Issue No. 856

Runway to Nowhere?

A Controversial New Mexico City Airport Opens

Pushing Back: Inside The Issue

Mexico City finally got a new airport! It's just not the one most had hoped for. No, that $13 billion, Norman Foster-designed airport became a political football. Instead, the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the military put their bets on the new Felipe Angeles, on an old military base in Santa Lucia. Will it be the reliever Benito Juarez International Airport needs? Airlines are not convinced. The 25-gate, three-runway facility opened with just eight domestic flights and one international flight — Conviasa to Caracas.

Meanwhile, will this summer bet the hot vaxxed one everyone expected last year? Airlines seem to think so and are racing to add routes to leisure destinations. The industry in Europe, North and South America, and increasingly in Australasia, is moving toward what they view a new phase of the pandemic. Travel restrictions, mask mandates, and vaccine requirements are falling everywhere, with the exception of Asia. But even there, Singapore, which had some of the most stringent restrictions, has begun to relax its rules. Elsewhere in the region, the Omicron variant is raging, and China remains essentially closed.

The pandemic may be receding, but the largest land war in Europe since World War II grinds on. Airlines are adjusting to the longer flight times closed Russian airspace requires. Oil prices continue to be volatile, but appear to be settling at around $110 per barrel. Air France said that, despite being largely hedged, it will start to raise ticket prices to offset the higher costs. Predicting where oil prices will end up or whether prices have stabilized, though, is a fool's errand.

Weekly Skies

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far has not dented summer demand for travel between North America and Europe, despite fears soon after Russia’s invasion of its neighbor last month that Europe’s recovering tourism industry could suffer from the fallout, Air France CEO Anne Rigail said at the Skift Forum Europe in London on March 24.

“At the beginning of the war, bookings were paralyzed for a few days,” Rigail said. “We were wondering if [American] passengers would fear coming to Europe because of the war, but we have not seen this,” she said, adding that booking momentum for summer travel has picked back up.

But that isn’t to say the French flag carrier has not been affected by the war, which broke out on February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Fuel prices are rising, and Air France will have to raise fares this summer. Economy-class fares on roundtrip flights to North America could rise by $33 (€30), and in business class by €100 ($110). “It will hurt for sure,” Rigail said.

The fare increases will come despite Air France having hedged much of its energy costs. Air France has hedged more than 70 percent of its fuel costs for the first and second quarters, which takes the sting out of rapidly rising oil prices, which soared past $100 per barrel for the first time since 2014 in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion. Although oil prices have retreated from their high of close to $130 per barrel in late February, the price of industry benchmark Brent crude remained at $112 per barrel as of March 24. Hedging “won’t be enough to avoid” raising fares, Rigail said.

Where the war has had a direct impact is on flight times to Asia. Flights between France and North Asia must take a more circuitous route to avoid Russian airspace, adding as many as four hours to a flight to Japan. But Air France, like all carriers that are now avoiding Russian airspace, benefits from an unexpected pandemic silver lining: Because of continued strict travel restrictions in much of Asia, demand between Asia and Europe remains depressed. The longer flight times have not yet translated into passengers booking away from Air France.

Still, despite higher fares, the prospect of the war spreading, and longer flight times on some routes, Air France is seeing strong demand for summer travel. In fact, capacity will be higher than 2019 in several markets, including to North America, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean. Throughout the pandemic, demand for flights to Africa, where Air France historically has had a strong network, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean remained resilient, powered by leisure travel to warm-weather destinations and by to visit friends and family. “Except in Asia, demand has come back in every region,” Rigail said.

Bookings to South America are starting to pick up, Rigail said. And demand from North America so far is exceeding 2019 levels for summer travel. Flights to the U.S started to recover in November, after the U.S. reopened to vaccinated travelers and were strong through December, before dipping in January and the first half of February due to the spread of the Omicron variant. “As soon as people can return to flights, they do,” Rigail said.

