Monday, December 26, 2011

China's air transporting industry slows down

BEIJING - China's air transport industry has registered a single-digit growth rate this year due to the global economic meltdown and domestic airspace restrictions, a top civil aviation official said.

The air transport industry achieved an estimated total air traffic (including passenger and cargo traffic) of 57.4 billion ton-kilometer this year, up 6.6 percent from that in 2010, according to statistics released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on Monday.

It is the first single-digit growth since 2003 when the industry was hit by the SARS epidemic - the industry experienced double-digit growth from 2004 through 2010.

Li Jiaxiang, head of the CAAC, said at the annual working conference that the slowdown was mainly because of the global economic meltdown.

"But the growth speed is still the highest in the world, and so is the industry's total profit, estimated at 45.6 billion yuan ($7.2 billion) for 2011, which accounts for more than half of the profits of the global air transport industry," he said.

The administration had earlier planned a 13-percent rise of passenger transport and 11.5-percent growth in cargo traffic in 2011.

Li Lei, an aviation analyst with CITIC China Securities, said: "Due to the global economic downturn this year, the country's cargo transport was hit hard by the sluggish demand and has declined since May."

Meanwhile, the passenger traffic recorded only 9 percent growth due to the slowdown of domestic economy growth this year, especially compared with a rather high base last year when Shanghai held the World Expo, he said.

Li Jun, deputy head of CAAC, said that the country's sprawling high-speed rail network claimed some of the passenger traffic, and the limited airspace for civil aviation also restricted the growth of passenger transport.

As the usable airspace is unlikely to expand suddenly, the administration has been trying to tap airport capacity potentials and streamline air traffic control procedures in the past year to make it possible to add more new flights.

The administration is encouraging airlines to buy more wide-body aircraft to replace the current single-aisle planes on busy routes, especially between Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, to transport more passengers in the coming year, Li Jun says.

But on the whole, the administration controls the expansion of the commercial transport fleet for the sake of safety, he adds.

China's commercial transport fleet reached a total of 1,745 aircraft, with the addition of 148 planes this year. Airlines were asked to delay the delivery of 60 new planes for which orders have been placed, he said.

"The control (on the importing of planes) will continue next year, and not more than 150 planes would be added to the fleet in 2012," he said.

Although the fleet size would not be expanded in a big way, the country's civil aviation will increase its infrastructure construction spending next year to 75 billion yuan, up from 46 billion yuan spent in 2011, he said.

The money will be used to build and expand airports, including a new airport in Beijing, he said.

Li Jiaxiang also added the nation's planning for civil airports will be adjusted in favor of building more small airports in less developed areas.

"The original plan of building 60 new airports during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) will be extended to 70 in order to encourage the development of local air transport," he said.

China has 180 airports at the end of 2011, up from 175 in 2010.

Corona Municipal Airport (AJO) Photo of Farmall "H" tractor

"Never thought I would see a similar tractor to one I drove back in the 50's, especially at an airport. great looking Farmall "H" tractor."
Shot Date: 2011-12-17

West Virginia to Honor Fallen Marine Tuesday

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has ordered the lowering of all flags at state facilities on Tuesday Dec. 27 to honor the death of a West Virginia National Guard pilot who was killed.

Michael Scott Lakin, 42, of Charleston died in a plane crash at a central Ohio airport.

He was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

He left active duty to join the 130th West Virginia Air National Guard.

He was a member and flight instructor of the State Division of Aviation. He piloted the State's King Air 350.

U.S. Army Soldiers From Red Currahee Battalion In Afghanistan

Video by SuaSponte88 on December 24, 2011

U.S. Army Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Red Currahee), 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fighting Insurgents in RC East, Afghanistan.

Building the Emirates Boeing 777 in 30 Seconds

Building the Emirates Boeing 777 takes thousands of workers and months of exacting work. But we did it in just 30 seconds.  Watch how. Find out more about the Emirates Boeing 777 at    Want to join our team? Visit today.

You can't take snakes on a plane! Man arrested for trying to smuggle 15 venomous vipers aboard in his luggage

Samuel L. Jackson would probably be pretty angry with Karel Abelovsky, a Czech national who tried to smuggle 15 venomous vipers aboard an airplane in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  He nearly succeeded in taking more than 200 mollusks on a plane to Madrid, Spain, in his checked luggage, but airport screeners discovered from an x-ray that his over-loaded suitcase was full of wriggling, moving live animals.

Included in the mix were nine species of poisonous snakes, among them two yaras -- an aggressive species that can grow up to five feet.  Authorities believe Abelovsky is part of an exotic animal smuggling ring and was planning to take the creatures out of the country to sell abroad.  The animals were all packed in clear plastic containers.

Two of them were already dead when authorities found them.  Experts say the rest likely would have died from lack of oxygen in the cargo hold when the plane made it up to cruising elevation.  Workers discovered the suitcase December 7.

A judge charged Abelovsky with smuggling this week.  He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if he is convicted.

The case brings to mind the infamously ridiculous movie 'Snakes on a Plane,' that features Mr Jackson as an FBI agent on a plane filled with deadly venomous snakes.  The most famous line of the movie was Mr Jackson's character yelling: 'Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf******* snakes on this motherf******* plane!'

Florida: St Augustine pilot killed in helicopter crash

Hoke Smith, Decorated Veteran Pilot

St Augustine pilot Hoke Smith and his two passengers, a heart surgeon and a transplant technician from Mayo Clinic, were killed early this morning when the helicopter they were flying crashed into the woods in southern Clay County.

