When consumers turned to Amazon to buy more goods during the pandemic, Amazon turned to aircraft storage facilities in the desert to buy more cargo planes.
The rise of pandemic online shopping and e-commerce caused a cargo industry boom in the past year. While passenger airlines found themselves with too many airplanes, cargo airlines had too little and went shopping for planes being stored in the American Southwest.
“80% of all the stored aircraft worldwide are stored basically in the Southwest,” Scott Butler, chief commercial officer for Marana, Arizona-based Ascent Aviation Services, told Insider. Ascent is responsible for storing most of the aircraft at Pinal Air Park in Marana on behalf of airlines and aircraft leasing companies.
They’ve also been veritable shopping malls for cargo carriers and startup airlines looking to purchase planes on the cheap.
Between 40 and 50 aircraft left Marana bound for cargo airlines since the start of the pandemic, with Boeing’s 737-800 and 767-300ER being the most popular. Aircraft sales didn’t occur straightaway after March as airlines contemplated whether to hold on to the planes until aircraft values recovered from the nosedive they took in the pandemic’s early days.
“[Airlines] didn’t want to sell an aircraft that had multiple years of use left,” Butler said, “but as pandemic dragged on, the need to convert assets into cash became necessary.”
Once purchased, the former passenger jets still need to be converted into freighters, a process that’s only performed in a handful of facilities around the world. And there is a backlog of aircraft waiting to be converted.
Conversions take between 90 and 120 days, depending on the aircraft, and can cost between $13 and $14 million for a Boeing 767-300ER, almost the cost of a second-hand 767 itself. There is a wait, though, and Israel Aerospace Industries’ Yossi Melamed told Insider in February that the firm is booked through 2022.
Some cargo carriers that had planes stored in Marana were quick to get them flying again. Atlas Air was one that reactivated four Boeing 747-400F cargo planes to handle the increase in demand, Air Cargo News reported.
“We had three 747-400s on-site for National Airlines for an extended period of time and when cargo picked up last year, they put them back into service,” Butler said, adding that it wasn’t a cheap endeavor to restore the planes to flying service but the airline likely saw more value in having the planes flying than sitting on the ground.
The modern-day gold rush in the Arizona desert, however, has largely dried up as Marana’s best aircraft have been bought off. But that doesn’t stop airlines from trying.
“I get calls, still, from people looking for cargo aircraft in the desert and they just don’t exist right now,” Butler said. “Anything that has storage capacity, has some good engines on it, and has some time on it left, [cargo operators] are utilizing the aircraft far more than passenger operators were.”
A Boeing 737-200 cargo plane with just two pilots on board made an emergency landing in the ocean off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii early Friday morning, officials said.
Transair Flight 810 – operated by Rhoades Aviation, Inc – was forced to land in the water at around 2:30 a.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed in a statement to Insider, after having trouble with both of its engines.
The emergency landing took place two miles from Kalaeloa Airport.
“The pilots had reported engine trouble and were attempting to return to Honolulu when they were forced to land the aircraft in the water,” the FAA said.
Both pilots have been rescued by the US Coast Guard.
“The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate,” the agency added.
Air traffic control had cleared the Boeing 737-200, operating as”Rhodes Express 810,” for takeoff from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Runway 8R minutes before the incident occurred. Flightradar 24 data then shows the aircraft making an immediate right turn from the runway, climbing to an altitude of 2,000 feet.
Confusion ensued as air traffic control appeared to miss multiple calls from the aircraft attempting to declare an emergency after experiencing engine issues, according to air traffic control recordings reviewed by Insider.
“Rhodes 810, radio check, how do you read?” pilots asked Honolulu Tower after not hearing a response to their emergency call. Air traffic control had also been communicating and servicing other aircraft throughout the emergency, the recordings show.
Another Rhodes Aviation aircraft sharing a similar callsign was on approach to land, further complicating the airwaves. Pilots didn’t immediately return to the airport and kept flying away from Honolulu, stating that they needed to “run a checklist” and would stay around 15 miles from the airport.
“When you get a chance, can I get a nature of the emergency, I know you said an engine out, – which one? – how many souls on board and fuel?” air traffic control asked the aircraft as part of standard protocol.