But the nature of travel has changed, she noted. Travelers skew younger, and leisure dominates, while business travel lags. These younger travelers are more likely to book longer trips that combine business travel with leisure, or “bleisure,” Rigail said.

Sustainability, important to younger travelers, partially informs this change in travel behavior. “Sustainability is changing the way our customers want to travel and how they expect us to tackle global warming,” Rigail said. To that end, Air France is stepping up its investment in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). It reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions by 6 percent between 2005-2019, and is on track for a further 15 percent reduction by 2030, with the goal of meeting the airline industry’s net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

But SAF, though promising, remains a challenge. The supply in Europe is “scarce,” and is four to eight times more expensive than conventional fuel, Rigail said. Air France gives passengers the option to pay a sustainable fuel surcharge of between €1-30 per ticket, depending on fare class. The carrier sees more uptake for this option among corporate travelers, whose companies may mandate sustainable travel.

One of the most effective ways Air France can improve its sustainability is by operating newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Many airlines around the world took the pause offered by the pandemic to retire older, less-efficient airplanes, and replace them with more efficient types. Air France is no exception. The carrier has ordered more than 30 Airbus A350s for long-haul flights, and 60 Airbus A220s for shorter operations. These aircraft are as much as 20 percent more fuel efficient than the ones they are replacing. “More than half our fleet will be renewed by 2025,” Rigail said.

In addition, Air France is cutting back its shorter flights within France. The country passed a law last year prohibiting domestic flights on routes that can be served by a high-speed train in under two hours and thirty minutes. In response, Air France dropped flights from Paris Orly to Bordeaux, Nantes, and Lyons, among other destinations, and is working with the French national rail company, SNCF, to improve connections between flights and trains.

In the midst of its fleet renewal, there is one thing Air France will not do: Return to supersonic flights. Air France and British Airways were the only two airlines in the world to regularly offer supersonic flights, on the Concorde from the 1970s to the early 2000s, when both airlines retired the aircraft. “Times have changed,” Rigail said. “Our priorities now are to make air travel sustainable, and it would not be responsible to the younger generation to work on supersonic flight.”

“We want to have aircraft that emit less,” Rigail said.

Madhu Unnikrishnan

In Other News

  • The war in Ukraine has not extended to airline alliances, yet. Both Aeroflot and S7 remain members of the SkyTeam and Oneworld alliances, respectively. Delta Air Lines severed its codeshare relationships with Aeroflot shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last month. Air France-KLM has ended its relationships with the Russian state carrier to comply with EU sanctions. Oneworld said it is leaving it up to its members to continue codesharing with S7. Aeroflot has significantly cut back its international schedule on orders from the Russian government, which warned against flying to “unfriendly” countries for fear the airline’s leased aircraft may be seized. S7 suspended international flights shortly after the invasion began.
  • Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) is grounded due to the war, but it may still fly. “In times of martial law and the closure of Ukrainian airspace, UIA strives to maintain operations in order to ensure its contribution to the economic stability of Ukraine,” UIA said on its website. The carrier is offering its aircraft and crews for wet-leasing operations outside its home country. In addition, UIA is soliciting offers for charter and humanitarian flights. But, there is an exception. “Cooperation is possible only with companies that do not fly to Russia and Belarus, and also do not receive funding from these countries,” UIA said.
  • Latam Airlines Group can put its reorganization plan to a creditor vote after receiving approval to do so from a Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York judge. The plan does not include a hostile takeover by Azul that was backed by some creditors. Voting will close on May 2, and a confirmation hearing is scheduled for May 17 and 18.
  • UK regional carrier Flybe is back. The airline that was the first airline casualty of the Covid-19 crisis will relaunch on April 13 with flights between Birmingham and Belfast City. Flybe will progressively resume another 21 routes through August 25, including a return to London Heathrow with flights to Amsterdam, Belfast City, and Leeds Bradford beginning April 28. The rebooted carrier will operate De Havilland Dash 8-400 turboprops.
  • Iberia is planning for hot summer demand for travel to Spain. It plans to operate 85 percent of its systemwide pre-pandemic capacity this summer, and 100 percent in Europe. The carrier has restored flights to several destinations, including San Francisco, and daily frequencies to cities in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. Iberia Express is expected to operate 27 percent more seats in the Canary and Balearic Islands than it did in 2019.
  • Ethiopian Airlines has a new chief executive. The carrier named Mesfin Tasew Bekele its CEO last week, replacing Tewolde GebreMariam, who stepped down due to health issues, the carrier said. Bekele previously had a long career at Ethiopian, but since 2021 he has been CEO of Togo-based Asky Airlines.
  • Asia is gradually reopening after two years of some of the world’s most stringent travel restrictions. Singapore is the latest country to relax its Covid protocols. From April 1, fully vaccinated passengers will not need to take a test on entering Singapore, nor will they be required to quarantine. Passengers still will need to take pre-departure tests, however. Unvaccinated passengers can transit through Singapore as long as they meet the entry requirements of their destination country.
  • The time has come for the U.S. to end its mask mandate for flights and its pre-departure testing requirements for international travel, the heads of major carriers said in a letter to President Joseph Biden. The CEOs argue that the pandemic has entered a new phase, one that is more manageable, and the mitigation efforts from earlier in the crisis are no longer necessary. Moreover, the burden of enforcing the requirements has fallen on their employees, the CEOs said. In particular, the mask mandate has resulted in dozens of instances of “air rage” from non-compliant passengers, with some disputes becoming violent. Southwest Airlines flight attendants are among the groups that support an end to the mandate.
  • After a kerfuffle last year in Quebec when Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau admitted he couldn’t speak French, the Montreal-based carrier has set up an “Official Languages Branch.” The new division will offer language training in French and English and ensure the carrier complies with Canadian laws that mandate companies be functional in both languages. For his part, Rousseau told Canada’s Parliament that he is now taking daily French lessons.
  • And finally, the IATA Annual General Meeting will go on, just in a different place. Originally scheduled for June 19-21 in Shanghai, hosted by China Eastern, the event now will be on the same dates in Doha, hosted by Qatar Airways.

Edward Russell & Madhu Unnikrishnan

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Fleet

Alaska Airlines is speeding up its transition to an all-Boeing fleet with plans to retire the Airbus A321neo aircraft it inherited from Virgin America early. And in unexpected news, it will also retire the De Havilland Dash 8-400s in favor of an all-Embraer E175 regional fleet.

The Seattle-based carrier will operate a fleet of 323 737s and E175s by the end of 2023, and plans to grow to nearly 400 aircraft by the middle of the decade. The airline said the fleet simplification will help drive down costs and streamline maintenance. “The quicker we could get to a single fleet, the better,” Chief Financial Officer Shane Tackett said earlier this month. He added that a simplified fleet could help realize $50-70 million in annual costs savings.

“One fleet is way simpler than two fleets to operate,” he said. The carrier also will benefit from staffing simplicity, with no need for reserve Airbus crews.

Alaska has long made clear it wanted to get rid of the 71 Airbus aircraft it gained through its 2016 acquisition of Virgin America. It removed the 31 A319s and A320s during the pandemic, and has replaced them with new Boeing 737-9s that began arriving last January. The airline will return the remaining 30 A320s it inherited from Virgin America by early 2023 at the latest. Alaska cancelled its longstanding order for 30 A320neos finally late last year.

The fate of the 10 A321neos has long been unclear. For a time, Alaska said it valued the range and capability of the A321 for certain missions, for example on flights between the West Coast and slot-constrained airports like Washington Reagan National. But it recently changed course. “I would not be surprised if we found a home for those [A321s] before the lease expiry,” Tackett said earlier in March.

