Wednesday, April 30, 2008

South Africa's Nationwide Airlines calls it quits

Nationwide Airlines Boeing 737Another airline has abruptly gone out of business: South African low-fare carrier Nationwide Airlines, in business since 1991, announced yesterday that they are ceasing operations. Regular readers of Aircrew Buzz may remember the incident reported here last November in which an engine separated from a Nationwide Boeing 737-200 on takeoff, just after rotation. The crew were able to return the aircraft to the airport at Cape Town and land it safely, with no injuries to anyone on board, however that incident seemed to be the tipping point that ultimately led to the demise of Nationwide Airlines, according to the company.

A message posted on the Nationwide Airlines website on April 29, 2008 explains things this way:
On the 7th November 2007, Nationwide Airlines experienced an engine separation from a Boeing 737-200 on departure from Cape Town.

Subsequent to this a protracted grounding of our fleet was mandated by the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

In the months of December and January we resumed operations and attained a gradual recovery of the business however in the months of March and April we faced a 30% increase in fuel costs coupled with a decrease in passenger load factors.

Throughout this period we continued to work towards securing investment by a black empowerment consortium which unfortunately has not come to fruition.

Our cash-flow has become critical and as a result have decided to voluntarily cease all flight operations until further notice.

We apologize to our loyal customers for any and all inconveniences experienced.
Business news network Bloomberg is reporting that Nationwide has asked the South African high court to appoint a liquidator to manage the sale of the airline's assets.

The notice on Nationwide's website made no mention of the airline's employees, or their fate, but the Bloomberg article said:
Workers at Nationwide "are extremely traumatized by what has happened," United Association of South Africa, a labor union that represents 83,000 workers in 30 industries including transport, mining, security and engineering, said in an e-mailed statement. Competitors such as Comair, Airlink and SA Express have invited Nationwide employees to apply for jobs, it said.
The South African news website Independent Online (IOL) elaborated a bit on the situation for Nationwide Airlines employees:
The United Associations of South Africa, which represents about 200 Nationwide employees, wrote a letter to the airline on Wednesday saying that they had spoken to AGE group chief executive officer Reggie Naidoo and that he had expressed the possibility of salvaging the airline and saving jobs.

However, because they had not had any feedback from their attempts at communicating with the airline, they had begun legal proceedings against the company to protect members.

The Airline Pilots Association said it was shocked by developments and to help the 68 member pilots at the airline, would cover their union subscriptions for the next three months and help them send out their CVs.
Various news reports have stated that Nationwide continued to book flights and collect payment for fares right up to the time that the 'going out of business' message went up on the airline's website, and that passengers were left stranded when the Nationwide abruptly ceased operations.

According to IOL, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) withheld all ticket sales payments due to Nationwide when the airline announced that it had closed.

"IATA is monitoring the situation closely and will make every effort to meet with Nationwide as soon as possible to agree how the money we are holding will be used," the association said.

Good luck to IATA for trying to arrange such a meeting: The IOL article also mentioned that Nationwide's office phones, as well as the cellphones of directors and chief executive officer Vernon Bricknell, were not being answered.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Delta flight attendants accuse management of suppressing union voters

Delta Air Lines logoFlight attendants at Delta Air Lines voted earlier this year to unionize. A majority of Delta flight attendants already have submitted signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), indicating that they wanted to be represented by a formal collective bargaining unit, even though Delta management has openly opposed the move toward flight attendant unionization.

Last week, Delta flight attendants began the next phase, casting their votes to decide whether the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) will be certified as their collective bargaining representative. The voting process, carried out under the supervision of the NMB, will continue until May 28, 2008. According to the rules, a majority of the entire flight attendant workforce must cast a vote in order for the election to be valid. Anything less than this majority turnout will void the election entirely, even if the union gets a clear majority of the votes cast.

Apparently the management of Delta Air Lines is persisting in its opposition to the union election, employing what AFA activists describe as "tactics of intimidation and interference, pushing flight attendants not to vote for the union." Earlier this week, a number of Delta flight attendants met with Congressional leaders to brief them on "Delta management’s aggressive voter suppression campaign during the current AFA-CWA representation election."

In a news release about their meetings with Congressional officials, the Delta flight attendants explain:
Management’s anti-union voter suppression campaign gained the attention of Capitol Hill earlier this month, prior to the start of the vote. In the U.S. Senate, 26 Senators submitted a letter to Delta Air Lines executives urging them to “demonstrate a genuine commitment to cooperative labor relations” and to remain neutral in this election. Delta executives never responded to the Senators’ letter. At the very moment Anderson was testifying in a U.S. House hearing on Delta’s announced merger with Northwest Airlines, management’s latest anti-union, voter suppression packet – with letters and a DVD – was being mailed to all flight attendants’ homes.

“Actions speak louder than words and management’s actions right now clearly indicate that they want to prevent us from having a union and having the right to negotiate a legally binding contract,” said Mara Levene, a Delta flight attendant and AFA-CWA activist. “Management will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do not have a voice. A solid majority of Delta flight attendants wanted this election and despite management’s fear tactics, bullying and intimidation, we remain determined and are voting for AFA-CWA representation.”
Delta CEO Richard Anderson testified in Congress last week that "management was supportive of the democratic process and would not engage in illegal interference." Not so, says Patricia Friend, AFA International President. “Their current actions to keep flight attendants from voting are anti-democratic and are a disgrace. Delta flight attendants have earned and deserve the right to have a voice in their future and a seat at the table,” said Ms. Friend.

Delta currently is seeking approval for a planned merger with Northwest Airlines. It is worth pointing out that Northwest's flight attendants already are represented by AFA. Delta's flight attendants have never had union representation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Aloha Airlines cargo operations to liquidate

AlohaToday, April 28, 2008, Aloha Airlines notified the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of its intention to convert its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing to a Chapter 7 filing for liquidation. The move came after both bidders for the cargo operation withdrew their offers. Subsequently, Aloha's lender, GMAC Commercial Finance, said it would no longer provide cash to the carrier to continue operations. Aloha had shut down its passenger operations at the end of March, but its cargo service had continued to operate.

An article about the shutdown of Aloha's cargo operations in the Honolulu Advertiser quoted an Aloha attorney, who said simply, "We don't have any money." With that, Aloha's dedicated inter-island cargo service, which had been operating since 1985, came to a final halt. The Advertiser article said:
The move will put 300 of Aloha's cargo employees out of work. It also could jeopardize the sale of its contract services to Los Angeles-based Pacific Air Cargo. Pacific Air last week agreed to buy the 1,100-employee aviation services unit, which handles baggage duties, ramp duties and other ground services for carriers that serve Hawai'i.
Early last week, the Aloha Airlines pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), asked the U.S. Bankruptcy court for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would make the sale of Aloha's cargo operations contingent on retaining the contract between the airline and the pilots. Later in the week, the pilots' union also voted to authorize a strike if their contract terms were not met, but they also announced that they would not strike before they learned the outcome of this week's Bankruptcy Court proceedings. With the company in liquidation, all of that is now moot.

