Monday, May 25, 2015

In Fight Against Etihad, American Airlines May Stand Alone

Of all the wealthy Persian Gulf airlines, Etihad is the most hated. If it were an NFL quarterback, it’d be Tom Brady. Beautiful, award winning, and with the benefit of a supermodel pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the city that owns the airline.
Lumped together with its rival Emirates Airlines in Dubai and Qatar Airways in Doha, the three gulf carriers are the death knell to the American fliers dominating the friendly skies. At least that is what American Airlines, Delta and United want the Department of Transportation to think.
Despite being the market leaders in international travel, the big-three airlines claim the U.A.E. and Qatar-based airlines are stealing their thunder. In terms of service, they sure are. But in terms of passenger traffic and market share, the American airlines still rule. That has not stopped them from trying to get the DoT to tweak the Open Skies rules in their favor.
They argue that while their home markets are open to competition from Etihad, Etihad’s market is not open to them. They have a point…try finding a Delta flight parked in Abu Dhabi. Etihad is as dominant a fixture there as Delta in Atlanta.
Yet, as the big-three try to convince the government to do away with some benefits such as Export-Import Bank loans and allowing them to open up hubs at U.S. airports, judging by the comments received by the DoT, Etihad has more fans than foes.
Tom Noonan, CEO of Visit Baltimore, was one of the people to write to the DoT in favor of the Gulf carriers. He wrote:
Visit Baltimore believes strongly that Open Skies agreements should be preserved.By providing more  competition and increased capacity and choices in the air travel market, these agreements benefit  individual consumers, the entire travel industry and America’s economy through visitor spending, tax generation and job creation.
 They are essential to ensure continued growth in international travel to and from the U.S. including destinations like Baltimore. … An important factor driving recent increases in overall inbound international travel has been the increased competition from new service and new entrants into the American market from places like India, theMiddle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
 Targeting these centers of global aviation and airlines like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways puts the entire Open Skies framework at risk. We need these carriers to help bring travelers to Baltimore and destinations throughout the country for business and leisure purposes. I urge you not to limit the Gulf carriers’ access to the U.S. Preserve Open Skies.”
American airline rivals also chimed in. The British Airways’ parent company, the International Airlines Group, said it supported Open Skies rules as is.
Competition is a fact of life for all our businesses; we believe that embracing it offers IAG the greatest opportunities to deliver profitable growth and shareholder value over the long term.
 This includes markets where IAG competes successfully – i.e. profitably – with all three major Gulf carriers. British Airways has faced direct competition from Emirates for over 25 years.”
Open Skies agreements were designed to expand international passenger and cargo flights to the U.S. The agreements do this by eliminating government interference in the commercial decisions of air carriers.
The Tom Brady of foreign airlines has also made the tiny United Arab Emirates an important destination for American businesses.
Trade between the U.S. and the U.A.E. are on the rise over the last five years. The U.A.E. is now America’s largest export market in the Middle East, beating Washington’s favorite nation Israel.
Most of this is big ticket airport communications and satellite equipment from places like Raytheon, military items like aircraft, and security x-ray equipment for the new port being built in Abu Dhabi. Direct Abu-Dhabi flights from Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago and Houston make this much easier.
U.S. exports and foreign direct investment there rose from $3.6 billion in 2004 to $24.6 billion in 2013.
Moreover, despite claims by the U.S. airlines, the market for air travel from the U.S. to the Indian Sub-Continent has expanded significantly from 2009 to 2014 with U.S. airlines and their European partners actually flying 223,000 more passengers during that period. Etihad acquired Jet Airways in India two years ago. However, passengers flying to Mumbai can leave the U.S., stop over in Abu Dhabi, and then fly to Mumbai. On the return, they can clear customs in Abu Dhabi instead of in the U.S.
A report by Edgeworth Economics showed that routes where Etihad competes with the big three and their global alliance partners actually carried more passengers, despite having lost market share on certain routes due to increased competition.
Passenger numbers rose by 18% and market share fell 4.4% for fights between the U.S. and India between 2009 and 2014 when Etihad started traveling there. First and business class passenger volume from the U.S. to India rose 27%.
Kevin Knight, chief strategy officer at Etihad, called American airlines “arrogant” for trying to do away with current Open Skies regulations.
“The claims made by the three U. S. carriers that Etihad Airways and other Gulf carriers are damaging their business and taking ’their’ passengers, are not only false, but also arrogant,” he said. “They do not ‘own’ these passengers, nor do they do have a right to them.”
Etihad said it will file its response with the DoT this week.
(Kenneth Rapoza - Forbes)

Troubled Malaysia Airlines to be completely revamped: new CEO

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-2H6(ER) (29065/329) 9M-MRL climbs from Rwy 25R at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on January 18, 2013. The carrier has since ceased LAX operations as of April 30, 2015.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Loss-making Malaysia Airlines is set to undergo a complete overhaul as it is restructured into a new company, with a rebranding that will be unveiled next week and changes planned to its fleet and network strategies.

