Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sullenberger: Pay cuts driving out best pilots
Tuesday February 24, 11:57 am ET
By Joan Lowy and Michael J. Sniffen, Associated Press Writers

US Airways pilot Sullenberger says pay, benefit cuts are driving out experienced pilots

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The pilot who safely ditched a jetliner in New York's Hudson River said Tuesday that pay and benefit cuts are driving experienced pilots from careers in the cockpit.
US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger told the House aviation subcommittee that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise "worth pennies on the dollar" from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said.

"The bankruptcies were used to by some as a fishing expedition to get what they could not get in normal times," Sullenberger said of the airlines. He said the problems began with the deregulation of the industry in the 1970s.

The reduced compensation has placed "pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation," Sullenberger said. "I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps."

The subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard from the crew of Flight 1549, the air traffic controller who handled the flight and aviation experts to examine what safety lessons could be learned from the Jan. 15 accident which all 155 people aboard survived.

Sullenberger's copilot Jeffrey B. Skiles said unless federal laws are revised to improve labor-management relations "experienced crews in the cockpit will be a thing of the past." And Sullenberger added that without experienced pilots "we will see negative consequences to the flying public."

Sullenberger himself has started a consulting business to help make ends meet. Skiles added, "For the last six years, I have worked seven days a week between my two jobs just to maintain a middle class standard of living."

The air traffic controller who handled Flight 1549 said thought he was hearing a death sentence when Sullenberger radioed that he was ditching in the Hudson.
"I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive," controller Patrick Harten testified in his first public description of his reactions to last month's miracle landing.

"People don't survive landings on the Hudson River. I thought it was his own death sentence," the 10-year veteran controller testified.

But Sullenberger safely glided the Airbus A320 into the river after it collided with birds and lost power in both engines.

Harten, who has spent his entire career at the radar facility in Westbury, N.Y., that handles air traffic within 40 miles of three major airports, struggled vainly to help get the airliner safely to a landing strip.

Making lightning-quick decisions, Harten communicated with 14 other entities in the three minutes after the bird strike as he diverted other aircraft and advised controllers elsewhere to hold aircraft and clear runways for 1549.

First, Harten tried to return the plane to LaGuardia Airport, asking the airport's tower to clear runway 13. But Sullenberger calmly reported: "We're unable."

Then Harten offered another LaGuardia runway. Again, Sullenberger reported, "Unable." He said he might be able to make Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

But when Harten directed Sullenberger to turn onto a heading for Teterboro, the pilot responded: "We can't do it .... We're going to be in the Hudson."

"I asked him to repeat himself even though I heard him just fine," said Harten. "I simply could not wrap my mind around those words."

At that moment, Harten said he lost radio contact with flight and was certain it "had gone down."
Afterward, Harten said he told his wife, "I felt like I had been hit by a bus."

NTSB investigators have said bird remains found in both engines of the downed plane have been identified as Canada geese.

Sullenberger and Skiles said anyone who's spent much time in cockpits has encountered bird strikes but that this one was exceptionally severe in knocking out both engines. Some gulls don't even dent the airplane, Skiles said, but this "was a bigger bird than I've ever hit before."

The crew and passengers of a helicopter that crashed en route to an oil platform on Jan. 4 weren't as lucky. The National Transportation Safety Board reported Monday that investigators have found evidence birds were involved in the accident near Morgan City, La., that killed eight of nine people aboard.

Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20, 2009, 9:04 am
More Passengers With Issues + Longer Flights = More In-Flight Medical Problems
Posted by Matt Phillips

Medical events in the cabins of commercial carriers are increasing in frequency as more people with medical conditions travel, the British medical journal the Lancet reports.

An article by Danielle Silverman and Mark Gendreau in the journal’s current issue — the article reviews the literature on air travel and illness — says flights are associated with a number of health issues including venous thromboembolism, or blood clots in veins, cosmic-radiation exposure, jet lag, and cabin-air quality. Also, according to the article summary: “In-flight medical events are increasingly frequent because a growing number of individuals with pre-existing medical conditions travel by air.”

