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NTSB Chair is honest, calls 787 problems very serious

Unlike the more politicized FAA, and the various folks claiming the 787 battery fire issues are simply “teething problems”, the US National Transportation Safety Board chairperson, Deb Hersman, is a straight-talker. She did a press conference where she presented a load of detail about what they do and don’t know, about the battery system, and how it is nowhere near a solution – because nobody is anywhere near an understanding of what went wrong.

Respected airline commentator Christine Negroni, who writes and contributes for the New York Times, MSNBC, and has written a book about the TWA 800 crash, highlights how the NTSB chair cut through all the BS.

Burnt battery casing and circuit boards and battery pack

A burnt battery pack from the 787. Photo courtesy of the linked Reuters article, origin NTSB.

The NTSB is also revisiting the claims by a whistleblower from the company that makes the chargers for the 787 battery. A company which had a disastrous fire that burned down its HQ building from a battery overload. A company which then fired and discredited the whistleblower.

Securaplane Technologies “got some ‘splainin’ to do”. But as Negroni points out in an earlier column, so do the various airline execs who keep claiming they have “faith in the Dreamliner¨.

 

Is the Dreamliner the new DC-10?

Is it over for Boeing’s Dreamliner barely before it began?

United Airlines 787, one of the grounded aircraft and part of the UA 787 fleet where one had to make an emergency landing – Engadget photo and article.

In the last 48 hours, airlines or regulatory authorities worldwide have banned the Boeing 787 from the skies, until there is a full understanding of its many problems and a resolution. Fuel is leaking. Fires are starting in the very controversial lithium-ion battery-powered APU – traditional aircraft use a hot-air bleed system for that, and Li-on batteries are capable of ignition, which is why you and I are banned from packing them in our checked luggage according to international airline safety regulations!

Two days ago, Japan’s largest airlines, JAL (a significant partner of American Airlines in both a revenue sharing deal and in the broader oneworld alliance, and ANA (a significant partner of United in both a revenue sharing deal and the broader Star Alliance), voluntarily grounded their 787 fleets.

Dreamliner with evacuation shoots deployed and emergency response vehicles

Evacuated ANA 787 in Japan after electrical malfunctions and smoke. From The Guardian

Yesterday, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded the US-registered 787 fleet, which is solely flown by United Airlines. United did not choose to follow its partner ANA’s lead, so the FAA made the decision for them. Today, more airlines around the world and more governmental aviation authorities have grounded 787 Dreamliners based on the information shared by Japan and the USA to the worldwide aviation community. And in no small measure, because of customer trepidation about the aircraft’s safety and reliability. “If Japan and the US say it is unsafe, why is my country or my airline still allowing it?” is a rational response by the public. (Update: LAN Airlines of South America, whom I wrote about getting the first 787 in the Americas, also has grounded their fleet of 3 Dreamliners.)

My opinion? Continue reading »

The Americas Get Their First 787 – in South America

As a new resident of South America, and a semi-regular on LAN, I’m excited by the news that today (31 Aug 2012 US West Coast date), LAN Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Though not the first Dreamliner to reach the Americas, it is the first by an American Airline, LAN Airlines, of Chile, South America. “American” referring to the single supercontinent of The Americas, taken together, as it is commonly considered by most of the non-North American world.

The "dome" upon entry to the LAN 787 - photo credit USA TodayThe Everett, Washington (main Boeing assembly location) Weekly Herald reports on the delivery. United will be the second Americas airline, getting a 787 later this North American fall, and running a new Denver to Tokyo route and other “long and narrow” routes, after some US-domestic familiarization flights. United’s partner in Star Alliance and in its deeper bilateral Trans-Pacific joint-venture revenue share deal, is already flying 787s to the USA, as is their competitor JAL.

But nobody from the Western Hemisphere is yet flying them. LAN starts the onboard party. Just look at the photo (credit USA Today) with the high-ceiling, bright mood lighting, open airy feel as you board. This isn’t an artist’s rendering or a mock-up, it’s what LAN actually got from Boeing. Sadly, United cheapened out Continue reading »

Pluna Plunges – Uruguay’s own airline is defunct

Crosspost from my Uruguay-specific blog Uruguay Expat Life. Lots of better ideas for how to get to Uruguay on Star Alliance, oneworld, or Delta-allied carriers.

