The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Little airplanes, little airplanes

The Chicago Tribune reports that the annoying trend of using smaller airplanes for longer routes is taking off over the Atlantic:

The re-engined 737 Max and A320neo jets offer a 15 percent fuel saving meant to cut costs on the shortest inter-city services. At the same time the revamp has added about 800 km to their range -- just enough to allow the narrow-bodies to span the 5,000 km between the eastern U.S. and Western Europe.

Norwegian Air Shuttle, JetBlue Airways and Portugal's TAP are among airlines buying the jets for trans-Atlantic routes, with NAS set to lead the way when it becomes one of the first carriers to get Boeing's Max 8 next year. Its initial flights may link Edinburgh, Birmingham in England and Cork and Shannon in Ireland to smaller airports in New England and the New York area.

Yeah, 8 hours in a 737 or A320 does not sound fun. The only exception I'd make is for BA flights 1, 2, 3, and 4, which are 32-seat, all-business-class A319s that fly between London City and JFK. Of course, they're not exactly marketing to price-conscious leisure travelers: a round trip on that route will set you back about $6,000. And one more thing: the return trip tops up its fuel tanks in Shannon, Ireland, because even a stripped-down A319 can't make it all the way from London to New York yet.

Last flight of the Mad Dog N9401W

Airways magazine has the heartwarming story of American Airlines MD-80 N9401W heading off to retirement in New Mexico:

This aircraft, and 19 others, were part of a symbolic retirement.

A 20-aircraft order placed by American Airlines to McDonnell Douglas in 1982 marked the beginning of an era in which AA became the world’s largest MD-80 operator, but as the decades passed through and as new and more efficient aircraft joined the fleet, the venerable Mad Dog era is now heading into the sunset.

Once the last AA MD-80 parks in Roswell in 2018, it will close a chapter in the company’s history; yet it will also signify a new era, with the arrival of new Airbus A320 family aircraft and Boeing 737 Next Generation and the coming MAX variant, all part of a major $4.6 billion order placed back in 2010 for 460 aircraft —the largest commercial aircraft order in history at that time.

Millions of miles had unfurled beneath Ship 4WJ, from the Far East where she was built, to freezing Calgary in Canada to the sunny Los Cabos in Mexico, from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then to New York, transporting about 3,700,000 passengers during its career.

Subtracting engines, the current parts market value of an MD-80 varies from $100,000 to $200,000. Once all marketable parts have been harvested, the value of the fuselage carcass ranges between $10,000 and $12,000. It can take a month to part out an MD-80 yet only a few hours to crush it into scrap metal.

While AA retired today 20 MD-80s, the airline’s remaining 61 Mad Dogswill continue flying—safely and reliably transporting their passengers and crews.

I last flew on an MD-80 on 3 December 2014, from Dallas to Chicago.

Amazon Air

Amazon this month launched the first of what it plans to comprise a fleet of 40 cargo planes to support its Prime delivery service. From their blog:

Now, we see the same opportunity to innovate in transportation. I'm very excited to introduce Amazon One, a Boeing 767-300 that is our first ever Amazon branded plane which will serve customers by adding capacity to support one and two day package delivery in the US. Adding capacity for Prime members by developing a dedicated air cargo network ensures there is enough available capacity to provide customers with great selection, low prices and incredible shipping speeds for years to come. Over the next couple of years, we’ll roll out 40 planes just like this one.

Amazon One airplane

Fortune spells out the effects on Amazon's business:

For Amazon, the main benefit of owning the shipping network could be significant for its bottom line amid soaring shipping costs. The company spent over $8.7 billion on shipping in 2014, up from $6.6 billion in 2013. Creating a logistics service could dramatically lower those costs.

Amazon will lease the airplanes from Atlas Air Cargo, potentially owning almost 20% of Atlas's fleet.

(Photo: Amazon)

What I didn't read while preparing for Monday's demo

Sometimes, when I'm really busy, I click on articles I want to read. Right now I have a lot tabs open:

So, altogether, not entirely about the election.

Zeppelins in Chicago?

WBEZ's Curious City audio blog explains that Chicago hoped to be America's aviation hub all the way back in the 1920s—for airships. But it's not the ideal environment in which to dock them:

When it comes to Chicago buildings that may or may not have had airship docking infrastructure, we encounter only a few leads. One involves the Blackstone Hotel. In a 1910 article from Chicago’s Inter-Ocean newspaper, the Blackstone’s manager confirms plans to build “Drome Station No. 1” on the rooftop — big enough for four airships, housing stalls and a repair shop. The manager said it’s “not a whim nor advertisement” for the newly-opened hotel. Today, though, there’s no evidence the Blackstone’s rooftop landing dock ever existed.

“Docking a large rigid airship to the top of a building is one of the worst ideas anyone could ever come up with, which is why it was never done,” he says. 

Airships could be 800 feet long, and a single mast atop a building could provide just one point of contact for tying off. If an airship were moored only at its front, changing winds could spin the ship in circles. In the case of the Club, that would have meant a docked airship could swing into nearby skyscrapers, like the Tribune Tower. It would have been a disaster waiting to happen.

Of course, Chicago eventually became one of the world's principal aviation hubs, but not with lighter-than-air craft.

