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Airplane Taking Off

With Airlines Expecting a Tenth Year of Profits, Employees Are Asking For Better Deals

Thanks to the majority of United States airlines coming to the end of yet another profitable year – the tenth in a row – many of their employees are calling for bosses to provide improved remuneration packages.

Over 120,000 unionized employees will start negotiating their labor agreements that could potentially see major American carriers having higher expenses, including American Airlines who are starting to negotiate not only with pilots and flight attendants but maintenance workers too.

Currently airline companies spend the majority of their expenses on their labor costs with 28 percent of the overall $187 billion revenue being spent on labor costs, an increase of 21% in 2008 – mostly due to higher work forces and increased compensation payments.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants – who has around 50,000 cabin crew members from 20 different airlines, including United Airlines and is calling for flight attendants at Delta Airlines to also join the union – commented that “there are simply more funds to get and workers are cognizant they’re turning out more value.”

This is in stark contrast to ten years ago when many airlines were hit with bankruptcies alongside several megamergers leaving three quarters of the market in the control of four carriers.

However profits started to increase and experts have forecast a net income of under 1% for each of the four big airlines, which although does not sound much actually equates to $12.44 billion.

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Kit Darby tracks the pay rate of pilots and notes that “when the airlines are making money, it’s hard to deny the increase in compensation. Everybody tries to get a good contract when times are good. If it’s a short downturn, they hold on to what they got.”

With the news that profits are continuing to increase airports across the country have started to see protests as airline workers demand better schedules and working conditions as well as pay increases.

Executives at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have attempted to have labor talks with their employees however they have laid the blame with the mechanics’ unions for delaying talks in an attempt to gain leverage, which in turn has caused operational issues that have led to thousands of flights being delayed or even canceled, although the unions have denied this.

In March of this year a resolution between Southwest and their mechanics ended six years of discussions with the new five-year contract including a 20 percent increase in wages as well as $160 million in back pay for employees.

However the airline’s discussions with their flight attendants is still continuing as well as their discussions with their customer service agents, dispatchers, and pilots. Most of the staff is concerned regarding the Boeing 737 Max still being grounded with the unions claiming the issue has caused employees to lose over $100 million in wages.

American Airlines are still in talks with their mechanics’ unions with the airline suing the unions in May due to the travel disruptions they were causing, winning an injunction that means they can no longer get involved in the airlines’ operations.

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Josh Freed, the spokesman for American Airlines, said “since August, teams for the company and the union have met for multiple days nearly every week” confirming that both groups have “made considerable progress” although further talks have already been scheduled for January.

Another issue is the fact that although unionized airline workers’ contracts are allowed to have the dates amended they do not expire, all contracts are valid beyond the finalized date and any negotiated raises will no longer be applied.

It is worth noting that employees are not only looking for extra wages with American airlines mechanics asking for the outsourcing of jobs to be limited, especially those to foreign companies. American Airlines pilots are also requesting improved scheduling to ensure a “better quality of life.”

Eric Ferguson, Allied Pilots Association President as well as an Airbus A320 captain agrees that “scheduling is our no. 1 issue.” The union has also requested that employees on the less-desirable flights receive higher wages as well as providing easier ways for the routes to be available to pilots. This should encourage the trips to be picked up by pilots, reducing the operational problems, which in turn would enable revenue and profits to increase and therefore be shared with the airline’s employees. However Ferguson wants to make it clear that the unions are not just saying “pay us more,” but that they want the airlines to “fix the problems” they already have.

The APA represents around 15,000 pilots and although talks started in the first half of 2019, the contract would not be amendable until the beginning of 2020. However the union are asking for 16% raises over a three-year deal. The airline has countered with the same increase but over five years.

Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, spoke at a meeting in June last year telling their pilots “shame on us if we can’t figure out over the course of a year how to get a contract done before the amendable date.”

Travel Couple

How to Travel More Sustainably

As the effects of climate change continue to manifest in the form of increasingly destructive extreme weather events, including the massive wildfires currently affecting Australia, people are becoming increasingly interested in how to reduce their own carbon emissions to mitigate their personal impact on the crisis. While travelling the world is a personal goal and aspiration for many of us, it unfortunately also represents one of the most serious contributors to climate change, as the carbon emissions released during travel can be substantial. Luckily, there are a number of changes that travelers can make during their trips to reduce their carbon output while still being able to visit attractive destinations.

