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Archive for March, 2012

Aviation potpourri, March 2012 edition

Just the highlights:

• Bloomberg is reporting that US Airways is talking to American Airline creditors about buying American out of bankruptcy. This does not comes as a surprise; US Airways made a similar move to acquire Delta Air Lines when Delta was in Chapter 11.

• US Airway’s pilots union has elected new leadership. The UPoR spins this as being helpful in the advent of a US Airways/American Airlines merger, which it is. Even if there’s no merger, it’s important. In fact, reaching an agreement may well be a necessary though not sufficient condition if the airline is to add more than a handful of aircraft to US Airways proper. It certainly is a necessary condition to updating and possibly expanding the fleet of regional aircraft flown on US Airways’ behalf.

• Southwest Airlines is probably the country’s most admired airline. Just because it is well respected and consistently profitable doesn’t mean it does everything well. To put it bluntly, its IT operations are rather primitive and cannot currently support a codeshare arrangement between Southwest proper and AirTran Airways which Southwest bought about eight months ago. In fact, Southwest’s system won’t be able to support an AirTran codeshare until sometime next year(!). Which means that if you were hoping to catch an AirTran flight from Charlotte to Baltimore and then hop on a Southwest flight to, say, Buffalo, Hartford, or Providence, well, it’s not happening for a while yet. And yes, Southwest is leaving a lot of money on the table by not being able to offer AirTran to Southwest (or vice versa) connections.

• The latest Air Force force structure proposal has the N.C. Air Guard losing planes (see page 8). The NC ANG current has 10 C-130H transport planes; the proposal calls is for that to drop to 8 in FY 2017. The Air Force hasn’t calculated associated manpower reductions beyond its proposed FY 2013 cuts.

Overall, the proposal is rather odd. During the last BRAC round, the USAF talked about its desire for having larger reserve component units yet their proposed cuts go in the opposite direction. Some of the proposed moves also are just baffling. For example, the ANG C-130s currently at Ft. Worth, TX are suppose to move to Montana. This comes despite the aircraft’s current home at Carswell Field ranking 53rd overall with a military value of 50.57 in the airlift role in 2005 BRAC rankings compared to Great Fall, MT military value of 35.51 in the role, 124th overall. Gulf Coast area congressional delegations are concerned about the move and the Pentagon is reconsidering.

In any case, expect a BRAC round next year, Congress willing.

Update: The Street’s Ted Reed makes the case for US Airways/American Airlines merger.

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The Red Line as pork

Got a column up over at the mothership on the Redline. I’ll save you a click and reprint it here.

Iredell County commissioners unanimously found wanting a proposal to build a $452 million, 25-mile commuter rail line from the center of Charlotte through Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson, to a termination point near Mooresville.

The proposed Red Line, as it is called, certainly constitutes a questionable use of scarce transportation dollars. The fact that the idea has come this far offers a good insight into the politics of transit.

The basic formula for building rail lines in North Carolina is straightforward: The state picks up a quarter of the construction costs, locals pay another quarter, typically through a dedicated local-option sales tax for transit, and the federal government pays the remaining half.

But with the Charlotte-to-almost-Mooresville Red Line, projected ridership is so low that the Charlotte Area Transit System realized several years ago that there was approximately zero chance that the feds would pony up half the construction costs — even during the pro-transit Obama administration.

Undeterred, CATS has kept on trying. The funding plan for the Red Line has changed. The idea now is to expect development along the proposed line to pick up what would have been the feds’ share. In other words, build it, and they (developers) will come. Some local officials are so confident that this will happen that they describe the proposal as being “riskless.”

The Iredell County Commission does not agree, and said so by a 5-0 vote in January. Commissioners worry that the rail line would go over budget, as often happens with rail lines, and that they would be forced to raise property taxes to finish the project. Iredell commissioners also question whether the development that’s necessary to fund the line will happen.

David Hartgen, emeritus professor of transportation studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, thinks that’s a valid concern. “There are only about 50 parcels of land along the 25-mile corridor,” Hartgen said. “The tax on each of those parcels would have had to be huge to generate the $250 million needed.”

The parcels would have to be worth more than $4 billion to generate that tax value, he said. “There’s no way there’s $4 billion worth of property in that corridor, even if there were a demand to develop it.”

Hartgen says a better use for the money CATS wants to spend on the Red Line would be to improve congested Interstate 77, which in places runs only about a mile from the proposed rail line route. Ridership on the Red Line in 2030 is projected at only 5,600 a day — 2,800 round trips. The need to widen the highway remains.