But by the time the aircraft requested to head back to Honolulu airport, they had lost sight of the airport and needed air traffic control to provide vectors. Pilots anticipated losing both engines after the operating engine showed signs of overheating, which would’ve decimated the aircraft’s ability to maintain viable altitude and speed to land safely at Honolulu or any airport if too far from shore.
“Proceed direct to the airport and you are cleared to land any runway,” air traffic advised.
“Will you let the Coast Guard know, we can’t maintain altitude,” one pilot told air traffic control.
“Rhodes Express 810, the Coast Guard is on their way,” air traffic control said and then suggested a diversion to nearby Kalaeloa Airport, only three miles away. Pilots turned the aircraft in a likely attempted to land at Kalaeloa Airport but couldn’t maintain altitude and was forced to land in the water.
The entire flight, from takeoff to the emergency water landing, lasted less than 15 minutes.
The Boeing 737-200 involved was 46 years old and had started its life flying for Pacific Western Airlines in Canada, according to Planespotters.net. After numerous stints in Canada and Malaysia, it found its way to Hawaii flying for Transair in July 2014.
And with the airline preparing for an expansion to the East Coast by year’s end, more Americans will soon become acquainted with Avelo.
The carrier’s ultra-low-cost business model puts it on par with Allegiant Air, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines more so than Southwest Airlines or JetBlue Airways. But the airline, headed by Allegiant Air cofounder Andrew Levy, is taking a very different approach.
“Avelo’s purpose is to inspire travel and today we begin that process of making it easy, and convenient, and affordable with everyday low fares, for customers to be able to choose us,” Levy said ahead of the airline’s launch.
Here’s what you need to know when booking a ticket on Avelo.
The airline won’t be found at larger airports
Convenience is at the heart of Avelo’s strategy, and that includes using smaller airports like Hollywood Burbank Airport in California, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona, or Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport in Connecticut. These airports are usually easier to get to, have cheaper parking rates, and fewer delays because there are fewer flights.
“We’re going to offer people a terrific deal and hopefully a really easy experience, very convenient, and a nice experience in terms of dealing with great people,” Levy told Insider.
They offer a more bare-bones experience compared to airports like Los Angeles International or John F. Kennedy International. That can be good or bad, depending on traveler preferences.
All three of the aforementioned airports feature single-story terminal buildings with very basic amenities. Passengers board and deplane from aircraft outdoors using ramps from the tarmac.
But smaller airports are often more convenient to access and move through.
Checking a bag is cheaper than carrying one on
Baggage fees are a top money-maker for airlines, especially ultra-low-cost carriers like Avelo. And while the airline charges for anything larger than a personal item, the fees are surprisingly low.
The fee for the first checked bag, for example, is only $10, while a carry-on bag will incur a standard rate of $35.
Levy says that lowering prices on checked bags will encourage more flyers to do so and free up space in the cabin. The result should be faster boarding and deplaning of the aircraft.
There are also fewer chances for bags to be lost since Avelo only offers direct flights with no connections.
Don’t expect to pay too many fees
Avelo is taking a different approach from its ultra-low-cost competitors by shunning most fees, including those to change a flight reservation. Most full-service US carriers have eliminated change fees, but they live on with the country’s ultra-low-cost carriers – except Avelo.
Customers will not have to pay a fee to change a flight. They’ll only have to pay the fare difference.
“As far as change fees are concerned, I think that’s one of the biggest pain points in the airline industry,” Levy said. “It’s been that way for years. Airlines for years have used that as a money grab, and it has no relationship to what it truly costs to manage a change.”
Another fee that Avelo is shunning is the call center fee. Customers that call to make a new reservation or make a change won’t be penalized for doing so.
“I want you to be treated kindly, and I want us to be able to make a difference and differentiate ourselves by providing a great experience engaging with customers on the phone,” Levy said.
To pay for a seat or not to pay for a seat
I never pay extra for seat assignments when I flew on ultra-low-cost carriers, and I’ve almost always been assigned an aisle or window seat as a result. Case in point: I didn’t pay for a seat on my Avelo flight as was assigned 14F, a window seat towards the front of the plane.
The difference on Avelo, however, is that aisle and window seats start at $5, so the investment is minimal.