In a report to the members of the Aloha unit of ALPA, the leadership of the Master Executive Council (MEC) explained:
...We arrived at Bankruptcy Court for the conclusion of the TRO hearings at 2:00 PM Monday. As soon as the Judge took the bench, attorneys for Aloha Airlines asked for a one-hour delay in order to conduct an emergency conference call with the Aloha Board of Directors, the attorneys for GMAC (which has continued to provide financing during the bankruptcy), and the creditors committee.

The court proceeding resumed about 3:30 PM. At that time, the attorney for Aloha Airlines stunned the courtroom by announcing that GMAC was refusing to continue financing, and that Aloha Airlines was seeking immediate approval from the court to convert the proceeding from a Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 liquidation. According to the company’s attorney, one of the two bidders had withdrawn from the cargo auction process Monday morning…and the remaining bidder had withdrawn from the process approximately one hour prior to the hearing. It appears that, at the end, GMAC raised the minimum price that it would accept to release collateral and also asked for the prospective purchaser to be responsible for air cargo operating expenses during the transition period while the approved purchaser awaited any necessary regulatory approvals. GMAC was adamant that they would NOT continue providing financing.

The Creditors Committee attorneys requested that the Judge refuse the company’s request, arguing that the air cargo operation was profitable and should be funded while the auction proceeded. However, GMAC was adamant that they would not provide any additional financing. The Judge attempted to prod GMAC, but acknowledged that he was unable to force GMAC to provide additional operating financing during the transition to a new owner.

In the end, Judge King reluctantly granted the motion of Aloha Airlines to convert the proceeding to liquidation. An Interim Trustee from the Office of the US Bankruptcy Trustee was appointed to oversee the liquidation of the company. Aloha Airlines operations were immediately ceased. Afternoon cargo operations were cancelled.
The message from ALPA's Aloha MEC expressed concerns about issues ranging from retirement, to insurance, to the processing of pilots' training records; more immediately, union officials expressed uncertainty about whether the pilots will receive a final paycheck tomorrow.

Plans are to keep the ALPA office open during normal business hours. Aloha pilots are asked to remain in touch with the MEC.

[Photo Source]

UPDATE May 1, 2008: According to an article in today's Honolulu Advertiser, "Saltchuk Resources Inc. said it reached an agreement with Aloha and its chief lender GMAC Commercial Finance LLC to purchase the shuttered air freight operations... Saltchuk said it plans to hire existing Aloha employees but did not say if it would retain all 300 of the company's air cargo employees."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Continental-United merger plan scrapped

newspaper iconIt looks like the anticipated announcement of a merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines is not going to happen. A press release issued today by Continental included the text of a "message to its more than 45,000 employees from Larry Kellner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and Jeff Smisek, President." That message begins:
We want you to know that our Board of Directors met today and has unanimously supported management’s recommendation that, in the current industry environment, the best course for Continental is to not merge with another airline at this time.
The message goes on to explain that "the risks of a merger at this time outweigh the potential rewards, as compared to Continental's prospects on a standalone basis."

The message also hinted that Continental may leave the SkyTeam alliance, stating that "alternatives to SkyTeam" are being evaluated.

United Airlines has not yet released a public statement about the Continental announcement. United CEO Glen Tilton has been saying for years that the airline industry needs to be consolidated, and that airline mergers are inevitable. It remains to be seen whether United will now turn to a different merger partner. A number of news reports have mentioned that United was talking with US Airways as well as Continental.

Something tells me that today's announcement is not the end of the story.

Eos Airlines files for bankruptcy, ceases operations

Eos logoThe management of Eos Airlines, the all-premium class airline flying between New York and London, announced that they have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and that they are ceasing passenger operations. Eos announced in a press release that that the petition was filed yesterday, April 26, 2008, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

From the press release:
On April 26, 2008, Eos plans to operate Flight 6 (8:30pm) from JFK to STN. On April 27, 2008, Eos plans to operate Flights 3 (1:00pm) and 7 (6:30pm) from STN to JFK. Flight 5 from STN to JFK and all flights from JFK to STN on April 27, 2008 are canceled. Eos will immediately implement a reduction in its workforce, eliminating the positions of most of its employees, and will cease operations entirely after April 27, 2008.
Since October of 2005, Eos had been flying Boeing 757-200 aircraft, in a 48-passenger all-business class configuration, between New York (JFK) and London Stansted (STN). Eos had plans for additional routes, but apparently fell victim to the current credit crunch before service on the new routes could be launched.

A statement attributed to Eos CEO, Jack Williams, said that the airline had "insufficient cash on hand to continue operations."

"There are times in business when even though you execute your business plan and even though your employees do their jobs beautifully, external forces prevent you from controlling your own destiny," Williams said.

Eos, headquartered in Purchase, NY, is the fourth airline in the U.S. to cease operations in less than a month. Aloha Airlines, ATA Airlines, and Skybus abruptly shut down their passenger services in quick succession. Asian budget carrier Oasis Hong Kong Airlines recently ceased operations as well. Frontier Airlines and charter carrier Champion Air also have filed for bankruptcy, but are continuing to operate, at least for now. Champion already announced that it will shut down operations at the end of May.

Sadly, an awful lot of airline crew members and ground staff have become jobless this month, through no fault of their own. One cannot help but ask the question that's on everyone's mind: Who's next?

By the way, Eos competitor Silverjet, which flies between Newark and London's Luton Airport, is offering Eos customers "the opportunity to re-book on available Silverjet services," according to a message on the Silverjet website. They had better hurry, though. There are rumors within the aviation industry that Silverjet is struggling financially, too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Video spoof of airline 'buy-on-board' amenities

We all know that, in recent times, airlines have been cutting back on amenities offered in the passenger cabins. Meals, beverages, snacks, pillows, blankets, magazines -- you name it! -- either it no longer exists, especially in the economy section, or else flight attendants are now tasked with offering these items for sale, or collecting fees from passengers for their use.

How far will this practice go? Which items will be charged for next? This MADtv video presents the extreme case. Let's hope it never comes to this:

(If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

go! Airlines fires pilots accused of passing their destination while asleep

go! Airlines CRJ-200 aircraftTwo go! Airlines pilots whose aircraft overshot their destination while they both were allegedly asleep on the flight deck have been fired, and may face FAA sanctions, according to a news article in the Honolulu Advertiser. The article quotes Paul Skellon, vice president of corporate communications for Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, go!'s parent company, who confirmed that the unnamed pilots were fired.

The incident that prompted the firing, as well as investigations by the NTSB and the FAA, happened on February 13, 2008, during a scheduled passenger flight from Honolulu to Hilo. The crew failed to respond to air traffic controllers 11 times during the inter-island flight. By the time the pilots responded, the aircraft, a CRJ-200, had passed its destination airport by about 15 miles. The crew ultimately reversed their course and landed safely at Hilo. On board go! Airlines Flight YV1002, in addition to the pilots, were 40 passengers and a flight attendant.

