Aviation and Airport Law Newsletter, July 26, 2010, vol. 2, no. 7

Vol. 2, No. 7, July 26, 2010

The following is a summary review of articles from all over the nation concerning aviation and airport development law news during the past week.  These were all first posted, in abbreviated form, on http://twitter.com/smtaber.  This Newsletter also appears as a post on our website on our blog, The Aviation and Airport Development News.


Unshackling Reagan National Airport.Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2010
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is by far the most conveniently located of the three airfields serving the nation’s capital, but its physical and functional limits prevent it from becoming a great one. Congress has compounded those problems with an antiquated “perimeter rule” that makes it hard for millions in the West to take nonstop flights into National. Now, a group of lawmakers is seeking to ease the rule without increasing congestion at National or reducing service to smaller airports in the East. It’s a modest change that lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to include in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. National’s biggest asset — its location in densely populated Arlington, Va., a short Metro ride from the District of Columbia — is also its greatest handicap. The airport is constrained by some of the country’s toughest restrictions on airplane noise, leading airlines to schedule no takeoffs before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. Security concerns severely restrict the paths that planes are allowed to take into or out of National’s airspace, further limiting the airport’s capacity. In addition, its three runways are too short to accommodate the latest big jets.
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Lawrenceville against airport expansion. – Faye Edmundson, Gwinnett Daily Post, July 19, 2010
The Lawrenceville City Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Monday strongly opposing Gwinnett County’s plans to privatize and expand Briscoe Field to allow commercial passenger flights. “Simply said, the expansion of the airport to accommodate commercial passenger service will adversely impact the environment and quality of life for residents of the city of Lawrenceville,” the resolution stated. Mayor Rex Millsaps announced that copies of the resolution would be sent to the cities of Dacula, Grayson and Snellville, the Gwinnett County Commission, the Gwinnett County Airport Authority, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Rep. John Linder. “Our position as a council is that we don’t want expansion of the airport,” said Millsaps, who urged residents to express their opposition to the appropriate officials. “It’s up to us and you.” “I certainly don’t want 737s coming over my house 24 hours a day,” Millsaps added. A significant portion of Briscoe Field, currently operated as a general aviation airport, lies within the city of Lawrenceville, and the remainder is adjacent to the city limits. Councilman Mike Crow said it has been difficult to obtain information about the privatization and expansion of Briscoe Field from Gwinnett County other than “it may take years.” Property values will decline simply because the county has initiated it, he said.
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Chamber Urges Rhode Island Businesses to Sign Petition in Support Draft Environmental Impact Statement For T.F. Green Airport.Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, July 20, 2010
The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is asking Rhode Island’s business community to sign on in support of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement that formally selects Alternative B-4 as the preferred method for runway extension and other airport improvements by adding their name to a petition. We believe this preferred alternative, which includes the extension of the T.F. Green Airport’s main runway south to 8,700 feet, will positively impact Rhode Island’s economic future while safely meeting the needs of local residents. We are hoping to send a clear and distinct message that the business community has a vested interest in the future success of T.F. Green Airport.
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Public comments sought on T.F. Green improvements. – Paul Edward Parker, Projo, July 20, 2010
The Army Corps of Engineers has begun taking public comment on wetlands permits needed for proposed improvements at T.F. Green Airport. The public comment period began Tuesday and ends Aug. 27. It will include a public hearing to be held jointly with the Federal Aviation Administration on Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick. On July 9, the FAA formally designated a plan to extend the airport’s main runway by about 1,500 feet to the southwest as the preferred alternative for making the runway longer. As part of its Environmental Impact Statement process, the FAA is also considering a plan to extend the runway to the northeast, as well as a plan that calls for no building. Both runway extension plans also include safety improvements on the airport’s crosswind runway, which account for most of the wetlands impacts. Public comment should be sent no later than Aug. 27 to the Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Regulatory Division (ATTN: Robert DeSista, 696 Virginia Rd., Concord, MA 01742-2751.