Alaska has found, or is confident that it will find, a home for the jets that have leases through 2031. With the March 24 announcement, the carrier signaled it will return the aircraft to lessors up to seven years early. “The A321 is a great airplane,” Nathaniel Pieper, senior vice president of fleet and alliances, said on March 24. “There will be a pretty good market for it.”

Lessors have signaled strong demand for aircraft, particularly the A321neo that has emerged as the de facto replacement for the Boeing 757. Airbus executives recently said their backlog stretches out 10 years limiting the availability of popular jets like the A321neo in the near term.

Alaska’s deliveries of new Maxes will offset the retirements. In fact, Tackett said the carrier is net upgauging across its fleet, especially with the 189-seat 737-10 that has just one less seat than A321neos. The 150-seat A320 fleet will mostly be replaced with 178-seat 737-9s.

The regional fleet changes follow the same strategy Alaska is pursuing for its mainline operation: “simplicity,” Pieper said. Its Horizon Air subsidiary will retire its last 32 Dash 8s in 2023 with the aircraft replaced by 20 new E175s. Alaska has not specified whether Horizon or affiliate SkyWest Airlines will operate the new jets.

Alaska’s fleet changes are not limited to passenger aircraft. The airline is adding two converted Boeing 737-800 freighters, expanding its cargo fleet to five aircraft.

The airline plans to grow capacity by 1-3 percent this year compared to 2019, the low end of its January guidance. But going forward, Alaska will grow organically by 4-8 percent annually through 2025 even with its fleet changes. The majority of that growth, roughly 70 percent, will be in its home Pacific Northwest markets with the balance touching California.

Madhu Unnikrishnan & Edward Russell

Fleet Briefs

  • Airbus stole a march on Boeing when Air Canada said it would take 26 A321XLRs. The aircraft will fill a middle of the market niche for the carrier and will be configured with 182 seats, including 14 lie-flat business-class seats. The aircraft will start arriving in 2024, with deliveries continuing through 2027. The bulk of the A321XLRs will be leased, with 15 coming from Air Lease Corp. and five from AerCap. Air Canada will buy six of the 26 aircraft, and has purchase rights for an additional 14 for delivery between 2027-2030.
  • Fresh out of its U.S. Chapter 11 restructuring, Aeromexico is making good on its promise to grow. The carrier has signed a lease deal with Air Lease Corp. for nine more Boeing 737 Maxes: two -8s and seven -9s with deliveries from June through August 2023. Aeromeixco previously closed a deal for eight new 737s and 787s from ALC in 2021.
  • Delta Air Lines took delivery of its first of 155 Airbus A321neos on March 23. The aircraft, which is outfitted with 194 seats, flew to Atlanta that day. Delta plans to introduce the plane on flights from its Boston Logan hub in May.
  • India’s Flybig has signed a letter of intent to take up to 10 De Havilland Twin Otters. The carrier plans to operate the aircraft on routes to underserved markets in India “not previously accessible by air,” the carrier said. The deal comprises five aircraft with options for five more.
  • Lessor Avolon and Air Greenland are teaming up to study the eVTOL market in the semi-autonomous Danish territory. The study will examine Greenland’s infrastructure and make recommendations on the feasibility of eVTOLs as transportation. Air Greenland has committed to take an unspecified number of Vertical Aerospace VX4 eVTOLs from Avolon upon the study’s completion.

Edward Russell & Madhu Unnikrishnan

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Landing Strip

The first flight from Mexico City’s new airport took off on March 21, but whether the new facility can relieve congestion at the capital’s main airport remains to be seen.

Felipe Angeles International Airport, located about 28 miles (45 km) from Mexico City, opened with an Aeromexico flight to Villahermosa. In all, the airport will handle eight commercial departures on its first day: two flights by Aeromexico, three by Volaris, and two by Viva Aerobus, Cirium data show. Venezuela’s Conviasa operated one flight to Caracas.

