Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Airfares Up 9.2% in Top 175 Markets in 4Q of 2010; 2011 Passenger Demand Seen Declining

Fares keep climbing as jet-fuel prices top $3.33 a gallon. No firm handle yet on exactly how much fares are up overall in the first quarter of this year.

But an analysis by Boyd Group International of the latest available air traffic data indicates that average fares in the top 175 U.S. markets were up 9.2% in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with the same period in 2009.

The average one-way ticket, including federal fees and taxes, jumped from $157.63 to $ 172.22. This according to a quarterly traffic snapshot accomplished by Aviation DataMiner, the leading industry information and intelligence source, provided by Boyd Group, which added:

"The airport where consumers paid the highest fares on a per-mile basis was Dallas/Love, where Southwest is still restricted to relatively short-haul flying.

"The highest one-way total fare was paid at Fairbanks, at $350.05, where the average passenger trip is over 1,600 miles, one-way.

"'Care needs to be taken when comparing fares at airports. The geographic location will affect the distance people fly, and that affects the total dollars paid per passenger. The best metric is what airlines are charging at an airport on a per-mile basis,' said Tim Sieber, Boyd Group vice president.

"Using the fare-per-mile metric, Dallas/Love passengers paid 23.7 cents per mile, with an average passenger trip length of 553 miles. This compares to Dallas/Ft. Worth International, where the average fare-per-mile was 18.2 cents, with an average passenger trip of 1,053 miles.

"There are no indications that the cost of flying will go down in the future. 'We can expect another 8% to 12% jump in fares in 2011,' said Michael Boyd, president of the Colorado-based consulting and research firm. 'With oil going up, airlines will need to prepare for two key dynamics: higher jet fuel and a declining traffic demand.' This latter prediction comes in the wake of very strong traffic in the last part of 2010 and the early months of 2011. "By the end of this year, those rosy numbers will be a faint memory. The airline industry is in for a tough time," he added.

"Separately, Boyd Group International is forecasting a decline in US air passenger enplanements -- both international and domestic -- of between 1.4% to 3.5% for the full year of 2011. 'The fourth quarter could be a real downward spiral. It will depend on how much fuel goes up and capacity goes down,' according to Boyd."

The full Traffic Snapshot can be downloaded at www.AviationPlanning.com.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

St. Louis Airport Closed by Tornado

Airlines have steadily whacked away at service at the St. Louis airport in recent years, but a tornado has now shut it down. However, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, airport officials now say they expect it to be operating tomorrow.

St. Louis usually has about 280 departing flights daily. All are cancelled now and till further notice. As of today, the top airlines at St. Louis and the numbers of their cancelled flights are: Southwest (67), American (25), Cape Air (15), Trans States (9), Delta (9).

By the way, the Federal Aviation Administration's hilariously useless airport-delays online page which some in the media credulously cite regularly, unaware that it is almost never accurate) is, of course, hilariously useless right now. It says:

Lambert-St Louis International Airport (STL)

FAA Status: Normal

General Departure Delays: Traffic is experiencing gate hold and taxi delays lasting 15 minutes or less.

General Arrival Delays: Arrival traffic is experiencing airborne delays of 15 minutes or less.

That, of course, is nonsense. The airport is shut right now.

Meanwhile, this notice was posted today by the St. Louis airport, which hasn't bothered to update it because, hey, who needs timely information about air travel?

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is closed indefinitely due to severe storm damage on Friday, April 22.

All departing and arriving flights are cancelled until further notice pending full safety assessments of airport facilities.

Contact your airline for latest updates and options for all departing and arriving flights.

St. Louis City, St. Louis County and surrounding municipalities are actively assisting the airport with cleanup efforts and safety review of all operations in and around the airport complex.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Beware of Credit Card Fraud After a Hotel Stay

I've written in the past about fraudulent credit-card charges that can quietly appear on your statement after a hotel stay.