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Airport fire services likely won’t go private; savings outlined. – Kyle Hansen, Las Vegas Sun, July 20, 2010
Clark County commissioners said Tuesday that McCarran International Airport’s fire services aren’t likely to be privatized, but there are some ways the county could save money on firefighting costs. Commissioner Steve Sisolak asked for a report from the county-owned airport at Tuesday’s commission meeting on the possibility of privatizing the fire station at the airport. Airport Director Randy Walker said there are two companies in the country that provide private fire services at airports, but both serve only small airports. McCarran is one of the busiest airports in the country. But Walker said discussions with the county’s fire department did lead to some possible changes that could save money. The Federal Aviation Administration requires the airport to have a certain level of fire service at the airport, so cutting service isn’t possible without shutting down parts of the airport, Walker said. Firefighters at the airport are also required to have additional training and certifications, so while they are not paid extra for working at the airport, there is a limited number of qualified people to fill in when the station is short staffed, Walker said.
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Kalispell OKs new study of airport. – Caleb Soptelean, Daily Inter Lake, July 21, 2010
The Kalispell City Council accepted a $92,910 grant Monday from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct another airport study. After much discussion, the vote was 6-3 with Mayor Tammi Fisher joining council members Tim Kluesner and Bob Hafferman in voting no. City Manager Jane Howington said the money will be used to conduct a noise study and determine what capital improvements are needed if the city decides not to expand Kalispell City Airport. The study also will include public scoping sessions and a random survey of area residents. The city’s contribution to the study will be $4,890. Approval appeared to be in doubt after Fisher sided with Hafferman and Kluesner as council discussed the issue. However, Duane Larson, Jeff Zauner and Wayne Saverud then sided with Jim Atkinson, Randy Kenyon and Kari Gabriel in favor.
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LA World Airports Smartly Reconsiders Regionalization Strategy. – Brett Snyder, BNET, July 22, 2010
I’ve had plenty of harsh words for the Los Angeles World Airports‘ (LAWA) so-called regionalization plan to push traffic from LAX to other airports around Southern California. It appears that LAWA is now starting to feel the same way as airport commissioners seem to be publicly question the strategy. It’s about time. In a recent meeting of the LA Board of Airport Commissioners, several members showed their hesitancy to support pushing traffic to other airports considering that LAX has been shedding traffic for years. LAWA CEO Gina Marie Lindsey said it quite nicely.
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Washington Airport Sells as Transportation Muni Bonds Widen Over Utilities. – Brendan McGrail and Esme E. Duprez, Bloomberg, July 23, 2010
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority led about $1.5 billion in transportation-bond sales this week as the risk premium on the municipal securities is at an 18-month high relative to debt backed by utility payments. Twenty-five-year transportation-revenue debt yielded about 7 basis points more than utility notes for comparably rated issues, the biggest difference since January 2009, according to Bloomberg Fair Market Value indexes. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point. The group yields about 57 basis points more than top-rated, tax-exempt muni debt, the most in more than nine years, according to data from Municipal Market Advisors. “Airports are subject to airlines, looked at as more volatile than say a water-revenue bond,” said Anthony Greco, a trader at Boston-based Breckinridge Capital Advisors, which manages about $12.5 billion in municipal debt.
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FAA Orders Inspections for Boeing 767 Pylons.Federal Aviation Administration, July 21, 2010
The FAA is ordering U.S. operators of 138 Boeing 767 airplanes to reduce the initial pylon inspection time mandated in a September 22, 2005 Airworthiness Directive from 10,000 to 8,000 total flights. This inspection must be done within 400 flights after the most recent inspection required by the 2005 directive, or within 90 days, whichever occurs later. The FAA is also reducing the interval for repetitive inspections for cracking of the pylon midspar structural fittings and an adjacent structure from 1,500 to every 400 flights thereafter. There is also an option for replacing the fittings instead of conducting the inspections. Since the 2005 Airworthiness Directive (AD), the FAA has received two reports of cracking of the midspar structural fitting on Boeing 767 pylons. The pylon attaches the engine to the wing. Undetected cracking could lead to fracture of the structural components, damage to the pylon, and separation of the engine from the wing.
