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Sun, Dec 31, 2006

2006 Year-In-Review: Commercial Aviation

From A for Airbus to Z for Zacharias, 2006 was an eventful year for the commercial airline industry.

January

The New Year kicked off with the demise of regional operator Independence Air, which won fans by offering ticket prices as low as $29. Even though 300,000 passengers flew on the airline two months before, too few were paying full price... Airbus shocked the industry by rallying late to beat Boeing in sales orders for 2005, by 53 net orders. Critics question why it took Airbus 17 days to count them all... Alaska Airlines Flight 536 suffers a bad month, when two different planes experience inflight incidents after takeoff from SeaTac. No passengers are injured, and both incidents are traced back to problems caused by ground workers for contract operator Menzies Aviation... A man is arrested after he jumped off a plane in Fort Lauderdale, and ran across the tarmac before a police tazer brought him down. The sad saga of Troy Rigby, 28, comes to an end when he suffers a massive heart attack in prison. Family members say Rigby, who died February 6, was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

February

Boeing celebrates Valentines Day with the delivery of the 5000th 737, a -700 model, to perennial customer Southwest Airlines... United Airlines says aloha to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Oh, and so does Aloha Airlines... Embry Riddle Aeronautical University puts its CAPT professional pilot training program on the chopping block, to better focus on the aeronautical school's business and managerial studies... Infamous former AMR CEO Don Carty casts his lot with upstart carrier Virgin America... A wing for the Airbus A380 superjumbo snaps during stress testing, just short of the standard required for certification. Required modifications prove to be far less challenging than other areas of the megajet... The "Spirit of Delta" makes its last flights, before being retired in the Delta Museum in Atlanta. The storied 767 (below), purchased by the airline's employees in 1982, goes on a farewell tour that includes flights for terminally ill children, and former employees.

March

Pilots at bankrupt carriers Delta and Northwest threaten strikes as contract negotiations falter. Flight attendants at similarly beleaguered Comair follow suit. Defying some predictions, Northwest pilots are the first to agree to new pay concessions... American Airlines grudgingly resumes flights from Dallas (TX) Love Field, as Wright Amendment restrictions are eased to allow flights to Missouri... The Air Transport Association unveils its "Smart Skies" plan, the first volley in the airlines' support of imposing user fees on general aviation pilots to fund the FAA. Critics say the name of the program is at least 50 percent inaccurate... Northwest Airlines purchases the operating certificate from defunct Independance Air parent Flyi, which announces plans to start its own regional operation dubbed Compass... The sentencing trial for confessed 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui (right) begins, complete with missteps by prosecutors and Moussaoui's claims, later rebuked by al-Qaeda, that he was to pilot a fifth airliner on 9/11... After three years of bringing "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined" service to the nation's skies -- unlike many other airlines, they did so deliberately -- Hooters Air folds its wings.

April

Contract talks between air traffic controllers and the FAA take a turn for the worse, with the agency declaring impasse and walking away from the bargaining table. Controllers union NATCA later asks the agency to return, a request the FAA flatly turns down... Pilots at Delta Air Lines authorize a strike of their own, before later reaching a tentative agreement on pay and benefit cuts... After public complaints from two prominent customers, Airbus concedes its original design for the A350 airliner (below) is not competitive with Boeing's 787... A mumps outbreak sweeps across the Midwestern US, believed to have been spread by two airline passengers... Delta asks its employees to volunteer their own time, unpaid, to help clean planes. Somewhat surprisingly, the program attracts many workers eager to lend a hand.

May

Zacharias Moussaoui is sentenced to life in prison for his role in plotting the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks... Pilots at Northwest Airlines agree to their new contract, in which their pay is cut nearly 24 percent... an Armenian A320 goes down while on approach to land in a bad storm near Sochi. All 113 persons onboard are lost... Both struggling in bankruptcy, Delta and Northwest post staggering 1st quarter losses of $2.1 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively... The US government releases images from security cameras that capture American Airlines Flight 77 impacting the Pentagon on 9/11... Despite protests from pilots groups and safety advocates, the NTSB says there will be no new investigation into the crash of an American Airlines A300 over Queens, NY in November 2001... The last two Boeing 717s are delivered, shutting the door on nearly 80 years of commercial airliner production in Southern California... Fatigued controllers are blamed for two near-misses on runways at Chicago's O'Hare International... Delta pilots sign off on a new contract, approved by the bankruptcy court over protests from the Pension Board Guaranty Corp (PBGC).