Christoph Mueller, who joined from Irish national carrier Aer Lingus, said in his first ever interview since taking over as chief executive on May 1 that the new company will be like a "start-up."

A new name and livery are on the cards for Malaysia Airlines (MAS), sources told Reuters.

"I'm hired to run the new company entirely on commercial terms and there's very little margin for error," Mueller told Reuters at the downtown Kuala Lumpur office of Malaysian state investor Khazanah, which took MAS private late last year as part of a 6 billion ringgit ($1.66 billion) restructuring.

"It's not a continuation of the old company in a new disguise, everything is new," said Mueller, who helped turn around carriers such as Aer Lingus, Belgium’s Sabena, and Germany's Lufthansa.

Khazanah said on Monday that the chairman of audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Malaysia has been appointed to oversee the move of MAS' assets and liabilities to a new company, Malaysia Airlines Bhd, which is due to start operating by September.

The airline, which has seen successive years of losses, suffered huge damage to its brand after flight MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared in March last year, in what has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, and all 298 aboard were killed.

Apart from the brand, analysts say that the key to a revival will be the management's ability to reduce costs, deploy capacity more efficiently, create a profitable network that leverages on Kuala Lumpur's position as a regional hub, and partnerships with other airlines.


MAS, in the past, was also hindered by disagreements between the management and the unions, which opposed job cuts. The government also interfered in the day-to-day running of the airline, and commercial contracts were often awarded to suppliers with political connections.

MAS has announced plans to lay off about a third of its 20,000 work-force, expected in the coming week, and will also shrink its capacity this year.

Mueller confirmed that the carrier has been trying to sell two of its A380s and will likely have fewer planes overall, but added that the new company will keep all of its current types of aircraft including the Airbus A330s, Boeing 777-200s and 737-800s.

Competition has been intense at home, where low-cost carrier AirAsia has taken much of the short-haul market from MAS and affiliate AirAsia X has provided stiff competition in the medium and long-haul markets.

The airline's costs are 20 percent above its rivals and Mueller said it will take 3 years to close that gap and return to profitability.

"We are not without our weapons. It's doable, and it depends on the vigor in which we pursue the cost reduction," he said.

(Siva Govindasamy & Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah - Business Insider / Reuters)

Southwest Rushes Woman Home to Son in Coma

Southwest Airlines went above and beyond the call of duty to rush a woman home to her ill son earlier this month.
Right before her flight took off from Chicago to Columbus, Southwest Airline employees found passenger Peggy Uhle to alert her to upsetting news. 
According to local news reports from the CBS station 21 News in Harrisburg customer service representatives told Ms. Uhle to call her husband. Her phone had been switched off while she was on the plane. Her husband informed her that their 24-year-old son was in a coma in Denver.
A spokesperson for Southwest informed 21 News that the airline rebooked her on a new flight home directly to Denver free of charge.
“The gate attendant already knew the situation and had booked me on a direct flight to Denver that was leaving the next two hours,” Uhle told the travel blog
Uhle went on to explain the airline’s kindness. “They offered a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage, allowed me to board first, and packed a lunch for when I got off the plane in Denver. My luggage was delivered to where I was staying, and I even received a call from Southwest asking how my son was doing.
Southwest never asked for payment for the Denver flight, luggage delivery or anything else,” she concluded. “The care that I was shown is second to none. We have always liked Southwest Airlines and now we can’t say enough good things about them.”
Her son is currently recovering from a traumatic brain condition.
(Jo Piazza - Yahoo Travel News)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Ford Pintos Fly: The Bizarre Story of Henry Smolinski and His Flying Ford

