Dreamliner Issues and Economy Affect Trans-Atlantic Travel

U.S. visits to Europe increased 3.9 percent in 2012 to 11,244,637, according to the latest figures from the Dept. of Commerce announced in the Trans-Atlantic Report. Most of the growth was in the first half, up 5.6 percent, compared to +2.3 percent in the second half. For December, U.S. traffic was up just 1.5 percent. 

U.S. carriers are again reporting gains in trans-Atlantic yields, according to Airlines for America. Yield was up 2.7 percent in November at 14.3 cents per RPM, and up 3.0 percent in December at 13.4 cents, compared to a year earlier. That reversed four months of small declines (July-September). For all of 2012, trans-Atlantic yield was up 2.1 percent.


Dreamliners began their third week on the ground as U.S. and Japanese investigators continued to puzzle over lithium-battery systems that burned on two 787s. They have not found any problems with the design, manufacture or installation of the batteries or with circuitry that is supposed to forestall danger of fire, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Boeing is continuing to build 787s, but will not deliver them before the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. investigating agency, issues its findings. The 787’s first commercial trans-Atlantic flight, LOT’s Flight 03 from Warsaw, landed in Chicago just as the Federal Aviation Administration issued its grounding order. That plane remains at O’Hare. LOT, which is counting on the 787 to help lift it to profitability, has returned the previous 767 aircraft to the route. United is the only other trans-Atlantic carrier with 787s, and was planning to launch Dreamliner service from Houston to Amsterdam and London next month. British Airways was expecting to take delivery of its first 787s in May.

The 787 is the first major civilian aircraft grounded in the U.S. since 1979, when the FAA grounded 138 DC-10s after a crash at O’Hare killed 273 people. DC-10s did not fly for 37 days; the NTSB investigation found that maintenance procedures and a weakness in the wing design were responsible for the crash. Those were addressed and DC-10s flew for many years, with some still in service today.

But there's good news from Europe's skies, too: Turkey is seeking bids to build one of the world’s largest airports northwest of Istanbul, which is expected to handle 150 million passengers annually. That compares to Atatürk’s 45 million (up 20 percent in 2012) and to Atlanta Hartsfield’s world-leading 60 million. Operations at the new Istanbul airport would begin with the opening of the first stage, with a capacity of 90 million, in 2017. The proposed 30-square-mile site, which will require the filling of ancient coal mines, lies on the Black Sea coast more than 20 miles from Taksim square. The total estimated cost is $5.6-$8.7 billion. Like Dubai and other countries in the region, Turkey wants to capitalize on its central location. Turkish Airlines has expanded rapidly and now flies to 216 cities. Only five carriers serve more: United, Delta, American, Air France/KLM and Lufthansa.


The dollar has slipped to 0.74 euro, a 13-month low vs. the euro. However, it has moved in a relatively narrow 10-eurocent range through that period. 

The lowest fares for winter travel are up only 2 percent, compared to Jan. 1 quotes, on the routes we watch. But, compared to a year ago, low fares for April and May are up from 6 percent (San Francisco-Frankfurt) to 18 percent (New York-London, Chicago-Paris).