Tag Archives: Transportation Tech

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California rewards climate-friendly automakers amid NHTSA lawsuit

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Ford and General Motors (GM) workers have new UAW labor contracts with some reported positive takeaways. But they part ways on a lawsuit contesting national emissions enforcement authority.

GM and Fiat side with nationally enforced emissions standards, while Ford supports states adopting their own standards. These decisions affect manufacturing orders, and therefore work conditions.

For decades, California has enjoyed a Clean Air Act waiver to set its own standards. Suffering under pollution from transportation, industry, and wildfires, California is seeking to reduce pollution to 66 million metric tons per year by 2030. The state has joined 23 others as lawsuit plaintiffs against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The background here is about states’ rights to set standards.

When the Trump administration revoked this waiver, 23 states joined California’s lawsuit. This fight will influence states’ rights and pollutant-heavy industries in the climate change era, writes The New York Times: “The legal fight between the Trump administration and California over auto pollution rules has swelled into a battle over states’ rights and climate change that is likely to only be resolved once it reaches the Supreme Court.”

On the manufacturing side, GM and Fiat lose California state vehicle purchases in the battle. Between 2016 and 2018, the state: “…purchased $58.6 million in vehicles from General Motors Corp, $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, $10.6 million from Toyota Motor Corp and $9 million from Nissan Motor Co.”

That’s $134 million in auto sales losses because companies side with the Trump administration’s climate agenda. Conversely, Ford has already enjoyed the heftiest recent sales to the Golden State at $69.2 million.

Now the state has announced it won’t be renewing GM, Fiat, Toyota, and Nissan orders. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating a potential antitrust violation against the four companies — BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, and Ford — that have a manufacturing agreement with California.

The argument in favor of national emission standards without state waivers believes this that is the path to broader manufacturing reach and more flexible markets. A national standard might theoretically even support efficient manufacturing and lower prices, because new engine models will be more uniform. But does it benefit the demand side that wants to purchase green autos?

Consumers also pay for climate-friendly emissions standards; hybrid and electric vehicle tax credits are intended to offset this nuisance. Some car owners complain that tighter restrictions punish individuals instead of corporate polluters. This class warfare view argues that older car models face difficulty meeting standards, meaning lower-income people are punished by California-style standards.

The Association of Global Automakers (AGA), supports a national standards program because it allows more manufacturing efficiency that keeps costs down.

The AGA argues for a national program involving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Air Resources Board: “A unified program provides benefits for the widest range of customers, while also continuing annual improvements in fuel efficiency. It reduces unnecessary redundancies and helps sustain manufacturers’ ongoing product investment, which in turn supports jobs, helps manufacturer production facilities, strengthens the U.S. economy, and makes fuel savings available to every American.”

The only catch here is that the national fuel efficiency standards are environmentally weaker, but somehow fuel efficiency standards will (magically?) improve.

GM and Ford auto workers may have ratified new contracts, but confusion around what kind of engines they will be building on factory floors continues. Also, Fiat Chrysler’s UAW-represented workers have not yet ratified their contract. FCA executives reportedly intend to maintain their steep profit margins, even in the context of losing California’s previous order and low wages for workers.

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UAW strike ends with ratified agreement, but 3 GM plants close

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It had been more than a decade since unionized General Motors (GM) workers joined forces to strike for higher pay, protected benefits, temp worker opportunities, and improved schedule and advancement conditions.

This latest strike produced mixed results that were highly dependent on workers’ locations. While outsourcing and plant downsizing keep manufacturing jobs below optimal national levels, GM workers will largely enjoy improvements in labor conditions.

On Oct. 25, the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) achieved a new, four-year contract with General Motors (GM) in a vote of 57% to 43 %. During this time, UAW also ratified an Aramark janitorial contract at five GM Ohio and Michigan locations.

The new GM contract keeps Detroit’s Hamtramck plant open, with 2,225 jobs and a $3 billion investment for electric vehicle production. Billions will be invested in a Tennessee location and another Michigan plant.