When Ford Pintos Fly: The Bizarre Story of Henry Smolinski and His Flying Ford
(Doug Duncan)
People give their lives for many reasons. Some die for their country, others for their faith. Every so often, however, we hear of people who give their lives for less noble ideals. Take Henry Smolinski for example. He died while trying to make his dream of a flying Ford Pinto come true.
Smolinski was born in 1933. He attended the Northrup Institute of Technology, where he studied aeronautical engineering. Afterwards he worked at North American aviation as a structural engineer, where he helped to develop new jet aircraft designs. In 1959 he accepted a position at Rocketdyne, where he pioneered work in the firm’s missile and aerospace programs.
Smolinski might have gone on to enjoy a noted career and a happy retirement, had he not developed an interest in building the world’s first flying car. To that end, he founded a company called Advanced Vehicle Engineers in Van Nuys, California in 1971.
Smolinski, along with a friend named Hal Blake, wanted to build sturdy, lightweight airframes that drivers could bolt to their cars. He imagined motorists flying the automobile/airplane combos to a distant airfield, unbolting the wings and propeller, and completing their journey by car.
Flying Ford Pinto 2
(Doug Duncan)
By itself, this ambition seems not only sane but admirable. After all, who doesn’t want a vehicle that can traverse both highways and airways? Many inventors have dreamt of building such a machine. So we can’t fault Smolinski for wanting to achieve this goal.
We can, however, question the way in which they went about it. For starters, the automobile he chose for his prototype was the Ford Pinto, known more for its explosive qualities than for its mechanical quality. For the aeronautical portion of the vehicle, Blake and Smolinski disassembled a Cessna Skymaster, removing the front engine and cabin and bolting the rest of the assembly to the Pinto.
To control the plane while in flight, the duo developed a set of adapters that would allow the driver/pilot to control the ailerons by turning the steering wheel, while using the pedals to control the rudder. They modified the Pinto’s dashboard, giving it an airspeed gauge, a directional gyroscope, a radio navigational equipment, and an altimeter.
The idea of a flying Pinto was fodder for newspapers of the time, giving Smolinski ample opportunities for press conferences. At one such meeting, a group of skeptical engineers posed some concerns about the project’s viability. Smolinski reportedly responded by saying, “Look, we know there are problems with our idea. But we’re confident we have the answers.” He chose to name his unlikely craft the Mizar, after a star in the Big Dipper.
(Doug Duncan)
 In 1973 the Mizar, piloted by Charles “Red” Jennise, took off from a California airfield. At first all went well. Then the mounting struts for the right wing failed. Jennise realized that turning stresses would probably destroy the craft were he to turn it around. So he reduced power while flying straight ahead, landing unhurt in a field of beans several miles away. Unable to remove the Cessna attachments, he drove the vehicle, wings and all, back to the airport.
 Blake and Smolinski went back to the drawing board, and by September 1973 they were ready to test a modified version of the Mizar. On the 11th of that month the pair took off from Ventura County Airport; Jennise was unavailable to pilot the craft on that day.
 Mac Grisham, the airport manager, was alarmed to see the vehicle take off without his prior approval. He ran to the control tower to radio Blake and Smolinski. Before he could reach his destination, however, he heard the airfield’s crash horn go off. He turned to see a pillar of black smoke rising from the spot where the Mizar should’ve been. Emergency responders raced to the scene of the accident, where they found what was left of Blake and Smolinski.
Later investigation revealed that the Mizar suffered from faulty welding and loose parts. Also, its combined weight was well over recommended safety limits for the Cessna engine that was used.
 Smolinski’s death ended his dream of an airborne Pinto, and the Mizar took its place in the annals of oddball aviation history.
 (Bill Wilson - Bold Ride)

All-You-Can-Fly Surf Air: Is Private Jet Travel Finally Worth it?

All-You-Can-Fly Surf Air: Is Private Jet Travel Finally Worth it?

At a monthly subscription of $1,750, you can fly all you want on Surf Air.
(Photo-Surf Air)
Surf Air, a new subscription-based airline, has taken flight in California.  It serves secondary markets and offers a unique alternative to traditional commercial aviation, as well as private aviation.
Instead of buying an individual airline ticket on a traditional carrier, Surf Air requires a monthly subscription of $1,750. It gives travelers unlimited flights in its network, which is currently limited to California and Las Vegas via a partnership with a different company.
Other perks include free parking, bypassing TSA security, and good seats, as every seat is both a window and an aisle.
The limited nature of Surf Air is the biggest drawback at this time, since only Californians can utilize it. It is best for business travelers who might frequently drive between two markets and now have a different, cost effective option. In the end it comes down to frequency of travel to determine if it makes dollar sense.
The nature of the subscription pricing and the markets that Surf Air serves will limit the audience for its services. Other than business owners, Surf Air has been attracting second homeowners who utilize the service to make the most of their vacation home investment.
(Photo-Surf Air / Facebook)
Is it worth it?
Unless you fly every week, the economics of Surf Air is worse than flying airlines like Southwest in the region. The frequency of flights can also be a drawback when compared with legacy carriers like Southwest. Compared to traditional private jet travel, though, Surf Air is a bargain.
Private jet travel from companies like NetJets is reserved for CEO’s of companies and high net worth individuals. A one-way flight between New Jersey and Florida will start at more than $12,000 for a small, four-seat jet, putting private jet travel out of reach for even high earning individuals.
The NetJets Marquis Card provides 25 hours of flight time on your choice of jets.  For one that utilizes a smaller plane, with less range, the prices start around $125,000, another reason why Surf Air is an incredible bargain compared to traditional private jets.
The big tradeoff with Surf Air vs. private jet travel is sticking to a schedule instead of simply requesting a plane on a specific day and time.  In that way, it’s not much different than commercial carriers. The two big differences are the subscription model with the ability to fly an unlimited number of segments and the markets they serve. 
Will Surf Air be a long term success? 
It has filled a gap in this niche market, and as a result the company plans to expand the fleet and open new routes. So, it might not be long before we see Surf Air riding the waves in the Northeast and other markets across the U.S.
(Mark Murphy - FOX News) 

