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Even Grandma Can Go Flying

The early 1950s represented a watershed moment for commercial air travel. Although statistics showed that by 1953, only three-percent of the U.S. population had ever flown in an airplane, non-stop air travel across the country became a reality that year, shaving two hours off the previous 12-hour coast-to-coast flight.

With trains and buses having been the preferred and more affordable modes of domestic transportation for decades, airline advertising agencies had their work cut out for them. Promoting the advantages of traveling by air was a challenge back in those days, and although the word “demographics” hadn’t come into being yet, certain target audiences were identified nonetheless. One obvious group was young children, always shown in airline ads seated wide-eyed at the window with a tray of milk and cookies nearby.

Other groups included businessmen, newlyweds, vacation travelers, and yes, mature citizens referred to back then as “the elderly” and known today as “seniors.” I’m not sure if there was a perception of the rigors of pulling Gs like in a jet fighter, or perhaps hypoxia for elderly passengers even in a pressurized cabin at 25,000 ft. But for whatever reason, the notion of Grandpa or Grandma flying in an airliner was indeed a novel one, whether it was a long-range Lockheed 749 or regional twin-engine Martin 404.

Enter the creative brain trust of TWA’s advertising agency. Their objective was to dispel the concept of having to actually go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. Now she could ride the airport limo to LaGuardia, Midway, or Sky Harbor, board a luxurious Trans World Airlines Connie and be whisked to her destination at a cool 300 miles-per-hour. Flying in supreme comfort, she wouldn’t even muss her hair. (Note the hands of her family waving as she deplanes, with Mom and little Sis wearing gloves, no less.)

TWA boasted the worlds’ largest fleet of Constellations, flying every model of the graceful triple-tail skyliner. From first deliveries of the 44-passenger, 82,000-lb. Model 049 in 1946 to the pinnacle of the series, the 160,000-lb. 88-seat intercontinental 1649 in 1957, TWA Connies carried more than 50 million passengers during nearly 22 years of continuous service. Many Grandmothers and Grandfathers were reunited with loved ones all around the world during that time period as air travel became more mainstream.

This brings to mind the story of little Johnny, a future airliner enthusiast whose Grandmother came to visit. He was so excited about her flying in a Constellation, and as she hugged him after arriving from the airport, he asked with glee, “So Grandma, what airline did you fly on?” “How would I know, dear?” said the matronly woman. Little Johnny replied, “The airline’s name is written on top of the wing. You can see it looking out the window!”

“Oh yes, I did see the name written on the wing,” replied Grandma with a look of satisfaction. “I flew on NO STEP.”

 

Love flying? You will love this!

We showed this earlier in the year and we received such a wonderful reaction we thought we would share it again.

AirineRatings obtained this spectacular video from Qantas A330 captain Michael Glynn.

It takes you into the cockpit for a variety of flights around Australia showing off the vast country.

You will also see planes flying by, weather, take-offs and landings from the best seat in the house.

Also look carefully at the cokpit instruments and you will se the weather being displayed on the primary flight control display.

For more videos from Mike see here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TWCobra/videos

Now this is flying

Another in our series of extraordinary air services features a day with Indonesia’s Susi Air which provides vital air links to hundreds of remote communities.
The video, below, taken by a Susi Air pilot features services from Nabire in Papua to outlying villages perched on the side of rugged mountains.
The runways are also typically up hill and then to add to the mix slope from side to side. And throw in a pig or two on the runway not to mention bad weather and you have some challenging flying and a great video.
Susi Air was launched in 2004 with two aircraft and now has 49.
Enjoy!!

See Susi Air’s safety rating 

What could really be driving the Department of Justice’s probe of possible U.S. airline collusion? The bigger picture

There may be far more than meets the immediate eye behind United States Department of Justice’s inquiry into constraint of airline seat capacity growth, constraint that Connecticut Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal contends has brought on “an onslaught of price increases in summer fares.”

In a June 17, 2015 letter to Assistant Attorney General William J. Baer, Blumenthal asked DOJ’s Antitrust Division to “conduct a full and thorough investigation of anticompetitive, anti-consumer conduct.”

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says, “We are investigating possible unlawful coordination by some airlines. We’ll decline further comment at this time.”

It’s the “coordination” part that’s key. In his letter, Blumenthal notes top airline executives of late have been talking a lot about “discipline” within the marketplace. The senator says this could constitute “a strategic attempt to coordinate behavior.” Blumenthal goes on to say the idea could be “specifically designed to encourage Wall Street to punish smaller rival airlines that have announced plans to expand [seat] capacity and cut fares.”