Adding to this morning’s tragedy, just three days ago, Smith and his wife Gayle celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They are parents of one son, Derrick Smith, Green Cove Springs, and have one grandchild, Chloe Smith Lopez.

The Smiths are co-owners of SK Jets at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St Augustine — the operator of the downed Bell helicopter. Hoke founded the company in 1997 with one helicopter — the company has grown to 40 employees and operates a fleet of seven jets and two helicopters.

Smith was a highly decorated Vietnam pilot with commendations that include The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, and The Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mayo Clinic identified the two employees killed as Dr. Luis Bonilla and technician David Hines. The team was sent to Shands Medical Center in Gainesville to retrieve a heart and other organs for transplant patients located in Jacksonville.

“As we mourn this tragic event, we will remember the selfless and intense dedication they brought to making a difference in the lives of our patients,” said Mayo Clinic President and Chief Executive Officer John Noseworthy in a televised press conference today. “We recognize the commitment transplant teams make every day in helping patients at Mayo Clinic and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”

The Florida Highway Patrol led the investigation this morning — emergency personnel in surrounding counties were searching for signs of the aircraft. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sent one of its helicopters to assist with the search. As early as 12:15 p.m., Historic City News was informed by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office that they were calling off further efforts.

A Clay County deputy in a helicopter spotted wreckage in woods off Hogarth and Dynamite roads, southwest of Green Cove Springs.

Deputies, who used ATVs to reach the site and confirm that there were no survivors, said you could see where the rotors chopped down trees as it descended.

“The wreckage was probably a mile back in the woods,” said Clay County Lt. Russ Burk. “It’s another four miles to before you get to another road, so it’s way back in the woods in the middle of nothing.”

Officers who had been to the scene said the helicopter broke into pieces upon impact.

A small woods fire started by the crash was quickly contained, but the site remained shrouded in smoke in the late afternoon.

National Transportation Safety Board will have a team from Miami at the crash site Monday evening to take charge of the investigation.

Malaysia: More headwinds anticipated for aviation sector next year

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: It was undoubtedly an eventful year for the aviation sector in Malaysia which was dogged by controversies and surprises with the landmark share swap deal between rivals, AirAsia Bhd (AirAsia) and Malaysia Airline Systems Bhd (MAS), topping the list and 2012 is not going to be any less.

The deal saw AirAsia’s major shareholder, Tune Air Sdn Bhd, taking up 20.5 per cent share in MAS and Khazanah Nasional Bhd 10 per cent stake in AirAsia.

A management shake-up followed with AirAsia’s chief executive officer (CEO), Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, appointed non-executive director of MAS and Tengku Datuk Seri Azmil Zahruddin Raja Abdul Aziz resigned as MAS managing director.

Then AirAsia and MAS emerged as official partners of Queens Park Rangers Football Club (QPR) with AirAsia sponsoring its ‘away’ and ‘third shirt’ and MAS the ‘home’ shirts. Fernandes holds 66 per cent stake in QPR.

However, the details of how the share swap sealed in September would work for both airlines beyond the above, were sketchy amid debates, mixed reviews and calls for investigation.

The latest to join the fray is the Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC) where the Competition Act 2010 will come into force Jan 1, 2012.

MyCC’s CEO, Shila Dorai Raj, said the commission had received complaints from consumers, urging it to look into the deal and whether it would reduce competition and result in expensive airfares.

Analysts, however, were positive on the collaboration, saying it would eliminate irrational competitive pricing, allow economies of scale, higher bargaining power and synergies.

They said it would give AirAsia a higher chance to fly routes which were previously exclusive to MAS and the national airline to achieve cost synergies in view of its high cost/available seat kilometre.

Some even noted that it could also result in MAS turning profitable as despite years of plans and revamp its financial woes continued in 2011 with common problems such as higher operating costs and spiralling fuel prices.

Earlier this month, yet another plan was announced by MAS’ new CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, which consisted of a series of action, including shrinking its network and a relentless focus on costs.

The plan, which was expected to allow MAS to return to the black by 2013, however, received a lukewarm response by analysts, saying such revamp and move were not new to the national carrier.

Among the routes MAS planned to suspend were Cape Town, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and Dubai as well as four more routes via Sabah regional network.

AirAsia, on the converse, continued to expand its routes regionally, among the latest being Da Nang (Vietnam) and Surat Thani (Thailand).

It also opened a regional office in Jakarta, Indonesia to build relationship with Asean secretariat, which was also based there to work towards a one Asean sky and aviation authority like Europe’s joint venture aviation authority. It is also on track to list its Indonesian and Thailand affiliates.

AirAsia also hit a bumpy patch in its tiff with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) over the increase in airport tax at five airports nationwide. Both also locked horns over the upgrade of the low-cost air terminal, KLIA2.

AirAsia X was also not spared from the controversies either, with news reports that it planned to withdraw its services to Paris, London, Mumbai and Delhi.

Its chief, Azran Osman Rani, however, had denied the plan, saying the long-haul budget carrier had not made any decision yet.

The news reports said the implementation of the European Union’s (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) come Jan 1, 2012, visa restriction and additional airport fees in India were part of the reasons for the withdrawal.

The ETS scheme called for airlines to pay up for carbon emissions it had not already accounted for.

An analyst said the industry was already struggling with volatile fuel cost and such ruling would only burden them further.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents nearly 240 airlines from 100 countries, were disappointed with the decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union to upheld EU’s plan to include international aviation in the ETS from 2012.

“Today’s (Dec 21) decision is a disappointment. It does not bring us any closer to a much-needed global approach to economic measures to account for aviation’s international emissions.