Flyers can take a risk by not selecting a seat and may be assigned a good seat. But the option for a $5 window or aisle seat is a good way for flyers to avoid a middle seat without breaking the bank.
The cheapest seats are $4 but since those are for middle seats in the back of the plane. Those are already the worst possible seats on the plane and flyers are better off spending the extra dollar, or taking a risk by not paying for a seat at all.
Snacks and drinks are free
Avelo doesn’t currently offer a full in-flight snack and drinks service due to the pandemic, but the airline does distribute what it calls “convenience packages.” Inside the sealed package is a water bottle, a package of shortbread cookies, and a Purell wipe.
It’s not much, but Avelo’s flights are typically less than two hours in duration, and outside food can be brought on the plane if it clears TSA screening.
Not all seats are the same, but they do recline
Seats onboard Avelo’s Boeing 737s vary based on legroom, as is the case on all ultra-low-cost carriers. The cheapest and seats offer 29 inches of legroom while more expensive seats between 31 and 38 inches of legroom.
The price for each seat depends on how much legroom the section it’s in offers. The first row of the cabin offers nearly unlimited legroom and the next comparable seats are the exit rows.
Seats also recline, which is rare for an ultra-low-cost carrier that offers minimal legroom in some sections. Another unique perk is that seats come with a proper tray table, unlike Spirit and Frontier, with ample room to hold drinks and food.
There’s no first-class cabin.
There’s no TSA PreCheck, yet
Avelo is not on the Transportation Security Administration’s list of participating airlines for the PreCheck program, meaning all passengers will have to endure traditional security checks. The good news is that Avelo primarily serves smaller airports where lines for security checkpoints are often shorter.
But even then, travelers will still have to take off their shoes and remove laptops from their bags.
Moving into New Haven required a $100 million modernization plan, of which $1.2 million is being funded by Avelo, to extend the airport’s runway and enhance its terminal building. The first flights will depart by year’s end.
The West Coast of the US stretches more than 1,000 miles with no shortage of major cities from San Diego to Seattle.
All the major US airlines serve this important region of the country but two are battling for dominance, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
Alaska is based in Seattle, although its name suggests otherwise, and is a mid-tier US airline with the bulk of its operations on the West Coast.
Southwest, on the other hand, is the country’s largest low-cost carrier with a nationwide presence. And while the West Coast is an important region for the airline, it’s just one of many Southwest serves.
Both carriers have sought to grow market share on the West Coast during the pandemic. Southwest added Santa Barbara and Fresno to its California route network while Alaska has added routes from existing cities.
I flew on both airlines this year to see which one was truly the airline of the West Coast. Here’s what I found.
West Coast connectivity: Alaska serves 29 cities up and down the coast, including smaller cities like Everett, Washington; Santa Rosa, California; and Medford, Oregon.
Southwest serves 15 West Coast cities and plans to serve two more this summer. Bellingham, Washington flights will also open sometime this year.
Winner: Alaska Airlines. The airline’s connectivity between West Coast cities large and small cannot be beaten by Southwest’s existing network.
What comes with the ticket: Every Southwest ticket includes free seat selection anywhere on the plane after boarding, two checked bags, a carry-on bag, and all the onboard amenities.
Southwest has open seating so any open seat is available for passengers.
Alaska does allow free seat selection for economy but charges extra for seats close to the front and exit row seats.
Alaska, like many full-service carriers, has also embraced restrictive basic economy fares that replaced its cheapest fares. The product is generous with and limited advanced seat assignments and a free carry-on bag but flyers will have to pay more for better seats and checked bags.
Southwest doesn’t have change or cancel fees for any ticket.
Alaska has eliminated change fees but not for basic economy fares, known as “saver” fares.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. The flexibility and free extras offered by Southwest put it well and above Alaska. It’s worth noting, however, that even Alaska’s basic economy fares are more generous than many of its competitors.
Boarding: Alaska boards its aircraft in groups that are assigned based on seat location and fare class. First class boards first, followed by elite status holders, those sitting in “premium class.” Economy then boards back to front, for the most part, and basic economy flyers board dead last.
