Thursday, November 06, 2014

Get ready for crowded airports this Thanksgiving

DALLAS – If you’re flying somewhere for Thanksgiving, expect airports to be even more crowded this year.

U.S. airlines expect to carry 24.6 million passengers over the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving, up 1.5 percent from last year.

The worst day: Nov. 30, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with 2.6 million people flying on U.S. airlines.

The forecast comes from Airlines for America, a trade group representing the biggest U.S. carriers. It covers Friday, Nov. 21, through Tuesday, Dec. 2.

The group’s chief economist, John Heimlich, said Thursday that rising personal incomes and job growth are helping boost demand for travel.

But the increase in passengers will be offset by additional seats and flights, so planes will be about equally full as last Thanksgiving, said a spokeswoman for the trade group. This year, American, Delta and JetBlue have increased passenger-carrying capacity — that usually means more flights or bigger planes — while United and Southwest have operated close to their 2013 capacity.

Last year, the airlines’ Thanksgiving travel forecast turned out to be too high by about 3 percent. Heimlich blamed bad weather that caused widespread flight cancellations.

And historically, the crowds have been worse. Even if airlines meet this year’s forecast, Thanksgiving travel would still be about 6 percent lower than it was before the recession that began in 2008.

The airlines are doing well financially by taking a go-slow approach to adding new seats and raising fares and fees. In the first nine months of this year, the nine biggest U.S. airlines reported earnings of $6.8 billion, up from $4.5 billion a year earlier, according to the trade group. U.S. airfares rose 4.7 percent this summer from the same months last summer, after adjusting for inflation.

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Six F/A-18s to Pierce Long Beach Skies for Five Days

Six F/A-18s will be conducting operations at the Long Beach Airport (LGB) starting Friday, November 7 and continuing through Tuesday, November 11. Over the long Veterans Day Holiday weekend, the Long Beach Airport advises Long Beach residents that there will be intermittently higher noise levels due to these operations.

The combat jets are owned by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and will be flown from Long Beach to designated flight training areas throughout the day, according to Stephanie Montoya-Morisky, spokeswoman for the LGB. The jets will return to Long Beach from these training areas intermittently.

The McDonnel Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier, capable of performing as a multirole combat jet. It is designed, according to the LGB, as both a fighter and attack aircraft (F/A designates Fighter/Attack). The F/A-18 was designed specifically for use by the United States Navy and Marine Corps and is used by the air forces of several other nations. The U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, has used the Hornet since 1986.

“As a public use commercial airport, Long Beach Airport has the equipment and runway length needed for the safe operation of these aircraft,” said Montoya-Morisky. “As part of our nation's transportation system, we accept federal funding to keep the airport as safe and operationally efficient as possible. LGB does not operate with any local tax revenue. Since the Airport is a Federal Aviation Administration funding recipient, we are obligated, per federal regulations, to be open to government aircraft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These aircraft include Air Force One, The Coast Guard, The Postal Service and all branches of the military. This is standard for most of the airports in the United States.”

The LGB, in regards to this upcoming Veterans Day on November 11, would like to thank veterans and current soldiers alike for their service and dedication to this country.

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‘Safety threat’ fears over loss of airport

The loss of the Blackpool Airport could pose a “threat to safety” pilots have warned as official figures reveal the number of emergency landings made by aircraft at the terminal.

A number of emergency landings were made on the more than mile long runway in recent years, including a Red Arrow diverting to the Fylde coast in an emergency, attended by both the airport’s own fire crews as well as Lancashire Fire and Rescue and Lancashire Police.

A Freedom of Information request by The Gazette to Lancashire Police revealed officers attended a number of incidents at the Squires Gate Lane hub, as well as call-outs made for extra help from fire crews to deal with problems.

In one instance an aircraft was forced to land on the strip after its cockpit filled with smoke while passengers had to evacuate a jet after smoke was seen pouring from the plane as it landed.

