Thursday, March 23, 2006

Retirement age raised for BA crews

From the International Herald Tribune we learn that the retirement age for British Airways (BA) flight crew members is being raised. At present, BA crewmembers face compulsory retirement at age 55. Under the new plan, pilots would be allowed to work until age 60, and cabin crew could continue until age 65.

This move is strictly economic, geared to cutting the airline's budget deficit, which is said to be in the neighborhood of £1 billion.
"This is a solution that will provide competitive, affordable pensions for the future," Willie Walsh, the chief executive, said. Walsh said the new arrangement "means working longer to get a similar annual pension but one that is more secure." He added, "This should address the pension problem at British Airways once and for all."
Labor unions at BA are not happy with this announcement:
The Transport & General Workers Union, which represents 20,000 employees at the airline, criticized the plan and said it should have been given more information. The proposal "is both unfair and unacceptable and does not represent a starting point for negotiations," Brendan Gold, a national officer with the union, said. "This may be legal, but is morally wrong. This change alone has the effect of reducing existing pension pots by £13,300 on average."

Ed Blissett, a member of GMB, another union at BA, said the union was seeking urgent meetings with the airline to discuss the plan.
Read the International Herald Tribune article here.

More articles about the plan, and the unions' reaction to it:

BA's pension plan rejected - The Times

BA unions warn of action over plans to raise retirement age - The Independent

Unions attack BA plan to make staff work longer for lower pensions - The Guardian

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Airline Ride Across America

A Tribute to the 33 Crewmembers of September 11, 2001

A 33-day cross country fundraising bicycle ride to honor the 33 flight crew members who lost their lives on the hijacked flights of September 11 is being organized. The project, known as the Airline Ride Across America, is designed to raise funds for all three 9-11 memorials -- the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, the World Trade Center Memorial and the Pentagon Memorial.

According to a press release about the project, the ride, which will begin on April 2, will start outside of Los Angeles International Airport, the destination of the four fateful flights of that day, with stops in Shanksville, Pa., and the World Trade Center in New York City before finishing on the grounds of the proposed Pentagon Memorial.

The ride is being organized by several people with ties to crews who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, including Capt. Thomas Heidenberg, whose wife Michelle was the senior flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77, the aircraft that was crashed into the Pentagon.
"The flight crew members from those four flights have often been forgotten or overlooked. Just as everyone who lost their life that day going about their job, so were these crew members. They faced incredible struggles and did the best they could to survive an unimaginable situation," said Heidenberger. "I want this 'Ride Across America' to honor those 33 lives as well as all the other victims who experienced that terrible day. Any and all funds raised from this ride will be donated equally among the three memorials. We must never forget their sacrifices nor the sacrifice and spirit of survival our country felt that day."
During the 33-day ride, each flight crew member will have their own day of remembrance. On many legs of the ride various family members will join the riding team. Part of the support team includes Sheri Burlingame whose husband Captain Chic Burlingame was the pilot on Flight 77.
"9-11 is a day that means so much to so many -- a day of tragedy, a day of loss and a day to reflect. But I want it also to be a solemn reminder that individuals do make differences. Flight crews did their best to alert others and react to the attacks. I hope this ride makes people remember that and reminds them to help build these memorials," said Heidenberger.
The project's website says, "This is a fund-raising effort to bring about a public awareness of their sacrifice, sustain their memory, and insure that they will not be forgotten. On our bikes and in their honor, we will complete a coast to coast trip symbolic of their mission on that fateful day."

For more information, please visit or send an email to

Nothing but grey skies for senior pilots

An article published first in the New York Times, and now republished in the International Herald Tribune, paints a picture of the dreary mood in the cockpits of mainline U.S. carriers, particularly among more senior pilots whose pay and pensions have been cut drastically in the past few years.

The article, Nothing but gray skies..., quotes several senior captains about their discouragement and disillusionment.
"My philosophy right now is, I just go to work," said a US Airways captain who, before his company's troubles, always loved to fly. He recently flew a 6 a.m. flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Miami, then piloted a plane from Miami to Los Angeles the next evening, then a flight back to Newark, accumulating 15 paid hours for three days.
These days, due to "corporate belt-tightening" at many of the mainline carriers, airline pilots fly more hours but earn less money.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration limits commercial pilots on domestic flights - measured from pushing back at one gate to arrival at another - to eight hours a day, 30 hours in seven days, 100 hours a month and 1,000 hours a year. The airlines do not exceed those limits, but many now schedule much closer to them.

The FAA rules do not address the amount of time between flights, so a pilot could be in uniform 12 hours or more to accumulate the day's hours. There is a requirement for eight hours' rest time every 24 hours, however. And pilots acutely feel the difference between getting in a month's work in 14 days, compared with 18 days.

"They kind of bleed us out," the US Airways captain said, on condition he not be identified for fear of losing his job. Pilots for major carriers said they expected to be fired if they were publicly candid about the new conditions of their jobs.
The article goes on to say that senior airline pilots in dozens of interviews spoke of feeling depressed about their precarious financial situation and job insecurity.
A veteran United Airlines captain, who laments that when he retires in a few years his pension will be about one- fourth what he expected, said he had to shut it out of his mind to prevent the distraction from affecting his work.

