The TSA and its ever disappointing act

May 26, 2016 on 3:31 pm | In Airline News, Airports, security | 2 Comments

So the TSA doesn’t have enough staff to manage itself appropriately at major airports and expects things to be particularly bad this summer.

Their go-to solution?  Dear Airlines:  Can you drop baggage fees?

Give me a break.  I hate baggage fees at least for the first bag checked and even I think that’s a stupid idea.  The revenue impact that has on the airline is so large that I would actually suggest it more economically smart for the airlines to just fork over money to the TSA to hire people instead.

The TSA hasn’t managed itself competently.  It has a long history of criminal behavior by its officers.   The agency has never competently staffed itself at many airports.

I am reminded of the year I spent one afternoon in San Francisco last fall.  I needed to change terminals at SFO and had to leave the security area to move from the International Terminal to Terminal 2.  That took about 3 hours primarily due to standing in line for security.

Was the hold up due to that many people?  Nope.  If you had staffed the other 4 scanning machines I would imagine that things would have proceeded in a timely manner.  But instead we had a 2.5 hour line wait at a major international airport on a Tuesday afternoon.

We don’t take security seriously and we don’t staff for it seriously.  We don’t even use all the money taxed for it.  Instead, we re-allocate taxes raised for security to reduce the deficit.

Care to guess who is responsible for that exceptionally anti-business move?  That would be the Republican led Congress.

When we don’t adequately staff something like this, it is a billion dollar impact to our economy.  We literally impede commerce within this country.  This isn’t about people who should just shut up and wait an extra 10 minutes before taking a trip to Disney World.

To the contrary, most air travel is business related and contributes heavily to our economy.

We should have a big problem with how travel is impeded in this country.  It’s not a “this is the wealthy” moment.  It’s a “this is an economic driver for this country” moment.  All too often we think the only people using the airlines and airports are the elite 619 Roofing.  That’s just not true.  We think that only travelers are affected by what happens in our airline transportation network.  That’s not true either.

So what are you going to do about it?


Alaska Airlines merging with Virgin America reminds me of the AOL / Time Warner merger

May 23, 2016 on 12:48 pm | In Airline News, Airlines Alliances, Mergers and Bankruptcy | No Comments

When AOL merged with Time Warner to become an even bigger media company, a primary reaction was a dot com bubble was buying a multi-generational colossus.

But others who paid attention were quite a bit more concerned in the dissonance between the two companies in terms of leadership and culture.  In short, they were incompatible and didn’t understand each other.

I understand the desire for Alaska Airlines to buy an airline.  They are in a “eat or be eaten” world and presently look very attractive as a hors d’oeuvre for a much bigger airline.  So buying someone lets the airline continue to exist rather than become food for another.

Pardon me.  This merger is nuts.

The airline fleets are entirely at odds with each other.  The service products are entirely at odds with each other.  The networks are somewhat at odds with each other and where they aren’t . . . it doesn’t mean Alaska Airlines is going to pick up the customers from a consolidation point of view.

The company cultures are way at odds with each other.  Alaska Airlines has a multi-generational history and a very unionized, very conservative airline culture.  Virgin America is the millenial who just turned 24 and thinks they should be a vice president in their first job.

What bugs me more about this is that no one seems to be calling anyone out on this.  That alarms me.  Analysts and everyone else shouldn’t like this merger at all  It doesn’t speak to merger synergies and it doesn’t look like a merger that is easily accomplished which means it looks like one hell of an expensive merger.

In the face of incredible and record setting airline profits in the past 2 years . . . no one seems to care very much.

And that’s what scares me about this industry.  It appears to be losing its focus again.



May 19, 2016 on 12:37 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

Southwest pilot’s union, SWAPA, is suing Southwest to prevent them being forced to fly the 737MAX as they believe it’s not covered in the contract. The article about this news spread rapidly all over the world with the help of the social media service The Marketing Heaven.

I understand the move.  This is the pilots wanting a new contract with an industry leading raise.  It’s designed to raise public awareness and tension with the company.

It is a contradiction in so many ways.  First and foremost, the 737MAX is no more than an update to a long existing aircraft flown by the company.   To see it as a new aircraft type and force that issue is a giant stretch at best.

However, we wouldn’t be seeing this if Southwest were able to get a deal done on the pilot’s (and other unions’) contract(s).  Fear of an industry leading contract is reasonable and particularly so for Southwest since they no longer have the lowest costs in the business.  It’s a reasonable fear.

Which means the pilots could stand to have a gut check.  Wanting the most is not unusual.  Wanting it against the specific conditions of your airline and its future is self-defeating.  And while Southwest isn’t bankrupt and isn’t likely to go bankrupt soon, it would be in the interests of the pilots to learn from 30 years of lessons.  Namely that over-reaching has never done an airline nor a union any good in this business.

Failure to achieve a contract is a pox on both houses.  Both can give and both should reach for a contract that starts asap.

The airline and its unions have to come to grips with the fact that the airline is changing, the airline industry has changed and while record profits are seen today, there is nothing in the airline industry that is less volatile than it used to be.   That said, both parties should realize that they enjoy success and wealth today because of the unique special relationship that the airline and unions have historically enjoyed.  That relationship was about getting deals done that benefited both parties without being harmful to either.

Southwest and Love Field Airport

January 21, 2016 on 3:32 pm | In Airports | No Comments

Southwest Airlines has filed notice of intent to appeal Judge Kinkeade’s ruling that Delta could continue to use gates at Love Field Airport.  Southwest says that Delta is tresspassing and Delta says Southwest has a monopoly and the City of Dallas was last seen taking the last train to Clarksville.

Love Field is a public airport.  I don’t expect it to be infinitely adjustable to all demands to use the facility.

I do, however, expect it to be more flexible to airlines than simply accomodating Southwest and Virgin America.  That’s a No Bueno moment.

We got here because Southwest got greedy, the City of Dallas refuses to push for more gates and American Airlines wants Southwest boxed in. This anti-competitive and a restraint to trade to many airlines.

So let’s turn Love Field into a private airport, sell it to Southwest for a reasonably low sum and let Southwest do what it wants.

