The United States is notable for many things in aviation. However, the US does not have currently, and likely will not have, a flag carrier. For such a mature market, it may come as a surprise to many that the US does not have a flag carrier, but it is not very surprising given the developments in the US air market in the late 20th-century.
The US air market in the 20th-century
The US air market grew quickly after World War II passed. In the 1950s and 1960s, the jet age advanced the reach of US airlines. These planes were faster and had the opportunity to fly longer missions with fewer stops, which made commercial aviation in the US much more efficient and convenient.
US aviation was governed by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) from the late-1930s onwards. Regulating air service, the CAB would determine which carriers could fly which routes, thereby turning competition from a market decision to a government one.
This helped certain carriers get access to certain routes and operate with minimal, or in some cases, no competition. However, in the post-war period in the US, there was a growth in air travel and increased competition on many routes. However, one airline maintained its strong position.
The unofficial US flag carrier
Growing in prominence during World War II, Pan Am was truly the unofficial US flag carrier in the 20th-century. Even in the post-war era, Pan Am maintained an impressive array of international routes. Pan Am was the premier international airline representing the US. It was known for bringing the Beatles to the US, further raising the airline’s notoriety.
Pan Am, however, still had to face international competition. TWA and Braniff, among several other airlines, flew internationally, presenting some competition to Pan Am. However, Pan Am competed vigorously against these rivals and maintained its significant international presence.
Pan Am was such a significant carrier that it helped pioneer the development of one of the most iconic aircraft in the world: the Boeing 747. Pan Am was the launch customer for the Boeing 747 and, arguably, was one of its most iconic operators. In 1970, First Lady of the United States, Pat Nixon, christened a Boeing 747, marking the aircraft and airline’s significance.
The first Boeing 747s came to Pan Am while the carrier was at its peak with an international route portfolio that extended mostly out of the East Coast to South America and Europe. The airline sought to portray itself as a premier airline and offered a premium experience for its passengers.
The 1970s were key to the demise of Pan Am
From 1973 onwards, Pan Am significantly struggled. Starting with the oil crisis in 1973 and growing competition, the airline worked to right-size its operations. However, the real blow to Pan Am came in 1978.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act into law, which phased out the CAB and deregulated the American airline industry. It was essentially with this stroke that the US officially ended having even a de facto flag carrier.
During the regulated years, Pan Am could not fly domestic routes. The CAB was concerned about Pan Am growing so big it would monopolize the growing air market, so it left Pan Am with operating international routes with few exceptions. The carrier seriously wanted domestic routes, but it never got the breadth that it needed.
So, in 1978, all of a sudden, Pan Am had a limited domestic network and a large international network with nearly no connecting feed. On international routes, Pan Am faced a host of new competitors that seriously threatened its business.
From then on, Pan Am was on the slide. After a rough merger with National Airlines, the carrier went through a difficult 1980s and tried various strategies, including divestment of some assets and fleet advancements, which helped but was not enough for the airline. One thing it could not prepare for was the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and subsequent financial struggles.
In 1991, Pan Am ceased operations, leading to the end of the premier international airline.
The US has not had a flag carrier since
Since the US opened up its air market for competition, the country has not been terribly fond of maintaining a flag carrier. Many airlines have definitely tried to take the mantle of being an American flag carrier,
Today, the US has three major international airlines. These are American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. All three have large domestic networks that help feed their international routes.
On the domestic front, some of the largest airlines include Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska. Rounding out the airlines are the low-cost airlines, such as Spirit and Frontier. There are plenty of airlines around, and that competition is one reason why the US does not have a flag carrier.
Flag carriers around the world
There are many flag carriers around the world, and they all generally have a few different features in common. Flag carriers are usually an airline that flies the largest portfolio of international routes out of a country and offers a sense of national pride for their home country. In some cases, those flag carriers are government-owned, though that is not always the case.
Some well-known examples of flag carriers include British Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Saudia, Qatar Airways, KLM, Air France, Qantas, and plenty of others. The UAE actually has two flag carriers: Etihad and Emirates. Most of these airlines are serving some smaller countries that do not need a massive domestic network.
However, flag carriers are starting to go out of style. Some flag carriers, such as Thai Airways and South African Airways, are facing difficult futures that will require restructuring, while others, such as British Airways and Aeromexico, are facing strong competitors.