Yup, just checked my American Express statement after a two-day stay at a hotel, and there it was: A charge for $23.76 from some outfit called Etunes LLC of Van Nuys, Calif. A quick Google search shows others complaining about non-authorized charges from Etunes -- a company I have never done business of any kind with and, in fact, would not know from Looney Tunes.

The last time this occurred, again after hotel stays, the phony charges, a bunch of them amounting to over $400 -- were from Itunes, a legitimate business. Investigators told me that hackers can readily access hotel point-of-sale computer systems and grab your data. They then often probe with charges, sometimes to legit businesses, to see if the info they've stolen is good. And to see how closely you're paying attention to alien charges.

As to this most recent fraud, I don't know yet what the hotel where I stayed this week has to say about it, so I won't name them till after I have spoken with them on Monday to see whether they know that they have a security problem.

And by the way, I have not been exactly thrilled with American Express recently. Today, when I phoned Amex Platinum to report the clearly fraudulent "Etunes" charge, the man on the phone sounded awfully casual about it. In fact, he was way more interested in trying to sell me American Express Fraud Protection services ("We'll notify you of suspicious activity") than in addressing the issue of doing business with obvious crooks who are seeking to defraud your best customers.

So be careful out there with your credit card statements, and especially check your statements after hotel stays. Be careful not to leave personal data, like that found on a hotel bill, lying around. Hotels are one of the most perilous places for credit-card fraud, and the hotel industry has been very remiss in not addressing this problem head-on.

I wrote a column about this last July and followed that up with a post here in August about the issue.

Here's my blog post in its entirety from last August:


Your credit card is far more likely to be hacked at a hotel than anywhere else you use it. According to a report in January by Trustway SpiderLabs, 38 percent of the hacking breaches it investigated last year occurred in hotel credit card systems.

That was way more than breaches in other hacker favorites, including retail and restaurants.

The most recent example of hotel hacking, discovered last week, occurred starting in May at the Doherty Hotel, a convention hotel in Clare, Mich. About 150 people have reported that fraudulent charges appeared after they patronized the hotel. A Secret Service spokesman told the Clare Times online (report is here) that the hotel's guest computer system had been identified as the target of the hacking attack.

It is clear that lots of hotels have these issues. It isn't clear exactly how many. But the reports are troubling.

In June, it was reported that Destination Hotels, a chain of 30 luxury hotels, had been the target of what ABC News called "an intense database attack" that compromised at least 700 customer credit cards. Also in June, Wyndham Hotels said that a "sophisticated hacker" had gained access to credit-card data at up to 31 of its hotels between last November and January 23, 2010, when the attack was discovered.

For Wyndham, it was the second time in two years that credit cards had been hacked.

Wyndham and other hotels named in recent reports on the problem have said they are improving their point-of-sale and other credit-card data technology systems in response.

After I wrote about the Wyndham and Destination incidents, I got a lot of calls from national and local radio stations asking me to discuss the issue. Why hotels? they all wanted to know. And what can we do to protect ourselves?

Well, the reason hotels are a good target is that hotels collect a lot of customer data that a hacker can fairly easily access through point-of-sale systems and readily score enough information to be able to steal a credit card's data.

Mainly, this is because individual hotels are often owned by small or regional entrepreneurs -- investors who actually build, develop and own the properties, many of whom have been frantic in recent years as rates and occupancy have plunged. (Big hotel chains like Hilton or Marriott mainly manage the various brands, and charge the actual owners hefty fees for being associated with, and adherent to the standards of, a given brand).

With less money coming in following the Wall Street collapse, after a heady period of the best prosperity in the hotel industry's history, many hotel owners were caught flatfooted. Even while revenue plunged, they had to invest heavily in improving technology in immediate guest-demand things like better Wi-Fi and high-definition TV. At the same time, global hackers discovered that hotel point-of-sale systems were particularly vulnerable. In many instances, hotel owners simply have not yet invested what they need to in making their back-office data-processing technologies more secure against the new breed of hackers.

It often takes a hotel months to even discover that its system has been hacked.