Or even better, sell the airport to the highest  bidder and let them fight it out.  If Southwest doesn’t want the faclilty and has “Dallas fatigue”, then they can move over to the new facilities at DFW or even just walk away.

There is another alternative though. . . create more gates, have an annual auction for all gates and highest bidder gets unrestrained use for 1 year.

Things to think about in the airline industry.

A pox on all of your houses

January 12, 2016 on 11:03 am | In Airports | No Comments

Love Field has been screwed up since Fort Worth Congressman Jim Wright decided to muck with issues involving Dallas Love Field and Dallas / Fort Worth airports.

And no one has had enough political courage to recognize a vastly different reality as compared to 35 years ago.

There is this myth that there is space at DFW airport.  There isn’t.  DFW airport can longer accommodate a major airline entering the marketplace at this time.  DFW airport admits it needs at least one more terminal and is beginning the very long, very arduous process of approving, designing and building a new terminal.

So, yeah, we should have that ready by 2030.

Love Field airport was capacity constrained the day the 5 Party Agreement to end the Wright Amendment was signed.  All of the parties knew it and all knew that they were kicking a can down the road.

And it took less than a year after the restrictions lifted for a major legal battle over access to the airport was begun.  A sure sign the deal was bad from the beginning.

A pox on the City for treating Love Field as a second cousin in the airport game.  Love Field isn’t a luxury and it has provided exceptional competition in the marketplace to lower fares.  Particularly after October 13, 2014.  All of the Dallas / Fort Worth area benefits because while Southwest, Virgin and Delta are driving prices down at Love Field, they’re also driving them down at DFW.  I know this because suddenly it is exceptionally cheaper for me to fly to places such as Portland, OR and Norfolk/Richmond, VA.  More than a hundred dollars less than it used to be.

This is the only market to see lower fares rather than higher fares in the last year.

A pox on Southwest Airlines for knowing that they were kicking that can down the road and then beating everyone up for not getting what they wanted.  Southwest signed the deal and knew the impact of the deal and still made the deal.  Now it would like the deal changed but it has resorted to bullying the City and other airlines in a courtroom.  Take some responsibility for agreeing to a bad deal and be a leader in solving the problem.

And not for nothing SWA, Love Field isn’t your own private airfield.

A pox on American Airlines for forcing such a deal when it had everything it needed already at DFW.  Your desire to constrain trade was so strong that you politically forced a deal that has hurt the city, hurt Fort Worth and hurt other major benefactors to the community (SWA and supporting industries).  That’s No Bueno and you could be a leader in getting this changed but you won’t.  You have your own airport and you’re damned if you’ll help a city or a sister airline in any way.

A particular pox on Aviation Director Mark Deubner for not identifying the risks and addressing them via the Dallas City Counil so as to not impede commerce at the airport.

A big pox on Fort Worth for clinging to the idea that inhibiting Love Field is what’s best for Fort Worth.  Major metropolitan areas have multiple airports.  It wouldn’t be so bad for you to fire up some flights into one and let’s talk about how you built Alliance Airport with the expectation that it could have “overflow” from DFW.  The fact of the matter is that Fort Worth is big enough to support a smaller airport with services.  Your insecurities against Dallas show up time and again in the airport game and it hurts the entire metroplex.

And lastly, a pox on both State and Congressional leadership in this area.  Who are you keeping happy?  This has been a legislatively botched compromise over and over again.  Bringing political solutions to a market area problem has resulted in a mess.  I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat either.  I believe regulation is good but I believe political constraints on commerce for a single situation in this area is stupid.  Undo the stupid and allow the market forces to develop transportation responses according to genuine needs.

This is a metro area of nearly 7 million people and the only major metro area that is politically constrained by Congressional law in this way.  Let it go, things will work out and I promise you that the city of Fort Worth, a city of 1.8 million people, isn’t going to be forced to drive to Dallas to take an airplane ride.

Smisek goes down like Frazier

September 8, 2015 on 10:55 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

There has been a federal investigation going on into the actions of David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the man who controlled Newark’s airport.

Today, that probe took down United Airlines Chairman, CEO & President Jeff Smisek as well as 2 other executives (Nene Foxhall and Mark Anderson, both senior vice presidents of the company).  Smisek’s resignation was announced as a result of an internal probe conducted alongside the Federal investigation.

Everyone added the words about this resignation not being an admittance of guilt, etc.

Don’t kid yourself.  If Jeff Smisek and two other senior executives suddenly resign, it wasn’t because nothing wrong was found.  To the contrary.  And it wasn’t a resignation so much as I’m sure these executives were encouraged to depart or face consequences far worse immediately.

Samson is accused of using influence to get United to put a flight in between Newark and South Carolina where Samson had a vacation home.

It’s notable that United “owns” Newark Airport so tightly and with such advantage it’s impossible for other airlines to gain any space at all.  They have Newark locked down the way Southwest has a stranglehold on Chicago Midway and Dallas Love Field.

What worse, Smisek is an attorney.  He really does know better than to allow his airline to influence an executive in that manner.

What happens next?  Someone named Oscar Munoz becomes United’s new President and CEO and Henry Meyer (an independent United director) is now Chairman of the Board.

Is that good?  I don’t know.  Right now, an incompetent fool can make money running an airline.  I would hate for these new guys to get the idea that they are airline geniuses.  Airline geniuses are defined much more by events seen in 2008 and 2009 than they are today.

This is bad for United.  There really wasn’t a need to cultivate such a relationship in this current airline era.  Smisek had everything going for him and his airline already and to influence Samson for more would have just been greed.

Whack-A-Mole: The Braniff Operations and Maintenance Building at Love Field

September 8, 2015 on 9:59 am | In Airline History, Airports | No Comments


“This is a very solid business deal that requires no money on the part of the city or airport.” – Mark Deubner -Director of Aviation (Love Field)

What Deubner doesn’t say is very important:

It isn’t necessarily the most favorable deal for the city.

Just weeks ago, a motion to do a deal with local car dealer Randall Reed on a lease for the old Braniff Operations and Maintenance building at Love Field was killed by the City of Dallas after a bizarre procedural discussion on how to do it.  Those involved felt that the deal had been killed for a while.