The US does fine without a flag carrier, and the deregulated aviation market in the US is not conducive to having a sole flag carrier. Instead of one flag carrier, all US carriers proudly fly the US flag at home and overseas, representing the diversity of airlines. For this reason, the US is unlikely to get a sole flag carrier now or in the future.
Do you think the US should have a flag carrier, or are you glad that the US does not have one? Let us know in the comments!
How The De Havilland Comet Kickstarted The Jet Age
Next year will mark seven decades of commercial jet travel. The de Havilland DH.106 Comet entered service with BOAC on May 2nd, 1952, and went on to revolutionize the whole aviation market. There were great expectations with the plane, and even though the program wouldn’t last so long, it helped pave the way for a new age in the aviation industry.
New requirements for a new era
The Brabazon Committee was formed in 1943, which had the task of determining the United Kingdom’s aviation needs after the end of the Second World War. The group felt that the country needed a pressurized transatlantic mail plane. The desire was to transport 2,200 lb of payload at a cruising speed of 400 mph.
At the time, it was believed that jet engines consumed too much fuel and were unreliable. Jets were deployed in World War II but were yet to be entered into passenger service. However, de Havilland had faith in the technology.
Overall, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland used his experience and reputation to get the project off the ground. Thus, the first commercial jet airliner in the world took to the skies for the first time on July 27th, 1949, which was also Sir Geoffrey’s 67th birthday. Moreover, chief test pilot John Cunningham was also celebrating his birthday that day.
Plenty to be excited about
There were several benefits to be had with the aircraft. It was approximately 50% quicker than its piston counterparts at the time. Flights from London to Tokyo were taking up to 86.5 hours during this period, but the Comet only took 36 hours. There were also several other advantages across the board.
“The DH106 Comet was only 93 feet in length, almost 15 feet shorter than its main competitor the Douglas DC6B. It carried fewer people although this was in a significantly more spacious environment and BOAC opted to install 36 reclining ‘slumber-seats’ with 45-inch (1,100 mm) centres thus allowing for greater leg room in front and behind. Air France chose 11 rows of seats with four seats to a row installed,” BAE Systems shares.
“In the BOAC configuration, the large window and table seating gave a feeling of comfort and luxury, highly unusual for passenger air travel of the period. Other luxuries included a galley, serving hot and cold food and drinks, plus a bar and even separate men’s and women’s toilets. The structure also provided space for emergency situations including life-rafts, stored in the wings near the engines, and individual life-jackets were stowed under each seat.”
BAE Systems also notes that the Comet was notably quiet compared to other aircraft on the scene. The plane offered “vibration-free flying” due to the difference that a jet engine would make compared with a propeller vehicle.
Over 30,000 passengers were transported in the first year of service. Moreover, at least eight flights with the aircraft took off from London weekly. These operations headed to the likes of Colombo, Johannesburg, Singapore, and Tokyo.
Key operators of the Comet series included:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air France
- East African Airways
- Olympic Airways
- United Arab Airlines
- Union Aeromaritime de Transport (UAT)
Despite the revolutionary achievements, the plane’s early operations didn’t go so smoothly. There was a series of crashes that resulted in the being grounded multiple times in the mid-1950s. Notably, the issues with the plane became a national concern. Even Winston Churchill, the UK’s prime minister, expressed that finding a solution to the mystery of the accidents was a high priority. Overall, the world had its eyes on the British aviation industry.
Despite the extensive testing, which saw a Comet being submerged repeatedly underwater, and the improved construction that followed, the Comet 1 and its successors, the Comet 2 and 3, would not serve another passenger. The Comet 4 would see some success with a handful of airlines, but by this time, the rest of the industry caught up with the jet trend.
In total, including prototypes, 114 units of the type were built between 1949 and 1964. The plane had swiftly been overtaken by competitors in the passenger realm. However, it wasn’t until 1997 when it was finally retired for the last time. This final aircraft was the Royal Air Force’s Comet 4C XS235.
The one that kicked it all off
Altogether, the de Havilland Comet was the aircraft that kicked of a new era in the industry. The jet age has brought countless new opportunities within the travel industry. The increase in speed and lower costs that came with the jet enabled the wider society to hit the skies for the very first time. This age may have lasted until now, but following Comet’s introduction, it was a genuine craze around the world.
The likes of Boeing and Douglas soon introduced their own here with the 707 and DC-8, respectively. These American manufacturers became powerhouses in the field in subsequent decades. Meanwhile, the Comet never managed to make a comeback following the series of tragedies that occurred following its entry into service.
