Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Transit leaders seek help from US Congress

Tuesday November 18, 12:49 pm ET
By Brian Westley, Associated Press Writer

Transit leaders seek help from lawmakers amid credit crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Leaders from 11 transit agencies pleaded with Congress for help Tuesday as long-term financing deals with investors collapse amid the global credit crisis.

The officials warned that 31 of the nation's largest transit systems could face at least $2 billion in payments in the coming months if hundreds of the deals go bad. The fallout could cripple rail and bus systems at a time when ridership is soaring.

"Time is not our friend," said Beverly Scott, general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. "The innocent victims will be the millions of riders who rely on public transit every day."

Insurers such as American International Group Inc. had backed the long-term deals, but downgrades of AIG's credit have put many of the arrangements in default. That has triggered a clause allowing banks to demand early termination fees and other penalties.

Transit officials want lawmakers to request the U.S. Treasury to guarantee the deals instead. They say such an arrangement would put the federal government at little risk.

The Treasury Department has said it is aware of the problem, but declined further comment. Several members of Congress have been pressing for a solution in recent weeks.

"I made the point that it would be wrong to ride to the rescue of private Wall Street firms and then leave public transit agencies out in the cold," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told The Associated Press last month.

General managers and other officials from transit agencies in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago and Boston were among those who gathered in Washington to lobby lawmakers.

In a once-common practice, many transit agencies entered into arrangements in which they sold rail cars and other equipment to banks, then leased them back at a discount.

Both sides benefited. The transit agencies were given a large sum of money up front, which could pay for various infrastructure upgrades. And the banks were able to rely on frequent lease payments while writing off taxes on the depreciating property.

The IRS ended such leasing arrangements in 2004 and is pressuring banks to stop the tax shelters by the end of the year.

Metro, the Washington area's transit system, agreed last week with a bank immediately seeking $43 million from one such financing deal following talks overseen by a federal judge. Terms were not disclosed on the judge's instructions.

Metro general manager John Catoe noted Tuesday that Metro still faces 14 similar financing deals. He said having to settle all of them in court would lead to hefty legal costs and other expenses.

The other three agencies seeking government help are in Sacramento and San Jose in California and New Jersey Transit.

Monday, November 17, 2008

SIA Oct 2008 load factor drops

Opinion: Even the world's best performing airline is finding it hard in this slowing economy

Nov 17, 2008 Straitstimes

By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent

SIA reported today that it filled an average of 77.5 per cent of seats last month - a drop of 0.8 percentage points compared with the same month last year. -- ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE Airlines continues to carry more passengers but capacity is growing faster which means fewer seats are being filled.

The airline reported today that it filled an average of 77.5 per cent of seats last month - a drop of 0.8 percentage points compared with the same month last year. It was also the 10th straight month of decline.

This despite carrying more than 1.6 million passengers, a 1.3 per cent increase over the 1.58 million carried in October 2007. Cargo was hit especially bad.

Total volume carried fell 8.4 per cent to 104.7 million kg. Although capacity was cut 7.1 per cent, SIA managed to fill just 59.4 per cent of the total space.

Going forward, the airline which saw profits for the three months to end-September drop 36.2 per cent to $323.8 million intends to shed more flights and seats to boost the bottomline.

Several poor-performing routes have also been dropped.

Japanese Carriers cut fuel surcharge

Opinion: As the global economy slows down, airlines will have to reduce fares because fuel cost has also dropped to 'normal' prices.

Nov 17, 2008 AFP

TOKYO - JAPAN Airlines and All Nippon Airways said on Monday they have separately decided to lower fuel surcharges from next year as energy costs fall.

For three months from Jan 1, JAL and ANA will cut surcharges on flights to South Korea to 2,500 yen (S$38) from 4,000 yen.

The charges on flights to North America, Europe and Middle East will be cut to 22,000 yen from 33,000 yen.

'Jet fuel fell to an average of 115.92 dollars per barrel from Aug to Oct this year, and ANA is pleased to be able to pass on the benefit of that fall to its valued customers,' ANA said in a statement.

The top two Japanese carriers had simultaneously raised fuel surcharges on Aug 18, as soaring fuel costs and weaker economic growth put pressure on airlines around the world. -- AFP

Traffic at HK airport slows

Nov 17, 2008 AFP

HONG KONG - HONG Kong airport saw a fall in passengers in October, while cargo volume plummeted due to a slowdown in business and trade activity amid the global economic crisis, officials said on Monday.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority (HKAA) released figures showing 4.07 million passengers used Chek Lap Kok airport in October, down 1.4 per cent from the 4.12 million recorded during the same month last year.

There was, however, a one per cent increase in the number of flights.

The HKAA also said the amount of cargo handled was 9.2 per cent down year on year to 320,000 tonnes.

HKAA chief executive officer Stanley Hui Hon-chung said: 'The global financial turmoil is biting deeper into world economies while business and trade activities are appreciably slowing down.'

'These conditions have contributed to the continuous decline in passenger and cargo traffic that began in August.' He said aircraft movements in November and December are expected to see marginal increases, but cargo traffic will likely fall.

The cargo business has been hard hit as the demand for Asian or mainland Chinese products has dwindled substantially in the ailing economies of major trading partners like the US and Europe, he said.

Air traffic figures for the first 10 months of this year recorded moderate growth over the same period in 2007. Passenger volume rose 3.2 per cent to 40.7 million, while cargo volume grew 1.6 per cent to 3.1 million tonnes.

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific issued a profit warning earlier this month on the back of a slowdown in passenger demand and losses on fuel hedging contracts. -- AFP

More train trips during holiday season for Singapore MRT

Nov 18, 2008 Straits Times
More train trips
Waiting times will be reduced by up to 2 minutes: SMRT
TRAIN operator SMRT will add almost 400 extra train trips each week from this weekend to cope with the increased demand for travel during the festive season.

The additional 378 trips will shorten waiting times by up to two minutes, it said yesterday.

Commuters can expect more trains to pull up at stations on weekday evenings, Saturday mornings and evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings.

The extra trips, the fifth lot offered this year, will run from Saturday till Dec 30.

SMRT's vice-president of rail operations Vincent Tan said more commuters take the train in the last two months of the year when doing their Christmas shopping.

'This year, we are continuing the tradition of providing additional train trips for their convenience,' he said.

About a third of the extra trips each week will be on Saturday. On weekends, commuters on the North-South and East-West lines in both directions will have shorter waits.

For example, an extra 35 train trips will be added each way to North-South Line trains plying between Marina Bay and Yishun from 5pm to 11.45pm on Saturdays.

From next Monday, SMRT will roll out an additional 15 trips in each direction for the North-South Line, and another 10 in each direction for the East-West Line on weekday evenings.

The train operator has added about 900 trips a week so far this year, with the majority rolled out in May.

Monday, November 10, 2008

AirAsia finally makes it to India

Opinion: Air Asia has really lived up to its name as the LCC that services major countries/cities in Asia. With the fall of fuel cost, I hope it will start to grow and be a force to be reckoned

Tuesday October 28, 2008 THESTAR

KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia has finally conquered its “last frontier” with the Indian government giving the low-cost carrier approval to fly to India.

AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said the airline would start selling tickets to Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu at midnight tomorrow, with the first flight to take off at 7.40am on Dec 1.

“It will be a daily flight and we are looking at even adding a second flight now as the initial response has been tremendous,” he told reporters at a press conference here yesterday.

Special promotional prices for the flight will cost RM49 one way while the normal ticket price will cost about RM200 one way.

Fernandes said plans were now in the works for the next one-and-a-half years for AirAsia to fly to many more destinations in India including Chennai, Madurai and Kochi.

It is learnt that these destinations, plus Tiruchi, are the places where many Malaysian Indians can trace their roots and travel to for family visits.

“AirAsia X, meanwhile, will fly to places like New Dehli, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Calcutta,” he added.

He said AirAsia would initially invest between RM5mil and RM7mil to set up infrastructure in India and was confident that they would do well.

“This is an exciting period for us. I’m looking at a load factor of at least 90% for our first flight,” he said.

Fernandes said it had taken the airline seven years to reach this stage and with its entry into India, his mission as CEO was complete.

“I had said then that India would be the last place we need to go to. It is now over to AirAsia X to grow the business to Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.”

Fernandes said he expected a huge growth in Indian tourists to Malaysia and that he was not worried about the global economic slowdown.

“I believe that you have to be innovative. While other airlines are cutting back, we are expanding and can take up the slack.

In response to recent Malaysia Airlines advertisements, Fernandes said his battle with MAS was over and that it was time to move on.

“We can compete fairly all the time. That is not a problem. It was only when they blocked us from getting what we wanted that I made noise.”

Obama to make first visit to Oval Office

Obama to make first visit to Oval Office

CNN Nov 10th 2008
President-elect Barack Obama will set foot inside the Oval Office for the first time today as he meets with President Bush to talk about the problems his incoming administration will face. The meeting between president and president-elect is a historic formality, but it's also a time for serious talks. full story

DHL cuts 9,500 U.S. jobs

Delivery firm to end U.S.-only operations, will continue shipments to other countries.

By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer