JetBlue Airways' Flickr photo stream has some nice shots of the chartered Embraer 190 being used to fly vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin around the nation. But one is hard-pressed to find a JetBlue logo alongside the McCain-Palin jet. Hard-pressed that is until one happens upon the page of fellow Flickr photog "mocr", who snapped the following photograph on 22 September at Orlando International Airport. According to Flight's ACAS database, the aircraft, bearing registration N239JB, was built in 2006 and is owned by GECAS. The picture immediately following mocr's gem is that of one of the legions of Palin kinda-sorta-look-alikes (though not necessarily supporters) getting a little loven from her sister. Can't wait for that debate.
Mary Kirby: September 2008 Archives
You may wonder why I'm highlighting the presence of this video a full three weeks after the Bombardier CRJ1000 made its first flight. Well, here's the thing. The friendly YouTuber who posted the flight test video on 8 September called the aircraft the CRJ-1000. In an archival search, the dash makes all the difference.
(For those of you who have a little trouble with this video, click the following link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhsF3IvTg08 and then click "watch in high quality" below the video)
It has been a little while so let's get back to some regional aircraft chat, shall we?
For starters, some interesting news is coming out of India about the Government's plan for a 70-110-seater. The Hindu reports that Indian scientists, developers and operators met last week to initiate the regional aircraft project. Key quote:
"The mission would be to make a cheap, rugged and easy to maintain 70 to 110-seater civilian aircraft that should start rolling out within a decade."
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman Ashok Baweja was among the attendees of the event. Rightly so, HAL is expected to play a major role in the regional aircraft's development.
Crucially, however, the Government has yet to decide whether the aircraft will have a turboprop or turbo-jet engine. You may recall that the original consideration involved an Indian Regional Jet (IRJ) and that Bombardier and Embraer would be solicited for assistance. Now it is being referred to as the "Indian Regional Transport Aircraft".
Quips one industry observer: "It took 25 years to build a fighter so I'm sure we'll hear something before the decade is out".
On a serious note, however, a large-sized turboprop might make the most sense in light of the fact that the industry is awash in CRJs and ERJs, and will soon have ARJs, MRJs and SSJs to choose from (in addition to Bombardier and Embraer's larger-sized offerings, the planned CSeries and the current E-Jets family, respectively).
Yes, India would still face turboprop competition. Bombardier vice-president marketing and analysis Barry MacKinnon recently reiterated that several carriers are interested in a stretch version of the Q400, dubbed the Q400X. He said Bombardier will be able to deliver it before the planned 90-seat product from ATR. And Embraer continues to consider a re-entry into the market, after stepping up analysis of turboprops (as a possible replacement for its ERJ).
An air show is happening in Hyderabad in a couple of weeks, so more information may be released at that time. Check out the web site at http://www.india-aviation.in/main.htm
The show is being billed as "the first international exhibition of its kind in India on civil aviation sector".
Now let's add a little intrigue to the whole story. In a report two days later, the Hindu says Sukhoi - which is bringing the Superjet (SSJ) to market, albeit later than planned - will invest big bucks in setting up a civilian aircraft manufacturing plant in Nagpur. And today AirAsia News is reporting that India is planning to set up a joint venture with the Russians for "a collaborative project for development of a 20-tonne multi role transport aircraft for the armed forces of the two countries".
Our industry observer notes:
"I think Sukhoi just made an extremely interesting move. I don't know how much of this is true, but The Hindu is well respected source. Sukhoi have had defence ties with India in manufacturing before this, but bringing the Superjet here was a bouncer, to borrow a cricket term."
For the uninitiated, like me, a bouncer, it is an unplayable ball, one that bounces above the batsman's shoulder level, usually catching him by surprise.
So build the Superjet in India, leave the IRJ on the drawing board, and focus on an Indian turboprop. Yep...that would be a surprise. But it just might be the most sensible way to fly.
It is absolutely remarkable how US Airways is able to spin silk out of the scruffiest sow's ear. The carrier says that since it started selling beverages, its aircraft aisles are clearer and the bathroom is freer (presumably because passengers' bladders aren't full of pricey cola).
Don't believe me? Here's what the carrier told employees in its latest newsletter.
"Fewer customers buying beverages means the [food and beverage] cart isn't in the aisle for an hour or two and that people can get up to use the lav more easily. Speaking of lavs, the lines are also shorter (or non-existent). Flight attendants can then focus more on the safety and comfort of our customers while navigating through the aisle more easily. Simply put, the cabin atmosphere is calmer."