However, three plant closures and Mexico manufacturing are bad news for U.S. manufacturing. September saw a 1.1% durable goods orders production downturn. This is the largest decline in four months.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” suggests the somber tone of GM-UAW contract finalization, as workers return to jobs in a clearly downsized company. Lordstown, Ohio; Warren, Michigan; and Baltimore jobs were traded for higher wages and salaries, better temp hire opportunities and schedules, improved profit sharing, and status quo health benefits at other GM plant locations.

Workers at closed facilities formed a large bulk of those voting down the current contract. Such is the bargaining climate these days, as wealth-gaining companies force workers to sacrifice in some areas to gain in others — an injury to all in the long run.

The new contract may be a template for a “pattern bargaining” arrangement with the other two of Detroit’s big three automakers — Fiat Chrysler and Ford, where UAW bargaining has now commenced. Since the GM strike cost the company $45 million per day, losing 300,000 vehicles, it’s possible other UAW negotiations will move faster.

What have GM workers gained in numbers? There’s two different summaries for salaried and hourly workers. Hourly workers have endured unequal conditions since many are temporary workers. One victory here is the eradication of the two-tiered employment system. Under the new contract, temp workers can achieve full-time, permanent seniority positions with increased time off. This had been a major sticking point in negotiations.

There’s an $11,000 ratification bonus for hourly senior employees and $4,500 for temp workers. Regarding profit-sharing, “All profits the company earns in North America will generate payments to members, based on the current $1,000 per $1 billion formula, with no limits.”

Also, by 2023, all permanent full-time hourly workers will make a guaranteed $32.32 an hour. While this is a significant wage increase, it’s a $62,000 annual income — a small fraction of what GM CEO Mary Barra banks annually.

Hourly and salaried contracts share similar provisions: stabilized healthcare costs, an $11,000 per member signing bonus, performance bonuses, two 3% annual raises and two 4% lump-sum payments.

Job security remains dubious as Mexico outsourcing — which produced 834,414 GM vehicles last year — will still occur, as if three U.S. plant closures weren’t enough.

Elsewhere in the national labor picture, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) began striking on Oct. 17. Better pay, benefits and optimized classroom conditions for improved teacher and student performance top the list here.

For 25,000 Chicago teachers and 300,000 students, this means demanding more support staff and smaller class sizes. The CTU culture also impressively promotes a broad-based progressive social justice focus that connects life inside and outside classrooms.

The CTU knows schools need empowered staff, like nurses and counselors. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, representing special education assistants, security guards, bus aides, and other staff, have joined the CTU strike due to their own stalled contract.

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The blame game surrounding Boeing’s 737 Max debacle

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Oct. 29, 2019, marked one year since the Lion Air crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 that killed 189 people in Indonesia. We can directly blame a company’s financial priorities, company employees who decided to leave information out of training manuals, an agency that watched its inspection autonomy wither over decades, or investors pressuring Boeing to compete with France’s Airbus.

Or, we can blame all of the above.

Amidst much attention, Boeing has shaken its leadership up while establishing a controversial manufacturing partnership in Brazil. The international public and crash victims’ families have initiated investigations, released a report, and are pursuing legal action. But will safety concerns trickle down to real-world changes?

The U.S. economy can scarcely afford more transportation manufacturing challenges after General Motors (GM) finalized a new United Auto Workers (UAW) contract that includes shutting down three plants. With a 1.1% durable goods drop in September, no doubt related to transportation industry manufacturing troubles, GM has resolved imminent financial disaster. What about Boeing?

The economic impact here is widely felt, affecting “everything from capital-goods investment to exports to industrial production.” In fact, Barron’s most recent summary of Boeing’s economic impacts states “domestic business investment in aircraft in April-June was 24% lower than the average rate in 2018. That probably took about 0.2 [of a] percentage point or so off of GDP growth.”

With such far-reaching impact, it’s wise to look busy. Newly appointed Commercial Airlines division CEO Stan Deal was replaced in the Global Services division by Ted Colbert. Deal takes over Kevin McAllister’s position. In this shuffle, Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg lost his status as board chairman to David Calhoun, who will serve as non-executive chairman.

Will leadership changes launch the 737 Max back to the skies? The Justice Department is investigating the crashes.

