Monday Insight – July 31, 2023

Customer Service Staff
Are The Airlines’ Front Line.

But Who Are They Really Working For?

Let’s get clear:

The US DOT is now armed and ready to take on the airline industry.

It makes great press and diverts attention away from the mess at the FAA and ATC.

What this means is that the airline industry cannot afford any avoidable service screw-ups. And when there are such events, they need to move quickly to diffuse the situation with hard facts. Nature abhors an information vacuum. Some folks in the media love them.

Farming Out Customer Service To Unconcerned Sharecroppers. An airline’s first line of defense from stupid and biased media reporting is their troops on the frontline, i.e., the staff dealing directly with the customer. 

Today, every airport is on “Candid Camera” – any foul-up, argument, altercation or service slip gets immediately videoed and on the global web in a heartbeat.

The problem is that in many cases, the airline’s front-line troops aren’t in the fight.  

While airlines spend bazillions on new apps and web support programs, they often “sharecrop” their airport customer service to outside contractors whose employees don’t work for the airline, have low pay and benefits, and not always care if the passenger ever flies the carrier again.

This is not a minor issue. The results of customer service sharecropping are popping out all over. It shows. Do a web search, and the stories of airline consumer “outrages” are running rampant.

A lost or damaged wheelchair here and there. A golf pro’s clubs being turned into junk sticks. Videos of gate agents stealing from a carry-on bag left behind. Stories of gate staff being paid an incentive commission for collecting excess baggage fees, which can skew decision-making. Stories of last-minute “gotcha” fees for carry-on.

Some of the stories are malarkey. But the media tends to take them as gospel. Today, just about anything down to a scuffed Samsonite gets traction.

The folks in Buttigieg’s press-pandering Washington clique and the suits in some sections of congress love this stuff. 

Enough. Invest eight minutes and get the complete perspective of how this really is the frontline that can protect the industry and the public from political dimbulb legislation.

There is jihad against the airline industry. And the industry needs to get a lot tighter.

The latest Aviation Unscripted™ video spends just over eight minutes outlining the new threat – a largely self-imposed threat – to the US airline industry. And what needs to be done.

Click here and take a look. It might rattle a cage or two.


Monday Insight – July 24, 2023

Tossing Money Down Proven Rat Holes
FAA Re-Authorization Has Failed Small Communities

Yup, this goes counter to all the glowing me-too stories about the Herculean heroics accomplished by congress in crafting a new FAA plan for the next five years.

It is true that the expected players inside the Marble Playpen are all ecstatic. They are saving rural airports!

It’s mostly malarkey, but they know the media will swallow this like tossing fish to trained circus seals.

The hard fact is that they’ve just perpetuated a number of programs that are proven to be galaxies away from 21st century reality. Programs that are failures, but which pander to the public.

Let’s take a look.

 Essential Air Service Gets Gold-Plated. Wonderful, there’s an 80% increase in funding for Essential Air Service – from $162 million to over $290 million.

Yessir, that will have “commercial” service come a’runnin’ to small airports across the USA. It has to. The politicians have spoken.

Does anybody in the aviation media really look at this stuff before parroting the official press releases?

Stepping out of the political hype, this will do almost nothing to enhance air access to rural America. The reasons are simple: the politicians are legislating on matters of which they are totally ignorant. They just assume that a small community without “commercial service” (totally undefined) at the local airport is in big economic yogurt.

They assume that consumers in these regions are trapped and can’t get out. They assume that a couple of “commercial flights” will be to these consumers like the helicopters on the top of the Saigon embassy. They just assume that there are no better options. They just assume there are airlines out there ready to jump in with service levels that are competitively better than other existing options, even when a 90-minute drive to a larger airport is in some cases more total travel-time efficient.

They are assuming fantasy. Politically-safe fantasy. Irresponsible fantasy.

Not a shred of analysis of investigation or research has been done regarding the dynamics and causes of the “loss” of air service at small communities, which differ at each. Not a hint of understanding of‘ consumer trends or the foundations of air travel as a communication channel.

None of the major flaws in the EAS system are even acknowledged. Just more money to mislead small communities that we are still in the 1980s. The EAS program and its failure is now locked in again.

Oblivious To The Future:  Maximizing The Opportunities At Rural Airports. The USA airport system is a huge asset. Unfortunately, politicians and the media can’t see beyond the end of the runway.

Take stock of the future value of rural America. Whether it is politically correct or not, the economic and social conditions in many large metro regions are descending into trendy woke chaos. One big metro had a reported six shooting deaths and 20 other incidents just last weekend. In the same state that just made “bail” free. Downtown San Francisco is almost literally being business-evacuated due to dimbulb governance.

Other stories have illuminated the financial benefits of getting out of a number of large cities and moving to smaller ones.

The point is this: rural and mid-size communities have huge opportunities to attract new investment, and that includes new opportunities for small airports, albeit not always including viable connective air service.

The thought of actually using this $290 EAS million to develop economic investment programs at rural airports wasn’t in the mix. A lot of saccharine babbling about the importance of rural air service from politicians reading off of crib sheets provided by brain-dead staffers does not suffice.

SCASD Grants – More Squandering. Then, they want money tossed at the Small Community Air Service Grant program – oblivious of the fact that SCASD has never truly funded permanent service improvements at anyplace even vaguely resembling what we mere mortals would define as a “small community.”

Again, this should be restructured as a program to award grants for economic development, based on hard metrics like job creation and revenue enhancement, instead of what it is today – air service for the sake of air service. While it is great to have, it gets shaky contending that lake of a couple of weekly ULCC impulse flights to Orlando for a sliver of the traveling public is an air service “shortfall.”