Today's Honolulu Advertiser article quoted an FAA spokesman, who said findings from his agency's investigation will be released in a few weeks. Possible FAA sanctions against the pilots could range from a warning letter, to suspension, to revocation of the pilots' licenses.

Another Honolulu newspaper, the Star-Bulletin, quoted an attorney for the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing the go! pilots, who said that ALPA has filed a grievance with the company on behalf of the pilots. He said the pilots had been terminated 10 days ago. Both pilots had been suspended since the day of the incident.

[Photo Source]

UPDATE May 1, 2008: A reader sent in the link to this YouTube video -- part of a broadcast on Honolulu TV channel KGMB -- that includes portions of an ATC recordings from the incident described above, and another about a month later. go! Airlines flight loses communication.

UPDATE Aug. 4, 2009: Fatigue caused go! Airlines pilots to fall asleep during flight, says NTSB

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Aloha Airlines pilots ask U.S. Bankruptcy Court to enforce their contract terms

ALPA logoThe Aloha Airlines pilots have asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would make the sale of Aloha's cargo operations contingent on abiding by the contract between Aloha Airlines and its pilots' union. Aloha Airlines ceased passenger operations on March 31, 2008. The sale of the airline's cargo operation is scheduled to take place later this week.

Aloha Airlines pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), are asking the court to enforce contract provisions covering successorship and sales of Aloha's assets and operations, according to a news release issued by ALPA. The union asserts that Aloha management has repudiated the pilots' collective bargaining agreement during the past few weeks and has triggered a “major dispute” under the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline contract negotiations. ALPA alleges that the company "continues to ignore the pilots’ collective bargaining agreement by terminating pilots out of seniority order, recalling pilots out of seniority order, failing to respect job security provisions that require a prospective purchaser to employ the current pilots in seniority order, terminating the pilots’ health plan, and failing to provide furlough pay and benefits, among other actions."
“Our contract specifically outlines the steps that must be taken to protect pilot jobs,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA President. “Aloha management signed this agreement with the pilots and ALPA is prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Aloha management adheres to the contract and that our pilots’ jobs are preserved.”
ALPA claims that the Aloha management rebuffed the union's efforts to negotiate a smooth transition before, during, and after the sale of the cargo operations.
“Aloha’s flagrant disregard of our contract is outrageous,” said Capt. David Bird, chairman of the Aloha arm of ALPA. “Aloha’s actions not only affect our pilots’ job security, but jeopardizes the future of Hawaii’s cargo flying. We just want Aloha to abide by the contract it signed.”
The Aloha pilots are scheduled to meet today, April 23, 2008, "to discuss and conduct a strike authorization vote, the first step in calling a strike." ALPA warns that a strike may occur at any time following an affirmative strike vote.

ALPA has requested a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 24 to address the temporary restraining order.

UPDATE April 24, 2008: In their meeting last evening, the Aloha Airlines pilots "voted overwhelmingly" to authorize a strike of the carrier's cargo operations, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. The news article also mentioned that "about 150 or half of Aloha's pilots participated in the three-hour meeting and that "some of the membership have been forced to leave the state for employment while others could not get to Honolulu for the meeting."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NTSB cites metal fatigue in US Airways Boeing 757 wing panel incident

US Airways Boeing 757-200Remember the incident last month, in which a US Airways Boeing 757-200 aircraft lost a panel from the upper surface of its left wing while in flight? To briefly review, on March 22, 2008, a 4 foot by 5 foot wing panel separated from the aircraft during the cruise phase of a scheduled passenger flight between Orlando and Philadelphia (US Airways Flight USA1250). Upon separation, the wing panel struck and cracked the outer layer of a window in the passenger cabin of aircraft. No one was injured, and the damaged aircraft landed safely at its destination. Today the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has been investigating the incident, issued an update on the case, noting that several fasteners used to attach the panel to the wing had failed due to metal fatigue.

The NTSB update provides the following factual information:
Although the separated wing panel has not been located, investigators have been able to examine the remaining components of the assembly to determine why the panel fastening system failed. Initial examination of these components revealed that two of the three clips that secured the leading edge of the panel to the wing had failed due to metal fatigue sometime prior to the incident flight. The remaining clip failed during flight 1250, causing the panel to separate from the aircraft.

After problems with the 757 wing panel fastening system were identified in the late 1980s, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD)
requiring operators of 757s to install a redesigned fastening system. Eastern Airlines, which ceased operations in 1991, operated the 757 involved in this incident at the time the AD was issued in 1991, and had installed the redesigned system. It was these redesigned fasteners that failed on flight 1250.

Since the incident on March 22, US Airways reported to the Safety Board that it had inspected the wing panels on all of its 757s and found problems with wing panel fasteners on several other aircraft, which were since repaired and returned to service.
The NTSB states that it is continuing "to evaluate the design,installation, inspection and maintenance of the failed components to determine the cause of the failure and the impact on the 757 fleet."

Another interesting notation in the NTSB update says that the Board has reclassified this event from an accident to an incident after finding that there was no substantial change to the aircraft's handling characteristics after the panel separated from the wing. This finding was based on data extracted from the aircraft's flight data recorder (FDR), and statements from the flight crew.

Monday, April 21, 2008

US Airways pilots replace ALPA with new union

USAPA logoPilots at US Airways have voted to change their union representation. The results of the union election vote were announced late last week by the National Mediation Board (NMB), which supervised the election.

The new union, the U S Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), will replace the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) as the collective bargaining agent for the more than 5,000 US Airways mainline pilots. According to an ALPA news release about the decertification election, the vote was relatively close. ALPA says, "There were 5,238 eligible pilot voters. Of them, 2,723 voted for the US Airline Pilots Association and 2,254 voted for ALPA."

Ever since US Airways and America West merged several years ago to form the 'new' US Airways, the pilots have been working under two separate contracts. Issues surrounding integration of seniority between the two pilot groups have been contentious. A little over a year ago, the pilots, represented by ALPA, sued to stop further integration of the two companies until a single, fair, unified contract was negotiated for its two pilot unions. A U.S. District Court judge threw out the suit. Subsequent arbitration between the two pilot groups failed to satisfactorily resolve the seniority integration issues.

The interim President of the new USAPA is Captain Stephen Bradford, a US Airways pilot since 1986. He says, “USAPA is ready on day one to begin a new era for all US Airways pilots, East and West. We will join the other great independent airline pilot unions on the national front, while our pilots enjoy single carrier union representation, solely focused on our pilots needs and fully accountable only to them.”

Noted on the USAPA website is the new union's merger policy, which states that "integration will occur by date-of-hire with reasonable conditions and restrictions to preserve each pilot’s un-merged career expectations." [Emphasis preserved from the statement on the USAPA website, not added by me.] I hope it works out that way.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

TSA deploys millimeter wave screening devices at LAX and JFK airports

TSA Millimeter WaveThe U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that millimeter wave technology screening devices have been deployed to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Millimeter wave technology, which is already in use at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, detects weapons, explosives and other threat items concealed under layers of clothing without any physical contact. The technology is billed as an alternative to the physical pat-down.