The damage was simply done, and others filled in the gap. Nonetheless, the initial breakthrough of the Comet and the should not be forgotten. Perhaps it was just introduced slightly too early for the industry. Regardless, it was the jetliner that started it all.
What are your thoughts about the de Havilland DH.106 Comet? What do you make of the plane’s impact over the years? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its operations in the comment section.
Banning Short Haul Flight Could Destroy Electric Flight Innovation
Speaking as part of the World Aviation Festival’s Sustainability Panel on Wednesday, KLM’s Vice President for Sustainability, Karel Bockstael, commented on the forthcoming short-haul flight ban that will impact sister carrier Air France. While he stated that we are all in a battle against climate change, he also cautioned against measures that could potentially disrupt innovations in sustainable flight in the long term.
Alternative guidance needed in the long term
Earlier this month, French lawmakers voted in favor of a bill set to ban flights on routes where there are available train connections in under two and a half hours. The new law was first introduced as part of the environmental strings attached to the government’s aid package to its flag carrier.
Mr Bockstael generally applauds objective regulations that are compatible with fighting climate change. However, he also said that it must be made sure that long-term innovation will not suffer in the process when it came to banning short routes.
“Of course, we understand that trains replacing flights in the current situation might be a good solution. (…) On the other hand, especially on short routes, we must make sure that we are not destroying any innovation, because on the short routes we expect that we will have electric flight and hydrogen flight,” Mr Bockstael said, adding that in the long term alternative guidance would be needed.
Routes to deploy upcoming models are crucial
Most electric aircraft currently in the pipeline to enter service within the decade are constructed for the short-haul commuter market. While 20 years from now you may be able to buy a ticket for a 100-seater electric aircraft, there is still some way to go in terms of batteries and capacity.
However, to get there, it must first be profitable for companies to make and market their predecessors. They must also be able to funnel money back into R&D. Governments must also provide incentives to assist in the decarbonization of aviation. This is unlikely to occur if there are no routes on which to deploy electric planes with commercial success.
Yesterday, we reported that Norway’s Green Party is also in favor of banning shorter services, despite the country’s reliance on regional connectivity. They also suggest introducing individual flight quotas.
Infrastructure essential for hub carriers
Of its own accord, KLM has already introduced an air-to-rail service, where travelers connecting to Brussels from Schiphol disembark the aircraft and board a train for their last leg of the journey. Or vice versa if they are heading in the other direction.
Trains and aircraft working together are entirely dependent on good infrastructure. Especially for hub carriers such as Air France and KLM, the offers need to be comparable so as not to create an uneven playing field.
Corporate clients have their own value chain
KLM is betting big on biofuel for its sustainability targets. It is doing a good job at selling the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which is still two to four times more expensive than traditional jet fuel, to its corporate and cargo clients.
“You have to remember that our business customers, our corporate customers, they also have their own enterprise responsibility in terms of decarbonization. So in the value chain, we see that especially on the business to business, there’s a lot of interest, and also readiness to pay a premium also up to the level of SAF.”
What do you think of restrictions on short-haul flights? Are they a temporary good solution or a potential long-term innovation disruptor? Leave a comment below and let us know.
JetBlue Invests In Hydrogen Powered Flight
JetBlue today revealed a sizable investment in the realization of hydrogen-powered flight. The US hybrid carrier’s technology venture subsidiary invested $20.5 million into Universal Hydrogen, which hopes to make hydrogen flight a reality.
Across the globe, airlines are acutely aware of their need to increase the sustainability of flight while cutting emissions. As such, many airlines have committed to net-carbon zero goals by 2050. However, many such technologies remain a long way off and will need significant investment now to really get off the ground. One avenue being explored by several unrelated parties is the possibility of hydrogen-powered flight.
JetBlue’s hydrogen investment
JetBlue today revealed the part that it is playing in securing the next generation of aircraft power. The airline invested $20,500,000 into Universal Hydrogen through one of its subsidiaries. But who is Universal Hydrogen? According to JetBlue, the company is seeking to build a fuel distribution network.
However, while traditional jet fuel relies on pipes, fuel trucks, and refillable fuel tanks, Universal Hydrogen has a different idea in mind. The company is seeking to create a process where newly produced hydrogen would be placed directly into modular capsules. These would then be transported to airports using existing freight networks. The empty hydrogen capsules would be replaced by full ones at the airport, like changing the batteries in your TV remote.