So much to read after work today

From AVWeb: one of the world's two remaining B-29 Superfortresses flew for the first time this weekend after being grounded for more than 60 years.

From CityLab: Nice's surveillance network is extensive—possibly too extensive to do any good.

From New Republic:

Over in the Atlantic, James Fallows just adds it to the list of things historians will probably wonder about (at #44) and why it matters (#45).

Cranky Flier reports on a different batch of corruption after United Airlines released documents showing how its bid in Newark, N.J., for a new hangar went south. Literally.

At New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan live-blogged day 1 of the Republican National Convention.

At The New Yorker, Jane Mayer talked with Tony Schwartz, the man who wrote Trump's Art of the Deal.

And here at home, from Crain's Chicago Business, how former governor Jim Edgar has gone from coaching current governor Bruce Rauner gently to calling him out in public.

 

 

Too many browser windows open at work

Because I need to read all of these and have to do my actual job first:

I'll get to these this evening. I hope.

Brexit and aviation

Cranky Flier points out that while tourism to the UK is really a great deal right now (as I'd attest), it's going to be a lot more expensive if Brexit actually happens:

Today the UK is part of the European Common Aviation Area (CAA). That means that UK-based airlines can fly anywhere within Europe they want, just as if they were based in any of those other European countries. The same goes for European airlines flying within the UK. It also means that bilateral agreements negotiated by the EU with third parties outside the EU apply to the UK. And there are a host of European aviation regulations that govern air travel in the UK as well. Some or all of this may go away completely when the break-up occurs. That is to be determined by those negotiating the terms.

...[T]he EU may decide it doesn’t want the UK in the CAA anymore. That would be quite the blow to the UK, but it would be a warning shot for anyone else contemplating the same thing. I keep coming back to that castle scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

That would mean that the UK and the EU would need to set up a more traditional bilateral agreement. It would be shocking if those restrictions didn’t include a ban on UK-based airlines from flying within the EU. That would mean foreign ownership rules would apply. For EU-based airlines this wouldn’t be a huge issue. They’d probably lose the ability to fly domestically within the UK and they couldn’t be majority-owned by a UK shareholder anymore. That’s not really an issue.

For the UK, however, it’s bad news. Think about easyJet, a UK-based airline that criss-crosses the EU all day every day. It would no longer be able to do that. Instead it would be forced to create an EU-based subsidiary, of which it could presumably only own 49 percent, and then have that company handle the intra-EU flying. Half the profits of that company would go into the EU instead of to the UK as they do today. The airline is already investigating this possibility. This wouldn’t hurt easyJet other than adding a little more complexity, but it would hurt the UK.

Yesterday, I thought of a different problem, but related not just to Brexit but to the general British mindset of never wanting to change anything. That problem is Heathrow. It's not fun connecting through Heathrow to go anywhere, mainly because it's only got two runways servicing its five spread-out terminals. Compare that with, say, Amsterdam's Schiphol, or Munich, or even Brussels, and it's difficult to see how Brexit doesn't make Heathrow even less attractive than its continental competitors.

The UK will screw itself by leaving the EU so many ways that porn stars will be flabbergasted. Aviation is just one small area of this.

Well, we knew this was coming

American Airlines is changing the way it apportions miles and awards tickets. As predicted, they're moving to a dollars-per-mile system that rewards travelers for spending more money on the airline. Instead of just needing 50,000 miles to get to Platinum, you also need 6,000 elite qualifying dollars.

They're also adding a new level, Platinum Pro, at 75,000 elite-qualifying miles, which would have helped me more than once.

In all, the system seems fair, and pretty much everyone new it was coming. I'll be interested to see how it works in practice.

Want shorter lines at the airport? Think through security

Pilot Patrick Smith outlines, one more time, a number of sensible ways to shorten airport security lines while providing better security overall:

As I’ve argued for years, there are two fundamental flaws in our approach. First is the idea that every single person who flies, from infant children to elderly folks in wheelchairs, is seen as a potential terrorist of equal threat. Second, and and even more maddening, is the immense amount of time we spend rifling through people’s bags in the hunt for harmless liquids, pointy objects, and other perceived “weapons.” In a system that processes more than two million passengers every day of the week, neither of these tactics is effective or sustainable. Our approach is so flawed, and so bogged down in ridiculous, wasteful nonsense, that it can hardly move under its own weight. Yet all we hear about is how to add yet more layers of fat to the system.

Does anybody remember the comedy of errors that allowed the so-called “Underwear Bomber” to make his way onto a Detroit-bound flight out of Amsterdam? Here was a Nigerian citizen who’d spent time in Yemen, traveling on a one-way ticket, and whose own father had tried to warn American authorities about him. And here we are confiscating plastic squirt-guns and rubber swords from four year-old kids at regional airports in Utah.

The trouble isn’t that we have “too much security” per se. It’s that we have too much security in the wrong places. The solution isn’t pouring more and more money into a defective strategy. It’s changing that strategy.

Amen. Again. Because Smith isn't advocating anything new; he's been saying all this for years, as have Schneier, former TSA directors, other pilots, and on and on. What's it going to take to change our ridiculous policies?