Posts Tagged ‘Airlines’
- What happened to the FedEx MD11?
- What is the impact to Narita Airport and to Passengers?
- Some real-time passenger stories
- Our Summary of the situation
Having just arrived in Tokyo on Sunday evening, I can personally attest to how the winds were already causing a few delays on the arrival of our flight from London. As we approached Runway 34L the on-board “birds eye view” camera gave us a wonderful view of the runway as we pitched slightly from side-to-side. I often forget how tired you can be after nearly twelve hours on an airplane. I was to learn today, however, that my long trip was nothing in comparison to what some passengers were about to go through.
I was awake at 0500, as travellers often do on long trips. My wife and I got up and wandered around the early morning streets of Tokyo. While still a little dark, the wind was howling through the clean streets of the city. Having watched a bit of the local news earlier, we had heard it was going to be a beautiful day, but the Japanese Meteorological Service had issued a warning for high-winds through the Tokyo area.
Then this morning at approximately 0650 Tokyo London time, FedEx Flight 80 from Guangzhou, China was landing at Tokyo Narita. As the MD11 flared up, just before touching down, the aircraft appeared to come down onto the runway in an uncontrolled manner. Bouncing up again only to clip its wing causing the aircraft to fatally lose control and in a fiery explosion come to rest with the front of the fuselage turned upside down.
We watched in horror as the Japanese fire and rescue response was immediate and efficient, and it took the fire-fighters just under an hour to cut their way into the MD11’s cockpit area to rescue the two pilots. While initial reports from the Japanese Fire Services advised that both the pilots were alive after being extracted, they later both later died.
The impact of this tragic event is being felt at Tokyo Narita, not only by the Fire and Rescue Services, but also by the passengers. The closure of one of the runways at Japan’s busiest airport is having a serious ripple effect on travellers.
While waiting at Tokyo Station for the Airport Express train I met the Hanson family from New York. Doug and Anna Maria Hanson were booked to travel today on JAL’s flight to Honolulu. They, and their two teenage daughters, had been travelling the world for over a month visiting South America and Asia. They had just finished enjoying a one week stay in Tokyo and said “We are looking forward to the Hawaii portion of their trip.” Now as we approach Narita airport the Hanson’s are not sure if they will be going at all today.
Anna Maria said, “It is a terrible tragedy. If there is a delay, we can handle it.” They had the air of seasoned travellers. When asked what she thought of their trip so far, she said, “People we have met here in Japan, and in Asian countries in general, have been among the most polite and organised that we have encountered. I am sure that we will find a way to make it to Honolulu.”
The Departures Hall was full of queues that one might expect, and on the far side of the airport check-in area, the queue for the information desks was full of passengers and their baggage that were not heading anywhere, at least for today. In typical Japanese fashion, everything was calm, and orderly, and there were plenty of airport staff available to answer questions and direct passengers.
At Narita I met William Oliver, a British businessman who came to Tokyo last week for meetings and stayed over the weekend to do some sight-seeing. Learning that his flight home JAL flight, JL401 to London was now cancelled he said, “I wish I had just gone home as originally planned; but there is nothing for it is there? Understandably, and for obvious reasons, there is just not another airplane available“ He said that his airline has been very accommodating, and helpful, “… but I am still not sure how, or when, I am returning home.”
What could be worse than not being able to get a flight out of Tokyo?
The news is actually worse for those who were already heading for Tokyo, especially for passengers who were in the air and on their way from European destinations. Generally these flights are set to arrive in the afternoon. Flights from the UK, Germany, and the Gulf Region are particularly affected. In the case of JAL’s London inbound flight, it was diverted to Nagoya airport. Some flights have been diverted as far away as Sapporo on the north island of Hokkaido, not an easy rail trip for passengers.
There were a few passengers who were luckier, and were diverted to Central Japan. I spoke to Jennifer Tolliver, a University student from Liverpool, as she was slumped over a cup of coffee in the Departures Hall. Bleary-eyed she relayed the story of how she was on her way to China to visit friends, and had chosen to fly via Tokyo to save money. “Our flight was diverted to Nagoya. I had no idea where exactly that was in Japan. Now, I have had to spend so much time and money on a train ticket that I could have just flown directly.” Her airline has managed to get her another flight later tonight, but with all of the other cancellations she voiced a concern that she would actually be able to make it. “I am just afraid I will need to spend more money for a hotel, if I can even find one.”
