Monday, July 25, 2011

65 Years of No Change



Have you ever been so right that it feels like you’re wrong? I know some things about the airlines have never changed but I never really knew I was this right.

A loyal reader sent me an article from a series called Fortune Classic. I’ve never heard of it but Fortune magazine reruns some of it’s old articles on occasion. This one is about the airline business from 1946. I don’t really need to say anything else about it. It’s lengthy, so set some time aside to read it. But it is a “must-read” so I’ll leave you with some excerpts to make sure you get around to it.

What's Wrong with the Airlines (Fortune Classic, 1946)

”For many months the airlines have been adding schedules and adding flight after flight to those new schedules, and turning away as many as three passengers for every one they have carried. Before the war the airlines regarded 65 percent as a satisfactory load factor. Now the load factor is 85 per cent, with many flights 100 per cent loaded.”

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”To say that the airports at San Francisco or Los Angeles are less squalid than Chicago is faint praise, for the difference is so slight that anyone passing hastily through would notice no real improvement. Almost all U.S. airports are utterly barren of things to do. The dirty little lunch counters are always choked with permanent sitters staring at their indigestible food; even a good cup of coffee is a thing unknown. The traveler consigned to hours of tedious waiting can only clear a spot on the floor and sit on his baggage and, while oversmoking, drearily contemplate his sins.”

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”When the fog or storms come the aerial rat race begins. Planes must approach the fields on instruments -- landings on standard procedure then require from six to twenty minutes per plane. This automatically means a sharp reduction in an airport's traffic capacity. The airlines' busy schedule is immediately wrecked; planes and passengers clog the fogbound terminal on the ground; other planes and passengers clog the skies for hundreds of miles in all directions, backing up at distant airports. Only a few of the scores of approaching planes can be landed every hour; CAA's Air Traffic Control obviously must "stop" the planes in the soup. The result is what's known as "stacking."”

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”One pilot who visited the La Guardia traffic-control center on a recent soupy day was so appalled that he told a company official: "For God's sake don't let any other pilots see what's going on in there or you'll never get a plane off the ground."”

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”But the public still asks: what about radar? Here is an area of peculiar vagueness. Radar was sold to the public, perhaps oversold, as the great scientific achievement that brought hundreds of Army and Navy pilots -- home safely through instrument weather. Why not, therefore, use it on the airlines?

The industry says that all-weather flying, involving use of radar is five years off. Why?

In general the airlines argue that military radar is still full of bugs, that it is not yet adaptable to commercial use. The airlines, it seems, are holding out for an all-purpose radar system, instead of accepting the considerable, though partial, benefits of radar in its present form.”


Trust me, reading this article is a hoot. From the flowery prose to the quaint statistics to the black & white pictures to the corny graphics. You’re going to love it.

”And to increase the amount of off-airways flying, and thus relieve congestion on the airways, CAA plans to install nine low-frequency, high-power, omnidirectional ranges next year. On long flights these would give the economy of great-circle routes to the airlines, plus the comfort of flying around bad weather. To relieve the dangerous New York-Washington congestion, CAA and the airlines now plan to use three "tracks" in the sky instead of one, and a bypass system for flights such as Boston-Washington direct and New York-Norfolk direct.”

Don Brown
July 25, 2011

2 comments:

Steve Miller said...

Wow! Great find Don. The circle of Airlines and ATC just keeps on rolling like the planes holding over Flatbush in '46.

Crude said...

The more things change, the more things remain the same.

Same problems, different century.