Consumers have a degree of protection in credit-card fraud -- assuming they notify their credit card issuer promptly of a fraudulent charge.

But I've been advising people that it's easy to get blindsided even with this protection. For one thing, frequent travelers often don't carefully review their credit-card purchases on the road and may overlook fraud. For another, we're all now so accustomed to whipping out that credit card for small purchases, even a coffee at Starbucks, that we are more likely to not notice on our credit-card activity-reports the kind of small, frequent illegitimate charges that hackers first start hitting your card with, just to probe it, or in a case of basic hit-and-run.

In the last six months, both my wife and I have had credit cards we use for travel hacked. In both cases, the fraud began with multiple small charges listed as being for numerous Apple iTunes purchases, all in a very short period. In both cases, the fraud totaled over $400 before we contacted our credit card companies. (Neither of us has an Apple iTunes account, incidentally.)

In both cases, the fraudulent charges were removed. However, in both cases, the credit card company canceled our existing cards and issued new ones. With new numbers, of course.

Oops, that led to a problem I hadn't anticipated. Like many people in recent years, especially travelers who are away from home a lot, I tended to put routine household and other bills on credit card "auto-pay." Works beautifully. But when your credit card number changes, those auto-pays suddenly can get rejected if you haven't gone to the trouble of changing them to the new card number. I thought I caught most of them in time, but I overlooked a couple like the water bill. That took more phone calls to fix than I cared to make.

The credit card industry 9to protect itself, not consumers, of course) is now pushing hard for hotels and other businesses to adopt uniform standards for data security. Consumers, meanwhile, need to be simply up to date on issues such as credit card fraud. The Privacy Rights Clearing House has useful information on this.

I spoke recently with one of the leading experts in credit-card fraud, Anthony C. Roman, a private investigator in New York who now specializes in high-tech fraud investigations, but who once worked as a bodyguard for the infamous hotelier Leona Helmsley.

Here's some of what he said about hotels and credit-card hacking:

Hotel credit card point-of-sale systems (which begin at the place where your card is physically swiped through the machine) often offer a hacker the greatest trove of personal data for the least effort, he said. Hackers can work on site, or more often remotely online, using readily available personal information, sometimes culled from customer receipts and bill print-outs.

In the hotel industry, "the collection, storage and transmission of credit-card information is of particular importance," he said.

At many hotels, "upper executive management is developing more secure systems and procedures with regard to personal-data security, including the personal data on the magnetic strip on the back of credit cards, including things like date of birth, Social Security number, home address -- that kind of thing. That stuff is actually on the credit card."

Credit card issuers are trying to crack down harder to comply with standards that encompass "maintaining a secure computer network, which includes the computer network from the POS, point of sale, from the card-swiper through the internal network and terminals at the front desk or in executive or administrative offices. And after that, the broader network between that particular hotel site and the corporation at large all need to be secure," he said, adding:

"The best method to protect the data is by having a POS [point-of-sale] system that uses a transaction code in which the data is immediately encrypted when it hits the machine, and therefore not hackable for most casual hackers. It is, though, still somewhat hackable for the geniuses -- but most hackers are not geniuses or even brilliant. So we're talking about mitigating the vast majority of attacks" with a more secure point-of-sale front-end system that is protected through encryption.

"It’s not a standard created by the hotel, it's a worldwide standard created by the credit card industry," he said. "It requires purchasing not only of software and hardware technology, firewalls, encryption programs, et cetera, it also requires putting in place standardized procedural methods that are administrative in nature." That includes procedures for complex passwords that change at "rate differential periods" so no regular pattern can be discerned, he said.

This means spending more dough, if you're a hotel owner.

Also, he said, "there should be an audit trail to everything, as well as standardized preliminary and ongoing training of staff, and an overall system reflecting when and if privacy-sensitive data is released, to whom, and under what circumstances."

Hotels are by nature customer-service friendly. This builds a weakness into the system. A hacker with one stolen (or otherwise obtained) document, even a discarded bill, can sometimes call a hotel and say he or she needs a new copy of a bill. Hotels tend to comply.

