Friday, November 22, 2013

Fewer flights at Four Corner's Regional Airport (KFMN) not death of Farmington, New Mexico, area economy

FARMINGTON — Four Corners Regional Airport may lose commercial flights as airline companies shift to higher-capacity planes and larger cities, officials say.

But those changes aren't expected to have a major effect on the Farmiington area's economy because it doesn't have a heavy reliance on commercial flights.

"We wish that was not the case, but, right now, it is not one of the linchpins of our economy here," said Ray Hagerman, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, an organization dedicated to stimulating the area's economy.

The city of Farmington is updating its Airport Master Plan to brace for this and other national trends anticipated over the next 20 years. Among other things, the document guides the city's spending; identifies aviation trends; and outlines additional needed infrastructure and what the federal government's future investments may be, said Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell.

Nationally, regional airlines are switching from turboprop and piston airplanes to 50- and 90-seat jets, according to the plan. The airplanes are flying longer routes as a result. And that change has drawn traffic from airports with "thin activity" to regional hubs, according to the plan.

In the next decade, all regional jets will have at least 100 seats, according to the Boyd Group, an consulting company that specializes in the airline market.

Farmington's airport serves 118 piston airplanes, according to the plan.

Throughout the country, companies are also retiring the 50-seat regional jets that flew in and out of the smaller airports like Farmington's, according to the plan. Those jets carry fewer passengers, their fuel-per-passenger cost has risen and aging equipment requires expensive maintenance, according to the plan.

Farmington's decline in regional airplane traffic is nothing new. In fiscal year 2000, the airport flew more than 53,000 regional passengers, according to the plan. In fiscal year 2009, 11,260 regional passengers flew from the airport, according to the plan.

Hagerman said the city will just have to make do.

The Albuquerque International Sunport, Durango-La Plata County Airport and Farmington's airport all serve existing needs, he said. Passengers weigh the benefits of each airport when deciding where to fly from, he said.

"It's just going to be more challenging for the customer to travel in the future," Campbell said.


New Federal Aviation Administration rule results in pilot shortages for Great Lakes Airlines, other carriers; More local flights cancelled - Riverton Regional Airport (KRIW), Wyoming

Four members of the Riverton Regional Airport Board met Friday morning in Riverton. 
Photo Courtesy/Credit:  Ernie Over

(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Riverton Regional Airport Board looked for a silver lining today from the woes now plaguing the nation’s regional feeder airlines because of a new Federal Aviation Administration rule. They couldn’t find one.

Great Lakes Airlines, and other regional carriers, are struggling to cope with a new FAA requirement that has increased the qualification requirements for first officers who fly for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines. Known as co-pilots, the new rules requires these first officers to have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. Previously, co-pilots were only required to have a commercial pilot certificate, which required 250 flight hours.

As an unintended consequence of the new rule, pilots with 1,500 hours or more have become hot commodities in the airline industry, and are fleeing the regional feeder airlines for the majors. Great Lakes is suffering as they are running out of pilots. In a memo to Great Lakes Airlines employees, CEO Chuck Howell said Thursday that “we have seen other carriers aggressively recruiting our qualified pilots, and attrition has been more than double the normal rate.” He also wrote, “To further aggravate the situation, there are limited pilots looking for work that meet the new qualifications, therefore filling new hire classes has been challenging.”

Riverton Airport Operations Manager Paul Griffin said phone calls to Howell have not been returned.

In Riverton last month a total of 13 departures were cancelled, along with nine arrivals. For passengers caught unawares, trying to get another flight is difficult and results in missed connections and loud complaints.

“I get a phone calls every time someone is bumped off,” said Bob Steen, airport board member. “We’re getting hammered every time someone gets bumped.”