Indonesian investigators recently released an independent 353-page report, citing “nine reasons” the crash occurred. They included a cockpit issue; an untested sensor; pilot training deficiencies; operator switch-ups mid-flight; maintenance log missing pages; and earlier employee failure to report malfunctions. All of these issues are mentioned in the report, which also honed in on the plane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software failures.

Boeing pilots were not trained to understand software changes or did not properly ensure adequate information was available to all pilots. The Indonesia report ultimately blames Boeing for the crash.

When Ethiopia endured a 737 Max crash that killed 157 last March, the alarm went off again. Attorneys representing crash victims’ families have been hired, and sensitive materials have been subpoenaed from American and Southwest Airlines.

Boeing turned over this kind of sensitive material to Congress this week, as Muilenburg testifies about MCAS failures. There are rumors a pilot removed info from a training manual, which would be a pivotal issue as culpability is established.

The New York Times’ reporting highlighted a chain of command malfeasance.

Who’s in charge of airline safety? Boeing’s company philosophy emphasized sovereignty over design and approval processes. It aggressively lobbied to pass designs swiftly through the FAA. This cozy relationship between the company and a government agency, via the Transport Airline Directorate, was reported as far back as 2012.

A more independent inspection/certification process requires more staff, which translates to congressional dollars. Boeing moved in the opposite direction, wiggling out from under remaining governmental protocols via the Reauthorization Act of 2018. It was able to secure majority control over future aircraft certification processes, although the 737 Max was certified prior to this Act.

Current airline certification culture prioritizes Boeing’s market dominance, requiring rapid product release. Simply stated: careful inspections stall sales and growth.

If you thought the blame game ends with Washington, consider how one lawmaker blames Boeing investors. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, emphasized how Wall Street created “a pattern at Boeing of extraordinary production pressures.”

How many fall guys can there be in a deadly debacle with so many decision-making layers?

Perhaps Congress should also inquire after Boeing’s “Brazil strategy:” the recent 80% purchase of commercial airline manufacturer Embraer, in a deal worth $4.2 billion that still awaits antitrust clearances.

Public scrutiny, litigation, settlement expenses, and increased regulatory authority threaten Boeing’s bottom line. Moving some 737 Max manufacturing abroad conveniently skirts safety issues.

This move rewards President Jair Bolsonaro with a financial windfall at a time when the Brazilian government’s role has many countries calling for product boycotts and economic sanctions. The EU is considering sanctions on Brazil and is investigating Boeing’s Embraer acquisition as a single-aisle airline market antitrust violation.

As Muilenburg’s testimony in Congress winds down this week, the focus is mainly on honoring crash victims and acknowledging mistakes, as MCAS failures were concealed from pilots and the public with documented proof. One senator referred to the 737 Max as “flying coffins” while others acknowledge Boeing is rectifying software mishaps by offering Southwest rebates and pilot training now.

Boeing’s unions, which acknowledge quality control and automation problems, have another story to tell about recent company union-busting and workplace conditions.

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United pushes economy-class travelers away with new frequent flyer program

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United Airlines recently revealed massive changes to its MileagePlus Program. How much a traveler spends on the tickets is the only thing that matters in the airline’s new frequent flyer program.

Not long ago, United quietly switched from a distance-based rewards program to a fare-based frequent flyer program. Since 2015, customers have earned mileage based on how much they spend on the tickets instead of how far they fly.

For example, I typically earn about 4,000 reward miles for a round-trip ticket between Los Angeles and Asia, even though the distance of the trip usually ranges from 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Nevertheless, the distance I fly still matters because it will be counted towards the “qualified miles” for elite status.

Now, the airline wants to take a big step further to (only) reward those top-spending travelers as their elite customers.

The terms used in the current MileagePlus Program

There are four elite statuses in the United Airlines MileagePlus Program, including Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K. There are two factors that contribute to elite status qualification:

  1. Premier qualifying miles (PQM) that a traveler flies in a calendar year, or premier qualifying segments (PQS) that a traveler flies in a calendar year.
  2. Premier qualifying dollars (PQD) that a traveler spends on the tickets in a calendar year. However, travelers spending $25,000 a year on MileagePlus Chase credit cards can waive this requirement, except for the Premier 1K qualification.

