Star Wars Boeing 787 R2-D2 Dreamliner Launched by Japan ANA

Star Wars Boeing 787 R2-D2 Dreamliner Launched by Japan ANA

"ANA, we're home."

Home as in the Millennium Falcon or the 787? 

Home as in the Millennium Falcon or the 787? 

I thought that the new Star Wars trailer was the most exciting bit of news this week. I was clearly wrong: here comes the unbelievable R2-D2 787!

R2-Dreamliner  (image credit: ANA)

R2-Dreamliner (image credit: ANA)

I've never flown the 787 (a shame), but coming this fall, I'll clearly be checking its routes to try and catch this bird.

ANA is the largest customer for the 787. It was the launch carrier for the first version in 2011 and has just finalized the order for three 787-10 on top of the almost 50 it's poised to receive. The aircraft is partially built by the Japanese industry.

The strategy? Expanding its international footprint and this Star Wars tie-in will undoubtedly help raise it global awareness (it's already one of the most fantastic passenger experience I've ever personally witnessed).

Says Takashi Shiki, ANA Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing:

Although it's a lofty goal, we hope that like Star Wars, ANA will become well known and loved across all borders and generations. Through the introduction of the new Star Wars livery we hope to welcome more passengers from around the world to experience ANA as the Inspiration of Japan.

ANA is also the launch operator for the 787-9 and this particular one shall be flying international routes. The aircraft is described on a quite majestic website (be sure to have the sound on).

It is the first time a Star Wars character will appear on a livery of a commercial aircraft. R2-D2's personality traits, reliability, loyalty and resilience, are clearly ones an airline would love to co-opt. 
All Nippon Airways doesn't say if the plane will emit those legendary tonal sounds however.

Warp speed! Wrong movie, I know (image credit: ANA)

Warp speed! Wrong movie, I know (image credit: ANA)

But that's not all. ANA is betting it all on Star Wars as this is only a glimpse of a full 5 year plan with the franchise—up to the release of the third and final chapter in this new trilogy in 2020. 

ANA has launched a 5-year ANA 『Star Wars Project』 leading up to 2020 that will connect Japan to the global market.
With the launch of the project,  ANA has announced the design of an R2-D2 Jet*—Star Wars livery, with the iconic R2-D2, on its newest aircraft 787-9 Dreamliner.
*The jet is scheduled to fly on international routes this autumn.
With the skies as our stage, we are embarking on a range of novel initiatives as we head into the future.
Expect a new world full of surprises!

Will we see other Star Wars-inspired liveries over that time-span? Time will tell, but with the amount of co-branding potential here, we'll certainly have years of fun.

A second (!) Star Wars website, ANA Planet, tells us that some more information should be announced on June 12 when the airline launches its Tokyo-Houston route. In the meantime, press on the icons to hear more iconic Star Wars sounds.

To the travelers of this planet

To soar the skies is to free your mind to wander afar,
With new encounters awaiting you beyond the blue horizon.
It is the desire that drives us to embark on a journey.
The reach of an aircraft is nothing when compared to a person's power to dream.
Our hope is to transport you and your dreams to destinations far and wide.

We are your wings to 37 cities on this planet
Experience Us. We're ANA.

Alex and I will talk about this on the upcoming episode of our podcast, with a guest who has done some work in Star Wars. Be sure to tune in!

The Star Wars jet animation (it's clearly rendered) can be seen on ANA's official YouTube channel (no sound, so just play the Imperial March at the same time on your speakers):

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18. 

Had they decided to release the 2 minute trailer as a movie, I'm sure it would have been a huge box-office hit on its own. Its release just sent Twitter and Facebook into emotional lightspeed.

Find me crying on that plane. 

Experience: A Mesmerizing 3D Map of World Flights

Experience: A Mesmerizing 3D Map of World Flights

Do you know how many flights journey each day? A lot.

If you only take civil aviation, one can estimate 115,000 flights per day on average this year.

Want to see how it actually looks like? Callum Prentice has created a really cool visualization of those around the globe. In 3D. And which you can play with (amazing use of WebGL!)

Transatlantic streams.

Transatlantic streams.

You won't probably find 115,000 flights as he has used data from OpenFlights, our app of the week on episode 005, which also means it's not real-time (though he admits would love to have that for v.2—here's the GitHub repository for those curious)

It doesn't matter to me, it remains mesmerizing. 