Think about it. The dough allocated to the SCASD program is less than the cost of two – count them, two – Abrams tanks being sent to the Ukraine. An economic development grant program of say, $100 million is a drop in the vapor-hole budget being sent to Kyiv. But that level of thinking might cause several politicians to collapse.

Keep ‘Em In The Cockpit For Another 24 Months. Another part is pushing commercial pilot retirement age to 67. Some hope that it will filter down to result in flights coming back to connective air service cadavers like Topeka and Youngstown.

There is no evidence that most pilots will excitedly stay on beyond 65. International flying restrictions, training issues and anything vaguely relating to aviation realities are out of the picture.

Let’s Get Everybody’s Parochial Opinions On Airlines. Then there is the proposed “airline experience” task force, comprised of a dozen or more “stake holders” from every walk of life short of bush people living in the Andaman Islands, to discuss how airlines must be more “resilient” to major flight disruptions.

Like the 2016 TRB Task Force on bringing service back to small airports, this will be yet another gigantic waste of time and money. But it does feel politically warm and fuzzy.

Like the old late-night ads hawking Ginsu knives, there’s more. Much more. But this is enough to paint the picture.

Yes, a lot of necessary areas are addressed in the 800+ page documents. But In regard specifically to the needs of rural airports, this FAA Re-Authorization extravaganza is a clear example of how our politicians can work together in a bi-partisan way to end up in the weeds.

They are perpetuating the status quo, not thinking about the future.

It is embarrassing. But we’re stuck with it


Monday Insight – July 17, 2023

Buttigieg & Biden Tell Airlines:
Eliminate Those Nasty Junk Fees.
(Unless They’re Our Junk Fees)

A few weeks ago, we were entertained by a great stand-up Washington stage performance.

The opening act was the charming and talented Pete “Mr. Mayor” Buttigieg, who delivered great comedy routine, recounting how his FAA’s incompetence was really the fault of the airlines. He was going to “allow” airlines to reduce flying in the Northeast to accommodate the fact his ATC couldn’t handle it, anyway. Hilarious.

Then the show’s headiner, Joe “The Big Guy” Biden, stumbled to the stage, belting out his latest hit tunes regarding how he was the Doctor of Love, saving the public from the tragedy of having to deal with airlines and their nasty junk fees.

‘Course, the delivery had all the credibility of an instant bargain sale at Fast Freddy’s used car emporium. Lots of half-facts, dishonest hype, stuttering, stammering and half-finished sentences indicating he forgot his morning dose of Prevagen.

Applause. Not Questions. Needless to say, the Big Guy was totally confident that the media groupies in attendance – from network correspondents to aviation web geeks – wouldn’t bother to fact-check any of his nonsense lyrics, and would bound out after the show to file adoring stories, truth notwithstanding.

When he completed his performance, he did a lovely if doddering pirouette to stage left, with his adoring media yelling questions, which – as usual – were ignored. The Big Guy doesn’t do curtain calls.

One of the key themes in this performance was the “junk fees” that airlines charge. They must be fully disclosed in the future, and airlines must stop hiding them. The full cost of the trip must be front and center before the consumer hits the website “enter” button.

Of course, that is already the case. And, it actually misleads consumers by implying that the federal junk fees (taxes) that are imposed by the government are part of what the airline charges.

It’s Not Disclosure When Mandatory Fees Are Buried With Optional Ones. Now, think about it. No other industry is required to do this.

An auto dealer or furniture store or plumbing supplier sets the price, including whatever add-ons they concoct. The sales taxes are separate from the product itself and are between the buyer and the celestial powers of government. In the case of airline websites, the enormous taxes are outlined and included, but are essentially buried in the total. They should be clearly identified as costs not related to the vendor – in this case, airlines. That would be full consumer disclosure.

These federal junk fees must be illuminated more prominently, as they  are the only ones where consumers have no option, and no avenue to actually be informed as to exactly what they are paying for.

Point: the consumer needs to be informed that one big chunk of air travel “junk fees” are imposed by an unquestioned government. The consumer at least technically has the option of declining most of the baggage and seat-selection and early boarding fees that the Big Guy calls “junk.” But his junk fees are pay it or stay home.

Consumers don’t have any such option. The Big Guy and his Mr. Mayor opening act didn’t mention this. And the swooning media in attendance was either too ignorant to figure it out or didn’t want to.

Clarity On The Way? Now, one of the FAA Re-Authorization bills actually includes the requirement that federal fees and taxes NOT be included and buried in the final web quote.

Identified, yes, but when the consumer specifically sees what the airline is charging, and then is informed of the double-digit additional federal fees, that’s what is called full disclosure.

So, yes, let’s make sure the consumer sees all the various voluntary “junk fees” as well as the involuntary junk charges coming from Washington.

Consumer Jihadists! To Arms! Needless to point out, the politicians have activated their consumer gadflies and media clowns to decry this as anti-consumer. One network story assured us that it was proposed only to allow airlines to gouge more profits from the hapless flying public.

They just don’t want the public to be made fully aware and ask questions about the fed’s junk fees.

The FAA Re-Auth bills are still churning, so no telling if this will go anywhere.

In any case, standby. More entertainment to come.

Monday Insight: July 10, 2023

ATC: The New Lethal Blow
To Small Community Local Airport Service

Let’s cut to the chase and stop the political ballroom dance around small community air service. It was challenging enough before, but now there are two new economic dynamics that are pounding nails into the obsolete coffins of traditional ASD programs.

Let’s start with a bare-knuckles outline of small community air service realities:

The challenges to keeping scheduled flights at the local small community airport are clear, but too often they are completely – and intentionally – ignored in a lot of air service development programs. It’s all about just doing another market study, then revise that leakage analysis, redraw the “capture map,” and we’ll keep on doing more voodoo until we get that air service the community needs.