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FAA: Airlines must inspect Boeing 767s for cracks. – Joan Lowy, The Associated Press, July 21, 2010
U.S. airlines must inspect more than 100 Boeing 767 airliners more often than previously required to look for cracks that could cause the engines to fall off, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered Wednesday. The cracks can occur in the pylons that attach engines to wings. The problem came to light last month when American Airlines found cracks in at least two 767s during normal maintenance. The FAA safety order affects 138 planes registered in the United States out of a global fleet of 314 planes. Aviation officials in other countries usually follow the FAA’s lead on safety of U.S.-manufactured planes. The order only applies to 767s that have the original pylon design. Boeing changed the design after the problem first became known. FAA issued a safety order for these planes in 2005 requiring inspections for cracks every 1,500 flights. The new order accelerates that schedule to every 400 flights or every 90 days, whichever is later.
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DOT Approves oneworld Antitrust Immunity Application.United States Department of Transportation, July 20, 2010
The U.S. Department of Transportation today granted antitrust immunity to American Airlines and four international partners in “oneworld” to form an integrated global alliance, but also imposed several conditions that will protect consumers and preserve competition.  Today’s action makes final the Department’s tentative decision of Feb. 13. As a result of the Department’s action, American and its oneworld alliance partners British Airways, Iberia Airlines, Finnair and Royal Jordanian Airlines will be able to more closely coordinate international services. The Department found that granting antitrust immunity to the oneworld alliance will provide travelers and shippers with a variety of benefits, including lower fares in some markets, new nonstop routes, improved services and better schedules.  The Department also said that the alliance will enhance competition around the world by enabling the oneworld alliance to compete more vigorously with Star Alliance and SkyTeam, which operate similar immunized alliances. While the Department found that the alliance, on balance, was pro-competitive, it noted that the alliance could harm competition on select routes between the United States and London’s Heathrow Airport, a major hub for oneworld, where the availability of landing and takeoff slots is limited. To remedy this potential problem, the Department required the applicants to make four pairs of slots at Heathrow available to competitors for new U.S.-London service, with two pairs to be used for Boston-London service and the other two for service from any other U.S. cities.
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Can flight paths and procedures help burn less fuel? – Joe Ascanio, Terracurve, July 23, 2010
During a test flight this week over Puget Sound, a next-generation Alaska Airlines flight demonstrated new flight procedures that burned less fuel and reduced emissions by 35 percent compared to a conventional landing. Part of Alaska Air Group’s “Greener Skies” project at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), the flight test was focused on using satellite-based guidance technology (Required Navigation Performance, or RNP) to fly more efficient landing procedures that will reduce environmental impacts. The airline, in cooperation with the Port of Seattle, Boeing and other airlines serving Sea-Tac, is seeking Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for the procedures, which could ultimately be used by all properly equipped carriers at Sea-Tac.
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Spirit Airlines may be fined for violating airplane maintenance rules, FAA says. – Jaclyn Giovis, Sun Sentinel, July 19, 2010
Spirit Airlines may have to pay a $50,000 civil penalty for improperly operating an aircraft with known maintenance problems, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a press release. Federal regulators alleged on Friday that Miramar-based Spirit “failed to replace a faulty elevator aileron computer (ELAC) after the aircraft experienced an uncommanded pitch down of the nose while operating between Orlando and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 21, 2009.” Spirit’s maintenance program required replacing the computer, the FAA said.The airline didn’t replace the computer, and the plane experienced another downward pitch the next day, on a flight from San Juan to Fort Lauderdale, the agency said. Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson disputed the allegations Monday. “Safety is Spirit’s number one priority, and our maintenance followed all appropriate procedures,” Pinson said in an e-mail. Spirit is responding to the FAA about the proposed penalty, she said.