✈︎ LISTEN: OpenFlights is the App of the week (49:51)

✈︎ LISTEN: Short stories on innovation: visualizations and plane routes (56:35)

✈︎ Captain's hat tip to Gen Kanai

Watch: A Take-Off Shows Us How Long Ago 1992 Was

Watch: A Take-Off Shows Us How Long Ago 1992 Was

In an age when everything gets recorded, filming a take off is nothing extraordinary. This video isn't extraordinary, nor was it even taken that long ago—1992.

But, somewhat, it feels like forever ago. The aircrafts seen through the windows, the Delta logo, the inside of the cabin.

Time flies. Or I'm just getting old.

Airports Track Your Smartphone To Enhance Passenger Experience

Airports Track Your Smartphone To Enhance Passenger Experience

So last fall the company started testing new technology that allowed it to track customers’ movements by following the Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones.

The above quote isn't about an airport, but retailers. It was only a matter of time that this type of tracking technology was to be put of use in the airline industry though.

✈︎ LISTEN: The power of sensors for better airports (29:25)

Blip Systems has introduced such systems at various airports, from Amsterdam Schiphol to Geneva and they've publicized the results of the implementation at Cincinnati's CVG:

CVG initially partnered with Purdue University in 2011 for technology proof-of-concept testing prior to research and acquisition of BlipTrack. The Purdue team returned in 2014 to quantify the security wait time improvements in the reconfigured terminal and the impact of the new pre-check lanes:
·  In comparison to standard wait times in 2011, wait times were reduced by nearly 4¼ minutes in 2014 (from 13.2 minutes to 8.9 minutes).
·  In comparison to standard screening wait times, TSA pre-check saved more than 26,000 person hours in wait time over Nov-Dec 2014.

With the poor experience that is security in most airports (I've never been to CVG to judge that one in particular), this is a pretty cool result.

Orderly and civil. (image credit:  Blip Systems )

Orderly and civil. (image credit: Blip Systems)

How does this tracking work? Unlike iBeacons-based systems that would only cover the last generations of smartphones, the idea is to track the MAC address that every phone connected to Wifi gives out (think of it as a unique identifier, the Media Access Control address, that interfaces your phone with the network). With that information in hand, the airport can map out the movements of passengers (like foot traffic of a store like the quote refers to at the beginning of this post) and assess if flows need improvement, or, at least, give some real-time information on how backed up an immigration queue or TSA check-point is—which is what CVG does.


Estimote, a YC startup that offers iBeacon solutions, was providing such a system at their inception when I met them in Poland back in 2011. Whilst a bit baffled at first ("you can track me without my knowledge with such precision?"), I began to understand all the possibilities that this could offer, some sort of Google Analytics for Real Life.

No, I hadn't thought of queue management, but airports are one of the only place where, to simplify, a provider knows pretty much when its customers will arrive in its premises (you have to clear check-in and security) in which they'll have to stay for a defined period of time. Having the ability to understand how they move around, what are the heat maps within existing constraints, what are the usual patterns, etc. opens the door to a lot of design thinking opportunities.

With an estimated 81% of passengers carrying a smartphone compared to 25% five years ago, according to SITA's report The Future is Personal, and with a renewal rate of roughly 18 months, there's no denying the appeal of such technologies for airports, much much cheaper than the traditional camera-based ones big retailers have been using. And Blip doesn't limit the idea to the usual pain points, see for yourself:

The waiting-time journey.

The waiting-time journey.

iBeacon-based solutions are also taking off, Miami International has deployed it throughout its terminals, for instance. Frankfurt Airport uses those low-energy bluetooth beacons to notify travelers of the real-time waiting times at various checkpoints.

✈︎ LISTEN: The new Frankfurt Airport app gives real-time waiting time information and faster indoor routes (29:44)

None of this comes without challenges though. Tracking is not something that we take lightly, even if it's for our convenience. First, ask anyone around you and there's a probability they'll be much more creeped out by the idea of being physically tracked than via an online cookie. And then, whilst a MAC address isn't enough to find much about the owner of the device, the same smartphone signing up into the airport wifi network with an email address could be the start of profiling.

European airports apparently warn passengers of the existence of such a technology—though I must admit having never personally seen any notice (I travel to GVA every six weeks and will be at FRA shortly, I'll take a closer look).

Intrusive or not, the convenience effect could be undeniable. Knowing in advance and in real-time the state of waiting times is an undeniable plus. Having airports re-think their sometimes absurd layouts is what I hope for the most though.

Watch: Qantas First Ever 747 Does Precision Touchdown for Last Journey

Watch: Qantas First Ever 747 Does Precision Touchdown for Last Journey

In episode 007 of our podcast, we narrated the story of Qantas's first ever 747-400, the City of Canberra, being delivered to its final home, the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society.