On June 6 this year the captain of flight LS740 from Alicante was advised to evacuate the flight as a precautionary measure after Blackpool Airport air traffic control spotted smoke coming from the brakes on landing.

Now pilots have said the loss of the airfield could pose a threat to airliners which can come into difficulties in the skies over the Fylde coast.

Paul Wane, a private pilot who used to work for Fly Blackpool, said: “The bottom line is that Blackpool could be used, when it was active, as a diversionary airfield for aircraft that were in trouble.

“The fact is that it is no longer a licensed airfield, and also the fact there is no emergency services there to help aircraft that may require help. This means that pilots or larger aircraft may try to seek an airfield that has got these – it could extend the problem and create a safety issue.

“The fact Blackpool Airport is now closed means an aircraft would have to fly longer to find an airfield with emergency services available.

“It may be a hazard to life.”

And Robert Murgatroyd, CEO of Fly Blackpool, added: “It would be a safety concern.”

The famous Red Arrows, which attract thousands to Blackpool with acrobatic displays every summer, have been forced to make emergency landings at the airport too.

In August 2011 one of the aircraft had to make a swift landing after colliding with a bird, prompting fire and ambulance crews to race to the airfield.

In February 2011 a Lynx helicopter’s engine failed five miles from the airfield and emergency teams were scrambled, and in May of that year an aircraft made an emergency landing in Blackpool after reporting problems with its undercarriage.

The following month a twin engine aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing after having to shut down one engine. In April 2012 an aircraft reported problems with its nose wheel while landing.

In June 2013 full emergency response procedure was also followed as a light aircraft got into difficulty, but the crews were stood down after the plane landed safely.

In August of this year, fire crews were called as a precautionary measure after the pilot of a small aircraft reported smoke in the cockpit of his plane.

Airport bosses Balfour Beatty officially closed the airport on October 15 after a buyer to save it at the 11th hour could not be found, ending 100 years of aviation history in the resort.

Balfour Beatty said the terminal was losing an estimated £1.5m a year. The demise of the commercial airport left 100 jobs in the balance.

Yesterday Fylde MP Mark Menzies warned potential buyers have only a six-week window to firm up any offers for the airfield before the assets of the airport start to be sold off.

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SpiceJet indefinitely suspends flights from Surat

SURAT: Following the grounding of an aircraft due to the stray cattle incident at Surat airport on Thursday evening, the SpiceJet management has indefinitely suspended its flights from Surat.

"Flights from Surat has been indefinitely suspended after one of our aircraft hit a large stray animal on take-off roll this evening," said Spice Jet spokesperson from Bangalore.

More than 170 passengers in the Delhi-bound Spice Jet aircraft had a miraculous escape when the craft was hit by a stray buffalo, when it was taking off from the Surat airport at around 7:25 pm. Airport sources said all the passengers are safe.

He added, "An alternate aircraft was arranged to ferry the passengers to Delhi"

There was utter confusion between the airport authorities and the SpiceJet pilot as to which stray animal hit. However, sources at the Airport said that it was a stray buffalo and that the impact was very heavy.

The 189-seater Boeing aircraft has sustained a considerable damage in its body and that it is parked safely in the parking apron.

Official sources said the Dehli-Surat-Delhi flight of SpiceJet arrived at about 6:30 pm on Thursday. The passengers from Delhi to Surat alighted at the airport and the passengers bound to Delhi boarded the flight. It took about an hour for the flight to get on the runway for takeoff to Delhi.

However, within few hundred meters during the take off, the craft was hit by a stray animal on the runway. The pilots immediately stopped the craft midway and drove it in the parking area to check the damage.

Dr SD Sharma, airport director told TOI, "The passengers had a miraculous escape. There was no breakdown of the engine or other technical fault. The aircraft hit with a stray animal during takeoff. All the passengers are out of the craft safely and the investigations are on to check the damage to the craft. Possibly, the craft will have to undergo a thorough investigation to check the damage. Meanwhile, the passengers have been taken into the arrival area of the airport"

"The incident has given a very bad impression about the state of affairs at Surat airport. Now, the other airline companies would think twice before starting operations," said a member of We Want Working Airport At Surat (WWWAS). 

