Here’s an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune, which illustrates a point hinted at in the previous entry – rising fuel costs are pounding carriers into financial chaos:

With fuel costs 40 percent higher than a year ago, and many airlines struggling to eke out a profit, carriers this year have accelerated efforts to shed fuel-guzzling pounds.

They carry less drinking water. In onboard bathrooms, they’ve replaced glass mirrors with acrylic ones. And ovens, a waste of space and weight on flights where meals are no longer served, have been tossed overboard.

Carriers also have stopped topping off the fuel tank of aircraft before takeoff, and they are tougher about heavy bags, enforcing rules that call for extra fees.

“We fly so many flights a day that if we can get 100 pounds off every flight, we save millions of dollars a year,” said American Airlines Capt. Steve Chealander, a 737 pilot who is also manager of flight operations efficiency.

British Air Cuts Jobs

November 30, 2005

British Air is cutting about 600 jobs, in an effort to streamline and reduce costs. Labor is typically one of the highest costs for airline carriers, after record high fuel prices (which can’t be effectively reduced without cutting flights and thereby eliminating opportunities for profits).

When America West, through its Holdings Corp., acquired US Air in September and thereby provided the cornerstone of the troubled airline’s eventual emergence from its second Chapter 11 (or "Chapter 22," as it’s been known), it was – to quote Martha – a "good thing." Now? Not so much, apparently. US Airways issued a cautionary warning in a regulatory filing last week, just prior to the Thanksgiving holidays, that the merger might create new problems, and that the carrier’s financial woes will carry over into 2006. Article here by MSNBC.com, another one here by Forbes, with this quote:

While the merger will result in certain synergies and growth opportunities going forward, the company said its significant operating losses have not subsided and will likely continue into 2006.

US Airways had estimated that the combined company would see about $600 million in operating cost savings and revenue synergies. However, in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, US Airways said it "cannot assure" the synergies will be realized.

"We may not perform as well financially as we expect following the merger," the company cautioned.

How do I love thee, Sabrina Pacifici? Let me count the ways:

  1. First, you bring us LLRX.com, "a unique, free Web journal dedicated to providing legal, library, IT/IS, marketing and administrative professionals with the most up-to-date information on a wide range of Internet research and technology-related issues, applications, resources and tools, since 1996."
  2. Then, you get together with Donna Cavallini and deliver us unto "Competitive Intelligence", a mind-boggling array of most excellent resources, from the free to the not-free, from general news to legislative tracking to business info and more.
  3. And as if that weren’t enough, through said "CI" guide, I find GovTrack.US, a free site that lets me monitor legislative activity through RSS feed or email, by topic, by representative, or by bill number, and could not be any easier. Seriously. And I take "easy" very seriously.

My cup runneth over. The rest of you need to check all three out, especially GovTrack. Very user-friendly (including for the politically-ignorant an interactive map that selects your representatives and senators for your monitoring alerts). Topics include "Airports" and "Access to Airports" and "Airlines" – oh my.

New Resource – Wex

November 22, 2005

Wex is a (relatively new) website structured as a wiki (see my favorite website ever Wikipedia) functioning as "a collaboratively built, freely available legal dictionary and encyclopedia." (Here’s the entry on aviation law. A little sparse on the airport side, but, still – it’s a great start.) Wex is  sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, and is the successor site to the Institute’s "Law About…" pages. It’s aimed at "law novices" which the site points out isn’t just law students, as lawyers tend to think, but anyone who is impacted by the law but isn’t a lawyer or legal scholar – e.g., a new business owner, who wants to know what employment laws it has to comply with in order to be all legal-like.

Happy browsing!

In lieu of a roundup, I thought I’d switch focus this week to focusing on just one or two stories a bit more in depth. First up:

The Johnston County Airport is the site of protests over its involvement in storing planes allegedly used by the CIA to transport terrorism suspects overseas for torture. The story can be found here (link via Airport Business).

The protest centers around Aero Contractors, a company that’s leased land at Johnston County since the late 1970s. Earlier this year, the New York Times and CBS’s news show "60 Minutes" featured reports on the allegations that Aero Contractors was being used by the CIA to ferry prisoners and detainees to countries that practiced torture, presumably in order to circumvent laws preventing such methods of extracting intelligence in this country. The protest was met with the comment that this was an "old story … beat to death," by the company’s assistant general manager.

Assuming (and that’s a big assumption, I know) that the truth of the allegations could be proven, solely for the sake of argument, it’s doubtful any liability would attach to the airport operator, in my opinion. A case could theoretically be framed under Section 1983, but whether the lease of property could constitute sufficient state action is doubtful (and that’s assuming Article III standing could be proven, and assuming the party challenging the actions even had access to American courts).

The story also raises First Amendment issues. Some of the protesters were arrested for trespass. While individuals do have the right to protest under the First Amendment, generally speaking, that right is subject to many limitations in the context of airport terminals. Not only can reasonable safety and security measures be strictly enforced, there may be valid content-neutral time/place/manner restrictions in place as well. The right must also be balanced against the right of a private company to peaceably hold and enjoy its premises under its lease with the airport, although a constitutional right run smack up against private lease rights will probably result, without more, in favor of the constitutional right, of course. The exact location of the protest will matter, for instance, in the determination of whether the site is deemed a public or non-public forum; this will dictate the scope and breadth of the types of restrictions the governmental operator can adopt and enforce.

Interesting stuff for a Monday.

(the title’s a shout-out to my six-year-old, who has taken to yelling around the house in the mornings, as she and her dad bustle out the door, "Let’s GO! SPEEDY QUICK CHOP CHOP!" Have no idea where she got that from.)

Case Caption: IBP, Inc. v Alvarez

Case Number: 03-1238

Arguments Heard: October 3, 2005

Opinion Filed: November 8, 2005

No, that’s not a typo, and yes, you read that correctly. It took just a hair over a month for the new Roberts court to issue an opinion in this FLSA case from the Ninth Circuit (combined with a similar case from the First). Given the admirable speed with which this opinion came down, I thought I’d do a speedy quick chop chop post, as an homage, of sorts, if you will.

In resolving a split in the circuits, the Court illuminated in a unanimous (and fast – did I mention it was issued fast?) Stevens-authored opinion whether the following periods of time were compensable as "work" under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

  • "donning and doffing" time – time spent putting on and taking off personal protective equipment (PPE) required for work
  • time spent waiting for PPE to be issued
  • time spent walking from locker room (site of "donning") to where work was to take place that day
  • time spent waiting to "doff"

The Court ruled, respectively:

  • work
  • not work
  • work
  • work

Clear? OK.

I am struggling to find the proper category for this one. I almost put it under "Intergovernmental Relations." Then, I thought, no, it’s really an attempt to generate revenue – "Concessions"? Endgame: I chickened out and chose "Airport Law – Generally." Love those catchalls.

So, it seems Allegheny County Council Member Ed Kress has an idea to generate some additional revenue for Pittsburgh Airport: sell the naming rights. Kress proposed his idea at his Council’s meeting this past Tuesday. The idea has generated much discussion, debate, criticism, and genuine musing … and I wonder: Can he really do that? I mean – legally?

Now, obviously, the FAA is the Keeper of the Code List – the list of three-letter abbreviations for commercial airports in the US. That most likely won’t change, and Kress admits as much. But if the Council, as the governing body of the owner of the airport, wants to change the name of the airport, what’s to prevent them from auctioning it off to the highest bidder? As long as the playing field is equal and all comers welcome – ah, well, there’s a potential glitch, isn’t there? Is the Midwest, for instance, ready for, say, Anytown-Jack Daniels Airport? (Nothing against Jack Daniels, at all. I mean – argh. Moving on.)

Interesting, as Peter Kirsch would say. I’ll keep my eye on this one.

While the judge’s ruling allows the city to resume buying properties, the city has agreed it won’t disturb any graves at the St. Johannes Cemetery until a federal appeals court in Washington rules on another lawsuit opponents have filed against the Federal Aviation Administration, city attorney Diane Pezanoski said.

Story here, via Airport Business.

You know the O’Hare AAs are busy. Consider this timeline:

  • September 30: After receiving final FAA approval, ground breaking ceremony for O’Hare’s $14.7 billion expansion project
  • September 30, one hour later: Served with injunction on $14.7 billion expansion project. Part of claim involves a First Amendment challenge to the plan to extend the runway through 168-year-old St. Johannes Cemetery.
  • October 25: After City agrees not to disturb gravesites at St. Johannes, Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit lifts its earlier stay, allowing project to proceed.
  • October 31: Opponents turn to a federal judge in Illinois for help.
  • November 3: Judge assents, in a fashion, allowing the project to continue but halting acquisition of property in Bensenville for the project. Order to expire November 14 (yesterday, as of this posting) to allow time for the court to become familiar with the case.
  • Same day: Things take an ugly turn as one couple who sold their home to the City for the project reports vandalism on the home, and claims they’re being harrassed because they agreed to participate in the acquisition project.

It gets worse from there. Bensenville leaders begin accusing Chicago officials of spreading "hysteria" over the acquisition program. Chicago’s O’Hare Modernization Program officials respond: "Not true, just trying to help people start over."

One thing is certain:With headlines such as those that follow (especially the last), this will get more intense before it eases up. Stay tuned – more updates as events warrant.

Here are the links to read, in chronological order of date of release:

Court Puts O’Hare Expansion on Hold (UPI)
Court Allows O’Hare Development Resumption (Travel Blackboard)
O’Hare Expansion Opponents Seek Court Injunction (AP via ABC7Chicago.com)
Court Puts Hold On Chicago Airport Property Buys (Reuters via Washington Post)
Home Sold For O’Hare Expansion Vandalized (NBC5.com)
Couple Who Sold Home For O’Hare Expansion Claims Harrassment (AP via ABC7Chicago.com)
City Accused of Spreading Hysteria Over O’Hare (CBS2Chicago.com)
Judge Delays O’Hare Decision Until Wednesday (ABC7Chicago.com)
Chicago’s Daley Duels Widow Over Plan to Move Cemetery (Bloomberg)