Alaska Airlines buys Virgin America

flickr photo shared by tearbringer under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

After some brief speculation, it was announced this morning that Alaskan Airlines' parent organization bought Virgin America for $2.6 billion in cash. This acquisition will bolster Alaskan's presence on the West Coast and particularly in California. Virgin's chairman Richard Branson wrote about the brand's history and his thoughts on the future

It's expected this deal won't experience regulatory hurdles that faced the American Airlines and US Airways deal because their market shares are much less. Given the geographic idiosyncrasies of airline mergers, it will be interesting to see how this deal plays out. What will be the implication for consumers? Initial impressions have been kind of negative

Traveling this Winter? We are. Library closed 12/23-1/19.

292:365 - Closed Security

Now that the Fall Semester is over, lots of students are packing up and flying home for the break. We here at the ITS Library will also be leaving town, and the library will be closed from December 22, 2014 through January 19, 2015. We will reopen on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 1:00PM. (Will we see you at TRB?)

If you are one of the 5.4 million travelers who are flying this week, it's a good idea to rfresh your memory with current TSA guidelines and recommnedations. There will be some changes ahead for the TSA after this Holiday crunch as Transportation Secuirty Administrator John Pistole steps down at the end of December after 4 1/2 years in charge.  Pistole leave a legacy safe skies and socken feet. A recent GAO report recommends that the TSA should take additional steps to determine its program effectiveness. Will 2015 be a year of change in airport security? Stay tuned. 

Everybody has an opinion on reclining airplane seats

Open Seating

Recently a flight from LGA to JAX was diverted due to passengers engaged in a seat reclining battle. It was the latest in a string of diverted flights stemming from passenger disruptions over the right to recline. A flight from EWR to DEN was diverted to ORD because a passenger used the Knee Defender to prevent the seat in front of them to recline. A recent flight from MIA to CDG was diverted to BOS after a passenger became upset when the seat in front of them reclined, and they lunged at a flight attendant. 

There is yet to be agreed upon rules for airplane seat reclining. Many say it boils down to being civil. Others are calling for reclining seats to be banned from airplanes because it's been demonstrated that passengers can't be civil.  Even Miss Manners has weighed in - she blames airlines for installing seats so closely together that nobody is happy. 

Today on Slate, Christopher Buccafusco and Chris Sprigman look at the economics of seat reclining. How much would you pay for the person in front of you not to recline? How much would you pay for the right to recline? They conducted an online survey to answer those questions, and they found out:

Recliners wanted on average $41 to refrain from reclining, while reclinees were willing to pay only $18 on average. Only about 21 percent of the time would ownership of the 4 inches change hands.
When we flipped the default—that is, when we made the rule that people did not have an automatic right to recline, but would have to negotiate to get it—then people’s values suddenly reversed. Now, recliners were only willing to pay about $12 to recline while reclinees were unwilling to sell their knee room for less than $39. Recliners would have ended up purchasing the right to recline only about 28 percent of the time—the same right that they valued so highly in the other condition.

They go on to say that this is basically the "endowment effect" as described in the 1990 paper by (Berkeley professor and Nobel laureate) Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch and Richard H. Thaler, "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem."

Decreasing seat size is just another way airlines engage in revenue management, along with itemized fees for everything. Airlines are already using dynamic pricing for fares. They also employ tactics to maximize flight frequency and aircraft size, though this can often lead to flight delays (which often results in higher fares). The boarding procedure is another area where airlines can be more cost effective, minimizing the time to board and turnaround time.

But will any of that get you more leg room on your next flight? 

Friday Seminar: Quantifying the Impact of Flight Predictability on Strategic and Operational Airline Decisions

THA A340-500 taxiing for spot.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester - well done, students! You made it to the end! It's also the last Friday Seminar for the school year. Wrapping things up in style, Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Lu Hao will present her research, "Quantifying the Impact of Flight Predictability on Strategic and Operational Airline Decisions."

The idea of predictability or (inversely) variability is not new in the field of ground transportation, where (un)predictability mainly refers to the unpredictable variations in travel time and is thus directly related to uncertainty of travel time. In the realm of commercial air transportation, there is limited knowledge of how to quantify predictability and assess the potential benefit of improved predictability. Moreover, different aspects in airline decision making require different considerations when trying to measure and assess flight predictability.

