Saturday, 21 February 2015

FAA Rules for Drones

The much awaited rules for flying of drones for commercial uses have finally been unveiled by FAA. Here are some of the key points in this respect:

  • These shall weigh less than 55 pounds, must stay below 500 feet and must fly at no more than 100 miles per hour.
  • People who fly it shall be at least 17 years old. They shall pass an aeronautical test. And, they have to be vetted by TSA.
  • Drones have to fly within sight of operator and during daylight only.
  • FAA knowledge tests have to be passed every 2 years.
  • In case of risk collision, drone operator shall manoeuvre away first.
  • It shall not fly over people, except those who are directly involved in its flight operations.
  • Must not come to airport flight paths and observe restrictions of airspace, permanent or temporary.
  • No object shall be dropped from the drone from air.
  • Operating in reckless and careless manner shall not be allowed.
  • Operator shall perform pre-flight inspection to check whether there are proper communication links between the control station and the drone.
  • Though FAA is not mandating that the UAS shall be subject to airworthiness testing, it might apply to UAS that have FAA mandated components. However, it is the responsibility of the operator to ensure that it is safe before flying it.
Though these rules have been hailed by the community of drone lovers, there are still some concerns regarding their use. The FAA is also expected to pay more attention to the three contentious issues outlined below and frame regulations covering these concerns. These issues are:
  1. Relaxing the ‘Line of Sight’ rule so that these can be used more profitably for commercial purposes.
  2. Asking the drone manufacturers to implement geo-fencing in order to delineate the area where the drones can fly. These will act like limits to the flights of drones.
  3. Develop stringent privacy protection mechanisms so that the individual privacy is not breached with their usage.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Delta Make Changes in SkyMiles Program, Leaves Customers Less than Satisfied

Airlines do seem to have a tendency to play around with the frequent flyer or loyalty programs. The best programs are the ones which are easy to understand and redeem, without much ado. With American airlines undergoing a spate of mergers and acquisitions, it has been quite cumbersome for them to reconcile their FFPs into a single one. This has often meant making changes right from the basis of their calculation. Except for the merger of AA with US Airways, all other mergers in US aviation in the last few years have moved away from the mileage flown basis of accumulation to the amounts spent. It must be said that the passengers are quite understanding and can understand the compulsions of the mergers and are willing to give up a just and reasonable quantum of benefits in the process. However, there could be exception to this rule  and the passengers might feel aggrieved particularly if they feel that the airlines are being less than transparent in their conduct.

This has been the problem with Delta Airlines recently. SkyMiles, the frequent flyer program of the Delta Airlines, has moved to a system of basing their reward points on the actual amount of spending. But, what is causing concern is that is making changes to its program which are difficult to understand. The airline has deviated from the best practice of making redemption easier and has gone on to develop a 5-tier award chart which most of the passengers are not likely to understand without help from experts.

Another measure which has been rued by the airline is that it has stopped publishing its chart which showed how many reward points were required for redemption on flights. These charts were handy for common people to understand very simply how much of points can be redeemed for a particular route of flight. With these chart withdrawn, people have out questions on the real intent of the carrier and have held it to be a less than transparent measure. They are suspicious that the carrier would now be able to manipulate the reward miles and make changes without their knowledge. In fact, it means that the carrier can charges whatever it wants and effect changes according to its own whims and fancies.

JPMiles Vs Club Vistara

As Vistara begins and expands its operations in India, the established full-service private player, Jet Airways, is taking the heat to the new carrier. In a move that is aimed against Vistara, Jet Airways, has made its frequent flyer program more lucrative for passengers traveling on Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Delhi sectors. Though the carrier flies to almost 50 destinations within the country and Vistara flies only the three cities mentioned above at this stage, the offering of higher rewards through the JetPriviledge FFP on these specific routes only is meant to take on the new carrier head on. The rewards are for a limited period, though. These are available till March 31, 2015 only.

The passengers flying business class on Jet Airways on these routes will have three times of the normal JPMiles whereas those flying economy class will have double the base rates. At present, JPMiles earned are based on Ticketed Point Mileage, booking class of travel and loyalty status of passenger. Details of how these are calculated, earned and redeemed are provided here.

Which Were the Busiest International Flight Routes To/From India in 2014?

With the end of the December 2014, it is time for the airline industry to take stock of their annual operational and financial figures. So, it is not only the airlines or the regulators like the DGCA but also the third parties who are up to publishing reports of all sorts. One of these recent reports of relevance is that of the busiest routes of international flights to and from India.

As per recent report, the most traveled international route of 2014 was of Mumbai-Dubai, which flew 17.5 lakh passengers. In all, there were 84.5 lakh people flying to and from Dubai which makes it the single most frequented international destination from India.

The second busiest route has been Delhi-Dubai, which has seen about 13.6 lakh people fly between the two destinations. London is the next important frequented city with Delhi-London route being third most traveled and Mumbai-London one being fourth one in the list.

Routes most Traveled in 2014 (data: passengers in lakhs)
Countries Most Traveled in 2014 (data: passengers in lakhs)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

New Addition to the Etihad Loyalty Program

Etihad Guest is the frequent flyer program of Abu Dhabi based Etihad airways. There are many different ways in which the loyalty reward points can be earned or be redeemed in this program. A number of other airlines, hotels, car rental companies, financial institutions and other businesses have tied up with Etihad Guest. A more recent addition has been the partnership among Etihad Guest, the Abu Dhabi Islamic bank and payment processing solutions provider Rev Worldwide.

Some of the features that the Etihad Guest members will enjoy are same such as extra baggage allowance, reward miles, lounge access, guaranteed seating and priority checkin and boarding facilities. At the same time, a major addition has been that of walletplus. The key features of it would permit to users to accumulate miles faster and across millions of Visa merchant destinations across the globe. This reloadable payment card is a first time innovation in Middle East and is expected to add more value to the Etihad Guest members.

Air Passenger Growth by 8 percent in India in 2014

IATA has reported that the air traffic in India grew by 8 percent in the year 2014 as compared to 2013. This growth level makes it the third highest growing market of 2014 in terms of passenger growth, after China and Russia. Achievement of this level of growth has been matched by addition of capacity by 5.7 percent. The load factor or the occupancy levels at which the airplanes have been flying are 76.3 percent leading to this increase. This still leaves some space for improving the load factors of the carriers especially when some of the domestic carriers have been flying at above 80 percent of load factors. This might need some seat allocation changes by the carriers who have not been performing as well in getting more passengers on board.

China had an impressive 11 percent growth in traffic whereas the Russian market saw expansion by 9.8 percent. At a regional level, the growth in traffic has been 5.8 percent for Asia Pacific. Globally, there was an increase of 170 million more passengers as compared to the 2013 levels taking total to 3.3 billions.

In specific context of India, the market stimulation measures, especially pertaining to the lowering of air fares, taken by the carriers has also contributed to the growth of air passenger traffic. While Indigo enjoys comfortable 33 percent of the market share, it has also gone into major capacity expansion initiatives to gather more customers in its ambit.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

‘Fast Travel Platinum’ status for Hawaiian Airlines

IATA has a Fast Travel Program which is used to rate the world airlines for providing a more seamless travel experience. Under this program, this is sought to be achieved by six well-defined initiatives. These initiatives are of a self-servicing nature. These are listed below in order of these happening during air travel:

    1.       Self/ automatic Check-in
    2.       Bags ready to go
    3.       Document Check 
    4.       Flight re-booking
    5.       Self-boarding
    6.       Bag Recovery

The Fast Travel Program offers different levels of status to airlines, with the Platinum status being the topmost of all. This is offered to those carriers which offer four or more fast travel compliant solutions to at least 80 percent of their passengers.

Hawaiian Airlines is the first carrier in the United States to have achieved the Platinum status. This has been possible as it has been able to provide innovative technology solution and superior customer service to meet the above mentioned checkpoints of attaining the Platinum status.

It been found by many IATA studies that the passengers would always prefer to have self-servicing initiatives which can reduce the travel time. At least 80 percent of air travelers would want to use the self check in facility without having to stand in long queues at airport. Similarly, overwhelming majority of passengers would want airlines to provide encouraging solutions that cut down the travel time. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Air Vistara Partners with SIA to Launch KrisFlyer

Air Vistara, the new full service carrier of India founded by the old industrial house of Tatas, has announced partnership of its frequent flyer program (ffp) Club Vistara with Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer. Now the Club Vistara members can earn and redeem their miles on flights operate by SIA and SilkAir.

Club Vistara is the first such FFP in India where the points earned are not based on miles flown but on actual spend of the fare. You get to accumulate 5, 6 or 7 points per Rs 100 spent on ticket fare (excluding taxes and surcharges) depending on whether you are a Base, Silver or Gold member of the airline respectively. In yet another first, there will be no physical card issued to the passengers.