So why does a dog of a project like the Red Line even get this close to being approved? Many liberals reflexively think that any transit project must be wonderful. Local media’s unwillingness to ask challenging questions plays a role as well.

More fundamentally, though, the Red Line is simply a necessary byproduct of the process of originally selling a then-$1 billion transit plan to Mecklenburg County voters in 1998. Before voters could be persuaded to support a tax increase for transit, something had to be offered to citizens throughout the county.

In the case of northern Mecklenburg County, that something was the prospect of commuter rail service to Uptown Charlotte. Whether that something would be affordable was beside the point.

Iredell County’s rejection of the proposal won’t end the matter. The board that oversees CATS gives Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson a vote, making the Red Line the transportation equivalent of kudzu — something that is virtually impossible to kill off.

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Doug Parker speaks

The Charlotte Observer got an interview with US airways CEO Doug Parker. The key quote, about what would happen if US Airways were to merger with another airline:

I suspect in any sort of individual scenario that involves US Airways or any other airline in the future, that Charlotte will be a hub airport. I can’t imagine a scenario where Charlotte doesn’t have a lot of air service.

Exactly. To understand why, consider what US Airways has to offer in a merger and where it’s something another airline, particularly American, Delta, or United, would pay for:

• Washington Reagan National (DCA) small hub: Certainly has value but given the slot constraints, short runways, and limit on flights beyond 1250 miles, DCA can never be the keystone of an airline’s operations. A merger creates anti-trust issues that would require slots to be sold, so the combined entity may not end up with many more slots than US Airways has currently. The DCA hub makes a merger with United, which has a hub at Dulles, hard to pull off.

• A Northeast shuttle (Reagan National – New York LaGuardia – Boston) and associated slots. Worth some much less now than a decade or 15 years ago. A merger would also create anti-trust issue, particularly for Delta.

• Phoenix hub. Unfortunately, Phoenix is also one of Southwest Airline’s largest stations and because of that it comes with the deal, it’s not something actually value.

• A Philadelphia hub, complete with flights to 16 destinations in Europe plus Israel. This would be redundant to what American, Delta, and United are trying to do up the road in New York City. And NYC is a much bigger market than Philly. So unless one of the big three losses market share in a big way in New York City, then US Airway’s Philadelphia operation just doesn’t have that much value to them. There would just be too much overlap to have this be the driver in a merger.

• A Charlotte hub. US Airways’ biggest hub and one of only two hubs in the Southeast. Significant domestic and Caribbean tourist traffic flows. Would fill a big hole in American or United operations.

So yes, Charlotte would survive in any likely merger but it really goes beyond that — what Charlotte has to offer is exactly what makes US Airways attractive, especially to American.

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Servatius resigns as Meck Deck blogger

Tara Servatius, the freelance writer who has been blogging on The Meck Deck since July 2011, has ended her association with the John Locke Foundation and the blog today in the wake of criticism over an offensive illustration linked to one of her blog entries earlier this week.

Servatius informed the Locke Foundation this morning that she was sorry she had used the illustration and wished to resign from her freelance writing for the blog, which focuses primarily on the Charlotte region.

The item posted Monday afternoon focused on President Obama’s opposition to the marriage amendment on North Carolina’s May primary ballot. It contained an offensive, Photoshopped image of the president obtained via the Internet.

“I’m embarrassed and angered today,” said JLF President John Hood. “The illustration associated with this blog entry was offensive and utterly inappropriate for our blog or anyone else’s. A reader brought it to my attention Wednesday. I had it removed immediately, but the damage was done. I’m sorry I didn’t see it earlier, and I’m deeply sorry it was on our website for any length of time.”

“The political discourse in our state and nation has grown increasingly coarse, unnecessarily personal, and destructively vitriolic,” Hood added. “This is the kind of episode that can only make the situation worse. We should be able to disagree about controversial issues without it coming to this.”

Hood agreed with Servatius’ decision. “Given the severity of the situation, this is the best outcome for all concerned.”

The John Locke Foundation hopes to have a new blogger or bloggers contributing to The Meck Deck very soon.

Jon Ham is vice president for communications at the John Locke Foundation.

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What the City of Charlotte Doesn’t Want You to Know is ….

… that they’ll have to shut down most of uptown to pull off the DNC convention. As in dead zone, no access, ghost town.

Or at least at this time they believe they will. That’s got to be why they are redacting stuff from city emails that merely refers to the DNC’s expectations that the courts will be totally shut down during the convention.

The blacked-out sentence read: “I have heard from various persons within each of your organizations that the federal authorities you are working with expect that courts will be shut down completely.” the Observer reported.

… “I don’t see anything in my email that needs to be kept secret or would be detrimental to law enforcement’s planning for security at the DNC,” the judge said. “All I’m trying to find out is if the courthouse is going to be open or closed during the DNC.”

There is a reason that Judge Lisa Bell hasn’t been able to find out whether the court system she runs will be shut down. None of the powers that be want this information out yet.

Uptown is so compact with respect to everything’s distance from the football stadium and the arena that logic would tell you it all had to be shut down. Securing the transit center, which is slammed on the best of occasions, would be chaos if everyday travelers weren’t first emptied out. On two occasion over the last decade, crowds thousands of people strong amassed at the transit center, departed on foot and participated in violent riots. The most recent of these was so violent it made national news. They would be insane not to shut it down.

The reason that the powers that be don’t want the public to know they are going to have to shut uptown down completely or close to it is that so many people will be forced to go several days without pay or access to their jobs. The negative PR fallout of that, and not security, is why they are keeping these pending closings so secret.

If folks knew that now, there would be time for anger to build. By keeping it under wraps until the last minute, there will be less fall out for city leaders and they Democrat leaders they are protecting. It’s that simple and it has nothing to do with security.

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How to Get Away with Murder: Did Michael Harvey Commit the Perfect Crime?

This is a fascinating case, if you think about it. Why? Because buried within is perhaps the most perfect way to commit murder I’ve ever run across. And how would you do that? Inject someone with a fatal dose of heroin. No one could ever prove it was intentional, much less who actually did the injecting. Here’s how the Valerie Hamilton case looks right now:

Valerie Hamilton (on right)

Cause of death, according to the medical examiner: overdose, with “combined heroin and cocaine toxicity”

Drugs in system: alcohol, cocaine, hydrocodone, heroin and nicotine

On the surface, I just can’t see how they make this add up to murder in Valerie Hamilton’s case. What jury could get past their substantial doubts when there is no way to know if Hamilton overdosed on a “regular” drug binge, or if something more sinsiter happened?

We do know that Michael Harvey did fail to get her help after she overdosed despite multiple witnesses advising him to do so when she clearly needed it.

He then stashed her dead body in a storage wearhouse, ran from the authorities and set the vehicle he was driving on fire in an attempt to cover his tracks. And he is, after all, a registered sex offender with a history of  predatory behavior toward women he meets at bars. (He was accused of abducting and raping a woman he gave a ride home from a bar in New York. The charge was later pled down to a lesser sex offense. Odd then that he picked up Hamilton in a bar.)

This stash and dash behavior with the body is odd behavior for a drug addict who was merely present for an unfortunate drug overdose. It is exactly the behavior you expect from a murderer. If by some long shot chance he did intend to commit murder, not homicide through negligence, but actual murder, he did it the perfect way – by injecting her with a fatal amount of heroin deliberately. It is the perfect crime.

This is clearly what her family is wondering. It’s why they pointed out that the injection site is on the wrong arm. (She is right handed and it was on the right arm. What they are clearly getting at is that they doubt she’d have injected herself with the left arm, though of course it is possible.) The official report notes that the needle mark was on the right arm.

Someone who wanted to kill this way could even do it without injecting the victim themselves. Just hand her a mega dose of heroin when she’s already stoned out of her mind and let her do it herself or let a third user do it for her.

And presto … the perfect crime because on paper it is an overdose.

Did it go down that way? Who the heck knows. Odds are that it didn’t, given her history of drug use and drug treatment. But that’s not the point. The point is that I can’t think of a more perfect way to take a life and get away with it. Wild, huh?

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Obama Goes Pro Gay Marriage to Get NC on Election Day

Out of no where, President Obama suddenly feels the need to declare his objection to North Carolina’s pending vote to ban on gay marriage.

Similar state laws have passed over his plate no less than a dozen times since he took office, but he felt no need to step up to bat. In fact, until now, he wouldn’t take a specific position on gay marriage at all, choosing to support civil unions and call his views on gay marriage “evolving.”

Here’s Obama in 2010 (White House Makes Sure Everyone Knows Obama Doesn’t Support That Crazy ‘Gay Marriage’ Idea) and here’s Obama now (Obama Opposes Proposed Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in NC).

So why is he suddenly objecting to North Carolina’s ban when he didn’t weigh in on other state’s bans? And why would he do this when a clear majority of voters in the state are against gay marriage? It’s a matter of arithmetic.

First, North Carolina is perhaps the most important state in the nation to his re-election campaign. Here’s why.