The company also wants to retrofit 40-60 regional aircraft to run on modular hydrogen. It hopes to fly the first commercial flight with such an aircraft in 2025 and even suggests that operating costs would eventually be cheaper than their kerosene-based siblings.
Commenting on the investment, Jim Lockheed, Investment Principal at JetBlue Technology Ventures, said,
“Our investment in Universal Hydrogen is highly aligned with JetBlue’s environmental objectives, and this partnership allows the airline a seat at the table in the fast-developing hydrogen for aviation sector and provides valuable insight into the options, progress, and viability of hydrogen to help decarbonize aircraft operations.”
A long way off?
As mentioned, Universal Hydrogen wants to begin operating commercial hydrogen-powered flights in just four years. However, some feel the technology may take quite a bit longer to be scaled up and rolled out across the board.
Speaking last week, British Airways CEO Sean Doyle suggested that it will take until 2050 for emission-free flight technologies such as hydrogen to really get off the ground. In the meantime, Doyle revealed that sustainable aviation fuels would be vital in reducing the industry’s environmental impact.
Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are another avenue being explored by JetBlue. In August last year, JetBlue revealed that it had become the first US airline to achieve carbon-neutral flying on all of its domestic flights, thanks in part to SAFs, but also through carbon offsetting.
What do you make of JetBlue’s investment in hydrogen-powered flight? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!
Landing Soon: WiFi On KLM’s European Flights
Dutch airline KLM has turned on the first of its WiFi services for the European short-haul market. Two 737-800s have begun operating today with Viasat WiFi. By the end of the year, these will be joined by 16 further European-focused 737s, letting KLM fliers stay connected on all their journeys.
Short-haul WiFi for KLM fliers
Dutch flag carrier KLM is bringing inflight connectivity to the European short-haul market, starting today. Its partnership with Viasat will see 18 Boeing 737-800 aircraft getting WiFi installed, letting European fliers stay connected even on their shorter trips.
Viasat has so far equipped just two KLM narrowbody aircraft with its technology but is scheduled to complete the full fleet of 18 Boeing’s by the end of this year. Beginning today, these two aircraft will provide full WiFi access for free, but only for the first week of activation.
KLM states that, during this week-long trial, it will be encouraging passengers to get connected so that it can further evaluate and optimize the onboard WiFi experience. Boet Kreiken, EVP Customer Experience at KLM commented,
“KLM continues to invest in the on-board product, so that we can continue to meet our customers’ expectations and emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. On-board Wi-Fi is an important service that customers want to enjoy for the entire duration of their journey. KLM’s internet service is already being used extensively on our intercontinental flights. Through this partnership with Viasat, we are ensuring that our customers can be online on European flights as well.”
Interestingly, the Viasat deal also includes a fleet of 21 Embraer E195s. The only E195s KLM has in its lineup are the three second-generation E2s that fly for Cityhopper. A further 22 are scheduled to be delivered between now and 2024, which suggests most of its fleet are expected to be WiFi-equipped.
The deal with Viasat was first revealed last November when KLM signed for an undisclosed number of European short-haul aircraft to be outfitted with the tech. This makes Viasat the third WiFi provider for the airline, with Panasonic eXConnect supplying its 787s and Gogo catering to its 777s and A330s.
Free messaging for all
After the one-week trial is concluded, KLM plans to offer three distinct packages for customers using its onboard WiFi services: messaging, surf and stream.
The messaging service will be free for all to use, and will allow passengers to make use of popular services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and similar. For more data availability, passengers can upgrade for a fee to either the ‘surf’ or the ‘stream’ package.
While KLM doesn’t specify the prices for these services yet, it does note that upgrades will be available at any stage of the flight via the KLM Portal. Despite being a new provider, the Viasat-powered WiFi will utilize the same Portal as KLM’s intercontinental services, adding a touch of familiarity to the new addition.
KLM already offers WiFi on all its 787s and A330s, and is in the process of rolling its connectivity package out on its 777s. Currently, some 81% of the intercontinental fleet is WiFi equipped, and the airline says that number will be up to 100% by the first quarter of 2021.
This article is brought to you by Simple Flying Connectivity, a new category on Simple Flying dedicated to inflight connectivity. Click here to read all of our inflight connectivity content.
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