About as ethical as a rigged carny game.

In most cases – not all, but most – the local consumers already have air service access. Only, it’s not at the local airport, and in most cases never will be again.

Typically, the only metric in these traditional approaches is “luring” or retaining scheduled flights, with the obsolete and inexcusable assumption that any service at the local airport will fill the air access needs of the community.

Ridiculously, many communities are dishonestly convinced that having ULCC flights to one or two vacation destinations is the same as network air service. ULCC service has entirely different economic underpinnings and different consumer bases. It doesn’t deliver air access. Just great low-fare flights to satisfy a thin impulse consumer sector, not the market in general.

They are great to have, but the fact that some consultants don’t clearly differentiate this to airport clients is a blot on the industry.

Completely ignored are:

Better Consumer Alternatives. In many cases, there are far more time-effective air access options that cannot be matched at the local airport. How about Topeka. Youngstown. Toledo. And more. The consumer alternatives of Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Detroit (respectively) are far too strong and service-effective than the two or three flights to a connecting hub from the local airport to compete against.

Cost Issues. The nonsense put out in programs such as SCASD about small communities suffering from “higher than average” air fares is inexcusable and bogus. The cost of air travel is dependent on several variables, including market size, location, local air service communities of interest and more. Yet the DOT still thinks that “air fares” are like apples, watermelons or a gallon of unleaded: all the same commodity whether in Grand Island, Spokane, or JFK.

Point: Small communities will by nature have air service that on a per-seat basis is more expensive than larger population airports. Fact: there is not one single example of a SCASD grant resulting in lower air fares at a truly small community airport.

Fleet Changes. Obvious. For the past 40 years, the size of airliners that can economically serve small population local airports has been growing. Please take a look. In the 1980s there were hundreds of 19-seat to 30-seat airliners under the marketing control of major airline brands. The economics of air transportation as well as new invasive communication channels have now resulted in the future smallest airliners available for small community air service is heading to 76 seats, and even there, they won’t replace 50-seaters on a one-to-one basis.

Now, there are two other factors that affect the potential of retaining connective air service at small community local airports.

Road Hubbing – The Death of The Concept of “Leakage.’ Driving from a small community to a larger community with better air service has traditionally been called “leakage.” This definition comes with the assumption that it’s just an aberrant situation – an opportunity to re-attract that traffic by recruiting local air service.

Not anymore.

Today, the highway system is part of the air transportation system. Consumers can often access far better service by driving, in some cases even 90 minutes to a larger airport. The canard that they would use the local airport if only – if only – there were flights there is blown to smithereens when one does a travel-time comparison. Which, naturally, can be a deal killer for future consultant updates to that “true market study.”

So, that gets usually replaced with unreliable data from Survey Monkey, illuminating that “75% of local consumers would prefer to use the local airport.” Naturally, there are never any specifications of what the service might be at the local airport.

The Unreliable Air Traffic Control System. This is not a drill.

Write this down, because it’s truth: Without the reasonable assurance that flights can operate reliably, airports with low-frequency service (read: small communities) can wave their local service good-bye.

And that is exactly where we are headed.

The incompetently managed, understaffed and unreliable ATC system is now in the process of killing much of the small community local air service that actually is still financially viable.

When we are having ground stops at major airports due to controller staffing, and entire regions of the nation seeing air transportation intentionally reduced due to ATC incompetence, the first to go will be small community service.

That doesn’t mean airlines pulling back, necessarily. But it does mean that consumers increasingly cannot rely on the dependability of the local service. Having under five flights a day makes the community vulnerable to cancellations that incredibly will inconvenience consumers. So they will drive to larger airports with more options and less vulnerability to the ATC mess.

Take Wichita Falls, Texas. If one of the two flights there gets zapped by system delays causing misconnects or cancellations, the consumer will have no choice but to take the 2.5 – 3.5-hour drive to DFW. The entire schedule underpinning for service at the local airport is destroyed.

Buttigieg can do all the fancy dancing he wants. The media can swoon to protect his DOT. The excuse can be given that it’s been developing for years. But now, under his watch, the air transportation system in the USA is deteriorating, and the best he can do is jive press programs with Biden attacking airlines.

What Now? What this means is that small communities need to re-think and re-plan the economic development program for the local airport.

When the data shows that getting network carrier service is less than lottery odds, stop the jive studies. Start with a new plan to engineer the local airport into an economic generator. Even if connective air service is viable, the potential for attracting new business still is there.

We’ll leave it at that. But the point is that the market situation outlined above will not be addressed in trying to bring back the 1980s.

The next ten years can be a lot more valuable.

Monday Insight – July 3, 2023

The Media:
Another Major Co-Conspirator In The Air Meltdown

The major meltdown of the air transportation system last week, primarily in the Northeast, particularly affected carriers with high concentrations of operations in the region – JetBlue and United. As a result, the choke spread across the nation as airliners got mired in the operational quicksand caused by an incompetent ATC system.

When double-digit percentages of departures and arrivals are restricted on the East Coast, it affects the entire nation.

United: Telling It Like It Is. The CEO of United stood up and pointed out that the weather situation itself was not extraordinary in comparison to those in the past. It was the continuing and deepening collapse in the air traffic control system, particularly due to lack of staffing, that flummoxed millions of passengers across the nation.

The Media: Telling Like Buttigieg Says It Is. In response, the embarrassing creature that’s sitting in the front office at the DOT fired up his media cronies to get lots and lots of time on the air to refute United’s claims and tout his exemplary performance for America. The M.O. has worked well in the past, and did so here, too. Just toss out the official jive, and the usual network suspects respond like fish tossed at trained seals.

