Behave you gate hoarders!

by Charlie Leocha on February 7, 2003

Most of us have read about the impending code share and frequent flier alliance between Delta, Continental and Northwest. It was approved with many strings attached – strings that the airlines have declared they will ignore.

Now we have a pending war between renegade airlines and the regulators. Initially, this war will be fought by lawyers. The first skirmishes are already underway. This will be a test of federal enforcement of their regulations.

Imagine if you and I decided that we would ignore IRS regulations. What would happen if drivers decided that they had no need to obey traffic signals? I think the feds will win, but in the short term, the airlines will try to find ways to scrounge money by doing what would have been blatantly illegal only months ago.

According to the airlines, one of the most onerous “strings” attached to the conditional approval of the tri-airline code share is the requirement that they give up gates in several markets where their “cooperation” may decrease competition.

Two years ago I wrote a column about how airports could reduce delays by controlling their own airport gates as they do in Europe.

The airlines obviously aren’t ready.

Delta, Continental and Northwest are howling and stamping their corporate feet. Taking gates from airlines is like taking candy from a baby. Control of gates means control of the market. Control of gates means the ability to freeze out competition.

The airlines are plugging the last of their protectionist dikes against rising low cost airlines. The airlines are more concerned with protecting market share and management positions than they are about salvaging line jobs and making a profit today.

This is yet another example of poor use of assets and personnel. The major airlines are not focused on making money from ongoing operations. They are focused on keeping competitors out of airports and off gates that they control.

According to Massport Northwest Airlines controls six gates at Logan Airport in Boston and has 30 departures or arrivals each day.

Just down the walkway, AirTran has only one gate and with 20 arrivals or departures each day. Boston would have more low-cost flights if AirTran could get additional gates.

AirTran uses its gate 400 percent more than a Northwest gate. We hear continued moaning from the airlines about labor costs. Here is a management decision that can potentially cut “gate costs” by 33 percent if Northwest reduced their gates from six to four.

Massport should reclaim at least two Northwest gates using these new DOT rules and reapportion them based on usage. That was the intent of the most recent airport contracts. It will help Northwest save money. And it will help the flying public save money by making more low-cost seats available.

Airports across the country should take a hard look at gate usage. It will level the playing field for new competition as well as make airports far more efficient.

US Airways Bankruptcy Notes

US Airways doesn’t have the money to pay their back bills. They have erased all value in their stock. They have proposed eliminating the company-funded pilots’ retirement system. Columns are filled with stories about planes pulled out of service and parked in the desert. But US Airways still has money to buy airplanes. A deal was just announces for a purchase of 29 new aircraft. Go figure.

Perils of code-sharing

The pilots at Air France just finished a four-day walkout. Estimates indicated that about 15 percent of the carrier’s schedule was delayed or cancelled.

“Air France doesn’t involve many of us,” you say. “Zut allors!” Delta code shares with Air France. Even though your ticket said Delta the plane and the pilots were Air France. Something to consider when code-sharing in the future. Pay attention to which airline’s planes and crews you will be flying.

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