Aviation Update July 2014

Don’t read this if you’re looking for good news for airline passengers. A friend of the blog compiled the following links which show that no matter how bad it gets, there’s always room for worse.

1.  You’ve noticed the carriers imposing more and more fees along with the regular airline fares? Try 1200% in the past seven years, like from $2.4 B in fees in 2007 to $31.5 B in 2013.  More carriers are counted in the later figures but the fees are all coming from the same source: you. 60% of these fees are from the sale of frequent flyer points, 25% for baggage fees, the rest from such services as early boarding and extra-leg-room seating fees. Here, courtesy of Yahoo Finance is a full accounting.

2. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that TSA is also raising its fees. The current fee is $2.50 for non stop and $5 for a connecting flight. The new rate is $5.60 per flight with any connecting longer than four hours counting as a separate flight. That may not sound like much but it adds up, especially when you miss your connection due to delays  leaving  ACV and end up with a ten-hour layover at O’Hare. Here is an account from USA Today.

3. The impact of the war in Ukraine and its spinoffs will be enormous and it is probably too early to assess. The route changes resulting from the war are coming at a time when fuel prices are at an all-time high. When the carriers are squeezed, guess who they’ll pass the increase onto?  The Hindu Business Line newsletter carried an analysis but the link is no longer available. Time moves quickly in the Middle East. 

LOCAL UPDATE: The  Airport Advisory committee did not have its meeting as scheduled yesterday for lack of a quorum but Emily Jacobs reported that there was “some” interest in serving ACV demonstrated by other carriers at the confab in Edmonton. Someone reported that Santa Rosa is improving its runways in anticipation of DIRECT FLIGHTS TO HAWAII.  Wouldn’t  that be great? Yes, it would.  

IT COULD HAPPEN HERE! Modesto loses passenger air service.

Today is the last day SkyWest Air will serve Modesto City-County Airport, leaving Modesto without regular air service for the first time in at least 20 years. Modesto, with a population of 203,000, has twice the potential ridership of Humboldt and Del Norte counties combined. The Modesto Bee has a brief writeup, also carried in the LA Times..

The airlines have been complaining about supposedly onerous regulations which are driving up their personnel costs. These new rules, in effect since January, require pilots to be allowed ten hours of rest between shifts, up from eight. From a passenger’s point of view, a rested and alert pilot is invaluable. To the FAA and to the carriers, it’s just an added expense in a time when the emphasis is on packing the planes as full as possible.

The FAA in particular has been a monstrous employer for years.  The PATCO strike was largely brought about by the FAA’s inhumane scheduling of the air traffic controllers in a bizarre six hours on, six hours off schedule which afforded no one enough rest. At LAX the ATC’s rented apartments as crash pads since they didn’t have enough time to get home to the Valley for a real rest. Reagan of course destroyed PATCO. I don’t recall the name of he successor union but it sounds as if improvement has been slow to come.

This leaves ACV competing with  Redding, Modesto and God knows who else for air routes which will have to be secured by pledges of customer revenue. Sound familiar?

CORRECTION: In the earlier post on the Airport Advisory Committee I erroneously stated that the trip to Edmonton in which Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs will be pitching for additional service to ACV was happening on June 3. They’re leaving on June 23rd instead and they have their work cut out for them. The Fly Humboldt Facebook page has further info on the Edmonton meeting. Let’s hope for the best but Modesto losing ALL air service? That’s scary for people who intend to continue to conduct business by commercial airline flights.

“Fighting Intensifies Following Election”

My heart sank when I read this. It CAN’T get any worse, can it?  Then I realized I was reading about Ukraine. Here, to give you something to think about besides the elections are accounts of two meetings in the last 48 hours, the County Airport Advisory Committee and the Humboldt Harbor Working Group.  On the  latter website, look up at the banner and click on “Community Forums” to see what’s coming up.

The Airport group meets on the 4th Tuesday of each month, currently at the Prosperity Center, 520 E Street. Eureka. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description because they have a very competent secretary, Mr. Fenton,  who provides minutes of the meetings, so here’s just a few of the juicier items that came up.

-The Quest For Another Carrier.  A small delegation from ACV ( Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs, according to the Fly Humboldt Facebook page) staff will travel to Edmonton for a meeting on June 3 with THREE major airlines. These meetings were described as something like Shark Tank with numbers and load factors being bandied about. Apparently we were the only small airport to get meetings with THREE possibles, so that’s good work. This is against a backdrop of United cutting service to Vegas and cutting a Portland route which also serviced Eugene. Not specifically addressed at the meeting but clearly on everyone’s mind was trend by UAL and other majors to dump their low-volume routes in favor of jumbo jets (the “Dreamliner”) carrying big crowds to big cities. We wish the ACV folks well in Edmonton.  If you’ve ever been there, you know they’re not going for fun.

-Infrastructure issues at ACV are going to be critical as the new Courthouse spurs expansion. Right now there isn’t even a safe way for pedestrians to get from the Holiday Inn to the airport without running across Airport Road with their baggage and limited visibility. HCOAG was at the meeting yesterday to present their initial plan for ground access. This will be a high priority since killing tourists  is bad for business. The remarks was made that “We have so many needs,  and not much money.”  The word “insurance” was used at least 30 times during the meeting, just another factor in a complex operation. They will be working with Moser Properties to develop safe pedestrian and bus access

-The FAA is not the easiest agency to work with.

-The proposal to rename the airport the gawdawful “California Redwood Coast -Humboldt County Airport” is alive and well and the Committee will be writing to the BOS and to Jared Huffman soon for backing. Those of us who want to stop this abomination should act quickly.  This County has already provided enough fodder for the late-nite comedians.  Maybe the FAA will save us from ourselves.

EAST-WEST CONNECT- Ryan Burns was at the sparsely-attended Harbor group meeting and provided his usual excellent reportage on LOCO so I won’t duplicate him, not that I could. Bottom line is they’re looking for $300,000 for another study and have already been turned down by CALTRANS.  This will be a long slog, but I’m a north-south advocate, so what do I know?

The Consumers’ Guide to Summer 2014- Bring Money

-To no one’s surprise, the courts have approved the merger of American and USAir, which creates the world’s largest airline. Meanwhile, United, our sole air carrier thru their sub, United Express,  was the ONLY major air carrier to lose money this past quarter. To add to UAL’s problems, two of the runways at SFO will be unavailable this summer, leading to lots and lots of delays and consumer unhappiness for the unprepared.

What to do, what to do? Driving to Redding won’t help.  They only offer three flights a day to the beleagered SFO, again thru United Express. Driving to Medford gives you access to Horizon, SkyWest, United Express and Allegeant which offer nonstops to Portland, Seattle, LAX, Denver, Salt Lake City and , seasonally to Las Vegas. Lots more choices, but a four-hour drive, which more and more people are doing from what I hear. Then there’s Sacramento, which offers many choices including direct flights to Mexico. Don’t forget your gas will cost $4.50 according to some predictions. Bargains will be hard to come by so be sure to share with us if you find any.

- According  to The Economist  China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy later this year, partly as a result of their relaxing the one-baby rule. Does this bother you?  I see it as an enormous opportunity for Americans in the baby businesses -baby clothes, cribs etc. Their disposable income is rising so fast that the cheap COSCO stuff sold at KMart won’t be good enough for them. Humboldt County has never had a garment industry to speak of but wouldn’t it be nice if someone figured out how to make baby or children’s clothes our of that nice soft hemp cloth?  Someone local?

-Greg Gehr an FOB -Friend of the Blog- shared a link to Titan TV as an alternative to whatever comes out in this week’s URGE. I was pretty impressed especially as it gives more info, like is the show new or a repeat. Definitely useful. Thanks, Greg!

-Another FOB shared this about Northern Redwood Federal Credit Union, an institution I have not dealt with but considering my recent travails with Coast Central I just might look into them. Their Visa Classic Credit Card offers a 1% cash back applied as a credit to your savings account. They’re at 1270 Giuntoli Lane in Arcata and the phone is 800-822-5903. Jenna Cardoza is their Operations Officer and you might want to check them out.