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Although travel by airplane is the quickest and often only viable way to reach many of the world’s most popular travel destinations, it also causes substantial carbon emissions. That being said, some airlines are better than others in this regard, as airlines like United, Qantas, and KLM use sustainable aviation biofuel instead of traditional jet fuel, which is less damaging to the environment. Travelling by train generates up to ten times fewer carbon emissions than travelling by plane, and while choosing this form of travel limits your selection of destination severely, it also makes for a cheaper and generally more enjoyable mode of transport. If you’re interested in avoiding air travel for environmental reasons, it’s likely a good idea to research travel destinations near train stations, which include major cities and national or state parks. Alternatively, if you’re interested in going on a cruise, there exist a few environmentally-friendly options, including Alaskan Dream Cruises and Aqua Expeditions, which work to protect the environments of the communities they visit. If your ideal vacation involves immersing yourself in nature, you generally don’t have to travel far to do so, as the United States is home to countless parks, forests, and natural wonders. If it’s practical to do so, opt to travel within your destination via bicycle, which has no environmental impact whatsoever.

Travelers interested in minimizing their environmental impact should also take their accommodations into account. Staying at a hotel generally uses more energy and produces more carbon emissions than staying at home, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Some hotels adopt environmentally-friendly policies to reduce their impact on the local ecosystem and the global environment more broadly, making them a good choice for the environmentally-conscious. Angama Mara, a hotel in Kenya, has a zero-plastic policies, as do Edition Hotel properties, which can be found in cities around the world. Some hotels also work to restore natural areas, such as Brazil’s Pousada Literária de Paraty, which helps to sustain the local bird population by planting foliage. Alternatively, you can minimize your carbon emissions by camping, but make sure to leave your campsite in at least as good a condition as you found it.

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Lastly, it’s important to take into consideration the environmental impact of your activities at your destination with an aim to limit energy use and waste. Deciding to use reusable containers instead of disposable ones can dramatically reduce waste, as can taking shorter showers and reusing towels. According to Bee + Hive, a sustainable tourism association, tourists in a developing country use 1,800 liters of water per night, whereas a village of 700 only uses 500 liters of water per month. As roughly 2 billion people around the world do not have access to clean running water, it’s important to be mindful of your water usage, particularly when visiting developing or poor countries. One way to do so is to ask your hotel about how they approach water conservation and the steps you can take to limit waste as a guest. 

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand Wins ‘Airline Of The Year’ For The Sixth Time

Air New Zealand has officially been named “Airline of the Year” by AirlineRatings.com, which is an Australian travel safety and review website that ranks the world’s top airports every year. Air New Zealand is no stranger to holding this title, as it’s long been praised as one of the nicest and safest airlines internationally. It also has held the “Airline of the Year” five other times; this year was a bit of a shock, however, as Singapore Airlines was looking to grab the honor for 2020, since they won the award last year, but at the last minute New Zealand snatched the crown from under them. 

The title was given to New Zealand this year in part because of their “record breaking performance as an airport” and “environmental leadership” compared to other airports sustainability efforts, according to the official statement

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“In our analysis, Air New Zealand came out number one in most of our audit criteria, which is an outstanding performance when it’s up against carriers with more resources and scale on this same list of best airlines for 2020. Air New Zealand’s commitment to excellence in all facets of its business starts at the top with outstanding governance and one of the best executive teams in aviation through to a workforce that is delivering consistently to the airline’s strategy and customer promise,” said AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas in a press release.

According to the same press release, the AirlineRatings.com Airline Excellence Awards are the most coveted titles in terms of aviation travel honors. The website is run by a total of seven editors and has employee’s that combined have over 200 years in the airline industry experience. The release states that the staff reviews every airline and bases their rankings and awards on 12 key criteria. The criteria includes overall passenger reviews/experiences, relationship amongst staff, age of the airline’s fleet, total company profitability, investment ratings and product offers. 

Representatives from the website have stated that Air New Zealand winning the title for a total of six times now is only a further testament to how hard the staff works and communicates with its passengers. The airport has over 12,500 employees, and every department has received stellar reviews on their perspective duties throughout the years. The award is a testament to department to department communication, something that has caused many other airports to dwindle in quality. 

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The top five best Airlines named by the website are (from 1 to 5) Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific Airways. In total the website annually ranks the “top 20” airlines every year, all based on the same criteria discussed above. 

In addition AirlineRelations.com gives credit to other airlines based on more specific award titles; although “Airline of the Year” is equivalent to the “Album of the Year” title at the Grammy’s. Singapore Airlines was not only ranked number two for best airlines, but also took the First Class Award for their extensive and quality first class suite packages. 

