I'm here at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas, after attending a gala celebration for Carlson's 70th anniversary last night. The room has everything you'd expect, big baths, fancy bidets, and a range of toiletries that will be unceremoniously chucked into my travel bag before I leave. However, the room falls short in one big way - it has no wireless Internet. Procuring the wired version has been akin to teeth-pulling. Let's hope US Airways has a more seamless experience when it begins implementing its own connectivity strategy. You read it right, folks. The carrier intends to offer airborne connectivity.
This was one of several nuggets shared by management yesterday at US Airways' annual Media Day in Tempe, Arizona. Reporters were initially greeted with a labour picket line (I had a chat with IAM District 141 head Randy Canale on the front line; he says talks with management broke off Tuesday evening and the two sides are now even further apart). Inside headquarters, US Airways executives were extremely forthcoming about the carrier's plans.
1) US Airways is “going to do something” in terms of in-flight connectivity. “We have been studying all the different alternatives,” says senior VP, schedule planning and alliances Andrew Nocella, adding, however, that the current technology will dictate that any such connectivity “is going to be limited for the next three years”. Interestingly, the carrier is also going to test a new AVOD in-flight entertainment system on a single domestic aircraft. It hasn't released the name of the vendor or what aircraft type will be equipped, but the offering aims to study take-up of AVOD in both the front and back of the cabin.
2) US Airways is continuing to source Airbus A340 aircraft for its planned Philadelphia-Beijing service, but says it has been “unable to locate airplanes that suit our needs”, as Boeing 787 customers snatch up available capacity to offset that program’s delay, and Asian and Middle Eastern carriers seek to renew their fleets. The 787 delay “definitely made the problem worse”, says Nocella.
3) US Airways chairman and CEO Doug Parker is confident consolidation “will eventually occur in this industry” even as potential would-be partners Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines now appear to be facing challenges to brokering a merger deal. US Airways remains “a strong advocate of industry consolidation so long as capacity is rationalized, and costs of attaining a deal are reasonable,” says Parker. “Not doing that in an industry that has too much capacity in it is concerning.”
4) US Airways is establishing a “satellite headquarters” office at Philadelphia, after facing severe operational challenges over the last year. The site, which has not yet been chosen, will house staffers from corporate communications, information technology, real estate, finance, government affairs, human resources and safety departments. “This is already in progress. We have people hired and we, right now, are looking for offices,” said US Airways senior VP, east coast, international and cargo operations Suzanne Boda.
5) US Airways’ decision to pick the Airbus A350 over the Boeing 787 was due in part to the commonality with its Airbus aircraft. “Good things are worth the wait, at least that’s what Airbus tells me. It will obviously be our flagship of the future,” says Nocella. “This will definitely be the next phase in terms of global reach, and can effectively reach out far into Asia, and the Middle East if we choose to do so. We purchased at a great price, can’t say what that price is, but it’s a great price.”
6) By 2011, US Airways will have removed all 737-300s and -400s from its fleet. At some point in time, the carrier will replace its Boeing 767s, leaving Boeing 757s, which will continue to fly to Hawaii and Europe, says senior VP and CFO Derek Kerr.
(Photo of Doug Parker from US Airways' latest in-flight magazine)