But the airport has grand ambitions. It’s opening with three runways capable of handling “any aircraft flying now,” including Airbus A380s and Boeing 747s, General Gustavo Vallejo, head of the military engineers in charge of the airport’s construction, told reporters on March 21. Felipe Angeles will open with 28 gates and, including remote stands, can accommodate up to 45 aircraft, Vallejo said. The airport can handle up to 20 million passengers.

The airport is built on a former military base in Santa Lucia, and the military remains in charge of its administration. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has long championed the Santa Lucia facility as an alternative to Mexico City. But before he took office at the end of 2018, work had already progressed on a $13 billion airport project closer to the city. The president made good on a campaign pledge to cancel that project, which he deemed wasteful, despite more than $2 billion in work already completed.

Lopez Obrador, who ran on a populist platform, said then the new Mexico City airport under construction would serve wealthier parts of the catchment area, especially when compared with Santa Lucia, which is not as affluent as much of the capital region. He reiterated that belief on March 21 by saying Felipe Angeles would connect a part of the capital region that has traditionally been underserved.

There is broad consensus that Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport is congested. The two-runway airport handled 36 million passengers last year — and more than 50 million in 2019 — and is Latin America’s busiest. It is slot-constrained and airlines have long battled for access to the airport; Mexicana’s bankruptcy 10 years ago touched off a feeding frenzy for its slots. But there has been no consensus on where a new airport should be. The previous administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed the project that Lopez Obrador cancelled.

Airlines are skeptical about the Santa Lucia location. First, it was a military site, which raised questions about its suitability for commercial operations. Second, what Lopez Obrador sees as a benefit in terms of an underserved catchment may not ring as true for airline executives. Volaris CEO Enrique Beltranena pointed out last year that the immediate area is not as affluent as those of Benito Juarez or Toluca, the latter a reliever airport to Mexico City’s west. Finally, existing infrastructure makes access difficult.

However, the Mexican government aims to alleviate that last concern, Lopez Obrador said on March 21. The highway between Mexico City and Felipe Angeles is being widened to double its current size. A new rapid bus line connects the city center with the airport. And, in 2023, a new train line will connect the airport terminal to the city center in about 40 minutes, the president said. The military is in charge of its construction.

Other than Conviasa, no international airlines have announced plans to fly from Felipe Angeles. Cirium schedules show the domestic airlines that launched flights from Felipe Angeles today have no plans to increase frequencies through June.