To reach Premier Silver status, a traveler must (a) complete either 25,000-plus PQM (i.e., flying 25,000-plus miles in distance on United or United partners’ flights) or 30-plus PQS (i.e., taking 30-plus flights operated by United or a United partner) and (b) spend either $3,000 PQD on air tickets of United or its partners, or $25,000 on MileagePlus Chase credit cards.

For Premier Gold status, a traveler must (a) complete either 50,000-plus PQM or 60-plus PQS and (b) spend either $6,000 PQD on air tickets or $25,000 on credit cards.

For Premier Platinum status, a traveler must (a) complete either 75,000-plus PQM or 90-plus PQS and (b) spend either $9,000 PSD on air tickets or $25,000 on credit cards.

For Premier 1K status, a traveler must (a) complete either 100,000-plus PQM or 120-plus PQS and (b) spend $15,000 on air tickets.

Frequent travelers with elite status can enjoy different levels of benefits offered by the airline, such as free bag check-ins and upgrades. The benefits associated with the elite status make a frequent traveler feel valued.

The terms used in the new MileagePlus Program

Effective on Jan. 1, 2020, the new MileagePlus Program qualifies a traveler’s elite status based on two factors:

  1. Premier qualifying flights (PQF), or how many paid, non-basic-economy flights a traveler takes in a calendar year.
  2. Premier qualifying points (PQP), or how many dollars a traveler spends on the tickets issued by United in a calendar year. Additionally, there are two formulas to convert the mileages earns from preferred partners and MileagePlus partners into PQP.

To achieve Premier Silver status, a traveler must complete 12 PQF and spend 4,000 PQP, or 5,000 PQP alone if 12 PQF is not met.

Premier Gold status requires 24 PQF plus 8,000 PQP, or 10,000 PQP alone if 24 PQF is not met.

Premier Platinum status requires 36 PQF plus 12,000 PQP, or 15,000 PQP alone.

Premier 1K status requires 54 PQF plus 18,000 PQP, or 24,000 PQP alone.

Starting in the fall of this year, United has also made changes to the requirements for premier upgrades for its elite customers.

The reasons behind the changes

The airline industry has been doing really well for years. United Airlines reported $1.02 billion in profit in the third quarter, about a 23% jump from last year’s third-quarter profit of $833 million. Consumer demand for travel remains high. It makes good business sense that United wants to reinvent its frequent traveler program.

Meanwhile, when more people can afford to travel, many airlines face challenges of accommodating increasing consumer demands for airport lounges. Many airport lounges have become too busy to enjoy a real VIP experience.

As the new MileagePlus Program tends to qualify those top-spending travelers for elite status, those who do not spend “enough” money on air tickets can be weeded out, reducing the number of travelers who access airport lounges.

The impact of the new MileagePlus Program

The new MileagePlus Program makes it much more challenging for most economy-class frequent travelers to achieve any elite status. Using myself as an example, I will become a Premier Platinum member by the end of 2019 by flying economy class only, according to the current term used by the airline.

Nevertheless, under the newly introduced criteria, I could barely qualify for the Premier Silver status in 2021, which doesn’t give me much value.

Unless I begin flying business or first class at the cost of $4,000 or over $10,000, respectively, for a round-trip ticket between Los Angeles and Asia, I will not spend $10,000 a year on economy tickets. It becomes very discouraging for those like me who usually only fly economy class even to try to reach an elite status.

But, wait a minute! If I can afford flying business or first class, why would I care for any of the perks that come with the elite status? On the flip side, why would those who spend over $18,000 or $24,000 a year on air tickets bother to stay with United to get the perks as a Premier 1K member?

I hear another voice, proposing to add a frequent flyer tax as a means to lower carbon emissions. Through the massive changes in the airline’s frequent flyer program, maybe United is also trying to encourage its loyal customers to reconsider the real purpose of joining the MileagePlus Program.

What do you think of the changes in the United Airlines MileagePlus Program? Are those changes necessary and helpful in keeping the airlines’ loyal customers happy? Why or why not?

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Williston, North Dakota, is home to America’s newest airport

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America’s newest airport opened to passengers on Oct. 10 when United Airlines Flight 4643 touched down, commencing a new era of connectivity to this growing part of North Dakota and its important oil fields.

Williston Basin International Airport (code: XWA) is located 10 miles northwest of the city, which is itself in the northwestern part of the state. The region is home to the oil fields operated in the Bakken Formation. The area is currently experiencing a boom in output and drives the local economy.

Williston was traditionally served by the much smaller Sloulin Field airport close to downtown. However, this facility, which opened in 1947, could not expand any more, limiting the number of passengers that could be handled by its tiny terminal and the aircraft sizes used by airlines.

A decision to replace the airport was explored as early as 2011, with groundbreaking on the new site taking place in October 2016. Meanwhile, at its peak, Sloulin Field was handling over 120,000 passengers per year in facilities recently upgraded to handle 10,000.

The new Williston airport has been designed to handle much larger aircraft as well as growing passenger demand from the outset. With its opening, Sloulin Field will close down.

It is the first new commercial airport in the United States since Denver International opened in 1995 to replace Stapleton International. Then, as now, United Airlines was the first to fly into the new facility. Flight 4643 from Denver was operated by an Embraer 145, a service which will be flown daily, and will soon be complemented by a Delta Connection link from Minneapolis St. Paul.

Building a new airport on a completely undeveloped site brings enormous costs and challenges. Williston has cost an estimated $273 million.

Commenting recently, Kevin Ploehn, Billings, Montana’s director of aviation and transit, said, “You have to build all that infrastructure underneath, get all the lights and all that — so it’s an expensive deal. And then to build a new terminal from scratch and then try to move everybody over — that’s a challenge, absolutely a challenge — I’m glad it’s them and not me.”

Image: XWA Airport

Built into Williston is the ability to expand, which Sloulin Field could not do. While a couple of daily regional jets is the norm at the moment, the ability to handle larger jets and with greater frequency will enable the city to work with the growing oil industry and welcome more business users and workers, and a growing local population.

“The opening of the Williston Basin International Airport is a monumental achievement that will greatly help to serve our growing population and business community in western North Dakota,” said Kyle Wanner, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission executive director.

The new airport features two runways, a passenger terminal with four gates (three of them with boarding bridges) and the capacity for 350,000 passengers per year. A short link road connects the airport to U.S. Route 85.

Airport Director Anthony Dudas considers the project an overwhelming success and is looking forward to seeing the airport grow. “While it’s been nine years through its initial infancy to where we’re at today, that is the fastest that I’m aware of that it’s even been accomplished in commercial service airport relocation, from its idea to actual commencement of operations,” he said.

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E-scooters: A blessing or a curse?

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Once serving only as children’s toys, scooters have taken on a new life these days in cities across America. Powered by compact lithium-ion batteries, these stubby little two-wheelers have become the latest adult solution to urban congestion.

E-scooters have become fixtures in more than 100 major cities — from San Francisco to Nashville — and are quickly gaining on usage of other popular “shared micro-mobility” options such as station-based and dockless bikes.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, Americans took 38.5 million trips on shared e-scooters in 2018. Those rides accounted for almost half of the 84 million trips taken aboard all shared vehicles.

The popularity of e-scooters is understandable. Foremost, they are easy and fun to ride. Eco-sensitive riders laud the fact that they produce no emissions and constitute a minimal carbon footprint. Optimally, too, they can help reduce private auto and taxi use — all helping to ease congestion and pollution.

Nonetheless, the massive influx of e-scooters has created a groundswell of controversy. Critics cite safety issues, decrying scooters as risky to both riders and pedestrians. And municipalities across the country have been caught flat-footed trying to establish regulations for their use — a number of them banning the vehicles entirely.

It all began in late 2017 when a startup called Bird introduced an app-enabled e-scooter rental service in the California beachside city of Santa Monica. The scooters, mass produced in China, proved so popular that Bird moved on to other cities, and in less than a year had reached a $1 billion valuation — the fastest that a U.S. company has ever done so. The company is now worth twice that and has provided more than 10 million rides in 100+ cities in America and abroad.

San Francisco-based competitor Lime is nearly matching Bird’s growth, while ride-hailing titans Uber and Lyft and automaker Ford have made major investments in scooters —ushering in something of a “micro-mobility revolution” and in turn literally flooding city streets everywhere with scooters.

To rent a scooter, adult customers unlock them for $1 each ride using a smartphone app, then typically pay 15 cents per minute of use. Most scooters can reach speeds of 15-20 mph and have a range of 20-30 miles per charge.

Scooter companies require users to agree to terms of service certifying they are at least 18 years old and require users to upload a photo of a driver’s license and scan the barcode on the back. Renters signing Bird or Lime rental agreements automatically relieve the companies of any liability — so it behooves renters to consult with their auto and homeowner insurance companies regarding coverage.

Scooter companies don’t provide docks like most bike-sharing services, so their scooters are usually just abandoned wherever a ride ends.

At night, company employees or contract workers round the scooters up, charge them and return them to service. This doesn’t always work as planned, however, and pedestrians and residents resent having scooters left on sidewalks and in the streets, which they see as both unsightly and hazardous.

In some cities, angry detractors have protested the influx by stuffing abandoned scooters in dumpsters, setting them on fire, and smearing them with dog poop.

Although they are trying, city officials have been flustered in efforts to regulate scooters. Contentious rollouts, staged without even consulting local leaders, have led to scooters being banned — either temporarily or permanently — in a number of cities including San Francisco; Denver; Indianapolis; New York (Manhattan); Nashville; Chattanooga; and Columbia, South Carolina.

Others have imposed strict, though inconsistent, regulations on speed limits, parking, nighttime riding and helmet use. Some cities have ruled it illegal to ride scooters on sidewalks, while others have banned their use on city streets.

Rider safety is a universal concern, and reports from across the country are far from reassuring, pointing to a surge of serious accidents since e-scooters were introduced. An ABC News report last June noted 11 scooter-related fatalities and more than 1,500 injuries nationwide since 2018. A third of those injured suffered fractures and 40% had head trauma.

Safety experts say the vehicles are so fun and easy to ride that they promote a false sense of security. The scooters’ small wheels are no match for rough pavement and potholes and can lead to riders losing control.

In commentary accompanying a study of scooter safety published in the journal JAMA Network Open, Dr. Frederick Rivara, a professor at the University of Washington, says the vehicles can play a viable role in the urban transportation mix — if properly regulated and if riders are mandated to wear helmets.

“Electric scooters are here to stay,” Rivara says, “and the problem is only going to get worse. So action is needed now.”

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UK airports introducing new scanners to speed up security screening

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Passing through security bag screening can quickly sour the joy of travel. Arriving at the scanner usually requires removing items of clothing and unpacking items from the bags you spent so long carefully packing.

Now, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that new scanners, which have the potential to reduce the stress of screening and the time it takes, would be rolled out across the country’s airports over the next few years.

The new baggage scanning equipment will scan the contents of bags in 3-D, giving screeners an all-round image that can be rotated and examined in closer detail as it is analyzed. Improved algorithms will be able to detect explosives much more easily.

One of the major benefits of the new scanners is in removing the need to remove liquids from luggage, or even to have a 100ml limit on any liquids, aerosols and gels carried.

Passengers will also be permitted to leave electronic equipment like laptops inside their bags.

Johnson said: “We are home to the largest aviation network in Europe, with millions of people passing through our airports every year for work, holidays and family visits.”

London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, is already trialing the new 3-D screening technology. I passed through the airport last week and the process did feel quicker and less onerous.

However, with my journey incorporating two other airports in Europe, the screening process was inconsistent, and travelers will still need to be prepared for the “hassle” Johnson describes on other parts of their journey.

Johnson said: “We’re set to streamline those trips with the rollout of this ground-breaking technology. By making journeys through U.K. airports easier than ever, this new equipment will help boost the vital role our airports play in securing the U.K.’s position as a global hub for trade, tourism and investment.”

The Department for Transport has set a deadline of Dec. 1, 2022, by which all major U.K. airports must have the new technology.

The change will see the UK deviate from EU regulations on screening, and International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines — a sign of the country taking on its own rules post-Brexit.

The news has been welcomed by the traveling public and many travel organizations. However, it should be remembered that this mandatory upgrade of screening equipment will come at great cost for airports. With a significant price tag, this will have a serious impact on smaller airports which still fall under the “major” category mandated to introduce the new equipment.