“DOJ is playing politics,” responds aviation consultant Mike Boyd, president Boyd Group International. “If political hot air contributes to global warming, the polar bears are in deep trouble now…Blumenthal is all upset because airlines are making money.”

Airline industry trade group Airlines for America was more restrained in its response, saying “domestic fares are actually down thus far in 2015…we’re confident that the Justice Department will find out what we know to be true: our members compete vigorously every day.”

The Real Motivation?

Such is the surface of the issue. What’s missing is how the investigation fits into the overall fabric of what’s happened to airline competition in the United States. Get to the root of that and DOJ’s underlying motive in launching the probe comes into sharper focus, shedding a bright light on the actual state of U.S. airline competition.

Not in dispute is this fact: “Just four major airlines (Delta, United, American and Southwest) now account for eighty percent of all domestic air travel,” says the senator. What a difference a decade can make. Ten years ago that eighty percent share was parceled out among more than double the number of carriers.

When there were eight or nine airlines that controlled that eighty percent share there was no real problem. So says a well-respected aviation industry insider who asked his name not be used. Here’s his theory: in such a flexible, dynamic marketplace the harm of that might result when airline executives talked, in public, about seat discipline would be minimal. Cut the number of carriers in half and it becomes a completely different issue. You’ve implicitly carved the United States aviation market into domains where a few airlines can dominate.

The insider contends the real reason DOJ is investigating carriers is that it now understands when it approved the rash of airline mergers resulting in airline consolidation it created a monster.

It’s not the high-profile Delta/Northwest merger, the United/Continental marriage nor the American/US Airways merger that matters most, he contends. It’s Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran that’s the straw stirring things up.

He calls that combination a seminal event, because by blessing their union DOJ took two low-fare airlines that were stimulating traffic and created an airline that not only is no longer in the business of reducing fare but has actually been selling off aircraft (AirTran’s former Boeing 717s now fly around in Delta colors).

Consider, before the Southwest merger, AirTran held Delta’s feet to the fire in terms of keeping airfares low, especially in Delta’s hometown of Atlanta. According to early 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation statistics since 2011 the average inflation-adjusted airfare has risen 16 percent at ATL, where a once standalone AirTran was the second largest carrier.

Tellingly, since 2011 DOT figures show average inflation-adjusted airfares have increased at eight of the ten busiest airports in the country. For example rates have elevated eleven percent at New York LaGuardia and nine percent at Chicago O’Hare.

The theory here is that DOJ recognizes it made mistakes in approving some mergers and is now trying to make up for it by launching an investigation into capacity growth constraint. It’s only a theory, although an intriguing one.

How Airlines Are Responding

A statement from Southwest says the nation’s largest domestic airline “will fully cooperate in answering any questions the DOJ may have of us.”

United Airlines says it’s complying with the Justice Department’s request for material.

Delta Air Lines did not respond to AirlineRatings’ requests for a statement. Other news sources report Delta is complying.

American Airlines offered the most complete response, saying it “has received a Civil Investigative Demand from the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. The CID seeks documents and information from the last two years that are related to statements and decisions about airline capacity. We welcome the review as the data shows the industry is highly competitive with more people flying than ever before. Demand has been enabled by a robust and competitive marketplace in which capacity has been added and average fares have decreased. We will cooperate fully with the investigation and demonstrate that the last two years have presented an entirely new competitive landscape that has greatly benefitted air travel consumers.”

American has reason to answer so robustly. In 1982, then Braniff International chief Howard Putnam recorded an epic telephone conversation he had with then American Airlines President Robert Crandall. The American chief didn’t know Putnam had tape rolling. On that tape Crandall discussed American’s competition with Braniff.

During the extraordinary talk, Crandall told Putnam, “I have a suggestion for you. Raise your goddamn fare twenty percent. I’ll raise mine the next morning.” The U.S. government was not amused. It brought an antitrust action against Crandall and American.

The industry insider says ever since that day the U.S. airline industry has been particularly paranoid about anti-trust issues and goes out of its way to ensure that its executives understand the consequences of any level of coordination, be it fares per se, or the number of seats they offer. Given that sort of atmosphere, the source labels as far fetched the possibility of private communication among airline execs on these critical topics.

So, what would it take for DOJ to move beyond the investigatory phase to pursuit of an actual case? A smoking gun. “They’d have to have e-mails back and forth saying don’t add capacity,” says Mike Boyd.