On Southwest, however, passengers are given a boarding number and group that’s determined by how early they check-in for the flight. Once on the plane, they can select any open seat.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. Alaska’s boarding process relegates basic economy passengers to the very last section while even the passenger with the cheapest ticket on Southwest has the opportunity to board earlier if they check-in at exactly 24 hours prior to departure.
Onboard amenities: Both airlines are in the process of modernizing their fleets but older aircraft remain. On Southwest, for example, I flew on the 737-700 fleet on my most recent trip and it was the furthest from modern.
But its updated aircraft have a great, modern look, as I found on flights from New York to Orlando in 2020.
Before the pandemic, however, Alaska sold meals and snack boxes while Southwest just stuck to drinks and small snacks.
Winner: Alaska Airlines.
West Coast feel: Alaska has its roots in the West Coast and that shows in its branding. The colors are vibrant, there is a focus on West Coast brands in the in-flight service, and the airline is based in Seattle.
Southwest has a generic appeal as it connects the US through bases across the country with no specific ties to the West Coast. There’s no West Coast feel.
Winner: Alaska Airlines: There’s an undeniable feeling when flying on Alaska that it’s more in tune with the West Coast vibe than Southwest.
National connectivity: Alaska is highly concentrated on the West Coast while Southwest has bases across the US.
Southwest doesn’t have the sprawling West Coast network that Alaska does but it does offer connections between most of the region’s major cities and connections to the rest of the country through its mid-continent bases in places like Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and Dallas.
Alaska only has hubs in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, requiring a stop in one of those cities before heading east. The airline does partner with airlines like American to offer mixed-airline itineraries but that could be difficult if the airlines are in two different terminals.
Winner: Southwest Airlines. Having more mid-continent bases allows for more convenient journeys with lower travel times for customers.
Business traveler amenities: Corporate travelers have different priorities than most leisure travelers and will often spend more for seats in premium cabins and access lounges.
Alaska has premium lounges in six airports, and partners with American and Qantas on lounge access for members. Southwest does not have any lounges.
Alaska’s jet aircraft also have first class cabins, the domain of the business traveling road warrior, while Southwest does not.
A special section of economy is also available on Alaska. Called “premium class,” seats in the section offer additional legroom and come with complimentary alcoholic beverages.
Alaska is also a member of the Oneworld airline alliance and Alaska’s elite status holders can use their benefits on other airlines like American and British Airways, and vice versa. Southwest is not a part of any airline alliance.
Southwest does have a special fare for business travelers, called “Business Select,” that includes extras like priority boarding and free alcoholic drinks (suspended during the pandemic).
And Southwest does have better connectivity outside of the West Coast. A business traveler in St. Louis looking to fly to New York couldn’t even choose Alaska if they wanted to.
Winner: Alaska Airlines. Business travelers have more premium amenities at their disposal on Alaska, if the choice is between Alaska and Southwest.
Airline of the West Coast: Alaska Airlines. Both airlines are incredibly similar but Alaska has more West Coast-oriented amenities to help it pull ahead of Southwest.
It’s lights, cameras, action for America’s newest airline that’s planning its Hollywood debut later this month.
Avelo Airlines plans to launch flights on April 28 from Hollywood Burbank Airport near Los Angeles, giving travelers yet another option when planning pandemic getaways. The new ultra-low-cost airline is focused on cheap leisure flights and will fly to popular destinations in the American West from before expanding across the country.
“Avelo is a different and better kind of airline, built from scratch to offer an affordable, convenient and caring travel experience,” chief executive Andrew Levy said in a press release.
The initial slate of 11 routes from Burbank include flights to:
Santa Rosa, California from April 28;
Pasco, Washington from April 29;
Bozeman, Montana from April 30;
Phoenix, Arizona from May 3;
Ogden, Utah from May 4;
Colorado from May 9; Medford,
Oregon from May 9;
Eugene, Oregon from May 12;
Bend, Oregon from May 13;
Eureka, California from May 19; and
Redding, California from May 20.
Burbank, just north of downtown Los Angeles, offers a convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport that the company hopes will help spur bookings and encourage flyers to travel.
“A big part of our business model is not just offering every day, great fares,” Levy told Insider. “We’re a low-cost carrier. We’re built to offer low fares, but at the same time we’re going to offer a great level of convenience by utilizing Burbank, which we think is probably the best secondary airport in the country.”
