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And the Meck Deck wishes you adieu

The Meck Deck is being folded into the John Locke Foundation’s main blog, The Locker Room. You can still catch me blogging there…

And I’ll leave you with this:

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And speaking of American Airlines…

From media reports, you might get the idea that US Airways has been fully absorbed into American Airlines. That’s true… except that you have former US Airways crews flying formerly US Airways aircraft almost exclusively on formerly US Airways routes from formerly US Airways hubs with those formerly US Airplanes planes have a different hard product (seat configuration) that legacy American Airlines planes.

For American Airlines and US Airways to be truly fully integrated, two things still have to happen: You have to have labor contracts bringing the work groups from both airlines together, and the fleet has to have the same basic product throughout. American announced earlier this month a key step in this direction, with a new a new premium economy product that will be fitted across its widebody fleet (except for the soon to retire 767-300s), including the former US Airways Airbus A330s that fly from Charlotte and Philadelphia to Europe:

American’s first plane with Premium Economy seating will be its Boeing 787-9, which is expected to enter service in late 2016. The 787-9 will offer Business Class, three rows of Premium Economy in a 2-3-2 configuration, Main Cabin Extra, which offers customers up to 6 inches of additional leg room, and Main Cabin seats. Premium Economy will also be installed on the Airbus A350, which arrives in 2017.

American will also add Premium Economy to all Boeing 777-300ERs, 777-200ERs, 787-8s and Airbus A330s over the next three years.

Working through the labor contract situation is also going to take awhile, so probably 2017 or 2018 is a realistic estimate as to when the airline can really start moving all the piece around to maximum effect. Until then, the ex-US Airways planes and crews are pretty much effectively trapped (for a lack of a better term) in the ex-US Airways hub cities.

Charlotte impact #1: Legacy American’s widebody jets have more business-class seats and fewer economy class seats as compared to similar formerly US Airways jets. Even presuming if there’s no impact on the European routes offered from CLT — and that’s far from certain – the move to a more traditional American Airlines-type widebody product mix will mean that there will be fewer seats available from Charlotte to Europe. While we don’t know exactly how big the hit will be yet as the new aircraft configurations aren’t out yet, I’d think we’re probably looking at about a 15 percent reduction in seats.

Charlotte impact #2: With the cancellation of Tel Aviv, there are two A330s available for flights to Europe from Charlotte and/or Philly. American hasn’t announced any new European flights from those cities, so I’d take it that there just are no good opportunities right now.

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American Airlines’ airport lease is up for renewal

Earlier this week, the Charlotte Observer ran a lengthy piece (1,500 word +) on negotiations between American Airlines and the city about terms for a new lease for the airline out at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The article provides two bits of information that we didn’t have before:

• American Airlines’ current 30-year lease, inherited from US Airways, expires in June. Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle expects the new lease agreement with American to be for a much shorter term, something more like five to ten years.

• The city, meanwhile, is aiming at no longer having American have an effective veto on future airport expansions. This is being billed as allowing the airport to expand, thus allowing for more access for low-cost carriers.

Analysis: A significantly shorter lease term shifts a lot of risk to the city, and that should be a major concern for an airport that plans to invest a lot of money in infrastructure upgrades in the coming years. So, yes, be a bit scared.

And, to put it bluntly, gate availability absolutely isn’t the reason low-dare carriers don’t do well in Charlotte. JetBlue came to Charlotte in July 2006 with four flights a day; just short of a decade later, they are still at four flights a day from the Queen City. Southwest Airlines came to Charlotte in April 2013 with six flights a day; three years later they will be offering… six flights a day from CLT (seven in the summer). Both JetBlue and Southwest are very strong in Florida; neither airline could make Charlotte – Florida flights work.


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2015 Belk Bowl attendance

46,423, with the wet weather obviously killing the walk-up crowd. That’s up only a hair from the attendance in 2013 (45,211 for Cincinnati – UNC) and 2014 (45,671 for Georgia – Louisville). N.C. State has previously drawn well in Charlotte — drawing about 58,000 in both their previous bowl appearance (2005, 2011) in Charlotte, so I’m pretty sure that Belk Bowl officials and Charlotte economic development types are a bit disappointed. Maybe the reality circa the mid 2010s is that the Belk Bowl is only good for a turnout of 45,000 or so, and not the 50,000+ that was the norm back in the aughts.

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Bob Rucho speaks

To Carolina Journal about tax reform, saying that:

“During the short session one of my goals would be to increase the zero bracket, which is the standard deduction, and that could be from $15,500 to $17,500,” said Rucho, who has announced he will retire at the end of the current session. “That is treating every income level the same in the sense that that same $17,500 would be state tax-free, but it is extremely beneficial to the middle class.”

The General Assembly raised the exemption for 2016 from $15,000 to $15,500 for a married couple filing jointly, and from $7,500 to $7,750 for single taxpayers.

