There was no disguising the subdued, even solemn, mood of Europe’s regional airlines as they gathered for their annual general assembly in Salzburg, Austria, from October 1 to 3. At 6.3 percent, passenger growth for the first half of this year is markedly down from the double-digit growth enjoyed in recent years and, more seriously, yields are down right across the industry.
American Airlines’ decision last month to retire 74 more Fokker 100s and nine Boeing 767-300s will mean continued capacity stagnation at its wholly owned American Eagle subsidiary, as long as the Allied Pilots Association has its way.
The FAA has been under intense pressure from the U.S. Congress of late, and some believe that the reaction to Congressional pressure to tighten up FAA oversight of the aviation industry is a direct cause of the thousands of airline groundings last month.
The events of September 11 and the subsequent economic fallout have tested the competitive mettle of airlines worldwide. Thankfully for those that escaped the fate suffered by the now bankrupt Swissair and Sabena, the hundreds of smaller carriers that comprise the often overlooked regional airline sector have supplied a source of relative strength.
St. Louis-based regional carrier Trans States Airlines canceled 12 flights last night and at least 40 more today to check nosewheel steering mechanism relay switches on its Embraer ERJ 145s. The internal audit comes as the FAA continues a sweep of U.S. airline inspection records that most recently saw thousands of flights canceled by American Airlines last week.
Federal agents last month arrested six Venezuelan pilots and two ramp workers accused of using false immigration papers to obtain employment in the U.S. Two of the pilots, Pedro Agusti and Luis Garmendia, flew for American Airlines regional subsidiary American Eagle. Another pilot, Pedro Bottome, flew as a Citation X captain for Executive Jet Aviation.
After conducting an internal investigation, last month Southwest Airlines leaders switched from defending the airline’s maintenance practices to suspending three maintenance employees and grounding a significant number of airplanes to re-inspect them for possible cracks. The FAA issued a statement on March 6 proposing that Southwest Airlines pay a $10.2 million civil penalty for its error.
American Airlines has entered negotiations to sell its Executive Airlines subsidiary to St. John’s, Antigua-based Dash 8 operator Caribbean Star. Executive Airlines, a division of American Eagle based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the subject of divestiture speculation when American failed to secure relief from a clause in its pilot contract that requires it to freeze its regional affiliates’ ASMs in the event of mainline furloughs.
Wholly owned US Airways subsidiary PSA Airlines expects to begin its transition to an all-regional-jet fleet with the launch of service next month using new 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s. The Canadian-built jets will replace 32-seat Fairchild Dornier 328 turboprops on flights linking PSA’s Dayton, Ohio base with Ronald Reagan Washington National and New York La Guardia Airports.
Last month I participated in a panel discussion about maintenance of the airline fleet. For a long time the airlines have depended on certified repair stations to make repairs they couldn’t tackle because of a lack of facilities or required tooling.