Beyond the Headlines

By John Mazor, ALPA Senior Communications Specialist
Air Line Pilot, January 2004, p.35

Gone But Not Forgotten

Three are parked in museums in Washington, New York, and Seattle. Spare parts, including the signature nose cone, are being sold as souvenirs. None will ever fly again in commercial service.

RIP, Concorde, 1976–2003.

But good ideas never die, they’re just reincarnated by new visionaries. European aerospace giant EADS and some Japanese partners are developing a replacement supersonic transport. The version now on the drawing boards would cruise 7,000 miles nonstop at twice the speed of the Concorde, hauling 300 passengers, compared to the Concorde’s economically challenged manifest of 100 seats. Noise is projected to be no worse than that of a B-747, which would open up many more airport markets.

An EADS spokesman said that while current economic conditions do not support the launch of a replacement SST, the consortium would continue development work in anticipation of future demand for such service.

Economic Comfort Food

After years of a steady diet of gloom-and-doom news about the worldwide airline industry, a few positive signs have begun to appear. Air travel in the United States for Thanksgiving 2003 was projected to increase by 1 percent over that of 2003. In September 2003, international air travel was up 1 percent over that of September 2002. The year ending September 2003 saw a record number of U.S. passports issued, suggesting that Americans are intending to undertake more international travel in the near future.

While these changes are modest, they’re finally moving in the right direction, perhaps reflecting the fact that the U.S. economy grew at an admittedly unsustainable 8.2 percent in the third quarter. And after a long string of negative numbers, yields on U.S. domestic flights turned a corner in July 2003 to produce four straight months of increases.

Economists are understandably cautious, so they aren’t yet heralding an impending recovery. On the other hand, as George Bernard Shaw once said of the dismal science, "If all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they wouldn’t reach any conclusion"; so for now, just keep studying the tea leaves for more clues.

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would an airline by any other name be profitable?

That’s the question that industry analysts are asking. In the past year, Delta composed its Song, United gave birth to Ted, and the airline formerly known as DHL is now Astar, to indicate its new U.S. ownership. Most recently, Atlantic Coast celebrated its Fourth of July on Nov. 19, 2003, by rechristening itself as Independence Air, to signal its intent to go it alone as a low-cost carrier rather than as a United affiliate.

It’s too early to make the definitive call on any of these initiatives, but Song and Ted got a thumbs-up from pilots. The Delta pilots’ Master Executive Council "supports the airline’s efforts to enhance revenue and hopes Song will be successful competing against low-cost carriers." The United MEC says that "Ted represents a new direction for United in the low-cost arena by providing the opportunity to reach the leisure traveler through creative marketing. Hopefully, Ted will become synonymous with low-cost travel. But what the United MEC is most excited about regarding the company’s new venture is that United pilots will be flying Ted.

"We approach this new venture with optimism, and we are certain that United passengers who have come to expect a safe and efficient operation from United will experience in Ted the same high professional standards that United’s pilots have established over the past seven decades," the MEC concludes.