North Carolina is now a purple state. Let to their own devices in a presidential race, its voters could return a razor thin margin of victory to either party’s presidential candidate. As the American Spectator pointed out in the link above, the Obama camp clearly believes that they can swing the state to their side if they can get the more than  45,000 voters who work in Research Triangle and make more than $75,000 a year to vote for him.

Here, again, is who these people, who may be the most important voters in the nation, actually are:

These newly successful people have become the pivotal bloc that swings the state between Republicans and Democrats. They are not committed to either party. They are not terribly involved with social issues. Their main worry is the economy. If Republicans make birth control and separation of church and state the major issue, they will go Democratic. If the Democrats mess up the economy and produce $4.50 gas and 8.3 percent unemployment, they will swing Republican. That will probably decide the 2012 election.

So what does gay marriage have to do with this? These are members of Richard Florida’s creative class, the youngish professionals who are now beginning to have children. I know these people personally. They are the women I went to college with and their husbands. They’ll go off just as quickly about Sarah Palin wanting to make abortion illegal (they are firmly against that, and her) as they will the national debt (they find it outrageous and irresponsible). They have a liberatarian streak, resented the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prefer smaller government, have no great love for the welfare system, love innovation and forward thinking of any kind, have at least considered buying a hybrid car and find Ron Paul … interesting, maybe even appealing, though they don’t know a whole lot about him.

And what do they think of gay marriage? Their position has evolved dramatically in the past year, along with Obama’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Among the 18 to 34 set, support for gay marriage now sits at 70 percent, up from 54 percent just last year. And that answers the puzzling question I asked a few weeks ago. After a decade of the GOP bringing up the gay marriage issue every major election and Democrats running for the hills, why are the Dems now the ones trying to keep the issue alive? And why would the Dems even go so far as to put a pro-gay marriage plank on their party platform for the first time and actually plan to debate it at the Charlotte DNC convention this fall, making Charlotte ground zero for the gay marriage debate?

Now we’ve got our answer. They have done their homework and they have pinned their election hopes on young professionals, and in North Carolina, they are talking to them right now. The GOP would do well to listen, and strike up a conversation of their own.

 

 

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Meet the Delta Wing

Proof that innovation isn’t dead in racing. Where this ultimately goes I have no idea, but it certainly has the potential to be the biggest game changer in motorsport in many a year.

Update: Here’s an ESPN story as well.

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US Airways new baseline established

Over the past few years, Charlotte has gained a significant amount of flights as US Airways transformed itself from a carrier with major operations at eight airports (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington Reagan National, Boston, New York LaGuardia, Phoenix, Las Vegas)) to an airline with 99 percent of its service from only four places (Charlotte, Philadelphia, Reagan National, Phoenix). These service increases at CLT happened even as the airline reduced its overall flying.

The window of US Airways growth in Charlotte to destinations in the U.S. and Canada pretty much closed over the weekend, when the airline loaded the flight additions at Washington Reagan National (DCA) in the final portion of its slot swap with Delta Air Lines. From now on, there is no more shifting to do, the airline has achieved its goal of becoming a four-hub carrier. Thus what you see is essentially the new baseline of service for the carrier. It is what it is, and at least domestically, there’s no reason to expect many changes, whether here in Charlotte or any place else.

Which is to say that if you were hoping that the airline might add a nonstop to someplace like Tulsa, OK, Bloomington, IL, or Ft. Wayne, IN to make it a bit easier to visit the company headquarters and/or your sister, is probably not happening any time soon. To add routes requires aircraft, and they aren’t really adding planes except for maybe a couple of widebodies next year and in 2014 (which could allow a small amount of additional international flying).

Slot swap round two

Over the weekend, US Airways loaded flights from Reagan National to Augusta, GA, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Minneapolis, Montreal, and Toronto. The complete list of service that US airways is adding from DCA as a result of its slot swap deal with Delta, sorted by whether the city in question was on the original list of places to be added from DCA when the slot swap was first proposed back in the summer of 2009. (CRJ = Canadair Regional Jet, a type of 50-seat regional jet; E75 = Embraer 175 large regional seats 80 with a first-class section; E70 = Embraer 170 large regional seats 69 with a first-class section.):

On the original list and added: Birmingham (3 x CRJ), Cincinnati (3 x CRJ), Des Moines (2 x E70), Islip (2 x CRJ), Little Rock (2 x E70), Montreal (3 x CRJ), Ottawa (3 x CRJ), Pensacola (2 x CRJ), Savannah (1 x CRJ), Tallahassee (1 x CRJ)