“Unilateral, extra-territorial and market-distorting initiatives such as the EU’s ETS are not the way forward,” said IATA’s director-general/chief executive officer, Tony Tyler.

IATA, in its recent report on the industry outlook, had painted a relatively bleak picture for 2012, citing the unresolved eurozone crisis as one of the factors, he said.

Tyler said airline profits could drop to US$3.5 billion from an earlier forecast of US$4.9 billion for a net margin of only 0.6 per cent from expected revenues of US$618 billion.

With various challenges and unresolved issues within and continued eurozone crisis that could continue to dampen global growth and air travel, airline companies need to brace themselves for more challenging headwinds. 

Boardings up at Monroe Regional Airport (KMLU), Louisiana

Monroe Regional Airport in the last year has seen an increase in passenger traffic by 21 percent, one of the largest increases for southwestern airports that have 50,000 or more boardings.

Monroe, which ranked 26 among the 53 airports in this category, was one of only two cities to enjoy a decrease in airfares. The other city was Texarkana, Ark. Both saw a decrease in average airfares by 6 percent, according to data released Friday by the airport.

The southwest region is comprised of New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“We had been working with the airlines over a period of time to get them to take a look at our market and try to give us some relief, and it seems that they were responsive,” said Ron Phillips, interim airport manager. “That was significant.”

Phillips said the report was compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The report shows average fare for Monroe dipped from $251 to $236.

Texarkana saw a decrease as well from $319 to $299.

In Louisiana, LaFayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans had average fares as low as $228, $198 and $168, respectively, but even these numbers represented an increase over the last fiscal year.

Furthermore, the Monroe airport saw the largest increase in airline revenue in Louisiana, with a 15 percent spike from $18.1 million to $20.8 million. The airport served 93,450 passengers, compared to 77, 510 passengers the year before.

Phillips said he attributed the increase in passenger traffic to the airport’s marketing of the airport outside the local area.

Thus, not only are airfares cheaper, but for local residents who once flew out of Shreveport or Jackson, Monroe has become easier to fly out of, he said.

“More people are choosing to fly in and out of Monroe,” he said.
Passengers at Monroe airport on Friday seemed to agree.

David and Lisa Cupples flew in from Pittsburg to visit family in Minden. The prices at other airports were just way too costly, they said.

“It’s ridiculous,” they said, adding that more recently, they’ve chosen to fly into Monroe when visiting because it’s much cheaper.

David Cupples said he’d rather have family drive 45 minutes to pick him up than spend an additional $300 to $400 per person on a ticket.

Ronald Williams of Baltimore said he had flown in to visit family, and he chose Monroe because it was closer and he was “OK” with the price.

According to Phillips, it’s probably helped that in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, some airlines even offered more flights.

However, since then, some airlines have reduced flights.

In November, United Continental spokesman Charlie Hobart confirmed United
Continental reducing service to Monroe for winter months by one flight per day to match seasonal reduction in demand. He said the flight will return on March 4.

In addition, American Eagle, a regional partner for American Airlines, reduced its three round trips a day scheduled between Monroe and American’s hub in Dallas-Fort Worth to two a day.

Fiscal year Passengers Airline Revenue Average Fare
2009-2010 77,510 $18,092,000 $236
2010-2011 93,450 $20,796,000 $251
Percent change +21% +15% -6%

Nicholas Faith: Boris Island must never be able to get off the ground. Any new major airport near the Thames Estuary is impractical because of politics and birds.

At first the idea of a new airport on, or even in, the Thames Estuary seemed to be just one of the Mayor of London's less amusing flights of fancy, but now the arrival of a proposal by the architect Norman Foster has given it some respectability. The idea of replacing Heathrow and moving east is not new. Forty years ago, Maplin Sands, off Essex, was held up as a possible site, but interest soon dwindled and the present proposals seem just as likely to fade when confronted by the real situation: that a new airport is both impractical and unnecessary.

The cost would, of course, be staggering. Lord Foster – who has designed three splendid terminals, at Stansted, Beijing and on an island off Hong Kong – reckons the total cost of his project would be around £50bn, which would include a new London orbital railway. Rather airily, he assumes the money could be raised internationally. In reality, any new major airport anywhere near the Thames is doubly impractical because of politics and birds.

The idea of replacing Heathrow, which employs 75,000 people, as an international hub and moving it across London boggles the mind, affecting as it would a dozen or more – mostly marginal – constituencies. But the existence of 300,000 permanent resident birds on the banks of the estuary is decisive in itself. They now occupy five Special Protection Areas which makes Lord Foster's claim – that they could be replaced by a man-made bird sanctuary – ridiculous if only because, as the RSPB puts it, "they'd keep coming back".

Even more decisively, the Civil Aviation Authority has a Bird Hazard Management Plan which requires a bird-free zone around any major airport. Low-flying aircraft are particularly susceptible to bird strikes, a hazard simply impossible to control (the miraculous emergency landing of an airliner piloted by Captain Chesley Sullenberger on New York's Hudson River was caused by a flock of birds disabling both its engines).

Both new airport proposals – Boris Johnson wants to create a new island ("Boris Island"), Foster would build his on the Isle of Grain on the estuary's south bank – assume Heathrow is crucial, not only as a final destination, but also for transferring passengers. In reality, over the past 10 years, the number of transit passengers at Heathrow has slumped from 341,000 to a mere 136,000, a tiny fraction of its total of 65 million.