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Spirit Airlines faces fine over maintenance problem.The Miami Herald, July 21, 2010
Spirit Airlines may have to pay a $50,000 civil penalty for improperly operating an aircraft with known maintenance problems, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a press release. Federal regulators alleged on Friday that Miramar-based Spirit “failed to replace a faulty elevator aileron computer (ELAC) after the aircraft experienced an uncommanded pitch down of the nose while operating between Orlando and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 21, 2009.” Spirit’s maintenance program required replacing the computer, the FAA said. The airline didn’t replace the computer, and the plane experienced another downward pitch the next day, on a flight from San Juan to Fort Lauderdale, the agency said.
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FAA reauthorization bill could be ready this week. – Vicki Needham, The Hill, July 19, 2010
A reconciled bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration could be ready this week. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he expects a final product on the long-delayed bill to be ready for Senate floor action by the middle of the week. Rockefeller will give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) a bill this week he hopes will pass by the August recess, a Senate aide told The Hill. The union issue with FedEx and UPS will be handled on the floor, most likely in a separate vote from the main bill, Rockefeller told The Hill. The House’s FAA bill shifts FedEx ground operations jurisdiction that would put FedEx and UPS under the same rules. FedEx has called it a “bailout” for UPS. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) has pushed for the language, but it’s not likely to pass muster in the Senate. The Senate passed a two-year $34.5 billion measure in March and the House passed a $70 billion bill last year that covers 2009-2012. The Senate is in session for three more weeks and the House plans to leave by the end of next week, giving lawmakers a tight timeframe to move the measure. But a Senate leadership aide said Monday that the bill could be considered in this work period.  Overall, the FAA bill calls for the air traffic control system to switch from World War II-era radar technology to a satellite-based system by 2014 at the busiest airports, and nationwide by 2020.

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Key US Senator ‘Hopeful’ Of Progress On Aviation Bill – Aide. – Josh Mitchell, NASDAQ, July 20, 2010
The U.S. Senate could consider far-reaching aviation legislation as early as this week, after months of negotiations with House lawmakers on the bill, an aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) said Tuesday. The proposed legislation, which would fund the Federal Aviation Administration, is focused on raising safety standards for the hiring and training of airline pilots, the aide said. The bill would also include funding to advance long-held plans to modernize the nation’s delay-prone air-traffic management system. Rockefeller and other members of his committee have been in talks with House Transportation Committee members for months on merging House and Senate bills. Disagreements have centered on a House provision that would make it easier for FedEx Corp. (FDX) employees to unionize and a proposal to raise airline-ticket fees collected by the federal government. It was unclear Tuesday whether the final bill would contain those provisions.
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Senate, House Agree to Sixfold Boost in Airline Pilots’ Flight Experience. – John Hughes, Bloomberg, July 20, 2010
U.S. pilots would need at least 1,500 hours of flight experience to get a job in an airline cockpit, six times the current minimum requirement, under a House-Senate agreement disclosed by a passenger advocacy group. The agreement, part of broader aviation legislation being negotiated in Congress, was outlined by Senator Jay Rockefeller to relatives of victims in a fatal crash near Buffalo, New York, last year, according to Scott Maurer, whose daughter was killed in the accident, and who attended today’s meeting in Washington. The deal is “very positive” and is among safety changes that “should have been happening” more than a year ago, said Kevin Kuwik of Columbus, Ohio, who said he was dating Lorin Maurer, one of 50 victims in the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s Colgan unit. Boosting the minimum required pilot experience from 250 hours has been a top goal of friends and relatives of people who died when the plane crashed in Clarence Center, near Buffalo. Airline pilot unions and House Democrats also pushed for the higher requirement, saying it would lessen the chance of a repeat of the Colgan accident.