Dean Peranteax said the pilot shortage is seriously impacting the city’s efforts to promote Riverton Regional Airport. Peranteax said a flight he was on from Phoenix several weeks ago arrived in Denver on time, and the airport flight boards at DIA indicated the evening Great Lakes flight to Riverton was on time. It turned out that the flight had been cancelled two days earlier, but no one bothered to tell the passengers until they arrived at the boarding area. Peranteax said he was forced to rent a car and spend $250 to get home after a six hour drive because there was no assurance he could fly back into town. “And many people cannot afford to do that. The frustration is not with the cancellation, but the communication to the passengers,” he said. “The airline knew in advance that the flight would be cancelled, but that wasn’t communicated so we could make other plans.” Peranteaux said he could understand the frustration passengers are feeling.

The Riverton Airport Board member even acknowledged that he has driven to Casper to catch flights due to the uncertainty of flying out of Riverton.

“It will take us three to five years to get passengers like that to fly out of Riverton again,” Griffin said. “It’s just not a local problem, it’s a statewide and national problem and other airports in the state are losing passengers too.”

While the discussion was about negatives, Griffin said boardings at Riverton Regional were up by 352 passengers last month compared with the same month a year ago. A total of 11,620 passengers have flown from Riverton this year, compared to 11,268 one year ago. “We’re up three percent,” he said.

The board agreed to send a letter to Howell to urge better communication between the airline and its passengers over the cancellation issue.

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Shocking footage will not be shown, rules coroner: Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham inquest - BAe Hawk T1, XX177

Distressing amateur film footage of Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham being ejected from his aircraft will not be shown publicly at his inquest, a coroner has ruled.

Flight Lieutenant Cunningham, 35, died after his ejector seat fired while his Hawk T1 jet was on the ground at RAF Scampton on November 8, 2011.

He was shot 200ft into the air and his parachute failed to open.

An ejector seat is designed to be fired into the air and a small parachute called a drogue deploys to give stability and slow the descent.

This causes a scissor shackle link to open, allowing the drogue to drag out the main parachute.

A full inquest, to begin on January 9, will examine what initiated Mr Cunningham’s ejection, why the parachute did not open and cultural issues surrounding the team.

Central Lincolnshire coroner Stuart Fisher told a pre-inquest hearing today: “I very much hope that the video will not have to be played.

“I will make it available to advocates of necessary but I’m going to make a direction it will not be shown in public.”

The court heard an alleged ejector seat fault in Mr Cunningham’s aircraft was a “single rogue event” related to a “seized shackle”.

Mr Fisher rejected an application from the family’s lawyer Tom Kark, QC, that Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited and the MoD identify any “previous similar problem” with the Mark 10 seat.

“I believe this application is disproportionate and speculative,” said Mr Fisher.

“Martin-Baker has provided statements that this was a rogue event in relation to the performance of a shackle.”

Mr Fisher ruled that reasonably targeted requests for police exhibits would be considered.

But he said he would not order the disclosure of witness statements.

“I believe it may be prejudicial to the Health and Safety investigation,” said Mr Fisher.

Andrew Prynne, for Martin-Baker, said the company had no record of any like drogue shackle incidents of the kind that has prompted this inquest.

He added: “If there were reports of reports of inadvertent ejections that bore any relevance they would have been disclosed.”


Work culture of Red Arrows to be probed at pilot's inquest

The Red Arrow's working culture will be investigated at an inquest into the death of a pilot who was killed after being ejected from his grounded jet amid claims the intensive flying schedule may have been a contributory factor.

 The culture of the RAF's Red Arrows is be investigated at an inquest into the death of a pilot who was killed when he was ejected from his cockpit following claims that overwork may have played a part in his death.

A pre-inquest hearing in Lincoln was told pilots and ground crew working for the crack aerobatic team will be among over 40 witnesses called at the hearing into the death of Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, due to be heard in January.

Flt Lt Cunningham, 35, originally from Coventry, died in November 2011 after being flung 200ft in the air from his Hawk Jet by the ejection seat while he was grounded at the Red Arrows' base at RAF Scampton, Lincs, and his parachute failed to work.

Earlier this year it was claimed that pressure on the top pilots to perform as many displays as possible may have impacted on aircraft maintenance and the staff themselves and been a factor in Flt Lt Cunningham’s death.

