Posts by William J. McGee

  • What was MH17 doing overflying war zone?

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 5 mths ago

    Dangerous skies can be found from Israel to Iraq, and from Nigeria to North Korea, and aviation experts say the path that took Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and its 298 passengers over a war zone in eastern Ukraine was not unusual. Commercial airlines fly over hot spots all the time without incident. However, risks are obvious, and different countries interpret protocols for overflights in various ways. U.S. carriers are probably among the most conservative about what territory to fly over — and they were directed by the country's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April to avoid a narrow corridor over eastern Ukraine, an advisory that continues until April of next year. Reactions from other aviation agencies to Malaysia Airlines' second airborne tragedy in 2014 don't necessarily clear the air, but the airline would have had ample precedent from other countries' recent advisories to avoid eastern Ukrainian airspace. The International Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s largest global trade organization, issued a two-sentence statement just hours after the apparent downing of the aircraft: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and...

  • Wild-west charter airline market faces federal crackdown

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 6 mths ago

    The compulsion to search for the cheapest airfare has led some Americans to the charter flight market, where savings can be as much as 50 percent over some airline routes, but also where years of regulatory neglect have left behind a risky landscape for travelers. The majority of people who book public charter flights use third-party charter brokers, tour operators or travel agents, both online and offline. Charters can be marketed directly to passengers as well, and the deals can be tempting. For instance, there's Air Sunshine, which offers round-trip fares between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for as little as $250. But there’s compelling evidence that consumers need protection in the charter market, particularly since many passengers may not know whether or not they're booking a charter flight and may not understand that there are key differences between the rules established for charters and for scheduled airline flights. Charter carriers are particularly susceptible to sudden bankruptcies, and unlike some scheduled airline tickets, charter reservations are never honored by other operators. The risk derives in part from the public charter concept: each passenger is paying for the cost of the trip, and if bookings fall short, the flight can be scrapped — or worse, the company can go under. During 2013, for example, the Department of Transportation recorded 196 consumer complaints against tour operators, most of those concerning charters. Since 2011, in fact, the DOT has levied nearly $1 million in fines against charter operators for violating regulations. Among other key offenses:

  • 8 lessons we need to learn from Malaysia Airlines tragedy

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 9 mths ago

    Note : William J. McGee, the lone consumer advocate on the Transportation Department’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, is author of the book "Attention All Passengers."He teaches at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, N.Y.

    Much went wrong during the investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and millions around the world watched each development. After the Boeing 777's disappearance, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, global media descended on Malaysia — and as with every airline tragedy, numerous false leads emerged, along with dissemination of misinformation and widespread myth-making.

    This is not to say MH370 didn’t succumb to sabotage from forces inside or outside the 777. But many airline tragedies are not always what they seem during the initial stages of investigation, so it’s critical to consider all possibilities.

    However, black box myths abound:

  • Incidents of airliners hitting turbulence seem to be increasing, say experts

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 9 mths ago

    Recently, airborne turbulence reminded anyone who has ever flown on a plane that it can do much more than spill drinks or mess up handwriting. At its worst, it can be deadly. United Airlines Flight 1676, a Boeing 737 en route from Denver to Billings, experienced “pandemonium” when it encountered severe turbulence in late February. What one expert called “26 seconds of hell” injured six passengers and two crew members; one flight attendant was hospitalized after striking her head so hard she cracked a ceiling panel. News reports noted that an unsecured baby flew from its mother’s arms, but thankfully, landed safely in another row. Despite technological advances in detecting and avoiding it, turbulence remains a threat to anything that flies, including civil, military and commercial aircraft of any size  —   and a range of experts believe global climate changes will be producing more incidents of turbulence.


  • U.S. airlines, unions say Norwegian Air plans to 'Walmart' the skies

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 10 mths ago

    New low-cost airlines frequently start with a headlong race to bottom-line prices and no-frills service, but U.S. carriers and others are worried newcomer Norwegian Air has figured out a way to bypass regulations that rule the market, prompting fears about labor, plane maintenance and even passenger safety.

    Today, Norwegian flies from New York City and Fort Lauderdale to Europe; it wants to add Los Angeles, Oakland and Orlando to its route map in 2014. “We're constantly considering new routes for our network, also in and out of the U.S.," a spokesman for the airline said. Three weeks ago, Norwegian announced the opening of crew bases in New York and Fort Lauderdale, with plans to hire 300 U.S. flight attendants in 2014 “and many more in the years ahead.”

    As its rapid expansion plans unfold, Norwegian Air has managed to do the impossible, uniting the U.S. airline industry — though in opposition to Norwegian's existence. And not just over competitive issues, but also over Norwegian's intent to, in effect, choose the regulations it wants to obey and to ignore, raising questions about how transparent Norwegian's operations would be.

  • FAA ruling on personal devices in flight leaves troubling safety questions

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    Though a recent Federal Aviation Administration committee ruling scored a victory for air travelers, with potential to clear the skies for portable electronic device use from gate to gate, prominent aviation experts and groups question whether the agency panel was steamrolled by industry interests at the possible expense of safety.

    At issue are not just the murky specifics of whether iPads, Kindles and other electronic gizmos do cause potentially dangerous interference in flight. Dozens of pilots say they can, one reason why a ban on using cell phones for voice communication in flight will continue. The ruling also places some of the busiest airline employees charged with passenger safety--flight attendants--in the role of arbiter as to what device may or may not be safe, and when.

  • Government shutdown leaves airlines in charge of the skies

    William J. McGee at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    With the U.S. government in its third day of shutdown and an unprecedented number of Federal Aviation Administration inspectors on furlough, American skies now are more or less in the hands of the airline industry — a situation that could erode safety margins for air travel, industry experts and observers say.

    More than 2,900 safety inspectors are not working, with no date set for their return, according to the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a labor organization representing FAA employees. “All of this decreases the safety margin,” says Mike Perrone, national president of PASS. “People have good intentions, but at the end of the day it’s about money. For right now, the airlines are on their own.”

    Ever since U.S. airlines were deregulated in 1978 and the government ceased micromanaging routes and fares, industry experts have debated what the right amount of oversight should be. But Washington’s shutdown has created a scenario only Ayn Rand could have imagined — with airlines policing their own operations now.

    For travelers: What to expect