MIAMI — It’s that time of the year when we are all creating holiday wish lists and those for the New Year. When speaking to our staff members, contributors, analysts, and industry observers, we asked about their aviation-related wishes for 2016, and here are the answers:
Chris Sloan – President and Founder
My belated Hanukkah wish list is for new aircraft orders for two different aircraft and two different ends of the spectrum, for two different reasons. A bit of sentimental passion first, the Boeing 747-8I: With only two net orders in 2015, order cancellations from NCA and Transaero, and the production rate dropping to one aircraft per month from March 2016, this has been the annus horribilis of the “Queen of the Skies.” Despite the significant sales campaigns, there are significant headwinds to propel the 747 past 50th Anniversary of its first flight in 2019.
As of this writing, only 20 orders (13 for the Intercontinental and 8 for the freighter) remain in the backlog (less than two years of production), the four-engined VLA category has almost been given up for dead, and the worldwide airfreight market (a sweet spot for the 747-8F) has remained soft. We’re hoping for a miracle for Sutter’s Balloon, even a late one – just not too late.
On the flip side, wish for a smooth entry into service and hence more orders for the future-forward Bombardier CSeries . The plane seems poised to add to its order book when the CS100 finally begins passenger service with Swiss in the first half of 2016. In an industry, burned by “moon shots” and now gravitating toward incrementalism, we should all cheer on the success of a clean-sheet design. It has been quite the odyssey and one that has bought the 100 year old iconic Canadian company to its knees. With solvency at stake, the Quebec government purchased a $1 billion 49.5% stake to keep the ailing company afloat. The Series program has been beset by years of agonizing delays, anemic sales mired at 243 firm orders, and the failure (for now) of securing a Canadian operator –most recently Porter due to the Toronto Island Airport controversy.
Nevertheless, there have been rays of light poking through the Mirabel clouds. The flight testing program has revealed fuel burn metrics to be even lower than originally projected. Praise for the new cabin has been widespread during customer and air show tours. And a secret weapon when Lufthansa fleet guru Nick Buchholz, who basically fathered the aircraft has joined Bombardier. Perhaps the brightest light on the horizon is the possibility of United placing an order in the 100 seat range. If Bombardier’s CS100 and /or CS300 are to out compete against the A319neo, 737 MAX-9, and Embraer E2-190/195 for the supposed UA order, thus securing the 40-50 aircraft that’s been rumored, that would meet Bombardier’s promise of 300 firm orders by entry-into-service. An aggressive win on the part of the Canadian airframer coupled with an all important smooth EIS would signal to the world that Bombardier is in the game to stay.
Enrique Perrella – Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Airways Magazine
I would like to see an increase in comfort, connectivity, ease of travel and expedited security / customs clearance worldwide. To begin with, connectivity is a must in today’s fast paced world. People need to be in constant touch, and flying for 10+ hours without a good reliable connection may become an issue sooner than we expect. This applies for both leisure and business travelers, who might start seeking for airlines that offer such technology rather than frequency or price.
Roberto Leiro – Executive Editor
My Christmas wish is for aviation security, calling for the implementation of a ‘black box’ cloud that would allow flight-data streaming for passenger airliners flying over oceans and remote regions, so to improve tracking and location in case of an in-flight event. Despite the recent and unfortunate cases of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 and Air France flight 447, carriers and legislators have not been able to reach a consensus on the matter.
Vinay Bhaskara – Senior Business Analyst
My Christmas wish is for airline investors to pull their collective heads out of their rear ends. We have now had more than a year of oil hovering at $50-60 a barrel or lower, and oil just dropped beneath $35 a barrel. It’s time for airline investors to stop getting spooked at the mere whisper of capacity increases. Fuel prices are now at a level where we could have two years plus of 6% capacity growth from everyone in the market and still deliver 15-20% operating margins. Most of the carriers aren’t even at that level – they’re far from it.
Passenger Revenue per Available Seat Mile (PRASM) is a useful metric but it isn’t the be all end all of an airline’s existence. Historically, judging airlines on the basis of PRASM has been a good guide to their overall profitability, but the utility of this technique in an environment where fuel prices are declining is limited. Airlines, like any business, should be focused on profit maximization. In today’s fuel scenario, that means putting up more capacity than they currently are. Airline investors would do well to remember that their dividends come from profits and cash flow, not from PRASM.
To be clear, I’m not saying that airline investors need to accept illogical or unreasonably high capacity growth figures – there is still virtue in capacity discipline. But the target figure for “discipline” needs to move when fuel declines. Airline investors need to get comfortable with a few percentage points of capacity growth and targeted defensive moves in key markets against Ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs).
Henry Harteveldt – Travel Industry Analyst and Advisor, Atmosphere Research Group
My Holidays wish is a pledge by airlines that they will stop using navy blue in their employee uniforms. We get it. You’re airlines. You fly in blue skies. You want to create professional appearances. There are a lot of other colors that will let you do that.
Brett Snyder – Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Cranky Flier
Well, I guess technically, I wanted this for Hanukkah, but that came and went and no change, so… I want the airlines to stop making so many obnoxious schedule changes. The frequency of schedule changes has gone up dramatically over the last years to the point where anyone buying a ticket more than a couple months out is resigned to the fact that he will never fly on the flight on which he buys a seat. This doesn’t apply across the board.
American, Delta and United are all huge offenders, but Southwest rarely makes schedule changes. (I understand this is more of a technological limitation than anything else, but I’ll take it.)
Paul Thompson – Correspondent
I know that my wish list is the long-shot to end all long-shots, but I would love to see airlines continue to make economy flying more humane. United captured a lot of headlines this month, with their promise to being back free snacks to economy –but I’m talking about actually improving the overall seat comfort. Stop reducing legroom, and stop wedging in extra seats. I’m looking at you, 10-abreast 777 and nine-abreast 787!