The Airport Operators Association commented: “It is important to recognise the increasing cost of mandatory security measures like these. Each airport will have to fund the new equipment in a relatively short period of time, which will have a big impact particularly on smaller airports.”

While the UK is taking a lead in rolling out this technology countrywide, airports like Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK and Amsterdam Schiphol have already introduced similar 3-D scanners.

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England’s Manston Airport set to reopen for flights and cargo

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Thankfully, news of airports closing down is a rare occurrence, despite the challenges faced by increasing competition and capturing a slice of the passenger or cargo market.

However, for the historic Manston Airport south of London, closure was a reality and since May 2014 the site has been abandoned, awaiting approval for a very different future.

The plan had been to put housing and other development on the sprawling airport site; some had also hoped a small general aviation airfield might be carved out of what remained of the runway.

Now, in a major shift, the new owners of the airport have plans to restart flights and develop it once again as a center for aviation.

RiverOak Strategic Partners bought Manston — the one-time Battle of Britain and Cold War-era United States Air Force airfield near Canterbury — from previous owners Stone Hill Park, with the intention of restarting flights. Stone Hill had planned for up to 3,700 homes on the site, plus a “hi-tech employment space” and other amenities. The company has now withdrawn its application for the site and decided to sell following “considerable debate over the past five years of our ownership.”

There was a public outcry over the closure of the airport five years ago, and a recent planning application for 2,500 of the planned homes was rejected by the local council.

The sale to RiverOak was completed on July 9 for a reported £16.5 million following a protracted period of negotiations. It sees the transfer of 742 acres of the site to the new owners.

The company’s main intention is to develop Manston as a cargo hub, subject to planning and the new local plan. As one of the closest U.K. airports to mainland Europe, situated close to London and the busy English Channel ports at Dover and Felixstowe, it is ideally placed to develop in this market.

Manston also has one of the U.K.’s longest runways, making it ideal for handling the world’s largest freighter aircraft and long-haul cargo flights. Its development could also take some of the strain off Heathrow Airport which is at 99% capacity.

The reopening could attract a large company like Amazon who do not yet have an airport hub near London and could tailor the site to its needs.

Yet the big question on locals’ lips is whether passenger flights would return to Manston. Prior to closure the airport had seen a short-lived, low-cost operation and sporadic charter flights to leisure destinations. The final passenger service was operated by KLM to Amsterdam on April 9, 2014; the airline had served the airport twice-daily since 2012.

Despite its proximity to London and the affluent South East region of England, Manston never really reached its potential with passenger flights.

Nevertheless, Director Tony Freudmann said: “We bought it to turn it back into an airport and it means the development consent order process will continue.” He added: “The current plan is to have the airport reopened in the spring of 2022 for short-haul and cargo flights. We have shown that it is financially viable.”

While the small passenger terminal remains present and could easily be reactivated, it may take some considerable work by RiverOak to attract an operator to invest in flights from the airport.

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Response to Boeing Max 8 groundings includes new aviation leadership

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The Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane model was the most common plane flying the friendly skies — until recently. After several high-profile crashes killing hundreds of people, this model has been withdrawn from use so it can undergo an upgrade with new safety features for its alert system, which is rumored to have contributed to the crashes.

Costing American Airlines $185 million in the second quarter, this aviation development has sent more than ripples through financial markets and manufacturing hubs. As Boeing moves forward to adjust safety feature software and materials, airlines also scramble to compensate for flight cancellations and groundings.

American reports thousands of grounded flights: 7,800 in a three-month period to be exact. The company currently has 24 737 Max 8 planes, with 76 more on order. These planes are grounded through early September, and the deadline is expected to be extended.

Southwest Airlines also uses this model, and it has seen a major impact as well with the groundings. 150 flights daily have been cancelled through October 2019.

A Texas court is currently reviewing a lawsuit initiated by consumer plaintiffs who claim Southwest colluded with Boeing to cover up a fatal design defect.

This lawsuit has been filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, alleging that the companies colluded to cover up faults — resulting in unnecessary deaths, per Bloomberg Law: “More specifically, the complaint alleges Southwest economically propped up Boeing by strategically placing orders for 737s in exchange for early access to new models of the plane. It also claims Boeing rushed the defective 737 MAX 8 to market and Southwest helped to cover up the defect by assuring customers the plane was safe.”