Another delusion is that we need a Very Major Airport to demonstrate that we are a Very Major Player on the world business scene. John Cridland of the CBI gave the game away when he declared that "Britain will be left behind in the premier league of nations if ministers fail to increase runway capacity in or around London". In fact, of course, all we need is the ability for Londoners to take a plane to anywhere in the world. Moreover, once they get over a certain size, airports become decidedly inconvenient for passengers. At Schipol, Amsterdam's rival to Heathrow, many planes land virtually on the North Sea and must taxi for half an hour to get to a massive terminal which itself takes half an hour to walk through.

The case also ignores the fact that London is already served by five airports, two more than New York, for instance, and that the 20 outside South-east England already take millions of passengers from London.

In the last decade, while annual passenger numbers from London's airports have increased by around a fifth to 120 million – mostly at Stansted – those from England's 11 major regional airports have nearly doubled to reach more than 40 million. In some cases the increase has been larger: Liverpool's John Lennon airport has nearly tripled its numbers, and eight airports, including such unlikely ones as Southampton, now handle more than a million passengers each.

And these figures refer exclusively to those on scheduled services to Europe, where these airports take an ever-increasing proportion of long-haul passengers away from Heathrow to foreign alternatives like Paris and Amsterdam. The result of this drift from the capital is that in the past 10 years, the proportion of all UK air traffic using the "London Five" has declined by 10 per cent to little more than a half.

Cridland's declaration was in reply to the announcement by Birmingham Airport that, through a combination of runway extension and terminal construction, it could soon handle nine million more passengers a year – today it has less than seven million. It also has planning permission for expansion to well over 25 million. This would put it in the same league as Gatwick, as well as being able to handle the biggest aircraft on the longest routes from a base which could attract passengers from anywhere between Birmingham and the capital.

But the key to accommodating any increased traffic is not only encouraging expansion outside the capital, it also lies in dividing London's air traffic more sensibly between its five airports. Willie Walsh, now in charge of Air Iberia as well as British Airways, made this clear when he said he was buying the small, loss-making airline BMI for its numerous slots at Heathrow. These will be used for long-haul, rather than existing short-haul services. Basically he was saying there are still lots of short-haul flights from Heathrow – the average plane transports a mere 147 passengers, a number virtually unchanged in 10 years, demonstrating just how many flights are short-haul. The new slots could complete Heathrow's coverage of the globe, which now excludes much of Latin America and inland China. So Heathrow for long-haul, the other four for short-haul.

Of course any attempt to shuffle airports and destinations would be difficult, but could be helped by changing the basis for charging the fees paid by airlines, at Heathrow for instance, to discourage smaller aircraft by charging per aircraft rather than per passenger.

But the biggest opportunity lies in using Gatwick more efficiently, above all as an alternative to Heathrow for long-haul passengers. At the moment, a fifth of its services are by charter flights which could go to Stansted or Luton. This would allow more long-haul services – at present it has relatively few, virtually all to tourist destinations, without any to such major cities as Chicago, Los Angeles or Boston.

I suspect Gatwick's major problem is its inaccessibility by road from central London. This matters because the rich and self-important won't use trains to travel to and from airports even though there are separate, frequent and reliable rail services from Gatwick to the West End and the City taking a mere half an hour – far quicker than the journey by limo from Heathrow. The train could so easily take the strain from our airports and its passengers.

India: Jolt to private airlines’ plan

New Delhi, Dec. 26: The government is unlikely to allow private carriers to import aviation turbine fuel (ATF).

Domestic airlines were hoping to persuade the government to allow them to import ATF, which will save them around Rs 2,500 crore.

“Such a proposal cannot be passed in a hurry. Besides, there are a lot of things the cabinet has to consider before allowing such a major policy change. Having only a policy will not help. There has to be infrastructure on ground before an approval can be granted,” a senior official in the civil aviation ministry said.

According to analysts, the airlines lack the infrastructure to store imported jet fuel. They also lack the technical knowledge of handling the volatile petroleum products market and may end up losing money.

If the government gives its consent to such a move, it will hit the revenues of state-run oil companies.

“Other sectors will also ask for some relief or other. If the government says no to them, it will be unjustified. It has to do a balancing act,” the official said.

However a final decision on the issue will be taken by the end of January.

At present, airlines buy ATF from Indian Oil Corporation as it is the only authorised public sector entity to import jet fuel for private carriers.

The directorate-general of foreign trade has in the last two months received letters from almost all the private carriers, including Kingfisher Airlines, asking for a green signal to allow ATF imports.

Fuel expenses constitute around half of the total operating cost of a domestic airline. It used to be 40 per cent of the cost barely a year ago.

The government will have to tweak the foreign trade policy to allow airlines to import fuel directly. According to officials in the civil aviation ministry, other ministries which have to give permission for such rule changes are in no mood to approve such a proposal.

To tackle the problem, the civil aviation ministry had requested the states on various occasions to rationalise sales tax on ATF. However, none of them have paid heed to the requests. States levy around 4-35 per cent as sales tax on ATF.

“ATF prices have increased 29 per cent between January and November this year. We are working on solutions to this problem but have been unsuccessful till now,” the official added.

New airfares: less "fine print," but more flak from carriers

Advertisements that make airfares seem enticingly low will soon lose that asterisk pointing to a dense paragraph of additional taxes and fees that make a cheap ticket much more costly.

Beginning Jan. 24, the Transportation Department will enforce a rule requiring that any advertised price for air travel include all government taxes and fees. For the last 25 years, the department has allowed airlines and travel agencies to list these government-imposed fees separately, resulting in a paragraph of fine print disclaimers about charges that can add 20 percent or more to the price of a ticket.

