AAR, Vincennes Univ. Programs Help Students Get Aviation Careers Airborne

vu 4AAR, an aviation services and products company with 60 global locations — including Indianapolis — and Vincennes University have a partnership that is producing well-trained airline services technicians, mechanics and more.

These organizations held a “Tug and Tour” event at the Vincennes University Aviation Technology Center (ATC) at the Indianapolis International Airport Wednesday. We were able to attend, joined by educators, economic development officials, military veterans and others. The event featured a tour of an aircraft hangar, as well as lunch on a Boeing 737. As Samuel L. Jackson can attest, lunch on a plane is far superior to snakes on a plane (my apologies; I’ll show myself out).

The Programs

The ATC features advanced aviation labs, testing equipment and elaborate maintenance hangars — and class sizes are limited to 25 students.

It was enlightening to learn about the partnership and how well-prepared these students are as they jump from the classroom and hands-on training into well-paying careers. Additionally, AAR offers paid internships to many Vincennes students in the program. VU instructor Ed Briggeman explained the industry is thriving, and that students who complete VU’s Aviation Maintenance program have many opportunities through the school’s myriad partners and connections. Furthermore, the program prepares students for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification and entry-level employment. A certified mechanic can make $50,000 – $55,000 per year, and the program yielded 16 mechanics in July — and by August 15 of them were placed into positions.

Students can also pursue training in aviation flight, which paves the (run)way for careers as pilots and instructors. Unlike most training facilities that can charge $100 per hour, VU doesn’t charge its students to use its flight simulators. And VU’s Indianapolis program features a fleet of well-maintained aircraft (including Cessna 172 and 172RG, as well as multi engine training in a Piper Seminole).

In Indiana, we are blessed to have public and private colleges and universities that rival or exceed those in any other region of the country — and VU is a testament to that. For more on this program or to inquire about viewing the facility, contact Corinna Vonderwell at [email protected].

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Southwest Sees Rewards from Social Media

According to most frequent flyers I know, Southwest is the only major airline that "gets it right." Seems air travel isn’t the only concept the company understands, as it receives kudos for its social media efforts from Ragan. Here’s an excerpt, but I’d recommend you read the entire piece to see if your company can benefit from Southwest’s approach: 

On social media, behave like regular people.

Too often, brands appear stiff on social media sites. Not the case with Southwest—its tweets and status updates are brimming with personality. To that end, Moffat stresses the importance of being real on social media.

"You should sound like you’re talking to a person," she says.

One way Southwest manages to sound human is by tapping its employees to be voices for the airlines. After Southwest redesigned its blog about a year ago, it recruited employees to tell stories on the blog. The social media team chose 30 people-flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and more-armed them with Flip cams, and let the authors use their voices to tell stories.

Southwest also lets employees create local Facebook pages to connect with their communities. The company trains employees interested in managing a local site and allows them to be creative in their approach. It does check in on them to help determine which strategies work.

Moffat says it’s important for companies to foster the unique qualities of their employees when tapping their voices. The approach has paid off for Southwest. "Customers embrace our quirkiness," she says.

Understand that transparency isn’t just a buzzword.

If there’s a situation that Southwest feels its audience should know about, the company will "send out a statement and post it on Twitter and Facebook so people know we’re handling it," Moffat says. "It’s better to be proactive than reactive."

She adds that Southwest strives to respond to as many customers as possible via social media, especially when a customer has a problem or question.


For Customer, Airline Soars High Through Customer Service

Customer service in any field or job is one of the reasons companies either succeed or fail. Good customer service can help you soar, as people want to continue to work with you even when something doesn’t go quite as planned. Bad customer service can be detrimental. Especially in this day and age of "status updates" and "tweets" that can cause PR nightmares.

Here’s a story of a good experience in an industry riddled with a bad reputation.

We’ve all had the experience at the airport where the man or woman behind the counter could care less about whether or not you reach your destination. They just want you to move along and go on to the next person. This is typically my experience. And it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. Even if it was just one person at one company (Delta Air Lines) — sometimes that’s all it takes.

My wife and I were flying to New York (via LaGuardia) to see her family. We had our 9-month-old daughter with us and after lugging four suitcases, a car seat and a stroller through the parking lot and up to the counter, we were told our flight had been cancelled only minutes before. You can only imagine our frustration, to say it lightly.

We were sent to another line at the ticket counter, seething and wondering how and if we were going to get through this.

We stepped up to the counter and the woman who now had our Fourth of July plans in her hands smiled and said hello to us and our daughter. We hoped, "Somehow, there must be a way out of here!" She searched for what felt like about a half hour, finding flights going through Detroit and that was about it. But with a baby, layovers can be tricky, especially if you have precious few minutes to get to your connection. She could see we were not happy with that solution and continued to search.

Minutes later she exclaimed, "Got it!" My ears perked up as she told us that there was a flight going to New York (JFK). That’s what we wanted to hear; we were back on track. She also informed us that we would be upgraded to first class, free of charge – indicating they may not be happy with her for doing so. Could it be? Could this woman really have been so nice and helpful to find a solution for us and our daughter that would be in our best interest and not the airlines? It could and she did.

I’m sure my smiling daughter (mixed with our comment about how she wouldn’t get to see her grandma) helped a bit, but it gives me hope that there are good people out there committed to doing the right thing for customers.

Bump in the Night and Day on Airlines

It’s not exactly 2+2=4, but I think it still qualifies as a basic math equation. The breakdown:

Airlines reduce the number of flights as well as the sizes of planes (fewer seats) + business travelers and others returning to the airways following the worst of the recession (more people looking to fly)  = a likely record year for bumped passengers.

I told you it was pretty basic. In the first quarter alone, nearly 220,000 passengers bought tickets but were unable to get on the flights. We’re not going to get into a detailed discussion of overbooking, but those numbers are a problem (they are 25% ahead of a year earlier). Since we’re into the straighforward talk, I’ll share the comment of a Florida airline economic professor, who said, "If you go to a concert and there are 1,000 tickets, they don’t sell 1,100 tickets. They sell 1,000."

Some more numbers to keep in mind:

  • After a 6.9% reduction in capacity among the six biggest U.S. airlines in 2009 (the biggest cut since 1942), another 2.8% was slashed early this year
  • Southwest, probably the top dog in the business whether judging by results or personal experience, typically sells 140 to 142 tickets on a flight with 137 seats. The reasoning: empty seats mean lost revenue, raising the prices even more for future flights
  • Despite nearly 89% of the first-quarter bumpings being voluntary (travelers accepting vouchers or other incentives to switch flights), the involuntary rate of 1.73 for every 10,000 passengers was a 37% increase. The 2009 rate of 1.19 was a 13-year high

In my infrequent travels, the search for those willing to give up their seats has seemingly been on the increase. I rarely have the flexibility to participate. For business travelers, being bumped can have costly consequences.

Airlines are struggling and this is part of their attempt at a solution (along with those nasty baggage fees; I’ll save that for another day). OK to overbook or do we need a no-bump game plan? You make the call.

Air of Teamwork: United & Continental Merge

While it may have been overshadowed by the stock fluctuation fiasco last week, American airlines United and Continental announced a $3 billion merger. Forbes covered the partnership, noting that unlike many mergers, this is more about generating revenue than it is about cutting costs:

Whether it’s airlines, banks or canned food, mergers are usually about cost savings. Eliminate duplication, streamline distribution to the customers and lay people off.

The United-Continental merger? Not so much. This deal is more about chasing revenues by dominating lucrative routes. The combined airline would have hubs in the largest domestic cities, plus an expanded overseas network. So from a standpoint of the pricing power that comes with squeezing competitors at top hubs, the deal makes sense.

What the merger won’t do is advance the big cost-cutting initiative that airlines have been embarking on for the past couple of years–reducing capacity. Airlines are already taking seats out of the sky, with or without merger partners. There are always some duplicative costs that can be cut, but this deal is mainly about revenues.

"When you’re trying to get corporate contracts, and you can say you have the most routes to Europe and that you’re the major airline in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and others, that does a lot," says Seth Kaplan, managing partner at trade publication Airline Weekly. Internationally, United’s strength in the Pacific Rim is complemented by Continental’s South America dominance.

Industry consultant Michael Boyd says, "Cut costs all you want, but the lifeblood of an airline is its revenue stream."

The $3 billion, all-stock deal, will create the world’s largest airline, with some $30 billion in annual revenue. Continental Airlines ( CAL – news – people ) shareholders will get 1.05 shares of stock in United parent UAL ( UAUA – news – people ) for each share of Continental, with the merger expected to close by year-end.

The Obama Justice Department figures to scrutinize the deal more closely than Bush officials did the Delta-Northwest merger, but "It’s hard to imagine any hurdles that can’t be overcome," says Kaplan. It’s also unlikely that the companies’ boards would have approved the deal without feeling confident of minimal objections from the labor unions–an outcome that’s likely given the focus on business growth over cost cuts. The consensus: There will be some labor battles, but no open warfare.

To Err (Air) May Be Human, But Costly

I enjoyed an interesting weekend, but that’s not why you come to this forum. Except, in this case, there is a business-related angle. The enjoyment involved the NCAA tournament, the nation’s gaming capital and you can guess the rest.

The implications for business started with West Coast winds that rocked our plane back and forth while it was still sitting at the gate. Thus, a long delay … a late arrival in a southern city with what I believe still has the busiest airport in the world … a missed connection … unhappy fellow passengers wanting to stage a riot … an overnight stay.

On the anecdotal side, a fellow passenger who said he once worked for Southwest Airlines (not the culprit here), offers that the in-air claims of "we’re working with the gate agents to do everything we can to help you make your connections" are bogus. On the more factual side, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) offers a paper titled "What Happened to the Airline Industry?" 

Among the fact-based review of industry changes is the statement: "Delays and full flights had made passengers so averse to connecting flights that adding a layover to the route could reduce the number of passengers on it by almost four-fifths." I’m not sure about that total, but NBER has the breakdown here.