Prior knowledge on the part of both airline and plane manufacturing entities is a hefty charge. Additionally, Southwest pilots are suing the company for losses and legal fees during the grounding.

It’s not just companies involved in these rumored collusions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also challenged to provide leadership at such an important time, and it is now undergoing a nomination process. Former Delta Airlines executive Stephen Dickson is President Trump’s choice for the FAA’s top position; however, some Democrats oppose the nomination due to lawsuits and Department of Justice investigations.

One controversial issue here is “a lawsuit brought by a Delta pilot, Karlene Petitt, which alleged the airline retaliated against her by putting her on leave with pay after she reported safety concerns to Dickson and another executive.” Delta denies the allegations.

As the dust settles on Boeing and airline companies’ responses, the FAA will surely have its hands full.

On July 10, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-12 to appoint Dickson to the FAA post. Now the nomination must be cleared by the full Senate.

34-year Boeing veteran and 737 program leader Eric Lindblad has also announced his retirement as the recovery light at the end of the company tunnel remains dim.

With lost profits soaring and effective leadership in short supply, the months ahead for aviation remain uncertain — to say the least.

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Phoenix Sky Harbor submits 20-year master plan for improvements

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Phoenix is an airport on the move, and if the FAA agrees, it could soon be spending $5.7 billion on upgrades to achieve a new 20-year plan. With aging infrastructure and a hemmed-in location, its owners have decided that now is the time to deal with the issues hindering its potential.

The airport confirmed that the city’s mayor and council voted on June 11 to send its Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Comprehensive Asset Management Plan (CAMP) to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval.

In fact, the FAA mandates that airports keep short- and medium-term plans for their future development, and this plan will cover the next 20 years at Sky Harbor as the airport hopes to double its capacity and improve infrastructure for airport users.

Key to the plans is the relocation of some major parts of the airport layout. First, the cargo facilities currently located in the central and southern areas of the site would be moved to the north side of the airport, freeing up space for future passenger terminal development to the west.

The Air National Guard refueling wing would then be allocated space freed up by cargo users on the south side, allowing this military operation to expand.

Image: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

General Aviation will also relocate to the north side of the site which, combined with the new cargo facilities, will require some work to trench the major railroad running past the perimeter. The airport already owns the land north of the tracks, so it sees great potential in using it and removing the physical barrier to expansion posed by the railroad.

The roadway serving the central terminal area would also receive attention, with particular attention on improving the capacity of Sky Harbor Boulevard as road traffic has increased.

Finally, the older parts of Terminal 4 would likely be renovated to bring it in line with modern standards, and the old Terminal 2 would be demolished.

This site would initially be used as a site for “bus gates” where aircraft park remote from the regular terminal jet bridges, typically used by low-cost carriers, and to give greater scheduling freedom to grow where physical gates do not exist to park airplanes at.

Sky Harbor presently handles around 45 million passengers per year, but has expectations of this reaching up to 80 million by 2039, as well as increases in the amount of cargo it handles. All of this comes at a cost and with significant logistical planning.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said, “The best infrastructure projects anticipate the needs of a community far into the future. Sky Harbor is one of our state’s largest economic engines and, with this unanimous vote, it will continue to drive our economy for generations to come.”

The $5.7 billion funding requirement anticipated for the works will come from airport revenues and federal grants, and not local taxes. With it, each stage of the works will require council approval since the airport is city-owned.

As Arizona’s largest gateway, and one of its largest employers, Sky Harbor must continue to capitalize on the growth demand it has experienced in recent years, which has put it in a similar league to Las Vegas McCarran, ranking 41stbusiest in the world and 13th in the United States. It has a $38.7 billion impact on the state’s economy.

Asked why now is the time to expand Sky Harbor, Jordan Field, Deputy Aviation Director – Planning & Environment said: “With forecasted growth, key facilities, infrastructure and roadways will reach capacity over the next ten years. To ensure the airport’s readiness for this growth, we needed a comprehensive roadmap for asset investment and management.”

Approval from the FAA is expected in the fall before work commences next year.

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