service,” Wilson said. “Last year was our highest year ever in number of operations. We are ahead of that by about 10 percent this year. We are experiencing growth.”

Here, a picture of the domestic terminal. Photo: Rick Sforza.

Here, a picture of the domestic terminal. Photo: Rick Sforza.

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Aviation jobs: We interview Jetblue’s LAX general manager

Paula Minniti pic

In another installment of the “Aviation Jobs” feature, we interview Paula Minniti, who runs Jetblue’s operation at Los Angeles International Airport. Minniti is in charge of 38 “crew members” and four supervisors, though she said those numbers are growing.

I asked her if she could tell us a little bit about what a station manager does for Jetblue. Here’s our interview, which we conducted via email. I have condensed it slightly.

Tell us a little bit about your typical day. 

My day might consist of working with regulatory agencies (TSA, FAA, FBI, DOT, Airport and Los Angeles Police) LAWA representatives, other airline management, and JetBlue departments that support us, etc. I complete reports, I hire crewmembers, and I make sure we are following procedures and policies set forth by JetBlue and regulatory agencies. I hire and manage our business partners. I document and maintain accurate training records. I take responsibility for both internal and external compliance audits of all sorts. I physically check on the operation to make sure things are safe, secure and running smoothly. I am the local spokesperson for JetBlue and I make sure that we get what we need to have a smooth operation.

I am empowered to make decisions on my company’s behalf using our company values (Safety, Integrity, Caring, Passion and Fun.) I treat my station like it is my franchise and make the best decisions I can keeping my company values in mind.

Jetblue

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is that it is never the same. Every day I learn something new, I meet new people, and I get to go to the airport every day! I also like the fact that I get to see the result of most tasks that I complete.

What’s your least favorite part of your job?

The least favorite part of my job is that there are many things out of my control. For example: aircraft sometimes have maintenance issues, or weather 3,000 miles away can affect our operation.

With not that many gates in Terminal 3, how do you schedule which flights arrive and depart from which gates. I imagine it’s a finely tuned operation. How many flights per day does each gate handle?

Gates at Terminal 3 are assigned by the LAWA “gate assignment team.” When our flights depart from their origin, and a definite arrival time is determined, my supervisors call this team and a gate is assigned. We usually operate out of gate 33B, but that can change depending on arrival time into LAX. You’re correct when you say that it is a “finely tuned operation.” The LAWA gate assignment team juggles aircraft so that they make the best usage of all gates at Terminal 3.

One gate can handle approximately 8 trans-con turns per day. However, due to the fact that we are a common use terminal and that LAWA will assign the gates as efficiently as possible, there are a lot of scenarios that determine which gate we will be assigned. Some of the reasons we might have to go to another gate (other than the gate we usually operate out of) are: late arriving aircraft, aircraft mechanical delays (which delay an aircraft from vacating a gate), or weather/ATC delays. At the same time, we must keep in mind inflight and flight-ops duty rules, tarmac delay rules (which dictate that we can’t leave an aircraft with customers on the tarmac for very long), gate delay rules (which dictate that customers must be able to exit an aircraft that is parked at the gate if they should choose to), etc.

Sometimes you and your colleagues must deal with passengers who are upset. What’s the best way you’ve found to defuse what could be a volatile situation?

Due to safety or security reasons, there are many times we have to deliver a “no” message to our customers. However, we all know that it’s about how you deliver that message! My crewmembers know that the success of our company depends upon retaining our current customers and upon our current customers’ word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends and family. Most of the time, if our customers are upset, they just want to be listened to in a respectful manner.

Of course, sometimes my crewmembers need the help of a Supervisor and that’s when my Supervisors will step in to assist. Customer recovery is a big part of a Supervisor’s job and they usually resolve issues by listening, communicating clearly, and doing their best to come to an agreeable resolution.

What was your first airline job? How did the job prepare you for where you are today?

My first (and only) airline job has been with JetBlue. I have been with JetBlue for almost twelve years. After raising three children, I began my career with JetBlue at Long Beach Airport. While at LGB, I was promoted to Supervisor. When JetBlue began service at LAX in June, 2009, I was promoted to General Manager and opened up the JetBlue-LAX station.

I have been allowed to implement my vision for JetBlue-LAX by setting the tone of a respectful, safe, secure, and fun place to work. This makes for a happy team that has a terrific product, resulting in satisfied customers.

Want to learn about more airline jobs? My earlier interviews have been a Southwest Airlines flight dispatcher, a Hawaiian Airlines crew scheduler, an a low-cost airline fight attendant. 

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Why now is not a good time to operate all cargo airplanes

It's becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters -- to make money.  Photo: Your blogger.

It’s becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters — to make money. Photo: Your blogger.

Airlines are having a difficult time filling space on their all-cargo jets, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

What’s the problem?

There a couple of things, according to reporter Matt O’Sullivan. One is that the goods, such as electronics, that we love to buy are no longer manufactured in just handful of places. Instead, there are now manufacturing centers across China and Southeast Asia. If airlines want to carry the goods on freighters, they have to send their planes to cities they never would have considered a decade ago. That can work, but it’s expensive to do.

”Before, we could just sit here in Hong Kong and the trucks just came over the border from the Pearl River Delta – that was the factory of the world. It is still the factory of the world but there are now other factories of the world,” Cathay Pacific cargo director James Woodrow told the newspaper. That can mean sending freighters to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The other problem? There’s an imbalance in supply and demand. All-cargo jets aren’t the only types of planes that can transport goods. Any widebody airplane can haul cargo between continents, as I noted last year in a story on how airlines transport fresh produce from L.A. to Europe and Asia. 

O’Sullivan notes that Middle Eastern and Asian carriers have been adding to their widebody passenger fleets. And while those airlines are mostly in the passenger business, cargo helps them eek out a little extra profit.

“The cheapest way to carry cargo is in the belly of passenger jets whose objective is to get their valuable human cargo to their destinations,” O’Sullivan writes. “Freight in the belly of a passenger plane is icing on the cake for an airline, often making the difference between it making money on a flight or not.”

These market changes have led Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to park some of their planes, according to the story. “Singapore Airlines has four 747-400 jumbos parked at Victorville,” O’Sullivan writes.

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