- Finally just a peek into the future. The Eureka Fair Wage initiative is felt by its backers to be a sure shot for qualifying for the ballot in November and you’ll be hearing plenty about it  before them because it is already a bone of contention between the two 4th District Supervisorial contenders, Kerrigan in favor and Bass against. This is an enormous issue for Eureka so pay attention!  There should be some lively debate and it may well affect YOUR pocketbook.

See you later. Gonna be a busy summer!

The Week in North Coast Business- A Golden Opportunity on the Waterfront; More Airport News

FISHERMAN’S TERMINAL RESTAURANT/MARKET

Ever wanted to run a restaurant?

Check this out: “The City of Eureka is soliciting proposals  from qualified restaurant/cafe’ operator(s) to establish a restaurant/cafe’ and retail seafood counter at the Fisherman’s Terminal Building located at #4 C Street and Waterfront Drive.” The announcement from the City continues, “An outdoor patio area for alfresco dining is also incorporated into the space. The restaurant/cafe’ is located at the east end of the Fisherman’s Terminal Building with unparalleled views of picturesque Humboldt Bay, and is adjacent to the newly  constructed C Street Market square, the Madaket docking facility and Ticket Booth, and Old Town”. The announcement adds, “A low-interest loan may be available to a qualified applicant.”

This is a tremendous opportunity for some entrepreneur to play a major role in our waterfront revitalization,  and a couple dozen have already expressed interest.  To receive a complete Request for Qualifications package or ask any questions, contact Judy Harrison, Economic Development Coordinator, by email at jharrison@ci.eureka.ca.gov or call (707) 268-1830.  Here’s some more info from Economic Development. Be patient if it takes them a while to get back to you; there are only four 1.5 people in the section and this is a major undertaking. DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTAL IS JANUARY 31, so get busy and be a part of Eureka’s history! And make some money, too.

AIRPORT TURBULENCE: First, the good news, for frequent flyers anyway. The TSA has opened three enrollment centers to enable frequent airline passengers to pass through security more quickly. Once enrolled in the program, flyers will be excused from removing shoes, belts and jackets and from having to remove their laptops to display to the TSA screeners. What’s the catch? Well, they have to be fingerprinted and pay an $85 fee, good for five years. Where are these enrollment centers? At Sac International, Stockton and- wait for it- EUREKA!!! According to the AP, the centers went online on the 15th and, by the way, they refer to our airport as EUREKA, not that six-word name that I can never remember.

So that’s the good news. The bad is that airport usage from 2007 thru 2012 is wildly inconsistent, with SFO increasing by  27% and Oakland and Burbank DOWN by 31%. San Jose declined by 22% while Sacramento,  which just opened its new $1B Terminal B (“B” for  “Billion” I suppose) has declined by 18%. I find this puzzling. Who wouldn’t rather fly into Oakland or San Jose than SFO, given a choice? With the recession, the choices are realigning and becoming fewer in number. See the “Fly Humboldt” Facebook page  for more info. Also,  Ms. Emily Jacobs, Administrator at ACV, has promised us an update on airline recruitment efforts in the near future.  So watch this space!

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Redding Trying for More Flights, Storage Wars Humboldt Style, and “The Country of the Year”

REDDING WANTS FLIGHTS-  Redding airport officials and civic leaders, including representatives of the mega- Bethel Church,  have met or are scheduled to meet with representatives of United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, American, Delta and Alaska Air with an eye to restoring direct service to LA perhaps as soon as this summer. Shasta County has built up a nonbinding travel bank of $1M and Modesto is hurrying to do the same. Now is the time to start pushing for schedule changes because SFO will be losing one of its runways for several months  due to repairs. Note to self: avoid SFO during that time.  Everyone wants the LAX routes.

The Bethel Church in Redding welcomes 12,000 visitors a year,  many of whom come in by air, but many more of whom come by car from Sacramento or SF. The church has basically taken over their Civic Auditorium. and is a major player in the Redding economy. Think of  all the rental cars and hotel rooms! That’s like 3 or 4 Jazz Festivals.  We’ll bring you an update soon on local efforts to to bring us more service through ACV.  Sorry, I can’t remember the six-word name they want us to call it. I figure this, too, shall pass.

