Friday, December 30, 2016

COMAC plans 1Q maiden flight for C919

China’s Commercial Aircraft Corp. (COMAC) is planning a 2017 first quarter inaugural flight for the C919 narrow-body, although no more specific date has been given.

The 158-seat airliner has seen several delays. The original schedule would have seen the aircraft make its maiden flight in 2014 followed by delivery to Chengdu Airlines. But program delays meant the aircraft was not rolled out until October 2015 and at that point COMAC said it was aiming for a first flight in 2016.

China Eastern will now be the launch customer.

With the first aircraft delivered to COMAC’s flight test center, however, the manufacturer is looking to a begin flights in the first quarter.

The C919 has secured 570 orders from 23 Chinese and foreign customers. COMAC has set targets of taking a third of the Chinese narrow-body market and a fifth of the global market by 2035.The manufacturer has committed to producing between 20 and 50 C919s annually and to increasing production capability to 150 C919s and 50 ARJ21 regional aircraft annually by 2020.

(Katie Cantle - ATWOnline News)

Interjet grounds 11 SSJ100s following inspections

Mexico’s Interjet has grounded 11 of its 22 Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Superjet 100 (SSJ100) aircraft after conducting inspections on the fleet.

According to Reuters, Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza told media in Mexico that “potential anomalies” were found in the 11 aircraft. In a statement on its website, the airline said an airworthiness directive (AD) issued by Russian aviation authorities led to the inspections and subsequent grounding of half its SSJ100 fleet.

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft said this week it had identified a minor fault in the tail stabilizer of one SSJ100 during inspections. It is unclear whether this is related to the Interjet groundings.

“With support from [Sukhoi Civil Aircraft] and in line with the regulations of the [Mexican] General Directorate of Civil Aviation, we are working on this situation and reaffirming Interjet’s commitment to meet national and international regulations,” Interjet said in a statement. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

According to Mexico News Daily, Interjet is canceling as many as 25 flights a day because of the grounding. Interjet has ordered 30 SSJ100s in total and is the only operator of the aircraft in the Americas. It has consistently praised the performance of the aircraft since placing it into service in 2013.

Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Evertts Air Cargo McDonnell Douglas MD83(SF) (49470/1417) N73444

Climbs from Rwy 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 30, 2016 following a surprise visit.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Volaris Airbus A320-233(WL) (c/n 6948) XA-VLN

Catches a slight crosswind as it departs Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 18, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Air Canada Jetz Airbus A319-114 (c/n 817) C-GBIA

"Positive Climb, Gear Up" as this Air Canada machine departs Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 18, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320-214(WL) (c/n 7272) N235FR "Pike the Otter"

Exits Rwy 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 30, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 (30603/ 707) N788SA

Climbs from Rwy 25R at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on November 18, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Southwest Airlines' facilities maintenance technicians reject five-year contract

Southwest Airlines’ facilities maintenance technicians have rejected a new five-year contract, the carrier said Thursday.

According to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, 34 of the 37 eligible employees cast a ballot on the contract terms, with 19 voting against.

Negotiators for the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract in October after more than three years of talks.

The Dallas-based carrier did not say when negotiations will resume.

“The company will take a step back to assess the results of the vote and determine how we might structure a contract that respects and serves the interests of both the company and our employees," said John Zuzu, Southwest’s senior director of corporate facilities.

(Conor Shine - The Dallas Morning News)

Spirit Airlines 2016 Report

Spirit Airlines’s capacity growth

In November 2016, Spirit Airlines’s capacity grew 16.4% year-over-year (or YoY), which is higher than its growth in the past two months but slower than its growth in 1H16. Year-to-date (or YTD), Spirit Airlines’s capacity has grown 20.3%, which is significantly lower than its fiscal 2015 capacity growth of 30%.

Airline capacity is measured using available seat miles (or ASM). ASM is calculated as the number of seats available multiplied by the number of miles.

Low oil cost helps

Like all other airline companies, Spirit Airlines is taking advantage of the low oil cost environment to expand its capacity.

After falling more than 50% in 2015, crude prices have stayed low in 2016 as well. This helped Spirit Airlines reduce its fuel costs 17% for the first nine months of 2016. Most of the surplus cash generated is being used toward growing capacity. 


Spirit Airlines expects to continue its aggressive expansion plan throughout 2016. Its capacity is expected to increase 15.6% YoY in 4Q16. Since the average for the first two months is 14.7% YoY, we can expect its capacity growth to increase slightly in December.