The number of hours the Red Arrows are required to fly has been reduced by more than 10 per cent from 3000 annual flying hours to 2,600, a pre–inquest review in August heard.

The hearing this week was told issues with the ejection seat trigger and the working of the parachute will also be examined by the Central Lincolnshire Coroner Stuart Fisher.

Mr Fisher said: “What initiated the ejection seat and why didn't the parachute open are primary matters I am going to be looking at.

“I am also going to be looking at cultural issues as well. We are going to have a lot of evidence about culture.”

Five pilots are due to give evidence including Squadron Leader Jim Turner who took over as Red One, the leader of the team, for the 2012 flying season.

The first Arrows' female pilot Kirsty Stewart is included among the witnesses. She and other pilots will be legally represented at the full inquest as “interested parties”.

But the coroner ruled out hearing evidence from the civilian manager of the Hawk Simulator at RAF Valley in North Wales where the team undertakes some training.

Flt Lt Cunningham's death remains under investigation by the Health and Safety Executive following the conclusion of an earlier police investigation.

Bernard Thorogood, counsel for the HSE, told the hearing that consideration is being given to bringing criminal charges over the fatal incident.

He said “The HSE investigation is only a few months old. The files were handed over in August of this year.

“The HSE is addressing possible charges. That is what the investigation is into. It is looking into potential breaches of the criminal law."

Lincolnshire Police previously carried out an investigation into Flt Lt Cunningham's death but chose not to bring charges.


Mountain resort airports, Part 2: Tough challenges at Colorado’s high altitude runways

The is the second in a series on mountain resort airports. Read the Nov. 23 print edition for the final installment, which examines the various funding models at resort airports, as well as future flight-service challenges.

 Linda Erickson lives in Edwards and always uses Denver International Airport. She’s a frequent business traveler but typically can’t justify using the Eagle County Regional Airport.

“I can take (a Colorado Mountain Express van) to Denver and get to my destination in half the time I would spend flying all over the place making multiple connections,” she said. “Flights out of Eagle are outrageously priced. My preference would certainly be to fly out of Eagle if those two points could be resolved.”

Unfortunately for Erickson and many other frequent mountain travelers, the reasons for her frustrations can’t be easily resolved. Mountain airports are configured around many obstacles, including mountainous terrain and complex high-altitude flying conditions. 

Mountain airports face challenging weather patterns, including temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind. According to the 2010 Colorado Mountain Airport Study, even moderate temperatures in the summer can cause high density altitude, which decreases aircraft lift and engine performance. Airports are already constrained because of mountainous terrain, so a decrease in engine performance is a serious problem, according to the report.

‘Complete Chaos’

Aviation consultant Kent Myers could talk about the technical restrictions at mountain airports for hours, maybe even days.  
When airplanes depart they have to be able to perform to a Federal Aviation Administration standard known as an engine-out maneuver, he said. It’s a technique pilots need to know in case of an engine failure. Doing such a maneuver over any obstacle — especially mountains — is not wise.

“When the front wheel lifts off, if you blow the engine at that time, you have to turn around and land with one engine,” Myers said. “Because of obstructions of Red Table Mountain (near the Eagle County airport), you can’t do that maneuver, but you can do it in Aspen.”

The result is that Aspen can have a regional jet fly outbound with a limited weight restriction, but the Eagle County airport needs a more powerful, larger gauge aircraft, Myers said.

In Aspen, space is also limited. There’s one runway, just like at the Eagle County airport, but in Aspen there’s a 95-foot wingspan restriction. That limits the type of aircraft Aspen can accommodate.

“The restrictions on the wingspan here and restrictions on max gross landing weight — you’ll never see a (Boeing) 757 or an Airbus here,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the community representative who deals with the airlines.

There is a demand for use by larger wingspan aircraft, but that would require relocation of the parallel taxiway and aprons, reducing aircraft parking by as much as half, according to the Colorado Mountain Airport Study Update technical report in 2010.

