Monday, August 31, 2009

SkyEurope goes under

by B. N. Sullivan

SkyEurope AirlinesBack in June, I wrote a short post about Slovakian low-fare carrier SkyEurope Airlines when it voluntarily filed for reorganization, i.e., bankruptcy protection. Unfortunately, they didn't make it. A short time ago, SkyEurope announced on its Web site that it had "suspended its sales and operations immediately."

Jason Bitter, Chief Executive Officer of SkyEurope, tried to sound optimistic at the time the company filed for reorganization, saying, "It is good for our customers who may have full confidence in flying SkyEurope for holidays, city breaks, business travel, and friend and family visits. It is good for our suppliers who will be fully paid for goods and services provided during the reorganisation. And it is good for our employees because it allows us to preserve and protect jobs.”

Flight schedules continued until late today when, as an AFP news article put it, SkyEurope "threw in the towel" and canceled all of its flights. AFP reports on the rapid deterioration over the past 24 hours:
Earlier Monday the airline had cancelled all afternoon flights from Bratislava and all flights as of Tuesday from Prague.

The Ruzyne Prague airport said Monday it would halt all SkyEurope's flights as of Tuesday after the airline failed to pay its debts, the airport spokeswoman Eva Krejci told AFP.

The Vienna airport halted SkyEurope's flights in mid-August for the same reason.
Slovakian news Web site also reported that "SkyEurope wasn't able to refuel its airplanes, with the company purportedly failing to settle its payments to fuel suppliers."

More than a thousand passengers reportedly have been left stranded at a number of European airports. As usual, no mention was made of the fate of the crews and whether they were stranded at out-stations along with the passengers.

Payment of salaries to SkyEurope staff already were deferred earlier this month in an effort to give the company more operating capital. Sources in Eastern Europe speculated earlier today that perhaps flights were being canceled because employees were refusing to work. Whether or not a work stoppage was initiated I cannot confirm, but in any case, it's moot since the insolvent carrier now has ceased operations.

SkyEurope had bases bases in Bratislava, Kosice, Vienna, and Prague.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Judge: American Airlines pilots' union cannot advise members to avoid overtime

by B. N. Sullivan

Allied Pilots AssnEarlier today, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents the pilots at American Airlines, announced a ruling by federal appeals court Judge Alexander Williams, Jr. that the union would be violating the Railway Labor Act if it encouraged its members not to volunteer for overtime flying. The APA had requested a ruling on the issue in August of 2008, after American Airlines warned the union it might furlough up to 200 pilots.

In his ruling, the judge expressed uncertainty about the impact that such an action by the union would have on the carrier's operations. An APA message to the union membership explained:
At the core of the court's decision: to rule for APA, the court would have essentially had to speculate about the impact of such actions by our pilots. In reaching its decision, the court acknowledged being influenced by the Eleventh Circuit's 2001 decision against the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in the Delta Air Lines case and the Seventh Circuit's recent decision against ALPA in the United Airlines case, both of which enjoined open-time campaigns at those airlines.

In addition, the court referenced the Railway Labor Act's charter "to prevent, if possible, wasteful strikes and interruptions of interstate commerce" in determining that a ruling for APA would be inconsistent with that charter.

Conversely, the judge also declined to rule -- as management had sought -- that APA had an improper purpose for initiating an open-time campaign. Management contended that APA was seeking to influence collective bargaining, rather than mitigate furloughs.
At the same time, the judge indicated that there was no prohibition against individual pilots refusing on their own to volunteer for open time, stating, "There is a difference between an individual exercising his or her right under a contract and a union collectively encouraging its members to exercise those individual rights."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines pilots begin strike authorization vote

by B. N. Sullivan

The 405 pilots at Hawaiian Airlines are seriously considering a strike to protest stalled contract negotiations. The pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), began a strike authorization vote yesterday. The strike ballot would authorize the Hawaiian Master Executive Council (MEC) of ALPA to declare a strike once the pilot group was given permission to do so by the National Mediation Board (NMB). The balloting will continue until September 10.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767-300ERHawaiian Airlines pilots are working at present under the terms of a concessionary agreement ratified in 2005 while the airline was in bankruptcy. The pilots’ contract became amendable on June 30, 2007, and collective bargaining has been underway for more than two years. The pilots' union applied for NMB mediation of their contract negotiations in September of 2008.