Does this mean that the food and beverage programme hasn't been a success? Au contraire, my calm, un-bloated friend.
"A la carte/ancillary revenues have been widely successful and at US [Airways], we anticipate generating an additional $400-$500 million in revenue annually," reports the carrier.
Let me make certain I understand this correctly. The programme has been a wild financial success but not so successful that it's causing a run on the toilet? Got it.
I promise to leave the bathroom blogs alone for a while. I just couldn't help myself on this one (I was bursting). But before I do, how can we tie all this bathroom business into a blog about in-flight connectivity? Here's how:
If you're an airline employee under mandate to take a drug test, you best leave your Whizzinator at home. Effective 1 November, the US DOT will require airlines to "directly observe" employee urination in certain instances, such as when an employee returns to duty or requires a follow-up test.
Let's just call these observers the prosthetic penis police (PPP). Because that's what they're on the look-out for - folks who are trying to cheat the system by using an arsenal of devices (such as the Whizzinator) to hold someone else's urine and outsmart the system. Yes, there are devices for the ladies too (phew, for a moment there RWG was sounding slightly sexist).
The PPP's job description requires good eyesight and a deep awareness of the difference between real and plastic. The observer "must request the employee to raise his or her shirt, blouse, or dress/skirt, as appropriate, above the waist; and lower clothing and underpants to show you, by turning around, that they do not have a prosthetic device. After you have determined that the employee does not have such a device, you may permit the employee to return clothing to its proper position for observed urination..."
Airlines big and small are outraged over this new regulation. In a joint filing with the US DOT, the Air Transport Association of America and the Regional Airline Association point out that there are no data to confirm that prosthetic devices are widely used within the transportation industry; the only data provided indicated that such devices are widely available (that's for certain).
"Several airlines indicate that they could lose highly qualified and completely innocent employees due to the intrusive nature of the new mandate - they will simply quit rather than be subjected to a procedure that borders on harassment", says Regional Airline Association VP Scott Foose.
Bare with me, or rather, bear with me as I state the obvious here. Couldn't this all get rather litigious? Who observes the observer whilst he or she is observing? Cue the debate for video cameras in the observation booth, aka the toilet.
(Photo above of Emirates A380 toilet...you didn't think it was a domestic carrier, did you?)
The remote food ordering systems in the gate areas! Called re:vive, the touch-screen monitors let travellers order meals that are delivered directly to their gate-side tables.
Re:vive received a tremendous reception at Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, with plenty of "oohs and aahs" from the crowd.
Developed by JetBlue's food and beverage concession partner OTG Management, the systems "are unique to JetBlue and T5 and were conceived as a way to offer customers a convenient dining option at the gate", says JetBlue.
There will be 220 re:vive touch screens located throughout T5. And JetBlue is making sure there are lots of outlets to plug in and recharge, from the gate areas to the steps of the grandstand in the marketplace, to the re:vive food ordering stations. Sweet!
I can picture it now - eating a hand-delivered sandwich and drinking a refreshing beverage while doing some Runway Girl blogging from a fully charged laptop.
Hey, it looks like JetBlue is practicing on the ground what it will no doubt eventually offer in-flight!!!
The carrier is on track with T5's construction and the terminal operating systems. The remaining work to be completed is with the concessions. "We will open T5 in October with all customer service elements in place (exact date TBD)," says JetBlue.
Meanwhile, OTG Management has plans "in the near future" to take the remote food ordering concept to other airports, says a spokeswoman for the company.
Well that was fast. No sooner does JetBlue announce that it is leasing E-190s to Azul (Portuguese for Blue) and photos emerge of the paint job. VEM Maintenance & Engineering is responsible for the work. Azul - which is being launched by JetBlue founder David Neeleman - plans to launch service with two E-190s and three E-195s in early 2009.
The great thing about boundaries is that they force people to think of clever ways to overcome them. Take for example SpinVox, a technology company that turns voice messages into text and is now targeting US travellers, who are currently prohibited from using cellular-based voice services during flight.
With SpinVox, passengers can continue to receive their voice messages via email in a data-only environment and respond via email while in the air or additionally by voice and SMS text once on the ground.
The service is shockingly simple to use. Yep. I tried it. It took me just seconds to set up. Shortly after leaving a voicemail on my cell, the following e-mail arrived in my inbox (okay, I could have been a bit cleverer about my message to me).