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For next trip abroad, why not fly the plane yourself?

Recreational flying is commonplace overseas, but it is only beginning to take off in China. 
Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Guoxiang

As a high-flying businesswoman at a Beijing-based finance company, 32-year-old He Wenjuan has been on an airplane more times than she cares to count. But a recent flight she embarked on in Thailand was a little different from all the others - on this occasion, she was not a passenger, but the pilot.

He had no prior experience with flying an airplane. But after two short lessons with a flight instructor, she was put in the cockpit of a Cessna 172 - a four seat, single engine, fixed-wing plane that lays claim to being the most manufactured aircraft in history - and made responsible for flying from the bustling capital of Bangkok, to the seaside resort of Pattaya, around 150 kilometers to the capital's southeast.

He was, of course, accompanied by an experienced flight instructor, but for all intents and purposes, she was the one who was piloting the plane.

"The most breathtaking moment was when I was flying over one of the small islands near Pattaya," He recalls. "I circled around the island a few times, because it was so beautiful. I felt like a bird, who had shaken off the shackles of gravity."

The flight was arranged by Ifeixing Club, the only-China based tourism agency that currently organizes trips that allow travelers to experience the thrill of piloting their own plane abroad.

"In the US and many countries in Europe, people have owned private planes and participated in recreational aviation for many years," said Zhang Guoxiang, the company's CEO. "However in China there are many cumbersome procedures and excessive regulations that limit recreational flying."

In comparison, Zhang said that there were relatively few requirements for signing up for their recreational aviation tours abroad. Those who signed up would take a commercial flight to one of the three overseas locations currently offered by the company. Once there, they would undergo a two-session training course which would cover all the basics, from taking off and landing, to how to control the plane in the air.

He's flight in Thailand was part of a three-day trip costing 9,999 yuan ($1,634), which included requisite visits to local tourist sites.

Overseas, recreational aviation is well established, and those keen to experience the thrill of piloting a plane can organize their own itineraries without the involvement of a travel agency.

Many recreational aviation clubs are open to Chinese nationals, such as NYFlying Club, a private high-end aviation club in the US. Such clubs mainly focus on aviation instruction and recreational flights.

In 2010, a woman using the nickname of Banzhang Jiemei posted on her Sina blog her own experiences of being at the helm of an aircraft, after joining a recreational flying club in the US on her own initiative. "I paid $100 for an entrance fee and then signed up to be a member of the club for $50 per month," she wrote. "So now I can hire planes at the club for between $100-$700 per hour, any time I want."

He said that it never occurred to her to organize her trip herself. "It was more convenient for me to book the trip through a Chinese agency," she said.

Having gotten her first taste of piloting a plane however, she is enthusiastic for more.

"I'm really happy to have finally realized it."

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Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Make Their Move on the United States • The Big Three Gulf Airlines Accelerate Their Push Into the World’s Largest Aviation Market

The Wall Street Journal
By Scott McCartney

Nov. 5, 2014 5:29 p.m. ET

To beaten-down U.S. fliers, it sounds like a fantasy: high-quality airline service at lower prices. Travelers are finding just that on several airlines based in the Persian Gulf, which have shaken up European and Asian air travel and now are taking on the U.S.

In the past year, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways have boosted the number of U.S. flights by 47%, and now serve 11 cities. They are drawing complaints of unfair competition from their stateside rivals, and more growth is coming. Emirates can deliver more people each week from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Dubai than American Airlines flies to London or Delta Air Lines flies to Atlanta from JFK.

This year, Doha-based Qatar began flying to Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas. And as of next month, when Etihad adds Dallas nonstops from its home in Abu Dhabi, all three Gulf airlines will compete head-to-head in four U.S. cities.

