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School district 2/3 the size of Rhode Island deals with soaring gas prices

Romeo Cantu, KGBT-4 (Harlingen, TX)
Classes haven’t even started yet and already some Valley school districts were starting to feel the pinch of skyrocketing gas prices, Action 4 News reported on Tuesday. …The district has more than 150 school buses and many of them travel over 100 miles a day.

The reason the buses travel so far is because the school district covers a 945 square-mile area, which is about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. “We’re looking at approximately 14,000 miles a day that we have to travel with all our buses,” said Rudy Zamora, ECISD’s coordinator for safety and risk management for the school district, who currently also overseas the transportation department. “That’s just a regular route. That doesn’t include extra-curricular runs, like football activities or any other activities that we may have.”

Zamora said that the skyrocketing gas prices are a problem for the district. “It’s a very serious situation particularly for a school of this size and of this magnitude,” he said. “We’re looking at about at least 20 to 30 percent increase in our costs.” …If prices continue to climb, the district says it may have to cutback on field trips for the students.
(9 Aug 2006)
Writes Byron King: “A school district 2/3 the size of Rhode Island? Kunstler is right. We have built the wrong country for the past half century.”

Airlines may be nearing ceiling on fares

Reuters via MSNBC
Industry faces issue of whether consumers will pay to cover fuel costs
NEW YORK – Slowing growth has led analysts to question whether airlines are going to be able to continue to raise fares to offset higher oil prices.

The busy summer travel season is in full swing, and several U.S. airlines said this week that demand for seats on already crowded planes is still strong. But with planes at or near record capacity, fare hikes are among the few ways to cover rising costs.

Higher fares on the back of strong travel demand have given airlines pricing power in recent months, which fueled strong second-quarter results. But with the economy showing signs of slowing and travelers becoming hesitant to fly because of high prices and security concerns, the pricing power and accompanying profits could quickly evaporate.
(5 Aug 2006)

Give up cheap flights, holidaymakers told

Ned Temko, The Observer
It’s the peak holiday season, but it still takes just a few minutes online and a few pounds to book a flight to Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin … even Prague, Rome or Barcelona.

Not for much longer, though, if an influential group of MPs gets its way. Alarmed at what it sees as the government’s wilful disregard of the effects of cheap air travel on global warming, the cross-party environmental audit committee will tomorrow lay out a range of proposals to get people to pay for some of the damage they do.

It may take time and, given the tangle of international agreements that govern flights overseas, it is far more likely to mean the end of bargain fares to Manchester than to Moscow (£118 this week, if you know where to look). But the aim is to shift at least some passengers from air travel to high-speed rail links. The MPs also want changes on Britain’s roads, with increases in road tax, targeted road tolls and more congestion charges.

It is vital, one committee member told The Observer yesterday, that the government should factor in the environmental impact of its transport policies – something the MPs were surprised to find is not happening.
(6 Aug 2006)

Fueling Anxiety

Joseph C. Anselmo, Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN)
Oil prices are a wild card that could short-circuit the commercial aircraft industry’s recovery
The regional aircraft industry will deliver more than 9,100 jets and 1,900 turboprops over the next two decades, generating $370 billion in revenues, according to a new Bombardier forecast. But there’s a caveat: The Canadian aircraft builder’s estimate assumes long-term oil prices of $50-60 a barrel.

…The specter of $100 oil couldn’t come at a worse time for the U.S. airline industry, which is clawing its way back to profitability after six years of red ink. Boeing and Airbus, along with regional aircraft manufacturers Bombardier and Embraer, have hoped the new stability would finally allow legacy carriers to begin placing large orders after years of deferring purchases.

At the recent Farnborough air show, airplane builders and their suppliers maintained that higher oil prices are increasing the appeal of new, more fuelefficient jets and accelerating the retirement of older gas-guzzling planes such as the Boeing 727 and MD 80. Boeing says it’s negotiating with 30 airlines for sales involving 1,000 more 787s. And aircraft leasers such as GE Commercial Aviation Services (Gecas) and Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprises note their biggest problem is meeting demand for single-aisle jets. “We’re completely leased out in 2007,” says Gecas CEO Henry A. Hubschman.

But industry executives acknowledge that if oil prices rise much higher, they could trigger an economic slowdown-or even a recession-that would ripple through aerospace. “If it was $100 a barrel for any length of time, it would affect the global economy, and the airlines’ growth is pegged to the economy,” says Goodrich CEO Marshall Larsen.

…Airlines, however, have grown much more efficient since the post-Sept. 11 downturn. Carriers losing money when oil cost less than $30 a barrel are finding a way to turn a profit despite more-than-doubled fuel costs. “I’m encouraged by the resiliency of the industry,” says Rockwell Collins CEO Clay Jones.
(31 July 2006)
Article is subscriber only. Contributor DM writes: “It’s wildly optimistic (IMHO).”

Synthetics Soar

James Ott, Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN)
Defense Dept. and industry assess the economic and environmental impact of fuel alternatives
For the third time in three decades, governments and industry are awakening to the possibilities of synthetic fuels and other alternatives as the price of petroleum-derived propellant has climbed to an unprecedented $77 a barrel.

The U.S. military and commercial interests are pursuing several courses toward the same goal-developing a fuel that is economically viable, environmentally acceptable and available through commerce. Research and development for alternatives is accelerating with the aim of finding a “drop-in” synthetic kerosene transparent to existing jet engines.

Alternatives to petroleum-based fuel have been around since the 1920s but none have been used in much quantity except during World War II in Germany, Japan and to some degree in Great Britain. Interest in alternatives always peaks during oil crises, which date to the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s and when oil supply disruptions are threatened by wars, natural disasters and refining problems. It flags as supply and price issues temporarily are solved.

This time around could be different, according to sources in government and industry. The U.S. is heavily involved and dependence on foreign oil is a political and national security issue. The Defense Dept. is looking for a single battlefield fuel. Coal, one of the sources for synthetic kerosene, is a huge North American resource. Natural gas is plentiful on the continent, and shale oil and tar sands are also available.

Coal-derived kerosene, developed through a liquefaction process by Sasol, a South African company, is in use as a blend with petroleum-based fuel at Johannesburg International Airport…. Officials say the new fuel could be loaded onto aircraft by the end of this year.

…ON THE MILITARY SIDE, prompted by security concerns related to dependence on foreign oil, the U.S. Defense Dept. has taken the lead in the search for synthetic substitutes.

…Airlines have adopted a “go for it” attitude, says John Heimlich, chief economist of the Washington-based Air Transport Assn. “When you’re [paying] over $70 a barrel for oil, anything that seems to work at $40 or higher as an alternative is worth looking at.” Price estimates for synthetic fuels circulating at industry and government meetings range
from $38-50 a barrel and higher, Heimlich says. Cost estimates for building a synthetic fuels refining plant go as high as $4 billion, a major factor in production costs, the economist notes.
(31 July 2006)
The original article is much more detailed. It is subscriber-only.