You received a new voicemail from +17176261456:
"Hello Mary, this is a test. Let's see if it works."
- spoken through SpinVox
Unless and until the Federal Communications Commission - and Congress - come to their senses about the in-flight use of mobile phones, SpinVox is a handy dandy way to at least receive one's voicemails.
Updated to include new details and pics (and fix wacky font)
When JetBlue Airways launched service in 2000 many a skeptic questioned the low-cost carrier's logic for making New York JFK its home. Sure, a slog through crowded JFK was a necessary evil for many an international traveler. But how in the world could a local, domestic carrier convince Joe Americana to book his trip to Florida out of such a pain-in-the-butt facility, queried the cynics. Over eight years later (my God, has it been that long?), and after numerous enhancements to JFK, JetBlue is ready to prove its case that home is indeed where the heart is.
The carrier yesterday celebrated the successful construction of its new $743 million, 26-gate Terminal 5 located behind the historic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal at JFK. And it did so in style. JetBlue packed the house with a bevy of elected officials, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Chuck Schumer and Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown as well as world-famous New York City dance troupe The Rockettes and pop singer Estelle.
I've never been shy about my admiration for JetBlue. Yes, I'm an in-flight entertainment junky and credit JetBlue's ingenuity every time another US carrier commits to providing IFE to economy passengers. But there is more to it than that. JetBlue is one of the few carriers to offer a consistent experience to customers (both on and off the aircraft) even when times are tough (founder David Neeleman received a standing ovation upon entering the stage yesterday...check out the carrier's own live blogging of the event).
Sure, there have been some hiccups along the way. The carrier announced last week that it is slowing its Embraer E-190 growth by leasing two of the type to Brazilian start-up - and Neeleman brainchild - Azul and selling four deliveries to Jetscape, which will subsequently lease them to Azul. For the record, Azul's 36-strong order for E-195s remains intact, says Embraer. Neeleman also told me on the sidelines of yesterday's ceremony that Azul will launch service with a combination of five aircraft - three E-195s and the two leased E-190s from JetBlue.
More sensationally, JetBlue's handling of passengers during a batch of heavy ice storms wasn't its shining moment (and what ever happened to the guy who was forced to spend most of his flight in an A320 bathroom?) but on the whole, JetBlue is a bright star in an ever-darkening night.
There is another reason why I took the early morning train from Lancaster, PA to New York Penn Station where I picked up the Long Island Railroad to Jamaica and then the AirTrain to JFK for the T5 opening. A 1937 TWA Lockheed 12A Electra (the oldest flying TWA aircraft) and former TWA flight attendants wearing vintage uniforms were part of JetBlue's visual extravaganza. It's appropriate for JetBlue to celebrate the past, but this journalist is hopeful - nay convinced - that this carrier is the future.
(All photos care of the JetBlue corpcomm bloggers...check out their site at http://t508.wordpress.com)
Calling something or someone trashy isn't usually considered a complement. But for environmental artist and designer Nancy Judd, the description fits perfectly for her new art exhibit at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The exhibit, dubbed Recycle Runway, features couture fashions and accessories made from recyclable trash, including a bulk mail fan skirt and a rusty nail dress. Shoes are made out of recycled materials such as glass, nails and pop cans.
"My intent with the Recycle Runway exhibit is to capture peoples imagination in a fun and create venue and then encourage them to build on the recycling they likely already do by thinking about how all of our everyday actions effect the environment," says Nancy.
I'm inspired. I've got some old, unused diapers and a pair of Campbell soup cans that I'm sure can be transformed into a fabulous bikini.
Pittsburgh will display Nancy's fashions (in concourses C and D) through 31 December.
Her next exhibit will show up in Atlanta Hartsfield and later Orlando in 2009. Check out some more photos of Nancy's fashions below.
Last week LiveTV had some friendly fun at the expense of in-flight broadband providers. Executives distributed small Praying Mantis figurines as swag at the WAEA show. But what was the message? "That's what broadband is like at the back of the plane," quipped LiveTV vice president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller.
Check out the Praying Mantis below (hey, I scanned the bugger into my computer just for you!) and then compare the insect's signature pincher-like forelegs to the now rather famous photo of an economy passenger struggling to handily use the Internet onboard an aircraft. A tight squeeze for sure. And what about all those sleepyheads?