June

Aero-News analyzes the ATA's "Wish List" for a better National Air Space system... an American Airlines 767 throws a turbine blade during a maintenance run-up at LAX, cutting into the fuselage, wing, and opposite engine (above). No one is injured... Congress declines to get involved in the battle between controllers and the FAA over a new contract. The FAA imposes its own terms... Flight attendants at Northwest reject the first tentative agreement with management on a new contract. A judge later allows the airline to toss its existing contract, and impose new terms on the FAs... Boeing reports "bubbles" have popped up on the first barrel sections of the 787 fuselage. The company says certification will not be affected... A parrot escapes from its box onboard a flight in Britain, and begins nibbling on passengers... North Texas lawmakers and airline representatives announce a compromise agreement in the long-running debate over the Wright Amendment... Airbus announces a second delay in its A380 program, due to wiring issues. Stock in parent company EADS plummets. Curiously, several EADS executives, including co-CEO Noel Forgeard, sell off large amounts of stock right before the announcement. Despite calls for his resignation, Forgeard tells French Parliament he isn't going anywhere.

July

Forgeard (right) is told to not let the door hit him on his way out of EADS, as he resigns from the aerospace consortium along with former Airbus CEO and A380 proponent Gustav Humbert... Some analysts speculate problems at EADS and Airbus may mean the European planemaker will soon go the way of McDonnell-Douglas... More than 150 passengers are lost when an S7 (nee Siberian Airlines) A310 crashes upon landing at Irkutsk... Pilots at regional carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines authorize a strike. Leaders at ASA and other Delta Connection carriers agree to join forces and present a "united front" against Delta in route negotiations... Boeing says the 787 Dreamliner is about 2.5 percent over its weight targets... Airbus unveils a new, improved design for its A350. The planemaker says the new plane, dubbed the XWB, will do double-duty against both the 787 and Boeing's 777, but will arrive in 2012 at the earliest... A power outage at Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale causes nearly all air traffic in Southern California -- and as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area -- to be grounded for as much as 90 minutes... Troubled Brazilian carrier Varig gets a new lease on life, after creditors OK the sale of the airline to an investment group... Yet another runway incursion incident at Chicago's O'Hare is blamed on controller error by the FAA. Controllers say they're understaffed, and using antiquated equipment.

August

Northwest flight attendants reject a second tentative agreement on a new contract, this time under a new union... The Senate passes a pension reform bill aimed at making it easier for cash-strapped airlines to repay their pension funds... The first whispers of an impending merger bid between US Airways and Delta surface... More ATC woes in Southern California, as an ILS at Los Angeles International fails twice within one week, once in heavy fog... CAPT Lives! Embry Riddle sells the defunct airline training program to Flight Training Services International (FTSI)... British officials foil a terrorist plot to blow up US-bound airliners with liquid explosives smuggled onboard airliner cabins. Authorities in both countries immediately ban all liquids onboard carry-on luggage, causing security bottlenecks that choke many British airports. A number of flights are diverted in the aftermath over security fears... A Ukranian Tupolev Tu-154 goes down en route to St. Petersburg, killing all 170 passengers onboard... The FAA approves a new airport for St. George, UT, better equipped for use by airlines... A Comair CRJ100 crashes on takeoff from Lexington, KY, killing 49 of 50 persons onboard. Investigators soon determine the plane (type shown below) attempted takeoff from the shorter of two runways at the airport.

September

Apparently not content to rest on his laurels at Boeing, former Commercial Airplanes chief Alan Mulally (right) leaves to head up the struggling Ford Motor Company. Scott Carson is named as his replacement... Delta Air Lines receives the court's blessing to nix its pilot pension plan, thrusting the burden onto the PBGC... After being closed for weeks following Israeli air strikes targeting terrorist supply pipelines, the Beirut airport sees its first passenger flights... BAE agrees to sell its stake in EADS, at a price far lower than its initial estimate. That valuation was made prior to revelations about A380 delays and possible insider trading drove down EADS' stock price. The move proves to be prescient... United Airlines and American Airlines settle a class-action lawsuit filed after an investigation began into price-fixing among international cargo carriers... Brazilian planemaker Embraer receives FAA certification for its E-175... Airbus says there will be yet another delay for its A380, as wiring issues prove to be more burdensome than first thought... Former Pan Am employees receive a surprise payout from a settlement against the Libyan government for its role in the 1988 bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland... FAA Administrator Marion Blakey appoints a panel to review the agency's Age 60 forced pilot retirement rule... Airbus CEO Christain Streiff, appointed to replace the ousted Gustav Humbert, submits his plan to restructure the troubled European planemaker... A Brazilian airliner and US-bound regional jet collide over the Amazon. All 154 passengers and crew onboard the Gol Airlines 737 (type shown below) perish; pilots onboard the Legacy 600 bizjet make a successful emergency landing.