To do so, it had to land on quite a short runway.

Pilots extraordinaire. 

Pilots extraordinaire. 

The pilots did train specially for this landing which required a lower-than-usual approach speed (with a less-than-usually loaded aircraft) with tires slightly deflated (to ensure faster grip on the runway).

The plane, specially numbered Flight 7474 for the occasion, had 30 years in service, more than 13,800 flights for more than a 100,000 flight hours, carrying more than …4 million passengers. It also still holds the record of time over distance by a commercial aircraft, a London to Sydney non-stop, set in August 1989.

That plane really deserved to find a home where it could retire in peace whilst inspiring us all.

✈︎ Listen: Alex and Paul discuss the Qantas 747 retirement (at 28:09)

Watch: TEDx Talk On How To Fix Travel

Watch: TEDx Talk On How To Fix Travel

And you’re not going to see an airline selling standing room only or tickets to sit on someone else’s lap …expect maybe Ryanair.

Come on, this was too funny not to start this article with. Don't worry, Doug Lansky is not about trashing airlines here. His talk is not really about airlines at all, but I found it nevertheless very interesting (and what a great public speaker too).

In a very entertaining TEDx keynote, he shows what's broken about destination travel today. And for the most part, I couldn't help but agree (I won't spoil it for you, you've got to watch below).

Smart decision based on smart data (image credit: TEDx Stockholm, TEDx Talks)

Smart decision based on smart data (image credit: TEDx Stockholm, TEDx Talks)

Near the end (at 15:57 exactly) Lansky envisions solutions, one of which reminded me of what Alex and I talked in our latest podcast episode: the power of displaying data when booking.

We obviously were talking about Google Flight's integration of aircraft amenity data, but he's taking it a step further: what if the search would also tell you if a destination is full (as in, there will be so many people that your experience will not be the postcard you were sold). 

This idea retains supply and demand, but allows for a smarter travel decision based on smart data. Appealing indeed.

Watch the entire speech below:

✈︎ Listen: Imagine the power of data that Google could add on its Flights product (at 38:30)

Get To Know Airport Codes with

Get To Know Airport Codes with

The world of airport codes is a wonder and a mystery. As we discussed in episode 004 of the podcast, their origins can be found in meteorological stations, regulations, old city names or airfield names. 


For the wonder, head to, such a glorious website. An image is worth a thousand, well, airport codes:


It is the work of Lynn Fisher and Nick Crohn. Amazing job, we love it!

And beyond the wonder, the website helps you unveil part of the mystery:


If your airport of choice is not listed, you can simply tweet the authors and they'll add it. For those geeks of you (no, not the avgeeks, the tech geeks), you can contribute to the code that powers the website over at its GitHub repository

With that sense of wonder and parts of the mystery removed (only parts, as the real discovery remains in visiting those airports!), they'll become your building blocks to start playing with ITA Matrix.

✈︎ Listen: the origins of airport codes, starting at 57:32

Emirates' Position on Subsidies: A Smart Answer

Emirates' Position on Subsidies: A Smart Answer

The release of the White Paper by the U.S. airlines accusing the Gulf airlines of anti-competitive behavior has spurred many reactions that we've covered in our recent podcast episodes.

Emirates showed once more that its taking a smart approach by releasing a well-document paper on its position, which is summarized below:


Tim Clark is currently in Washington, meeting with US transport officials to tackle the claims that subsidies have funded Emirates' growth.

There are a lot of quotables in the report, showing, as Alex mentioned in our last podcast episode, that it is directed at a general public (the U.S. airlines White Paper is much drier).

Here are some extracts—the full report is at the end of the post.

On the subsidies (all emphasis ours):

Although Emirates, as a profitable and commercially run carrier, is fundamentally against the practice of airlines receiving state subsidies, we understand that it may take time for the practice to be wholly eliminated from our industry.

Market-distorting subsidies can take many forms. The state-run Korea Development Bank froze 3.76 trillion Korean Won (US$3.3bn) worth of debts from Asiana Airlines in 2010. This is a very clear example of subsidy, as was the €500 million “bride price” given to Austrian Airlines from the Austrian Government, prior to the September 2009 takeover by Lufthansa.
Tax breaks, underwritten war risk insurance and “one time” state-bank loans are forms of subsidy, even if “approved” by governments.

Although not a subsidy per se, Chapter 11 protection in the US also has a significant market effect, by providing a level of protection for airline bankruptcy reorganisation that is seldom found in other markets.