This technology uses electromagnetic waves, passed over the body, to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body. The energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone, and is said to be harmless.

The TSA explains:
At LAX, millimeter wave will be used in a random continuous protocol. Alternative screening measures will be offered to individuals who decline to go through millimeter wave when asked to do so. The LAX pilot enables TSA to examine millimeter wave's operational capability, throughput, training, ease of use and privacy perceptions by the traveling public. The metal detector will remain in place at the checkpoint. The passenger will pass through it after going through the millimeter wave machine.

Millimeter wave at JFK will be piloted as a secondary screening device similar to its use in Phoenix. The technology is a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening. During the Phoenix pilot, 90 percent of passengers have chosen the technology over the traditional pat-down.

In both locations, a transportation security officer will guide passengers through the process, which involves stepping into the machine and remaining still for a matter of seconds while the technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger from two antennas that simultaneously rotate around the body. Once complete, the passenger will step through the opposite side of the millimeter wave portal.

To ensure privacy, security officers view images from a remote location. From this location, the security officer cannot ascertain the identity of the passenger, either visually or otherwise, but can communicate with a fellow officer at the checkpoint if an alarm is presented. A security algorithm will be applied to the image to blur the face of each passenger, further protecting privacy.
The TSA plans to purchase and deploy 30 more of the machines this year.

For more information, visit the TSA web page on Millimeter Wave Whole Body Imaging technology (including video demonstrations).

[Photo Source]

Friday, April 18, 2008

SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Asian cabin crew dispute

SAS logoLast month I reported that Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly employing Asian flight attendants without Danish work permits. The airline also was accused of paying the Asian cabin crew members substandard wages.

The matter was heard in the Copenhagen City Court, and the Copenhagen Post reports that SAS was found guilty of the charges and fined DKK 900,000. SAS has appealed the verdict to the Danish High Court.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in the Danish Parliament to allow SAS, which is partly owned by the Danish government, to use Chinese personnel on its route between Copenhagen and Beijing. Now the Copenhagen Post is reporting that if parliament does not allow SAS to use Asian cabin crew, the airline has said it may re-register its planes in Norway or Sweden.

The Copenhagen Post article quotes Lars Sandahl Sørensen, CEO of SAS International, who said, "Although it's a solution we'd rather avoid, we might be forced into it."

Planes registered in Denmark are required to operate with personnel who are legally allowed to work in Denmark. The same permit rule may exist in Sweden and Norway as well, but Sørensen said, "...if it does then it would only apply to those countries' own airspaces, and not to Denmark." In other words, the plan seems to be to fly the Beijing-Copenhagen route with planes registered outside of Denmark, in order to dodge the Danish work permit rule.

Sørensen said that employing Chinese crews has nothing to do with paying them lower wages and everything to do with service.
"It's integral for us to have Chinese cabin crews on our flights to China because half the passengers are Chinese," he said. "And it's hard to provide good service for them if we can't communicate."

Sørensen said SAS could not pay the Chinese flight attendants Danish wages because it would create a huge salary disparity between them and their colleagues working on the ground in mainland China. The Chinese crew members earn around 10,000 kroner less per month than their Danish counterparts.
This argument sounds similar to excuses given by Air New Zealand for paying its Chinese cabin crew a fraction of what it pays New Zealand nationals to do identical work. Verner Lundtoft, president of the Cabin Attendants Union, says that the SAS threat to sidestep Danish law is "appalling," and I agree.
"We're talking about a partially state-owned and listed company attempting to avoid the requirements of Danish law," said Lundtoft. "It's completely unacceptable."

Lundtoft pointed out that none of SAS' competitors have employed Asian personnel on their China routes without providing equal working conditions.

"Finnair says it pays their Asian crews Finnish wages, Lufthansa has Chinese cabin crew members earning German scale pay, and Air France has interpreters on board its Asian flights," said Lundtoft.
Apparently SAS can legally re-register its planes in Sweden and Norway, as the airline is a Scandinavian-operated company. It remains to be seen if this will solve the labor issue, however.

It's time for all international air carriers to pay all crew equally for equal work, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. No excuses!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NTSB: Aviation Accident Statistics for 2007

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has compiled aviation accident statistics for 2007 and released the figures to the public. Overall, the statistical picture is positive for commercial aviation in the U.S., and particularly for airlines operating under 14 CFR Part 121.

Scheduled airlines operating under 14 CFR Part 121 had only 24 accidents in 2007, none of which resulted in a fatality. Considering that scheduled Part 121 carriers made a total of 10,720,000 departures, and flew a combined total of 18,700,000 hours, according to NTSB figures, that would mean that U.S. airlines had 0.224 accidents per 100,000 departures, and 0.128 accidents for every 100,000 flight hours.

In contrast, non-scheduled airlines operating under Part 121 had two accidents and one fatality, but since they flew fewer hours and operated fewer departures, the actual rates were substantially higher than for the scheduled airlines. Non-scheduled Part 121 carriers logged a combined total of 180,000 departures, and 605,000 flight hours. That means that the non-scheduled airlines had an accident rate of 1.111 per 100,000 departures, and 0.331 per 100,000 flight hours.

The worst accident rates among U.S. commercial carriers were for on-demand carriers operating under 14 CFR Part 135. Those carriers had 62 accidents, 14 of which resulted in at least one fatality. Total 2007 flight hours for Part 135 on-demand carriers, estimated by the FAA's General Aviation and Air Taxi Activity and Avionics (GAATAA) Survey, were 3,668,000 hours. Thus, the accident rate in 2007 for these carriers was 1.69 per 100,000 flight hours. This is a higher rate than that for Part 121 carriers, yet it is still far below the rate for General Aviation, which was 6.84 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. General aviation also had a fatality rate of 1.19 for every 100,000 flight hours.

Clearly, commercial aviation continues to be a safe means of transportation, prompting NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker to say, "The U.S. aviation industry has produced an admirable safety record in recent years. However, we must not become complacent. We must continue to take the lessons learned from our investigations and use them to create even safer skies for all aircraft operators and their passengers."

If you feel like crunching some of these numbers yourself, you can click here for the 2007 accident and fatality statistics, or go to the NTSB Aviation Accident Statistics page for lots more data, covering the past 10 years.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NTSB: Shuttle America ERJ-170 accident in 2007 caused by pilot error

Shuttle America logoYesterday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced its findings regarding a runway overrun accident in 2007 at Cleveland involving an Embraer ERJ-170 aircraft operated by Shuttle America. The NTSB has determined that the probable cause for the accident was "the failure of the flight crew to execute a missed approach when visual cues for the runway were not distinct and identifiable."

The accident happened at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) on February 18, 2007. The accident aircraft, operating as Delta Connection Flight 6448, had arrived at CLE from Atlanta, landing on runway 28 during snow conditions. It overran the end of the runway, contacted an instrument landing system (ILS) antenna, and struck an airport perimeter fence, according to the NTSB report. The airplane's nose gear collapsed during the overrun. There were 71 passengers and four crew members on board. Three passengers received minor injuries.