For fiscal 2016, capacity is expected to increase ~20%, given its high 25% growth in the first half of 2016. This is still higher than its peers, including low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines and JetBlue. Allegiant Travel is the only other airline with such high capacity growth.

However, one of the major contrasts to Spirit Airlines’s past capacity expansion is that the airline plans to focus on routes that are unserved by legacy air carriers. Spirit Airlines had previously aggressively targeted the largest hubs that are served by legacy carriers. This could help check the price wars, which was one of SAVE’s major concerns in 2015.

Investors can gain exposure to airline stocks by investing in the iShares Transportation Average ETF, which invests ~24% of its portfolio in airlines. Next, we’ll look at Spirit Airlines’s traffic growth.

Spirit Airlines’s traffic growth

Spirit Airlines’s traffic grew 15.5% year-over-year (or YoY) in November 2016, slightly higher than its capacity growth for the month. This is higher than its peers, including low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Allegiant Trave.

SAVE’s traffic growth is also higher than legacy carriers Delta Air Lines, United Continental, and American Airlines.

Year-to-date (or YTD), SAVE’s traffic has risen 20.7% YoY. Its traffic growth for fiscal 2015 was higher at 27.1% YoY. Its traffic growth was boosted by lower airfares, strong network expansion, and overall strength in the industry and economy.

Airline traffic is measured by revenue passenger miles (or RPM), which is the number of revenue passengers multiplied by the total distance traveled.

Low-cost strategy

Spirit Airlines has been able to grab market share from other players mostly due its ultra-low-cost strategy. The strategy is to reduce base airfares as much as possible, un-bundling other services such as carry-on bags, checked bags, boarding passes, and food and beverages.

Users must pay extra for these services, only paying for services they use without subsidizing other passengers’ travel expenses. This strategy is expected to be a future traffic booster.

Passenger travel demand

Spirit Airlines’s passenger travel demand had a great start in 2016, growing ~6% year-over-year, the highest since 2012. However, the International Air Transport Association (or IATA) suspects the industry might be at the end of the traffic boost phase provided by low oil prices. This suggests travel demand may slow down, which would adversely impact airlines.

Next, we’ll look at Spirit Airlines’s utilization trend. SAVE forms 2.3% of the First Trust Industrials/Producer Durables AlphaDEX ETF (FXR).

Utilization improves

Spirit Airlines’s capacity growth has outpaced traffic growth throughout most of 2015, which meant declining utilization (or load factor) for the low-cost airline. In fact, SAVE saw one of the fastest-declining utilizations in 2015 among all major players with the exception of Allegiant Travel, which saw a similar decline.

However, 2016 has been a mixed year for SAVE. After five months of consecutive growth in utilization from May–September 2016, Spirit Airlines’s utilization has been declining since then. Its utilization has fallen 0.6% in October and November 2016 to 82.9% and 81.3%, respectively.

In November 2016, peers JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, United Continental, and Southwest Airlines also reported an improvement in utilization. American Airlines is the only other carrier that reported a decline in utilization.

Load factor is the most commonly used measure of an airline’s capacity utilization. It calculated as revenue passenger miles divided by available seat miles. A higher load factor indicates better utilization of aircraft capacity.
Yields decline and unit revenues follow

Spirit Airlines has mainly increased its capacity on routes served by other legacy players. This has resulted in several pricing wars, leading to the decline in average yields.

For 1H16, Spirit Airlines’s TRASM (total operating revenue per available seat mile) fell 14% to ~$0.91. In 3Q16, its TRASM fell 7% YoY to $0.96. SAVE’s unit revenues have fallen significantly, generating some concern for investors.


Spirit Airlines believes that airfares have stabilized and expects unit revenues to rise in 2017. This could mean higher revenue growth in 2016 for SAVE.

Spirit Airlines is expected to follow its high-capacity growth strategy. However, in untapped markets, this could help reduce pressure on unit revenues. Coupled with SAVE’s low-cost strategy, this could bode well for the airline’s future.

SAVE forms 2.3% of the First Trust Industrials/Producer Durables AlphaDEX ETF (FXR).

Customer service issues

Spirit Airlines has the highest number of passenger complaints—eight complaints per 100,000 passengers to an average ~11.7 passengers for every 100,000—and the highest cancellation rate.

Adding to the passengers’ woes is their view that Spirit Airlines’s seats are very uncomfortable, with little legroom. Many passengers also seemed to have complained about Spirit Airlines’s staff’s poor communication skills.