In this work, the concept and metric for flight predictability is developed for both strategic and operational airline decision making. For both aspects, the appropriate measure for predictability is defined and the behavioral relationship between predictability and decision making is revealed. The potential benefits from improved predictability are then assessed for the two aspects, using airport departure queue assignment optimization and benefit pool analysis. The saving from improved predictability is significant for both cases, if the right metric is used. Comparing the two aspects, the difference in measuring flight predictability is rooted in the different perspectives of airlines’ consideration.

The Seminar takes place in 212 O'Brien (note the different location!) from 4-5 PM on May 16, 2014. There will be no cookie hour. 

Friday Seminar: Incorporating Predictability into Cost Optimization for Ground Delay Programs


The Spring semester may be winding up, but we still have Friday Seminars! This week features UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Yi Liu presenting, "Incorporating Predictability into Cost Optimization for Ground Delay Programs."

When there is foreseen congestion at an airport, Ground Delay Programs (GDPs) are often implemented to balance arrival demand with available arrival capacity by holding inbound flights at their departure airports. Through this, GDPs transfer expensive airborne delay in the terminal airspace of the arrival airport to cheaper and safer ground delay at the departure airports. In the implementation of GDPs, emphasis has mainly been put on maximizing throughput while predictability is overlooked. As a result, planned and unplanned delays are assigned the same cost coefficient in the GDP cost optimization problem. This ignores the fact that unplanned delays require extra effort from both the flight operator side and the traffic manager side and cause more pain for the passengers, which should correspond to higher costs.

This work introduces the goal of predictability into GDP cost optimization under capacity uncertainty. This is accomplished by assigning extra premiums to unplanned delays and planned but un-incurred delay, due to their unpredictability. To estimate delay components in the cost functions, two stochastic GDP models are developed using continuous approximation and deterministic queueing theory: a static no-revision model and a dynamic model considering one GDP revision. The results from the case study show that unpredictability can have a strong impact on GDP decisions. Depending on the value of predictability, the proposed method may reduce system-wide cost by 10%.

The seminar takes place this Friday, May 2, 2014 in 534 Davis from 4-5 PM. Cookie Hour will commence at 3:30 in the library. See you there!

Assessing Airport Carbon Emissions

Descending through the LA smog

Much of the research about carbon emissions and transportation is focused on highways. A new article from the Journal of Air Transport Management proposes a model to examine carbon emissions and airports. Maria Nadia Postorino and Luca Mantecchini authors of "A transport carbon footprint methodology to assess airport carbon emissions," write:

Airports are important nodes in the air transport system, but also local sources of environmental impacts. Emissions of CO2 are among the most relevant ones because of their potential greenhouse effects. Many policies and guidelines have been identified at national and world level to reduce such kind of impacts. In this paper, a Transport Carbon Footprint methodology has been set to identify Unit Carbon Footprints (UCFs) linked to some identified emission macro-sources – i.e., land vehicles, on-ground aircraft, airport handling and terminal equipment – to compute the contribution of the single macro-source to the total amount of CO2. Particularly, UCFs due to transport activities have been defined according to some relevant transport variables. The computation of UCF values for a given airport allows computing both the contribution of each macro-source and also evaluating the effectiveness of transport-related actions aiming at reducing the carbon impact. The methodology has been applied to the airport of Bologna, in Northern Italy, and its UCF values for the identified macro-sources have been computed.

The full article can be found here


Friday Seminar: Dynamic Weather Routes

Southampton Airport

Seminar Time! This week's TRANSOC Friday Seminar is about smarter routing of flights to avoid severe weather. Dave McNally of NASA Ames Research Center, Aviation Systems Division will present, "Dynamic Weather Routes: The Search for Smarter Flight Routes"

Adverse weather is the leading cause of flight delay in the US National Airspace System. Airline flight dispatchers must file flight plans about an hour before push-back from the gate using their best available weather forecasts. FAA traffic managers assess the impact of weather on traffic flows, and, when necessary, implement standard reroutes for groups of flights. Given the uncertainty in weather, standardized reroutes may result in large buffers between flight routes and forecast weather. Weather changes as flights progress along planned routes, and because airline dispatchers and FAA traffic managers are busy, especially during weather events, they may miss workable opportunities for more efficient routes around weather. Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR) is a search engine that continuously and automatically analyzes in-flight aircraft in en route airspace and proposes simple route amendments for more efficient routes around convective weather while considering winds aloft, sector congestion, traffic conflicts, and active Special Use Airspace. NASA and American Airlines (AA) are conducting an operational trial of DWR at the AA System Operations Center in Fort Worth, Texas. A key result of the trial is that since airline operators are especially busy during weather events, it is more effective to let the automation identify and alert users to potentially high-value reroute options.