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FAA Reauthorization Update: Senate Vote Could Come Thursday.Rotor News, July 21, 2010
The U.S. Senate has agreed to a provision in the House version of the FAA Reauthorization bill requiring new commercial pilots to have 1500 hours of flight time. Originally, the time requirement in the two bills differed. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that the final bill will likely contain a measure establishing a pilot hiring database that will allow airlines to know the experience of the pilots they hire.  Additionally, the FAA will be required to annually report its progress in answering recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board. Disagreements over additional slots for long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport and a provision changing labor rules for FedEx and UPS have been holding up the legislation. Once differences can be worked out between both chambers, the final bill will need to be voted on in both the House and Senate before it can go to President Obama for him to sign into law.
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Senate, House Remain Apart On FAA Bill.Aviation News Today, July 22, 2010
Senate Commerce Committee leaders are working to get an FAA reauthorization bill to the Senate floor as early as next week, AAAE’s Airport Legislative Alliance reports. The Senate bill would be in agreement with the already-passed House bill on most — but not all — reauthorization matters. Airport input directly to legislators is having an impact, ALA reported in an alert sent to ALA members Thursday. AAAE continues to push for a higher PFC, among other airport priorities, and urges airport executives to keep emailing and calling their legislators to express their support.
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US aviation bill stalls, proponents not giving up. – John Crawley, Reuters, July 23, 2010
Legislation to overhaul aviation programs, including billions for modernizing the aging U.S. air traffic system, has stalled as congressional negotiators struggle to resolve stubborn issues, one of which involves US Airways Group (LCC.N). Congressional and industry sources said momentum to pass the measure before lawmakers break for August vacation was interrupted this week with key lawmakers unable to reach agreement on provisions affecting long-haul air service and passenger fees that support airport operations. Disagreements have also surfaced on how to proceed in the Senate, which is scheduled to recess Aug. 6. The agenda is crowded with finance and small business bills and a Supreme Court confirmation vote. The House of Representatives breaks for a month next Friday.
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Reducing Jet Engine Emissions.Nuts and Bolts, July 20, 2010
Harsha Chelliah, a University of Virginia professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, recently secured a four-year research grant to better understand and, it is hoped, eliminate soot particle formation produced by gas turbine engines. The grant, seeded by Rolls-Royce, the Commonwealth of Virginia and other partners, totals roughly $1.5 million. Working from a lab in U.Va.’s decommissioned nuclear reactor facility, Chelliah and his graduate and undergraduate student research team have built two model reactors to study how to reduce the production of soot particles. The first experimental reactor operates at normal atmospheric pressure and has allowed the team to fine-tune experimental tools and methods. Testing will soon begin on a second reactor that can burn jet fuel at 40 to 50 atmospheric pressures, which is equivalent to real jet-engine flight conditions. This undertaking fills a void in research at such high-pressure conditions and will help aerospace engine manufacturers meet anticipated U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations on soot particle emissions.
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Planemakers tout environmentally-friendly initiatives.Air Capital Insider, July 21, 2010
Boeing unveiled what it calls an “ecoDemonstrator Program” for accelerating environmental technologies in the areas of fuel efficiency, noise reduction and operational efficiency. Commercial aviation is in rapid pursuit of its goal of carbon-neutral growth by 2020, which will primarily be driven by technology advancements, Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing director of environmental strategy Billy Glover said in a statement. The Federal Aviation Administration recently awarded Boeing a $25 million matching cost contract for technology development under its Continuous Lower Energy Emissions Noise (CLEEN) program. Under the contract, Boeing will deliver the flight test portion of the program and targeted technologies, the company said.