They are spending big to build brand awareness in the U.S. Emirates sponsored this year’s U.S. Open tennis championship and became the official airline of the San Francisco Symphony. A performance by Gloria Estefan headlined a Miami gala Qatar threw for its launch there.

They are winning over customers with service reminiscent of the early days of flying. That means hot towels in economy, plus amenities like onboard showers in first class and a bar in business class. Etihad has flight attendants trained as flying nannies who entertain children from first class, business and economy cabins with face-painting, games, crafts and contests during flights.

“There will definitely be more” U.S. flights, Emirates Senior Vice President Hubert Frach said in his Dubai office. “Some travelers might not be happy and satisfied with the travel options they have today.”

U.S. airline executives are increasingly questioning whether the government should check the growth of the state-owned Persian Gulf carriers via treaty, as Germany and Canada have done, rather than allowing the current Open Skies allowance to fly anywhere.

“A number of those carriers are not airlines. They are governments,” Richard Anderson , chief executive of Delta Air Lines, complained at a travel convention this fall. The carriers note many airlines around the world have government ownership.

What’s happening with the well-financed Gulf carriers is nothing short of a revolution of global transportation. The three big Persian Gulf carriers have the lion’s share of jumbo-jet orders at Airbus and Boeing , putting most of the industry’s long-haul international growth in their hands.

Those long-range jumbo jets, which can fly halfway around the world nonstop, are reshaping air travel. The Gulf airlines are now capable of offering a nonstop flight from more than 80% of the world’s population. Increasingly those new planes will fly to the U.S., the world’s largest aviation market and one that the Gulf airlines have yet to penetrate deeply. The three carriers have already siphoned off a good portion of the passengers into and out of the Indian subcontinent and Africa, as well as between Europe and Asia.

They are shifting traffic from traditional global hubs like Singapore and Frankfurt. And they are now flying passengers from the U.S. not only to their fast-growing home bases but also to India, Africa and the Far East.

They have built giant airports with innovative luxuries—Qatar’s new airport in Doha has a swimming pool above the concourse for laps during layovers—and room to expand. Emirates has turned Dubai into an airport so big it runs neck-and-neck with London Heathrow for the crown of biggest airport in international passengers. Announcements at the Dubai airport are made first in English, then Arabic.

Etihad got the Abu Dhabi government to pay for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in that emirate, pre-clearing U.S. passengers so they don’t have to wait in massive lines at U.S. airports. The budget-strapped CBP took Abu Dhabi up on the offer, angering U.S. airlines and labor unions.

The Gulf carriers are backed by cash-rich governments in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. (Dubai and Abu Dhabi are emirates within the U.A.E.) These countries are using airlines for economic development and building a viable industry for when their oil and gas run out, the Gulf airlines say. They have taken advantage of cheap labor in many parts of the world and brought in workers to follow their own housing, training and work rules, demanding of them exacting service and long hours.

Dan Dodge, an El Paso, Texas, pastor who went to Nepal last month on a medical mission with a group of 19, flew Qatar because the fare of about $1,400 was $400 cheaper than that of any other airline. In coach, he enjoyed his vegetarian dinner (one of three choices) and the fancy entertainment system during the 14-hour flight from Dallas to Doha. “The good thing about the Gulf airlines is they put service back in that America’s airlines have forgotten,” he said. “It’s very good competition.”

Rivals complain the government-owned Gulf airlines have huge financial advantages that create an uneven playing field. The airlines work closely with their regulatory agencies and even share ownership with their airports and ancillary businesses, from hotels to liquor distributors. Salaries and profits are tax-free. Airlines have long said that Gulf carriers benefit from government subsidies and cheap fuel—which the carriers vehemently deny.

Airlines also fume that Emirates took advantage of international Open Skies treaties by starting flights last year nonstop between New York and Milan, a significant incursion into trans-Atlantic flying in direct competition with American, Delta and Alitalia. These treaties have liberalized air service over the past two decades by removing government limits on airlines and routes they fly.