Emily Logan, a Australian on an extended “around the world trip” had been helped out significantly by her airline. Her next stop is San Francisco, and JAL was able to transfer her to a Cathay Pacific flight leaving tomorrow via Hong Kong. “We are not actually upset, but we are little annoyed that we are going to miss so much of our time in San Francisco.” At one point an airline representative had told her that things may not return to normal at Narita until Thursday. While we were speaking her travelling companion was on the phone checking to see if their travel insurance would cover extra expenses in this particular situation.
As I stood in the nearly empty Arrivals Hall on what should be a busy Monday night, watching the cancellations, an automated message was playing overhead. “The NAA (Narita Airport Authority) is advising that some aircraft have been diverted for operational reasons. Please contact your airline for further information, and we apologise for any inconvenience.”
Nothing to apologise for, but plenty of other emotions to express.
In my opinion, there is nothing to apologise for. I personally observed the Japanese Authorities, the airport, and the airlines handling issues and doing their best given the tragedy that they are also dealing with. While everyone I spoke to may have been inconvenienced, and it may take days for Narita to return to normal, people were still acutely aware that two pilots lost their lives today. That puts it all in perspective.
From all of us at TWC, we wish the FedEx pilots friends, family, and co-workers our sincere condolences for their loss. To the brave firefighters and rescuers who tried their best to reach the pilots in time, we stand in awe of your bravery.
The Resolution in brief
Citing the erosion of airline competition on international routes, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar of the 8th District of Minnesota has introduced a bill to study the effects airline alliances and anti-trust immunity have on consumer choice.
The bill, H.R. 831, was introduced late Tuesday session of the US Transportation Aviation Subcommittee, and was formally released today.
While the Resolution does appear to outwardly address issues around consumer protection, our analysis of the text shows a more disturbing trend toward questioning the role of the Secretary of Transportation and the Department of Justice in the review, approval, and interpretation of U.S. existing anti-trust law in a single industrial area.
Why the Resolution is not required
While we agree that the legislative and judicial branches should have a common set of laws to work from, the fact of the matter is that they already do. These laws have kept in balance the needs of consumers and the airlines and other industries, with a few notable exceptions. One of the most notable exceptions was the failure in 2002 of the American Airline (AA) and British Airways (BA) antitrust immunity. At the time, this decision was based on restrictions at London’s Heathrow Airport which have since been lifted and trans-Atlantic competition at Heathrow has flourished even in a weakening market.
The other potentially damaging issue with this new Resolution is its impact on the US-EU Open Skies agreement that paved the way to opening up London Heathrow, as well as other key trans-Atlantic markets. We would call on both the Chairman and the Committee to explain the potential impact of this resolution on the Open Skies agreement.
This resolution could hurt airline consumers and constituents alike
While we applaud the House Resolutions wish to protect consumers, we see it as simply a misguided attempt to redefine the power and scope of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and also needlessly attempt to block needed industry consolidation.
After fully examining Chairman Oberstar’s voting record and public comments, it has become clear to us that he feels that his constituents and the U.S. worker on whole needs protection from globalisation. This is not unlike the same issues that Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces here in the U.K. with regard to the recent wildcat strikes protesting the use of “overseas’ labour- even when that labour is simply part of the EU’s “Freedom of Movement” guarantee that we are all able to avail ourselves of.
What should we be focused on?
At TWC we feel that the US and EU government’s top priority should be an open trans-Atlantic aviation area that would allow the reciprocal removal of limits on the ownership of airlines by EU and U.S. investors and also give European carriers rights to fly passengers and cargo between U.S. destinations, known as the right of cabotage. We also feel that the US and EU must work out formal agreements on these key issues before extending the agreements to other third-party nations.
We should also keep in mind that consolidation is essentially better than a single airlines failure, and all of the local and national economic consequences of such a failure. Surely, it is in all of our interest to allow airlines to consolidate in a manner that allows them to remain strong, viable, and competitive employers.