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United posts earnings gain, pilots reach interim deal. – John Pletz, Chicago Business, July 20, 2010
United Airlines and Continental Airlines pilots reached a transition agreement Tuesday that covers job protection for the two groups until a combined contract is reached. The news came the same day that United’s parent, UAL Corp., reported its first quarterly operating profit since 2007, boosted by a 26.2% jump in passenger revenue. UAL shares closed up $1.00, a 4.7% gain to $22.18. About three weeks ago, pilots said talks over the transition agreement broke down over unspecified “non-economic” issues. It caused some to question whether there would be bigger problems ahead as pilots and the companies negotiated the thornier permanent contract for the two groups considered crucial to executing the merger between Chicago-based United and Houston-based Continental. United and Continental pilots are each represented by the Air Line Pilots Assn., but their contracts have different terms, both in pay and work rules. “We are pleased to have reached this important agreement at such an early stage of the integration planning process, as it is a key first step in building a long-term, productive relationship between the combined company and our pilots,” Continental CEO Jeff Smisek, who will lead the merged company, said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on working together with all of our work groups to reach agreements that are fair to our employees and fair to the company.” Meanwhile, on the earnings front:
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Northwest Airlines found to violate FAA rules. – Alan Chernoff, CNN, July 22, 2010
Northwest Airlines violated more than 1,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety directives, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found, substantiating complaints of an FAA whistleblower. Northwest, now merged with Delta Airlines, engaged in “systemic non-compliance with FAA Airworthiness Directives,” the investigation concluded, referring to government rules designed to remedy an unsafe or potentially unsafe condition. “Despite Northwest’s history of Airworthiness Directive non-compliance,” the Office of Special Counsel said, “FAA inspectors continued to work collaboratively with Northwest to resolve deficiencies, and closing enforcement cases primarily by issuing letters of correction rather than seeking civil penalties.”
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Northwest Airlines didn’t follow safety orders. – Joan Lowy, The Associated Press, July 22, 2010
For more than a decade, Northwest Airlines repeatedly failed to follow federal safety orders but wasn’t held accountable by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a government report. The report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s office confirmed many of the allegations brought by a whistleblower in 2005 and again in 2008 of a cozy relationship between FAA managers and the airlines they are charged with inspecting. FAA inspector Mark Lund charged that FAA managers at the safety office that oversaw Northwest routinely allowed the airline to avoid penalties or fines by voluntarily disclosing failures.
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As flying gets more stressful, some passengers turn rude. – Charisse Jones, USA Today, July 23, 2010
When Mike Nugent flies, nothing annoys him more than settling into his seat, the plane taking off, and the passenger in front reclining into his lap. So he’s come up with a solution. “I put my knee right in the middle of the back of the seat,” Nugent, 66, says. “They think it’s broken. They try (to recline) two or three times, then they give it up.” Nugent, a hospital laundry consultant who’s on the road most days of the year, has another way to sidestep the irritation that can accompany flying. “I’ve started to drive as often as I can,” he says. Long gone are the days when air travel was an elegant experience. Many road warriors say that courtesy, at the airport or on the plane, is becoming about as rare as a free, hot in-flight meal. They grouse that inconsiderate, or downright rude, behavior is more common and that it’s spurred by an increasing discomfort with all aspects of flying, from security rules to bare-bones service, that put travelers on edge.
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Airline Industry Remains Divided on Ash Threat. – Andy Pasztor, The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2010
Three months after volcanic ash temporarily closed nearly 80% of European airspace, aircraft and engine makers don’t appear any closer to agreement on new standards spelling out when it is safe to fly through such plumes. On Thursday, industry groups representing the largest aerospace companies on both sides of the Atlantic called for further studies but reiterated the potential dangers of flying through even low-level concentrations of ash. Without reliable, onboard ash-detection systems, the group of chief executives urged pilots to focus on “avoidance of visible ash.” Stung by widespread flight cancellations and revenue losses exceeding $1.7 billion earlier this year, European airlines have been pressing for development of global standards specifying safe ash levels. But that has proved to be a daunting task, partly because each eruption produces different size particles with unique chemical compositions.
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Allegiant named top-performing airline by Aviation Week. – Art Thomason, The Arizona Republic, July 23, 2010
While major airlines dust off losses and return to profitability, a low-cost carrier serving Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has a different story. Allegiant Air has been riding a profit parade for more than seven consecutive years without a hiccup, according to the carrier’s recent quarterly traffic and revenue report. The protracted success is getting considerable attention in the airline industry. Allegiant was named Top-Performing Airline in the low-cost/niche category by Aviation Week magazine on Wednesday. Southwest Airlines placed eighth in the same category.
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