The Most Loved (and Hated) Airlines in America

According to a March 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, American flyers really, really like Southwest.
The popular low-cost airline had the fewest complaints for March 2015 overall, at just 0.46 complaints for every 100,000 passengers. Flyers were similarly happy with JetBlue (who only received about 1.20 complaints per 100,000 passengers).
That’s no surprise: Both Southwest and JetBlue ranked high in recent lists of the best airlines in the United States. Southwest flyers love the free checked bags (where two come standard). And while JetBlue will soon be instituting bag fees, their weekly sales and popular routes still entice flyers. It seems that, on these two carriers, low fares don’t necessarily come at the cost of flyer comfort or on-time flights.
The DOT noted that airline complaints are on the rise, with more flyers complaining to the feds than in previous months or in March 2014. As passengers feel squeezed by high prices, additional fees, and overfilled flights, they are reporting their discontent to the government. But interestingly, with Southwest and JetBlue ranking high, it’s not all low-cost airlines catching heat for their practices (boding well for budget-conscious travelers!).
However, the DOT reported that another budget carrier, Frontier, received the most complaints from U.S. passengers: about 15.84 complaints for every 100,000 flyers. This is a sharp increase for Frontier, for whom the DOT received only 22 total complaints, or about 2.52 for every 100,000 flyers, in March 2014.
What’s the cause of the sudden uptick? According to the report, a combination of delays, cancellations, and customer service sank Frontier’s approval ratings.
Hot on Frontier’s heels is Spirit Airlines. With 10.27 for every 100,000 flyers, this other low-cost carrier was the second most complained about airline. An oft-cited complaint for the budget-friendly carrier? “Incorrect or incomplete information about fares, discount fare conditions and availability, overcharges, fare increases and level of fares in general.”
Promisingly, Frontier has noted that consumer complaints for May are already decreasing. So while the DOT isn’t required to penalize airlines based on the results of their reports, the airlines appear to be listening anyway.
Here are the airlines, ranked in order from the fewest number of complaints to the most. Any surprises?

The U.S. Airlines with the Fewest Complaints

  1. Southwest Airlines (0.46)*
  2. Alaska Airlines (0.56)
  3. SkyWest Airlines (0.56)
  4. ExpressJet Airlines (0.63)
  5. Delta Air Lines (0.68)
  6. Virgin America (1.05)
  7. JetBlue Airlines (1.20)
  8. Hawaiian Airlines (1.50)
  9. Envoy Air (1.95)
  10. United Airlines (2.36)
  11. US/American Airlines (3.72)
  12. Spirit Airlines (10.27)
  13. Frontier Airlines (15.84)
* Number of complaints per 100,000 passengers   

Boeing exec talks about future of Gary airport

Boeing Co. is the world's largest aerospace company, producing aircraft and components for commercial, military and space purposes — with its 2014 revenues surpassing $90 billion. Gary represents a spoke in that multinational business.

Courtney Thompson, Boeing's vice president of governmental relations for the Great Lakes, spoke about Gary/Chicago International Airport serving as home to Boeing's executive fleet before the Gary Chamber of Commerce annual meeting on Wednesday at Majestic Star Hotel and Casino.
Airport names new interim executive director

The airport is planning for a customs facility, which would be a crucial step toward attracting cargo business to the airport. "I think frankly a cargo business would be terrific (for Gary)," Thompson said.
The airport is operated by AvPorts in a public-private partnership, and there are preliminary talks happening with Ivy Tech Community College to establish an aviation program at the airport. Thompson said Boeing would be happy to speak to airport representatives about possibly participating in the program.

Boeing employs 160,000 worldwide and its primary manufacturing facilities are in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C. But the company doesn't plan any major manufacturing expansion elsewhere.

"It's probably not likely that we would relocate any manufacturing facility (to Northwest Indiana)," she said. "Our facility in Washington is huge — about 40 football fields long — so it would require a major investment."

Thompson advocates for Boeing's federal and state legislative priorities as it relates to the Great Lakes region. Though the state of Indiana didn't present any issues this year, Boeing is a major player federally in advocating the congressional reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank by June 30.

Boeing is the bank's No. 1 customer, and the bank provides loan guarantees to international airlines who purchase Boeing jets.

Supersonic business jet heads for UW testing

Seattle, hometown to Boeing’s never-flown SuperSonic Transport, which was canceled in 1971, plays a small role these days in development of another faster-than-sound civil aircraft: the Mach 1.5 business jet that Aerion formally launched this past week.

The dartlike, three-engine AS2, which can now be ordered for $120 million, will undergo low-speed wind-tunnel testing in September at the University of Washington Aeronautical Laboratory.

The scale model built for the occasion by Arlington-based Aeronautical Testing Service is about 8 feet long and weighs roughly 300 pounds, says Aerion director of finance and planning Jason Matisheck.

The actual plane, scheduled for entry into service in 2022, will be 170 feet long with a 30-foot-long cabin interior. Aerion says the jet will cut travel time between Paris and Washington, D.C., by three hours, and save 6 ½ hours on flights from San Francisco to Singapore.

The company expects to sell about 30 of the sleek aircraft per year over 20 years. “We’re confident that the market is there. We’ve done our homework,” says Jeff Miller, Aerion vice president of marketing.