An airport stuck in time, the one-story terminal building at Burbank resembles a scene from the 1950s. Passengers are required to board aircraft directly from the tarmac since there are no jetways. .
The Boeing 737-800, a tried and true narrow-body aircraft that can seat 189 people in the airline’s all-economy configuration, will be Avelo’s flagship aircraft. The plane is a staple of other well-known low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and Ryanair thanks to its low operating costs and high availability on the market.
In true ultra-low-cost fashion, flyers won’t find seat-back entertainment screens – though WiFi may be coming within the next year. Avelo says it’s working with potential suppliers for the service.
In-flight snacks and drinks service won’t be offered in the airline’s initial run, either, due to the pandemic. Customers will instead receive a “convenience package” with hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, and a small snack.
The bulk of the aircraft’s seating are “slimline” seats, the term for thinner seats on airplanes, with only 29 inches of pitch across the 129 seats. The remaining 60 seats, however, will range in pitch from 31 to 38 inches, and reserving one will cost at least $18.
Fares as low as $19 are being offered on all of the airline’s initial routes from April into mid-June for some destinations, except for flights around Memorial Day Weekend. They’re just introductory fares but low ticket prices are part of Avelo’s overall strategy to stimulate demand in underserved markets and become a go-to for cheap flights.
“Quite honestly, I’d love to be able to do, over many years, what Southwest has done,” Levy said. “Where when people hear ‘Avelo,’ they just associate us with low fares.”
Offering low fares, however, means that Avelo will have to fill its planes as close to the brim as possible in order to turn a profit. “We’re looking to sell the flights very full, we’re defining full as 80-85%,” Levy said.
And unlike competitors, Avelo doesn’t have a robust system of extra fees to fall back on. Advanced seat assignments start at $5 and checking a bag will only cost $10, with the latter meant to open more space in the cabin during boarding and deplaning. There’s also no fee to make a flight change or make a reservation over the phone.
These extra charges, known as ancillary fees, have become the backbone of ultra-low-cost airlines’ strategy as they don’t incur taxes.
Keeping calm during a crippling pandemic for airlines
“I think probably during the pandemic, maybe the hardest thing was just to keep everybody calm and to recognize that there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from the end of the business cycle,” Levy said.
The industry veteran was actually optimistic instead of pessimistic when the pandemic hit the US in March 2020. Leveling the playing field for airlines made it easier for a new entrant to compete with established players.
“I think all of our investors realize that this will have been a pretty strong opportunity for us to get into markets we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get into, take advantage of materially lower costs for things like airplanes, office leases, IT contracts, parts agreements, etc.,” Levy said.
Avelo currently has three planes and more than 200 crew members but plans to have six Boeing 737s and 400 crew members by the end of the year.
Myrtle Beach will be the first city to see new flights, with CEO Gary Kelly saying in a statement that the destination aims to serve summer travelers and golfers, in particular. Golf bags count as one of the two complimentary bags that Southwest flyers can check, with the airline coining “golf bags fly free” as a play on one of its classic slogans, “bags fly free.”
The coastal Carolinian city adds to Southwest’s existing chain of destinations on the southeast Atlantic shoreline. Savannah, Georgia and Miami were was added to Southwest’s network in 2020 and the Myrtle Beach addition gives the carrier coverage at nearly every major airport on the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to south Florida.
Bellingham, closer to Vancouver, Canada than Seattle, will then see flight in the second half of 2021 as it serves a cross-border market. Canadians frequently drive across the US border to catch flights to save on the taxes levied on international flights by the US and Canadian governments.
“Following the reopening of the Canadian border, we expect a return of the value-minded travelers who already drive to this alternative airport to escape high fares and taxes-and that’s very, very typical for Southwest destinations,” Kelly said.
The US-Canada border is currently closed for non-essential travel, a pandemic-era policy nearing its one-year anniversary, but it may be reopened by the time Southwest starts service. US and Canadian officials renew the policy on a monthly basis and the accelerated vaccine rollout in the US may encourage reopening talks.
Southwest joins the likes of Washington state’s hometown airline Alaska Airlines and ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air in serving Bellingham.