 STORAGE WARS, HUMBOLDT STYLE- A couple of weeks ago I showed up at one of those storage locker sales you see listed in the Times-Standard.  I wanted to see it if in anyway resembled what you see on TV.  The sale was at the Myrtle Avenue Storage Center, the one across the street from John’s Liquors and the taco truck whose name I can never recall but which serves darn good food. A group of about 20 folks were waiting for the sale which was advertised as five units but had shrunk to two by the time of the opening bid.  The facility manager, Chris Mikkelson, went over the rules and then led the folks who were interested to a second-level unit. They trooped upstairs and came back down pretty fast. The upstairs unit went for $25.

Then we went to inspect the other unit. It was PACKED, I mean really PACKED, to the gills. Anyone who claims they  can tell what’s in one of these has got to be psychic.  All I could see was the ends of boxes.  The second unit went for $25 dollars. The bidding was not as fast or frantic as they try to make it sound ; I didn’t have any trouble following it. Also the successful bidders were given till the end of the next day to vacate the locker.  Very civilized, as I had envisioned a frantic race to truck everything out immediately.

Mr Mikkelson told me that these units are very seldom vacant and are mostly rented by people in the neighborhood, which cuts down on the number of abandoned units. Anyway, if you have a truck and want to try your luck watch for the ads. This particular facility is a Kurt Kramer property  and immaculately maintained. I don’t think they all are. When I get a chance to follow a winning bidder through the whole process, I’ll report back but I don’t think any fortunes were made the other day.  Good excuse for a taco, though.

“COUNTRY OF THE YEAR” – Well, there’s nothing like losing a contest you didnt’ even know they were having. The Economist has named as it’s “Country of the Year” a place that is dealing with some of the same issues that the Redwood Coast is. This country has legalized gay marriage and drugs -ALL drugs- in the last few months.  It’s 3M citizens don’t make the news very often and on the map it looks like a sort of tumor growing out of the top of its neighbor, Argentina. Yes, I’m talking about- wait for it-URUGUAY.  We might do well to observe the effects of legalization there, if there are any. If anyone is organizing a field trip, let me know. 

Trains, Planes and Buses??!!?

Last week,  a friend who needed to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco decided to try the Megabus.  His verdict? Unequivocal approval.

He took the overnighter which leaves LA’s Union Station at 1145pm and arrived in San Francisco (the CALTRAIN station) at 645am, no stops. The bus was new and immaculate, a double-decker carrying at least 100 passengers. There was free wi-fi and each seat had its own charging station. These buses are green-certified and Megabus is now serving Sacramento and San Jose.

Megabus,  Bolt Bus  (affiliated with Greyhound) and other intercity bus services reflect a national trend.  The Chaddick Institute at Depaul University came up with these figures comparing 2011 to 2012 :

Intercity bus:                    7.5% growth

AMTRAK, available seat miles:  3% growth, revenue passenger miles: 2.6% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, available seat miles: .4% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, revenue passenger miles: 1.4% growth

The entire study is available at their website.  Note that these figures do NOT include the “Chinatown” bus services as they do not have published schedules.

We know that the airlines are strapped, which makes them reluctant to add marginal airports such as Arcata to their service areas. Will we ever have alternates to the current United/ Greyhound monopolies? Not as long as United and Greyhound can get by with the shoddy service they currently provide. I can’t see Megabus being able to fill a double decker bus with our amount of traffic- until and unless United raises its fares to an intolerable level (which they’re pretty close to). A more likely scenario would be for Greyhound to upgrade its service.  Even if Greyhound were to upgrade its buses (by a LOT) there will always be those who, even in our eco-conscious community,  wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus.  Those attitudes will take a long time to change.

As for me, I’d rather ride a bus or other public transport that I KNOW will arrive at my destination rather than continue to play airport roulette. (“Folks, we’re going to have to land at Redding…no, San Francisco…no, Redding”.)  Even Greyhound doesn’t get fogged out.

