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April 24, 2018

Air Travel: End of Virgin America + Southwest Investigation

Virgin America's planes will be repainted with Alaska Airlines livery.

The official end of the Virgin America brand and the investigation into a deadly Southwest Airlines emergency landing lead this week's air travel news affecting the meetings and events industry.

The End of Virgin America

On April 24, Alaska Airlines officially discontinued the Virgin America brand. The Virgin America website now redirects to alaskaair.com; customers can book only using the Alaska Airlines app and call center; and flights will be operated only with Alaska flight numbers. There will also be only Alaska check-in desks at airports, and all branding and signage will be for Alaska. The airline has also started repainting Virgin America’s Airbus planes in Alaska colors, although it won’t begin installing new Alaska interiors until the fall, so for the immediate future guests may board a plane with an Alaska exterior and a Virgin interior. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merged in 2016. 

FAA, EASA Order Engine Inspections Following Southwest Incident

As aviation officials continue to grapple with the implications of last week’s deadly emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines flight, aviation authorities in the United States and Europe have announced new inspection procedures aimed at identifying engine fan blades that could conceivably break off in flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive to all airlines operating CFM56-7B engines, the same model as the one that failed in last week’s incident. The directive orders airlines to perform an ultrasonic inspection for cracks in the fan blade dovetail, and to remove cracked fan blades from service.

In Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has likewise called for ultrasonic inspections of CFM56-7B engine fan blades.

In a written statement Southwest Airlines reports that its existing maintenance program “meets or exceeds” the requirements laid out in the FAA directive. Immediately following last week’s accident, the airline said that it would inspect all of the engines similar to the one that failed within 30 days.

Southwest reports that the flight disruptions caused by the accelerated engine inspection program have thus far been minimal. On Sunday, the airline canceled approximately 40 flights out of 4,000 due to the inspections.

Last Tuesday one woman was killed when an engine on Southwest Flight 1380 from New York - LaGuardia to Dallas Love Field apparently broke apart, sending shrapnel flying into the cabin, blowing a hole in the window and partially sucking her outside. While the full investigation won’t likely be completed for 12 to 15 months, officials are focusing on the possibility that metal fatigue caused one of the engine’s fan blades to snap off, slamming into the engine housing and generating the flying shrapnel, as occurred in a similar incident on a Southwest Airlines flight in August 2016. 

Silver Airways, Seaborne Airlines Merge

In the Caribbean, two major airlines announced a merger this week: Silver Airways and Seaborne Airlines report that Silver's acquisition of Seaborne's business and assets has successfully closed. Steve Rossum of Silver Airways will serve as CEO of the combined airline. Current Seaborne CEO Ben Munson will resume his role as president of the aviation consulting firm, Embark Aviation, and will continue as an advisor to the company. The combined airline will continue operating Silver’s route network in the Bahamas, Florida, and beyond under the Silver Airways banner and Seaborne’s route network throughout Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands under the Seaborne name. 

Delta Adds Flights to Europe, Caribbean

In flight news, this week Delta announced additional transatlantic flights between the United States and Europe this winter. The airline said it would continue nonstop service between New York - JFK and Lisbon; Los Angeles and Paris and Amsterdam; Indianapolis and Paris; and Orlando and Amsterdam. The airline is also expanding access between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and the Caribbean with a second daily flight to Nassau, the Bahamas, beginning October 1, 2018; new daily service to Kingston, Jamaica, effective December 20; and new Saturday-only service to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, beginning December 22.

JetBlue Sets Launch Date for Grand Cayman Nonstops

In other flight news, this week JetBlue announced that it would begin nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Cayman on October 25. The airline first announced its intention to fly the route back in January. 

Air Canada's Business Class Updates

Finally, in onboard product news, this week Air Canada said it would start offering lie-flat suites and other enhanced amenities on customers traveling between New York - Newark and Vancouver and on both daytime and overnight daily flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Toronto as part of its Air Canada Signature Service. Other amenities will include airport concierge services; expedited check-in and security clearance; priority baggage handling; and preferential boarding, as well as lounge access. Eligible customers connecting onward to international destinations at Toronto-Pearson will have access to the Air Canada Signature Suite


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