The Star Alliance is the world’s largest airline group and 13 of its carriers - nearly half of its membership - have received subsidies and state aid totaling more than €6.8 billion.

On Dubai's form of economy:

Dubai’s corporate model has its origins in the city’s historic position as an entrepôt, which has free trade and competitive open markets at its core. Whilst there is a close relationship between the government and many of Dubai’s strategic commercial entities, Dubai is at its essence driven by commercial entrepreneurial principles.

Each commercial entity is an independent company with its own profit targets and operational autonomy, including Emirates and Dubai Airports. These corporate structures were pioneered by Singapore, and replicated by similar approaches throughout Asia, such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Singapore’s success has provided inspiration for many governments in the Middle East hoping to spur growth

On oil:

The Gulf region is not a single entity. Dubai has almost no hydrocarbon reserves while the situation is vastly different in oil wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. So why would the airlines from these areas all be the same?

Emirates itself is at a disadvantage compared with Singapore Airlines, which has lower relative labour costs and can also take advantage of Singapore’s status as a jet fuel refining hub, where the price of a barrel of jet fuel is the lowest in the world.

Adding: This is a commercial reality. Emirates has no qualms about this and is happy to compete in this operating environment.

On the Middle-East:

In truth, there are more than 35 separate airlines in the Middle East which compete against each other and against carriers based in other regions. In the Gulf there are 15 airlines, including a growing number focused on budget travel.


Dubai International ranked as the fifth costliest airport, more expensive than charges in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Doha.

Vienna Airport was government held for 50 years until its partial privatisation in the 1990s; it is now 40% state controlled. A similar history is found at Munich and Frankfurt. Frankfurt Airport (Fraport) is now 51% controlled by the German regional and city government (with Lufthansa owning 10%, and private investors holding the rest). For the first five decades of its existence, however, it was fully government owned.

Lufthansa is an example of European carriers making loud claims about airport ownership
in Dubai and the Gulf, despite themselves continuing to benefit from state-funding of airports. In April 2011, the European Commission opened an investigation into Leipzig-Halle airport, which received €225 million in funding for infrastructure from its state owners, making charges lower than would be the case if the airport had to fund the improvements at market rates. Lufthansa, operating around 30% of all flights from the airport, has benefitted the most from this public funding.

On jobs:

more than 8,600 current staff have served for 10 years or longer and in excess of 2,100 have been with the company for 20 years or more. Emirates receives on average 25,000 new employment applications each month.

Emirates itself is at a disadvantage compared with Singapore Airlines, which has lower relative labour costs

That last graphic is quite staggering. No wonder Lufthansa is in a period of struggle with its staff, with its attempts to offload operations to its low cost structure, Eurowings. It would have been interesting to see where Turkish, a flag-carrier in the middle of a transformation, is ranked (estimates say that it has costs 30% cheaper that Lufthansa).

✈︎ LISTEN: the history of Lufthansa and its low cost PLAY:

The report also briefly talks about the environment with the EU system of pollution allowance (a stricter law was so opposed by the U.S. airlines that they lobbied President Obama into writing legislation excluding them to pay ever—which in turn made the EU back down on the proposal).

All in all, a smart answer, in addition to the video targeted at Europe they recently published.

Of note, Tim Clark has stated that Emirates would seek all options for redress if any commercial damage could be established. 

The full report can be read over at It's embedded at the end of this post for your convenience.

We've discussed this report in the News of the Week of episode 008 of the podcast:

The full Emirates paper:

Watch Nicole Kidman Promote Etihad

Watch Nicole Kidman Promote Etihad

The war of words that has started since the major U.S. airlines went on the offensive about the Gulf airlines seemingly had one side effect.

Beyond the rhetoric, both Emirates and Etihad have ramped up their communication. Is it just a result of the turmoil or was it planned beforehand, I wouldn't know, but it's certain that we've all seen many more ads online by these two.

Etihad has gone very upscale by hiring Nicole Kidman as their brand ambassador.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 1.28.24 PM.png
I don't think anyone also reflects elegance and flair as well as Nicole Kidman does

says the airline president and CEO, Hogan.

Here's the full ad:

It's truly a full on campaign, as their YouTube channel attests, with a flurry of new videos describing the experience passengers can expect.

As I noted during our latest podcast episode, Etihad is introducing the ABU - JFK route with the A380 and its Residence (where Kidman is sitting) on December 1. The first flight was sold out in less than 4 hours (!)