Eric Auxier – Commercial Pilot and Contributor
I wish that the Federal Aviation Administration should stop playing politics with safety regulations, repeal the ridiculous 1,500 hour rule, and fix the absurd rest rule “improvements” in FAR117, that are exhausting pilots.
Benét Wilson – Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Aviation Queen LLC
What do I want? More Stroopwaffles! Seriously, I’m heartened by United Airlines’ plans to make the passenger experience just a little better for those of us who sit in the back end of the plane. New CEO Oscar Munoz hit the ground running, saying that he wanted to stop being awful to United’s loyal passengers and employees. It’s a small step, but offering things like Stroopwaffles (they’re delicious, by the way), Illy coffee (a major upgrade from the swamp water its used to serve) and other free snacks in coach will help the carrier fulfill Munoz’s promise.
Rohan Anand – Analyst and Contributor
I want American Airlines (AA) to introduce a free snack in Y, better than the United Airlines stroopwaffle (that will be a tough one). In fact, I want AA to introduce a new menu in ALL of their cabins, including International F, all the way down to Buy-On-Board in Y (I’m pretty sure the “chicken” in my “salad” the other day was grown in some questionable food services labyrinth at DFW.) I would also like New York LaGuardia Airport to create a customer experience that is not on-par with what you’d receive at any third-world country airport.
For Southwest to say, “we forgot to say in previous announcements that our new nextgen seats will have USB outlets” (at the very least, bonus points for electrical ones.)
Spirit to add TSA precheck (I would even pay $5 per use for this, don’t ask why)
For Delta to leave Dallas Love Field for once and for all and Virgin America /Richard Branson can pick up the tab at an epic Going Away Party hosted at the frontiers of flight museum (Gary Kelly can come,
too). Everyone will kiss and make up.
Luis Linares – Correspondent
It’s the holiday season and oil prices are at an 11-year low. I know the airlines are in a joyous and giving spirit with all the extra money, and I want them to reinstate complementary meals, more legroom, and flexibility if travel plans change; better labor contracts for their employees, and … what’s that? They are still all about the bottom line? The Grinch and Mr. Scrooge are the latest airline CEOs? Oh, well. Never mind.
How about if the ghost of future Christmas can prod Boeing a bit, and show it what the future will be like if it keeps waiting to unveil a 757 replacement? I love the Boeing 757, and in 2015 I had a chance to fly it for seven hours and six minutes from Miami to Brasilia, but I know this great aircraft is getting old and there is a gaping void between the 737 and 787 families.
Michael Slattery – Correspondent
My Holiday wish list includes a real Premium Economy product for American carriers on international routes. Oh, wait! American Airlines (AA) already announced that so, THANK YOU Santa! It’s been incredibly frustrating trying to use British Airways (BA) World Traveler Plus (WTP) product, either through revenue tickets or mileage awards, which leads me also to ask for a more realistic inventory (and pricing) in BA’s WTP cabin.
Every year, I make two to three trips to South Africa from Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW). Business Class fares from there are out of reach and, at 6′ 5″ tall, 22 hours in seat 468G is, well, potentially thrombotic! But BA makes it almost impossible to find WTP inventory, matched by competitive pricing, during the summer, even when booked six to nine months out. Who would pay $4,937 one-way from CPT-DFW in WTP when they could spend $3,501 in Business? And why even advertise a $10,508 ONE-WAY fare in premium economy, even if it does include Business Class on American across the Atlantic? Santa, please have a word with both BA and AA and get them to sort out their premium economy pricing. It’s confusing to say the least. And while you’re at it, could you fix their Upgrade Awards from WTP to J using miles? Right now, you have to have a full-fare WTP ticket to do it which often exceeds the regular J fare anyway.
I also wish searchability for AAdvantage Award availability on all oneworld airlines. Now, THAT would be fantastic! Right now, any award travel inquiry to South Africa gets routed through London Heathrow (LHR) with their lovely fees and taxes exceeding $1,000 per ticket in almost every case. Countless hours on the phone to American, Etihad and Qatar amounted to nought. Not a single Business Class ticket available into southern Africa over a six-week window searched nine months out. So Santa, could we up the availability for mileage awards a tad? Thanks! Earning miles is great. Being able to actually use them is a whole other story.
And my last (but not least) wish is a better electronic communication between AAdvantage and their partner airlines for mileage accrual. I have flown Etihad twice now and both times waited over FOUR months for the mileage to post. Actually, I am still waiting for a trip flown this past July, with two rounds of “justification” letters and missing mileage credit forms already filled out.
Nicolas Bernier – Correspondent
My wish list is for more CSeries orders, which would give a push to Bombardier’s backlog. The manufacturer did not log a new order for this new aircraft in over a year. My bet is Air Canada, which wants to get rid of their 25 E190s and still has 18 A319s to replace, so there might be a chance. In the case of the US Big 3, a CSeries order is unlikely as United is sticking with its Airbus A319s and even taking second-hand frames, and It is not in Delta Air Lines philosophy to add brand-new planes in the 100-seat capacity.
I wish to see American carriers to add new non-stop service to Cuba in 2016. Particularly, I would love to see Southwest Airlines flying to the Island, as it has started various international routes this year. Particularly, I would love to see them expanding to Canada.
Jack Harty – Former AirwaysNews Senior Correspondent
I think I have been a fairly well-behaved aviation business student so this year for Christmas, I would like the big three U.S. airlines to try to find peace with the big three Middle East carriers, or should they want to continue the fight, let’s make it a little less public. Further, I would like to see a way for airlines and internet companies to allow first/business passengers to have access to on-board Wi-Fi free of charge.