But with airlines now promoting fares on Web ads, Facebook and Twitter, and adopting a whole menu of fees for services that used to be part of the ticket price, the government decided it was time for a change so travelers have a clearer sense of the total price they will have to pay. (The price will not include baggage fees, though, because they are optional.)

“Requiring all mandatory charges to be included in a single advertised price will help consumers compare airfares and make it easier for them to determine the full cost of their trip,” Bill Mosley, a department spokesman, said in an email response to questions about the rule.

The government and the airlines are being guarded in discussing the full-fare advertising policy, since Spirit Airlines, Allegiant and Southwest have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to block the proposed change, arguing that it violates their commercial free speech rights.

Spirit has built its business around advertising $9 fares, then charging additional fees for checked and carry-on bags, advance seat assignments and now a “passenger usage fee” of up to $17 each way for tickets booked online. Since that online booking fee is technically optional — travelers can avoid it by driving to the airport and buying a ticket there — Spirit is not required to include it in advertised prices.

The proliferation of these types of fees has prompted the government to impose a growing number of fines against airlines and travel agencies that violate existing rules.

This year, the Transportation Department has assessed 21 penalties for fare advertising violations, with total fines of more than $1 million; in 2001, there were 14 penalties and $379,000 in fines.

Since August, Spirit, LAN Airlines, South African Airways, Orbitz, Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways, JetBlue and Air Canada have all been fined at least $50,000 each for advertising infractions.

Under current regulations, ticket sellers may list government taxes separately on an ad promoting a fare, but those mandatory fees must be clearly disclosed — hence the asterisk pointing to additional text or a Web page that itemizes these charges. One of Spirit's violations was advertising a $9 fare on Twitter and forcing customers to click links to two more Web pages to find out the full cost, including taxes and fees.

The new advertising rule is one of a dozen passenger protections the Transportation Department proposed in 2010 and adopted last spring. It extended the deadline for some provisions to give the airlines more time to comply.

Spirit and Allegiant have also challenged new rules requiring the airlines to: allow passengers to cancel a ticket purchase without penalty within 24 hours of booking; include information about baggage fees on e-ticket confirmations; and notify passengers more promptly about flight cancellations and delays.

Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman for Spirit, said the airline could not comment on its objections to the new rules, because of the carrier's coming stock offering.
But in its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Spirit cited “burdensome consumer protection regulations” as a risk factor for its business model, saying, “We are evaluating the actions we will be required to take to implement these rules, and we believe it is unlikely that we will be able to meet the 2012 compliance deadline in every respect.”

Separately, several airline trade groups and the American Society of Travel Agents have raised their own concerns about the regulations, primarily focusing on the fare advertising and baggage fee disclosure rules.

Airlines for America (formerly the Air Transport Association), the trade group for airlines in the United States, did not join the lawsuit seeking to block these regulations, but the group did file a brief with the court outlining its members' concerns, particularly about the fare advertising policy change.

“We think it's unnecessary and violates the First Amendment,” said David Berg, general counsel at Airlines for America. “The DOT simply has not been able to justify that the current advertising is misleading in any way to support a restriction on free speech.”

Airlines will still be able to outline how much of each fare goes toward government taxes, but the regulation limits how these charges can be displayed.

“You can't show the taxes in essentially close proximity with the total price, and they can't be in the same size font — it has to be smaller type,” Berg said. “That makes it harder for passengers to understand the taxes they are paying.”

The airlines have been ramping up their lobbying campaign to limit aviation taxes, which are paid by passengers through their fares. The carriers view the new rule as restricting their right to political speech. The airlines have also emphasized that the new regulation treats their industry differently from other businesses that routinely advertise prices without including taxes.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that although the practice of advertising prices without taxes was “utterly routine,” he did not believe the court would find that the government's new rule violated the First Amendment.

“To the extent that this simply requires that the full price be in a more prominent format, it's very likely constitutional,” he said. “The Supreme Court has said in the context of commercial advertising, the government has a very broad right to mandate speech that is reasonably aimed at preventing people from being misled.”

He also drew a distinction between sales taxes, which are familiar to most people, and aviation taxes, which are more variable and less well known — giving the government grounds for the regulation stipulating how these taxes are disclosed.

“I think, therefore, most likely it will be upheld,” Volokh said.

India: Slowing economy ushers in a tough year for airlines

Saddled with debt and cost worries, airlines now face the prospect of falling passenger numbers next year

The finances of airlines in India may worsen next year if slowing economic growth dampens demand for travel, compounding problems for the carriers that have struggled throughout 2011 because of high fuel prices, weakening rupee and mounting debt.

“Growth in passengers has been the only redeeming feature of 2011,” said Jitender Bhargava, a retired executive director of state-run Air India​. “Now, imagine 2012, with general recession in the offing and a euro zone crisis almost certain. If these high (passenger) loads turn into medium or low and with low fares, you can look at the consequences. The writing is on the wall.”

Air India, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, Jet Airways​ (India) Ltd, SpiceJet Ltd and GoAir may report a combined record loss of $2.5 billion in the year to March, the worst ever performance of airlines since 2004, according to aviation consultant Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, or Capa. The situation may worsen if banks, which have lent as much as $6 billion to cash-strapped Air India and Kingfisher, decide to stop lending to the airlines.

High fuel prices, which account for about 40% of an airline’s total cost, have been the biggest contributor to airline’s losses. Jet fuel prices have more than doubled to Rs.63,739 per kilolitre in December from Rs.31,750 a kilolitre in December 2005, according to data from Indian Oil Corp.’s website.