Photo right: TheHobbyGuy/Flickr
Earlier this week, I wrote extensively about the Passenger Communications Coalition, a group of stakeholders - including AeroMobile and OnAir - whose goal is to convince Congress not to pass the "Hang Up Act", which is intended to outlaw the use of in-flight mobile phones for voice communications.
Well, the coalition's web site has just gone live (a heads up to the excellent Wired Blog Network, which previously noted the irony of the web site not working). Let's just say this - the web site is definitely worth a look, and if you care about this subject, it offers ways to get involved.
One interesting fact mentioned by the coalition - the Hang Up Act does not affect private corporate jets. "Why should only the privileged get the benefit of staying connected in flight," they ask. Why indeed.
We've talked a lot about how cell phones and blackberries are changing the travel experience in-flight. But there is plenty of action happening on the ground too. And rightly so. Nowadays, it's pretty important to have up-to-the-minute flight information at your fingertips. This way, you'll know when your aircraft is scheduled to (eventually) take off, or when it makes sense to get on the road to pick up your cousin at the airport.
British Airways gets a gold star for its innovation in this regard. Available for free at the iTunes store, the carrier's application for Apple iPhone users in the UK gives real-time flight arrival and departure information, the full BA timetable, and enables access to the carrier's web site. Blackberry customers in the UK can also synch their booking to their online calendar and receive online check-in reminders.
The application has enjoyed extraordinary success and has exceeded expectations since its 10 July launch. "We're hoping this will be available to US passengers later this year," says BA, noting that there is no set US launch date as yet (a shame).
Dependent on the success of this trial, BA "will look to rollout to the rest of the world", reveals the carrier.
Note to the world's airlines: it's time to make a similar leap. Kudos to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines for moving quickly to offer web apps for iPhone users.
Other fun programmes in the iPhone web apps travel category include Vegas.com Mobile Concierge, which allows you to "discover Sin City on-the-go"; the Florida Beach Webcam Network, a collection of webcams across many of Florida's beaches (you'll know which ones to avoid); and Taxi Please, which helps you score a taxi before the other poor sods.
One of the wonderful things about executives in the in-flight entertainment and connectivity industry is that they are generally very chatty (another wonderful thing is that many of them, like myself, enjoy a good open bar). During the WAEA show last week in Long Beach, I had some interesting discourse with big and little players alike.
Let's start with the Rumors (which are, by nature of the definition, TOTALLY UNSUBSTANTIATED but fun nonetheless).
1) If John McCain is voted in as President of the United States, he will consider appointing former American Airlines head Bob Crandall as his Transportation Secretary. Egads! The airline industry would be re-regulated in a nanosecond.
2) Lufthansa will announce its replacement for Connexion shortly. T-Mobile is playing a prominent role (I blogged about this last year and we're still waiting).
3) Another major Ku-band provider will emerge on the scene in as little as a month (see #2?).
1) LiveTV intends to shortly roll out its brand new in-flight entertainment platform. Continental Airlines is the launch customer. The system boasts a larger 8in screen (versus 6.8in), is much lighter and will give passengers awesome viewing options. Continental passengers will have access to 80-plus channels (the current LiveTV system offers 36 channels of live television). LiveTV wants to eventually retrofit the new platform on the fleets of current customers, including parent JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and WestJet.
2) Panasonic is the world's second largest holder of patents.
3) Panasonic is developing a "super remote control" for installed IFE that, well, is pretty darn super. Aptly called Karma, the all-software handset is menu-driven with no buttons. Karma will essentially let you to be your ambidextrous self. For instance, you can check your email or scan the Internet without ever letting your IFE system's programming skip a beat. Karma will do everything but cook you breakfast (although no doubt you'll be able to order your eggs via Karma).
4) While Air Canada is keen to bring connectivity onboard its domestic and international fleets (and is looking to Aircell for both solutions), the carrier hasn't yet made a decision on whether to equip its Bombardier CRJs.
1) "Our biggest competitor is sleep." - Fran Phillips of Aircell.
2) "Entertainment is king because that's what's keeping passengers quiet back there [in economy]," - Richard Ford of Landor Associates.
3) "Do whatever you can to get Wi-Fi in the sky going." - Mark Heynen of Google.
4) "We feel our domestic customers have a much deeper agenda than just trying to get something on the plane." - John Guidon of Row 44
UPDATED to include new Lumexis comment
Last week Lumexis' fibre-to-the-screen in-flight entertainment (IFE) system was heralded as a potential gamechanger for AVOD. This week the picture looks fuzzier.