Here is a summary of the findings regarding contributing factors, based on the NTSB report:
The Board found that contributing to the accident was the crew's decision to descend to the ILS decision height instead of the localizer (glideslope out) minimum descent altitude. Because the flight crew members were advised that the glideslope was unusable, they should not have executed the approach to ILS minimums; instead, they should have set up, briefed, and accomplished the approach to localizer (glideslope out) minimums.

Also contributing to the accident was the first officer's long landing on a short contaminated runway and the crew's failure to use reverse thrust and braking to their maximum effectiveness. When the first officer lost sight of the runway just before landing, he should have abandoned the landing attempt and immediately executed a missed approach. Furthermore, the report states that had the flight crew used the reverse thrust and braking to their maximum effectiveness the airplane would likely have stopped before the end of the runway.

The Board concluded that specific training for pilots in applying maximum braking and maximum reverse thrust on contaminated runways until a safe stop is ensured would reinforce the skills needed to successfully accomplish such landings.

In its final report on its investigation, the Safety Board noted that the captain's fatigue, which affected his ability to effectively plan for and monitor the approach and landing, contributed to the accident. By not advising Shuttle America of this fatigue or removing himself from duty, the captain placed himself, his crew, and his passengers in a dangerous situation that could have been avoided, the Board said.

Another contributing factor to the accident was Shuttle America's failure to administer an attendance policy that permitted flight crew members to call in as fatigued without fear of reprisals. The policy had limited effectiveness because the specific details of the policy were not documented in writing and were not clearly communicated to pilots, especially the administrative implications or consequences of calling in as fatigued.
The NTSB has made several recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a result of this investigation. Those recommendations have to do with flight training for rejected landings in deteriorating weather conditions and for maximum performance landings on contaminated runways; standard operating procedures for the go-around callout; and pilot fatigue policies.

A press release that announced the accident investigation report quoted NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker who said, "Professional pilots have the daunting task of operating these passenger aircraft on a daily basis under a variety of weather conditions. Their decision making process and training must be comprehensive enough to take all conditions into account."

For more detailed information about the accident investigation and the resulting safety recommendations, see the synopsis of the accident investigation report on the NTSB website. The entire report will be made available within the next few weeks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Global Airline: The Delta-Northwest Merger

Delta-NorthwestLate yesterday, officials at Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines formally announced plans to merge the two carriers into one mega-airline. The combined airline will be called Delta, and will be headquartered in Atlanta. Once the merger is complete, the new Delta will be the world's largest carrier, with about 75,000 employees.

A special website has been created ( to explain to the public the benefits of what the combined management now refers to as America's Premier Global Airline. The website asks the public to "help bring greater opportunity to our employees, enhanced service to our customers, and expanded global access and economic growth to the communities we serve by letting your voice be heard." Among other things, customers are asked to contact their elected officials to "let them know that you are in favor of this airline merger and that we need their support."

Another page on the website explains how the merger is a win for employees. In support of this position, the web page explains:
As a result of this transaction, the seniority of our people is protected; the existing pension plans of our employees and retirees are maintained; the network is expanded; our plans for international growth are strengthened and accelerated; and, most importantly, there is even greater job security with more career opportunities for the people of Delta and Northwest.
The statement goes on to offer the following commitments to the employees of Delta and Northwest:
  • Non-pilot employees of Delta and Northwest will participate in the benefits of the combined airline by receiving a 4 percent equity stake in the new company upon closing. The stock will be allocated based upon relative payrolls of the companies and your individual earnings. International employees will receive a cash payment, in lieu of stock.
  • There will be no involuntary furloughs of U.S.-based frontline employees or hub closures as a result of this transaction.
  • Delta and Northwest employees will enjoy reciprocal pass privileges on both airlines’ worldwide networks, beginning as soon as possible during the regulatory review process.
  • Delta pilots will participate in the benefits of the combined airline through a new four-year agreement that facilitates the integration of the carriers and realization of the combined revenue synergies. With respect to Northwest pilots, Delta has committed to use its best efforts to reach a combined Delta-Northwest pilot agreement, including resolution of pilot seniority integration, prior to the closing of the merger.
That last item reflects the Northwest pilots' opposition to the merger plans. In a letter to the membership of the Northwest pilots' union, the chairman of the Northwest Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said yesterday that "a merger with Delta may no longer be in the best interests of all Northwest stakeholders, including the Northwest pilot group." At issue is pilot seniority integration. Since the pilot seniority issue was not resolved prior to the merger announcement, the Northwest pilots' union intends to try and stop the merger from going forward.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sun Country Airlines furloughs 45 pilots

Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800On May 1, 2008, nearly 30% of Sun Country Airlines pilots will be out of work, at least until Autumn. The privately owned Minnesota-based airline recently announced involuntary furloughs for 45 of its 156 pilots. The pilot layoffs will be in effect from May 1, 2008 through October 31 2008.

The reduction in the number of pilots on Sun Country's payroll reflects a trimming of capacity by the airline, in an attempt to cope with skyrocketing fuel prices. Sun Country will continue to operate seven of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft over the next six months, but the airline will sublease two others to Dutch carrier Transavia, according to a recent article in Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

More details, from the Star Tribune:
Sun Country's 2008 budget was created on the assumption of oil costing $85 to $90 a barrel. Now, [Sun Country CEO Stan] Gadek said, he is taking a number of steps to help Sun Country survive the brutal fuel price environment.

Those steps include halting growth plans and reducing flights to some markets. For example, Sun Country will cut service to Washington, D.C., from twice-daily flights to a single flight. In addition, it has backed away from plans to add a second flight to San Diego.

"Clearly the world has changed with high fuel prices," Gadek said.

Buddy Scroggins, chairman of the Sun Country pilots union, said that the pilots' contract provides for summer layoffs. While the pilot layoffs are involuntary, Gadek said some flight attendants have taken voluntary leaves. Depending on the month, 65 to 98 flight attendants will be on leave.
Another article about the Sun Country pilot layoffs, in USA Today, quoted a Sun Country spokesperson who said that the pilots will continue to accrue seniority but won't fly at all from May until the end of October.

[Photo Source]

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Delta Boeing 767 and Russian plane nearly collide mid-air

Delta Air Lines logoEarlier this morning, April 13, 2008, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-400 aircraft and a Boeing 737-500 operated by a Russian carrier nearly collided mid-air near Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, according to Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency. Apparently the incident was resolved safely, and no one was injured.

An English language article on the ITAR-TASS news website, quoting "a source at the city automatic air traffic control center," says:
“The crew of a Boeing 737-500 en route from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don did not fulfill an air traffic controller’s order and created the tense moment at 9:44 a.m. Moscow time,” he said.

The air traffic controller told the plane carrying 57 people to climb to the altitude of 2,100 meters and warned about the approaching Boeing 767-400 of the American Delta airline en route from Atlanta to Sheremetyevo,” the source said.

