Chinese drone maker DJI stands to make a killing despite being excluded from groundbreaking U.S. drone program

  • China’s DJI is the world’s largest maker of commercial, non-military drone and its cutthroat pricing makes it a top contender in the fast-growing unmanned aircraft market
  • Global drones unit sales increased by an estimated 60 percent last year to 2.2 million, and revenue grew by 36 percent to $4.5 billion; market expected to grow to three million units and $6 million in revenue this year
  • In catching up with other countries, the U.S. Department of Transportation in May announced the winners of its U.S. drone program, aimed at helping it develop drone regulation and safe integration into U.S. airspace
  • Program approved unmanned aircraft progams by Apple, chipmaker Intel, Airplane manufacturer Airbus and shipping company FedEx, but passed over online retail giant Amazon and DJI
  • But DJI stated it welcomed the new drone integration pilot programs. The company stands to benefit from the approvals indirectly, as the operators of many personal and professional drone programs rely on DJI’s technology
  • DJI also holds the largest number of drone patents, providing it with a lot of leverage as other market entrants try to expand their technology
  • However, recent tensions over China-U.S. trade relationships and U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda could be a roadblock to potential collaborations

Are high oil prices the much-needed boost for Airbus’ struggling A330neo sales?

  • European airplane manufacturer Airbus has been struggling to find buyers for its recently upgraded A330neo wide-body jet
  • Various airlines ditched their A330neo orders, instead going with Boeing 787s. Airbus has so far sold 214 of the jets and needs to close deals to justify its production output
  • But the A330neo could see a boost in demand as oil prices rise, with the wide-body jet being touted as offering a 14-percent improvement in fuel efficiency per passenger
  • Fuel is one of the biggest costs for airlines, analysts say they generally make up about one third of operating expenses
  • Brent crude futures, the benchmark for oil prices, traded at almost $80 a barrel this week – following a gradual upswing over the past 12 months
  • CEO of Irish budget carrier Ryanair warned that rising oil prices, and as a consequence fuel costs, would mean some airlines would not “survive the winter”

Southwest’s fatal engine explosion was completely avoidable

Tesla fire crashes could spell trouble for the wider electric vehicle world

  • Tesla cars have gone up in flames following accidents around the world at least 14 times since 2013
  • Investigators and the company are probing the batteries, which are by far the largest in the electric vehicle world, allowing for an unprecedented range of 335 miles on a full charge
  • Elon Musk says his vehicles are five times less likely to go up in flames than regular cars, but experts say there’s not enough data to support those claims
  • Tesla’s unique batteries are high-density, allowing for exceptional performance, but also posing potential fire safety risks

The death of a German man in his Model S on a Swiss highway earlier this month marked the latest in a string of fire-related Tesla crashes. Swiss firefighters took hours to extinguish the flames, blaming the incident on the car’s lithium-ion batteries and a phenomenon called thermal runaway, which causes a rapid and unstoppable increase in battery temperature.

Witnesses of other Tesla fire crashes, such as a 2016 accident in Indianapolis killing a couple and a fatal crash in Florida earlier this month in which two teenagers burned to death, reported that the cars’ batteries exploded, making it nearly impossible for rescue workers to approach the vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said his vehicles are five times less likely to catch fire than regular gasoline cars, which are involved in some 200,000 annual fire accidents in North America alone. But experts say there simply is not enough data to support those claims. Electric vehicles, while growing in sales, still only make up a small portion of global car sales, making it difficult to come up with statistically significant comparisons.

Questions over whether battery-powered cars are at a greater risk of catching fire are crucial for an industry that hopes to account for some 15 percent of global vehicle sales by 2025, up from currently 1 percent.

And Tesla offers the by-far most advanced electric car version. Its Model S can drive 335 miles on a full charge, making it the longest-range electric car on the consumer market. Its latest Model 3 can drive 310 miles once fully charged.

The leap in range is facilitated by a massive battery that extends beyond the whole bottom of the car up to the rear seats. “Tesla has the biggest batteries out there so that just adds to the difficulty they have in protecting it in each and every situation,” said Tom Gage, the CEO of EV Grid and an expert in electric vehicle development.

Tesla batteries beat the competition due to their high density, a term referring to the amount of energy stored in a given space. But that also means that if one battery cell ignites, a fire can quickly spread across the entire battery, said Peter Sunderland, a professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland.

Sunderland said fire safety and performance were a trade-off. “Everyone wants a car that can drive hundreds of miles and the only way to get those things is to increase the battery density, which means it’s inherently going to be more dangerous,” he said.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is probing battery fires in two recent fatal crashes.

Gage said Tesla was definitely pushing the envelope with its high-density batteries to ensure customer satisfaction. But he said his company, which develops batteries for the automotive industry, as well as other carmakers for now are taking a more conservative approach.

U.S. airlines have a lobbying problem

  • U.S. airlines, including major carriers Delta, American and United, have spent some $30 million on lobbying efforts in 2017
  • But long-running dispute with Middle Eastern carriers shows lobbying efforts have failed
  • Airlines face growing pressure from increased consolidation, foreign airlines and congressional scrutiny over customer service incidents
  • American Airlines and Delta still seek new heads to lead their Washington lobbying teams after departures

When Emirates launched daily flights from Milan to New York in 2013, major U.S. carriers Delta, American and United Airlines cried foul, alleging that Gulf airlines receive billions of dollars in illegal subsidies. But a January agreement reached following a $10 million years-long marketing and lobbying campaign by the U.S. carriers has been derided as a “nothing-burger” – signaling the industry’s struggles to have the ear of Washington lawmakers.

While all sides portrayed January’s agreement as a win, the big three U.S. carriers in fact failed to push through one of their most crucial demands: preventing Qatari and United Arab Emirates airlines from expanding U.S. city destinations and frequencies. Sniffing a chance under the new, more business-friendly U.S. administration, the airlines had called for a reopening of the Open Skies agreement that allows foreign carriers unlimited access to U.S. routes.

Under the January deal, that agreement stays intact. Gulf carriers continue to be allowed to operate so-called fifth freedom flights, which permit the airlines to fly between two foreign countries outside their home base. While Qatari Airlines has pledged not to operate such flights, there is no binding agreement preventing them from launching a European-U.S. route similar to the one operated by Emirates.

“This is a way for the Trump administration to draw a line under this dispute and give the Big 3 a big nothing-burger,” John Byerly, a former State Department official who negotiated Open Skies agreements, told USA Today.

No deal has yet been struck with the United Arab Emirates and its flagship carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways. Emirates in January drew the ire of the big U.S. airlines when it launched a second trans-Atlantic destination with direct daily flights from Newark to Athens.

After the botched January agreement, a deal with the UAE carriers will become the new test case for the airlines’ lobbying efforts under the Trump administration. Airline lobbying expenses last year soared by more than 30 percent compared to 2016, with the industry as a whole spending some $30 million.

The push coincides with heavy scrutiny from federal lawmakers over how airlines treat their passengers. While a series of incidents dealt a heavy blow to United Airlines’ reputation, any legislative changes to booking practices, fee structures or customer service agreements would have a heavy toll on all airlines.

And while United Airlines last year after a nearly two-year search hired former Exxon Mobil Corp.’s top lobbyist to lead its D.C. efforts, American Airlines and Delta are still without a lobbying head in the U.S. capital.

If the latest congressional action is any sign, the future for U.S. airlines’ lobbying does not bode well: Republican House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster in February dropped his efforts to move air-traffic controllers out of the Federal Aviation Administration and into a non-profit corporation after he failed to shore up the necessary support.

Airlines have sought the change for years, urging lawmakers to implement budget changes to modernize air traffic control. But opponents, concerned that the carriers would control the system to their own advantage,  ultimately gained the upper hand.

Airlines and U.S. lawmakers are cracking down on service animals, but you can still bring your miniature horse for now

  • U.S. airlines are complaining about a spike in reported animal incidents on their planes in recent years – from allergies to urination, defecation and biting
  • Passengers do not need to pay an additional charge for bringing a licensed service animal on board and in the past have tried to enter planes with a menagerie of comfort animals, including turkeys, snakes, spiders and even a kangaroo
  • Large U.S. airlines including Delta, United and American, have issued new restrictions this year, including a signed validation of a trained medical or mental health professional
  • According to Delta, service animals have to fit at your feet, under your seat or on your lap, cannot eat from tray tables, jump, bite or growl at other passengers
  • The airline also banned ferrets, goats, hedgehogs, insects, poultry and animals with horns or hooves from entering the cabin – but properly trained miniature service horses are still permitted
  • Alarmed by the spike in incidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation is mulling new legislation and has opened a public comment period that to date has drawn more than 1,000 remarks
  • A U.S. Senator has also introduced new a new airline bill that would tighten the definition of what counts as a proper service animal, receiving support from the airlines industry and disability support groups