Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Few Christmas Thoughts.

On Friday my grandfather Odell ended up in the hospital after a loss of blood pressure and a heart failure.  My world has been turned upside down for the last several days.  Since then they have found that all of his main arteries are clogged.  They have also found a spot on his lung.  Please remember who is important to you this Christmas and let them know that you love them, because you just never know...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hope flies for 65 days

One of the greatest things that I get to do every year is volunteer at a camp for abused children in the foster care system. It's called Royal Family Kids Camp. The idea is that these kids get five days of freedom. They get to do the things they want to do, and have no fear of being hurt or molested. But during that week kids will open up to counselors and share about the things that have happened to them. But what happens when you never get to share those stories?

Matt Pipkin is your average, everyday, fun-loving pilot.  But he hid a secret for 20 years.  Matt was sexually abused at the age of five by a family friend.  Matt never told anyone because of shame that really wasn't due him.

Many of the abused people I have talked to in my life often felt that it was there own fault, and therefor never felt that they could burdon someone else with their shame.  The truth is, abuse happens because the abuser has issues, not because the abused is "asking for it".  Matt realized that he wasn't to blame, and last year began to seek counseling.

Over the past year Matt has pushed through his fear and guilt and has found freedom.  Now he wants to share it with the world.  Matt intends on flying a plane with his father for 65 straight days.  Read about it here.  His goal is to raise awareness about sexual abuse.

But here's the kicker, my wife said, "Great.  But what does raising awareness do?"  She, like many others I have found, think that raising awareness doesn't fix problems.  But the truth of the matter is this: The more people hear about it, and the more stories they hear where other people realized the abuse wasn't their fault, the more people feel they can open up about it.

Awareness is about people realizing that other people are going through the same things.  This 65 day flight needs to be at the center of the press.  And it needs your help.  I challenge you to blog about it, write about it, tweet about it, talk about it, and help.  Give money, give a plane, give fuel, give sponsorship, or just give your love.

Helping this cause will help millions of people.  People who need to understand that love is a real thing.

By, hey, I'm just a guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Global Airline

While TWA was facing their third bankruptcy, I was taking my first flight to Hawaii. I remember eagerly awaiting flight 1 from St. Louis to Honolulu while sitting at Lambert field. At that time TWA had their exciting final livery, and the St. Louis airport was a bustling hub, and not the desserted place that is is today. American Airlines had their sites set on buying TWA and working towards becoming the first global airline.

Definition: Global Airline. I have thought long and hard about what it means to be a truly global airline, and I think we're just now beginning to see what it will look like. For the sake of today's blog I will define a global airline as one where you can travel from a small town in one country to another small town in a different country on a different continent on the same airline.

American has not yet made it the global airline that As I defined it, but I think it set the stage for U.S. Based airlines to see the opportunity.

But the thought of being the global leader wasn't kept to U.S. based airlines.  In 2004 Air France and KLM teamed up to create better purchasing power.  However, I don't believe these two airlines have the mindset to do what is needed to create this global airline.

Flash forward a few years later. Once again I'm in Hawaii. I pick up the USA Today to read the headline that Delta is purchasing Northwest Airlines.  At first I think nothing of it, other than the two worst airlines in America are teaming up to create one.  But then I realize that Delta is working towards greatness.  By completing the merger, Delta becomes the largest airline in the world.  And you can't forget that they're teamed up with the other forerunner in becoming a global airline.  Delta - Air France - KLM.

Now, let's all remember that I'm a huge United Airlines fan.  It's 2010 and UAL combines with COA to create the new largest airline in the world.  And then, British Airways and Iberia merger (even though their talks started in 2008), with a great agreement with American Airlines (oh, and Anti-Trust protection).

So, the stage is set.  I've painted a picture, but what is the point of this blog?  I want to discuss the reality that the airline industry is changing, and needs to change.  First of all, the age of the Low Cost Carrier is nearing an end.  Michael O'Leary and his antics will soon be a faded memory.

At the beginning of the recession, people began clamoring for lower prices as airlines began piling on the fees.  All of which created what looked like a fare war.  But was it really?  No, it was an appearance thing.  Which airline could look the cheapest, but then get most of their money back through fees?  So, from here on out, let's call them fee wars.

Sidebar: I would like to take a moment and say great work to Southwest for keeping it business as usual through the fee wars.  And, I must say, I love the Bag Cop commercials.

So how do we get from fee wars to a global airline?  There's not enough profit right now.  It's easy, and I'll play it out for four airlines.  United, Delta, American, and Southwest.