Instead, Director Mark Deubner has decided to insert himself even more into the deal and has a small group of Dallas Councilmen requesting a second bite at the apple to approve a lease deal.  Those councilmen are:

  • Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson
  • Lee Kleinman
  • Rick Callahan
  • Jennifer Staubach Gates
  • Monica Alonzo (who seems confused since she voted to quash the deal just moments ago)

These Councilmen are what I would refer to as the “Business Group” with notable developer (and daughter of Roger Staubach) Jennifer Staubach Gates included.

What will happen is that a motion to reconsider will be placed on the council agenda.  This will be a vote to once again take up debate on the issue and allow yet another vote to authorize a deal with Reed.

We find this suspicious and silly.  Suspicious because this a demand to have another bite at the apple at an alarming pace and without new information to consider.  It is effective a call for a “do-over”.  Silly because each time debate is engaged on this subject, no one ever gets truly warm to the idea of doing the deal.

Most bothersome is the seemingly urgent need to get a vote done on a property that arguably would be a anchor point for the east side of Love Field.  When such urgency seems to be exhibited without good reason, I get itchy.  The prime pusher of this deal is Mark Deubner and, at times, one would think he was more on the side of Randall Reed rather than the city.

Deubner is characteristic of a breed that believes because the word “Director” is in their title, everyone should really just shut up and do what he tells them to do.  (See quote above)  And usually without giving good economic reason.

There are other deals to consider such as a proposal by Flying Crown Land Group who not only has quite a bit of good detail in their plan but also has been barking at the front door to do a better economic deal since before Randall Reed popped up on the scene.

Mark Deubner ignored the Flying Crown Land Group steadfastly even when his brilliant idea was to simply raze the property and let Dallas Business Developers go at it.  His treatment of Flying Crown Land Group has been characterized as “hostile” and has found the Aviation Department treating FCLG with dismissive attitudes designed to ignore the enterprise.

And Deubner seems anxious to ensure that the Dallas City Council (and its Council Critters) remain as ignorant as possible of a federal lawsuit filed against Randall Reed for making off with Flying Crown Land Group’s proposal and ideas (they at one time were partnered to do the development together).

Even some of the proposals made under the Reed name contain images from the Flying Crown Land Group efforts.  (Reed’s group gained access when they partnered for a brief while with FCLG)

It’s alarming to me that that Deubner wants this deal so badly and despite a federal lawsuit naming both Reed and the City of Dallas (Deubner’s efforts at pushing this deal at this moment become exceptionally suspect in light of the lawsuit).  Does the City of Dallas really need to be named in yet another lawsuit surrounding Love Field because of arbitrary and unnecessary behaviors towards businesses who want to be located at the airport? (See the lawsuit filed by Delta Airlines against the City of Dallas, et al for access to the airport)

Lawsuits cost a lot of money and rarely end up in a win for those they are filed against.

When an agency acts as the Aviation Department does under the leadership of Deubner, I want to find out what the economic interests are and get some sunshine on the relationships that exist.  To date, that hasn’t happened.  Deubner has a fiduciary and civic responsibility to hear all appropriate proposals and forward credible ones for consideration.

Even the current proposal is suspect and, I feel, if many saw what was being claimed, eyes would raise more.  For example:

  • The Reed Plan claims job growth of 1,200 in Aviation, Office and Retail sectors
  • $65 Million in annual salaries
  • Aviation and Development/Growth
  • Furtherance of the Good Neighbor Plan Initiative
  • Historical Preservation

I strongly question that Reed’s plan to have a car dealership along with a fixed base aviation operation is going to yield 1,200 jobs as presented.  1,200 jobs requires quite a bit of intense business for a foot print that is simply not that big overall.  Consider how big your own employers are and their footprint in this area.

Furthermore, in an online story by Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning  News, Randall Reed says:

“We’re adding no new traffic,” he says. “That’s what crazy. We’re moving an existing dealership to this location.”

How do you create 1,200 new jobs with a salary total of $65 million by moving existing businesses in to the property?

See what I mean about asking the right questions?

Aviation and Development Growth is good and doing something with this property within historical constraints would be even better for the airport.  How does a car dealership as the anchor business serve this interest?

Furthermore, how does a car dealership make it attractive for other supporting businesses such as restaurants, office space, etc?  It’s rare to see a car dealership co-exist with any other business but another car dealership.

Furtherance of the Good Neighbor Plan Initiative seems to be at odds with the fact that the local neighborhoods don’t want another car dealership.  They want quieter, less impactful businesses in that area.

On the issue of historical preservation . . . I just kind of choke at the idea that a car dealer owner such as Randall Reed really has interest in historical preservation.   Currently, only City of Dallas Landmark status can ensure that building isn’t inappropriately altered.  Today, it only has Federal status and the Reed group hasn’t been communicating with the Texas Historical Commission about its plans nor responding to that same agencies inquiries.

Doesn’t feel like someone who is interested in historical preservation, does it?

We’re at a point where it becomes necessary to realize a few things.

First, just because a Director of Aviation says a deal is a “solid” doesn’t mean its in the interests of the City of Dallas or its citizens or the local neighb0rhoods.  It just means that in his opinion, this is a deal to do.  Deubner has an already lackluster record of management within the city.

Second, public / private partnerships do work in the best interests of everyone far more often than not.  The proposal by Flying Crown Land Group is just that.  In fact, public / private partnerships almost always do yield optimum results for everyone including economic yield to the city.  This city doesn’t have a strong track record of getting the best of developers in deals.  More accurately, development deals done behind closed doors in the city usually have yielded mediocre results at best.

Third, despite Deubner’s insistence that this is the way deals are done, not so much.  When there is strong competing interests in developing properties, an RFP (Request for Proposal) is far more appropriate and never more so than when City property is involved.  How is the city harmed by taking competing proposals from competing developers and examining them in public?

Fourth, why does Deubner (and the City by extension) continue to ignore a proposal from a group with more experience in public/private partnerships and whose proposal makes historical preservation a centerpiece?