Poor performance

According to the Department of Transportation, Spirit Airlines had one of the worst on-time arrival records in 2015. The situation improved slightly in 2016, with Spirit Airlines coming in tenth in on-time arrivals, ahead of Virgin America and American Airlines. For November 2016, SAVE’s on-time arrival record was 86.4%.

Some positives

All this leaves Spirit Airlines’s customers with a less-than-ideal flying experience. In our view, if Spirit Airlines doesn’t address these issues soon, it may losing loyal customers and hamper its demand growth.

Spirit Airlines has been taking steps to address these issues. In fact, SAVE has achieved moderate success in improving its on-time arrivals.

Spirit Airlines expected to join the Transportation Security Administration’s (or TSA) pre-check facility in November, which allows passengers with TSA clearance to check in via a faster-moving security line. To date, Spirit Airlines has not completed this process.

Spirit Airlines plans to develop a mobile-responsive website to improve its passenger experience. The airline is also considering adding in-flight Wi-Fi, at an additional cost for its passengers. Among the major carriers, including Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Delta Air Lines, already have this facility in place.

Low fares help

Of course, having the lowest fares in the industry would keep driving cost-conscious passengers to Spirit Airlines. For example, on some routes, SAVE’s fares are $200 lower than any of its peers—a significant savings.

In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the performance of Spirit Airlines stock. SAVE forms 2.3% of the First Trust Industrials/Producer Durables AlphaDEX ETF (FXR).

Spirit Airlines stock

Since Spirit Airlines’s traffic release on December 8, 2016, the stock has risen 0.05%. Most the other airlines have also gained value during the same period. United Continental rose 3.3%, followed by Alaska Air Group, which rose 3.1%.

JetBlue Airways rose 1.7% and Southwest Airlines rose 1.2%. Allegiant Travels rose 0.33% during the same period. Delta Air Lines saw the biggest loss, falling almost 2.4%, followed by American Airlines with a fall of 0.35% during the same period.

Year-to-date performance

Until October 2016, all airlines were trading in the red. That changed in November 2016, as activist investor and long-term airline bear Warren Buffett invested in airlines.

While most airlines continue to trade in green year-to-date through December 23, 2016, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways continue to be in the red zone. JBLU has lost almost 1.7% YTD (year-to-date) and Delta Air Lines has lost 1.6% YTD. This is still a huge improvement compared to the 25%–30% loss both stocks reported until October.

Other airlines have gained year-to-date 2016. Spirit Airlines tops the charts with a rise of 47.5%, followed by United Continental, which rose 30.5%. Southwest Airlines rose 17.1%, American Airlines rose 14.5%, Alaska Air Group rose 14.5%, and ALGT rose 0.5% year-to-date.

Industry performance

After a volatile start, the markets have performed quite well in 2016. The broader market, tracked by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), has risen 10.7% year-to-date.

Economic growth is a major factor impacting airline industry demand and as a result, the industry has closely tracked the market. Year-to-date through December 23, 2016, the Dow Jones US Airline Index (DJUSAR) has risen 11.8%.

As air travel is a discretionary budget item, we can also compare the industry’s performance to the consumer discretionary sector. The Consumer Discretionary SPDR ETF (XLY) has risen 5.5% year-to-date.

(Ally Schmidt - Market Realist)

India jet-fighter deal poses threat to Boeing, Lockheed jobs in U.S.

India wants about 200 fighter jets to update its air force, and Boeing and Lockheed are likely bidders. But India’s officials have made clear that companies that want to sell fighter planes will have to make them in India.

The recent hubbub over President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of Boeing and Lockheed Martin over the cost of their U.S. aircraft contracts overshadowed a potentially thornier issue for a leader who has pledged to keep jobs in America: The two U.S. companies want to build fighter jets in India.

Trump isn’t the only national leader intent on expanding jobs at home. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing his “Make in India” program with a goal of developing a sophisticated Indian defense industry.

India wants roughly 200 fighters to update its air force. And Modi has made it clear that defense companies that want to sell fighter planes to India will have to make them in India and share technical knowledge with Indian business partners. In effect, the company that wins the Indian contract would help create its own competitor.

Boeing’s offer would be the F/A-18 Super Hornet. St. Louis is the only place where the aircraft are assembled, although parts come from around the country.
The Super Hornet and its electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, employ thousands in St. Louis at Boeing and its contractors.