If you have 40 minutes, you can watch the entire launch interview with Kidman too:

A Ghost Airport Is Revived in Spain, Another Is Just for Top Gear

A Ghost Airport Is Revived in Spain, Another Is Just for Top Gear

Ryanair is set to become the first airline to operate scheduled flights from the Spanish “ghost airport” of Castellón.

The Irish carrier will announce plans on Wednesday to fly from the airport, which cost €150m (£107m) to build but stood empty for almost four years and is widely regarded as a symbol of regional governments’ profligacy during Spain’s long-gone property boom.

As Alex mentioned in our last podcast episode, an airport built with the wrong runway measurements (the planes couldn't turn!), without fuel stations (what?!) and no operational future (besides serving the local football team) has finally found life.

Oh, and it has a statue that cost 300,000 EUR (Alex likes it, I'm not so sure I do).

El Hombre Avion (image credit: Sanbec / Wikimedia Commons)

El Hombre Avion (image credit: Sanbec / Wikimedia Commons)

A white elephant. A folly. An electoral promise (the man responsible is serving time for tax fraud). A target of the Spanish press as it encapsulates everything that has been wrong (their words) with Spain in the last decade.

Seeing the news, I remembered that Top Gear ran fast cars on an abandoned runway in Season 20 episode 3. 

I assumed it was the same airport but boy I was wrong. It's actually a different one, Ciudad Real Central Airport, which apparently cost more no less than 1 billion EUR. Another folly.

That one had Ryanair flying for 6 months but is now completely abandoned and looking for a buyer. If you have 80m EUR to spare—though Alex proposed that it becomes a HQ for Layovers. I like the idea.

We start episode 008 with a discussion about it all:

KLM Fire: Do You Protect Your Carry-on Batteries?

KLM Fire: Do You Protect Your Carry-on Batteries?

The chances that you are carrying lithium-ion batteries with you when flying are very high. They're everywhere, from mobile phones to laptops or cameras. 

Although very safe, they've been known to have created issues in the past, which is why airlines forbid you to check any in cargo.

Look at what happened during a recent KLM flight:

Battery on fire. (image credit:  @Accone)

Battery on fire. (image credit: @Accone)

It caught fire!

Whilst this remains an extremely rare occurrence, what do the airlines say specifically? Here's KLM's take:

Loose lithium batteries, such as rechargeable lithium batteries and AA lithium batteries for laptops and DVD players, may only be carried in hand baggage. Each spare battery must be packed in the original packaging. If you no longer have this packaging, you must cover the battery contact points with tape to insulate them and pack each battery in a separate plastic bag.

We don't have control of the batteries installed within our personal electronic devices but the rule on the extra ones (a second camera battery or a smartphone external battery for instance) is clear: we should put them in their original packaging or tape the contact points whilst placing each one in a separate plastic bag.

Do you do that? As Alex said during our last podcast episode, anybody who says they do is probably a liar.

And yet, look at the video:

No wonder they are now forbidden in cargo (thus also heavily restricted by postal services by air).

On a related note, similar batteries were the ones that were responsible for the fires that grounded the 787 Dreamliners. 

✈︎ LISTEN: A battery causes fire during a KLM flight (51:38)

Full Report of U.S. Airlines to the White House Blaming Gulf Carriers

Full Report of U.S. Airlines to the White House Blaming Gulf Carriers

The report that has been the subject of so many headlines in the past weeks is finally out for everyone to read: Delta, American and United have released the white paper providing what they claim is proof of heavy subsidies received by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways 

These massive subsidies have enabled Qatar, Etihad and Emirates to rapidly expand their fleets and international routes, distorting the commercial aviation marketplace and diverting global traffic to their hubs.

The summary of their findings, below, shows the areas of what they call unfair competition:


The Economist weighed in on the debate and is seemingly siding with the view that those numbers can be read as market distortion:

First, the sheer scale of equity apparently being provided to the Gulf carriers dwarfs what any privately owned airline could hope to secure for start-up capital. Second, debt guarantees are two different animals in the public and private sector. In the latter, they are provided when a shareholder believes there is little to no chance that the debt will be defaulted on; in the former, they are provided irrespective of the likelihood of repayment, effectively kicking the borrowings into the long grass. On both counts, the Gulf carriers enjoy clear financial advantages over their American and European rivals, affording them a safety net which permits them to operate unprofitable services in order to gain market share.

The full report, which you can peruse at the end of this post, also points out at distortions via the use of cheap labor and tax-free regimes (which is one of Emirates' arguments to hire staff).