Want to hear the oddest part?  Flying Crown Land Group is a not for profit organization that has completed projects.  It doesn’t have an inherent profit motive.  We don’t want to hear this proposal?

I want to hear it.

I have seen many bad results from cities doing deal without sunshine on them but I have never seen a city deal go bad because it was done in the open.  I like business and I think that considering re-development proposals for the East side of Love Field Airport a great idea.  This very space would be worthy of consideration for expansion of flights out of the airport (and it was used for that very purpose by Legend Airlines in the past).

If Reed’s proposal is as firm, sound and smart as Aviation Director Deubner says, then it should be able to  withstand and win a RFP process as well.

And if it can’t, maybe that isn’t the deal the City should be making.



Braniff, Love Field and why a guy seems so impatient to sell out

August 21, 2015 on 3:13 pm | In Airline History | No Comments

Over the past few years, there have been competing attempts to make use of the old Braniff Operations property at Love Field Airport in Dallas.  Watching this unfold has, at the least, provided some amusement and at other times, an education in how a city can truly work against its citizens interests.

At the forefront of this mess is an Aviation Director at Love Field Airport named Mark Deubner.

Deubner started off wanting to destroy the Braniff building in favor of letting car lots take over the remaining portion of Lemmon Avenue.  If you detect sarcasm, you would be right.  However, the more disturbing part of this statement is that it is far closer to the truth than anyone would like.

As a citizen of the Greater Dallas Area, I can assure you that the last thing Lemmon Avenue needs is another car lot.

When Deubner began his merry march of mayhem, along came another group who decided to put together a comprehensive plan for the property that included reuse of the original structure and a purpose that didn’t include a car lot.   This group was the Flying Crown Land Group.

That plan kind of attracted me and they actually got me to write in favor of the idea by, oddly enough, convincing me of a few things:

  • They appeared to actually understand the building.
  • They appeared to actually understand the neighborhood and airport.
  • They were interested in both preserving the building as well as putting it in use for something other than a car lot.
  • Their plan contained a hell of a lot of more proposed detail than most.

It was that last part that, I thought, was kind of important.

But Mr. Deubner thought that it would be better to have a Car  Mogul involved if he didn’t get his way in simply destroying the property.  Enter Randall Reed, Car Mogul.  Mr. Reed wanted to build

. . . wait for it . . .

A car lot.  And a plane lot too, if we’re to be honest.

Mr. Deubner has ever since rode the Reed Train and rather blatantly, I think.  Reed’s proposal wasn’t without merit and certainly with two competing ideas for the property, there was the basis of a sound discussion on what might most appropriately fit the needs of the city.

Now, I would like to point out that what’s good for the City of Dallas, isn’t necessarily good for Randall Reed (or even Flying Crown Land Group) and that means we (the Greater Area) should engage in a discussion about what to do about a stretch of land along Lemmon Avenue that can either A) be a nice place or B) a giant car dealership.

In the process of examining what to do with this building, folks went out and got it designated a historical landmark due to its exceptionally well preserved architecture and architectural provenance.  Turns out the FAA and the Texas Historical Commission liked the building so much, it really wasn’t hard to turn it into a landmark at all.  Frankly, the whole designation went down so fast that I was a bit shocked.

So now we have a worthy landmark that can be renovated into a new purpose which will offer a building that is consistent with an airport, a purpose that might not be a car lot and which can be an asset to the neighborhood.

At one point, Reed and Flying Crown even got together and worked on a plan that was going to include a car lot but it was also going to provide a lot more.  That wasn’t the most desirable outcome from my perspective but . . . it was a worthy compromise.

But Mr. Reed pulled out, appears to have wrapped up all the great parts of the Flying Crown Land Group Proposal and went to work on doing this on their own.  At least that’s the accusation and there is a lawsuit going on over this.  That’s important and we’ll tell you why in a moment.

Now Mr. Deubner is working over time to get this on a City Council agenda to approve rent abatement for the Reed Plan as the only viable plan to look at.

I have a big problem with that.  First, there have been several viable plans offered over the past few years now.  These nominally viable plans indicate that there is a conversation worth having.  Indeed, there might be some competition to re-develop this property and I am told that competition is good.

Second, there is too much desire to just “push this through”.  When someone just wants to make something happen like Mr. Deubner does, I do wonder what he gets from this.  As many would ask . . . “What’s the incredible hurry?”

Third, why is it necessary to support neighborhood meetings for Mr. Reed that go without notice being made to stakeholders who are supposed to be notified of such things?  That feels manipulative  to me, at the least.

City government is supposed to be to the benefit of the city.  The city is more than 1 million residents.  The greater Dallas area is closer to 3 million residents.

It just flat out bothers me that Mr. Reed’s current offering intends a $17 million investment (this screams “car lot” to me) in return for $11 million in rent abatement.

Say what?  That doesn’t feel like a very good deal for the city.  It doesn’t feel like a great opportunity for citizens.

Flying Crown Land Group has a pretty interesting plan as well that involves greater investment in the property, more adaptive reuse of the property “as is” and appears to be as viable if not more viable than the Reed Plan in that it offers more detail and less “if come” promise.

Wouldn’t you like to see that discussed as an option before the city gives up $11.5 million in rent for a promise?

What should you do?  Shout.

Go to the City of Dallas Council meeting on August 26th at 9:00am and protest a rubber stamp of a plan that is fundamentally based on promise and what could be “copied” from another group.  Ask for an open competition that is based on facts and numbers rather than promises.  The city and even Mr. Deubner have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the interests of the city rather than a car lot.

And save a nice building.  That building is attractive and that property could certainly serve greater and more appropriate uses than a “car lot”.

For more information, visit these websites:

Save Braniff

Flying Crown Land Group


A gentle response to an ugly diatribe

July 23, 2015 on 11:36 am | In Airline History | 1 Comment
My friend, Richard Cass of, has re-posted a financial analysis that I did some time ago and which refuted the idea that Harding L Lawrence simply spent 15 years running an airline into the ground.  The purpose of that was to put some fact based perspective on a very emotional subject.