Business Travel Coalition Chairman Kevin Mitchell adds that such e-mails, if they at all exist, would have to be nothing short of “damning…showing an outreach between and among carriers to discipline capacity.” BTC is an East Coast-based consumer group.

There’s a fundamental flaw, asserts the insider, in forbidding airline executives from publically making known by how much they intend to increase, or cut, seat capacity. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines push out information to consumers about what schedules they intend to fly, and get that information out in timely fashion.

Should it decide to pursue an actual case against any airlines, DOJ is probably going to have to discover such an evidential smoking gun, assuming one exists. The Justice Department could have a devil of a time if they depended purely on public pronouncements by airlines concerning how many seats they plan to fly as evidence of wrongdoing, or so-called “signaling.”

The Bigger Picture

Whether DOJ can make a case against the airlines remains very much to be seen. But let’s move beyond that and consider whether its investigation was prompted by what consumer watchdog groups perceive as a pattern, a pattern by which the Business Travel Coalition’s Mitchell says U.S. airlines seek to “frustrate new entries, whether [they be] domestic airlines or international airlines.”

Three major Middle East airlines – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar – have been expanding rapidly of late in the U.S., linking travelers to their wide-ranging route networks via hubs in Dubai, Bahrain and Doha respectively. That expansion’s been made possible via an Open Skies policy meant to promote competition.

U.S. mega-carriers United, American and Delta contend the trio of Middle East airlines is violating international trade rules, that the three have gotten some $42 billion in subsidies and benefits from their governments since 2004.

The Middle East carriers insist it’s not so. Most outspoken, perhaps, is Emirates President Sir Tim Clark. He contends
United, American and Delta “have no grounds to ask the US government to unilaterally freeze Emirates’ operations to the USA or pursue other action under the Open Skies agreement. It is because we are absolutely not subsidized, and our operations do not harm these legacy carriers, but instead benefit consumers, communities and America’s national economy.”

Much of this boils down once again to seat capacity says Jack Keady, founder of southern California-based Transportation Consulting. The Big Three Middle East carriers are “opening up new cities,” new connection opportunities. And that equals “added capacity.”

Mitchell argues flatly the Big Three U.S. airlines “are seeking protection from Gulf carrier competition.” He goes further, maintaining that U.S. airline opposition to the U.S. government’s Export-Import bank helped result in Congress’ failure to renew the bank’s charter. What’s that got to do airline competition? The Ex-Im, among other things, provided loan guarantees to foreign airlines to purchase Boeing jetliners, a significant slice of them long-haul types such as the 787 and 777, the kind of craft primed for international operations.

Delta mounted major opposition to Ex-Im, claiming it helped subsidize non-U.S. competitors. After a Delta lawsuit challenging the bank was thrown out by a federal judge, Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter told The New York Times, “We’ve known all along this is going to be won or lost in Congress.”

Boeing, wanting naturally to sell more of its airplanes abroad, backed the bank.

Finally, there’s the issue of low-fare Norwegian Air International, which sought to expand into the U.S. market. The move was blocked – at least for now – when DOT initially rejected the bid.

Although the particulars of the Norwegian rejection aren’t as clear-cut as opposition to capacity growth, the fact remains Norwegian Air International would have added new seats to the North Atlantic to and from the U.S.

The respected aviation insider that AirlineRatings interviewed for this piece does not believe that the investigation DOJ launched stemmed from conspirators gathering in some smoke-filled room to collude and cooperate in an effort to control the number seats U.S. airlines loft.

By extension, it’s more difficult still to buy the idea that the Ex-Im’s exit from the ‘Sporty Game’ of international aircraft sales, or the rejection of Norwegian Air International’s application, were somehow choreographed by some cabal, some secret political group or faction.

For all that, this fact remains: none of these moves is doing much to suffuse the U.S. skies with significantly more airline seats. In an effort to change that equation, the Business Travel Coalition recommends:

– Regular governmental review of antitrust immunity granted to global airline alliances and “metal-neutral” (i.e., airline neutral) joint ventures. Immunity, BTC believes, has “bestowed enormous benefits on the Big Three.” In some cases, such immunity can permit carriers to align their networks in certain broad markets, like the North Atlantic, by coordinating schedules, fares and operations.

– Allowing cabotage, the ability of a foreign airline to transport paying passengers between two points in another country, say from New York to Los Angeles. “The Big Three’s efforts to block new international and domestic competition only makes this option more attractive,” opines BTC.