"RevPARS [revenues per available room] are down dramatically as result of the economic turndown," he said. Many hotels "simply don’t have the money, and aren’t making the investment [in better technology security] at this time," he said.

The message hotel owners are hearing from credit card companies and even hotel chain management is this: Find the money and fix your systems. And as these instances of hacking continue, consumers are going to be demanding the same.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Here's the FAA 'Emergency' Directive Mandating 737 Inspections: Never Mind

Here's a link to the .pdf of the awaited FAA compliance directive on the issue of 737s that need to be inspected for possible fuselage cracks.

Ah, just as Southwest Airlines has insisted, the directive gives Southwest a pass on the 79 737s it grounded for inspection over the weekend. The "emergency" order, called an airworthiness directive, clearly indicates that nearly all of the aircraft that are covered by the order -- mostly involving Southwest 737-300s with a certain number of cycles (landings and takeoffs) -- have already been sufficiently inspected.

So, despite alarmist media stories saying that the FAA was rushing to issue an emergency order today for airlines to inspect 80 U.S.-based 737s -- with the clear implication that these planes might all need to be grounded -- what we actually have is a mainly retroactive order that provides FAA paperwork for what Southwest has already done.

That is, no additional major groundings (some airlines with one or two 737-400s or 500s might need to take them out for inspection). No air-travel disruptions.

They could have told us that yesterday.

Under "compliance," the FAA directive issued this afternoon says:

--"Comply with this AD within the compliance times specified, unless already done.

Some other excerpts:

--"This AD applies to the Boeing Company Model 737-300, -400, and -500 series airplanes, certificated in any category, as identified in Boeing Alert Service Bulletin 737-53A1319, dated April 4, 2011...."

--"This AD was prompted by a report indicating that a Model 737-300 series airplane experienced a rapid decompression when the lap joint at stringer S-4L between body station (BS) 664 and BS 727 cracked and opened up due to cracking in the lower skin at the lower row of fasteners. We are issuing this AD to detect and correct such cracking, which could result in an uncontrolled decompression of the airplane."

Apropos this situation, I like this reader comment on the airline blog of the Dallas News newspaper (Dallas being Southwest's hometown):

"Southwest is handling the situation correctly. They didn't wait for the FAA to force their hand at inspection as did with American Airlines a while back. Southwest went to Boeing and identified the aircraft to be inspected. You want a proven track record, look at how many crashes Southwest has had that resulted in fatalities to passengers = 0. In fact, they have had only 2 incidents, both on landings. The only passenger death to date is when a 19 yr old guy tried to storm the cockpit of the plane and 8 passengers beat him to death."


FAA Inspections of 737s: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Let's just say I'm skeptical about the seriousness of this "emergency directive" coming today from the Federal Aviation Administration that supposedly will require intense inspections of about 80 Boeing 737s in the U.S.

I seem to be the only reporter in the country who's asking the basic Five W questions -- Who? What? When? Where? Why? Not that that makes me such a hotshot, because frankly I haven't managed to get answers yet.

The FAA Web site is still highlighting yesterday's announcement that this "emergency directive" is coming today, but with no sign of said emergency directive as of early afternoon today. And here is what I saw a minute ago when I clicked onto the FAA's "airworthiness directives" (ADs) link: "The ADs site is temporarily down for maintenance."


Here are some basic questions that need answers:

Who among the airlines will need to do something to comply with this FAA directive? What specifically will need to be done? When will this need to be done? Where will it occur? And, why now?

Southwest flies most of the older-model 737s that evidently are covered in the directive. Southwest says it's already in full compliance with the directive, thanks to the inspection procedures that followed its grounding of 79 Boeing 737-300s over the weekend after a 5-foot hole ripped open on one on a flight at 35,000 feet over Arizona.