The depreciation of the Indian rupee, Asia’s worst-performing currency, against the dollar has raised costs further as most of the aircraft leases and spare purchases are denominated in dollars. A weak rupee also increases import costs of fuel and raises repayment costs for airlines.

The 23.3% decline in BSE Ltd’s Sensex this year, the second-worst performer among Asian benchmark indexes, has made it tough for airlines to raise money by selling shares. Plans to raise as much as $1 billion from the capital markets by airlines have been deferred.

“Several carriers have immediate financing requirements greater than their current market cap. Heading into 2012, airlines will continue to struggle to raise equity and will need to take on additional debt, further eroding viability,” according to Capa. “To date, they (banks) have provided invaluable support to Air India and Kingfisher, but in 2012 they are likely to be called upon by even more carriers, increasing their aviation exposure further above the current $6 billion.”

To make matters worse, a new ground handling policy could be implemented subject to a court verdict. Airlines oppose the policy as it may raise handling charges. Besides, additional charges levied by operators to finance the construction of Delhi and Mumbai airports may kick in next year after the regulator decides on them.

There are four scenarios that decide the fate of the airlines’ balance sheets, said Bhargava. “The first is a high flight occupancy and high fares which is very good for the industry; high occupancy and low fares is manageable; low occupancy and high fares is also manageable but low occupancy and low fares is disastrous for the industry.”

The year 2011 was bearable for the airlines because it fell in the second scenario with 70-88% occupancy, Bhargava said, referring to the 17.6% growth in the number of passengers carried in local routes in the 11 months to 30 November.

As financing becomes hard to find and the economy slows, Jet is looking at ways to cut costs.

“The airline has attempted to control costs wherever possible and is continually looking at several non-payroll areas to optimize costs, but without pruning our workforce,” said a spokesperson for Jet Airways.

The airline is looking at areas, including contract renegotiation's, improvement in processes, increasing ancillary revenues and sale and leaseback of some of the aircraft to repay existing high-cost working capital loans, the spokesperson said.

Still, state-run banks may stop lending to airlines because of their worsening finances, which “could create a political issue in itself,” according to Capa. Air India, however, is expected to get government approval for a Rs.25,000 crore bailout that will be spread over the next 10 years. SpiceJet has raised money through a sale of preferential shares to its controlling shareholders.

“The most revealing happening was the public disclosure of Kingfisher’s dire status, due mostly to mismanagement, wrong strategies and suspected interference from the primary stock holder,” said US-based Steve Forte, a former Jet Airways chief executive. “Otherwise, the trend followed a predictable curve that mirrors the major economies in the world. As the year progressed and world crisis worsened, so did aviation results. Even Jet Airways, normally a fairly healthy carrier, lost money as the year went on.”

Mallya did not comment on how did he look back at 2011. A text message to Mallya remained unanswered.

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya​’s Kingfisher has pledged assets ranging from its brand to office furniture for bank loans of as much as $1.2 billion already. Goa’s Kingfisher Villa, famous for new year parties hosted there, two helicopters, Kingfisher’s headquarters in Mumbai and shares have also been used as collateral for loans as of 30 November, minister of state for finance Namo Narain Meena told Parliament in December.

“The market in India has developed faster than in most other countries; however, it has not developed in a regulated, intelligent and profitable way as it should have been,” said Forte. “Great expansions were pursued based on market share rather than on calculated profits.”

While the pace of growth in the market may continue in the long term, questions on profitability of the carriers will remain. Between 2012 and 2017, airlines are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 12%, according to the aviation ministry.

This means that the number of domestic passengers is expected to almost double to 209 million by 2016-17 from 106 million at the end of the last fiscal.

Critical to the turnaround of Indian carriers will be the fate of Air India, which is estimated by Capa to post $1.75 billion in losses in the year to March.

“For Indian aviation, the biggest problem remains with Air India and the government stranglehold on it. How long will taxpayers be willing to subsidize such (an) economic black hole?” Forte said. “Even in Italy, not one of your more efficient countries in the world, after years and years of subsidies they finally let go and bankrupted Alitalia, now reborn with private equity. When is enough, enough?”

For most of the year Air India had priced its tickets much less than rivals Jet and Kingfisher in a bid to win market share. While the strategy helped Air India boost market share, it put pressure on rivals to match the fare to prevent erosion of their market share. Air India relented in November, raising fares to peg it just above the ticket prices of low-fare carriers after complaints of undercutting from private airlines.

“The only way to see a bright spot in 2011 would be to compare it to 2012. Because 2011 will look good compared with 2012,” said Bhargava.

Dawn Howard keeps Louisa flying straight. Louisa County Airport/Freeman Field (KLKU) Louisa, Virginia.

Dawn Howard first applied to the Louisa County Airport more than 20 years ago.

LOUISA — Dawn Howard never expected the job application she submitted to the Louisa County Airport more than 20 years ago would change her life.

Howard was working at a grocery store in Richmond when she noticed the advertisement for an assistant at the airport and decided to apply. She said her mother even discouraged her because she knew of others more experienced who had applied and not received a call back.

But Howard applied anyway and was surprised to get an interview.

“I remember the ad said they were looking for someone with computer experience and I didn’t have any computer experience,” Howard said. “I told them, and they hired me anyway.”

Although initially inexperienced with no real knowledge of the aviation industry, Howard took it upon herself to learn everything she could about the inner workings of the small airport, said her former boss, retired Navy Adm. Dewitt L. Freeman. She soon took over many of the duties he was doing as airport manager and made herself invaluable to him.