— Madhu Unnikrishnan & Edward Russell 

Airport Briefs

  • Berlin Brandenburg airport opened a new Terminal 2 on March 24. Ryanair is the only operator from the facility that is designed to handle 6 million passengers annually. The terminal is just that: a new headhouse for departures and arrivals with a physical connection to the airport’s existing airside gates. Terminal 2 was completed in 2020 but its opening was delayed due to the crisis.
  • Nigerian authorities opened the new Terminal 2 at Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport on March 22. The facility has six contact gates, and design capacity of 14 million annual passengers. The roughly $100 million project was financed under a 2013 loan from the Export and Import Bank of China.
  • The New York Transportation Development Corporation launched a $1.35 billion bond on behalf of JFK International Air Terminal and Delta Air Lines to fund an expansion of Terminal 4 at JFK airport. The $1.3 billion expansion includes adding 10 regional jet gates to Concourse A; an expansion and reconfiguration of 14 gates widebody and regional gates to 12 widebody, narrowbody, and regional gates on Concourse B; an expansion of the ticketing area; and new Delta lounges. One notable aspect is a new Delta One Lounge, which would be the first premium lounge for Delta and likely compete with American Airlines‘ Flagship and United Airlines‘ Polaris premium lounges. A Delta spokesperson declined to comment further on the Delta One Lounge. Work on the Terminal 4 has begun with most aspects set for completion by December 2023. J.P. Morgan is the senior underwriting manager of the transaction that is due to price on April 5.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport launched its own $1.2 billion bond offering to partially fund its $5.9 billion five-year capital plan that runs through 2027. The largest piece of that plan is the $2.3 billion renovation and expansion of Terminals A and C, which will add nine gates for DFW’s largest carrier, American. Citi and Raymond James are lead managers on the bond issue that is scheduled to price on April 5 and 6.
  • All good things must come to an end. Alaska Airlines is moving from Virgin America’s old digs in San Francisco’s Terminal 2 to the rebuilt Terminal 1 by the end of 2024. The move puts Alaska closer to its new partner American, as well as other Oneworld alliance members. Alaska currently uses 10 gates at Terminal 2, and a spokeswoman said it anticipates using a similar number in Terminal 1. The carrier also will build out a new lounge in Terminal 1. United, which operates from Terminal 3 and uses common-use gates in Terminal 2, could expand its presence at the facility upon Alaska’s departure. The real question is whether Southwest Airlines, or other carriers, may move into the newly freed-up space in Terminal 2.
  • Dubai International will close its north runway from May 9-June 22 for a complete refurbishment, the airport authority said. The airport expects operations to continue normally during the 45-day period, but said some flights may be redirected to Dubai World Central. The airport last closed one of its two runways for reconstruction in 2019.
  • The FAA is extending its slot waivers and slot exemptions at through October 29 at New York Kennedy, LaGuardia, Washington Reagan National, Chicago O’Hare, Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The extension is the latest in a series of waivers and exemptions that began early in the Covid pandemic and exempts airlines from use-it-or-lose-it slot rules on international flights.

Edward Russell & Madhu Unnikrishnan

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Routes and Networks

  • With no airspace closures to worry about and home populations bursting with pent-up demand, Air New Zealand and Qantas Airways are two for two with new ultra long-haul routes. Air New Zealand will begin its long planned — and delayed — Auckland-New York JFK nonstop thrice weekly with a Boeing 787-9 on September 17. The flight will clock in at more than 16 hours northbound and over 17 southbound.

    Not to be left behind with its own New York nonstops still several years off, Qantas will add a second connecting to its Oneworld and joint venture partner American Airlines mega Dallas-Fort Worth hub. Qantas will launch Melbourne-DFW service four-times weekly also on a 787-9 from December 2; just in time for the peak southern summer travel season.
  • With Covid-19 restrictions eased and its long-delayed new airport fully up and running, Berlin is welcoming at least 10 new routes across from eight airlines this spring and summer. EasyJet and Eurowings will add two routes each: the former to Pisa and Rijeka, Croatia, from June 28; and the latter to Kos, Greece, and Stockholm Arlanda from May and June. In addition from March through June, Flyr will touch down in the German capital from Oslo; Norwegian Air will add a nonstop to Trondheim; Ryanair to Krakow, Poland; SunExpress to Bodrum, Turkey; Transavia France to Nantes; and Turkish Airlines to Ordu-Giserun, Turkey. The new nonstops follow the opening of Terminal 2 at Berlin Brandenburg Airport (see Landing Strip), and as the city’s tourism authority Visit Berlin emphasizes that the city is open to visitors despite the lingering pandemic and Ukraine war.
  • Berlin may be open but United Airlines is giving the indication that at least U.S. demand to Eastern Europe is not all that. The carrier has pulled plans to launch new service to the German capital from Berlin — a Newark flight will still operate — and to Prague from Newark. United said the cancellations were due to a “number of factors including demand, costs and resources.” However, the carrier will go forward with new destinations outside of Eastern Europe — ie, ones not proximate to the war in Ukraine — including the Azores, Bergen, Palma de Mallorca, and Tenerife.
  • Finnair continues to adjust its network due to the closure of Russian airspace. The airline will add Mumbai to its map with thrice-weekly service from Helsinki this summer, an addition that comes amid a surplus of idle long-haul jets. Plans to add or resume flights to Busan, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo Haneda are indefinitely postponed due the airspace closure.
  • Egypt’s second largest airline, Nile Air, is making its first foray into the heart of Europe this summer. The airline will connect Cairo with Stockholm Arlanda twice weekly from June 18, and Düsseldorf thrice weekly from June 26, per Cirium. Currently, Istanbul is the farthest west that Nile Air flies.
  • Copa Airlines will add its fourth destination in Venezuela in June. The carrier will connect Panama City and Barcelona thrice-weekly from June 30. Copa CEO Pedro Heilbron cited the development of trade and tourism in the city on Venezuela’s eastern coast among reasons for the new route.
  • Following on the heels of JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes’ comments earlier in March that it would reduce planned capacity on the back of higher fuel prices, the airline has suspended 23 routes until the end of October, and cancelled two more. Hardest hit is Fort Lauderdale where nine routes — Cartagena, Chicago O’Hare, Cleveland, Grand Cayman, Portland, Ore., Port of Spain, Providenciales, Seattle-Tacoma, and St. Maarten — have come out, per Cirium. Newark, a center of JetBlue’s pandemic growth, also lost eight routes; Los Angeles four, and Hartford two.