The American jetliner carrying 12 crewmembers and 219 passengers was descending to 2,400 meters for landing. Its crew also received instructions from the air traffic controllers.

The controller watching the Boeing 737-500 noticed that the plane continued the climb and was rapidly approaching the Delta’s jetliner. He ordered the Delta’s pilot to descent and the instruction was fulfilled promptly.

Thus, the controller prevented an air crash and the planes passed each other on the crossing courses at the distance of eleven kilometers instead of the safe 30-kilometer distance.
Another article about the near-collision, which appeared on CNN Money, gave similar information. The article on CNN Money added that the Boeing 737-500 was operated by Don-Avia and had 51 passengers and six crew on board, while the Delta plane was carrying 219 passengers and 12 crew.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

American Airlines flight attendants get pay protection for lost time

APFA logoAmerican Airlines will provide pay protection to flight attendants who lost time as a direct result of flight cancellations during the recent grounding of the airline's MD80 fleet. According to an announcement posted on April 10, 2008 to the website of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, "This pay protection applies not only to monthly guarantee but also to those who have lost high-time hours as well as commuters who were unable to make their trips - as a result of the MD80 re-inspections - after having followed commuter policy guidelines."

A separate agreement, also announced on April 10, 2008, provides American Airlines flight attendants with a mechanism to restore Personal Vacation Days (PVDs) that were voluntarily used to supplement pay following last month's MD80 cancellations. Flight attendants who used PVDs to protect loss of pay will have the option to make up time in order to restore the PVDs that were used.

Letters of Understanding for both the pay protection agreement and the PVD recovery agreement stipulate that they are offered on a non-precedent setting basis. Details can be found in the following documents:
American Airlines also reached a similar agreement with its pilots regarding pay protection. American Airlines pilots are represented by the Allied Pilots Association.

American Airlines pilots affected by canceled flights get pay protection

Allied Pilots Association logoThe Allied Pilots Association (APA), the union representing pilots at American Airlines, announced to its membership yesterday that it had successfully negotiated a pay protection agreement with the airline for pilots affected by cancellations as a result of the MD80 fleet grounding this week. In an Information Hotline message posted to the APA website, union officials summarized provisions of the agreement:
The following agreement highlights apply: all pay-protected time will be paid but not credited. To be eligible for pay protection, pilots must place themselves on the makeup list and be available for flying that originates up to eight hours after the scheduled termination of the original trip that was cancelled. To maintain protection, normal makeup contact procedures apply, so pilots must be available for contact between 1200 to 1500 hours local base time for flying assignments for the next day. Pay-protected pilots may pass trips in seniority order if other pilots are available. However, after makeup proffers, any remaining trips will be assigned in reverse seniority order and any pilot who refuses an assignment will forfeit pay protection.
APA notes that these provisions are part of a one-time, non-precedent setting agreement. A similar pay protection agreement for American Airlines flight attendants has been announced by their union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Frontier Airlines files for bankruptcy, but continues operating

Frontier AirlinesThe bad news: Frontier Airlines and its subsidiaries have filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code yesterday, April 10, 2008.

The good news: Frontier intends to continue to operate, according to a news release issued by the airline. Among other things included in the filing submitted to the court, Frontier Airlines stated that it intends "to provide employee wages, healthcare coverage, vacation, sick leave and similar benefits without interruption."

In a second Frontier Airlines press release, issued later today, the carrier announced that had received authorization from Judge Robert D. Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York to carry on with normal business operations during its reorganization.
"We are grateful that Judge Drain granted the critical first day motions that will enable Frontier to continue normal operations," said Sean Menke, Frontier President and CEO. "Importantly, the aviation professionals of Frontier are focused today -- and will be throughout the Chapter 11 process -- on delivering exceptional customer service. Our reorganization is off to a smooth start and we look forward to taking important steps to further strengthen our Company."
Good luck to all F9 crew members and ground staff during the airline's reorganization.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oasis Hong Kong Airlines shutdown strands crews and passengers

Oasis Hong Kong Boeing 747-400Oh no, not another one! I'm getting weary of reporting about airlines abruptly going out of business this month. In fact, it's depressing.

This time it is low cost long-haul carrier Oasis Hong Kong Airlines that has shut down its flight operations. A press release dated April 10, 2008 and posted on the company's website announced that "the airline has applied to the Hong Kong Court to appoint a provisional liquidator on 9 April 2008."

The press release goes on to say that provisional liquidators appointed by the Court have assumed control of the airline. Named as liquidators were Edward Middleton and Patrick Cowley of accounting and consulting firm KPMG.

A BBC News article about the closure of Oasis Hong Kong Airlines quoted the carriers founders, Raymond and Priscilla Lee, who said, "As oil prices sharply increased, the fuel costs took up the majority of our budget." They added that the decision to buy planes, rather than lease them, had also played a part in its being forced into liquidation.

Oasis Hong Kong, which began flying in October 2006, operated daily flights between Hong Kong and London-Gatwick, and six flights a week between Hong Kong and Vancouver. The shut down of the airline has left thousands of passengers stranded. In its press release, posted on the Oasis Hong Kong website, the airline listed the names and telephone numbers of other carriers that fly the same routes, as well as hotel information for passengers in Hong Kong. The gesture will be of little comfort to stranded passengers, because the notice also said that "owing to the airline’s current situation, they will need to meet the cost of these alternate flight arrangements themselves."

Crews Stranded

The online edition of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) is reporting that 28 Oasis Hong Kong crew members are stranded in Namibia, although there was no mention of how they came to be in Namibia. The SCMP quoted an Oasis Hong Kong spokesman who said that the airline's first priority was dealing with passengers, then staff.
“We are not sure when the crew members [in Namibia, a country in Southern Africa] will return to Hong Kong,” he added.

Earlier, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan told Hong Kong radio that the 28 crew members had originally intended to return to Hong Kong on Saturday.

“But now the airline has collapsed, we are not sure when the staffers can come back,” Mr Lee explained. “But we have contacted the accounting firm KPMG and they said their employment contract has not ended and they will seek ways to help them to come back.”
According to the SCMP, more than 50 crew members, who were in London, returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday night, and more than 10 crew members in Canada would fly back on other airlines.

The SCMP reports that Hong Kong Oasis crew members said they had not been formally notified that the airline was closing, and they were shocked when they heard the news. The airline’s 700 staff members were said to have been paid through March 31, 2008.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

PenAir cargo flight crashes in Alaska

PenAir logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report on a recent accident in Alaska in which a Piper PA-32 aircraft, operated by Peninsula Airways (PenAir), crashed into terrain. The pilot, who was the sole occupant of the aircraft at the time of the accident, sustained minor injuries. Damage to the aircraft was listed as "substantial."

According to the NTSB report, the PenAir accident happened on the afternoon of April 1, 2008. The aircraft (registration number N8327S) was carrying cargo and mail. It originated at the Dillingham Airport, Dillingham, Alaska, at about 15:10 local time, en route to Koliganek, Alaska, operating as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country air taxi flight under Title 14, CFR Part 135. It "collided with snow-covered terrain while in cruise flight, about 10 miles south south-west of Koliganek."