October

NBAA President Ed Bolen (right) slams the ATA for propagating fears that VLJs will swamp the air traffic control system... All ends well after a lone man, believed to be a military deserter, hijacks a Turkish Airlines 737... Held by Brazilian officials in Rio de Janiero, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino claim they were following ATC instructions to fly at FL370 when their bizjet collided with a Gol Airlines 737... For the second time in six months, Airbus loses its CEO. Analysts say Christian Streiff bolted the planemaker after the EADS board disagreed with him on several points of his proposed restructuring plan. EADS co-CEO Louis Gallois steps in... After passing the House and Senate, and President Bush's signature, the FAA approves the Wright Amendment compromise agreement... Airbus revises the break-even point for the oft-delayed A380, from 250 frames to 420... A bankruptcy court judge says pilots at Mesaba Airlines can't strike the carrier... It's not all bad news for Airbus, as the carrier receives a 170-plane order from China... Incoming DOT Secretary Mary Peters says she'll listen to "everyone" for ideas on FAA funding... The FAA delays the opening of a new control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor to January 2007.

November

Noting that juries in South Florida typically award higher payouts, law firm Podhurst Orseck files suit against James Polehinke, the copilot and sole survivor in the August crash of a Comair CRJ in Kentucky... A Brazilian newspaper reports ATC tapes confirm controllers told pilots of a Legacy 600 bizjet to fly at a nonstandard altitude, and on an intersecting flight path with a Gol Airlines 737... The FAA reports over half of all the commercial airports in the US don't have a required 1,000 foot safety overrun margin or an "arrestor bed" at the runway departure end... Cargo carrier FedEx delivers the first (and so far only) cancellation of an A380 order (below)... Airbus and Air France are found liable for damages in the 1992 crash of an A320 in Germany... US Airways makes a surprise hostile takeover bid for bankrupt Delta Air Lines... Flight attendants at Comair approve a new contract... The battle before the World Trade Organization between US and European Union is fueled by a new complaint filed by US representatives... The NTSB issues safety recommendations for operators of CF34-equipped regional aircraft... Six Muslim imams are removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, after passengers expressed concern over what they called the men's suspicious behavior... Citing work-rule requirements, pilots at American Airlines dispute the carrier's proposed bid to begin service to China from DFW.

December

The board of directors at EADS officially approves the plan to build the Airbus A350XWB... The panel formed by the FAA to review the Age 60 rule fails to reach consensus on the issue... In something of a surprise move, US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announces the DOT is withdrawing a proposal that would have changed rules governing international investment in US airlines... Boeing receives its first commitment for the Intercontinental passenger variant of its 747-8, from Germany's Lufthansa... On the one-year anniversary of a fatal runway overrun accident at Chicago's Midway Airport, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker urges airlines to voluntarily adopt changes in the way they calculate stopping distances on contaminated runways... The Airbus A380 receives joint type-certification from the FAA and EASA... Budget carrier AirTran gets swept up in merger mania, makes a bid for rival Midwest Airlines... Delta Air Lines presents its plan to reorganize and emerge from Chapter 11. The carrier makes it clear US Airways is emphatically NOT part of that plan... Airbus receives its first new A380 order for the year, as Singapore Airlines firms up an earlier commitment for nine more planes... Welcome to Denver: scores of travelers are stuck at Denver International Airport over the Christmas holiday, as a major snowstorm shuts down the airport for over three days. A smaller storm creates havoc again just before New Year's... Despite the airline's plans to begin operations next year, Virgin America is denied the right to begin US flights by the DOT, over foreign ownership concerns.

FMI: www.aero-news.net

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