And, it worked. Do a search. The talking heads on the networks just sat there nodding away – resembling glazed donuts, accepting and smiling at everything he babbled out.

Asking for hard details was not on the agenda. Just smile, toss softball questions, thank him profusely for coming on.

The guy could have been selling defective Vega-Matics and gotten away with it.

Actually, he did. ‘Cept the defective product was a lot more than a kitchen appliance. It’s our entire air traffic control system.

The Track Record Is Clear. So Why Doesn’t It Get Covered. Butigieg’s performance over the last two years is a shamble of political nonsense. (Remember, he claims some roads are racist. On-the-fringe crackpot stuff that nobody on the nightly news ever questioned.) So, it’s not a surprise that the media gives the guy a walk with this ATC scandal.

This includes the righteous correspondents who are competing with what’s on the rack at Men’s Wearhouse. The ones who posture themselves as experts. (This is not to imply that there aren’t any truly competent media experts, but they get denigrated by toady colleagues who have less than stellar ethics. On no ethics.)

Pander, Or It’s No More Access. It’s a fact that if the high-level politicians have an experience on the air with less fun than a Tupperware Party, well, they won’t be available to come on the air again anytime soon. They will go to other more friendly channels.

Here’s a revelation, media: when you treat the politicians as being above accountability – as most have done with Buttigieg in this case — you are suborning and encouraging political dishonesty.

You bear some responsibility for the meltdown because the ATC mess has been there for years, and you give the political appointees a walk, with the excuse that “they inherited it.”

They never mention that Buttigieg has been there for two years – long enough to train a lot of controllers. It’s his mess, and the media is being dishonest, allowing the guy to get a walk on it.

Point: a lot of the media is simply his cheering section. By not reporting directly and clearly, the public is misled into thinking that bad, dishonest politicians are actually stand-up guys.

Aviation leaders need to be careful. On one hand they have to play ball with the politicians in charge. On the other, comments like from United are imperative to keep the narrative honest.

Which is hard to do when the reporting doesn’t take it seriously.


Monday Insight – June 19, 2023

The FAA Reauthorization –
Defrauding Small Communities of The Truth

Yes, I know.

Virtually every aviation alphabet organization, labor union, and random association within a couple of zip codes of an airport have come out lauding the wondrous work done by the respective congressional committees on FAA Reauthorization.

Come on. Let’s face realities. Most of these organizations have no choice but to generally applaud what powerful politicians propose. It’s the nature of the system. Understandable.

It is unless there are major problems that need to be addressed. And that’s the case here.

Charlatan Solutions, Sloppy Work. When it comes to the Small Community Air Service section of the Senate bill, it has lift-off into fantasy. It would be refreshing to see somebody in aviation at least question the nonsense these politicians are peddling. In fact, in all the searches done, there isn’t one mention by any organization regarding the Small Community Air Service section. They babble and gush about other parts of the bill, but not the air service section.

It’s a major issue, and yet the silence is deafening. The likely reason is that most readers can tell right away that the Small Community Air Service section is nonsense.

So, let’s put out some truth about this section of the bill. It’s not politically correct. But it is the truth.

There were some variances in the Senate and House versions. But when it comes to Small Community Air Service, these politicians in both houses have shifted completely into ethical good-bye gear. It is not acceptable to proffer legislation on matters they obviously know nothing about.

No Attempt To Address Air Transportation Realities. The Senate committee has spewed out glowing descriptions of how the bill will be the magic for small community air service. But for anyone with modicum of knowledge of air transportation, this missive descends into a disgusting wallow in slapdash inaccuracies concocted by politicians who know nothing about aviation, and worse have no problem misleading the American people.

Instant Solutions. Just Add Money. The magic elixirs of rural air service: more EAS money, and more funding for the Small Community Air Service Development program, a cadaver that never has really worked for small communities, anyway.

EAS Is Not A National Solution. And SCASD Is Now A Pathetic Misfire. In short, these irresponsible politicians are lying to the public by maintaining that just tossing money at expanding EAS, and also adding dough to the now useless Small Community Air Service Development program will bring out a “variety” of airlines to serve local airports at small communities.

It is disgraceful that they made no effort to learn about air service and consumer realities. No understanding of what “air service” is, or how EAS is a only a limited tool, not a magic cure, based on today’s fleets and airline players. There is indeed a role for the EAS system. But these guys don’t know what it is.

Legislation Based On Ignorance. This bill has no understanding of the difference between “air access” and just having airplanes at a rural gate. Not a clue about airline fleets or capabilities. No understanding of consumer trends or the truth that often air service at an alternative larger airport is more time-efficient than a couple flights at the local aerodrome.

If these Senators were doctors, they’d be in jail for malpractice.

Coming This Friday, June 23: A Video Covering The Facts. Clear your calendar. We’ve decided to do what other consultants avoid: telling the facts about small community air service, about the realities facing these airports, and then outline the policy changes needed.

This Friday will be a special edition of Aviation Unscripted™, our growing video channel.

The “we” will be Bill Swelbar and myself. Most folks know that neither of us suffer fools gladly and as far as rural air service is concerned, these politicians are a latter-day version of The Gong Show. (Google it, if you must.)

Swelbar-Zhong has done extensive research on small community air access. The data are unshakable – the current policies are completely obsolete and not based on the real world. In addition, BGI has extensive experience with the SCASD program. In fact, we earned over $20 million for our clients in the early years. But we know how changes in air transportation have relegated it to being useless.

Preview of Bad Policy. As a hint of what to expect, let’s go over the four key points the Senate folks are trying to put over on the US public.