A final note: I drove to SF to pick my friend up and was appalled at the state of 101, the potholes, unfinished road with those awful grooves, and especially the situation around Willits.  I had always opposed the Willits bypass because I didn’t think it was necessary- who can object to slowing down through a charming town?  But on Friday at 3pm it took almost an hour to get through Willits.  Then on Sunday it was back to “normal”, just the usual slowing.  I assumed the Friday crunch was due to vacationers headed for the lakes, but that was just my impression. Let’s hope the controversial and expensive bypass will improve traffic speed and safety for the entire community, not just summer vacationers.

 

The Week in Redwood Coast Business- renaming the airport, charging for the Oyster Festival, getting no love from our homies and train vs turkey

Renaming the Airport- The sorry spectacle of a town renaming its airport to attract visitors is a plot worthy of a comedy, one of those good British comedies with Peter Sellers .  The good news is that it will take the proposed name change at least a couple of years to be approved so perhaps someone or thing will come along in the meantime to save us from ourselves.  “California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport” is too long, was obviously , like a giraffe, put together by a committee trying to please everyone, and leaves unanswered the question : what about those obnoxious folks in Mendocino who think THEY have a Redwood Coast? The Mendocino -Sonoma Chamber calls  itself “The Redwood Coast Chamber”. There are so many other “Redwood Coast” businesses down there I almost decided to call my blog something else.

What if instead of perpetual confusion, the airport promoted clarity? Why not spend the money on educating folks that the Eureka-Arcata Airport is in Humboldt County, home of the Redwoods? I called the always-affable Tony Smithers of the Visitors and Convention Bureau and asked for his estimate of the number of tourists we host yearly.  He guesses he number is around 1.5 million all but one or two percent of whom arrive here by means other than air travel.  So if changing the airport’s name would double the traffic there (it wouldn’t- I’m just stretching for an example) the number of air-arriving visitors would go from 30,000 to 60,000.  Would these folks be visitors who wouldn’t come here otherwise? That seems to be the hope. Frankly I think the drive UP here is just as much of a draw as the attractions in Humboldt area,  but only time will tell.

By the way, our friends in Redding just concluded an unsuccessful campaign to attract another carrier and are heading back to the drawing board.  In a climate where airlines are squeezing the passengers for every dime and shutting down as many routes as the government will let them,  attracting more service to a marginal market like Redding or ACV will be quite a trick.  

O Oysters, Come and Walk with Us- The Oyster Festival is making a  brave and necessary change by  instituting a $10 admission charge. I was a volunteer, selling drink bracelets a couple of years ago, and it was obvious something had to change. The drink bracelets didn’t stay with the purchasers for long and the frenzy for beer would cause an onlooker to think they were at a beer festival, not an oyster festival.  I’m looking forward to this weekend, fence and all.  Kevin Hoover’s thoughtful editorial in the Eye lays it all out .

General Patton- Mike Patton,  surely the most influential musician ever to emerge from the Redwood Coast, (sorry, Sara Barielles), was featured in the Critic’s Notebook of the June 3 issue of the New Yorker, as an “indefatigable vocalist and visionary” on the occasion of the Manhattan concert introducing the fourth album by his current band, the “frenetic and experimental post-rock” Tomahawk. “General Patton” , as they dubbed him, the lead singer of Faith No More and founder of Mr. Bungle, among other bands,  is a true original but I haven’t heard of him playing up here, ever. Twenty years ago, when I was getting ready to move back here, Details magazine quoted him as saying, of Eureka,  “It’s a void. There’s absolutely nothing to do there. I mean nothing.”  I wonder if he has been back here since?  He won’t be around this summer, that’s for sure. He’s touring Europe with Tomahawk, opening for Nine Inch Nails.  The Film Commission has been trying to get the attention of Jeff Bridges (whose grandparents ran the Vance Hotel) for years but hasn’t been able to lure him up here. I believe he actually grew up in Petaluma. If the Redwood Coast is to market itself as being a cradle of creativity we need these folks. Incidentally,  After Earth is getting universally terrible reviews, which is a shame, but kudos to Cassandra Hessletine and crew for luring that production here.

