Last month a story was leaked claiming United Airlines will be placing a major order for narrowbody aircraft early next year. Industry analysts predict it will be for up to 200 aircraft in what would equate to a list price deal of approximately $18 billion. The article also notes Boeing and Airbus will be pitted against each other as is a common theme these days, with American Airlines recently splitting their major aircraft acquisition purchase between the two manufacturers.
Today I attended the United Family Day event in San Francisco (full review forthcoming), but feel compelled to post about my conversation with Captain Andy, an A319/320 pilot. While I was waiting for the airplane pull event – groups of about 25 people who literally pull a rope attached to the nosewheel to tug an A320 a designated distance by sheer manpower – I introduced myself to Captain Andy and had a pleasant chat.
I asked him what he thought about the new “rule” that pilots will be required to allow autopilot handle recovery during windshear or significant wind gusts and he replied, “it’s just a suggestion.” He mentioned A319s are easier to land as they don’t float as much as A320s when very close to touchdown. Then he said, “we’ll be ordering A321neos to eventually replace the 757s and they’ll have greater sized winglets than those seen on the A319/A320s.” WOW! That’s big news and he was certainly confident in revealing it.
So, I suppose you could file this under speculation, but as he’s the Chief Pilot in San Francisco I tend to take his word. I further asked, “Do they have the range and fuel capacity needed to replace the 757?” His answer was “yes” and I asked because I recently posted that US Airways was in discussion with Airbus as they were concerned A321s wouldn’t be able to match 757 performance. United must feel confident and Airbus obviously has come through.
Given this conversation, I think we might hear of a firm purchase announcement from United sooner than the new year. Here are a couple of pictures from today’s event to tide you over until I write up a full review.
In other airline, hotel and travel industry news this week…
- Delta Air Lines will be laying off 200 employees, the majority of which from their headquarters in Atlanta. This combined with another 2,000 employees taking voluntary buyouts, the airline claims soft demand, fuel prices and reduced capacity make the workforce reductions necessary.
- Engineers at Qantas have proceeded with one-hour work stoppages causing 17 flights to be delayed or cancelled this past Monday. Brisbane was the first city where the mini-strikes were held, with Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne planned to follow. I didn’t, however, read of any other cancellations or delays for the rest of the week. As they should, the carrier is refusing to pay engineers overtime pay for the planned hour work stoppage. Come on unions… stop being so childish.
- The first Boeing 747-8 in Lufthansa colors rolled out of the Boeing paint shop. She’s a sexy bird in my opinion and I’ll look forward to booking a trip on it as the 747 is still my favorite airplane. Lufty ordered a total of 20 of the now longest passenger jet in the world and will begin taking delivery of them next spring.
- The first Disney property opened in Hawaii last week on the western side of Oahu about 25 miles from resort heavy Waikiki. Obviously catering to families, the price point for the Aulani resort is pretty steep with the lowest rates in October being $549 per night for a single as compared to the nearby JW Marriott Ihilani resort of $269 to $459 per night. The first ever teen-only spa at the property features frozen yogurt, Xbox Kinect fitness activites and even manicures and pedicures.
- While American Airlines and Sabre have extended their content agreement, the carrier filed a new complaint with the courts alleging the GDS “organized an unlawful group boycott against American.” The papers are heavily redacted, so there’s no publicly available detail into exactly what that supposed boycott entailed. No court date has been set for the original complaint that claims Sabre biased fares, blocked direct connect abilities and raised booking fees among other items.
- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claims we’ll eventually be able to leave our shoes on here in America when passing through security. Many news outlets jumped on the story and I’m afraid some of them made it sound like it would be happening very soon. The original plan was to have a shoe scanner system in airports by 2015, but no decision has been made as to whether or not they’ll proceed with that technology.
- The U.S. Transportation Security Adminisration will be continuing full speed ahead with the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) and federal flight deck officer programs (FFDO). While no actual threats have been averted due to the programs, the TSA claims both are “success stories” and part of the “nation’s multi-layered approach to transportation security.” I’m all for the volunteer pilots who carry weapons, but think it should be extended to international flights. Restrictions by foreign countries prohibit the practice.
- US Airways is in talks with Airbus to see if the A321neo (new engine option) could be modified to become the replacement for the carrier’s aging 757 fleet. Currently, the A321 doesn’t have the range, power and fuel capacity for some of the carrier’s longest haul markets such as Phoenix-Honolulu, Charlotte-Dublin and Philadephia-Lisbon.
Yesterday, The Cranky Flier and Henry Harteveldt tweeted updates throughout the day from a US Airways Media Day event in Phoenix. One of the larger announcements was that the carrier will be investing $35 million to upgrade their largest Express jets (Embraer 170/175s & Bombardier CRJ-700/900s) to include first class.
Whereas the other major carriers in the U.S. already had, or have just recently added first class to most of their regional aircraft, US Airways is claiming their move now is driven by the desire to sell upgrades at the gate versus needing to maintain a competitive product with other carriers. Still, though, this should be welcome news to the elite ranks, and gives US Airways a bit more credibility in my book. Their recent upgrade to long-haul aircraft also makes the carrier an attractive option for premium traffic.
Separately, the carrier reported yesterday that they are adding jobs in at least one domestic call center, and all sales & customer service calls originating in the U.S. will be handled by one of their three centers in Winston-Salem, Reno, and Phoenix. Without saying they’re bringing ALL call center functions back to the U.S., it is at least welcome news that when you need to call to make or change a reservation, you’ll get someone here in the United States.
Finally, US Airways has asked Airbus to look into offering Extended Operation (ETOPS) capabilities for the Airbus A321neo (new engine option). The carrier currently operates 51 of the standard-engined A321, and seeks interest in operating the aircraft on transatlantic flights, as well as to Hawaii. Derek Kerr, US Airways CEO, said they’ve been looking for 757s, but “there’s not a lot out there” as FedEx has “gobbled them up.” US Airways, however, does have a vested interest with Airbus since Stephen Wolf’s realm as CEO in the 1990s, and it might make more sense from a maintenance and fleet consistency perspective to pursue ETOPS with Airbus.