Bogus: Bringing More Air Service to Rural and Underserved Areas”

This is based on complete hype. Won’t happen. They are claiming that all small communities must have local air service, or economic disaster will ensue. Not a shred of facts. No understanding of air service access realities or of the air transportation industry,

Instead, they deliver the dishonesty that more EAS gelt will save the day. At Aviation Unscripted™ Bill and I are going to inject an antidote to this nonsense. It’s called facts.

Assumes Airlines That Don’t Exist: Broadens Eligibility Requirement for EAS Airlines.”

They’re implying that there are lots – in their words, a “variety” – of airlines ready to serve small communities just as soon as EAS funding goes up and certain other changes are made.

Remember, these politicians think “air service” is fundamentally the same as stringing an extension cord into the electrical grid, or running a pipe to the sewer main. Just get “flights” at the local airport, and voila! the community is connected to the world.

This is completely irresponsible. Not sure what planet they are on. We’ll do a solar map check on Friday.

Then, Threaten Those Airlines That Don’t Exist: Protects Service to Small Airports.”

With this “protection” they are dishonestly implying that some carriers have arbitrarily dropped EAS markets, and in the future, once awarded, airlines will be prohibited from getting out of a contract, regardless. We’ll talk on Friday about just how this ought to have their fantasy “variety” of airlines just come a-runnin’ to get snared into EAS contracts like this.

Total Ignorance: It Funds Needed Service Improvements for Small Airports.”

Seems that these senators have stumbled across the “Small Community Air Service Development Program” and are telling us that it brings air service to, well, small communities. They are completely ignorant. Today, the SCASD program is almost totally useless, particularly for what anyone awake and sober would define as a “small community.”

They probably don’t know that the SCASD program over the past 10 years has done virtually nothing – nothing – for the truly small communities these politicians think will be beneficiaries of a peanut award budget of $20 million.

To be clear, the SCASD program has been great and beneficial for airports that are not actually serving anything vaguely close to being a “small community.” Albany, Spokane, Sarasota are examples. But it’s been a dud in attracting true lasting connectivity to legitimately rural and small airports. Reason: the SCASD program is based on appalling misconceptions of the economics and structure of today’s air transportation.

But, see, the name is “Small Community Air Service” and that’s as far as the numbskull staffers in Senator Snort’s office went in their research.

Join Us This Friday For Facts. In summary, what these proud bipartisan politicians are proposing just panders and misleads the nation from seeking future solutions.

What the nation needs is an honest and complete program that recognizes that scheduled air service is a lot more than a couple of departures at the local airport. ‘Course, this type of dishonest legislation will probably go into effect. But it’s critical that honest folks in aviation are not misled that it’s a solution.

Join Bill and I on Friday – bookmark the link and take a look at our channel by clicking here.

Monday Insight – June 26, 2023

Electric Aviation.
Becoming A Victim of Hype?

McKinsey just came out with a glowing report on the future of “regional air mobility” that’s being made possible primarily via introduction of small electric aircraft.

Sounds wonderful. Intra-regional air transportation will be coming back, is the message. Not a lot of research on actual demand volume. Great assumptions, though.

But there’s a bigger story between the lines that airport planners need to consider before changing Master Plans to accommodate what’s been mostly unquestioned hype about RAM and AAM modalities.

Before we start, let’s look back. Aviation has been here before. There have been a couple of past concepts that were absolutely guaranteed to fundamentally change aviation. Not many folks questioned the dogma of their huge future success.

A Sure Thing: Four Seat Jets For $850K. Anybody remember the concept of the “very light jet?”  Lots of excitement. Really disruptive stuff. It was a genre of 4-6 seat aircraft where new manufacturing systems could deliver them for under a million dollars. Compared to existing turboprops priced at least four times that much, these VLJs would revolutionize general aviation.

There was the Eclipse Jet. There was Adam Aircraft. We worked at various project levels involving both of these companies. Exciting. There were new uses of carbon fiber. New manufacturing techniques like “stir welding” and other magic. Big name billionaires were involved. Hundreds of sales were predicted.

Oops. The one major advantage of these machines was price. And as things progressed prices went up to the point of erasing most of the demand for these VLJs. The glowing me-too predictions were empty air. No telling if the billionaires got financially hosed.

Huge Volume Concentrated On One Airplane. Remember the Airbus A380? The concept was that a 500-seat airliner was a future slam-dunk. There were glowing stories about how it would change air transportation, including throw-away assertions in places like the Wall Street Journal that all major airlines would be ordering the super-jumbo.

In the mid-1990s, large airports were modifying long-term facility plans to accommodate the certain inclusion of hundreds of these behemoths into global fleets.

And here we are today. A great airplane but dismal demand. The special gates and ramps and taxiways modified for A380s weren’t needed.

Missed in the game plan were issues like airport facilities, changes in consumer trends, and the low diversity of mission capability for an airliner that large. It was all ignored in the enthusiasm of seeing a big new airplane.

Lesson: When it comes to the projections of thousands of electric aircraft, airport planning will need a lot more data before investing big dollars into AAM-related operations.

In particular, it was two things that took down the circus tent for these supposed sure-thing aviation miracles.

One was completely misjudging the market role and market need. The second was raw costs. The financial investment didn’t make as much sense as the (unquestioned) hype promised.

Anybody see the similarities with electric air taxis and small airliners?

AAM & RAM. Following The Same Path? Okay, let’s move to today, and consider the concepts of “regional air mobility” and “advanced air mobility.” Very exciting. In some cases, even the most enthusiastic proponents of these concepts have missed several huge corollary leaps in enhancing efficiency of existing aviation infrastructure.

