Thursday, April 20, 2006

New News

The last two weeks, we've learned a few peices of interesting news at my airline.

First, the Megawhacker is getting another two seats. When I started flying it, there were 70 seats, with quite a lot of legroom. Last year, my airline put four additional seats in it, giving it the same (still sufficient) legroom as the Miniwhacker. Now, they're making it a 76 seater, reconfiguring the galley so they can do it with minimal loss of legroom. Additionally, we're purchasing a modification from the manufacterer that will increase max takeoff weight (MTOW) and max zero fuel weight (MZFW) to 65,500 lbs - an increase of 1000 lbs. We're occasionally weight-limited as a 74 seater; the mod should help us fill all 76 seats without running into weight restrictions. There are a number of markets where we consistently run full, so the extra two seats will help from both a revenue and non-rev standpoint.

Interestingly, the modification is only on paper. The Megawhacker already has published performance numbers for weights well over 64,500 lbs, and has already been tested up to those weights. We're paying the manufacterer a reportedly hefty sum simply to get a new type certificate. Also, it was recently reported that they're looking at stretching the Megawhacker to a 90-100 seat airframe, and my company has expressed interest. That would be one long airplane. Sheesh, we have to be careful about tailstrikes now, is the stretched version gonna have a 4 degree pitch limitation!?

The second bit of news is that with all the new Megawhackers we're getting, the company is opening a second base for the airplane, in Seattle. They haven't given a precise timeline, but said it'll happen by the time we get the last airplane late next year. About half of the fleet - 32 airplanes by that time - will be based there. I don't think I'll get involuntarily displaced, but that depends on the exact timing. Then again, if I'm junior in Portland but senior in Seattle, it may be worthwhile to commute. Wait and see, I guess.

The last, and most intriguing peice of news, is something the company intentionally leaked to the employees. Supposedly, they are looking at getting Embraer 190's, or possibly CRJ-900's. Now mind you, the company is normally very secretive about this sort of thing, which makes me wonder why they're suddenly so open about it. My gut feeling is that they want to use it as a carrot in the pilot contract negotiations, dangling it in front of junior FO's, hoping to inspire a little "Shiny Jet Syndrome" that'll get them in the mood for a paycut.

Personally, I'd rather not see 90 seat jets at my airline. Once we start flying anything that size, it's at the cost of better-paying jobs at "big sister," and I'm not interested in growth at their expense. It's not just about our little corner of the industry, either. The recent trend has been for 90 seaters to go to mainline (jetBlue and USAirways are two recent examples). I don't want my airline to set an example that other majors would be sure to follow, awarding more 90-seat flying to cut-rate operators like Mesa.