Please recognize that I don’t excuse Harding Lawrence entirely from the bankruptcy of Braniff but I would also point out (and did so during the Flying Colors conference last fall) that there were a number of people who contributed to the bankruptcy of the airline.  The airline went on for 2 more years after Harding Lawrence’s retirement.  Even more important, the entire industry for airlines changed in such a fundamental way, the impacts were felt until the 2000’s.  That is the disruptive force of airline deregulation.  Braniff was the first to go down, it wasn’t remotely the last.

Fair disclosure:  I have a degree in economics and finance.  My exposure to airlines has gone on for over 40 years.  And, most importantly, I am the son of Neal J. Robinson who served in various executive roles at Braniff International.  Those roles began in accounting and included titles such as VP Finance, VP Finance & Control, EVP Marketing.  His career at the airline spanned 13 years and he was also responsible for guiding Jay Pritzker in the re-launch of Braniff II.

I would like to offer rebuttal to comments made by Brooke Watts via his Facebook site on Braniff.  I’ll address them in order.

Mr Watts:

In order to assess a company’s financial stability, you must look at the “debt to equity” ratio

In simple terms, how much does the company owe vs how much it made

This ratio was near 1:1 during Beard. It increased exponentially under Lawerence (sic).

Therefore, Braniff was making a profit on paper, but owed more and more money over time

Well, Mr. Watts isn’t entirely incorrect on debt to equity ratios telling a story at a company, he inadvertently tells the story of exactly why Braniff was purchased and put into the hands of new leadership.  A debt to equity ratio of 1:1 says the business is being run exceptionally conservatively and competent financial authorities then (and now) would have said that this business cannot adequately grow to maintain its position in the industry.  That kind of ratio doesn’t scream “hey, look at me!  I’m running a great business.”  To the contrary, it screams that the business is run too conservatively and probably not returning a good ROI (return on investment) to its shareholders.

Curiously, Mr. Watts offers that this was all due to Harding Lawrence.  In fact, C. Edward Acker led the purchase and arranged the financing for that airline for years and continues to be considered a very solid, authoritative figure in finance (airline and otherwise) even today.  The airline ran its business under the very stern eye of Republic Bank as well (who served as the lead bank in financing the airline).  It is disingenuous to characterize the airline being run into the ground with debt by a single person.  This was a public corporation governed by some of the most conservative business leaders in the area during Lawrence’s tenure.

Again, Mr. Watts:

This stemmed from the fact that Acker and Lawerence decided to pay profits to “preferred stockholders” instead of re-investing in the company.

They also re-incorporated three times after 1965. And set up “Golden Parachutes” for themselves.

There were three sets of “books”. One for the common stockholders, one for the IRS, and a private one. Ted Beckwith was killed over the latter
This is just slander and terrible slander at that.  It implies criminal acts by many men, not just Lawrence, in a public corporation for decades.  Let’s be smarter than that.

This public corporation was being audited by a Big 10 accounting firm annually.  It had fiduciary duty to report its actions to the SEC in an era when the SEC had substantial bite.  It operated under the scrutiny of serious businessmen such as Troy Post, Herman Lay, Pamela Harriman, and others who had and still have reputations for being exceptionally responsible individuals.

As for the final statement on Ted Beckwith . . . Ted Beckwith was a contemporary of my father and man respected within and outside of Braniff.  His murder was brutal and exceptional and entirely horrific for Mr. Beckwith’s family.  To give purpose to his death with an implication of financial impropriety is just a giant disservice to Mr.  Beckwith.

Mr. Beckwith’s murder is unsolved today and we do not know why he was killed.  The circumstances around his death were barely investigated unfortunately.  Lack of facts does not prove a thing.  Furthermore, to suggest multiple sets of books is silly and slanderous to Mr. Beckwith (who was the EVP of Finance at the time my father was EVP of Marketing).

The airline suffered on a bet made by Harding Lawrence.  A bet that several other CEOs made at the time of the 1978 deregulation of airlines.  He bet big and it didn’t work.  He does deserve some credit for the airline’s demise.  Nonetheless, the airline was led and governed by others for more than 2 more years.  There were 2 others who were in charge of the airline.  This wasn’t due to one man and to say so really understates the entire airline industry.

I would ask that when people judge Braniff and Braniff’s fortunes, they do so with facts rather than gossip, speculation and unfounded rumor.  It’s certainly OK to have a negative opinion of its leaders, including Harding Lawrence.  But those opinions should be based on fact rather than emotions such as hatred.  In the case of Mr. Watts, I’ll point out that the very airline he celebrates so much, the 1965 to 1982 era, was crafted by the very man he derides at every opportunity.  The irony is curious.

Greg Robinson | Flying Colors Airline Blog

KLM’s Sherlock

September 25, 2014 on 4:46 pm | In Airline Service | 1 Comment

KLM’s new strategy for lost items: a beagle named Sherlock.

What’s the A330NEO got that others don’t?

September 16, 2014 on 8:41 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | 1 Comment

Price and that’s about it.

It’s got more than the old A330 in the sense that every vehicle enjoys a new, modern engine.  The A330 is positioned as being a still young aircraft when, in fact, it’s pretty old these days.  The technology that the A330/A340 airplanes got was solidly from the 1980’s and wasn’t that innovative even then.  Remember that it was designed to replace Airbus’ A300/A310 aircraft (partly) and designed to compete against the 767 and DC-10.

Airbus didn’t have its sights on the 777 which was a couple of years behind it in development.  In fact, the 777 was more a response to the A330/A340 and MD-11.

So the point I would make is this:  There is a reason why the 767 isn’t selling anymore.  Same for the 757.

There was also reason why Airbus wanted to sell an A330 Tanker to the US Air Force:  It would keep a production line running for a while.

If the A330NEO was as good as the 787, it wouldn’t be immediately advertised for considerably less money.  And for certain, if that kind of performance was what all airlines were looking for, Airbus wouldn’t have been strong armed into making the A350.  In fact, it’s notable that the original A350 was a lot more an A330NEO than anything else.

The A330NEO is a response to a few airlines who would like to have more A330 airplanes but with a little bit better price.  Delta, for instance, wants some.  A few other airlines will order them as well and if the A330NEO is done right, it might even be profitable for Airbus.