ALPA acknowledges that the two sides made progress in discussing retirement issues during a four-day mediation session at NMB headquarters in Washington, DC last week, but the pilots and Hawaiian management still disagree on the size and structure of future pay increases. According to the union, a major sticking point "is management’s insistence that pilots pay for any raises over one percent a year by agreeing to 'productivity enhancements' – contract concessions that would force them to fly longer hours and spend more time away from home."

“Management is trying to shield themselves from future economic uncertainty by penalizing the workers responsible for Hawaiian’s present success. They should have more faith in our airline’s potential and realize that their greatest challenge is rebuilding relationships with the pilots and other employees who have suffered the most during Hawaiian’s lean years -- long before our current management ever came to Hawaii,” said Hawaiian MEC Chairman Capt. Eric Sampson.

If the next mediation session, scheduled for mid-October, does not show substantial progress, ALPA could ask the NMB to release the union from mediation. If the NMB approves the release, the pilots would enter into a 30-day cooling off period. A lawful pilot strike could follow at the end of that 30-day period.

“We want a contract, not a strike, and we are still hopeful an agreement can be reached before Hawaiian’s 80th anniversary in November. We are also confident the strike voting results will prove that management should not test this group’s resolve,” Sampson said.

Hawaiian Airlines reached tentative contract agreements with its flight attendants' union, AFA, in February, and with ground workers represented by the IAM in March of this year.

UPDATE Sep. 12, 2009: Hawaiian Airlines pilots have voted in favor of authorizing a strike

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pinnacle Airlines pilots to vote next month on new collective bargaining agreement

by B .N. Sullivan

Pinnacle Airlines logoThe leaders of the pilots' union at Pinnacle Airlines have approved a tentative contract agreement reached recently between the union negotiating team and the airline's management. The union announced today that the tentative agreement will now be sent out to the membership for ratification.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Pinnacle Airlines' 1282 pilots, says that the new agreement provides for pay increases, work rule improvements, job protection provisions and a significant signing bonus. The tentative agreement will be distributed to all Pinnacle pilots during the next few days and a series of road shows to address pilots’ questions and concerns will be scheduled to begin in the near future. A vote will be conducted in September.

In a statement to the press, Captain Scott Erickson, chairman of the Pinnacle unit of ALPA, said, “After more than four and a half years of grueling contract negotiations, our negotiating committee obtained a deal we can confidently send to the pilots for their vote. I believe there is something in this agreement that benefits every Pinnacle pilot and I’m confident our pilots will feel the same way.”

The path to the new tentative agreement has been long and often contentious. The pilots’ contract became amendable May 1, 2005, and contract negotiations began in February 2005. Pinnacle pilots and management entered mediated negotiations with the National Mediation Board in late September 2006.

The pilots are the only Pinnacle Airlines employee group that has not had a raise in more than five years.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Airbus A320 demo ride for Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson

The YouTube blurb for this video says:
Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden vocalist), is taken for a demo ride of the A320 for a Discovery Channel documentary. Bruce shows off the computerized FLCS of the aircraft and how these protect the aircraft from control errors.
By the way, Bruce Dickinson also happens to fly Boeing 757 aircraft for charter carrier Astraeus.

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spanish investigators release interim report on 2008 Spanair MD-82 crash at Madrid

by B .N. Sullivan

Spain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC) released it interim report yesterday regarding the Aug. 20, 2008 Spanair Flight JK5022 accident. The MD-82 aircraft crashed at Madrid's Barajas Airport as it was departing for a scheduled passenger flight to Gran Canaria Airport (Las Palmas) in the Canary Islands.

Spanair MD-82The aircraft reached an altitude of only 40 ft above ground before descending and impacting the ground; it was destroyed by the impact and post-crash fire. Of the 172 people on board, 152 perished, including all six crew members. Eighteen of the survivors were seriously injured.