After a recent takeoff from California for the long flight across the Pacific, that was all his first officer wanted to talk about. But the captain said he snapped back: "You know what, can we not talk about United Airlines? All it does is cause me frustration and anger, and there's nothing I can do about it. It churns my stomach."
One can only wonder at what point these pilots' anxiety and low morale might affect their job performance.
"The pilots are not a happy group right now," said Paul Fischbeck, a professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Fischbeck, who flew in the navy and has colleagues who went on to fly for the airlines, said the change in financial circumstances and job security were good reasons to be unhappy.

But Fischbeck and others pointed out that the industry culture is such that they must face the hardship on their own. Other workers with health plans might seek professional counseling. With pilots licensed by the FAA, however, "as soon as you sign up for it, it's on your record, and you're toast."

A US Airways pilot echoed that sentiment: "If it gets reported to the FAA, you can forget it, you're not coming back to work, until you go through a lot. The system requires us to deal with it ourselves. That makes it very difficult to go through what we just went through."
Nevertheless, the airlines are in one of their safest periods ever, statistically, with about one fatal accident for every fifteen million flights.
Airline executives say they do not know how to measure the effects on morale. At US Airways, a spokesman, Carlo Bertolini, said, "No one's going to deny that US Airways employees have been through a tough time, with layoffs, changes in work rules and steps lowering costs. A lot of these sacrifices came from employees."

But, he said, "we all have a stake in the safety of the airline. We're definitely confident that all employees always have safety at the top of their mind."

Pilots say the same but add that the change in schedules often means more fatigue.

"You can feel yourself getting to a point where you're beginning to make more little mistakes," said a senior captain at US Airways. "Most of the mistakes are caught very quickly, and most are very minor errors," he said. But, "at that level of fatigue, after weeks or months of this without a break, it's easy to make a major mistake."
Senior pilots who were flying in the days when their job carried both high prestige, large paychecks and generous retirement plans have experienced the most disappointment and dissatisfaction in recent times, but flying careers are still sought after.
Young people still dream of flying, and people who fly small planes still aspire to fly bigger ones. Legions of laid-off pilots hope to be hired back, even at reduced pay levels.

"They must love it," said Arnold Barnett, a professor of management science at MIT's Sloan School of Business, who said that airline pilots were reacting with more fortitude than other professionals might in the same circumstances. "I cannot fathom how faculty would react if MIT abolished tenure, increased teaching loads and cut salaries by 35 percent because 'market conditions' had changed," he said.
When I ask why they continue to fly, the pilots I talk to always tell me the same thing: It's in your blood.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Air cargo price-fixing in the EU?

The International Herald Tribune reports on an air cargo price-fixing probe by European Union (EU) investigators who raided the offices of several EU-based carriers, including British Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa, and Air France-KLM Group, among others.
British Airways and Lufthansa said they were assisting with the inquiry. U.S. and European officials requested information on "cartel activity" involving British Airways and a number of other airlines and cargo operators, British Airways said in a statement to the Regulatory News Service.

Lufthansa said that its cargo unit was cooperating with the investigation and that it would give no further information on the matter.

A spokeswoman for Air France, Brigitte Barrand, said, "Air France confirms that it, like other freight transporters in Europe, is a subject of the European Commission's investigation and it will bring to the inquiries all the cooperation that's sought."

Cargolux Airlines International, a Luxembourg-based freight carrier, is also being investigated by the commission, said a spokesman for the company, Patrick Jeanne.
A statement from the European Commission said there was reason to believe that the companies concerned might have violated EU cartel rules.
Under EU law, the commission can fine companies accused of operating a cartel as much as 10 percent of their annual sales. It typically opts for about 2 percent to 3 percent of sales.
The European Commission gave no expected date for the completion of its investigation.

Cell Phones and Aircraft Navigation

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have found that "cell phones and other portable electronic devices, like laptops and game-playing devices, can pose dangers to the normal operation of critical electronics on airplanes."

A press release issued by the University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy says that the risk posed by portable electronic devices is higher than previously believed. Research team member Bill Straus, PhD, an expert in aircraft electromagnetic compatibility at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River, Md. says:
"These devices can disrupt normal operation of key cockpit instruments, especially Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, which are increasingly vital for safe landings."
For their study, the researchers focused primarily on wireless phones, but discovered that emissions from other portable electronic devises were problematic as well.
With support from the Federal Aviation Administration, three major airlines and the Transportation Security Agency, EPP researchers crisscrossed the northeast United States on commercial flights, monitoring radio emissions from passenger use of cell phones and other electronic devices. They tracked these radio emissions via a broadband antenna attached to a compact portable spectrum analyzer that fit into an innocuous carry-on bag.
The researchers found that on average one to four cell phone calls are typically made from every commercial flight in the northeast United States. Some of these calls are made during critical flight stages such as climb-out, or on final approach. This could cause accidents, the investigators report.
The research team is recommending that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) coordinate their electronic emissions standards.
At the moment, there is no formal coordination between the two federal agencies. The researchers also recommend routine monitoring of on-board radio emissions by flight data recorders and deploying specially designed tools for flight crews to monitor passenger use of electronic devices during final approach.
Granger Morgan, head of the Carnegie Mellon department that carried out the study remarked, "We feel that passenger use of portable electronic devices on aircraft should continue to be limited for the safety of all concerned."

The feature article about this study, Unsafe At Any Airspeed?, is available on line in the March, 2006 issue of IEEE Spectrum.