Eugene will only be Southwest’s second destination in the Beaver State behind Portland, surrounded by national forests and within driving distance from Oregon’s Pacific coast and Crater Lake National Park. Southwest won’t be alone in the city as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska, and Allegiant serve Eugene from cities around the US.
Flights to Eugene are also slated for the second half of 2021.
Routes have not yet been announced to any of the new cities but Southwest will likely offer service to nearby bases that offer connections across the country. For Bellingham and Eugene, that likely means flights to Denver, Dallas, Las Vegas, or Phoenix while Myrtle Beach might see service to Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, or Nashville, Tennessee.
A routine 90-minute flight in Afghanistan just made history.
The country’s only private airline, Kam Air, is celebrating its first flight with an all-female crew, which it says is the first in the South Asian country’s history.
Kam Air’s first female Afghan pilot, 22-year-old Mohadese Mirzaee, joined Captain Veronica Borysova in piloting the Boeing 737 from the capital city of Kabul to Herat in western Afghanistan on Wednesday. And while they were at work in the cockpit, four female cabin crew serviced passengers for the routine 350-nautical mile flight while it journeyed across the country.
Josh Cahill, a leading airline reviewer and travel YouTuber, was invited onboard the flight to document the endeavor during a recent trip to the Middle East and South Asia. Aside from the flight’s historic nature, Cahill said the flight was as smooth running as any that he’s in his extensive global journeys, telling Insider that the flight crew consisted of “highly trained pilots.”
“The crew has been very professional, just as you would expect from any other airline around the world,” Cahill told Insider. “I have joined a few crews at the flight deck around the globe and I couldn’t notice any difference.”
The historic flight was kept largely under wraps, besides inviting Cahill, as is the norm in the country. Airlines typically do not miss the opportunity to spread the word about their accomplishments but Afghanistan’s heightened security discourages high-profile events.
“For security and safety purposes, gatherings or celebrations aren’t very common in Afghanistan,” Cahill said.
South Asian and Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran are a constant source of fascination for aviation enthusiasts like Cahill as their airlines boast some of the most unique and oldest aircraft still flying.
The 23-year-old Boeing 737-500 performing the flight was originally delivered to Continental Airlines in 1998, according to Planespotters.net, and delivered to Kam Air in April. It isn’t the oldest aircraft in Afghanistan but the type has long been retired by US airlines.
“I have been frequently visiting Afghanistan for the past 6 years and it is nice to see how Kam Air is developing given the difficult circumstances,” Cahill said. The airline had recently lost nine staff members in a 2018 Taliban attack at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.
Kam Air is currently banned from European Union airspace but plans to start flights to Frankfurt, Germany soon, citing its certification under the International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit as a step towards being taken off of the Union’s blacklist.
Cahill frequently travels the globe as part of his job to review the latest airline products but doesn’t encounter female pilots all that often, let alone all-female flight crews, something he hopes will change as the industry progresses.
“Unfortunately, it is still rather rare to see female pilots around the world, especially in male-dominated societies such as the Middle East, but I really hope that my documentary on Kam Air will change this and inspire more women to join our industry,” Cahill said, having flown on the world’s best and worst airlines during his travels in the furthest reaches of the world from America to Afghanistan.
Cahill’s documentary on the flight will air on International Women’s Day on March 8.
On Tuesday, American Airlines became the first US airline to fly the Boeing 737 Max on route from Miami to New York, launching a new saga for the storied aircraft.
The 737 Max was once Boeing’s bestselling commercial aircraft of all time, peaking at over 5,000 orders and a runaway success for its 79 operators, according to data provided by Cirium. The Max made nearly 250,000 flights worldwide since it began flying passengers in May 2017. Then, the Max was grounded by the FAA in March 2019 following two ill-fated flights that crashed within five months of each other and took 346 lives. The aircraft hasn’t flown passengers in the US since, until Tuesday.
After months of strenuous work to fix the quality control, cultural, and design flaws, Boeing has now readied the Max for passenger flights. American Airlines and other operators have also been working at warp speed to safely return the Max to flying. According to a statement from American Airlines, their tech operations team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has put more than 64,000 hours of work into maintaining and upgrading the Max fleet over the past 20 months.