    JetBlue also cancelled two leisure routes: Cancun to Austin and Nashville, according to Cirium. “These routes no longer make sense for profitability and to support our long-term strategy,” a spokesperson said.
  • Keeping an eye on profitability, Alaska Airlines is dropping flights between Portland, Ore., and Paine Field north of Seattle on April 30. A spokesperson said the move comes amid strong demand for leisure destinations, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, from Paine. Alaska will initially drop to 14 daily departures from Paine when its twice-daily Portland service ends but will jump to up to 18 daily departures in June with added frequencies to Phoenix, San Francisco, and Spokane, per Cirium.
  • And Spirit Airlines continues its growth tear with four new routes. The discounter will connect Newark with Los Angeles from May 5, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh from June 22, and Oakland from August 10. The additions come as airlines await a decision from the U.S. DOT on how it will award 16 peak-hour runway timings at Newark that were returned by Southwest Airlines in 2019.

Edward Russell

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State of the Unions

Wizz Air and several unions are waging a war in dockets over the Hungarian ULCC’s application to fly to the U.S. It turns out Wizz wants permission for cargo charter flights on an Airbus A330.

The complicating factor is the A330 is owned by the Hungarian government and operated by Wizz, often for medical or humanitarian flights.

The unions have raised the ownership as an issue that bears further investigation and regulation, and that makes a foreign air carrier permit not in the public’s interest and a violation of the U.S.-EU open skies agreement. They point to the fact that the A330 operates without Wizz livery as proof that the cargo service is not commercial in nature, and a “flying billboard for the government of Hungary.” Additionally, the unions claim that Wizz engages in unfair labor practices, including hints it is retaliating against a labor dispute with its staff in Ukraine and has stranded them there after the Russian invasion.

Wizz vehemently denies all the allegations and singled out the complaints about its Ukrainian staff as “grossly inaccurate” and “irresponsible.” The airline said the unions are flat out wrong in their other allegations, and that it is “an important alternative to legacy air carrier service.” As for the livery, Wizz said its commercial identity is a ULCC passenger airline and therefore it doesn’t benefit from branding a freighter.

The unions include the European Cockpit Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, the AFL-CIO, the Allied Pilots Association, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the IAM, and the TWU.

Madhu Unnikrishnan

Labor Briefs

  • Norwegian Air is putting a marker down (again) in Helsinki. The carrier is reopening a crew base it shuttered during its retrenchment early in the pandemic and is hiring 150 new employees there. The Helsinki base will be home to 100 flight attendants and 50 pilots, Norwegian said. The carrier currently operates 14 routes from the Finnish capital, with plans to grow to 27 routes this summer.

Madhu Unnikrishnan

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