Australia’s Qantas won Best Domestic Airline Service and the coveted Best Lounges. “Qantas is a consistent winner across many categories in our list of best airlines 2020, 2019, and more. Its customer approval rating is at an all-time high, and it continues to innovate with lie-flat beds being added to its A380s. The judges were unanimous on the airline’s lounges which are exceptional and its domestic airline product, particularly on transcontinental A330 flights, is a standout,” said Thomas

Other awards distributed included “Best Catering” and “Best Business Class” both of which were won by Qatar Airways. Virgin Airlines Australia won an award for “Best Economy Class” seating and Cebu Pacific won the “Most Improved Airline” award. Emirites also held a top ten spot for best airlines, and won awards for “Best Long-Haul Flights” and “Best In-Flight Entertainment.”

Airplane Flying

Data Is Fueling Changes in Aviation Engineering

Airline passengers are easy to upset, often rightly bemoaning delays and disruptions. But for the operator, with a plane on the tarmac grounded by mechanical failure, the frustration is even more intense.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates this inertia equates to an eye-watering loss of at least $150 per minute.

With optimal reliability and an uptime vital just to break even, squeezing every drop of efficiency from an aircraft’s assets has become critical to the sector’s future health. Forecasts, from aviation consultancy Cavok, predict global sectors spending on maintenance, repair and overhaul will hit $100 billion by 2021, with smarter analysis of aircraft data playing a central role.

In turn, engine and airframe manufacturers are incorporating predictive models in their offerings to airlines, which will not only help identify faults and component failures, but also pre-empt issues before they become more serious.

“Predictive technology is great at finding a needle in a haystack and helping engineers pinpoint the areas they need to focus on. With experienced aircraft engineers proving scarce and many now retiring, these solutions are set to become even more vital in gathering and utilising all this invaluable knowledge and information,” says Torsten Welte, global vice-president for aerospace and defence at enterprise software company SAP.

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Mr Welte traces the genesis of this traction to the power-by-the-hour approach for engine maintenance, which Rolls-Royce pioneered in commercial aviation in the 1980s.

“When Rolls-Royce innovated the model with performance-based contracts that charge customers per flying hour of the engine, it became a case of ‘we must keep the engine running or we won’t make any money’,” he says.

“This changed the dynamics in the aviation industry between manufacturer and operator, and drove a different behaviour from the former that was now far more focused on getting the most out of their resources at all times.”

The exponential rise in data has continued to fuel momentum. IBM figures reveal that an average aircraft generates between 500 to 1,000 gigabytes of data. Data analytic platforms such as SAP HANA tap into this business intelligence to monitor fuel speed, torque and pressure with internal predictive algorithms making recommendations in real-time so parts can be sourced and engineers reassigned even while the plane is airborne, and it doesn’t stop there. The technology is also able to tackle the information silos which have traditionally undermined the effective sharing of key intelligence across the aviation ecosystem.

Mr Welte says: “In some countries, due to local ownership rights, performance data is owned by the pilot rather than the airline, which means they have to get permission to access it. Elsewhere, a manufacturer does not necessarily have access to maintenance data which is often owned by the airlines’ own maintenance systems, so it’s all very disjointed.”

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Another process undergoing significant transformation is the traditionally complex task of tail planning; in essence, assigning the most appropriate aircraft to a flight route. For example, if an aircraft has an issue that adversely affects fuel burn, it will be allocated to the shortest flight.

Typically, an airline would spend three to four hours working on a plan which can be subject to 150 changes daily. Until recently, the process had barely evolved from the handwritten schedules of the mid-1980s, with many airlines still transferring the information manually into spreadsheets comprising a dozen pages.

Dubai-based airline Emirates is one of the big names now automating the process, having adopted software vendor IFS Aviation and Defence’s predictive technology.

“Previously, the plans were devised based on the judgment of someone with perhaps 10 to 20 years’ experience, but our technology means we can tap into historical data that goes back 40 years, all in a matter of minutes,” says IFS business development head Espen Olsen.

“Maintenance history, fuel consumption, climate, forecast – all these characteristics are put into the algorithm to calculate the best option, which means reduced risk, increased fuel efficiency, and improved fleet utilisation and maintenance planning.”

Mr Olsen believes the Middle East is driving this market: “They see an issue and do something about it without over-analysing the problem, and they are definitely ahead of Europe when it comes to using this technology. One manufacturer does something visionary and everyone follows.”

More broadly, he is seeing a lot of interest from oil and gas companies inspired by the latest innovation in aerospace and defence. “There has been so much money in this market in the past, they didn’t have to consider how they could become more efficient,” says Mr Olsen. “Yet since the downturn, they are now far more focused on extending the life of equipment and how, as a service provider to the industry, they can commit to a 10-year contract on a fixed basis and still make money. Increasingly, predictive analytics has the answers.”