The planned tests won’t be Reno, Nev.-based Aerion’s first visit to the Kirsten Wind Tunnel at UW. “We’ve been up there at least five times now,” conducting experiments with wings, flaps and so on “to refine the low-speed handling of the Aerion jet,” Matisheck says.

He expects to run tests on the mock-up of the full plane for about two weeks.

UW wind-tunnel business manager Jack Ross says the facility charges $500 an hour for a 9-hour day.

That’s not cheap, but two weeks at that rate aren’t even a rounding error in the $100 million reportedly spent so far on the AS2.

Ross can’t talk about current clients of the UW lab. But its history includes testing for a diverse array of planes over many decades, as well as the space shuttle’s 747 “piggyback” ferrying system, Kenworth trucks and Ford pickups, motorcycles and even bicycles.

While the airflow around a model just a few feet off the ground isn’t precisely the same as a full-size version in open air, the differences are well understood and the data can be adjusted, Ross says.

“What we’re trying to do is predict full-scale performance,” he says.

If Aerion’s project succeeds, the AS2 would be only the third supersonic passenger aircraft ever built, after the British/French Concorde and the Russian Tupolev Tu-144.

(The Seattle Times)

Next-generation plane engines take a LEAP towards delivery

If there's one key selling point that aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing have both been using in marketing their new aircraft, it is fuel efficiency.

But neither of the two major plane makers are directly responsible for much of the promised improvement in fuel usage.
It is in fact largely down to French company Safran and GE, whose joint venture CFM International is making the LEAP motors that will power most of the next-generation of the planes which will be the future workhorses of airlines.
The promise of 15 to 20 percent fuel savings moved closer as LEAP engines made their first flight tests that are a key step for the Airbus320neo to enter service next year and Boeing's B737 MAX in 2017 as planned.

The LEAP-1B for the B737 MAX made its first test flight in California on May 7 on a modified Boeing 747.

"With this major engine milestone and the test results to date, we continue to be confident that the LEAP-1B-powered 737 MAX will provide our customers with the most fuel efficient, reliable and maintainable airplane in the single-aisle market," the head of the 737 MAX programme at Boeing, Keith Leverkuhn, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the first A320neo equipped with LEAP-1A engines made its maiden flight in Toulouse, France, on Tuesday.

"Today marks yet another important step forward in the development of the A320neo and I would like to warmly thank all the teams who made this first flight happen," said Klaus Roewe, head of the A320 programme at Airbus. 

Instead of developing new aircraft for the medium-haul segment, as Boeing did for long-range with its Dreamliner, both companies opted to modernise their existing planes and much of the gains are down to improvements in the engines.

Those promised new models have proved to be best sellers for Airbus and Boeing, especially with low-cost airlines which operate on razor-thin margins.

At 3,794 orders, the A320neo accounts for more than half of Airbus's backlog of 6,399 aircraft. At Boeing, the B737 MAX accounts for 2,724 out of 5,667 outstanding orders.

That has put enormous pressure on CFM International, and its parent companies Safran and GE, to deliver on the 15 percent fuel savings that the LEAP engines promise compared with CFM's current engine, the CFM56.

"I am completely confident of attaining the promised performance levels when the Leap enters service" as planned next year, said Safran chief executive Jean-Paul Herteman recently. "The LEAP is very much on track to do what we planned it to do."

The LEAP engine's fuel efficiency comes from better performance as well being lighter thanks to new 3D weaving techniques for composite materials used to make the fan blades and fan casings.

Not only will the new materials add up to weight savings of some 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) per plane, they promise to be stronger and more durable and thus cost less for airlines to maintain.

The next-generation planes are an important source of business for CFM International.

It is the only company developing an engine for the B737 MAX, and is also developing the Leap-1C that will power the C919, the plane that Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) hopes will help it break the Airbus and Boeing duopoly in the market for single-aisle, medium-range passenger jets.

CFM has competition however for the A320neo from US-based Pratt & Whitney, which says its PurePower PW1100G-JM engine is optimised to improve fuel burn, reduce weight and increase component durability.

CFM said the LEAP-1A has so far scooped up 56 percent of orders for the A320neo.
The company forecasts it will produce 30,000 LEAP engines by 2020 in its factories in France and the United States, besting the 27,000 of the CFM56 in service that had propelled Safran and GE into becoming the top manufacturer of engines for passenger jets with over 100 seats.

(Djallal Malti - AFP/Yahoo Aviation News)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Russia Begins Production Of World’s Largest Helicopter

(Russian Helicopters Corporation)

The manufacturer of the world’s most powerful heavy transport helicopter has announced that an updated version is now in production.
Russian Helicopters Corp. announced that it has now started producing the Mi-26T2. The second edition of the heavy transport helicopter is expected to generate strong demand from around the world.
“We announce the start-up of production of the modernized heavy helicopter Mi-26T2 serial production. Helicopters of Mi-26 family have unequalled characteristics, and their modernization considerably expands the potential of this aircraft,” said Russian Helicopters CEO Andrey Shibitov.
Manufacturing helicopters capable of transporting heavy duty payloads is an incredibly challenging task for aircraft designers, but Shibitov claims that Russia has “colossal and unique experience” in the field. He predicts strong demand for the Mi-26T2 both in the domestic Russian market and around the world.
The first generation Mi-26 Soviet-Russian heavy transport helicopter is the largest and most powerful that has ever been serially produced. From 1980 onward there have been 316 of the machines produced in Russia, and they have been used for both military and civilian deployments.