But it’s not a revolution.  It’s barely an evolution.  I strongly suspect it will be a 767-400 for Airbus which means that it will keep some customers happy and in the Airbus camp but let’s put away this talk that 1000 Airbus A330NEOs will be sold.  Only 1100 A330 airplanes have been delivered to date so far.

This is a bridge airplane to keep some people happy for a while so Airbus can figure out what to do with its product line gaps.  Presently, the A350 isn’t a 777 (new or old) and the smallest variant, the A350-800 is highly unattractive to customers because it offers no benefit over the A350-900.  Airbus has nothing new to fill the gap between the A321NEO and the A350-900 and that’s a big gap.

So, for now, the A330NEO will fill that gap.  Sort of.  Kind of.



Seat Reclines and Diversions

September 3, 2014 on 3:39 pm | In Airline Service | 4 Comments

I’ve weighed in on this subject several times but in light of the news circulating of multiple airliners diverting over conflicts among passengers having to do with seat reclining, it’s time to do it again.

It’s fascinating to me how vocal people are on this subject.

There are the highly vocal minority frequent fliers who think that seat recline is owned by the flier and he can do whatever he wants.

There are the other highly vocal “always economy class” fliers who think that it’s time to end seat recline.

Absolutely seat recline needs to be ended.  With seat pitch averages down to 30 – 31 inches on most legacy airlines, there is simply no space for people to be reclining their chairs.  At the minimum, airlines should disable recline on all seats that are economy class.  I would include Economy Plus seats in this.

As a 6′ 2″ big man, when you recline your seat, the top of the seat is literally just a few inches (less than a foot) from my chest.  Putting a seat back into my personal space on a multi-hour flight is not your right.  Sorry, it just isn’t.

Furthermore, if airlines are going to constrain seat pitch, the consequence is having to disable recline and let people get over themselves.  Or give economy seats more seat pitch.  Or get used to the very high cost of a diversion.  And if you airlines think you aren’t a party to that cost, you are.  And courts will find you are.

For those of you who are about to shout, stamp your feet and declare your rights to a seat decline, you’re behaving childish at this point.  Like a 5 year old and I include the numerous bloggers out there who like to declare this right as well.

The high price of the seat doesn’t entitle you to recline.  It entitles you to safe transport from point A to point B.  Unfortunately, you fliers made it about that years ago.  Let’s accept the conditions that defines reality today and create a more “win win” situation for fliers in the back of the bus.

Late and getting later

July 10, 2014 on 2:00 am | In Airline Service | No Comments

Southwest Airlines holds the unenviable #12 (out of 14) position for on-time arrivals on the latest list released.  Hawaiian (surprise, surprise) is first and Alaska and Delta follow in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.

Southwest didn’t use to hold that position . . . ever.  In fact, it held #1 positions in on time for a long, long time.

Now, yes, they’re bigger and they’re busier but . . . here is the thing:

Delta is #3.  US Airways is #5 and American Airlines is #9.

Southwest is losing this battle badly and it isn’t just because they’ve entered non-traditional markets either.  When people ask CEO Gary Kelly about a culture loss, these are the things that come to my mind.  He refutes that culture loss but I don’t think that it is fair to believe that culture at Southwest is the same it ever was.

There are operational problems at the airline.  Their systems are creaking under the loads they’ve been placed under.  They have no systemized approach for scaling up to their demand and their not leaving happy employees in their path.

So, when people call out a deterioration of culture at the airline and they really do mean things going down hill such as on time arrivals, it’s best not to say “Oh no.  We’re fine!”  Acknowledge the problem and start to address it rather than acting as if there is no problem.

Otherwise, you start to look like American Airlines circa 2010.

Venezuela goes old school

July 9, 2014 on 11:36 am | In Airline News, Trivia | No Comments

Airlines such as American Airlines and Delta Airlines are sharply reducing the number of flights they are flying to Venezuela at this time.  The problem is that while they like the flying, they can’t get their money out of Venezuela.

Most recently, American Airlines has said it has over $700 million that it cannot retrieve from the greedy hands of Venezuela’s government.  $700 million is a lot of money for any company and even for an airline, that’s a lot of cash. News reports now say that nearly $4 billion (with a “b”) is being restricted by Venezuela due to currency restrictions in place.

Venezuela (and some other countries) are greatly restricting the amount of foreign currency that can leave the country at any one time.  Because of rampant inflation and hyper-inflation induced by socialist movements in such countries, these nations now have a severe problem is coming up with enough “hard” currency to pay their global bills.

That’s significant when it comes to Venezuela because this is a nation that has had a profitable oil export going on for years.  Typically that brings in more than enough foreign currency to balance outflows for most nations.

The worst of this is that as these balances grow in these countries, they look more and more attractive to hold on to.  $4.9 billion is a lot of money to a nation such as Venezuela.  In fact, it’s about 1% of Venezuela GDP.

Think about that for a moment.  For foreign airlines alone, Venezuela is intentionally restricting as much as 1% of its GDP.

How is this done?  The nation devalues its currency strongly and regularly.  An airline such as American Airlines sell a ticket for say, $200, it’s paid for (in Venezuela) in Venezuelan Bolivars at the official exchange rate.   That exchange rate is set by the government.  But the government changes that rate arbitrarily and lower before that money gets to the airline.  Here is a simplified example:

SuperStar Airlines sells tickets in Venezuela for Bs 1000.00 (One thousand Venezuelan Bolivars).  Juan Diaz purchases a ticket and pays in cash Bs 1000.00.  The exchange rate is (officially set by Venezuela) set at 4 Bolivars to $1 US.  The airline collects this money into a Venezuelan bank account in that currency.  Now, periodically, SuperStar Airlines would like to have that currency sent back to its headquarters in the United States.  But the Venezuelan government makes this very difficult to do because it’s a large sum of money.  Basically, this currency has to be sold for dollars and the only place those dollars can be purchased (legally) is the Venezuelan government.

So the Venezuelan government “sells” dollars for an exchange rate that is set at Bs 5 to $1 and suddenly the money that SuperStar Airlines has is now worth much less.