If that is the case, and no one has given me any reason so far to doubt it, then what exactly is the purpose of this FAA directive, which the FAA has said will cover three models of older, high-turnover 737s -- mostly in the 300 series, but including 400s and 500s? And if it's an emergency, why the confusion and foot-dragging over the basic details of how air travel might be affected by the government's ordering intensive inspections of a large number of 737s? Wouldn't that require the grounding of those airplanes?

But if, as Southwest seems to be saying, the directive is actually moot on arrival, why does the FAA announcement about the forthcoming emergency directive say [italics mine] that it "will require operators of specific early Boeing 737 models to conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage?"

Here's the strange FAA press release, sent out yesterday, announcing the forthcoming release, today, of this baffling "emergency directive."

It's afternoon in Washington, and so far the emergency seems to be rumored more than defined, which is never, ever a good thing in emergency procedures.


Monday, April 04, 2011

FAA Orders Emergency Inspections On Older, High Turn-Around 737s -- Most of Them Flown by Southwest

The Federal Aviation Administration will issue an emergency directive tomorrow that will require operators of specific Boeing 737 models to "conduct initial and repetitive electromagnetic inspections for fatigue damage" on those planes.

"This action will initially apply to a total of approximately 175 aircraft worldwide, 80 of which are U.S.-registered aircraft," said the FAA. Most of the aircraft in the U.S. covered in the directive are operated by Southwest Airlines, the agency said.

It is not immediately clear if this directive will affect the Boeing 737-300s that Southwest has said it has already inspected for possible cracks, and returned to service, since the weekend.

Southwest said today that as of 3:30 p.m. Central Time it had inspected most of the 79 Boeing 737-300s it grounded Saturday. Inspection has been completed on 67 aircraft, 64 of which were returned to service.

"The remaining three aircraft did have findings of subsurface cracks and will be out of service until Boeing recommends an appropriate repair," Southwest said. As usual, Southwest makes it a point to include the aircraft's manufacturer, Boeing, in its updates on the problems.

Southwest also said today that it believes the inspections over the weekend and on Monday put it already in compliance with the emergency directive that the FAA will issue tomorrow. "With our knowledge of what the FAA has planned, we believe the 79 aircraft already identified for inspection will accomplish this directive for Southwest Airlines," the airline said in a statement this afternoon.

Southwest said it expects to be able to operate its full schedule tomorrow.

During the inspections of the grounded jets, Southwest said it found "small subsurface cracks" in three planes, which are being repaired. Southwest is continuing to inspect the remaining grounded 737-300s.

If Southwest is wrong about being in compliance already with the new FAA emergency directive, it might need to re-inspect some of those planes, and maybe ground some others, and cancellations and delays that have been affecting the airline since Saturday could continue.

The planes covered by the new FAA directive are 737s with high flight cycles (the number of takeoffs and landings), in the 300, 400 and 500 series. Southwest's flies 25 of the 500-series 737s, none of which had been affected by the airline's decision to insect the 79 Boeing 737s. Most Southwest's 737s are later-model 700 series.

Southwest flies a total of 548 Boeing 737s of all models.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said of the Southwest incident, in which a five-foot hole ripped open on a 737-300 over Arizona late Friday afternoon: "Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation."

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said, “The FAA has comprehensive programs in place to protect commercial aircraft from structural damage as they age. This action is designed to detect cracking in a specific part of the aircraft that cannot be spotted with visual inspection."

The FAA airworthiness directive will require initial inspections using electromagnetic, or eddy-current, technology in specific areas of the aircraft fuselage on certain Boeing 737 aircraft in the -300, -400 and -500 series that have accumulated more than 30,000 flight cycles. It will require repetitive inspections at regular intervals.

My pal Joe Brancatelli at Joesentme.com speculated that mostly 737-300s would be affected by the FAA order, because Southwest typically uses that model on shorter-haul routes, where planes take off and land more often, and thus log higher use cycles.

Why issue an "emergency" directive that doesn't take effect till tomorrow? Unclear to me at this point. A cynic might suspect that the FAA could be hoping to retroactively cover itself on the Southwest incident with the new directive.