US Airways has put on indefinite hold its trial of the Lumexis system.
A source tells Runway Girl that Lumexis informed the carrier that it cannot meet an installation deadline. As such, there are no dates at present for when a test will occur.
US Airways could not provide immediate comment. However, Lumexis CEO Douglas Cline told me today that about three weeks ago the company ran into a flammability issue on one of the items in the installation kit, which is not part of the actual system. US Airways has since opted to wait until all FAA approvals are in place, he says.
"We've already got a slightly different design [on the item] so that flammability issue has passed and it's a matter of grinding out the paperwork," says Cline, who remains hopeful of installation on a single US Airways Airbus A320 in October.
Lumexis last week unveiled an impressive full-scale prototype of its IFE system, which uses military-proven fibre optics as the basis for its platform.
Describing the system's durability, the company said at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition that the fibre has to pass through all the same environmental testing as copper does.
US Airways asked specifically that the seat-back screens include a credit card swipe so that it has the ability to sell pay-per-view movies, drinks and food, and possibly initiate catalogue sales.
Oh the desperation is fierce. United Airlines today announced it will boost from $25 to a whopping $50 the fee it charges economy passengers to check in a second bag. And the struggling carrier has given domestic customers exactly one day to digest this quick change in policy, which impacts all flights booked from tomorrow for travel beginning 10 November.
Following hard on the heels of United's recent transatlantic meal charge flip flop, I can't help but wonder if management is shooting darts at an idea board and seeing what sticks.
I relied on United to fly me between Baltimore/Washington and Los Angeles last week. The experience was one of the worst in my recent memory.
I'll spare you all the intimate travel details (aren't we all in the same painful boat these days?), but suffice it to say, I could hear the oh-so-audible complaints of economy passengers aboard the aircraft and at check-in. Frankly I vowed to do my utmost to avoid flying the airline again.
So how will this new, steeper baggage fee go down? Like a big bag of bricks, I'd imagine.
(Photo of United's check-in counter at LAX in 1947 care of AirTeamImages)
Oh hang on just one second. Is the ill-advised "Hang Up Act" really moving forward in the US House of Representatives? Shockingly, yes! The bill, which is intended to outlaw the use of in-flight mobile phones for voice communications, is expected to head to the House floor in October. It isn't any wonder, then, that rivals AeroMobile and OnAir are among a stack of stakeholders ready to step up the fight against this absolutely ludicrous piece of legislation.
They've joined together to form the so-called Passenger Communications Coalition (their web site goes live this week) "to balance the discussion and make sure that updated, accurate information is available to the parties", AeroMobile VP strategy and external relationships David Coiley told me last week at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in Long Beach, California.
"We've gotten data to back up that the sky hasn't fallen on anyone's head from this [in-flight mobile phone usage]."
Indeed, data show that people are - shocker - actually able to act responsibly when given the right to use a cell phone during flight. Passengers in Europe and the Middle East are already championing the service. But here in the nanny states, Representatives Peter DeFazio, Jerry Costello, John Duncan and Thomas Petri - all senior members of the transportation committee that recently passed the Hang Up Act - appear hell bent to keep the current FCC and FAA in-flight cell phone ban in place.
"The public doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already over-packed airplane," said DeFazio when he introduced the bill. Thanks DeFazio, for trying to legislate courtesy. My dad used to hurl loogies out of our moving car. How about you start with the important stuff?
"Cell phone users should not be able to disrupt the comfort of an entire airplane cabin, especially when other passengers have no choice but to sit there and listen," said Duncan. This is a laughable comment since Duncan places the words "airplane cabin" and "comfort" in the same sentence.
The Hang Up Act is "an embarrassment", opined EMS Technologies CEO Paul Domorski during a WAEA forum. "From my perspective it puts uncertainty into the market as to what's going to happen in this area, and frankly provides cover for people that don't want to make these decisions. I think we have to speak out as to why this bill doesn't make any sense."
As far as I'm concerned, the Hang Up Act is a study in contradictions. Wired communications, such as those previously provided by now defunct Verizon Airfone, would be permitted. But mobile phones and wireless VoIP would not.
A series of meetings between the Passenger Communications Coalition and members of Congress and the media will take place this week.