Terror on the train- Finally,  as if the problems with starting up any kind of rail service to the Redwood Coast weren’t fraught with perils enough, the current issue of the RAILPAC newsletter reports that at 11am on June 1 in West Mansfield MA, a wild turkey crashed through the window of an Amtrak train, stopping service on all tracks. “The engineer was covered with  glass…and the engine compartment was full of the remains of the turkey, making it unusable”. You can’t make this stuff up.  Thank God no one took pictures. 

Stay hungry. Stay creative. Now, more than ever? 

Shouldn’t I get a discount if the plane is late??

The saga of the quest for reliable air service for the Redwood Coast continues. Our local warriors have gathered enough gelt and promises of same to go a’wooin’ another air carrier to provide service to our ill-located airstrip. (Okay, there’s a terminal, so I guess that makes it a real airport.) But I want to disclose something which was news to me: it IS possible, although not consistently, to get on-time stats for flights to and from ACV.

Try this for fun.  Go to the  United Airlines site and make a pretend reservation from ACV to SFO, specifying a date but leaving the time open. You will be presented with a list of options for flights, and in the right-hand column, just beneath the notice that, no, they’re not going to feed you, click on the tiny blue writing that says “See on-time performance”.  You MAY get a popup that says “There is no recent record of delay and cancellation percentages for this flight.”  This is hogwash.  If you wait a day or two, you get a  different result.  For the 5:48 pm flight, 5541, I just got a table that shows 37% on time, 37% late and 0 cancelled. Since 37+37=74, this leaves a quarter of the flights unaccounted for. Did they vanish into a Redwood Coast version of the Bermuda Triangle? More likely, it’s just the way they’re counting. The fine print explains that UAL doesn’t count a flight as late unless it’s MORE THAN 30 MINUTES LATE.  The best on-time stats are – of course- for the 6am flight to Sacramento ,  where they don’t have our fog problems.

We, of course, have the fog, and turning a training facility for bad weather flying into an airport that people and businesses depend on must have seemed like a good idea at the time. So here we are, 70 years later, trying to make do with an airport that is too fogbound for reliable operations, no railroad and poor bus transportation. Is it any wonder I keep calling for a shuttle to SFO or at least Santa Rosa from which some entrepreneur will make lots of money? It’s already started. Look at Craig’s list under “Rideshare” and check out the number of gypsy operations already going.  

Or, we could move the airport to Willow Creek and ride a shuttle for an hour. At least we wouldn’t have to worry about what to call the airport.

Welcome to Bigfoot International.

The Case Against Flying

Everyone has their own horror stories of flying, or trying to fly, into or out of the Eureka-Arcata airport.  I was pleased to hear, during a recent meeting of business leaders in Arcata, that at least one local company has adopted the same policy I have: no flying out of Arcata if a connection has to be made. The odds just aren’t with you. Actually, I’ve taken it a bit further- no flying out of Arcata at all. It just doesn’t make sense.

Do the math. Let’s say you need to get to San Francisco. By the time you use an hour of limo time to get to ACV, then an hour, at least, before takeoff, then an hour and a half for the actual flight time, then another hour to retrieve baggage and/or pick up a rental car, then drive in from the airport to wherever it was you really wanted to go, you have easily exceeded the five hours it takes to drive. The first enterprising person who starts a shuttle service to the Bay Area will make a lot of money.

Now we are on another chase to lure airline service to what will always be a marginal market. I note in this morning’s Searchlight-Record that Redding is also trying to lure Delta into starting a Denver service.  It is unquestioned that our business community needs flight service, but since the rest of us don’t, the numbers sufficient to attract an airline are that much harder to achieve.  My last vacation started out with an unplanned 10 hour layover at O’Hare that was entirely United’s fault.  I’ve been dumped in Redding, stranded in Chicago, stuck at SFO. I say the hell with it. I’ve flown my last flight out of Arcata. If anyone wants to start a shuttle service to the Bay Area,please get in touch with me. I’ll chronicle your progress with great interest. As for me , I’m going on vacation, a five week trip which will be, like the dodo bird, flightless.

When the flying experience out of ACV is so bad and unreliable, it starts making Greyhound look good, it’s definitely time to look at other options.