Shenna Johnston, of Glenwood Springs, knows how all the high altitude science affects her. She tries to fly out of the Aspen airport when she can because she said she can often find cheaper flights there than out of Eagle County. But that choice often has its consequences.

“Aspen is tricky during the winter months because if there’s a snow storm, that shuts down the airport. You have no choice but to drive to Denver in hopes of scoring a standby flight. It’s complete chaos,” she said. “I’ve done the drive to Denver with 2 feet of snow on Vail Pass and 18-wheelers jack-knifed all over the pass.”

For some travelers, it’s simple math. If a flight into the Eagle County Airport is within $150 of the fare into Denver, Debbie Blount chooses Eagle.

“I watch the fares regularly and try to book when I see the price drop,” she said. “Unfortunately during shoulder seasons neither American or Delta are offering service. I would love to see a player such as AirTran/Southwest try service into EGE, even if it was just seasonally so we could have a little competition and see some more reasonable pricing.”

A Southwest spokesman said the airline won’t play in seasonal markets, so that option is out — at least for now. It doesn’t mean the EGE Air Alliance and other groups won’t continue to court the airline, though.

Less seats

The Boeing 757 has been a workhorse for the Eagle County Airport, but most airlines are grounding them because they’re older planes and aren’t very fuel-efficient. The planes are being replaced with Airbus 319s — great for fuel efficiency, but there’s roughly 60 less seats than on a 757.

“The most current negative impact on the Eagle Airport, as well as other resort communities, is the 757 retirement,” Myers said. “The available seats are shrinking not because it’s anybody’s fault, it’s because of what’s happening with the aircraft. Does it mean we should serve Chicago twice a day? That’s a pretty big leap.”

The Airbus that can fly into the Eagle County Airport still has about 50 more seats than the largest commercial aircraft flying into Aspen, though. Phillips said the airport estimates that roughly 20 percent of Eagle County Airport winter traffic is heading to Aspen. Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Aviation Director Jim Elwood thinks the number is more like 10 percent.

“(Aspen is) bringing 66-passenger planes in. A backup plan for someone might be to come here (if seats to Aspen are sold out),” EGE Air Alliance board member Gabe Shalley said.

Aspen and Eagle both serve many of the same destination markets, but Eagle can fly in longer-distance flights because it can accommodate larger aircraft. Aspen’s farthest market this winter is Atlanta, while Eagle will have nonstop service from farther markets such as Miami, Newark, New York City and Toronto. The Toronto flight, which clears customs in Canada before departure and then again in Canada upon return, will be the only direct international flight this winter into a Colorado mountain resort airport.

In addition to changes in fleets, the airline industry’s consolidation to just four dominant domestic carriers ­— which account for more than 80 percent of the total market — is causing a need for smaller airports to recreate relationships with airlines, said Yampa Valley Airport Manager David Ruppel. Air service at resort airports is all about relationships with the airlines, he said.

“When those connections change, it just makes it that much more challenging to get the best deal,” he said.

The importance of being able to strike the right deals with airlines can’t be understated. The Aspen/Pitkin County Airport generates $841.1 million in economic output each year, and the Eagle County Regional Airport generates $635.9 million, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 2013 Economic Impact Study for Colorado Airports.

You can debate the methodology, Aspen Aviation Director Jim Elwood said, but either way it’s an interesting analysis that says a lot about the economic importance of airports.

Aspen and Eagle are the top economic generators behind Denver International Airport and Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, respectively, of commercial service airports in the state. That performance would be impossible without economic incentives or revenue guarantees for air service, which are made possible through relationships between resort airports and the airlines.

“The airport is like a utility for people, like turning the lights on. You go to the airport and the planes are there,” Eagle County Regional Airport Aviation Director Greg Phillips said. “It’s getting to the point where it’s not like that anymore. You’ve got to be responsive, you’ve got to be actively working to promote and build air service, particularly in smaller communities like this where we don’t have large native populations.”

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This is the first in a series on the challenges mountain resort airports face: Mountain resort airports hit turbulence in attempts to grow number of flights, seats