Impressive technical specifications

The arrival of the next generation Mi-26T2 brings a raft of improvements that make the craft suitable for a wider range of applications. Its maximum takeoff mass is 56 tons, and the machine can fly 800 kilometers on one tank of fuel, at a top speed of 295 kilometers per hour. A fuel-efficient version can fly at a top speed of 255 kilometers per hour.

Its nearest rival for the crown of the world’s most powerful helicopter is the American Sikorsky CH-53E, which has an external load capability of 16 tons. By comparison, the Mi-26T2 boasts a payload capability of 20 tons, and further modernization may enable an increase in capability to 25 tons.

Basic flight tests were first passed in 2010-11, and the Mi-26T2 made its first public appearance at the MAKS-2011 air show. The aircraft are assembled at a Rosvertol factory in Rostov-on-Don, in the south of Russia.

Updated version capable of night flights

The previous model could not be flown at night, but the Mi-26T2 can be operated 24 hours a day and includes special night flight equipment. Other improvements include better avionics and modern navigation controls which come with a suite of five displays. Such innovations mean that designers have been able to reduce the necessary crew from 5 to 3 members, although the machine can be operated with just two pilots on board if necessary.

Avionics were developed by the OJSC Ramenskoe Instrument Design Bureau (RKPB), a subsidiary of KRET. Potential uses for the helicopter include troop and heavy equipment transportation. Up to 82 troops and their combat gear can be transported at once, and the helicopter is also capable of lifting heavyweight combat vehicles.

The Mi-26T2 can also be adapted for use as an air ambulance capable of carrying up to 60 wounded people. Other configurations include fire-fighting, fuel delivery, construction and installation.

Following an initial demonstration in 2012, the Algerian Air Force agreed a deal for 6 Mi-26T2s under a $2.7 billion contract in March 2014. Early this year, two of their number were assembled for export and will be delivered to Algeria after testing.

Russia’ planned military modernization causes alarm in the West

The helicopter is not the only military innovation to come out of Russia in recent months. Moscow recently unveiled its new T-14 Armata tank, which commentators claim is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. However the tank did not perform very well on one of its first public outings, appearing to break down during a rehearsal for the huge Victory Day parade in the Russian capital.

Both new machines are part of a planned modernization of Russia’s armed forces which has seen Moscow put aside huge sums of money for military use. Whether or not these grandiose plans come to fruition remains to be seen, due to the impact of international sanctions and the falling price of oil on Russia’s economy.

Despite economic uncertainty, the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin continue to cause alarm in the West, with tensions between the U.S. and Russia reaching their lowest point since the Cold War. A series of Russian military drills near NATO member territory, and regular airspace intrusions by Russian warplanes, have sparked fears that a misunderstanding or a crash could lead to the beginning of an accidental war.

Moscow also continues to cause mischief in international relations, initiating closer relations with Greece and North Korea, as well as negotiating a series of agreements aimed at increasing Russia’s influence in Latin America.

(Brendan Byrne - Value Walk)

Sikorsky S-97 Raider makes debut test flight

Sikorsky has completed a first flight of the self-funded S-97 Raider at the company's flight test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, to open a year-long test and demonstration phase for the high-speed, compound helicopter proposed for light attack, scout and special utility missions.

The S-97’s coaxial-compound, rigid-rotor configuration will eventually be tested at speeds up to 220kt – or about 50kt faster than the speed limit of most conventional helicopters – but the maiden flight on 22 May focused on exploring the low-speed envelope in a degraded mode of the fly-by-wire system.

Sikorsky chief pilot Bill Fell and co-pilot Kevin Bredenbeck completed three take-offs and landings during the hour-long sortie and evaluated the aircraft’s handling in all four cardinal directions at speeds up to 10kt.

“It was quite the aggressive first flight for a helicopter,” says Bredenbeck, who piloted the X2, the S-97’s proof-of-concept demonstrator.

asset image

Sikorsky launched the S-97 project in 2010 after completing a series of record-breaking demonstration flights of the X2.

A 48-month technology demonstration programme was extended by more than four months to complete several new technologies. The S-97 is configured as a testbed for a variety of development projects within Sikorsky, including components made through additive manufacturing, a low-fastener-count approach to structural assembly, and new composite materials.

“The S-97 is a testbed for a lot new technology and some of those took a little bit longer,” says Sikorsky vice-president of research and engineering Mark Miller.