We will be discussing this (again) on the next episode of the podcast—we believe it's more complicated than both accounts above. You can hear our current thoughts in episode 004 (starting at 0:56)

On episode 005 (starting at 1:27), in which we also briefly looked at the inception of the Gulf airlines and why they were at the center of such a debate (starting at 53:13):

And finally in episode 006, to discuss Emirates' report on its impact to the European economy (starting at 6:55)

This Gulf airlines haven't yet commented the white paper, as they've just received it as well. It's pretty certain that we will see some counter-attacks (the anti-trust immunity, fuel tax rebates across a majority of U.S. states or the pension liabilities transfers come to mind) and a potential revival of the debate in Europe. This is really far from over.

Even within the U.S., sides are still being formed. Boeing, FedEx, JetBlue, U.S. airports are, for instance, siding against negating any Open Skies agreements, whilst the Air Line Pilots Association along with some Congress representatives are asking for an official stance on renegotiating the deals (you can follow the #FairSkies hashtag on Twitter to see that side of the campaign).

Here is the full report:

The economic impact of Emirates Airlines in Europe

The economic impact of Emirates Airlines in Europe

In our latest podcast episode, Alex and I discussed how a recent report commissioned by Emirates Airlines about its contribution to the European economy. 

It argues that it brings an annual windfall of close to $7 billion, supporting 85,000 jobs with an additional 40,000 via its Airbus aircrafts acquisitions. 

Close to 12 million passengers to and from the EU. (source: Emirates YouTube channel)

Close to 12 million passengers to and from the EU. (source: Emirates YouTube channel)

At recording, I didn't realize Emirates had done a video synthesizing the findings:

It's obviously the natural follow-up to the mounting debate between European flag carriers and US airlines on one side, and the Gulf airlines on the other. Lobbying and PR aside, Emirates is doing an excellent job communicating its position here.

We've also seen a recent spike in Emirates Facebook ads, touting its advantages—including the tax free salaries for staff. 


Listen to us discussing this campaign at 6:55 on episode 006 of the podcast:

Baffling Filming of a Landing and Baggage Handling at DXB

Whether or not you've ever landed at Dubai Airport and whether or not you like that city, read on.

A computer in the air flies into DXB. (image credit: Rob Whitworth, Vimeo)

A computer in the air flies into DXB. (image credit: Rob Whitworth, Vimeo)

The first 30 seconds of the below video are amazingly done (well, the rest too, watch it through the end, it's just that this first part is centered on the airport!).

Besides a quick look at Emirates' first class, the way the film moves to the cockpit to DXB to the luggage area is just baffling.

The film-maker has done a lot of incredible videos (but also photos). You should check his website out urgently.

Back to DXB, because there's more!

The author released the whole DXB baggage handling video. I had never seen some parts of the airport seen here and it's truly a nice journey to witness.

U.S. Airlines vs Gulf Carriers: That Escalated Quickly

U.S. Airlines vs Gulf Carriers: That Escalated Quickly

Alex and I opened the last podcast episode with the story of the major U.S. airlines sending a report to the White House about what they call unfair competition.

Little idea we had that the war of words would reach fever pitch that fast, or, in the words of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman:

Boy, that escalated quickly

Skift reports that Delta CEO, Richard Anderson, went live on CNN with what can only be described as very harsh words. I'll let you be the judge:

it’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula.

Contentious to say the least. 

Unfair competition?

This comes as the last, well, escalation, since the report was filed. The U.S. airlines argue that they've lost market share due to various forms of state aid given by governments to the Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar (and others). It affirms that more than $40bn of loans, tax exemptions and other support since 2004 is what allows those airlines to compete—unfairly if you follow their argument.

Delta, United and American Airlines have apparently lost, for instance, more than 5% of the share of bookings from the US to the Indian subcontinent since 2008. The overall share of booking from the carriers located in the Arabian peninsula has increased more than tenfold if you follow their numbers.

Tim Clark, Emirates Airline CEO, was quick to ironically respond that he'd be very interested to see how the aforementioned $40bn was calculated—not to mention hinting that the Chapter 11 proceedings are a form of state aid, which certainly led to Anderson's reply mentioned above.

Competing on experience?

EK's chairman simply added "offer the best to the passengers and people will fly with you."

That last sentence seems to be what Richard Quest echoed when interviewing Anderson:

Everyone would accept they give superb service and quality of flight, so you’re not necessarily going to have the consumer on your side.

Or Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways' CEO, never shy from pushing his point across:

It is like you open a shop and there’s a neighbor who is already established. Everybody knows him so they mostly go there. You have to do something different for people to come to your shop. We attract customers by giving them a ‘wow’ product.