More oneworld alliance woes? Finnair going low-cost low-service

I’ve been writing a lot about airline alliances lately. Not always with the most accurate predictions (but just wait…) As a fairly frequent traveler over the years, whether for work, family, or now as an expat, I need to maximize my miles. So knowing (and speculating on) who is partnering with whom, who else I can earn miles and status benefits with, and thus what grouping I should plan my future travel on, is important. Also I find it fun. Yeah, I know.

Couple of weeks old, but I don’t hang out much in the Finnair forum on FlyerTalk all that much. Nor for the most part with oneworld alliance airlines. I’ve burned off the last of my American AAdvantage miles with my upcoming LAN flight home to Uruguay in August. I do have earnings in LANPass, but my recent paid LAN flights were credited to unaligned Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, rather than to LAN’s own program within oneworld.

But I have noticed that the oneworld alliance has been getting weaker and shakier, at least in comparison to the booming Star Alliance and the now no-longer-leftover SkyTeam. Finnair’s move, as reported in this thread at FlyerTalk, looks to be weakening one of the core European players in that alliance.

In the past few years, other European airlines have either left that alliance, scaled back service significantly to just intra-European and near-Europe routes, or gone out of business entirely. Hungary’s Malev is no more as of early this year, and they discontinued their Budapest-USA service a couple of years before that. I flew them just intra-Europe a few years back, when they were a Northwest Airlines partner despite being in competing alliances. Ok, nothing special, pride-of-a-small-proud-country airline. (Like pathetic little Pluna of Uruguay, which exists despite the country not being big enough to justify its own airline.) But another hub, another network in the alliance gone. Aer Lingus used to be a oneworld member. It switched to so-called low-cost, mostly Europe-centric and lessened TATL, with subsidized weird deals,  even doing a wet-lease Washington-Madrid flight flying as United Airlines. Aligning on other routes with FF benefits and codeshares with United, arch-enemy of oneworld co-founder American.

Elsewhere, oneworld is further weakening. American Airlines is a mess, with a bankruptcy reorganization crippled by employee unions making deals with a competitor to take them over. Even though that competitor itself still hasn’t completed its 8-year-old merger and has warring unions. The only other North American oneworld carrier, Mexicana, went into bankruptcy and was grounded about two years ago. There is no Central American carrier, while Star Alliance just gained two (or three, or four, or even five, depending on if you count Avianca and Taca separately, and Copa and Copa Colombia, and LACSA as different from Taca.)

There’s been no Canada representation since the early 2000’s takeover of Canadian Airlines by Star Alliance co-founder Air Canada. The only north-south lift in Western North America of substance is provided by non-alliance partner Alaska Airlines, who also partners with arch-competitor SkyTeam founder Delta (and in Europe, with founder AirFrance-KLM.) In South Asia, oneworld was supposed to gain Kingfisher of India by now. But while the Kingfisher Beer brewery is doing great, the airline is bouncing checks and repeatedly being grounded, likely soon for good.

Yes, oneworld has gained some airlines in that same timeframe. Royal Jordanian a few years ago. Most recently airberlin, which though tiny compared to Lufthansa, does serve well as a northern and central European hub carrier. But with Malev gone, Finnair weakening (and don’t ignore Finnish flagship company Nokia’s failings as part of what will drive down international travel to Finland), oneworld’s European position is weak. Yes, IAG is a giant international conglomerate that now owns British Airways, Iberia, and now former Star member British Midland BMI (being folded into BA). But look at the geography: Both England and Spain are on the periphery of Europe, not its core. Berlin is core, but airberlin can’t fully compete against Star founder Lufthansa‘s giant built-over-decades Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Nor its wholly-owned or affiliated partners Austrian (Vienna hub), SWISS (Geneva and Zurich hubs), and LOT Polish (Warsaw hub)

I’m no insider. But it doesn’t look good for oneworld from where I sit on the plane. And it thus makes me less likely to book on any oneworld carrier until this all shakes out. Unless it is a carrier such as American or LAN which is a full partner including Elite earnings and benefits with non-oneworld Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

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