The S-97 flies faster than most helicopters because it replaces a tail-rotor with a pusher propeller, which was left deactivated for the first flight test. The counter-torque function of the tail rotor is replaced with a counter-rotating, coaxial rotor system that provides vertical thrust for takeoff and landing.

The rigid blades of the coaxial rotor system provide another benefit over a conventional Sikorsky helicopter.

“You have a phenomenal amount of control power with this very rigid rotor,” Fell says. “There is no lag. The aircraft responds immediately to your control input.”

The 5t-class S-97 is part of a wave of industry investment in high-speed technology.

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey now flies faster than 260kt and land vertically using a tiltrotor configuration. Bell Helicopter is currently developing the V-280 Valor tiltrotor demonstrator with Lockheed Martin.

The V-280 is competing against a Sikorsky-Boeing compound helicopter design based on same X2 technology as the S-97 with the 13.5t-class SB-1 Defiant.

The V-280 and SB-1 will perform a series of flight tests to validate the high-speed technology under the army’s joint multi-role technology demonstrator (JMR-TD) program.

Both aircraft designs are expected to compete for a follow-on acquisition programme called Future Vertical Lift, which initially aims to replace the army’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache fleets with a single, high-speed rotorcraft.

(Stephen Trimble - Flightglobal News)

Sichuan Airlines has recieved its 100th aircraft

Sichuan Airlines has taken delivery of its 100th aircraft.

The all-Airbus operator was handed over its latest jet, an A321, in Hamburg on 22 May. The aircraft, registered B-1663 (c/n 6581), is configured with 194 seats – eight in business and 186 in economy. Powered by International Aero Engines V2533 power-plants, the aircraft is on long-term lease from Air Lease Corporation.

asset image

“We are happy to receive the 100th aircraft from Airbus. The latest addition to our all-Airbus fleet will further increase our capacity to satisfy the growing market demand for air traffic in China,” says Sichuan’s chairman and president Li Haiying.

“We are expanding our route networks not only across China, but also to Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.”

The carrier’s fleet now comprises of 93 A320s and seven A330s. It also has five A320s, one A321 and 20 Comac C919s on order.

A Sichuan Airlines spokesman tells Flightglobal the carrier will end with a fleet of 106 aircraft this year, and the target is to grow to 180 aircraft by 2025.

FlightMaps Analytics shows that the majority of Sichuan Airlines' flights are domestic services within China. It also has international services to Moscow, Vancouver, Australia, Thailand, Nepal and Male.

(Mavis Toh - Flightglobal News)

Korean Transport Ministry pushes for aircraft age limits

Korean Air Boeing 747-4B5 (28096/1073) HL7495 taxies at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 7, 2011 sporting the carriers special "Welcome to Korea" livery.
(Photo by Michael Carter) 

Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT) is urging all Korean aircraft operators to replace or mothball all aircraft that are more than two decades old.

MLIT said that eight of the country’s carriers had signed an MOU in which they “voluntarily agreed to replace all their aircraft that are 20 years old or older.”

The move comes following a spate of aircraft maintenance issues in the region.

In April, Japan and Korea suspended charter flights from Thailand following an ICAO inspection, and two air operator’s certificates (AOCs) in the Philippines were withdrawn last week following a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) audit.

To date, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Air Busan, Jeju Air, Jin Air, Air Incheon, Eastar Jet and T’way Air have all agreed to the 20-year ruling.

MLIT said the agreement was part of Korea’s “ongoing efforts to improve on airline safety.” MLIT said records indicate that of 264 aircraft in service this month, some 14 are MLIT’s new voluntary age limit. These are four Korean Air Boeing 747-400s, Air Incheon 737-400Fs, and Asiana 767-300 and 747-400F cargo aircraft.

Korean Air’s average aircraft age is 9.89 years; No. 2 carrier, Asiana Airlines, has an average aircraft age of 8.47 years, according to the Ministry.

Compared to the US, Korean fleets are mere toddlers, MLIT said, citing Delta Air Lines’ fleet that has 234 aircraft 20+ years old, and American Airlines’ fleet, which has 233+ aircraft of that age or more.

Although MLIT noted that “there currently is no limit on the age or lifespan of an aircraft,” it said the move would help improve both overall safety and efficiency.

(Jeremy Torr - ATWOnline News)

Lufthansa Group airlines used less fuel in 2014

Lufthansa Boeing 747-830 (37828/1451) D-ABYC departs Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on January 10, 2013.
(Photo by Michael Carter) 

Lufthansa Group’s passenger airlines operated more efficiently in 2014, using an average of 3.84 liters of kerosene in 2014, to carry a passenger 100 km, a 1.6% improvement over the previous year (2013: 3.91 l/100pkm).

Lufthansa Group’s passenger airlines include Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, Austrian Airlines and Germanwings.

The Group said it has again met the “demanding aerospace industry target of annual efficiency gains of 1.5%.” 

The company also said Lufthansa Cargo’s Boeing 777F and MD-11F fleet were more efficient than ever, with 0.183 liters/tonne km—a 5.2% improvement over 2013. In 2014, Group-wide efficiency in cargo transportation increased 0.8%.