But Don’t Ask Questions. Increasingly, however, any factors, issues or questions that may throw a bit of rain on this parade are not just ignored, but even misconstrued to be advantages. McKinsey’s glowing article on the wondrous future of regional air mobility unfortunately is in that genre.

They included the following illustration, ostensibly as support for the concept. Actually, it does the opposite. Consider these “hassle factors”and ask if they represent just “factors” or “reality.”

Please note that cost comparisons are not considered in this analysis. That might be a critical issue, at least in this world, but ignored here. That is a theme that could be the quicksand under these rosy projections.

Nevertheless, McKinsey has accurately isolated these factors. But they are not “hassle factors” that can be addressed. Take a look.

Every one of these dynamics where a car is shown to have the advantage are concrete factors that can’t be changed. How about “schedule flexibility.” This is intrinsic to the fact that an air trip cannot be as time-flexible as a road trip. Therefore the limited travel options of air can result in that modality unable to compete on a total travel time basis.

Price? Cost of providing this RAM concept. Somebody please come to the surface on this one. The manufacturers of these air taxis, much less McKinsey, have no hard projections of what the ticket prices will be. We do have the recent data from Tecnam, which indicated that battery costs would result in astronomical operating costs.

Actually, what I read from this is that the concept is vastly inferior to current ground transportation. (It also assumes without any support that there is huge latent demand for air service between points 150 miles and less apart. Facts not in evidence, by the way.)

Clearly, the illustration says that RAM isn’t consumer-superior to other modes. The entire foundation of the McKinsey article says the opposite, and they are not alone in this mindset.

Not Allowed: Questions About Battery Supply & Environmental Damage. And, as with the entire electric aircraft concept, nobody – and we do mean nobody – dares bring up the battery issue.

I will – again.

What will be the supply chains? Will China continue to control the industry? What increases will there be in costs of lithium, cobalt and nickel when (if?) current mining processes are transformed away from being environmental disasters often manned by near-slave labor. How about post-use disposal of these devices?

In light of these unknowns, nobody can predict the operational costs. We do know that one potential manufacturer, Tecnam, has pulled the plug on their program. We do know that NASA’s X-57 aircraft – apparently ready to go – has been cancelled due to what NASA described as safety issues.

Amid all the sunshine stories, these tough questions are never addressed. Pesky things that spoil the narrative, apparently.

Kick Out The Flower Children. Bring In Research Looking For Better Technology. Here’s the point. The entire AAM concept has been hijacked by dreamers, environmental jihadists without a clue, large corporations expecting a bonanza, and unfortunately by wishful-thinking “conclusions-before-data” research.

That was the M.O. with the VLJ and A380. It starts with the rosy conclusions  and assumes that reality will bend to accommodate them. Plus, most of the media – including the aviation media – tend to get stuck in a loop that precludes any hard questions and becomes a race to produce the next sunshine story. Think not? Do a search and you’ll be hard pressed to find stories where any tough questions are posed.

This is not to imply there are not huge potential benefits, at least on paper.

But unless these issues are addressed, in ten years we may be looking back at AAM as being like the VLJ fiasco, except the economic wreckage will be geometric dimensions larger.

Think about it.


FAA-Re-Authorization Seminar
Now At Aviation Unscripted

A reminder that an in-depth and no-holds-barred review of proposed FAA Re-Authorization bills is now posted at our video channel, Aviation Unscripted.

It is important that leaders in aviation question and analyze what Congress – populated by politicians, not aviation experts – are intending to impose on the industry. Simply being good followers leaves a vacuum that should not be filled by Congressional wish lists.

Bill Swelbar and I put it all out in the open. There are some parts of these bills that are outright useless and in some cases damaging to the future of aviation.

It is not a veneer pass, but an independent analysis with hard conclusions and firm suggestions that aviation leaders must consider.

Click here to access the video. Then hit the contact button and let loose with your thoughts and conclusions.

Take a stand. Letting Congress go unquestioned isn’t good business sense.



Monday Insight – June 12, 2023

OPENING POINT:  We are talking here candidly and bluntly regarding a critical issue, one that directly involves safety and which demands active industry input.

If you agree with this Monday Insight, copy the link and forward it to colleagues.  And if you disagree, please hit the contact button and let us know. This is not a time for silence, any longer.


The Administration’s FAA Fiasco.
Solution: The Aviation Industry Needs To Control The Narrative.

It is time the aviation industry goes public with what is needed for FAA leadership. The DOT is wallowing in a safety-threatening political quagmire.

Let’s look at where our air traffic control system stands:

Airlines are being “encouraged” to cut frequencies to the Northeast due to the inability of the ATC system to safely and efficiently handle demand.

Near misses continue. Most recently, FAA-mandated ground stops have been imposed even at places like Nashville, because the FAA is an operational mess.

The agency is completely lost. It’s not due just to a lack of a qualified administrator. It’s because of politicians making it a political playground at the expense of safety.

It’s on gradual-descend automatic.

Fill The Chair With Somebody Who Knows Nothing, But Tell Us They Do. First, there was the short-term airport director tossed into the fray as a candidate. In the confirmation hearings he could not address virtually any of the issues facing the FAA. In the full view of the CSpan cameras, he got hammered. Justifiably.

It was embarrassing to him and to the integrity of the system. Think about it: with all the huge issues and technical challenges facing aviation, the administration contends a person without solid experience would be, well, just perfect.

Now, the administration has appointed another long-time, zero-aviation experience bureaucrat to be “interim” administrator. Do a search on the stories. It seems the vast majority all started with this very same headline, word for word:

“Biden picks longtime transportation official as acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Same wording in lots of media channels, with the intentional misleading implication: this person is qualified to be interim FAA administrator.