The seminar is Friday October 18, 2013 from 4:00-5:00 PM in 534 Davis. Cookie Hour happens at 3:30 in the library. See you there!

Friday Seminar: Quantifying the Effects of Excessive Fuel Loading at a Major Airline


Tomorrow's TRANSOC Friday Seminar is the third of the semester and features our third mode: aviation! This week, UC Berkeley Civil Engineering PhD students (and NEXTOR researchers) Michael Seelhorst and Lu Hao will present. "Quantifying the Effects of Excessive Fuel Loading at a Major Airline"

In the past 10 years, jet fuel prices have risen almost 500%. As a result, fuel now makes up the largest single expense at most airlines. For example, Delta Air Lines spends $12 billion on fuel each year. With more competition from no-frills carriers and less demand from a lagging economy, legacy air carriers have resorted to dramatic cost reduction strategies in recent years.

Airline fuel efficiency has been studied from a variety of perspectives, from increasing fuel efficient technologies to improving aircraft routing. We focus on an area that has been largely ignored: excessive fuel loading. Flight dispatchers often choose to load extra fuel, beyond the mission required amount, to account for flight contingencies, such as long taxi times, air traffic control re-routes, and poor weather conditions. The extra fuel burn required to carry the additional fuel is not trivial, and presents a huge opportunity for airlines to reduce costs. We investigated strategies for reducing fuel consumption at Delta Air Lines through on-site observations and interviews with flight dispatchers as well as statistical analysis of archival fuel loading data. We estimate that $150 million is being wasted every year through unnecessary fueling practices.

The seminar will be from 4:00-5:00 PM in 534 Davis. TRANSOC's Cookie Hour, as ever, will be in the library at 3:30. 

Book of the Week: Introduction to Air Transport Economics


We're starting a new series here highlighting different books from our collection. This week we're focusing on a new book about aviation. Introduction to Air Transport Economics: From Theory to Application (Second Edition) by Bijan Vasigh, Ken Fleming, and Thomas Tacker is published by Ashgate

The book presents the fundamentals of the aviation industry with a foundation of underlying economic concepts. It also touches upon policy, institutional structures, and market forces (such as anti-trust considerations) that affect the aviation industry.  New to aviation? This book can help you get started. It is waiting on our New Book Shelf to be checked out by you today! 

Air-traffic demand and capacity during bad weather

Landing Incheon Airport

What should airlines and air traffic controllers do to structure flights when airspace is reduced due to bad weather? A new paper from the recent aviation themed Transportation Research Record (no. 2325) examines that question. In "Mechanisms for Equitable Resource Allocation When Airspace Capacity Is Reduced," researchers from University of Maryland explore how carriers can prioritize flights. 

During bad weather and under other capacity-reducing restrictions, FAA uses various initiatives to manage air traffic flow to alleviate problems associated with imbalanced demand and capacity. A recently introduced alternative concept to airspace flow programs is the collaborative trajectory options program, in which aircraft operators are allowed to submit sets of alternative trajectory options for their flights, with accompanying cost estimates. It is not clear that these sets of alternative trajectory options can be generated or evaluated quickly enough to respond to flow programs that arise unexpectedly or that the program is intended to be folded into a formal resource allocation mechanism. This research proposes (a) a meaningful, yet simple, way for carriers to express some preference structure for their flights that are specifically affected by flow programs and (b) a resource allocation mechanism that will improve system efficiency and simultaneously take these airline preferences into account. The results are compared with the events that could occur if an airspace flow program were run by using a ration-by-schedule approach, with or without the opportunity for carriers to engage in swaps among their own flights.

The full paper can be found here

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