"Once the facts of the matter are understood, any reasonably minded person would say 'the legislation is not necessary'," says Coiley.
Inmarsat, bless them, hooked me up at WAEA with some awesome footage of the recent launch of the third I-4 satellite. The satellite is now stabilised and pointed at the Earth, and is undergoing final in-orbit tests before being moved to its operational position at 98 degrees West
Inmarsat launched the first two I-4 satellites in 2005. With this latest launch, the satellite network provider's new, higher-bandwidth aeronautical service, SwiftBroadband, will be accessible worldwide - except the extreme polar regions.
I'm generally not the daring type. I don't bungee jump or skydive or swim deep into the ocean. Thanks Stephen Spielberg. But when invited to climb atop Row 44's Grumman Albatros testbed aircraft on Monday, I happily yanked off my pumps and shimmied up to the top of the fuselage and wing. Photographer Keith Fialcowitz was on hand to catch evidence of my shenanigans in Long Beach.
Oh my aching feet. I'm seriously questioning my own logic for wearing 3 inch heels at the busy WAEA show. Needless to say, I was grateful for the opportunity yesterday to sit down with my colleague Lori Ranson and IAG's Addison Schonland to discuss and review Day 2.
We talked about everything from Air Canada's decision to bring Aircell air-to-ground connectivity onboard its aircraft (it also wants to work with Aircell on an overseas solution!!!) to the feasibility of stacking people bunk bed-like in an aircraft cabin.
Heck, we even chatted about the link between IFE and toilets. Virgin America's "Red" IFE system has made going to the bathroom so much easier.
So go do your business, as they say, and then click on the following link:
Hello fair readers,
I'm sending this email from a Grumman Albatros seaplane that has been equipped with Row 44's in-flight connectivity service. Row 44 in June acquired the 1952-built aircraft, originally used by the US Air Force, for use as a testbed of its high-speed service.
The company completely redid the avionics, and is in the process of modernizing the leather interior (although, from my roomy seat, the inside is pretty damn swanky for a 56-year old bird).
So why an Albatros testbed? Row 44 discovered that the curvature atop the fuselage is the same as the top of a Boeing 737.
The radome that contains the AeroSat-made antenna and the ring fit snugly on top of the aircraft. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines are each planning to trial the system on 737s. Alaska's trial will occur in a few weeks. Nice!
That's the email I sent to myself today while the seaplane floated happily on the waters off of Long Beach before our flight. California-based Row 44 has been successfully demonstrating it's Ku band-based in-flight connectivity service over Canadian skies but is awaiting forthcoming US approvals to do its flight testing closer to home.
Seasoned pilot Dave Cummings installed the new avionics (Dynon and Garmin) in 21 days and managed to get the aircraft certified within two months. Is that a record?
In any case, the flight was quite memorable, not least of all because we flew over a whale while it was using its blow hole. He nearly stole the show, but not quite.
Shannon's pub outside of gate D11 at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. That's where I've plopped myself down, beer in hand, to wait for United Airlines flight 307 to Los Angeles.
For those of you who have been following this blog, you'll know that I'm en route to Long Beach for the Aircraft Interiors Expo and co-located World Airline Entertainment Association conference and exhibition, which will get kicked off tomorrow.
It feels slightly ironic to be travelling United steerage class - $15 poorer after checking in a bag - to two events that showcase the latest and greatest in in-flight technology and cabin amenities. Sure, United lays out the red carpet for its first-class passengers, but I know what's in store for me on this venerable Boeing 757-200. A costly sandwich and some severe leg cramps (no, I haven't picked up those DVT stockings...yet).
As I prepare to walk the floors of both shows, where I will momentarily bask in the glory of leather lie-flats, iPod connectivity and the odd glass of bubbly, I'm reminded of Al Pacino's memorable speech in the Devil's Advocate (tell me I'm not the only one who loves this camp). "You can look but you can't touch. You can eat but you can't taste. You can taste but you can't swallow."
And, if I may add a final line - " You can swallow that beer but it's gonna cost you."
I recently wrote a Flight feature about how airlines are turning to in-flight entertainment and connectivity to drive fresh ancillary revenue streams. But is there really big cash to be made? One IFE expert with deep knowledge of the industry doesn't think so by any stretch.
"Over the past few weeks I have read so many different reports about how the market for connectivity is going to worth billions. The reality is somewhat different. With airlines trying to survive the current squeeze and using the opportunity to 'bury any other baggage they have' connectivity particularly is not top of the agenda.