The lengthy interim report CIAIAC report (links below) presents factual information without stating probable cause. The report does note that the aircraft's flaps and slats were not set in a configuration appropriate for takeoff; the pilots omitted the flaps/slats item from the checklist after starting the aircraft's engines; and the flight data recorder indicated that flaps were not deployed. The report also says, "During the entire takeoff run until the end of the CVR recording, no sounds were heard relating to the system warning of an inadequate takeoff configuration (TOWS)." The stick shaker and aural stall warnings were recorded by the CVR, beginning just after rotation.

The investigation is continuing.

Links to the CIAIAC's Interim Report A-032/2008:

[Image Source]

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Spanair Flt 5022 on Aircrew Buzz.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FAA: Group to review NYC airspace operating procedures

FAA logoToday the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had convened a New York Airspace Working Group to review current operating procedures over the Hudson and East Rivers. The group will recommend safety improvements in two weeks to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.

According to a press release issued by the agency, FAA air traffic and safety experts will review and analyze a variety of proposals to change the operating procedures in the Visual Flight Rules corridors over the two rivers. Both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters currently operate in the same airspace at or below 1,100 feet.

“We strongly encourage pilots to use standard practices in that area now, but it may make sense to require them,” Babbitt said. “We’ve heard a lot of other good ideas about improving safety there and I’m looking for a quick, but thorough review by the safety experts.”

The group will solicit comments from helicopter and aircraft operators and will review air traffic and pilot procedures before making its report to Babbitt on August 28.

In the meantime, Babbitt urged all pilots who operate in the area to follow the procedures outlined in a Notice to Airmen the FAA issued on August 11. The NOTAM advises pilots who fly in the airspace over the two rivers to turn on their lights, use special radio frequencies, announce when they enter the airspace and fly at 140 knots or less.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Republic Airways Holdings to be the new owner of Frontier Airlines

by B .N. Sullivan

The news broke just a little while ago: Republic Airways Holdings, Inc. has won in its bid to acquire Frontier Airlines, beating out competitor Southwest Airlines.

"I look forward to welcoming Frontier to our Republic family,” said Bryan Bedford, Chairman, President and CEO of Republic.

Republic Airways"Frontier has made impressive strides in returning to sustained profitability in a challenging and uncertain economic environment. We congratulate the employees of Frontier. Their commitment and perseverance during the bankruptcy process has allowed the Frontier brand to survive and thrive. Now, we have to turn our attention to the important work of integrating two great brands: Frontier and Midwest Airlines, which enjoy strong loyalty in Denver and Milwaukee.”

"We are pleased to have Republic as a plan sponsor,” said Sean Menke, Frontier President and Chief Executive Officer. "Today’s announcement is the beginning of a wonderful new chapter for this proud organization.”

According to a press statement issued by Southwest Airlines, a major stumbling block to their acquiring Frontier was the failure of the pilots' unions of the two carriers to resolve issues related to merging their seniority lists. The Southwest press release said, in part:
One of the contingencies in Southwest's proposal was that labor groups from the two airlines would need to reach an agreement on how the two Pilot Unions (SWAPA and FAPA) would work together. Despite a good faith and diligent effort by all involved, including the top leadership of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) and the Frontier Airlines Pilots Association (FAPA), who labored long into the night, the two unions were not able to come to an agreement before the auction deadline. As a result, Southwest’s bid was deemed unacceptable.
Southwest actually bid substantially more money for Frontier than Republic had offered, however the Southwest bid was contingent on settlement of the labor issues. In the end, Republic prevailed.

A Reuters article about the deal quoted John Stemmler, president of the Frontier Airlines Pilots' Association, who said, "It was a long process that's not quite over but I'm happy with the outcome. It happens to be aligned with keeping more jobs and we're very pleased with that."

Upon Frontier's emergence from bankruptcy, 100% of the stock will be purchased by Republic for $108.75 million.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fatigue caused go! Airlines pilots to fall asleep during flight, says NTSB

go! Airlines CRJ-200 aircraftThis week, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a final report on their investigation of an incident in which both pilots fell asleep during the cruise phase of a go! Airlines flight between Honolulu and Hilo, Hawaii, passing their intended destination before waking up. In their report, the NTSB attributed the incident to "the captain and first officer inadvertently falling asleep during the cruise phase of flight. Contributing to the incident were the captain's undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and the flight crew’s recent work schedules, which included several consecutive days of early-morning start times."

