Canceled flights may hurt NWA bid: China routes under scrutiny

July 26, 2007

Jul. 24--A new increase in flight cancellations by Northwest Airlines is coming at a crucial time for the carrier, as it tries to rally customer support for two coveted nonstop routes from Detroit to China.

Cancellations last weekend inched up to more than 70 per day and stood at 58 as of 9:11 p.m. Monday, according to consumer Web site

Northwest disputes those numbers, saying that of its nearly 1,400 flights per day, it had a completion rate of 97% on Monday. That would suggest 42 cancellations, though the carrier would not confirm that number.

The latest uptick in cancellations is far milder than late last month when the carrier scratched more than 100 flights per day on average.

Still, cancellations were high enough to make observers wonder whether the airline should win China routes when it is having trouble managing its current flight schedule.

"They e-mailed me and my wife asking for support and I deleted" the e-mails "immediately," said Bloomfield Hills resident Larry Miller, whose daughter's wedding was marred last month by numerous flight cancellations.

"Whether they get a Detroit-to-China flight doesn't concern me," Miller said. "Let them take care of flights to New York, and when I see them improve what they're doing, then I'll think about it."

Last week, Northwest filed an application with the Department of Transportation to authorize it to fly Detroit-to-Shanghai nonstop beginning this year and Detroit-to-Beijing nonstop beginning in 2009.

If either of the routes is approved, 100 U.S. cities will enjoy single-connection service to China through Detroit. NWA was previously turned down for a Detroit-to-China route.

"Problems with cancellations certainly will not help their China bid," said Minneapolis-based airline observer Terry Trippler.

If the Department of Transportation anticipates that Northwest connecting flights could be canceled because of labor problems, Northwest could be passed over as a candidate for the new China routes, Trippler added.

Northwest lost out on a Detroit-to-Shanghai route a few months ago despite significant support from Michigan business and politicians. Shanghai is a manufacturing and business hub with 17 million people and is the center of China's booming auto industry.

Northwest spokesman Dean Breest did not return calls Monday to address the impact cancellations might have on the airline's China bid or the progress Northwest has made in curbing cancellations.

The airline said late last month that it would call back furloughed pilots and scrap one of its flights to Germany to address the problem.

Northwest canceled more than 1,000 flights late last month as pilots reached their contractual maximum flight hours and refused to fly on overtime.

Air Line Pilots Association spokesman Monty Montgomery blamed the cancellations on crew shortages while Northwest blamed the weather and pilot absenteeism. Both sides bristled at the suggestion that the cancellations were because of a labor dispute, but engaged in talks to try to resolve the issue.

The talks ended in late June with pilots saying they had gained little. The airline said it would cut back on routes and try to hire pilots back. culls its flight data from 600 sources, said Meara McLaughlin, vice president of development and marketing. Those sources include the airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and traffic control systems.

Industry watchers frequently rely on the site to track such things as cancellations and on-time performance.

Northwest is campaigning hard to receive approval for the China flights, which the Wayne County Airport Authority says would generate $265 million for the Michigan economy.

The airline has asked customers to send letters of support to the Department of Transportation. Last week it announced it had received 100,000 letters.


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