American’s Schedule | Too Much For Available Crews
American Airlines has cancelled over 100 flights already today (June 19). The most common reason is ‘flight crew unavailable’. Many other flights show cancelled due to ‘operational decision’ which appears to be giving that flight’s pilots to another aircraft (in other words, also ‘flight crew unavailable’). In contrast, as of this writing United has cancelled eight flights today and Delta has cancelled two.
The issue appears to be concentrated on the Boeing 737 fleet. American’s schedule seems too big for the crew they have available, especially since they’re only midway through the process of bringing inactive pilots back online.
They didn’t keep those pilots who were staying home active and qualified to fly. And they’re not all back yet, either. In fact as of last week they’re only about halfway through re-qualifying pilots with a five day course (two days in-classroom, three days in simulator).
American announced two months ago that they’d need to hire pilots this fall but didn’t prioritize re-trainings.
Cathay Pacific is set to roll out single pilot Airbus A350 flights starting from 2025. The new project would allow flights to be operated by one pilot for much of its duration, reducing the number of crew needed for long-haul flights. If testing and certification steps go smoothly, the function could roll out by 2025.
Under Project Connect, the A350 will only require one pilot in the cockpit during its high-altitude cruise. This would slash the number of pilots needed for long-haul flights from three or four to just two, with alternating rest periods. If successful, the project would mean a huge saving for airlines in terms of crewing costs.
“While we are engaging with Airbus in the development of the concept of reduced crew operations, we have not committed in any way to being the launch customer…The appropriateness and effectiveness of any such rollout as well as [the] overall cost-benefit analysis [will] ultimately depend on how the pandemic plays out.”
Challenging the notion of two crew in the cockpit will not be easy for passengers, safety regulators, and existing pilots. Indeed, the project is fraught will uncertainty and safety questions, any of which could derail it.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said that any such project will need real-time monitoring of the sole pilot’s vitals and alertness. If there is an emergency or incapacitated pilot, the other pilot should be able to arrive in minutes.
Pilot unions have not taken well to the idea. In addition to the mass layoffs that such a program will bring, many have pointed out safety issues too. In light of the two 737 MAX crashes in 2019, cost-cutting and increased automation have both come under the spotlight for their impact on safety.
A shortage of newer-model business jets is driving up prices of second-hand aircraft, a trend that is expected to deliver a windfall for luxury planemakers as new affluent buyers enter the market.
The rush toward private transport is so marked that some buyers are snapping up second-hand planes before fully inspecting the wares as the market shifts toward sellers, lawyers and brokers said.
“There are virtually no young pre-owned aircraft available — good news for would-be sellers and for [planemakers],” said aviation analyst Rolland Vincent.
Textron in April raised its full-year profit forecast, propelled by a rebound in business jet demand.
Don Dwyer, managing partner at Guardian Jet, which does aircraft brokerage, appraisals, and consulting, recalled one case where a client didn’t undertake a pre-purchase inspection, which can take more than a month to complete.
A Strategy Session At 40,000 Feet | How Southwest Outmaneuvered The Majors
You’d think that to weather the worst devastation in modern airline history, a tempest whose ferocity and duration were totally unpredictable, Kelly would play defense by onboarding a strategy of chopping costs and otherwise hunkering down. While rivals were exiting market after market, Southwest has opened no fewer than 17 new destinations, a campaign that encompasses key hubs Chicago O’Hare, Miami International, and Houston Intercontinental. Over a dozen vacation destinations joined the network, from Sarasota to Colorado Springs to Palm Springs, important new dots since vacations and adventures rather than business trips are leading the recovery in air travel.
Put simply, Kelly grabbed plans off the shelf scheduled to take five years or more and exploited the pandemic to fast-track the campaign. He achieved that feat by deploying planes parked at desert airfields, and crews grounded by the pandemic, that Southwest still paid for, and dispatching them to the new routes, a gambit that brought sorely needed revenue. Before the crisis, O’Hare wasn’t even on Southwest’s wish list. But when its rivals pulled back, precious landing slots opened, and Kelly pounced.
“For decades, Southwest has been able to expand during crises because of its low costs, then come back stronger,” says industry expert Robert Mann. “But what they did during the pandemic is the Big Gulp version of what they usually do. This time, they took advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”
It owes that edge to two factors: the land grab orchestrated during the pandemic, and its financial strength. Southwest holds the most cash and carries the lowest debt of the major carriers. That super-solid position should enable it to greatly expand its fleet in the months and years to come, providing the extra seats to capture an outsize share of the overall market’s growth, and in promising markets, pull passengers from its rivals’ planes.
Southwest’s already seeing huge improvement in its fortunes: It’s estimating that for June, operating revenues will be down just 20% from 2019 versus three-fourths at this time last year, possibly bringing cash flow into balance and suggesting that it will make the turn to generating cash soon.
But the pandemic opened an unexpected new lane. Kelly reckoned that by deploying planes that would otherwise sit idle, and crews flying a lot less than before, Southwest could generate higher revenue serving new places than the extra cost of those flights, consisting primarily of jet fuel and airport fees.
Plus, as competitors retreated, the top budget carrier had a chance to gain footholds in congested airports that it might never see again. Kelly perceived that Southwest’s strategy dovetailed with the market’s trend as the pandemic lifted. Dominating the wish list of 50 destinations were smaller, beach-or-mountain vacation venues.
It was business travel that suffered most by far in the crisis, and it was clear to Kelly, as well as other industry leaders, that a rush of vacationers would lead the rebound, while it would take years for the business crowd to return in their old numbers.
If Southwest exercises all options—a strong possibility if its growth opportunities match Kelly’s expectations—it could operate a fleet of almost 1,100 planes in 10 years, an increase in capacity of 50%. Kelly’s template for expanding Southwest’s reach in large part grew out of the crisis.