The first message is that a lot of the national media is now more of a complimentary press release service for the administration than they are legitimate journalists. Just repeat what you’re handed, guys. The great unwashed out in the provinces won’t know the difference. Besides, it’s important they get only the “official” viewpoints.

Then comes the body of the articles, almost all in lockstep with the official line about how this person has oh, so deep experience in transportation and we all must accept and laud the leadership of the regime.

The New York Daily News gushed,

“Unlike the DOT vacancies at highway safety and hazardous materials, the FAA is not being left on autopilot.”

Lining the bird cage with this rag newspaper would probably offend the parrot.

No, guys, the FAA’s just being left with a person who couldn’t identify an autopilot, let alone have any idea about what to do with one. Being a bureaucrat and having some background in transit systems brings nothing to aviation safety.

In fact, it is not compliant with the FAA’s own requirements.

Rather than get into the disgusting Third World-esque babbling from the usual-suspect network media toadies who toss this stuff out like fish to hungry seals, let’s repeat verbatim one of the legal qualifications for FAA Administrator:

‘‘(ii) have experience in management
and a field directly related to aviation.

The DOT attempts to mask this with a take-it-or-leave it declaration: “…Trottenberg brings to the FAA more than 30 years of public service experience, including as US Transportation deputy secretary and leading the New York City Transportation Department from 2014 to 2020.”

But not a shred of aviation-related experience. Yup, she once had oversight of the Staten Island Ferry, but attempting to tell us that a transit system is a field “directly related to aviation” is not just stretching the truth.

It is a baldfaced lie.

Gee, can’t understand why 60 Minutes isn’t all over this one. Not. The guys holding the strings to this martinet show know they are pretty safe from any material media questions. That last Kabuki theater show on airline service a couple weeks ago orchestrated by Buttigieg and Biden prove this conclusively.

To An Unqualified Appointee, “FAR” Is Just The Opposite of “Near.” For all those who make trendy excuses that this latest appointment is a great thing, I’d suggest you take a gander at the nine-page table of contents in the current FAA Reauthorization bill. Read it.

Then with a straight face just try to tell the world that this latest appointee is going to be qualified to deal with all of these areas by having no aviation experience. The woman will be a bureaucratic detriment. Completely qualified to get in the way – not lead, make determinations and decisions on key technical issues. The bogus stuff about “transportation experience” is a side-show and one that spits safety in the face.

Aviation Industry: Take Control. Get Proactive. The Future of The Industry Is At Stake. Whichever way it can be structured, it’s time for the industry to get pro-active outside of the backroom discussions with high level politicos, and let it be openly known to the public what is needed at the top of the FAA. It is your responsibility, not an option.

Openly define for the public the specific background needed. Specific areas of expertise. Specific levels of industry contribution and achievement. Posture it as being helpful to the DOT in its tough job finding the right appointee. Privately, they won’t like this type of “interference,” but if the industry does this in the name of safety, the hacks on Capitol Hill will be reticent to again promulgate one of its own to run the FAA.

To reemphasize, it doesn’t need to be “opposition” but instead, “helpful” advice regarding what is needed at the FAA, without any need to illuminate that the current DOT secretary is in direct competition with what’s on the rack at Men’s Wearhouse.

It is either stand up literally for safety or tolerate having the FAA Administrator job being yet another patronage position. It’s really not just an option. It is their responsibility.

Quit the political nonsense and speak out.



Monday Insight – June 5, 2023

Five Widely-Circulating Airline Myths

With all the fake news about airlines and air service, the general public is getting led down the path of total confusion.

One example was the confusion running wild in the recent press tag-team match on airlines performed by Buttigieg and Biden. It’s important that the DOT monitor airline service, but concocting “outrages” that simply are not true is not the right approach.

Here are five misconceptions making the rounds.

Airline Seats Are Getting Smaller

In the din about how the FAA “must” regulate airline seating, one common theme is that airline seat width has continually been reduced at US airlines. One clown actually claimed it’s down two inches in recent years. CNN published a no-facts graph of how it’s gone from an average of 18 inches down to just over 16. NBC Today Show pronounced that the average seat today is 16 inches.

That is all flat untrue, but it is a staple in most of the rantings against airlines regularly put out by consumerist jihadists who are not too concerned with the truth. In USA airline service the narrowest economy seats are generally 17.1″ or a bit larger on 737s, 767s, 777s, etc. Been that way since the first 707 in 1958.

Since that time, the A320 platform has come along with 18+” seats, and then the E170/175/190 series with seats even slightly larger. No US airline has cut width by 2 inches. That, again, is a lie. Toss in the new A220s, with seats approaching 19 inches, and the whole trendy nonsense about shrinking seat width starts to define the credibility of these clowns and the media sources that just parrot them.

The Pilot Shortage Has Decimated Small Community Air Service

Not as such. It’s more about what pilots are and will be flying in the future.

The changes in airline economics have done the number to service at a lot of local small community airports. Fifty-seat jets are getting older and more costly, and with the much higher compensation being paid to flight  crews at (misnamed) “regional airlines,” the situation gets worse.

Delta and United have made clear they will be shortly out of the 50-seat game. The next step up are CRJ-700s, CRJ-900s, and E170/175s. But there are no more of these coming into fleets, which means that replacement flying is not in the cards

American recently got press announcing they have 150 small jets parked waiting for pilots. That would have to mean 50-seaters, as there are no large numbers of CRJ-700/900s or E170/175s parked. A bit confusing in that AA separately announced that the last 50-seaters are being retired from wholly-owned Envoy.

Airlines Had Policies To Charge Families To Sit Together

That’s great trendy woke dogma. But as stated it is a lie.