While an Indian plant would at first make planes for India, it might eventually make them for other nations, too, raising questions about jobs in St. Louis over the long term

Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s archrival for international sales, has proposed to build an F-16 Fighting Falcon line in India if it wins the contract. The two U.S. companies face possible competition from the Swedish SAAB Gripen and French Dassault Rafale fighters.

Talks are in early stages, and India hasn’t yet issued a formal call for bids. An Indian assembly plant is unlikely to be up and running until well into the next decade.

“Coproduction” is a frequent part of international defense sales. Manufacturers agree to buy parts for the product from the purchasing nation. But building the plane itself abroad is unusual.

Asked about an Indian operation’s impact on employment, Boeing said its St. Louis production line has a “solid future” with enough orders to carry it “well into the 2020s.”
“We’re optimistic about the opportunity to continue our work in St. Louis and add a new production line in India which would also create more opportunities for our entire Super Hornet supply chain,” the company said in an email.

The Defense Department, under President Obama, has seemed happy to go along. Although India is not an American ally, relations have warmed in recent years and military cooperation has been increasing.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to Congress last spring, noted “growing enthusiasm of U.S.-India partnership” and predicted “a landmark coproduction agreement that will bring our two countries closer together and make our militaries stronger.”

Trump, however, has pledged to retaliate against companies that move American jobs abroad. It’s unclear how his administration might view an Indian Super Hornet or F-16 plant.

“Given the numerous tweets and comments over several weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is brought up or revisited,” said Jeff Windau, an analyst who follows Boeing for Edward Jones Investments.

On one hand, the Indians would buy another nation’s fighters if Boeing or Lockheed refused to build in India. The Hornets or F-16s built in India would still draw parts from the U.S.

But the Indian plant, and the industry it would help create, could eventually pull orders and jobs from America, especially if it began making Super Hornets for other countries.

The Indians would also get a close-up view of very sophisticated American technology and manufacturing techniques.

“Absolutely, it’s sensitive technology,” said Loren Thompson, defense analyst and chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute in Northern Virginia. “The Super Hornet is not stealthy, but its electronics and weapons systems are state of the art.”

The Super Hornet’s future was once in doubt, but Boeing recently has been piling up orders. The Obama administration in September approved the sale of 28 to Kuwait, and Canada last month announced plans to buy 18 more.

Boeing has enough orders to keep the St. Louis line running well into the next decade.

By contrast, the Lockheed F-16 program is winding down in the U.S.

“I think it would be easier for Lockheed to set up an F-16 line in India than for Boeing to do it for the Super Hornet,” said Thompson. “It just seems unlikely that planes being produced in the U.S. would be manufactured in India.”

Lockheed wants to use its current F-16 plant to expand production of the new F-35 joint strike fighter, he noted.

Union leaders in St. Louis recently learned of the Indian issue, from news reports.

“We usually find out after the thing is settled,” said Steve McDerman, president of the International Association of Machinists Local 837 in St. Louis.

(Jim Gallagher - St. Louis Post-Dispatch / The Seattle Times)

Air Force Launches $6.9 Billion JSTARS Competition

An E-8C test aircraft is displayed during a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System exhibition in a hangar at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Dec. 18, 2012. Joint STARS provides wide area situational awareness and early warning for U.S. and multinational maritime task forces.
 (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez)

The Air Force has kicked off an open contest to build new radar planes capable of developing, detecting, locating and tracking moving targets on the ground.

The service on Wednesday released a development request for proposal, or RFP, for the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) Recapitalization program, intended to replace the current Northrop Grumman-modified E-8C.

The award stipulates $6.9 billion for the engineering, manufacturing and development phase, the Air Force said in a release. The RFP includes all aspects of the system, including airframe, radar, communication systems, and battle management command and control.

The Air Force anticipates awarding the contract, including the first three JSTARS recap test aircraft, in 2018; it expects the first “assets” to reach initial operational capability “by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024, or earlier,” the release states.

The airborne command and control plane, a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe that can fly as high as 42,000 feet, is “extensively remanufactured and modified with the radar, communications, operations and control subsystems,” including a prominent 27-foot bathtub-like radome under the fuselage. The radome “houses the 24-foot long, side-looking phased array antenna,” according to the Air Force.

The service currently has 16 of the aircraft in inventory.

Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., and Lockheed Martin Corp. are competing for the award. Risk reduction efforts also are underway with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon for radar construction.