– Restoration of the private right of legal action. This would allow U.S. consumers and their State Attorneys General representatives to sue airlines for allegedly unfair and deceptive practices. Contends BTC, “It would only require very simple legislation to enable the restoration of the private right of action for consumers [of] commercial aviation.”

Nothing, however, is simple about this. Not in the least. Capacity growth constraints are the product of ruinous decades of fare wars in the U.S., which saw too many seats chasing too few fannies. Those battles tumbled once high and mighty airlines. Now, at long last, there’s a semblance of stability. It’s that fact of life that must be weighed carefully against any efforts to throw open the competitive floodgates.

Emirates debunks subsidy and unfair competition allegations

Emirates today released its point-by-point, fact-based response to allegations of subsidy and unfair competition leveled by the “big three” US legacy carriers – Delta, United and American Airlines.  

The full document was released to the media and public, following meetings yesterday where an Emirates delegation briefed officials from the US Departments of State, Transportation, and Commerce on the airline’s response.

The US legacy carriers launched an aggressive lobbying campaign in January, in a protectionist bid to restrict consumer choice, and restrict the growth of international flights to the USA operated by Emirates and other Gulf airlines. Only on 5 March did the US legacy carriers publicly release their 55-page white paper which presented so-called “evidence” of Emirates receiving subsidy and competing unfairly. Full appendices to the 55-pager were not made public until 21 April.

Sir Tim Clark, Emirates Airline President said: “The methods employed by the US legacy carriers to discredit Emirates have been surprising and frankly, repugnant. We do not underestimate their lobbying prowess, but facts are facts. Unlike the Big 3’s white paper, which is riddled with inaccuracies, conjecture, and legal misinterpretations, Emirates’ response is comprehensive and based on hard facts. We clearly show why the Big 3 have no grounds to ask the US government to unilaterally freeze Emirates’ operations to the USA or pursue other action under the Open Skies agreement. It is because we are absolutely not subsidized, and our operations do not harm these legacy carriers, but instead benefit consumers, communities and America’s national economy.”

US legacy carriers are wrong on facts: Emirates is not subsidized

Emirates’ response systematically disproves each of the Big 3’s allegations that it has received over $6 billion in subsidies, including fuel hedging subsidies; purchasing goods and services from related third parties at below-market terms; disproportionately benefiting from airport infrastructure and user fee at Dubai International airport; and having an artificial cost advantage through the structure of the UAE’s labor law.[i]

Sir Tim said: “The subsidy allegations put forward by the Big 3 are patently false. We have been profitable for 27 years straight, and unlike our accusers, we have never depended on government bail-outs or protection from competition. In fact, we were told right from the start by the government of Dubai that Emirates has to deliver profits and stand on its own feet. We had to then, and we still have to now. Dubai has no oil reserves to speak of, and therefore it embarked on a well-documented strategy to diversify its economy with air transport as a key enabler. That directive is what led us to pioneer a successful business model as an efficient long-haul connector that offers customers a best-in-class experience.

“Our global expansion is funded from our own cash flow, and debt raised in the open market through banks and financial institutions. Our success is due to superior commercial performance. To date we have paid our shareholder, the Dubai government, more than $3 billion in dividends. All of this is laid out in our financials, audited by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. We are financially transparent, and have published fully audited accounts for over 20 years.” 

US legacy carriers built their case on wrong legal standards, ask the US government to act against the law by imposing a unilateral freeze

Much of the Big 3’s case rests on the legal premise that the WTO’s anti-subsidy rules apply to international aviation or is implicitly incorporated in the US Open Skies Agreements. This is fundamentally wrong. The WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM agreement) does not apply to services, which are covered by a separate WTO Agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). GATS explicitly excludes air transport services, and does not include rules on unfair subsidies.

Sir Tim said: “It is ironic that the Big 3 are trying to argue their case based on WTO rules, when the USA, at the behest of these same legacy carriers, has always opposed efforts to bring air transport into GATS.  Part of that reason would be because the US carriers themselves would be a prime target for restrictions, and would for the first time have to compete with foreign carriers in their protected US domestic market. Even if WTO rules applied – which they don’t – the legacy carriers would have to show that Emirates was subsidized and that competitive injury resulted, and they have failed to do this.”

The Big 3 also build their case for a unilateral freeze on Article 11 of the Open Skies Agreement, but this is the wrong article. Article 11 (“fair and equal opportunity”) deals with access. Subsidies are addressed in Article 12 which sets out specific procedures for dealing with artificially low prices “due to direct or indirect governmental subsidy or support”. In addition, both Articles 11 and 12 prohibit unilateral actions with very limited exceptions that do not include subsidies.