For years, I flew the Boeing 737 Max twice a month on one of American Airlines’ most profitable and well-traveled milk runs between Miami and New York. Flying doesn’t get much more routine than this route, and it became pedestrian for me as it did for many others.
Tuesday’s flight was the first step in rebuilding the trust that Boeing and the Max once commanded among its airline customers and the traveling public. (AA conducted a demo flight December 3.)
Here’s what it was like to be a passenger onboard the first Boeing 737 Max passenger flight.
American worked closely with Boeing on recertification and rewriting of new training protocols, with 1,400 of the company’s pilots undergoing required simulator training before flying the Max.
Source: American Airlines President Robert Isom.
As of the end of this year, American will have reactivated all 24 of its delivered Max airplanes and taken delivery of 10 more, according to American President Robert Isom, who was also onboard the flight.
Though Gol Linhas Aereas of Brazil and Aeromexico were first to return the Max to service, American became the first US carrier to bring the aircraft back with flight 718 from Miami to New York.
American safely operated 18,962 Max flights from its launch in November 2017, but is restarting Max service with just one daily round trip per day – a far cry from the over 2,500 flights the Max operated for AA in its last month before the grounding.
American safely flew more than 2.5 million passengers over 46,400 operating hours on more than 18,000 flights before the grounding.
American President Robert Isom said he’s “confident” the Max is “ready to go.” He and other AA employees and executives have been flying “flights to nowhere” designed to build confidence in the Max.
For all operators, the key is winning confidence, and customers haven’t shunned the Max as expected. “We haven’t seen any evidence that people are booking away from the Max,” Isom said.
The airline is being very transparent when passengers are booking and flying on the Max. Currently, they’re offering free rebooking or cancellations for AA travel credits, at no cost if passengers are uncomfortable flying on the Max.
American also pledges to alert passengers via text and app notification should there be an equipment swap for a Max.
When we were boarding, the gate agent announced we were flying the 737 Max aircraft.
No passengers I spoke to were uncomfortable flying the Max: “I trust the plane. It will be much better now that it’s been revised,” said Vilma Maldonado, who was traveling to see her daughter.
My seatmate, Eduardo Fernandes, flies every week. “It’s been tested and looked at now more than any other plane in history, so I feel completely safe,” he said.
As to be expected, others I spoke to had no idea what aircraft they were flying, nor did they care. “As long as it gets me there safely,” one passenger said.
The boarding was routine, with only 96 passengers made up of press, bloggers, airline employees, and regular passengers. Other than the presence of the airline’s president on the flight and news crews, nothing was unusual.
The light load had more to do with flying in a pandemic to a cold, quarantined New York than it did with the aircraft. The return leg back to sunny Miami is oversold.
Once onboard, the Max felt like any normal flight, as normal as flying can be during a pandemic.
Our Captain Sean Roskey, a 29-year veteran, thanked his American and Boeing colleagues for their hard work in bringing the Max back to service, adding, “I feel so confident about the plane that I bought my mother along for the trip.”
Adding to the family affair, First Officer Moraima Maldonado had her mom aboard, too. The cabin erupted into applause with these sentimental announcements.
As we pushed back six minutes early, the ground crew stopped, took selfies, and waved us off. We taxied quickly to the runway. I could sense no real anticipation or celebration that normally accompanies special flights.
The Boeing 737 Max’s quiet GE Leap engine take-off noise was interrupted by a short, “golf clap”-style burst of applause.
Boeing and its Max operators hope no news is good news. In other words, Boeing’s longtime affectionate slogan became, “If it’s Boring, I’m Going.”
The flight itself was very smooth and uneventful, with only minor bumps into a gusty LaGuardia on the descent.
All stakeholders can hope is the Max’s re-entry into service mirrors this first flight, especially as the relaunch kicks into high gear in the new year.
Brett Snyder of the Cranky Flier says all eyes will remain on the Max. “The media will make front page news of even the smallest incident like a medical diversion and plaster the headlines about it being a Max … but as the airplane quietly performs well flight after flight, the concerns will melt away and people will forget about this,” he said. “It just takes time.”
“We’re not going to build trust just sitting on the ground,” said David Seymour, AA chief operations officer.