Ben Schlappig, author and aviation expert at One Mile At A Time, contends that it's a bit too easy of an argument:

The US airlines historically haven’t had nearly the capital of the Middle Eastern carriers — no US airline could afford to order 100 A380s, for example

This is why I said on the podcast that it was difficult to take sides here. A lot of the airlines around the world, including U.S. ones, were borne out of government subsidies, sometimes being the flag carrier of a country. It is the case in Japan, in China, in Thailand, in Europe, almost everywhere. Even to this day, after privatization efforts have gone underway, voices are raised on how Lufthansa got help for its pension plan funding or how SAS seemingly had preferred treatment during its latest restructuration. 

Such subsidies still exist in many parts of the world, but even beyond that, it's the philosophy of building an airline, a corporation or even an entire economy that is at stake here. Gulf countries are building an infrastructure, not only companies—no matter how people judge this goal. Shareholder value, potential subsidies notwithstanding, is not the primary concern. I again encourage you to read Schlappig's point of view on this.

Closing Open Skies?

As Alex and I mentioned in the podcast, the creation of a Milan-JFK route is certainly not foreign to the heating up of the debate, nor is the Etihad's capital entry into airlines, from Alitalia to IAG. The competition is basically not centered for flight routing via the Middle East anymore.

The more general topic of Open Skies, the "free trade agreements for airlines", is what it boils down to in the end. Which airline can fly where to and from? The U.S. has 114 such agreements currently. We will cover the topic in a forthcoming episode, as it's more complex than a few lines I could write here.

Of note, the deregulation of the market has led, in the U.S.A. to a consolidation of the market, whereas in Europe it seems to have opened the market more widely. While the two entities are hardly comparable for various reasons (timing, regulation, history, local rules, etc.), the largest carrier in Europe controls 13% of the market, whereas AA/US has 25%. The top 4 control 39% and 83% respectively (read more about those numbers over at The Travel Insider). 

Competition is a variable concept, depending on how you see it, whether based on the numbers I've just mentioned or on your opinion on the "Big Three" ways of doing business from the Gulf.

Sides are another variable concept. While the unions are, for once, siding with the airlines in the US, not everybody is. JetBlue voiced its willingness to defend the Open Skies agreement—a sign of its challenge to the big four. The U.S. Airports are in that same camp.

This might just be the beginning

It is not the first time we've heard those types of argument. Delta had, for instance, already sought to block the loan guarantees for Gulf carriers acquiring Boeing jets (Emirates is, for instance, the largest operator of 777s in the world, having almost double the number of them compared to UA).

In Europe, Air France-KLM and Lufthansa addressed the European Commission to complain about the competition—seemingly focusing on voiding traffic rights.

It's not the first time and it won't be the last time. Those last comments by Anderson have escalated the debate to a new height and I'm not sure to like where all this is going. 

Listen to Alex and I talking about this topic (starting at 0:58). I've added some articles in the show notes too.

Breathtaking Footage of a SWISS A320 Slaloming the Swiss Alps

Breathtaking Footage of a SWISS A320 Slaloming the Swiss Alps

Superb. There is no other word to describe the footage of this SWISS A320 flying across the Swiss Alps, accompanied by the Patrouille Suisse.

Gold metal winner. (image: YouTube footage, by SWISS)

Gold metal winner. (image: YouTube footage, by SWISS)

The video honors what is considered as one of the most prestigious ski races in the calendar year, held on the Lauberhorn mountain in Switzerland.

Watching an Airbus flanked with T5 Tigers effectively imitating a slalom in the sky is incredible. 

The video was produced by SkyProduction and contains no less than 30 different angles from the SWISS and the Swiss Air Force's jets. It's really beautifully shot and edited.

Just sit back, relax and enjoy the video at maximum resolution.

Top 10 mothballed airliner types

Top 10 mothballed airliner types

Flight Global has a fascinating article on the number of planes parked in the desert by type. Using a percentage of the total active fleet for each type, the list is both depressing and fascinating. 

Definitely read the article but the tl;dr list goes like this:

  1. Boeing 737 classic
  2. Bombardier CRJ
  3. McDonnel-Douglas MD-80
  4. Boeing 757
  5. Airbus A320
  6. Embraer ERJ-145
  7. Boeing 767
  8. Boeing 747 Freighter
  9. Boeing 737NG
  10. Boeing 737-200

A 747 Gobs Solar Impulse From Switzerland to Abu Dhabi

Solar Impulse, the solar-powered long-range aircraft, has started his world tour …in the stomach of a 747.