More from the NTSB report:
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), on April 2, the director of operations for the operator reported that the pilot was on the first segment of his flight from Dillingham, then to Koliganek, then to New Stuyahok, Alaska, and return to Dillingham. The pilot did not arrive in Koliganek, and an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was received from the airplane. The pilot was located by search and rescue personnel about 2040, and transported to Koliganek by snow machine.

In a written statement from the pilot on April 3, he reported that he was in cruise flight about 700 feet agl, and the visibility was good until about 20 miles from Koliganek. The weather began to deteriorate rapidly, and the pilot decided to turn around. The airplane then collided with terrain.

Personnel from the operator reported that when they arrived at the accident scene to begin recovery operations, they found that the airplane collided with almost featureless snow-covered terrain on a northwest heading. They reported the right main landing gear separated first, followed by the left main gear, followed by an impact that separated the right wing.

At 1540, a special observation at Koliganek was reporting in part: Wind, 130 degrees (true) at 15 knots; visibility, 2 statute miles in mist; clouds, 400 feet broken, 1,300 feet broken, 8,500 feet overcast; temperature, 34 degrees F; dew point, 32 degrees F; altimeter, 29.67 inHg. Remarks; ceiling variable from 200 to 900 feet. [NTSB ID: ANC08LA046]
PenAir is headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska. In addition to flying cargo, PenAir provides scheduled passenger service throughout Southwest Alaska.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

American Airlines pilots' view of MD-80 groundings and re-inspections

American Airlines MD-80Today American Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights after it grounded all of the MD-80 (S-80) aircraft in its fleet for the second time in two weeks. More cancellations are expected tomorrow, and perhaps the day after as well.

According to a press release issued by the airline earlier today, the aircraft were grounded in order to conduct additional inspections "to ensure precise and complete compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s airworthiness directive related to the bundling of wires in the aircraft’s wheel wells. These inspections – based on FAA audits – are related to detailed, technical compliance issues and not safety-of-flight issues."

The American Airlines pilots' union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), has a somewhat different take on this situation. In a lengthy message posted today on the Information Hotline section of the APA website, a union official said:
Management continues to claim that these inspections are not safety-of-flight issues. However, the original airworthiness directive (AD) was issued "to prevent shorted wires or arcing at the auxiliary hydraulic pump, which could result in loss of auxiliary hydraulic power, or a fire in the wheel well of the airplane."

The directive continues: "The actions specified by this AD are also intended to reduce the potential of an ignition source adjacent to the fuel tanks, which, in combination with flammable fuel vapors, could result in a fuel tank explosion and consequent loss of the airplane."

Today's actions were the result of an FAA ramp inspection Monday of nine S-80s to make sure the jets had been properly inspected and modified. All nine failed the audit.
The APA Information Hotline message also provides insight into the amount of scrambling American Airlines is doing to get the grounded aircraft re-inspected and back into service:
At this time, management reports that there are 290 aircraft still in need of inspection, a process that should take two to three days. They expect to have 130 of those inspections completed tonight. Management is chartering aircraft to get specially-trained maintenance personnel to the grounded aircraft. Once the planes are inspected, they will either be repaired on site or they will be ferried to a maintenance station.

The APA Safety Committee advises all pilots to exercise extreme caution during the period of confusion and heightened FAA scrutiny of American Airlines operations. The results of the S-80 inspection may not be recorded in the E6 logbook. All S-80 pilots are encouraged to contact Tulsa maintenance and receive verification of the inspection status of their aircraft prior to departure. Document all problems associated with the inspections using an ASAP report.
In addition to what the union refers to as "American's management-caused reliability issues," the APA is concerned about the paychecks of American Airlines pilots affected by the grounding of so many aircraft. A meeting between American Airlines management and representatives of the pilots' union is scheduled for April 9, 2008. Union officials said that they "expect management to 'do the right thing' and protect the pay of the pilots affected by this management failure."

[Photo Source]

Monday, April 07, 2008

Flight attendant sues Arkia Israel Airlines for unpaid work on the ground

Arkia Airlines Boeing 757A flight attendant in Israel is suing her former employer for pay she says is owed her for work she did while on the ground. Shiri Segal, who worked for Arkia Israel Airlines (Arkia)  for nearly 10 years, recently filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv Labor Court against the Israeli carrier on the grounds that the airline does not pay flight attendants for work they do while not flying. Ms. Segal is asking for compensation of NIS 140,000 (equivalent to about US $38,750).

An article about the lawsuit on the Israeli business news website Globes Online explains:
Segal says that as a matter of policy, which is stipulated in labor contracts, Arkia pays flight attendants only for hours actually in the air. In other words, "from the moment that the plane is moving under its own power from the terminal to the takeoff point and until the engines are shut down after landing."

Segal claims that a large part of a flight attendant's work is spent on the ground, before and after a flight. This work includes, but is not limited to, accepting the planes and handing them over, checking the plane before embarkation and after disembarkation of passengers, examining emergency equipment, positioning seat belts, and preparing drink and food carts.

She says that on international flights, she usually begins work at least two hours before takeoff and for two more hours after landing at the destination. Ground work in Israel on the return trip after landing is usually 1.5 hours, for a total of 5.5 hours for which no compensation is paid.
Ms. Segal also notes that Arkia never paid her for the hours waiting for the return flight.

I'm sure that the progress of this lawsuit will be of interest to cabin crew around the world, most of whom are similarly unpaid for work they do on the ground. Most people outside the industry probably are unaware that flight attendants are paid only for "block time" -- that is, from the time the aircraft door closes just prior to departure, until the aircraft's engines are shut down at the destination.

How is it that cabin crew are contractually obligated to perform certain tasks before and after flights, but are not paid for those tasks and the time it takes to perform them? Many of these procedures are safety related, required by government regulations, yet crew are expected to carry them out without any sort of compensation.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, it calls attention to an entrenched practice in the aviation industry that denies proper compensation to crew for the legitimate and necessary work they do on the ground. Clearly, this practice needs to be reconsidered. If the work is of value to the carrier -- and it is -- then those who do it should be fairly compensated.

[Photo Source]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Pick-up lines flight attendants hear

Southwest Airlines logoHow about something a little more light-hearted than our usual fare of cabin safety news and flight attendant labor issues: I noticed an entertaining article posted to Nuts About Southwest, the official blog of Southwest Airlines. It was written by a Carole Adams, a Dallas-based flight attendant.

Ms. Adams wrote Drop Me a Line, a collection of pick-up lines heard by flight attendants. Here's a sample of the pick-up lines on her list:
“You have to know CPR because you take my breath away.”

“I’m not drunk. I’m just intoxicated by you!”

“If I borrowed your glasses, could I see you tomorrow night?”

“Congratulations, you’ve just been voted the most beautiful Flight Attendant. I’m your prize!”
Okay, stop rolling your eyes. I know they're groaners, but I think that's the point.!

