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Pilot's Perspective On Recent "Weather" Delays

Sat Jul 14, 2007 12:23 pm

No surprise - Patrick Smith comes to the same conclusion many of us have...

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RE: Pilot's Perspective On Recent "Weather" Delays

Sat Jul 14, 2007 5:07 pm

OK, I read the article with an open mind, and while he made some good points, this airline pilot doesn't agree with some (or, rather a lot) of what he said.

First is the weather. This is wholly anecdotal and by no means a scientific observation, but the number and strength of thunderstorms and convective activity seem drastically worse than in years past. This is especially true in and around the crowded Northeast corridor. I spent several years based in New York and Boston in the early and mid-1990s. Summer thunderstorms were at worst an occasional, maybe weekly occurrence. Now they are hitting almost every afternoon, with lines of majestically sculpted cumulonimbus clouds ripping through New England as if it were tropical Africa.

No, not really. If there had been an increase in convective weather we'd have seen the headlines blaring from every paper from here to Khartoum. Earlier in the article he said he was coming back to flying after a six-year hiatus. Now that explains it - selective memory. You remember the good parts and forget the bad parts. I haven't stopped flying in the last twenty + years, and I can promise you that the weather has not changed in that time. The storms are just as bad, and the good days are just as beautiful.

He is quite correct in the increase in RJ flying in the last six years. It has blossomed way beyond what Bombardier and Embraer had in their wildest dreams. He is also right in saying that they have no business in flying mainline routes. The seat-mile cost to the airlines of the RJ's is higher than any mainline equipment that may fly that route. Cut two RJ's and put one 737 on the route; you have the same number of seats and the airline saves money, but the passengers lose out on some freedom of choice in trip planning. Unfortunately the airline doesn't reduce the fares for the RJ flights, meaning that they lose money (or at least make less of it) for those departures vs. a mainline aircraft.

But where he really loses me is this: Your attention please: With scattered exceptions, there is no such thing as a weather delay. They are traffic delays. Your flight was not late because of the weather. It was late because there are too many small airplanes carrying too few people, end of story.

Yes, it is weather delays. The bad weather reduces the number of aircraft allowed into a particular chunk of airspace. If the weather wasn't there, the traffic flow would be better. It doesn't matter that more planes are flying today - the same thing happened in the 1950's and 1960's when only a handful of aircraft were going into Idyllwild (now JFK) airport. Technology has increased the number of aircraft that can land in bad weather, but the number of aircraft has also increased with it. It is not the number of aircraft, but it really is the weather.

I have not yet been appointed U.S. aviation czar. When that day comes, I will do what I can to encourage consolidation, with a goal toward cutting flights by 20 percent at the worst-performing airports. Fewer flights using larger planes might reduce the consumer's flight options, but in many markets those options are a ruse to begin with since half of them end up late or canceled.

Fewer flights using larger aircraft may work if the aircraft is appropriate for the route and remains as full as the replaced smaller aircraft were, as I mentioned above. But put too big a plane on the route, and you're faced with what the airlines discovered in the 1970's when they tried to fly the 747 on domestic US routes - it's just too damn bid and expensive to fly on short haul routes. (Yes, I know about Japan's version - different story). If an airline actually did cancel excess flights that were scheduled only as a ruse on a regular basis, its operating certificate would be ripped to shreds by the DOT faster than you can say "Ornstein". If the author were using poetic licence to add impact - fine (but I doubt it). Stick to the facts and don't embellish the true story. The long lines at the airports may irritate the author of that article, but it also means that the airlines are doing their best to entice a fickle travelling public onto their aircraft, at fares that barely make a dent in their wallets, and leave the vast majority of carriers in the red when the final numbers are tallied.

Now, if I were made U.S. aviation czar, there would be only one additional rule to what we have now: No airline would be allowed to charge a fare that is less than the cost of providing that seat to the public. That would seem to make a whole lot more sense than the useless race to the bottom we're experiencing now.

One smooth landing is skill. Two in a row is luck. Three in a row and someone is lying.
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RE: Pilot's Perspective On Recent "Weather" Delays

Sun Jul 15, 2007 1:14 pm

You're right that the author overstates in many areas thereby weakening his points. Some were sort of baseless anyway. What is true in my opinion is that the airlines overuse the 'weather delay' rationale. From my perspective, it's fine and appropriate to delay a departure or an arrival based upon delayed airspace capacity, unsafe flying conditions, etc., for the immediately impacted flight and the one that follows it using the same aircraft. It's NOT appropriate to blame the weather and thereby take no financial responsibility for inconvenienced passengers three and four segments later. Over aggressive scheduling is indeed the culprit here.
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RE: Pilot's Perspective On Recent "Weather" Delays

Sun Jul 15, 2007 5:15 pm

I answered an earlier thread on same article for what it's worth. Certainly no new ideas here.

The RJ Menace: Small Planes, Big Problems (by GateHold Jul 13 2007 in Civil Aviation)
Less sarcasm and more thought equal better understanding

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