The truth is that some airlines, in addition to having a premium legroom area, additionally tack “choice” fees on to some portion of the regular economy cabin, with the contention mostly that they were worth more because they were close to the front. Seats are no different, legroom the same, but somehow airlines came up with the cockamamie idea that paying $30-$50 just to save three or four minutes to get off an airplane was a super consumer upgrade.

It’s their product, and they can charge as they see fit, regardless. But when a family booked, it was possible that there were no adjacent seats in the regular economy section, and the choices were only in the “choice seating” area. This gave politicians license and the subterfuge to claim airlines gouged families.

A great narrative. But false.

Airlines Charge For Seat Selection

This past week, USA Today – sometimes not too concerned with hard facts – carried a story from some consumerist gadfly stating categorically that all airlines charge extra when passengers want to select a seat in advance.

Yup, in regard to the vapor-value “choice seats” (or “preferred,” which in itself implies something dreamed up), that is true. But the consumerist was adamant that all airlines charge for all seats.

Caveat reader. Or, don’t read it at all.

It’s A Global Consulting Firm. Only Top Grads Get In. So Take Their Advice.

Just came across an article from one of those giant consulting firms that laud themselves for only hiring the best and brightest right out of prestigious B-schools. Then they sic them on airlines, when the only industry experience they have was couple of brainstorming sessions about a subject matter of which they don’t know diddly.

The following are from the firm’s airline consulting department:

Many airlines have check-in agents vet carry-on bags and place “carry-on approved” tags on them. This, the firm implies, delays and extends boarding.

Don’t know what country this is from, but the “many” airlines in the USA do no such thing. Expert advice, eh?

Cabin preparation before boarding. According to these experts, airlines require flight attendants or cabin cleaners to cross and buckle seat belts before passengers get on. The whiz kids warn airlines that: The direct cost is not the only problem: passengers must undo the seat belt to sit down, which may add time to the boarding process.

They do? It does? Great advice for airlines to avoid what they aren’t doing in the first place. The real direct cost would be paying these amateurs for advice.

Your airline’s standard turnaround process probably includes the full cleaning of aircraft, the onboarding of catering supplies, and preboarding for elite passengers. The implication is that this naturally extends the ground time when flights arrive late to the gate.

‘Course these self-appointed shamans from academia and the low-oxygen air of ivory tower consulting have no understanding that these functions can and do take place as other necessary and critical parts of the turn are accomplished. Like unloading luggage. Loading luggage. Fueling. Cargo handling, etc.

Obviously there is zero knowledge of real-world airport and airline operations. But, well, this is the global A-team, don’t ya know.

What is amazing is that experienced airline management and boards of directors look at consultants like these as magic gurus.

Actually, several years ago, New Orleans had an in-depth strategic study accomplished for its air service future. The conclusions were that MSY needed to again be a LatAm hub (it never was in the first place), needed to recapture all the leakage going to nearby airports like Gulfport (any high school kid hanging out at would know better), and that  Baton Rouge, just up the road, had service from more airlines than MSY. (Unfortunately, they didn’t know how to read the T-100.)

But they got paid. And the community, believed this pablum. But the name was the value the client was looking for, along with a Messiah to lead them out of the wilderness. Instead they got tossed into the weeds.



Monday Insight – May 29, 2023

Monday Insight will be published next on June 5, in observance of the USA Memorial Day Holiday


The FAA – It’s In Free Fall.
But, Don’t Dare Call It

It was reported that the FAA on Sunday morning issued a ground stop at Denver International Airport and surrounding airports, due to “staffing issues” for over an hour.

Not a lot of further information. Interestingly, unlike several other recent FAA ground stops at airports across the nation, this one was not immediately attributed to weather.

Depending on additional clarification, this appears to be one more obvious warning sign of a collapsing FAA. The problem is that the agency has been turned into a disgusting political football.

Yup, we’re not supposed to say it, but the recent fiasco with the proposed new administrator was clear proof that the FAA has become a case study in Third World amateurism. The political elite chose a guy who really had no relevant experience, marched him into congressional hearings with bugles blowing, flags flying and hype flowing.

It was the equivalent of political human sacrifice. They had to know that this was essentially the C-Span version of tossing him into the back seat of the ’35 Ford at the end of Bonnie & Clyde.

The hearing – and the entire appointment process – was a raging embarrassment at all levels.

There is nothing on the horizon that lends any confidence to the air travel consumer. Now the acting FAA administrator is taking a powder. Staffing-related flight restrictions will continue. The lack of hard, focused direction will continue. And there’s no indication this will change.

Anybody see a leadership problem here? Or any leadership at all?

At any level and in any sector?


Frontier Suggests A Return to The 1970s.
Positively For All Concerned.

It’s a major weakness in the day-of-week ULCC scheduling format.

Like, when that flight from SAN gets cancelled, the next one is two days away. Oh, yeah. And it’s fully booked. Passengers are left singing the blues. They need to buy a ticket on another airline or enjoy the venue until the ULCC can book them out.

No other options.

In ancient times – like until 40 years ago – airline tariffs had what was originally called “Rule 75” – later renumbered as Rule 240. Simply stated, airlines would accept each other’s tickets in the event of a schedule irregularity.

It worked well. The cancelling airline got the passenger out of town, the accepting carrier got another passenger. Really well, in that the accepting carrier could bill the ticket back to the referring airline for some very healthy gelt. It wasn’t free.

It all went by the board over time, with major airlines not willing to bail out their ULCC competitors.

Last week, Barry Biffle, CEO of Frontier, proposed bringing some mechanism like Rule 240 back.

We can be sure that network carriers will have an out-of-body over the proposal, but if properly structured it could be a win-win for all concerned.

In any event, it’s a suggestion that should be dispassionately considered.