Jeff Smisek , chief executive of United Airlines, called for U.S. government limits on Gulf airlines. (The Obama administration has shown no signs of a policy change.) Mr. Smisek’s counterpart at American, Doug Parker , told an airline conference this fall that the Gulf carriers were his biggest business concern.

Emirates says its only subsidy was $10 million to buy three airplanes at its 1985 launch. It adds that it has been profitable for 22 consecutive years and has paid $2.8 billion in dividends to its owner, the Dubai government’s investment arm.

Qatar and Etihad also deny receiving government subsidies and say they are profitable. They add that any airline that flies to their home airports pays the same local rates and taxes. When the government invests money in the airline, it’s equity, not subsidy, they argue, no different from other shareholders injecting capital in a business.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar’s chief executive, called an effort by United and Delta to push the U.S. government to negotiate a new, restrictive air service treaty with the U.A.E. and Qatar “a foolish way of tackling their inability to serve this region.”

“If Emirates, Etihad and Qatar stopped serving America, there would be a huge shortage of capacity to” the Persian Gulf region, he added.

Analysts note that geography offers more protection for U.S. airlines than their European counterparts have. American and Delta have ceased all flights to India in recent years because of added competition. But the Gulf airlines will have a harder time competing for passengers going to the Far East and especially Europe from the U.S.

The three Gulf airlines had 22 daily flights to the U.S. in July, up from 15 a year earlier and just 12 in July 2011.

PlaneStats, the database run by consulting firm Oliver Wyman, counts more seats each week at JFK for Emirates than for Air France now.

“Fundamentally, this is an example of what is not good for other airlines is quite good for passengers,” said consultant Craig Jenks, president of Airline/Aircraft Projects Inc.

Emirates says it is already taking U.S. passengers to destinations like Bangkok, going eastbound through Dubai rather than the traditional westbound Pacific Ocean route. With tailwinds instead of headwinds, an eastbound trip can sometimes be faster. And Emirates often has shorter connecting times to reach Bangkok because it has six daily flights to the Thai city from Dubai.

But the rush of new capacity into the U.S. does pit the Gulf airlines against each other. And some markets may not have enough passengers to sustain so many flights. Consider Dallas-Fort Worth. Emirates started with a Boeing 777 and recently upgraded to an Airbus A380, adding another 100 seats a day. Qatar, which has an alliance partnership with American, began Dallas flights this year with a 777. Etihad announced it will start DFW flights next month three times a week, and daily flights next year.

Kevin Knight, a former United executive who is now Etihad’s chief strategy and planning officer, said a partnership with Jet Airways in India actually helps fill flights like the one to Dallas. So does the area’s high concentration of Fortune 500 companies and oil and gas businesses. Executives from all three airlines say they’re filling planes in all U.S. cities at a rapid pace. Still, so much expansion may leave them in a three-way shootout.

“There is room for the fittest,” Qatar’s Mr. Al Baker said.

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Panic at 30,000ft as plane forced to make emergency landing after right engine is struck by lightning in severe storm over Italy

Passengers were left terrified when an Alitalia plane was struck by lightning as it flew through a severe storm over Italy on Wednesday night.

The captain chose to make an emergency landing after the commercial aircraft’s right engine was hit by a lightning bolt on a cross-country flight from Ancona.

None of the plane’s 51 passengers and crew was injured, and the ATR 72 twin turboprop aircraft landed safely at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

Italy’s Ansa news agency said there were ‘moments of fear’ on board the small plane when the incident occurred during the one-hour flight.

The plane was taken out of service and inspected by engineers to determine the extent of any damage.

A similar incident occurred in February when an Alitalia flight from Rome was hit by lightning as it prepared to land in stormy weather in Genoa.

On its website, aircraft manufacturer Boeing says lightning strikes to airplanes are relatively common but rarely disrupt the safe operation of a plane.

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Birk Mobius snapped a photo of a plane being struck by lightning in a rainbow over Germany last August