Sir Tim added: “By asking the US government to take unilateral action, the Big 3 are asking the US to breach its own negotiated international obligations. This would put in jeopardy America’s Open Skies relationships with 113 other countries, and all the significant public and competition benefits that the Open Skies program has generated.”

Wrong for the United States: restricting competition would hurt US consumers, communities and the national economy

The US legacy carriers have framed their complaint in terms of their own narrow interests. They assert fealty to the “foundational principles” of Open Skies but the reality is they favor Open Skies agreements only when such work to their financial advantage, and they seek to lock out airlines that offer consumers a competitive choice.

Emirates proudly contributes to the goals of Open Skies which are: greater competition, increased flight frequency, consumer choice, promotion of business travel and tourism, improved service, and customer-centric innovation. We do that by offering US consumers, communities and exporting companies direct flights to more than 50 cities not directly served by any American carrier. We transport tourists, business travelers and goods, connecting America to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  

We operate all our flights on a fully commercial basis, with the high average seat load factors of over 80% on our USA services responding to consumer demand for our high-quality services.

Emirates today flies 84 flights each week from nine USA gateways – Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.  The estimated annual economic value of Emirates’ services to these airports and their surrounding regions is $2.9 billion[ii]. In addition, via interline arrangements, Emirates has provided over 775,000 feed passengers to US legacy carriers, producing $133 million in financial benefits to them over the past five years.[iii] 

The Big 3 are earning record profits, while seemingly content to remain on the lower ranks of global customer satisfaction surveys. They claim to have lost traffic to competition but in fact on every route that Emirates has established to the US, overall traffic has grown significantly after Emirates’ entry.[iv]

The Big 3 assert, in their PR campaign, that if a daily wide-body flight by a legacy carrier is lost to a foreign carrier, then 800 US jobs will be lost. The Big 3 relied on two studies of job creation in the German and Austrian markets to make their analysis, and on closer examination, these studies actually contradict their arguments and find that Emirates supported 2,400 jobs in Germany and 3,300 jobs in Austria per round trip. More specific to US jobs, aviation experts Campbell-Hill Aviation Group has analyzed the US jobs effect of Emirates’ flights to the USA, and found that Emirates supports nearly 4,000 US jobs per daily round trip service. [v] 

Groundswell of support from broad spectrum of US stakeholders

As submissions to the US Government illustrate, there is a tremendous groundswell of support from across the spectrum of US stakeholders who believe the US national interest is best served by maintaining Open Skies policy and not selectively unraveling it. 

These stakeholders, representing low cost carriers, non-legacy carrier hub cities and airports, air cargo carriers, leading hospitality and tourism businesses amongst others, are a far better barometer than the self-interested legacy carriers. These stakeholders believe the national interest should be the Obama Administration’s North Star in this matter, and not the parochial interest of Delta, United and American in constraining competition for their benefit alone.

Sir Tim said: “The Big 3’s white paper is littered with self-serving rhetoric about ‘fair trade’, ‘level playing field’, and ‘saving jobs’, but their mess of legal distortions and factual errors falls apart at the slightest scrutiny. The allegations about Emirates receiving subsidies or competing unfairly are false. The Big 3 are far from being ‘harmed’ financially by Emirates’ operations, and they are not even operating in the same markets that we are.

“What’s happening is that the legacy carriers, not satisfied with their protected domestic market, plus their anti-trust immunized global alliances which let them collude on capacity and price with joint venture partners, are now flexing their lobbying muscle to further restrict valuable international air transport links for American consumers, communities and companies. The case put forward by Delta, United and American Airlines against Emirates is full of holes, and if their protectionist campaign were to be successful, it will not end with just the Gulf airlines.”

Suggested read: Have US Airlines lost the right stuff?

Luxury in the Sky, 1950s Style

As we observe nostalgic airline advertising in this ongoing series, the effective use of high-impact artwork is unmistakable. The objective was to catch the viewer’s eye while romanticizing luxury service aloft and these ads succeeded quite well indeed. Although airlines tried to outdo each other’s advertisements, one name was synonymous with luxury air travel in the piston-powered era, and that was Pan American World Airways.

With the slogan “First across the Atlantic, First across the Pacific, First to South America, and First around the world,” Pan American epitomized long-range air travel, beginning with the iconic flying boats of the 1930s, and then Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-7 Clippers. But there was another aircraft in Pan Am’s four-engine fleet that really captured the public’s imagination, for this airliner was not only larger and more powerful, but had a double-deck cabin.

Called the “Stratocruiser,” this majestic sky ship was derived from Boeing’s Post-World War II military C-97 transport and KC-97 aerial tanker. The ‘Strat’ carried 86 passengers in two-class service, and cruised at 340 mph. With a range of nearly 3,000-miles, Stratocruisers flew international routes from New York to Europe as well as from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii and the Orient.

The airplane’s most famous attribute, however, was its lower deck lounge and cocktail bar, accessed by a spiral staircase. Despite having higher seat-mile costs, Stratocruisers generated higher revenues for their operators as a result of this feature plus the luxuries of large sleeper seats and even fully enclosed lie-flat berths. For its time, the ‘Strat’ simply had no competition when it came to roomy comfort and lavish airborne amenities.

In the ad above, the Stratocruiser’s signature round windows are shown prominently, although the curtains remain open giving passengers an ample night-time view of stars and the exhaust glow from four 3,500-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines. The Clipper’s Captain is proudly making his rounds, as was done in those days, gazing at contentedly sleeping passengers as the Stewardess pours a freshly brewed cup of coffee back in the galley. Other passengers are fast asleep in curtained sleeper berths above.

This illustration is masterfully composed, with a beautiful interplay of light and dark shapes and cool and warm colors. “Pan Am Blue” is used on the blankets, berth curtains, carpet, and Stewardess’s uniform. Red on the window curtains and mother’s dress provides just the right balance to the cool hues, and the little girl’s Pan American flight bag offers the perfect visual accent. (I believe I saw that same bag for sale at a recent airliner show.)

The tag line in the text says, “For reservations, call your Travel Agent or Pan Am.” I’m sure many people saw this handsome ad and did just that. After all, with Stratocruisers named “Sovereign of the Sky,” “Romance of the Skies,” and “Queen of the Pacific,” how could you go wrong?

 

Nine die in sightseeing aircraft crash

All nine souls on board a sightseeing aircraft are dead, this after a Promech Air de Havilland DHC-3T (Turbine) Otter propjet crashed Thursday approximately 12:20 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time in the rugged reaches of southeast Alaska. In a prepared statement Promech says there were eight passengers and one pilot aboard the propjet, an aircraft type in widespread use in Alaska.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was dispatching a ‘Go-Team’ to the scene from its Alaska Regional office. It’s headed by Investigator-In-Charge Brice Banning. The Safety Board says the single-engine aircraft went down some 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan, Promech Air’s home base. NTSB says the crash site is situated “in an area of steep, mountainous terrain.”

Clearly shaken by the crash, Promech Air says there are no survivors. Company president Marcus Sessoms says, “There is nothing that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss those affected are feeling.”

According to Promech’s web site www.promechair.com/about/safety-our-aircraft/ the company calls the ten-passenger Turbine Otter, fitted with floats for water landings, “the cornerstone of our fleet.”

The air carrier goes on to say it’s the largest air taxi company in southeast Alaska. While touting its “can do” philosophy Promech adds, “Our rigorous maintenance program has resulted in an outstanding safety record. We have created a maintenance support program for our flight operations with the premise that all aircraft must meet or exceed the flight safety standards of our operating certificate and our own internal quality requirements.”

Alaska air taxi operators, charters and sightseeing outfits are acutely aware of public safety perceptions.

Too early to Know Precisely What Happened
It’s far too early to determine an official probably cause for the crash, but small aircraft accidents are nothing new to Alaska, where the weather can turn nasty fast and the terrain is as unforgiving as any on Planet Earth.

Case-in-point: the August 9, 2010 fatal crash of another single-engine de Havilland Otter, this time near Alenagik, Alaska. In the wake of that accident then NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said, “While aviation, especially general aviation, is a big part of life in Alaska, the risks of flying in Alaska are greater than in the continental U.S. There is unforgiving terrain — 39 mountain ranges with high peaks and deep gorges, and more than 100,000 glaciers. Then, there’s the challenging and rapidly changing weather conditions. Lastly, there are the uncontrolled airports, dirt strips, lakes and rivers that serve as regular landing spots.”

Passengers from Cruise Ship
Holland America Line, the popular cruise operator says, “the flight carried eight guests from ms Westerdam.” The aircraft was touring the Misty Fjords National Monument, an area Promech says is characterized by “Towering granite cliffs [and] 1,000-foot waterfalls.”

Meet the new Business Class seat

High-Flight Entertainment: Meet Thales’ Immersive Business Class Seat

Thales, a leading provider of in-flight entertainment (IFE) and connectivity systems, is giving the industry a glimpse of the future with its immersive business class seat technology concept demonstrator. Built in conjunction with B/E Aerospace and BMW Design Works, it features an ultra high definition (UHD) 24 inch screen, touchpad controls integrated within the armrests, and eye tracking capabilities to name just a few.

           See our video The Paris Air Show in 60 Seconds

Designed to personalize the passenger’s IFE to their interests and desires, it offers the potential to revolutionize the travel experience. I had the opportunity to test this innovative product and experience Thales’ vision of the future of IFE at the Paris Air Show guided by Brett Bleacher, Thale’s Director of Advanced Technology/Innovation and R&D.


Above: Brett Bleacher demonstrates features of the seat to a showgoer.

Sitting in the plush BMW provided leather seat of the demonstrator, which was situated in the Thales Pavilion, I instantly felt at ease. I began the process of calibrating my eyes to the screen, which uses a small infrared camera located at the bottom of the screen to track the movement of the my pupils. The task, in which I had to follow the movement of an aircraft as it crossed the screen, took all of 15 seconds before the calibration was successful. It felt surreal to be navigating the selection with my eyes – a concept that would have been unimaginable not too many years ago. From there, I was instructed to choose a movie. The “pod”, as my guide called it, has the ability to create a profile for individual users and was offering a selection tailored for Brett Bleacher. The pod connected to Mr. Bleacher’s cell phone through near field communication (NFC), a system that allows for the passenger to select their seat configuration, entertainment, and services before boarding the flight. Once the phone is within the pod’s field, it can be connected. To begin viewing, I directed my vision towards the Lord of the Rings movie, The Hobbit, and tapped on the touchpad located within the armrest.


Above: Taking in the UHD 24 inch monitor.

I then reclined the seat to an almost completely flat bed and watched as the screen automatically, without any manual input, changed angles to improve my view. The seat, boasting surround sound and massage capabilities, in a matter of a few moments had removed me from the chaos of the bustling Paris Air Show and placed me into a sleek, futuristic and relaxed setting. Mr. Bleacher then asked me to close my eyes as though I had fallen asleep during the movie. Incredibly, thanks to the technology of the eye tracker, the movie paused at the exact point the pod had determined I had fallen asleep. I opened my eyes and was impressed to see the movie resume. I glanced over to my guide and, sure enough, the movie paused again. This time, it was because the pod had assumed I was momentarily distracted away from the screen by some activity, such as cabin service, and it didn’t want me to miss any of the movie.
Just when I thought I had seen all of the immersive business class seat’s tricks and capabilities, I was in for one more surprise. Along the edge of the pod is an interactive virtual landscape panel on which various landscapes or vistas can be projected. In this case, Mr. Bleacher set up an image of a gorgeous sun setting on the edge of a pristine lake. Below it, a graphically presented flight schedule provided me with checkpoints to when breakfast would be served, our current location, and the eventual time we would reach our destination. To top it off, my guide then set the seat to “party mode” and I was suddenly in the middle of my personal disco.


Above: The side-mounted interactive virtual landscape acts like a window and includes a real time flight status indicator.

Several major airlines are believed to be in discussion with Thales over the full development and adoption of this technology for the next generation of business class seats. The technology on display underlines the speed with which the future of IFE is advancing and highlights the coming importance of the fully immersive experience.

Virgin Australia Business Class experience

There was a point during a recent Virgin flight that I panicked.

I had just awoken from a champagne and barramundi-induced slumber to hear the captain announce that the aircraft was beginning its descent. Snuggled under a quilted doona on my flat bed, it dawned on me that the cabin crew had forgotten to give me an immigration entry card to fill out. Ever the stickler for protocol, I insist on having mine neatly filled out and nestled inside my passport long before I step onto the air bridge. But then I remembered: I was flying from Perth to Melbourne. There is something so glamorous and so opulent about Virgin’s A330 business class cabin that I forgot I wasn’t flying international.

One, two, three and … sashay. That’s is how I imagined the cabin crew counted down their grand entry to the business-class cabin. It was probably just an accident but the two flight attendants emerged simultaneously from behind their respective curtains at the front of the aircraft, flinging them aside in an apparently choreographed and appropriately dramatic movement.

 As a lifelong TAA, Ansett and then Qantas customer, this was my first Virgin flight. I had long ago been deterred by the low-cost carrier experience and shuddered at the thought of chirpy Branson bimbettes singing me a pre-flight safety song. But Virgin has shed the silliness and turned up the class to become real competition for Qantas.