What makes this worse is that the Venezuelan government is maintaining several different exchange rates that are “official” and those are egregiously unfair to the businesses such as airlines operating to and from that nation.  In addition, the government is devaluing its currency more in the exchange rates that primarily effect foreign businesses.  Furthermore, it’s only permitting a trickle of cash to be exchanged and sent out of the country at a time.

This results in a condition where it just doesn’t make sense to fly to Venezuela.  Actually, it doesn’t make sense to do any business in Venezuela and one could be tempted to call Venezuela the Alitalia of countries at this point.  When you can’t make money and take it back home periodically at a rate that allows you to earn a reasonable profit, you just have to stop doing business in that country.

This is what many airlines are doing now.   One thing that the former President (of Venezuela) Hugo Chavez understood was that he needed foreign businesses to do business in Venezuela and he kept this game at a tolerable level.  New President Maduro and his government is not making it tolerable because to do so means they cannot throw money at their citizens to stay in power.

And staying in power is important.

This is very reminiscent of how many nations in South America operated in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.  And it killed those economies.  Airlines had to be very creative with how they got money out of those countries legally.  Braniff was very good at this but even Braniff would find itself doing very odd things from time to time.  For instance, its leather seats came from leather from Argentina. That leather was “exported” by Braniff because they had to buy something to take “value” out of the country.  Leather was a  way to get “value” out of Argentina.   Other times, executives would travel to the Latin American country in question, buy financial instruments of various types (often bonds) and then stuff their suitcases with them and come home.  I know this because that is exactly what my father had to do at Braniff more than once.

When an airline gets to the point that it says it is untenable to continue business in a nation, that’s pretty bad.  Airlines will do business with just about anyone if there is money to be made.

I strongly suspect that Venezuela’s response will be that their airline will fly people where they need to go.  Except . . . how will that airline gets its money out of those countries when they use retaliatory measures (allowed) against Venezuela?  This is only one chapter of a multi-story chapter.  Stay tuned for more.



Long Distance 787 Style

July 7, 2014 on 2:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Service | 2 Comments

I read a story from Forbes recently where the possibilities that the 787 opened up were discussed.  Specifically, how new routes to China were springing up now that the 787 was available to do “long and thin” routes for airlines.

United Airlines opened up a thrice weekly route from San Francisco to Chengdu (in the interior of China) that is 6857 miles in length.  Not nearly the maximum distance a 787 can fly but certainly a distance that isn’t flown often.  That is the equivalent of flying across the United States from coast to coast 3 times.

The reason that route is possible is because the 787 delivers seat costs that are less than much larger airliners (777, 747, A380) despite it being able to seat just over 200 people.  The United Airlines 787 seats just 219 people, for instance.

On that San Francisco – Chengdu route 40 years ago, the route would have been flown from San Francisco to some place such as Japan on a 747 where a smaller but still long-legged airliner such as the DC-8 would carry some passengers onwards to Chengdu, a distance of 2100 more miles.

That is the magic of airliners today:  direct routes instead of spoke-hub–hub-spoke.

It’s why airlines do want range and the idea that airlines will accept less range for a cheaper vehicle is somewhat suspect in my opinion.

It’s why I believe that the A380 is a niche airliner and will forever be a niche airliner.  Why should I fly from Dallas to Dubai to Mumbai on Emirates when I could theoretically hop on an American Airlines’ 787 and fly from DFW to Mumbai direct?  (And very doable on the 787-9, I might add.)

This is the quiet revolution of the 787.  It isn’t the carbon fibre or engines.  It’s the very cost effective airliner for such routes.

American Airlines Social Media

July 5, 2014 on 2:00 am | In Trivia | No Comments

Am I the only one to notice that American Airlines’ social media has suddenly become both entertaining and fun?  I used to go months without seeing posts from American Airlines on Facebook and now I see multiple posts each day and they are funny and moving and entertaining.  It sets a great tone for this airline and I hope its nurtured.

Some examples are:

  • a post of an airplane wing against a sunrise backdrop in the sky with the words “O beautiful for spacious skies…” on 4th of July.
  • Another sunrise photo with an AA tail at a airport gate with “The early bird gets the worm…”
  • A post on a Wednesday with a photo of a 777 taking off that says “Hump Day? More like #WheelsUpWednesday!”
  • A photo of an AA Captain who happens to be a woman that says:  ““Fifteen years ago, another female captain brought her 7-year-old son on a work trip. Throughout the sequence and on the layovers in the Caribbean, he took it all in. On the flight back into Miami, one of the flight attendants asked if he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up.

    He scrunched up his face and, with complete disdain, said, ‘No, that’s a GIRL’S job!’” – Capt. Kathi Durst, Fleet Captain 737”


These posts are fun, saucy and I hope they continue.  Great job, American Airlines

Happy Fourth of July: The Spirit of ’76

July 4, 2014 on 12:27 pm | In Airline History, Trivia | No Comments
The Spirit of '76 / Braniff Flying Colors

The Spirit of ’76 / Braniff Flying Colors

United Airlines: Failure in the face of historic success

July 3, 2014 on 12:50 pm | In Airline News | No Comments

First Quarter earnings last year in 2013 for United Airlines was a disappointing loss of $362 million.  United worked extra hard to deliver even worse results in 2014 with a loss of $580 million.

All of this in the face of historic and near historic profits being enjoyed by airlines across the United States.  American Airlines Group is having a banner day but we’ll have to excuse some of that blistering performance as it’s most recently out of bankruptcy and it has yet to stabilized in its merger.  Regardless of my dampening the mood on AAG, they have done far better out of the gates than virtually any other airline and that ain’t nothin’.

It bets the question of what will happen to United Airlines and I keep visiting this subject as things keep getting worse.  I strongly suspect we will see a change in leadership in the near future at that airline as these results won’t be tolerated for very much longer.

That won’t solve the problem, however.  United’s problems are both organizational as well as culture based.  This isn’t an airline whose employees want transformative change.  In fact, there is a belief that if the leadership would just get out of the way and give them what they want in salaries, the airline will operate profitably. Each union holds the company hostage with poor performances and behavior that is a patient wait for the company to start to teeter again.