The Global Airline: United.  Once United and Continental complete their merger their route network will be powerful.  With United's strong presence in Asia, and Continentals strong presence in South America, it won't be much of a stretch to purchase Copa Airlines and seek out an Asian airline.  United will also be able to team up with Lufthansa for its European network and South African Airways for its African network.  

 The end result is a Global Airline under the name United.  Allowing you to fly on one airline from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA to Tamale, Ghana, West Africa. 

The Global Airline: Delta.  Delta is the closest to it's final global status.  A simple merger with Air France KLM Group, and they're most of the way there.  The main problem that Delta will have is the lack of strong players in Sky Team.  The Star Alliance provides United with major airlines throughout the world, but Sky Team rests a lot on the shoulders of Delta/Air France/KLM.  

I believe that for Delta to reach its goal of becoming a global airline, they will have to search outside of their alliance to find suitable airlines to join their team.  

The Global Airline: American.  Thanks to British Airways and Iberia, American has been the forward motion needed to create a truly global airline.  However, once the three merge, a new name will be needed.  One of the aspects of a global airline is that it must appear to be country neutral.  

American has an easy entry into the global airline game.  Just look at what One World has to offer: Qantas, JAL, Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian, Mexicana (if they can ever get their act together), and LAN.  Plus, American has strong ties to both Alaska/Horizon and Hawaiian Airlines (which is working hard to grow its own network).  A merger of this sort would be hard to beat.

The Global Airline: Southwest.  I hope that you kept reading just to read this.  A friend of mine once told me that somewhere in the Southwest headquarters is a model of a Boeing 787 in Southwest Colors.  There is a plaque that suggests that maybe some day Southwest will have a 787.  I found this out around the same time that Southwest announced the purchase of Airtran.

Of course, I must say that Southwest is now tainted as it as ValuJet blood in their mix now.

None-the-less Southwest is now reaching far beyond their normal borders.  And may soon find business class seats in the middle of their free-for-all seat-finding brawls.   It's hard a leap to assume that Southwest may change a larger part of their structure to become more like a legacy airline.

The change at Southwest could be the most important change for the aviation industry right now.

That's a bold notion, but hear me out.  Southwest reaches out to the small business traveler, and those who don't want to spend a lot of money going on vacation.  Major businesses, especially those who work internationally, want to provide simple travel for their employees that also offers great rewards.  If Southwest expands beyond America, adds to its fleet (wait, that's happening), makes improvements for business travelers, and keeps their "no-fee" way of life, other airlines will be forced to change.

As Southwest grows their network, a true fare war will start, because other airlines will not be able to win over customers while they are still playing the fee war.  Airlines will be looking to add new routes, forgetting about traditional hub and spoke, and adding more and more point to point routes.

Airplanes like the 787 will allow for more international point to point, and smaller jets with improved fuel efficiency will allow bigger airlines to compete against LCCs in regional markets.

The last and most important part of this change will be brand identity.  I read a tweet somewhere that said "Southwest and Jet Blue are brands, all others are just airline names."  And I think they're right.  Southwest has a Brand that can destroy.  Other airlines will have to starting building a true brand.  And therefore stop relying on alliances.  The end result is merger after merger after merger.

I predict it will take about 20 years to see this change happen, but I also believe there may be startups that show up before 2030 with this vision in mind.  And I believe those startups will change the game even faster.

But, let's see, I'm just a guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Hate The Delays

Image Copyright Boeing
I've read a lot of tweets about how the Boeing 787 delays are the worst thing ever.  A three to four year delay of a product to customers who have put 1/3 of their money (48-66 million USD) down is outrageous. But people are not looking at this the right way.

You shouldn't hate on the delays.

If I put $100 down on a $300 lens and then had to wait three to four extra years to get my product, I would be mad.  And even having to wait three to four extra years for a car would horrible.  But one of these examples won't hurt me if it breaks, and the other one follows a fairly basic and unchanging concept (minus new iPod features, or maybe a new break pad).  

But, an airplane.  Okay, first argument against me: People have been making airplanes for a hundred years, we've got the idea down.  That's correct.  We know that we need wings for lift, ailerons and elevators for control, and a stabilizer for stability.  We know that the shape must be aerodynamic.  But Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, BAe, and all of the others don't put out 16 models per year (like a car manufacturer).  They develop new planes every 10 or so years (yes, I'm aware the frequency is growing).  So with those new developments come new technology, which means we need to learn new things.

