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United’s deal with Uber raises concerns

United Airlines has been reprising its old advertising slogan about the “friendly skies.” But some airports think the airline was a bit less than friendly when it formed a partnership with the ride-sharing company Uber without seeking airport input.

At a recent aviation industry conference, Jeffrey T. Foland, United’s executive vice president for marketing, was extolling the airline’s promotions on friendliness, its profitable focus on high-yield passengers and strategic capacity reductions, and its initiatives in mobile technology — including an app in which passengers with iOS and Android mobile devices can book Uber rides when making United reservations.

One airport executive took issue with what some have seen as a unilateral move by United to link up with Uber, even as airports are struggling with whether, or how, to accommodate such rapidly expanding competitors to traditional taxi, limousine and other ground-transit services.

Why would United be so quick to welcome Uber when “a lot of airports in the United States are against Uber, also because the drivers are not vetted and not regulated?” Victoria Jaramillo, the marketing director at the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, asked Foland at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Las Vegas.

“I was wondering if that question would come up,” Foland said.

He replied that United was merely responding to customer demands for mobile technology and “emerging views of the marketplace.” With its Uber app, “we want to provide functionality. Our customers want it. They told us they like it and they’re using the product,” he said.

While Uber and other sharing services like Lyft may well be an irresistible force, airports say they do not intend to be an immovable object. Just last week, for example, Nashville International Airport became the first U.S. airport to officially recognize Uber and Lyft. The airport negotiated a deal in which the services must obtain permits and pay airport fees to pick up passengers curbside at designated airport locations.

“Airports welcome anything that helps them provide better customer service,” said Tom Devine, the general counsel for Airports Council International-North America, a trade group.

He pointed out that airports don’t refer to Uber and the like as ride-sharing services but rather as “ride-booking services,” to more precisely define the commercial nature of the upstarts.

—Joe Sharkey, The New York Times

After fire, Chicago flight delays bleed into third day

CHICAGO — Air travelers here were bracing for the possibility of more problems as a new week began, three days after a fire at an Illinois air traffic control center halted flights in Chicago.

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed at two of the nation’s busiest airports — O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport — on Friday after a contract employee started a fire at a radar control center in Aurora, about 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. Federal Aviation Administration officials were able to turn over to other regions portions of airspace usually overseen by air traffic controllers at the damaged facility, but fewer flights than usual were permitted into Chicago over the weekend.

On Sunday, more than 550 flights were canceled at O’Hare and 55 at Midway, officials reported, but the FAA said that it expected a “substantial increase in operational capabilities” by Monday.

At the height of the problem late Friday afternoon, officials reported that about 1,950 flights in and out of Chicago had been canceled.

Brian Howard, 36, of Naperville, Illinois, the contract employee accused of starting the fire, has been charged with one count of destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, a felony.

—The New York Times, The New York Times

In Pakistan’s tribal north, US drone strike kills 4

ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone strike in northwestern Pakistan killed at least four people suspected of being militants, Pakistani officials said Sunday.

The drone strike occurred Sunday afternoon in Karikot in the South Waziristan tribal region. A vehicle parked near a house was the target, a local administration official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Two of those killed were believed to be citizens of Arab nations. Their identities could not be immediately confirmed.

This was the second U.S. drone strike within a week and the first strike in South Waziristan in almost a year.

Last Wednesday, a drone strike in Dattakhel, in the adjacent North Waziristan tribal region, killed at least 10 people who were thought to be militants.

The Pakistani military is currently engaged in an offensive against militants in North Waziristan. On Sunday, the military said that fighter jets had killed at least 15 militants in airstrikes on five hide-outs in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.

The Pakistan military claimed success in its campaign against militants in South Waziristan after a ‘09 military offensive, but the militants still have a presence in the region.

Drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, where they are viewed as a breach of the country’s sovereignty by the United States. Human rights activists have also criticized the drone strikes, claiming that they have resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. The activists and the Pakistani government do not agree on the toll.

The number of drone strikes has decreased in recent months, but U.S. officials have dismissed the idea that the classified drone program focusing on the volatile northwestern Pakistani tribal regions will be halted.

U.S. officials emphasize that remotely piloted drones are an essential weapon in the hunt for militants in areas where ground troops cannot operate.

—Salman Masood, The New York Times