Overthrowing leadership rarely gets you what you want.  An ailing airline doesn’t provide leadership in salaries, growth or quality of life.

It will take a transforming leader to turn United Airlines around at this point and I think that person will be very hard and very elusive to find.  Such a leader will have to gain the trust of both sides of the company (United and Continental) will simultaneously imposing change and bringing about vastly better operational efficiency.

That’s a tall order for that airline.  Who do you hire?

It will be tempting for someone to hire a CFO from another airline.  United has enough financial management to run 4 or 5 airlines.  Those good enough for the job have the dream jobs of their careers already.

And the excellent Continental Airlines leadership is just kind of . . . gone.

It will be tempting to find someone who is already a top CEO or who has retired from an already successful company.  I believe United will need someone hungry to lead and transform rather than someone who has the mission to act as steward for the airline.

The right leader is always out there.  The trick is to find her or him in time.  The UAL Board will have to remove the current leadership, find a steward and then go on a search to find the right person for the company.  Waiting very long simply means that the company loses more money.  The merger is almost 4 years old now and no modern airline merger had bled red ink like this one.

I would go look at the leadership at airlines such as American Airlines Group (but be prepared to fight Doug Parker hard for any of them), Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.  I would look hard at Alaska Airlines as well.  Find your man, give him carte blanche to execute change and step back to see what happens.

Houston vs Dallas

June 30, 2014 on 1:58 pm | In Airports | No Comments

Recently, the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker was quoted as saying that Dallas and Houston do compete for international traffic and my only reaction was “Finally, someone willing to admit the truth.”

Both cities are large hubs and both are large gateway cities for the region.  For 40 years, the cities have worked furiously to ignore the fact that each desperately competes with the other for international flights.  In fact, until recently, I would have argued that Houston IAH had more diversity in its international operations than Dallas Fort Worth DFW.

I know for fact of many IT professionals working in the Dallas area under H-1B visas frequently go to Houston by car to travel home because it’s cheaper.

With Houston’s construction of an international terminal at Houston Hobby, it’s about to get even more competitive with Dallas.  For while Dallas Love Field will be unrestricted to domestic traffic in the 48 states, Houston Hobby will be unrestricted . . . completely.

Dallas / Fort Worth has never treated Southwest Airlines as a full partner in the community.  In fact, the metroplex area has always been willing to embrace the employment but never has been willing to truly work with Southwest to find out how to grow the airline in the DFW area.  American Airlines has had something to do with that.

This area is home to the biggest US Domestic Airline by passengers (Southwest) and the largest airline in the world (American Airlines) but Southwest gets very little Love.

Dallas doesn’t drive competition.  It doesn’t drive access and it doesn’t drive diversity in who serves it.  Houston always embraced both Continental and Southwest and worked hard to become attractive to a wide range of international airlines.  As a result, air fares from Houston to destinations inside and out of the United States are more competitive in general.

That’s a shame for the Dallas / Fort Worth area because I think it will continue to favor American Airlines and it will continue to restrict Southwest Airlines.  Love Field will be held in check from any growth because of the latest deal with the Devil (holding the terminal to 20 gates of which Southwest gets to hold 16 and which Southwest must give up gates if it wishes to use DFW. ) It’s a problem that few in the area are really aware of.

Yes, Houston and Dallas compete and Houston generally kicks Dallas’ ass on a regular basis.

Emirates leaves Airbus with a black eye

June 13, 2014 on 12:51 pm | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets | No Comments

Emirates has cancelled its order for (70) Airbus A350 aircraft and that has left Airbus with a black eye.  It’s not a body blow to the program but it is an unhappy moment for Airbus and Airbus’ COO John Leahy whose best spin on the subject was that the 787 has had more cancellations over its program.  (The 787 has also been a program for years longer and has considerably more orders overall.)

The blow comes from the fact that Emirates is a good Airbus customer and it would appear that Emirates is rejecting the premise that the A350 is a solution for high density, long haul carriage.  The underlining of this conclusion would be Emirates’ large order for the 777-X.

The A350 clearly fits a need among airlines but as a product line, I continue to wonder if it hits the right mark.  When Airbus has to consider an A330NEO to slot underneath its A350, that isn’t good.  The A350 was originally supposed to be a kind of A330NEO.

The 787 has its product range in the 787-8, -787-9 and 787-10 and it joins that product range with the new 777-8 and -777-9 which sees Boeing providing a combined product family that spans 5 aircraft and a seat count ranging from 240 (3-class) to about 405 (3-class).  Pilots can transition between the two aircraft family in a single handful of days and that amounts to great flexibility for an airline.

Those 2 families also offer state of the art fuel efficiency and engines.  They are the advanced leap that airlines look for.

Airbus has the A330 (getting old no matter what Airbus thinks) and the A350 which will span a seat count from 270 (3 class) to 350 (3 class) and that’s pretty narrow and leaves a large gap for widebody long haul between 220 seats and 270 seats.  It also leaves a 60 seat gap at the upper end and Airbus’ only other answer is the mammoth A380 which already has at least one customer (Emirates) asking for a NEO.

It’s a black eye and the appropriate action on Airbus’ part is to better consider how it meets airlines needs for long and thin routes as well as long and thick at the upper end but below the A380.  Unfortunately, the A350 is already fixed in specifications and that leaves little maneuvering room.

Which leaves me thinking that the A350 was never well thought out from a strategic point of view.  First, it was going to be an A330NEO, then it was going to be an A350 and then it morphed into the A350XWB aimed at the 777 but without quite the revenue capabilities of a 777.

Hint:  Make sure you make money for your customers.  When the 777 is the darling of the party, give them a 777 or better, not a compromise.

It’s a black eye and one that other customers, particularly those in the Middle East who are voraciously ordering aircraft, will pay attention to.  It doesn’t “end” the A350 but it highlights Airbus’ diminished ability to serve its customers in the twin engine, widebody class.

And we need Airbus to do better than that.  Without Airbus, there really is no Boeing and vice versa.

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