Each of the contractors is allowed to submit two proposals with Northrop-made and Raytheon-made radars, Defense News reported.

Congress handed down guidelines in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Air Force to work only with a fixed-price contract — locking in a price and putting the company on the hook for cost overruns. Yet the NDAA also made a provision for the defense secretary “to waive this limitation if the Secretary determines such a waiver is in the national security interests,” the release states.

Defense Department acquisition chief Frank Kendall granted the waiver on behalf of Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Dec. 23.

“We realize intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is currently a combatant commander top priority. Given the language in this year’s defense policy bill, we took additional time before releasing the JSTARS request for proposal,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James said in a statement Wednesday.

“With the support of the Department on the importance of JSTARS to national security, we are moving out to deliver this critical ISR capability. We will continually look for ways to speed up the process towards initial operational capability,” she said.

The waiver allows the Air Force to work with both a fixed-price and cost-plus estimate contract strategy, Defense News said.

The Air Force plans to buy 17 new aircraft.

Recently, The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt put a spotlight on JSTARS, detailing the aircraft’s aerial hunting capabilities. The modified airliner’s first flight was in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Schmitt, chronicling his flight aboard a JSTARS over Iraq as Army and Air Force crews watched movements by Islamic State militants, said, “[The] rotation of aircraft and surveillance crews can monitor a particular area for days, weeks or months, watching Islamic State activity to understand what the military calls the enemy’s ‘pattern of life.’ “

Unlike MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drones, electronic attack aircraft such as the EC-130H Compass Call, and reconnaissance aircraft such as RC-135 Rivet Joint and JSTARS “suck up some enemy communications, jam others and help paint a picture of the Islamic State on the ground for American fighters and bombers to attack,” Schmitt said.

(Oriana Pawlyk - DefenseTech) 

WestJet to pursue more widebody aircraft following pilots’ approval

Canadian low-cost carrier (LCC) WestJet has been given the go-ahead from its pilots to acquire additional wide-body aircraft.

Calgary-based WestJet currently operates four Boeing 767-300s from destinations in Canada to Hawaii and London Gatwick. The carrier, which was founded in 1996 and operated an all-737 mainline fleet for most of its existence, has said its initial wide-body, long-haul flights that began in January 2016 have been a success. As a result, WestJet has signaled its intention to acquire additional widebody aircraft to launch more long-haul routes.

But the airline’s labor agreement with its pilots did not allow it to add more wide-body aircraft. WestJet has remained non-unionized through its existence. Most WestJet employees own stock in the company and the consistently profitable airline has engaged in regular profit sharing, which has largely led to labor peace at the company.

The carrier’s 1,380 pilots are represented by the WestJet Pilots Association, which collectively bargains on behalf of the carrier’s flight deck crew, but does not consider itself a union and is not affiliated with any larger unions.

In November, the airline’s rank-and-file pilots overwhelming voted to reject a new agreement that would have allowed the carrier to add more wide-body aircraft. WestJet negotiated changes, and a revised agreement was put up for a vote in December. The airline said the pilots accepted the new deal in voting that concluded Dec. 23.

“This agreement … now allows us to proceed with plans to expand our wide-body operations to new destinations in the future,” WestJet said in a statement. “We will now turn our attention to acquiring additional wide-body aircraft.”

WestJet’s pilots have been the target of a unionization campaign by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest pilots’ union in the world. “I’m going to go down fighting to prevent the unionization of WestJet,” WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky recently told the Calgary Herald, arguing it does not make sense for “middle men” to get between airline management and the carrier’s employees.

(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

Leonardo Assumes Ownership of Unmanned Helicopter Maker

Advertised for civil and homeland security missions, the SD-150 Hero can fly autonomously.
(Photo: Leonardo-Finmeccanica)

Leonardo-Finmeccanica has taken ownership of an Italian company that developed the SD-150 Hero small unmanned helicopter. The acquisition, announced on December 27, builds on Leonardo’s stable of unmanned aircraft, which includes the SW-4 Solo optionally piloted helicopter.

Leonardo said it acquired the remaining 60 percent of shares of Sistemi Dinamici of Pisa, Italy, for an undisclosed amount. The latter company was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between IDS Ingegneria Dei Sistemi and Leonardo’s former AgustaWestland subsidiary to focus on helicopter flight dynamics, fly-by-wire controls and unmanned aircraft.