There are others on that post, and still more contributed by readers in the Comments section at the end of the post. Go and have a look at Drop Me a Line. Go ahead and add your favorite (or least favorite!) pick-up line to the list -- there, or here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Skybus Airlines folds

Skybus logoBreaking News: Skybus Airlines is ceasing all operations as of tomorrow, April 5, 2008. This is the fourth U.S.-based air carrier to shut down this week!

Skybus wasn't with us very long. The low-cost carrier, based in Columbus, OH, began flying in May of 2007 -- less than a year ago.

An announcement on the Skybus website says:
Skybus struggled to overcome the combination of rising jet fuel costs and a slowing economic environment. These two issues proved to be insurmountable for a new carrier.

We deeply regret the impact this decision will have on our employees and their families, customers, vendors, suppliers, airport officials and others in the cities in which we have operated. Our financial condition is such that our Board of Directors felt it had no choice but to cease operations.
Boom! Another one gone. The 450 Skybus employees -- pilots, flight attendants and ground staff -- are suddenly out of work, with virtually no notice.

One could say that there were clues that hinted at a coming Skybus bust. In an effort to reduce operating costs, the airline recently had discontinued some routes and had cut the number of flights on remaining routes. Earlier, Skybus had raised fees for checked bags, and for priority boarding by passengers.

Meanwhile, Skybus pilots had been in the process of unionizing. Less than a month ago, it had been reported that more than 80 percent of Skybus pilots were in favor of voting to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

Then less than two weeks ago, on March 24, Skybus CEO Bill Diffenderffer abruptly resigned from the company. He was replaced by Skybus chief financial officer, Mike Hodge. During the past week, another Skybus executive, Bud Sittig, left as well. Mr. Sittig had been vice president of operations for Skybus. When he left, no replacement was named.

Skybus is expected to file for bankruptcy on Monday, April 7, 2008.

Charter carrier Champion Air to shut down at the end of May

Champion Air Boeing 727-225What a week! First Aloha Airlines, then ATA Airlines -- and now another air carrier in the U.S. has announced that it will be shutting down: Charter carrier Champion Air has announced that it will cease operations on May 31, 2008.

It appears that Champion Air is the latest air carrier to fall victim to the high price of fuel. In a press release issued on the afternoon of March 31, 2008, the carrier's President and CEO, Lee Steele, said, "...Our business model is no longer viable in a world of $110 oil, a struggling economy and rapidly changing demand for our services. Those factors also have impeded our efforts to attract new capital and new investors."

More from the March 31, 2008 press release:
Champion will fulfill all outstanding service commitments and will remain fully in compliance with all regulatory, operational and labor contract requirements. The company has adequate funds to continue operations and to settle all outstanding financial obligations.

The airline’s current 550 employees will continue to receive their pay and benefits through May 31. Notification of the impending shutdown as mandated by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and any similar state and local regulations is underway.
Champion Air operates sixteen Boeing 727-200 aircraft. Six of those are configured as VIP aircraft, with First/Business Class seating for 56 passengers. The remaining 10 aircraft feature a single class configuration for 176 passengers in coach class seating. The carrier was originally formed as MGM Grand Air in 1987 by the MGM organization.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, April 03, 2008

ATA Airlines shuts down all operations

ATA Airlines pinATA Airlines announced this morning that it had filed a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy petition on April 2, 2008, and that it has "discontinued all operations, effective as of 4 am ET on April 3." The reason cited was the "unexpected cancellation of a key contract for ATA’s military charter business, which made it impossible for ATA to obtain additional capital to sustain its operations or restructure the business."

In a media release issued by the airline, Doug Yakola, ATA's chief operating officer, said:
“We deeply regret the disruption and hardship caused by the sudden shutdown of ATA, an outcome we and our employees had worked very hard and made many sacrifices to avoid. Unfortunately, the cancellation of a critical agreement for our military charter business undermined ATA’s plan to address the current conditions facing all scheduled service airlines, including the tremendous spike in the price of jet fuel in recent months. As a result, it became impossible for ATA to continue operating.”
According to a media fact sheet on ATA's website, at the time of the shutdown, ATA had approximately 2,230 employees, including approximately 600 pilots, more than 800 flight attendants, and more than 100 mechanics. ATA had approximately 585 employees at its headquarters in Indianapolis.

ATA Airlines, which was formerly called American Trans Air, had been in business since 1973. In 2004, the airline had filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. The company reorganized and emerged from Bankruptcy in 2006. In 2007, ATA Airlines became a subsidiary Global Aero Logistics Inc. At the time of its shutdown, ATA was operating 29 aircraft, including Boeing 737-800s, Boeing 757-200s, Boeing 757-300s, DC10s and Lockheed L-1011s. Many of its aircraft were leased.

ATA's collapse comes hard on the heels of the shut down of all Aloha Airlines passenger operations earlier this week. I don't mean to be cynical, but I can't help but ask, "So, who's next?"

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Most senior Aloha Airlines pilot commands final passenger flight

On March 31, 2008, Aloha Airlines operated its final passenger flight, Aloha Flight AQ 251 from Kahului, Maui to Honolulu. Aloha's most senior pilot, Captain Darryl Wong (pictured at right), was the pilot in command of the Boeing 737-200 for that historic flight. The final flight came just a day after Aloha Airlines announced it was shutting down its passenger operations.

News reports said that Captain Mike Moore had been scheduled to fly the flight, but had relinquished the cockpit at the last minute to Captain Wong, who joined the company in 1976. In addition to flying for Aloha, Wong is a major general in the Hawaii Air National Guard. "It was very nice that they wanted me to fly, so I was very honored," he said.

In the right seat of Flight AQ 251 was First Officer Tasha Kobashigawa, Aloha's most junior pilot. Ms. Kobashigawa, who used to be a news reporter for Honolulu TV station KITV, joined Aloha Airlines just four months ago. An article about Aloha's final passenger flight in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin quoted Ms. Kobashigawa, who said, "You get to a place where you think you're going to be for the rest of your career and in a blink of an eye it's gone. I'm going to stay in flying. It's my passion. I worked too hard to let it go."

Flight attendants on the final Aloha Airlines passenger flight were Renee Jewell, Steve Oshiro and Tori Swoish.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Tribute to Aloha Airlines

Late last evening, March 31, 2008, Aloha Flight AQ261 arrived in Honolulu from Maui. It was Aloha Airlines' final scheduled passenger flight. Aloha had publicly announced the shut down of its passenger operations just two days ago on March 30, 2008.

Here's a video tribute to a great airline, produced by Aloha employees - the Aloha ʻOhana.

(If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.)

You might also want to have a look at the AQ ʻOhana's wonderful collection of photos of Aloha employees and their families on PBase.

As a Hawaii resident and long-time customer of Aloha Airlines, I'd like to say to all of the Aloha ʻOhana:

"Mahalo nui loa, me ko`u aloha. A hui hou."

Related: Some earlier Aircrew Buzz articles that featured Aloha Airlines: