In the news this week, JetBlue CEO calls for air traffic control reform:
(Reuters) – The chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) said the United States needs to reform its air traffic control systems to prevent waste and improve mobility in the skies.
“Improving the next-generation air traffic control system, this isn’t optional,” CEO David Barger told Boston College’s Chief Executives’ Club on Thursday. “This is imperative.”
Let’s look at JetBlue, NextGen, and the senior Senator from New York.
Chuck Schumer is a very smart person. Scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT, attended Harvard College and continued to Harvard Law School. Served in the NY State Assembly from 1975 to 1980, in the US House from 1981 to 1999, and in the US Senate from 1998 – present.
Schumer is an excellent, hard-working politician who has never lost an election. Just in the Senate, he defeated three-term Republican incumbent Al D’Amato by a margin of 55%–44%; in 2004 he was re-elected 71%–24%, and in 2010 by 66%–33%. He delivers excellent constituent services, is particularly focused on any company that might move jobs out of New York, and is a champion for his constituents. Chuck Schumer is a mensch.
Chuck Schumer worked his way up from the State Assembly to the US House, and then he wanted to advance to the Senate. His problem was that he was a New York City name but not an Upstate guy. They’re different worlds. Upstaters don’t like Downstate/City politicians because the City behaves as if Upstaters don’t exist (except for their tax money, which subsidizes NYC). And what City people think about Upstaters, fughedaboutit. To get to the Senate, Chuck Schumer needed upstate support and needed to show that he could deliver.
JetBlue was a new airline started by Southwest expats. They used JFK’s runways, which were previously an evening-International operation, for a low-cost domestic carrier base. The situation was very similar to People’s Express at Newark’s North Terminal – the existing flow wasn’t designed for the new traffic, the infrastructure was overwhelmed, the crowds in the terminal were exceeded only by the gridlock on the ramp, etc. JetBlue needed help.
Schumer promised Upstate voters that he would bring airline service to Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Syracuse. Schumer talked to JetBlue, and the new service was announced. JetBlue doesn’t have any government problems. Schumer and JetBlue have continued in a symbiotic dance, helping each other whenever possible, ever since. Bada bing, bada boom.
Back in 1999, JetBlue needed landing slots at Kennedy, and Schumer delivered. Here’s the press release from Schumer’s website:
September 16, 1999
SCHUMER, JETBLUE ANNOUNCE JFK SLOTS FOR NEW AIRLINE
Start-Up Airline Will Serve Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse
US Senator Charles E. Schumer, US DOT Secretary Rodney Slater, JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman, JetBlue President David Barger and Members of Congress today announced that JetBlue will receive 75 precious takeoff and landing slots at John F. Kennedy Airport.
“I stand here like a proud uncle to announce the triumph of an airline,” said Schumer. “Today, Secretary Slater will formally approve JetBlue’s request for take-off and landing slots at JFK Airport. The era of sky-high airfares is about to end.” JetBlue version.
Whenever JetBlue announces new service in Upstate New York, Chuck Schumer is there for the announcement. JetBlue lets Schumer make some of their announcements. You might Google “JetBlue Schumer”.
2004: US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that JetBlue Airways will add two new flights to its daily service to Buffalo from John F. Kennedy airport starting May 4. Schumer got JetBlue to begin serving Buffalo in 2000 in exchange for securing landing rights at John F. Kennedy airport for the low cost airline. JetBlue currently has five daily flights from JFK to Buffalo. … Schumer has been working with JetBlue to improve air service in New York State since he was first elected to the Senate. In exchange for securing landing and takeoff rights for JetBlue at JFK, Schumer got the airline to commit to serving Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo within its first 18 months of its startup.
2007: “Today’s news is a grand slam for JetBlue and Rochester and Buffalo area residents,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “JetBlue has stepped up to the plate to make efficient and affordable air service a reality for travelers across the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions, and local residents have once again proven a basic law of economics: when you offer top-shelf service at an affordable price, people scoop it up.”
It’s a bit of Kabuki theater, a staged setpiece. Right now Schumer is “urging” local politicians to give JetBlue incentives so they stay in NY, and he “hopes” that upstate airports (MacArthur Islip, Stewart) give JetBlue the incentives the airline needs to survive.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this. Schumer helps the airline (that employs constituents, carries constituents, and contributes to the economy) and the airline works the process for their self-interest. That’s all to the good. JetBlue is a profitable New York airline in a difficult economy. It’s certainly good in the “New York frame-of-mind”.
NextGen is a lot of very cool things, some of which are very expensive. A lot of people’s dreams are tied to NextGen. Airline CEOs do not want to pay to put new gizmos in their dashboards. USAirways CEO has said that he will not pay to put NextGen in their airplanes because the benefits don’t justify the costs. Southwest was an early adopter of NextGen and they’re miffed because they haven’t seen a game-changing payoff.
The NextGen industry, the military-industrial complex, want$ to establish NextGen avionics as the required US airline standard platform. JetBlue wants in on the technology but doesn’t want to pay for it. Solution: Chuck Schumer gets NextGen for JetBlue, for free.
Washington Post, Feb 3 2011: FAA to equip some JetBlue planes with NextGen GPS technology:
The federal government will pay $4.2 million to install new navigation systems on 35 JetBlue airplanes, hoping their enhanced performance will entice the airline industry to invest up to $20 billion in the new technology over the next decade.
The investment in new technology will permit JetBlue to use these 35 airplanes to fly new routes between New York and Boston to the Caribbean.
There’s a lot of good things in this, but there might be one wrinkle. Any other airline would have to pay for these new capabilities. But JetBlue, with Chuck Schumer? They got you to pay for it, Jane Q. Public, thank you very much.
And for JetBlue CEO David Barger to assert, “Improving the next-generation air traffic control system, this isn’t optional. This is imperative.” after getting his gizmos for free, paid for by the taxpayers, that’s just a little bit too much.