“She worked me out of a job,” Freeman said. “She’s a self-starter and very dependable. You don’t have to tell her what to do … she doesn’t just sit around and wait to be told what to do next. She just does it.”

Howard said Freeman, whom she calls “The Admiral,” gave her a piece of advice early on that she has carried over into every aspect of her life.

“He told me to ‘Always do what you say you’re going to do and if you don’t just let me know,’” Howard said. “Those words changed my life because they gave me the freedom and inspired me to always do what I said I was going to do.”

Freeman was one of the creators of the airport and it was named in his honor in 1984.

After years of learning the ropes from Freeman and others, Howard was appointed the airport manager in 2004. She now serves on various airport boards and mentors other small-airport managers.

“The Admiral gave me a leg up in the aviation industry that I will never forget,” Howard said. “Instead of having to build support up, he endorsed me and it made a difference. It wasn’t a popular decision when he wanted to hire me as the airport manager … I’m sure there were some pilots who said, ‘She’s not a pilot, she’s a woman.’”

Over the years, Howard took over running the annual airshow and became involved in various community activities to collect food and toys for families in the community. She gives tours of the airport to school and community groups and even keeps gasoline in a “courtesy car” pilots can use to drive into town if they fly in for a visit.

“Dawn is the best organized airport manager that I work with, and I work with more than 60 airports in various states,” said Ray Conlon, vice president of the navigational division of Austin Electrical Construction in Buchanan. “She’s a people person and is always involved in a lot of community things. She does a world of things for the community … anything she can do to help the community she will step up and do. She’s a real asset.”

Earlier this year, Howard was named Virginia’s aviation manager of the year in honor of her years of service and dedication to the airport industry. The airport, which now has a waiting list for hanger space, remains a top priority for a woman who still believes in the power of being positive.

“This is truly my dream job,” Howard said. “I get to work with so many great people and have a chance to do so many things. I’m very fortunate.”

Barbados: New flight set to increase tourism numbers

Besides the fact that it was Christmas Day, there was much more to be festive and excited about at the Grantley Adams international Airport as 184 passengers, along with seven crew members, stepped onto Barbadian soil following an inaugural luxury charter Air Transat flight from Canada, set to bring well over 3 000 visitors to the island over the winter season.

The Canjet airplane, which is flying to Barbados under the Canadian-based tour operator Transat Holidays at a capacity of 189 seats, will be bringing in passengers from one of Barbados’ most critical markets every Sunday stretching until April 2012.

Commenting that Transat is a “big player” Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, revealed that as a result of Barbados’ high quality tourism product coupled with aggressive marketing throughout different media in Canada, seats are selling well with flights currently booking in excess of an 80 per cent capacity.

“When we took over the Government in January 2008, I was asked to outline what we saw as the priorities and one of the principle ones for the sector was to get the appalling figures from Canada back up and I think we have succeeded in doing that because in 2007 we had just under 50 000 Canadians coming to our shores and in 2010, just under 80 000,” he stated, adding that he believes that the numbers can increase even further to similar visitor arrivals of the fruitful 1970’s and 80’s – when Canada was Barbados’ top-producing market.

Thus, he says that to achieve this, Barbados cannot only look to the scheduled operators, but also welcome the business of chartered flights.

“If we are to continue to see the needle go up as far as Canada is concerned, we need to have a relationship with Transat and I would like to commend everyone ... who worked hard to see that this became a reality,” he noted.

Additionally, the Minister was keen to stress that “it was a pleasure” negotiating with Transat and that “they did not ask for any money” such as a revenue guarantee arrangement or a seat subsidy.

“This is a coop-marketed programme that has formed the basis of this relationship. There is no money going to Transat from the purse by way of a direct subsidy … it is a diversified marketing programme with the use of billboards, magazine inserts and online, print and travel trade advertising so as to reach the widest possible audience and with load factors of in excess of 80 per cent, it is working,” he explained.

He further emphasised that he needed to share the specifics of this arrangement so that the public can know exactly what is happening with respect to this tourism initiative.

Meanwhile, Sealy revealed that there are plans under way to try to broaden the current Canadian target market to include more areas of the vast North American State “in the near future”.

Finally, Captain of the airplane, Dave Moore, spoke glowingly of the close connection between the two countries and noted that the warmth of the island’s people is a big draw for Canadians. 

Southwest, AirTran Unions Agree on Seniority


The Transport Workers Union, which represents 10,000 Southwest Airlines Co. flight attendants, said Monday that it and a union representing 2,400 AirTran Airways attendants, have agreed to put a seniority integration plan to their respective members for ratification in January.

Southwest acquired fellow low-cost carrier AirTran in May. In an airline merger or acquisition, work groups must agree to such a list before employees from the two sides can be scheduled as a single group and work under a common labor contract.

Normally the two groups, if represented by different unions, also have to vote on which union will represent the combined group. However, in this case, because Southwest is so much bigger, it is expected that AirTran attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, will be folded into the TWU.

The TWU said Monday that the tentative agreement will provide seniority enhancements and job security to Southwest attendants and boost the wages and benefits of AirTran attendants to Southwest levels. Southwest also has committed to opening a flight attendant base in Atlanta, from which the majority of AirTran attendants now work.

Earlier this month, the mechanics union leaders of both Southwest and AirTran voted to send a seniority proposal out to members before putting it to a ratification vote. Pilots at the two airlines in November approved a seniority integration plan that will lead to a single labor contract, which will give Southwest the eventual ability to assign AirTran pilots on trips with their Southwest counterparts.

