To Airlines: Your Savings Will Kill Us

McDonnell Douglas MD-82 taking off

Image via Wikipedia

This is my opinion…what’s yours?

It seems I’m reading daily about issues with airlines facing some kind of unplanned landing.  Whether or not these issues were "real threats" is less important to me than the frequency with which they are happening.  I read a major airline pilot’s blog that chronicles issues facing pilots, service crews, and the industry as a whole…and it’s not good.  His accounts of "squeezing through storms" and landing in major crosswinds since fuel levels are "critical" are far too common.

I believe the airlines industry is "saving" its way into a disaster.  That disaster will be the deciding factor in transforming an industry that refuses to face reality.  It’s going to take a national tragedy to halt the downward spiral of a business that continues to keep prices low when it’s losing billions…merger after merger.

The recent grounding of American Airlines MD-80’s for inspections that hadn’t been completed (no matter who’s fault it was AA or the FAA) shows a serious lack of attention to detail. 

Today I read this article that highlights the growing discontent among pilots and the fuel savings issue.  More and more are coming forward to complain that saving fuel by reducing the load on board is causing close calls that will lead to disaster (less on board means more efficiency from what’s there through reduced weight.)

In March, for example, an airline pilot told NASA he landed his
regional jet with less fuel than required by FAA regulations. "Looking
back," he said, "I would have liked more gas yesterday." He also
complained that his airline was "ranking" captains according to who
landed with the least amount.

Ultimately it’s the captain’s call on the fuel load (per the above article)…but it’s kind of like the "15 pieces of flair" conversation that Jennifer Aniston has with her boss in Office Space.  The implication is that "you can" do that…but "you SHOULD" do this. Pilots can make the call but the mother ship seems to be silently punitive and edgy with pilots that carry too much fuel (ie waste the airline’s money).  Call it management by browbeating.

I’m a big free market capitalist guy so I’m tormented by this issue.  Have airlines become "public utilities?"  Do we need to go back to a regulated, government "owned" system?  I cringe at the thought. 

I’m guessing that ticket prices would have to at least triple for these airlines to make a profit.   That would probably cut their businesses by 75%.  At that point, our aging airlines would probably have to ground and sell of 75% of their aging fleets.  These are the same fleets that are very fuel inefficient and have airframes/skins that are technically sound but I suppose those lifespans are engineering guesses?  Wouldn’t this be a good thing to thin the herd?  I don’t supposed the Wall Street folks have this in mind.

Could we possibly move to a system where there’s not 8 flights a day to Chicago to connect me to Anywhere USA…but maybe a couple times a week direct from Des Moines to major cities?  Could the VLJ (very light jet) market fill in the blanks here with connections, hassle free short hops, and daily "air taxi service" from Des Moines to Sioux Falls?   Other business models have been very successful reducing choice and simplifying things for consumers.  Maybe it’s time the airlines gave us fewer options, increased prices, reduced their gargantuan size and faced the economic realities that have stared them in the face for over a decade. 

Your business model is flawed and you will probably ask us for some type of bailout again someday and I simply don’t want to pay.  Make travel as outrageously expensive as it should be…and something will step in and provide a solution. 

Until then, I’ll be content to drive or stay home and do things virtually.

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