The BBC took a closer look at the article. Here are some of the more interesting items the venerable British news agency spotlighted: Several outbreaks of “serious infections such as influenza, measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and tuberculosis have been reported on commercial flights. However, risk of on-board transmission, the researchers noted, is mainly restricted to within two rows of the passenger carrying the infection.” Keep that in mind next time you find yourself sharing a seat with someone with a nonstop cough. (The BBC also quoted Dr. Ray Johnston, head of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority’s Aviation Health Unit who said that while there has been a rise in recent years in the number of on-board medical emergencies “aviation still has an excellent safety record.”)

On a more serious note, the research clearly shows a link between air travel and venous thromboembolism (VTE), dangerous blood clots:

Some 75% of air-travel cases of VTE have been linked to lack of movement while on board - although economy passengers are no more likely to develop clots than their counterparts in business, the review found.

Risk was at its highest in flights of eight hours or more, but one study found the risk started to climb at four hours, the Lahey Clinic Medical Center team, led by Dr. Mark Gendreau, found.
The best ways to avoid clots include changing position regularly, walking through the cabin and performing calf exercises. (How much can you calf press?) Also, stay hydrated. No excuses. That means planning ahead if
your carrier charges for water.
Airlines see largest employment drop in five years
The Business Review (Albany)

Full-time employment at
Frontier Airlines declined 15.7 percent between December 2007 and the same month on 2008, the steepest drop of 14 large and low-cost airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The overall full-time employment decrease of seven low-cost airlines over that period was 3.3 percent, the BTS said in its monthly “Passenger Airline Employment Data.”
For seven larger, “network” airlines, the decrease was 6.3 percent.

Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at Albany International Airport, had 35,499 full-time quivalent employees at the end of 2008, putting it in the top of the seven low-cost carriers on the BTS list.

BTS counted two part-time employees as a single full-time worker.

Among seven “network” airlines, United saw the biggest employee reduction, 12.7 percent, between the two Decembers, BTS said, followed by
Northwest Airlines (6.9 percent) and Delta Air Lines (6.2 percent). Northwest and Delta (NYSE: DAL) are combining operations. Both serve Albany International Airport.

Overall — among large, low-cost and smaller regional airlines — employment levels experienced their largest year-to-year decrease since December 2003, BTS said.

Employment levels dropped 6.7 percent in December 2008 compared to the same month in 2007, the sixth straight decline in full-time equivalent rates compared to the same month the previous year.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19, 2009, 10:22 am
Southwest Takes Aim at Boston Logan
Posted by Matt Phillips

With its announcement last night that it will start service to Boston’s Logan International Airport, it seems like Southwest is continuing to shift its focus from secondary airports into the heart the country’s major hubs.

Southwest says it intends to start service to Logan International this fall. The carrier has not released specific details of new service, saying only that it will start with a “conservative number of flights that will complement its 64 airport network.”

Southwest’s plans for Boston are only its latest foray into primary airports in major markets. In November, Southwest announced plans to begin service to and from New York’s LaGuardia airport, bidding $7.5 million to purchase defunct carrier ATA Airlines’ takeoff and landing spots at LGA. Southwest also plans to add service at Minneapolis this year, as well as Canada and Mexico through partnerships with other airlines.

Such moves reinforce the sense that CEO Gary Kelly is running a very different airline from the one fashioned by Southwest’s co-founder, Herb Kelleher.

Kelly hasn’t been afraid to tear up the old Southwest playbook by attacking competitors’ fortress hubs, such as Philadelphia, Denver and Minneapolis, something Kelleher generally avoided. He also has explored code-sharing to a greater extent.

“This is another step back in a long line of moves that changes Southwest’s historical business model,” wrote aviation consultant Scott Hamilton, of Leeham Co., in an e-mail to the Terminal. “Southwest used to avoid big city, congested airports and/or hubs of other airlines by focusing on secondary airports. It’s run out of secondary airport and now has no choice but to go into the big-city airports. With rising labor costs—Southwest now has one of the highest labor costs-to-expenses in the industry—Southwest has to go where the passengers are chasing revenue.”