Southwest on Monday confirmed the development and said it was pleased by the tentative agreement involving its largest work group.

Qatar: Aviation show to be held in January

The Fifth Fly-in Open Day will be held at Al Khor Airstrip on January 13 and 14 from 9am to 4.30pm in a revamped format featuring light aircraft from all over the region.

The event is jointly organised by the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, the Qatar Aeronautical College, owners of light aircraft from the region and the remote flying section at the Science Club.

The display of aircraft and aerobatic shows are expected to draw big crowds. The objective of the event is to educate the youth about the science and concept of aviation.

Qatar Aeronautical College officials will be present to provide information on scholarships and a career in aviation.

A diverse range of aircraft including jets, propeller aircraft, micro-copters and many others are expected for the event.

Sheikh Ahmed H al-Thani, chairman of the Al Khor Fly-in Committee, said the anticipated line-up and activities are going to be a huge draw for families.

Visitors will enjoy a free ride whenever possible and a close-up look at the cockpit.

Royal Canadian Air Force considering Arctic base expansion: documents

The Royal Canadian Air Force has looked at a major expansion at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, as it considers transforming it into a key base for Arctic operations, according to documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

The construction of a 3,000-metre paved runway, hangars, fuel installations and other infrastructure has been proposed for the future as part of an effort to support government and military operations in the North.

Resolute Bay in Nunavut would be able to provide a logistics site for search-and-rescue operations as well as a base for strategic refuelling aircraft, according to the briefing from the Arctic Management Office at 1 Canadian Air Division, the air force’s Winnipeg-based command and control division. The briefing was presented in June 2010 and recently released by the Defence Department under the Access to Information law.

The long paved runway would allow fighter aircraft to operate from the site, with the suggestion in the presentation that could include Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) jets.

Resolute Bay currently has a 1,981-metre gravel runway, according to information provided for pilots by the federal government.

Resolute Bay should be considered for expansion to become a main operating base because it is “the geostrategic center to the Arctic and (Northwest) Passage” and is an “existing regional supply hub with a permanent population/sea access,” according to the briefing.

It would be seen as a “key Arctic regional development and sovereignty centerpiece,” the records add.

The presentation followed a February 2010 Arctic planning directive issued by the Chief of the Air Staff Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, who called on the air force to become “a more relevant, responsive, and effective Arctic capable aerospace power.”

In an email to the Citizen, the RCAF stated “it does not have infrastructure or short term infrastructure projects at Resolute Bay.”

The email did not touch on the RCAF’s long-term plans for Resolute Bay or discuss the briefing from the Arctic Management Office.

The Conservative government has received kudos from some for paying more attention to the Arctic but critics have raised concerns that much of that is based on a military presence while the government continues to cut back on science and research in the North.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has emphasized that Canada will increase its military presence in the region, announcing a series of initiatives, ranging from the construction of Arctic and offshore patrol ships for the navy, an Arctic training centre for troops, and the expansion of the Canadian Rangers.

The Conservatives have also highlighted their decision to spend more than $14 billion on the F-35 stealth fighter as an initiative to protect the country’s Arctic airspace.

Many of the initiatives, however, are still years away from becoming reality.

The RCAF briefing also examined establishing a forward operating base on central Ellesmere Island by expanding the current facilities at Eureka, Nunavut. That initiative proposed adding new facilities and turning the location into a regional asset for government departments. Also included in the “FOB Eureka” concept is the proposal that the existing airfield be expanded.

Creating a Forward Operating Base Eureka could allow the military to downsize or rebuild the existing Canadian Forces Station Alert, according to the presentation.

CFS Alert is on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island and is used for the interception of communications.

The presentation noted that Eureka would be easier to sustain as it could be resupplied by sea while Alert has to be resupplied by air. Making Eureka the main Canadian Forces “very high” Arctic station would also allow the military to separate the missions of sovereignty enforcement and the role of communications intercepts, it added.

The presentation also suggested the possibility of a rebuilt CFS Alert, including an artists’ concept of the site.

The email from the RCAF stated that “no major construction projects involving the runway at Eureka are planned.”

The email did not discuss the proposals to build new facilities at Eureka or rebuild CFS Alert.

The RCAF email, however, did note “the Government of Canada has made Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda through an integrated strategy that promotes sovereignty, economic and social development, environmental protection, and improved governance in the region.”

The U.S., however, has a different view, dismissing many of the Arctic announcements by the Conservative government as having little to do with enforcing sovereignty in the North and instead designed to attract votes.

“Conservatives make concern for ‘The North’ part of their political brand and it works,” according to a diplomatic cable produced last year by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. The cable was made public by WikiLeaks.

Sadu Arabia opens aviation sector to competition

The General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia (GACA) said on Sunday it will allow foreign and local investors to operate domestic and international flights in the kingdom so it can meet growing demand. Currently, the GACA works with consultants in order to carry out the technical procedures for a public tender, which should be announced in late January.

Earlier this year, the Saudi Arabian authority said it was considering a plan to open the local aviation market to Gulf carriers, but did not specify when it would reach a decision. In April, the Shura Council, a group of consultants appointed by the king, said it was looking into proposals to grant licenses to Gulf carriers to operate domestic flights.

The largest economy in the Arab world currently has two operating airlines – state-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines and low-cost carrier National Air Services (NAS). The kingdom’s third carrier Sama Airlines, stopped operations last year, after discussions on a possible government support for the company failed.

In November, King Abdullah ordered the separation of the civil aviation industry of the country’s Ministry of Defense and appointed Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Saud as head of the GACA.