Second argument: Airlines are planning their routes around this aircraft.  When the Qantas double decker death trap (A380) had an engine fire, and Qantas grounded their A380 fleet, they were able to use different aircraft to get people where they needed to be.  A photographer should be able to take an amazing picture with any camera using the knowledge of how to shoot, and not using his equipment as a crutch.

But here's the important fact: If a plane is going to break, as a frequent traveler, I'd rather it break during flight tests than while I'm flying on it.  Whether you blame Qantas, Airbus, or Rolls Royce for the A380 engine failure, the fact is that there wasn't enough testing.  Someone, somewhere, overlooked something that led to what could have been a huge disaster.

I mentioned in a previous post that airline CEOs are near sighted, well, here's another great case.  ANA is freaking out because of delays, when they could be using it for their own good.  Why not create a marketing campaign where you support Boeing and say something like, "Because ANA cares about your safety, we're standing behind Boeing on the 787 delays.  We want this plane to be the best it can be before we put you in the seat."?

The airlines are getting mad, where they could actually be making some money.  Safety is important to customers, take advantage of it.  And, hey, when this works for you, send me a check.

But let's see, I'm just a guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Supersonic Coverup

Continental is guilty for causing an Air France Concorde to go down in flames. Right. That's like saying that Osama Bin Ladin is innocent.

Okay, it's fair to say that I am a conspiracy theorist when it comes to Concorde. So, I'll make this short, sweet, and simple: Jean-Cyril Spinetta is a doucebag.

France's laws that require someone to be punished for a plane crash are ridiculous. It's almost like trying to put someone in jail after someone else commits suicide. Who is really to blame? Did Continental plan to destroy Concorde? Or did Air France and Airbus have this plan prepared for a long time?

Note:  I credit all of this research that I refer to throughout this post to Rob Lewis, author of the book Supersonic Secrets.

Put yourself in the shoes of one Jean-Cyril Spinetta. Your airline is losing money because of Concorde.  You want to blame it on British Airways because those bastards are making money.  So you say, "Hey, they won't let us into Heathrow, so we can't make money."  And when your cries fall on deaf ears, you make plans to shut down the program.

Another crappy company in France was also wanting to get rid of the money losing Concorde program.  They are known as Airbus.  By shutting down the program, Airbus could focus more of its time and money on another flying death trap, the A380.  Naturally the two companies were able to work together.

As much as I would love to say that the two companies were planning on the crash of Sierra Charlie (F-BTSC), that's about like saying that the U.S. government was responsible for 9/11.  Neither of these groups could pull off such a task.  But can we truly blame Continental?  No.

There used to be a major problem with flying: pilots.  They thought they were smart.  On July 25th, 2000, Captain Christian Marty (who was at the top of the Air France ladder) was one of these "smart" pilots.  He looked at all of the factors of his flight: overweight, baggage that no one was sure who it belonged to, he thought it would okay to take off with the wind, and said, "Screw it!  Let's go!"  This guy is real good (I suppose that's why he's dead).

Taking off with the wind, overweight, and rotating too early, they hit a piece of scrap metal from a DC-10.  This shot up and hit the wing causing the fuel tank to explode.  WAIT!  STOP!  If the pilot had decided to re-taxi and get lined up into the wind, this would have never happened.  Okay, go on.

Most pilots know that you never shut down an engine during take off, because you need the thrust.  And when you're overweight, it's an even worse idea.  So, leave it to our good captain Christian, to shut off engine number 2 without a second thought.  Had he waited six more seconds, they might have landed at Le Bourget.  Moments later engine 1 failed.  Doom was the only option left.

Now, I don't know about you, but it sounds like the only thing Continental did wrong was not tighten a bolt as well as they should have.  Maybe there's a pilot in the afterlife who really regrets not taking the time to take right.

Air France, Jean-Cyril, you are to blame for cocky pilots, and a mission to shut down the greatest aircraft ever built.  Fight on United Continental Holdings!  Don't give in!  Oh, and did I mention, destroy all of your Airbus aircraft, because if it ain't Boeing, I ain't going!

But, I'm just a guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Naked Women and the Greatest Terrorism Ever

I've tried to keep quiet about the TSA.  Everyone has an opinion about what to do and how to handle it.  Last night in Oklahoma City (my fair town), a woman decided it would be a great idea to go through security in her bra and panties and a "filmmaker" shot some video of it.
You can view the video here, or view a local news report about it here.
So, where do I stand? Is the lady in her underwear a hero, or a terrorist herself? I travel a lot. I've flown over 80,000 miles this year. I've even been through Israel's security this year. I've got a lot of experience with airports and the TSA.