"It is a great achievement for the industry that Aircell, AeroMobile and OnAir are all flying and we finally have a sustainable approach to connectivity. However, the market prospect has been over-hyped. The figures do not add up.
"A handful of airlines will operate various forms of connectivity during 2009. The product will be successful in certain market, but the reality is that financially, it is no big deal. It is like having 2-3 extra items on the duty free trolley. However, as various companies look to get investment, the market is being talked up all the time. By the end of next week in Long Beach it will probably be a case of one wafer mint too much.
"The focus on connectivity is hiding major changes in IFE content and hardware. Content companies are consolidating and realising that there is no room for a 'middle man'. Weight constraints and threat of portables (which was over hyped) has kicked IFE hardware into shape.
"The latest systems are 30-40% lighter and providing 3 times the content of the previous generation. This is before the latest competitors come out of China with ultra-high tech and low cost."
When Bombardier launched the geared turbofan-powered CSeries at Farnborough with a letter of interest from Lufthansa for 60 aircraft, the industry raised a collective eyebrow. Hadn't the manufacturer said it needed 50 to 100 firm orders to kick start the programme?
And when Lufthansa followed up the announcement by saying that it will not be the actual launch operator for the CSeries, but instead "will be among the first operators", some folks wondered whether Bombardier had pressed the European giant for a public vote of confidence in order to save face at the air show and spur further interest.
Whatever Bombardier's reasons, it now appears that potential customers might very well be ready to seal some deals (maybe in time for NBAA??).
An industry source has indicated to CAO that a 100-plus aircraft order is forthcoming and that all launch customer positions for the CSeries have been allocated. Another source tells CAO to keep an eye out for a 40-aircraft order from a leasing company.
Now that's more like it. But who are these anonymous customers?
A separate source says it's not Northwest Airlines. "They are still on hold due to the Delta merger, but still interested."
Okay, friend. What about the leasing giants? "I wonder if Wexford might be the lessor - just speculating - they had ordered the E-Series, so why not the C-Series," he says.
Obviously, the CSeries could attract orders from Chinese carriers. China's AVIC I is to build the centre fuselage of the CSeries. And you'll recall that China Southern and Shanghai Airlines were circulated as prospective buyers for the 110/130-seater.
Meanwhile, Bombardier is about a month away from beginning what it calls the joint conceptual definition phase for the CSeries, reports Aviation Daily. The group will include teams from all the programme's major suppliers, who will in effect work as an in-house development team with the Canadian manufacturer, adds the publication.
Oh yeah, and Bombardier has just posted a fiscal second quarter net profit of $246 million. Cooking with gas, as they say...
You heard it here first, folks, but Bombardier has now confirmed that its prototype CRJ1000 NextGen RJ today made a successful inaugural flight from the company's facility at Mirabel, Quebec. And they sent this lovely pic.
"We put the gear up, operated the flaps and slats and exercised our new 'Fly-by-Wire' rudder," said Jacques Thibaudeau, one of the pilots who crewed the aircraft.
"All systems worked as they were designed to do. The aircraft handled similarly to the smaller CRJ900 airliner so flight crews will have no problem in transitioning to the 100-seat CRJ1000 NextGen aircraft."
Following a few more flights from Mirabel, the prototype CRJ1000 will be flown to the Bombardier flight test centre in Wichita, Kansas where, next year, it will be joined by the first production CRJ1000 NextGen airliner to prepare for entry into service.
The aircraft is expected to enter commercial service in the fourth quarter of 2009.
As reported earlier, the Bombardier CRJ1000 took its first flight this morning. Now I'm being told that the aircraft landed at 13:30pm at Mirabel airport after a 3h30 flight test.
The aircraft did a fly by over the Mirabel plant just before landing, says a Bombardier employee. This follows yesterday's successful completion of a high-speed taxi test.
Before you ask, yes I am feverishly trying to get photos.
"The high speed taxi test has been successfully completed yesterday," he says.
Bombardier has 39 firm orders from four customers for the 100-seat aircraft.
As a traveller, it is absolutely phenomenal to be able to hop a flight to London for the cost of a pricey dinner for two. However, if airlines have any hope of surviving today, can they really afford to charge the same fares as fifty years ago?
British Airways is currently running a promotion that makes for some interesting comparisons. Find more on this topic here...
(Pan Am pic from wwwairlinemeals.net)