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Aviation News Just Breeds Itself in the Dallas Metroplex

Air Romo breaks his finger on the first play of overtime and is grounded for four weeks. American Airlines reports a profit for the third quarter of 2008; but only after accounting for the sale of American Beacon Advisors. Southwest Airlines posts its first quarterly loss in 17 years; but only after accounting for losses on certain hedge contracts. Had it not been for accounting issues, the news might have been much the same as American would have posted a loss and Southwest would have posted yet another profitable quarter.

But earnings are not “the” story for 2008’s third quarter given the volatility of jet fuel that occurred during a period when the passengers carried largely bought their tickets months ago. The story from the earnings announcements is more about the landscape on a going forward basis. Like many data points we assess and refer to, the Southwest loss deserves an asterisk.

The most interesting news thus far has been American Airlines announcing an order for 100 787-900 aircraft as part of its third quarter discussion. 42 of the aircraft are firm orders and are scheduled for delivery beginning in 2012. As the news came across the wire, I was preparing to give a lecture on networks. It was quite the buzz in the room as many of the students are like you and me and have jet fuel running through their veins.

There are many aspects of this announcement that I find encouraging. First, and simply, a US carrier announced a significant order for new technology as India's airlines consider cancelling orders. Second, and unlike many of the world’s carriers with orders for new aircraft, a US carrier is not ordering at the top of the cycle only to take delivery as the cycle turns down as will prove true with many carriers in Europe and Asia. Third, American did what it should do and make the delivery schedule contingent on a negotiated deal with the Allied Pilots Association.

Terry Maxon of the Dallas Morning News blogs on the APA’s reaction to American’s announcement that it is spending billions on new aircraft that will permit it to connect multiple dots on tomorrow’s global map. Of course the pilots are pleased that the company is investing in new equipment. Of course their reaction comes with the caveat that reinvestment in aircraft is only part of the necessary reinvestment in the airline. As the APA reminds us daily, restoring pay rates to some historical level in their current contract is also a necessary action.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the refrain of pay restoration. I am tired of the suggestion that these negotiations began in 2006. They did not. The negotiations began when the new rockers in the Metroplex, “Captain Lloyd and the No Planet Airmen”, took office and made a comprehensive proposal to management that was ultimately priced out at $3 billion dollars.

I have written here often of the need to change existing collective bargaining agreements as language just does not work. Well the APA rightfully points to a glaring reason why we need to rethink the entire labor construct. Pay rates have historically been based on the weight of the aircraft among other inputs. Well the weight of the 787 will be less as it made of composite materials. So now that does not work for the APA and there will have to be another approach.

I have been traveling and speaking again this week, so I missed Trebor Banstetter’s article on Tuesday in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram discussing the status of American's negotiations with its pilots. The APA seems to suggest that the NMB is partially to blame. Remember, as I have written here before: you have to clear the underbrush before a meaningful negotiation can take place on the economics otherwise - just put it on ice. The APA strategy to call for mediation still numbs this observer. I hope that they did not pay anyone for that advice.

But the real piece of information that I find most interesting as I catch up on my reading is a Banstetter blog post suggesting that there is a move on to rein in the national officers at APA. Lloyd and his band have become one song wonders and the membership needs more.

American has positioned itself to take a new narrowbody aircraft every 10 days beginning next year and to begin a growth and replacement strategy with the 787 beginning in 2012 all in managing the company for the long term. Hopefully the APA might begin to take notice from visionary pilot groups at Delta and Northwest that tomorrow really is different.

As always, this one is fun to watch. I wanted to post a piece I have been working on about autos and airlines again, but news here is so hard to resist.