In 2014, the Group’s absolute fuel consumption increased 0.7% with an increase in transport capacity of 1.9%, continuing the trend toward the decoupling of transport capacity and fuel consumption.

According to a company statement, the further reduction of specific fuel consumption is foreseeable through the investment in new, more efficient aircraft.

Lufthansa took recently delivery of its last of 19 Boeing 747-8 aircraft, which is 15% more fuel efficient than its predecessor model 747-400.

In September 2013, Lufthansa ordered 34 Boeing 777-9Xs and 25 Airbus A350-900s, plus 30 options. Lufthansa will base its first A350 at its second major hub in Munich from 2016.

By 2025, the company will receive 272 aircraft at a list value of €38 billion ($42.3 billion), its biggest fleet modernization program. In 2015, 17 aircraft will be delivered to the Group.

(Kurt Hofmann - ATWOnline News)

British Airways tests new Heathrow approach

British Airways is trialing new landing procedures at London Heathrow Airport as it seeks to minimize noise disturbance to residents on the glide path.

Heathrow’s proximity to London—it lies 15 miles west of the city center—and the prevailing westerly wind means that most landings are conducted over densely populated inner suburbs and there is an active anti-noise lobby.

“Heathrow is probably the most noise-sensitive airport in Europe,” BA head of environment Jonathon Counsell said. Of particular concern to both the airline and residents are a small number of long-haul flights that arrive before 6 a.m., shortly after the airport opens for the day.

Speaking at an Airbus environmental briefing in Toulouse, he said the airline will conduct four trial flights with the Airbus A380 this month using a slightly steeper approach to the runway, 3.2 degrees rather than the normal three degrees. At 10 miles out, this means the aircraft will be 300-500 feet higher.

Combined with other procedural changes, such as later lowering of the undercarriage, this is predicted to lower noise by up to five decibels, the level at which people detect a perceptible difference in noise levels.

At lower speeds, with engines throttled back for landing, airframe noise becomes a major component of what is heard on the ground; the turbulence created by the air rushing past the irregular shapes of piping around the main undercarriage legs is a significant cause of this noise.

ATW understands that aircraft and undercarriage manufacturers are looking at some form of aerodynamic shielding around the undercarriage legs to smooth the airflow on future aircraft designs.

BA will conduct further trials early next year to experiment with a two-stage approach to Heathrow, with the earlier part of the descent at four degrees, Counsell said. This would put the aircraft 1000 ft. higher at the 10-mile mark.

“It’s difficult to land a wide-bodied aircraft at that descent rate, so it will intercept the 3.2 degree glide path at 1500 feet and follow that descent rate to landing.

“The bigger and heavier the aircraft the more challenging it is, because it’s trying to speed up [at the higher descent angle]. The key is that you can program the aircraft to do it.”

BA has a company target of aiming to reduce flight noise by 15% by 2018, compared to a 2013 baseline.

(Alan Dron - ATWOnline News)

Lithuanian carrier Air Lituanica closes it doors for good

Lithuanian carrier Air Lituanica ceased flying from noon Friday, local time. The small airline, whose website credits it with operating an Embraer E-175, an Embraer E-145 and an ATR 42 said its management had decided to stop operations.

The final flights operated from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, were to Amsterdam, Tallinn and Paris. Afternoon services to Berlin, Prague, Brussels and Stockholm were canceled.

Air Lituanica, which began services in 2013, said it had reached an agreement with airBaltic, from neighboring Latvia, to carry passengers booked on Air Lituanica’s services over the next eight days.

Attempts to reach Air Lituanica by telephone were unsuccessful. As recently as early this year, it had been announcing expansion plans.

AirBaltic said it would step into the breach and launch a series of new services from Vilnius from early September to six European destinations served by the defunct Lithuanian carrier.  It already operates services between the Latvian capital, Riga and Vilnius and also a Vilnius-Amsterdam service.

It confirmed that it would accept Air Lituanica passengers for the next week and that passengers booked for flights beyond that date would be offered “rescue fares” to their destinations.

“Our home market for airBaltic is Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia,” CEO Martin Gauss said. “We will consolidate and strengthen our services in our home market by offering more direct flights. We will rescue stranded passengers in the first days following the suspension of [Air Lituanica] flights and will offer special rescue fares for customers booked for flights later in the summer.”

In recent years, airBaltic has suggested that it would be sensible to have a single airline serving the small Baltic States. “Today’s event in Vilnius is a strong signal that the three Baltic countries should take a common approach to their aviation, to best support travelers, new economic activity and new jobs,” Gauss said.

Following Air Lituanica’s cessation of services, Estonian Air announced Friday it would nearly double frequencies on its Tallinn-Vilnius route from six to 11 beginning Monday. 

“We are planning to find out, together with Lithuanian Ministry of Economic Affairs, what are the possibilities for future co-operation to connect Vilnius with the rest of European cities,” Estonian Air CCO Indrek Randveer said.

(Alan Dron - ATWOnline News)