When I started this year, I was living in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Yup, a five minute drive to EWR.  I spent a lot of time going through TSA lines with foreigners who didn't understand what was going on.  I argued with New Jersey's finest over what needed to come out of my bag and what didn't.  (I mean, come on, I travel with photo and video gear all the time.)  I've pushed through security at LAX, LAS, ORD, and countless smaller airports.

First of all, airport security in Accra, Ghana is way worse than in America.  They may not touch your junk, but they open and scan your carryon three times.  It takes about 30 minutes to clear all of the checkpoints.

Okay, so about where I stand?  I don't care what they do in airport security, as long as it keeps me safe.  However, terrorists are winning right now.  The purpose of terrorism is not to kill people, it's to cause people to live in fear.  What are people afraid of right now?  Flying, airport security, TSA, people touching their junk.  There is a long list of fears that surround air travel these days.  Which means, Terrorists are doing their job well.

But I believe that there is a greater terrorist at stake now.  Are you on Twitter?  Do you follow @WeWontFly?  To most people, the idea to stop flying to make a statement to the TSA is a good one.  However, by not flying, we're hurting America.

This is the economic lesson of today's blog.  If you don't fly, you don't buy a ticket.  If you don't buy a ticket, the airline doesn't get money.  If the airline doesn't get money, you think that they'll fight the TSA for you.  But, what really happens is that the airline ends up losing money.  If enough people don't fly, the airline goes bankrupt.  People begin losing their jobs.  As people lose their jobs, they go on welfare, which takes money from our government.  And that's money that could be spent on fighting terrorism.

I know, it sounds a little extreme, but it's very possible.  By not flying, we are actually hurting ourselves. Do I believe that the TSA is perfect, or even... right? Not at all.  But what I'm more concerned about is that the American people are now hurting America.

Keep flying.  Keep going through security.  And when the man gets close to your junk, strike a man pose and say, "I'm an American, touch my junk."  And remember, you'll let some lucky guy find out what it means to be a man.

But let's see, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why Boeing needs to re-engine the 737, and why they shouldn't

With Airbus announcing a the A320neo, Boeing has some serious things to think about.  I have heard much of the twitterverse talk about what should Boeing do, and I thought I'd throw my thoughts out there.

Why Boeing needs to re-engine the 737
It's not news to anyone that the economy is hurting, and everyone knows that airlines are tightening their belts, and packing on the fees.  Airlines are desperate for ways to cut back.  And, in standard airline procedure, they're looking two feet in front of themselves, instead of to the future.

As Airbus announces their the A320neo, customers see an immediate fix, coming in five years, and not ten.  It makes Airbus look better to the eyes of CEOs who hope to be retired by the time the new 320 hits EIS.

But mostly what it does, is make Boeing look bad.  "We need solutions, NOW!" cry the airline executives, and a new airplane could take ten years to get off the ground!  Oh, and did we mention, the A380 is flying and the 787 isn't?

Airbus needs cash, I assume this because they are french and most likely spent it all on cheese.  A quick solution to cash is to announce a new airplane, and get lots of orders.  Does it mean you can fulfill what you promise?  Not at all, but remember our CEOs can't see past next week.

Also, Airbus probably feels they have a lead on Boeing right now with reports of better growth in China, and (oh, yeah) they have a double decker death trap flying while Boeing's 787 sits and waits for a new power panel (yes, I know that the plane has left texas and returned home).  So a move like this can insure customers.  And those CEOs who are sitting on the line, this could push them to Airbus.

So Boeing needs to re-engine the 737, but they shouldn't.

Why Boeing should hold out for the 797
Boeing has a way of doing things.  Build a new airplane, and wait for a while.  Then, build another one. Airbus has a way of doing things.  Build an airplane, get bored, throw it to the side, and build four more really fast.  Watch those airplanes fall to pieces over the Atlantic Ocean and explode 19 minutes after takeoff.

Boeing shouldn't change who they are.  Secondly, has anyone watched the video on Boeing's website about redesigning the strobes on the 737?  How much time and effort did it take to cut fuel use by 2% to make the new strobes work?  If you're going to take that much time, why not start from scratch.

The 787 has opened the door for a million new possibilities for airplanes.  Using the knowledge they have gained from the 787 they could create a new aircraft that could potentially save 20% of fuel burn (or far more!).  Now, Mister CEO, wouldn't you love to wait a little longer for something that saved you way more money?

The last reason I'd like to offer is this: By building a new airplane Boeing becomes a step ahead of Airbus.  The 320neo is a band aide, a new aircraft would be far more advanced than a redesign.

But let's see, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?