Allowing workers to keep more of their earnings by increasing the standard deduction “would be very beneficial” for the middle class, and blunt the “unfounded criticisms of the liberals telling us we’re doing this just for the rich,” Rucho said.

Rucho is optimistic that North Carolina will continue moving away from taxing income and toward a consumption-based tax system.

OK, fair enough. The thing though is that the issue of tax reform is a question that deeply divides Republicans in the General Assembly. And while how well Republicans do in North Carolina depends a lot on national factors, getting into another drawn out food fight over the state taxes and spending won’t exactly help the GOP cause in the Old North State in November 2016. Whether Rucho and other Republican leaders in the General Assembly are smart enough to recognize that fact and work through their differences in a timely manner — meaning passing a state budget by June 30, or at least sometime close to it — remains to be seen.

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Raleigh soccer ambitions

Seems that Charlotte isn’t the only city with a minor-league soccer team owner with major league ambitions. Per the Raleigh News & Observer:

The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t moving to downtown Raleigh any time soon, but don’t rule out professional soccer.

Raleigh leaders envision an entertainment and sports center on the southern edge of downtown. It’s part of a 10-year vision for downtown’s future, which also includes hotels, office space and a possible expansion of the Convention Center.

Nothing is set is stone, city officials say. Raleigh doesn’t even own most of the property near Martin Luther King Boulevard and McDowell Street, where city officials would like to see a large venue. But a city rendering of a potential downtown complex raises questions about the future of PNC Arena in west Raleigh.

The Hurricanes National Hockey League team has a lease with PNC Arena until 2024, said team president Don Waddell.

Meanwhile, the N.C. State University men’s basketball team isn’t interested in moving from PNC to a downtown site either, said Fred Demarest, associate athletics director for communications and marketing.

But Steve Malik, owner of the Carolina RailHawks soccer team, said he thinks the Triangle is ready for Major League Soccer, and downtown Raleigh might be the place to make it happen.

“There are a lot of people interested in where pro soccer is going,” said Malik, who bought the RailHawks, part of the North American Soccer League, last fall.

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The problems with driverless cars

As Bloomberg reports, driverless cars are currently just a little bit too good of a driver:

They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well.

Driverless cars also just react differently than humans do:

Google is working to make the vehicles more “aggressive” like humans — law-abiding, safe humans — so they “can naturally fit into the traffic flow, and other people understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” [Dmitri Dolgov, principal engineer of the program] said. “Driving is a social game.”

Google has already programmed its cars to behave in more familiar ways, such as inching forward at a four-way stop to signal they’re going next. But autonomous models still surprise human drivers with their quick reflexes, coming to an abrupt halt, for example, when they sense a pedestrian near the edge of a sidewalk who might step into traffic.

“These vehicles are either stopping in a situation or slowing down when a human driver might not,” said Brandon Schoettle, co-author of the Michigan study. “They’re a little faster to react, taking drivers behind them off guard.”

That could account for the prevalence of slow-speed, rear- end crashes, he added.

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If you’re going to the Panthers game on Sunday…

Be advised that the game time has been changed to a 4:25pm kickoff.

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NCAA basketball officiating changes


New NCAA coordinator of officials J.D. Collins is “cautiously optimistic” six weeks into the season that the impact of the new rule changes, and a more free-flowing game, will sustain itself through conference play.

Statistics, obtained by ESPN through Sunday’s games, show that scoring has increased more than five points from this time a year ago — while fouls have increased .89 per game. Points per possession have also increased slightly — from 1.03 to 1.04.

The big carrot for officials? Well, this:

“This is the carrot I hold,” Collins admitted. “I hate when it comes out of my mouth, and I don’t want to say it in an arrogant way. But if you refuse to officiate with the new directives, I can refuse to use you.”

Collins said this is still just the start of an ongoing process intended to make the game more pleasing to everyone.

“We all want the game to be better, to look better and feel better,” Collins said. “The key is we need to make progress each year. We can’t have slippage in January or February this year.”

“As I continue to say, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Collins said. “The reason I say that is because there are so many variables. Conference play is starting, and we have to do our part. I’m optimistic, but I’m a realist, too.”

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Trademarks and free speech

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an important ruling in a trademark case today, holding that entities with potentially offense names are still entitled to trademark protection. Why? Because of the First Amendment’s protection on free speech. The case involved an Asian-American rock-band called “The Slants.” The key quote, via NPR:

The [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]’s processing of trademark registrations no more transforms private speech into government speech than when the government issues permits for street parades, copyright registration certificates, or, for that matter, grants medical, hunting, fishing, or drivers licenses, or records property titles, birth certificates, or articles of incorporation.

The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — which also covers North Carolina — is also considering the exact same issue, in the case of the Patent and Trademark Office’ voiding the Washington Redskins’ trademark. The issue may ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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February 2016
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