Last November, the FAA published a rule designed to address widespread fatigue damage in aging aircraft. The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to establish a number of flight cycles or flight hours a plane can operate and be free from fatigue damage. The rule requires aircraft manufacturers to incorporate the limits into their maintenance programs.


Southwest Still Cancelling Flights As 737-300s Get Closer Looks; Another Southwest 737 Is Diverted

Southwest is cancelling fewer flights today than on Saturday and Sunday -- 77 as of mid-morning, compared with about 600 total over the weekend.

On Saturday, the airline grounded 79 of its Boeing 737-300s for inspections for structural cracks after a five-foot hole ripped open Friday on a 737-300 with 118 passengers and 5 crew aboard at 35,000 feet over western Arizona. The plane made an emergency landing in Yuma.

Meanwhile, another Southwest flight had a problem last night and was diverted to Los Angeles with 142 aboard when an electrical burning smell permeated the cabin. That flight was bound from Oakland to San Diego.

Initial reports don't say whether that plane was a 737-300 model, but with 142 aboard it most likely is, as later model 737s have slightly smaller capacities.

The 737-300s are no longer in production by Boeing, but are still widely used by world airlines. Some of them also have been converted to private jets and some are in use as freighters.

Paul Sheridan, the head of risk for Ascend, the aerospace investor advisory firm, pulled together a list of all of the 737-300s currently flying.

Here's the breakdown:





Latin America/Caribbean--71

Middle East--14

North America--196

Unknown area--1


Operators with more than 10 aircraft. Figures are aircraft currently In Service and include freighters and other uses:

Southwest Airlines--169


Air China--28

China Southern Airlines--25




Europe Airpost--18

US Airways--18

China Eastern Airlines--16

Air New Zealand--15

Batavia Air--15

Viva Aerobus--14


Shandong Airlines--10


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Southwest Cancellations Increase Today As Inspections Continue for Fuselage Cracks

After a harrowing incident late Friday afternoon when a five-foot-long hole ripped through the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines 737-300 airliner at 36,000 feet over Arizona, disruptions and delays continue on Southwest today. In fact, Southwest is cancelling more flights today than it did yesterday.

Yesterday, Southwest grounded 79 of its 737s to check for fuselage cracks. Southwest cancelled 252 of its 2,901 departures yesterday and had long delays throughout its network.

Today, as of 2 p.m. EDT, Southwest has already canceled 279 of its 3,089 scheduled departures, about a third of which had departed by 2 p.m., according to Flightstats.com


Saturday, April 02, 2011

4 Dead in Crash of Gulfstream G650 on Test Flight in New Mexico

A Gulfstream G650 crashed Saturday morning during takeoff-performance tests in Roswell, N.M. Two Gulfstream pilots and two Gulfstream flight-test engineers died in the crash, Gulfstream Aerospace said.

The G650 is Gulfstream's newest and most luxurious long-range large-cabin jet, with a price tag of $64.5 million. Gulfstream has more than 200 firm orders for the private jet, which is expected to be delivered starting next year.


After Hole Rips Open in 737 Fuselage In Flight, Southwest Airlines Grounds 79 Planes

[Blogger Shawna Malvini Redden was on the flight and took this photo of the hole that ripped open on the 737. Here's her report with more photos on her blog The Blue Muse.]

A Southwest Airlines 737-300 flying from Phoenix to Sacramento had a sudden rupture in its fuselage at 36,000 feet yesterday afternoon and made an emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz.

Today, Southwest is experiencing flight delays and cancellations throughout its system as the airline grounds 79 of its 737-300s for inspection. Southwest's top 10 departure airports are Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Baltimore-Washington, Denver, Houston Hobby, Dallas Love, Los Angeles International, Orlando and Oakland.

{UPDATE -- As of 8 p.m. EDT tonight, Southwest had canceled 251 flights and was running an average of only 67 percent on time for the 2,169 flights that did depart, according to Flightstats.com

On its Web site, Southwest claims that it is "experiencing relatively few flight delays and cancellations while we are proactively inspecting some of our Boeing 737s." The numbers show how "relative" that assertion is, but I have to say, the use of that word "proactively" in this particular context annoys the hell out of me. I mean, consider the alternative.}

The plane, with 118 passengers on board, diverted to Yuma "due to loss of pressurization in the cabin," Southwest said, adding: "Upon safely landing in Yuma, the flight crew discovered a hole in the top of the aircraft."

Well, here is a news flash for you, Southwest: Your passengers actually "discovered" that rupture somewhat sooner, as some of them have posted photos of the gaping hole in the overhead of the cabin as the plane suddenly lost pressure and the oxygen masks dropped.

One passenger, Larry Downey, told a Phoenix TV station that he was directly below the hole when the fuselage ripped open. "You could look out and see blue sky," Downey said. Pilots quickly brought the airplane down to 11,000 feet as they headed for Yuma.

As Southwest grounded the 79 aircraft for inspection, major disruptions roiled its system -- and it's expected that there will be significant cancellations and delays on Sunday as well.

Southwest flies only Boeing 737s, and has a total of 548 of them in its fleet -- and 171 of them are older 737-300 models, which are no longer in production.

In 2009, a Southwest 737-300 had a similar fuselage rupture during a flight from Nashville to Baltimore. That plane made an emergency landing.

A year earlier, the Federal Aviation Administration had ordered Southwest to pay a fine of $10.2 million, the largest it had ever sought against an airline, for failure to fully inspect older 737s for cracks, and for flying them before inspections were completed.

Today, Southwest said it is "working with Boeing on an inspection regimen for the 81 affected Boeing 737 aircraft in the fleet [Southwest later revised that number to 79], which are covered by a set of Federal Aviation Administration Airworthiness Directives aimed at inspections for aircraft skin fatigue. These aircraft will be inspected over the course of the next several days."

Kind of interesting, by the way, how Southwest is stressing that word "Boeing."

In a statement earlier today, Southwest said: "Overnight, the airline worked with engineers from the Boeing Company to further assess the damage to the aircraft and develop an inspection regimen to look more closely at 79 (not 81 as was previously reported) of its Boeing 737 aircraft which are covered by a set of Federal Aviation Administration Airworthiness Directives aimed at inspections for aircraft skin fatigue. Those aircraft will be inspected over the course of the next several days at five locations. ..."

Southwest is known (and admired) for rapid turnaround of its 737s during its intense daily operations. In December 2010, a Federal Aviation Administration "Airworthiness Directive" that covered various 737 models spoke of concerns about "fatigue cracks at certain frame sections" in 737 fuselages, "... caused by high flight-cycle stresses..."

Here's a copy of that directive.

Today, the National Transportation Safety Board has a team in Yuma to investigate the damage to the airplane that diverted there yesterday.


Teaching Your Daughter How to Curtsy And Other Vile Notions

As I always say, every truly horrible idea eventually has its day, and here, via the reliably fatuous AP, is further proof of that, as if we didn't need it at a time when Donald Trump claims he is running for president.

Gushes the AP: "A scene from "My Fair Lady" is playing out in a posh London hotel ahead of this month's royal wedding -- a princess boot camp." Parents of "pint-size wannabe princesses" are paying over $4,000 for a one-day seminar to teach their little girls how to behave like "princesses" -- in a walk-up to the imminently cringeworthy media hype about a royal wedding that is soon to gag us all.

According to the AP, the little princesses are being taught "how to act if they meet the queen," which I presume is a reference to Elizabeth II and not to the Prince of Wales.

The AP reporter also seems to badly misread "My Fair Lady," based on the George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion," which is a lampoon of English class snobbery and a celebration of independent, smart, strong-willed young women. No one fitting that description, incidentally, will be found among the horse-faced Hanovarian grifters who will assemble in London with their big hats on later this month to pull another publicity stunt to keep those tourist bucks coming in.