On Monday night, on the military airfield of Payerne, Switzerland, one of the biggest cargo planes in the world, a 747, came to eat one of the lightest aircrafts in the world (for its size). 

How do you fit a plane which wingspan is 72 meters?

Careful with that maneuver! (image credit:  Actualites Voyages )

Careful with that maneuver! (image credit: Actualites Voyages)

747 versus SI2. (image credit: )

747 versus SI2. (image credit:

You put it into pieces.

Not a small feat, as even cut into three pieces of 24 meters, the wing barely got into the jumbo jet—there was just 2 centimeters clearance on each side of the front cargo hold door, according to Bertrand Piccard, who helms the project.

Noseless. (image credit:  @bertrandpiccard on Twitter )

Noseless. (image credit: @bertrandpiccard on Twitter)

The meaty cut of the wing. (image credit:  Solar Impulse on Google Plus )

The meaty cut of the wing. (image credit: Solar Impulse on Google Plus)

The 747 then took off to Abu Dhabi, but before I get there, a small piece of trivia.

It's really not everyday you see a 747 on the Payerne Military Air Base, famous for its annual air show.
A 747-400 fully loaded ideally requires a 12,000 ft runway, although it usually operates on traditional 10,000 ft ones. Short-field operations, a training given at Boeing Field, uses a 9,800 ft runway. Payerne has 9,300 ft. Not crazily short, but it must have been nice to see the jet clear it. 

Nice that they didn't have to use the public highway next to it. Yes, it can be quickly transformed fitted into a military runway if need be. 

Take off towards clearer skies. (image credit:  @bertrandpiccard on Twitter )

Take off towards clearer skies. (image credit: @bertrandpiccard on Twitter)

Trust me, the skies were clearer here. (image credit: )

Trust me, the skies were clearer here. (image credit:

You might ask yourselves why would the Solar Impulse buy itself a 747 ticket to fly to the Gulf? The answer is quite simple: winter.
Yes, the airplane can't fly that far in winter (being from Switzerland, I can tell the Sun is not always there in that period of the year!)

Solar Impulse Inside.  (image credit:  )

Solar Impulse Inside. (image credit:

Solar Impulse is being reborn by the 747.  (image credit:  )

Solar Impulse is being reborn by the 747. (image credit:

Abu Dhabi is the the host city of Solar Impulse for the first solar-powered flight around the world.  After a showcase at Masdar's Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (January 17 - 22, 2015), some training and testings, the aircraft will embark on its round the world trip in March. It will land back in Abu Dhabi in July. 

You can follow the adventures on and its Google Plus page. 

Hotel Management Model As an Alternative for Flagship Airlines

[Peter Davies] proposes a “hotel management style, where airlines have maintain their brand but the whole back office is managed by management company.” The hotel management company would be invisible to passengers. The airline’s customers would experience the local airline brand, not a chain identity. But the national carriers would benefit from the same cost advantages of their larger competitors.

Interesting take indeed. Having worked along the hospitality business in the 2000s, I can see how this could work, though I'm not sure how some countries would agree to easily "let go" of their national carrier—if it falls into the "small flagships" Davies describes.

What is certain is that those mid-size carriers are being squeezed between low cost carriers and bigger flagship that can yield a better costs per seat. Not to mention, as Davies mentions, the Gulf carriers who are eating everyone's lunch.

The price point is another point of friction in Davies' argument though: 

Davis recognizes this would might mean smaller carriers have to charge a higher fare than low-cost carriers flying point-to-point to those popular tourist destinations. But he believes the fare differential could be small, and justified by a better travel experience with a superior product.

I still believe that the vast majority of travelers are just price-sensitive, no matter the experience. The low cost carriers might just win anyway here, in other words. Tough game, I don't have the right answer, but maybe that hotel management style of model is worth a shot. Which is what he intends to do in Europe. I'll be following closely.

Read the original article over at Skitch.

A 747 to Burning Man

Dream big.

That's what the Big Imagination Foundation is doing by attempting to bring no less than a Boeing 747 to Burning Man, the famous Black Rock desert event.

The 747 is already in a desert.

The 747 is already in a desert.

In their words, it's about bringing to Burning Man

one of the largest and most inspiring art installations the community has ever seen. This is a real Boeing 747 that we are modifying into a giant, movable interactive experience for Burning Man 2015 and many years to follow... Our goal is to move participants in many ways, to take them on a trip not only from Point A to Point B, but also from the inner self to the outer self.

You can get involved or donate to the project by going to the website.