The incident occurred on the morning of February 13, 2008. The aircraft, a CRJ-200 (registration N651BR) was operating as go! Flight 1002, a scheduled inter-island passenger service between Honolulu and Hilo. It had completed its climb from Honolulu and was in cruise at FL210 with the autopilot engaged when both pilots "inadvertently fell asleep in the cockpit".

The pilots apparently slept for a period of approximately 15 minutes while the aircraft cruised on autopilot. During that time air traffic controllers and two separate airline crews in the area tried unsuccessfully to reach the incident crew by radio. The aircraft, still cruising at FL210, overflew its destination by about 26 nautical miles before the two pilots awakened, contacted air traffic control, and returned to Hilo for an uneventful landing.

The pilots flew the aircraft on the return leg to Honolulu, after which they reported the incident to the company. About two months later, both pilots were fired by Mesa Air Group, the parent company of go! Airlines.

Here is the link to the synopsis of the NTSB's report about this incident. Here is the link to the detailed full narrative report.

[Photo Source]

Crew member killed in Bangkok Airways accident at Koh Samui, Thailand

by B. N. Sullivan

Bangkok AirwaysAn aircraft accident at Koh Samui, Thailand has killed one pilot and injured six passengers, four seriously. The aircraft, an ATR-72 500 (registration HS-PGL) operating as Bangkok Airways Flight PG 266, was arriving at Samui Airport after a scheduled flight from Krabi, Thailand at the time of the accident. On landing, the aircraft reportedly skidded off the runway and collided with a building, said to be the airport's former control tower. The accident happened today, August 4, 2009, at about 14:30 local time.

In a statement to the press late this afternoon, Bangkok Airways president, Captain Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, said there were two pilots, two flight attendants, and 68 passengers on board the flight. He said, "All passengers have been evacuated from the site with four seriously injured passengers sent to the Bangkok Samui Hospital, and two others with minor injuries delivered to the Thai Inter Hospital. The 62 other passengers have been transferred to hotel. Two flight attendants and a pilot were reportedly safe, while the other pilot was dead."

Several news reports about the accident said that the weather was rainy and windy at the time the aircraft landed.

UPDATE Aug. 6, 2009: Aviation news web site is reporting that wind shear may have contributed to this accident:
Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reportedly told Thai media yesterday that "sudden wind shear" may have caused the accident. Reports suggest he learned this from Thailand's transport minister.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Merpati Nusantara Airlines Twin Otter missing in Indonesia

by B. N. Sullivan

A Merpati Nusantara Airlines DHC-6-30 Twin Otter (registration PK-NVC) has been declared missing by authorities in Indonesia after it failed to reach its destination yesterday. On the morning of August 2, 2009 Merpati Flight MZ9760D departed Jayapura, Indonesia for a scheduled passenger service to Oksibil. The flight never arrived at Oksibil and is presumed to have crashed.

Merpati Nusantara Airlines DHC-Twin OtterThe Jakarta Post, quoting Merpati official Capt. Nikmatullah, reported that there were two pilots, a mechanic, 11 adult passengers and two infants on board the flight. The names of the crew and passengers on Flight MZ9760D have been released by Merpati, and were published by the Jakarta Post.

A search for the aircraft was set to resume today after having been called off yesterday due to poor weather. No signal from the aircraft's emergency locator transmitter (ELT) has been detected.

UPDATE Aug. 4, 2009: News reports from Indonesia say that a search plane has spotted aircraft wreckage believed to be that of the missing Merpati Twin Otter. The wreckage is located near Abmisibil, in the Pegunungan Bintang district in Papua, according to the Jakarta Post. No word yet on the fate of the crew and passengers.

UPDATE Aug. 6, 2009: The Jakarta Post reports that search and rescue workers have reached the site of the crash of the Twin Otter in a mountainous area of Papua and have confirmed that there are no survivors.