Not on the original list but added: Agusta, GA (1 x CRJ), Bangor, ME (2 x CRJ), Fayetteville, NC (1 x CRJ); Fayetteville, AR (1 x CRJ); Ft. Walton Beach, FL (2 x CRJ); Jacksonville, NC (1 x CRJ); Memphis (3 x CRJ), Minneapolis (2 x E75, 1 x E70), Omaha (1 x E70), Toronto (4 x CRJ)

On the original list but not getting flights: Grand Rapids, MI, Ithica, NY, Madison, WI, Miami, Myrtle Beach

Some observations on the slot swap routes:

1. US Airways choose not to enter any new markets despite the addition of 42 highly desirable DCA slots. This comes despite Grand Rapids and Madison being on their original list of destinations they planned to add. The closest US Airways came was adding flights to Omaha and Des Moines to Reagan National — and Charlotte. Omaha and Des Moines were unusual cases in that they had US Airways service to Phoenix but not to anywhere to the east. So a long-expected connecting the dots move. They can’t do more of this though, as there aren’t any other places in the Central Time Zone that gets service only to Phoenix.

2. Oh Canada! Nearly a quarter of the flights added at DCA are to Canada. This is not a surprise; one of the few places US Airways has added flights to in recent years is Canada. (Charlotte got service to Montreal in 2008 and Ottawa in 2010).

3. Not much was added to the Northeast, just Bangor and Islip but a lot of additions to the Southeast, many of which are places that don’t have service to Philly.

4. In its original 2009 press release, US Airways stated that:

Following full implementation of the new schedule, the airline anticipates its passenger enplanements at DCA will increase by 30 to 35 percent as a result of the new flights and use of larger aircraft.

The larger aircraft part hasn’t really happened nor was there an increase in flights to existing markets. Which suggests that US Airways has changed its focus a bit, and is now concentrating more now on traffic going to/from Washington, DC and less on using DCA as a connecting point than what was envisioned when the deal was first proposed back in 2009. If DCA isn’t going to pick up the load as a connecting point to the Northeast, it’s possible that more of that function could in time shift to CLT — but only if/when US Airways starts adding capacity (which isn’t really currently planned).

5. Interesting that US Airways is adding flights to three Delta hubs (Memphis, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati) but is ignoring American Airlines despite American currently being in Chapter 11. US Airways is not adding DCA-Miami flights, though their original press release said they would, and is actually reducing service on DCA-Dallas/Ft. Worth to once daily (!). Memphis and to a lesser degree Cincinnati are dying hubs but it’s still a very strange use of a scarce resources by US Airways.

Bonus observation: Jerry Orr talks about adding a lot more gates out at the airport. Would love to see him lay out an actual business case for that.

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Overkill: Do We Really Need AAA Baseball When We Have the NFL and the NBA?

This week, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx called a new, tax-subsidized stadium for Charlotte Charlotte Knights a “hard sell” and made skeptical noises like he doubted it would happen. He didn’t mean it.

Overkill: the uptown strategy

That’s just how things get done around here. The politicians who plan to push something go through a sort of 12-step process with these things, with the first step being public denial. That way, later on, when they come out and push for the stadium, they won’t look like push overs, but people who’ve convinced by the overwhelming merits of the plan.

The Knights obviously know Foxx is bluffing. Otherwise they wouldn’t have asked for $11 million for the AAA stadium from the city while he’s making negative noises. It’s all political theater. Trust me.

What’s incredible here is that if the city forks it over, taxpayers will have paid more than half the $78 million cost of the thing, including $8 million in stadium infrastructure and $24 million worth of uptown property from the county plus the $11 million from the city for a total of $43 million.

Forget any objections to spending taxpayer money for a minute, because no one around here cares about that. That’s still a HUGE amount of treasure spent on AAA baseball, especially when even the contrived, manufactured, rah-rah impact studies supporting construction of the Knights stadium show little real economic impact.

Surely there’s a bigger, better use for that money. The pot of money that could be used for the city’s contribution stadium is currently used to market the city across the country to bring in outside events like conferences and sports events. To put that in perspective, Myrtle Beach, which has less than a quarter of Charlotte’s base population, spends $25 million a year marketing itself, more than twice what we do. That’s what we’re up against, and every mid-sized city in the country now has a marketing budget for similar purposes.

Given how tough it is to market Charlotte as a destination, and given the national competition, I’m not sure I’d want to give up any outside marketing money, again, for AAA baseball when we already have the NFL and the NBA. How does AAA give us an edge and how much of an edge does it give us? No one has said.

It just seems like overkill.

 

 

If the powers that be want to throw money around uptown, is AAA baseball really worth blowing a hole this big in the hotel-motel tax revenue stream and spending taxpayer millions beside that. I just don’t see it.

 

 

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