From the moment I step on board I feel just a little bit special. Excited, even. The reception from the crew was vaguely familiar but not at all cloying. Ayala French champagne is poured promptly and menus distributed – it’s all part of the theatre of business class travel. There are two menus to choose from – an express menu and an a la carte menu. The express menu is designed for those who want to eat then sleep, and features some bread, a choice of starter, dessert, cheese and coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The a la carte menu offers the full experience.

The cabin is bright. It’s luxurious. And it’s the kind of spacious that makes you want to bust a few moves or have a crack at the cartwheel you haven’t tried since you were 11. It’s also immaculately clean – a quality that is increasingly compromised thanks aircraft spending less and less time on the ground.

Virgin’s entertainment system is comprehensive – although I found the remote control a little counter-intuitive. That said, when I had to fast forward past an unspeakably traumatic scene in Keanu Reeves revenge flick John Wick, it worked just fine, thanks. The screens are crystal clear, and huge and the headphones, if you’re not a BOSE Quiet Comfort snob like me, are actually terrific.

Meal service on board Virgin is quite the affair. We’re talking the whole white linen, silver service shebang. I’m encouraged to plunge your warm bread into your little dish of olive oil and Luke Mangan dukkah. The cabin crew are quite convincingly enthusiastic about the dishes on today’s card – especially the soup, which I’m told Virgin does exceptionally well. It does – the mixed mushroom soup was earthy and textural and, while I concede it’s pretty hard to stuff up soup – even at 30,000 feet – this is pretty damn fine. The other starter was a Vietnamese-style chicken salad with lemongrass dressing and cashews, which my neighbour across the aisle was raving about.

For mains, a fat, moist fillet of barramundi is as good as any fish I’ve eaten – regardless of altitude. I forgive them for the only slightly crispy skin since these guys have to reheat and plate meals that are prepared on the ground. It comes with a baba ganoush, peas, mint and some preserved lemon. Each component complemented the other and the baba was brilliant. The preserved lemon brought the entire dish together. Other options included braised short rib with shiitake mushrooms, pumpkin, feta and chervil and a vegetarian curry of eggplant and chickpeas with turmeric, rice and Asian herbs. A cheese plate, with a generous wads of Australian cheddar, brie and blue, came with a slab of quince paste and plenty of crackers. It also came with offers of a dessert wine, which was a rather charming touch.

Also charming was the way crew doted on me as I progressively lost my voice during the flight. I was lavished with, alternatively, a never-ending glass of champagne and cups of tea with cut lemon.

The wine list is boasts the aforementioned Ayala champagne, which had this champagne aficionado well pleased. There is also a very respectable selection of Australian wines including the fabulous Stella Bella Skuttlebutt sauvignon blanc semillion from Margaret River and a Mr Riggs tempranillo from the Adelaide Hills. Those hoping for a spirit in the sky can get stuck into Bundy rum or Bombay Sapphire gin, among others, and beers include the excellent Italian Peroni and lovely local Fat Yak. And if you get the munchies later on, there is an anytime menu featuring the likes of a gluten-free tom yum soup and snacks such as olives, nuts and milk chocolate caramel pop corn.

The leather seats on Virgin’s A330, with a 152cm seat pitch and fully lie-flat bed, are peerless on Australian domestic flights. It’s hard to believe that the airline will later this year unveil even better Business and Economy class cabins on its wide-body fleet. The new business class will include suite seating in a 1-2-1 configuration. The refit is due to be completed by October and is part of Virgin’s ambitious goal of becoming Australia’s favourite airline group by 2017. I am already on board.

Visit Dreamliner’s flight deck – strap in for rocket-like takeoff

Once upon a time, in another age, airlines would let kids tour the cockpit, sit in a jump seat during cruise and take in the show from up front. No longer, of course, not in this era of hyper-security.

About the closet you can get to the experience nowadays is the virtual view. Boeing’s just come out with a spectacular follow-on to its wildly-popular video (over ten million views in a single week) of a 787-9 practicing for the Paris Air Show.

The 787-9 is a 20-foot stretch of the 787-8. Boeing says customers the world over have ordered 509 787-9s. That amounts to some 46 percent of all 787 orders.

This new Boeing video allows you to choose different views, internal and external, of the 787-9 performing maneuvers never seen in typical flight.

If you’re looking for the best way to get the full experience use your laptop or desktop computer. Mobile device functionality may be limited.

See this amazing video here.

 

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