“This acquisition is a testament to the quality of our investments in the field of unmanned systems, a sector with high added value in which Leonardo is a leader in Europe,” said Mauro Moretti, Leonardo CEO and general manager. “Thanks to a defined investment strategy, our portfolio is further enriched, making Leonardo even more competitive and ready to meet the future challenges in advanced technologies.”

Sistemi Dinamici’s SD-150 Hero is a 220-pound empty weight (330-pound mtow) helicopter with a 50-hp, two-stroke engine and three-blade main rotor system. Hosting modular underbelly and nose payload bays and capable of flying autonomous pre-programmed missions, the aircraft is designed for civil aerial inspection and monitoring applications as well as for homeland security missions.

On December 16, Leonardo announced the first flight a day earlier of the SW-4 Solo, an optionally piloted version of the SW-4 single-engine light helicopter originally developed by Poland’s PZL-Swidnik, since 2010 part of Leonardo. Italy’s ENAC civil aviation authority and the Pugliese aerospace technology district participated in the maiden flight, which took place at Taranto-Grottaglie Airport. Flight testing will continue into the first few months of 2017, with validation of procedures and regulations for the use of unmanned aircraft among key objectives, Leonardo said.

In a separate development earlier this year, ENAC awarded the first RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) project certificate to IDS’s IA-3 Colibri quadcopter. The type certification allows for series production of the 2.2 kg (4.8 pound) empy weight drone, which serves for aerial inspection as well as surveillance and reconnaissance missions, IDS announced in August.

“The award of this certification to the IA-3 Colibri offers a great advantage to its users in that they will now not be required to prove the IA-3 Colibri’s suitability but will only have to demonstrate operational compliance aspects when applying for authorization,” IDS said.

(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)
A QF-4 flown by a single pilot was displayed at the EAA Oshkosh airshow last July.

(Photo Chris Pocock)

The U.S. Air Force has retired the F-4 Phantom after 53 years of service. The last flight of a pair of aircraft took place with due ceremony at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, on December 21. The aircraft were QF-4 full-scale aerial targets (FSAT) assigned to the 82nd squadron of the 53rd wing. The FSAT mission provides aerial targets for all weapons systems in the U.S. Defense Department. The QF-4s were converted to unmanned configuration by BAE Systems; they are being replaced with QF-16s converted by Boeing.

The QF-4s entered service in 1997 and were flown from Holloman over the White Sands Missile range, and from Tyndall AFB, Florida, over the Gulf of Mexico. Although more than 300 were converted, only about 70 jets have been destroyed, in about 145 unmanned sorties, according to a media advisory from Holloman AFB. The last unmanned mission in a threat-representative configuration was flown in mid-August. Limited manned flights have taken place since.

“Ironically, the majority of QF-4 missions [were] flown in the manned configuration to support validation tests of non-lethal weapon system components; unmanned flight chase missions; and pilot proficiency training,” said Scott Johnson, the F-4 system program manager for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) last month.

Development of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 as a carrier-capable fighter for the U.S. Navy began in 1953. The first flight of an F-4A (then designated F4H-1) took place in May 1958. The Air Force adopted the design as a fighter-bomber, and the first F-4C flew in May 1963. Other versions for the U.S. services included the RF-4B and RF-4C for reconnaissance with the Navy/Marine Corps and Air Force, respectively; the improved F-4D and F-4E for the Air Force and F-4J for the Navy; and the F-4G “Wild Weasel” electronic warfare conversion for the Air Force.

The Phantom achieved considerable export success. The UK received 170 F-4K/M versions with twin Rolls-Royce Spey engines instead of the standard Pratt and Whitney J79s. The air forces of Australia, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, Korea, Spain and Turkey all operated the type. A grand total of 5,195 F-4s were built from 1958 to 1981, including license production of 158 by Mitsubishi in Japan. The Phantom remains in service in Greece, Iran, Japan, Korea and Turkey.

(Chris Pocock - AINOnline News)

Colombian Authorities: Pilot Error Caused Avro RJ85 Crash

Pilot error was to blame for the crash of an Avro RJ85 regional jet in Colombia last month, the Colombian civil aeronautics agency Aeronáutica Civil said on December 26. Seventy-one of 77 occupants died in the crash of the four-engine jet operated by Bolivian airline LaMia.

“No technical factor was part of the accident; everything involved human error,” Col. Freddy Bonilla, Colombia’s secretary for air safety, said in a press statement. He also faulted the airline’s management and Bolivia’s oversight of the flight plan.

LaMia Flight LMI-2966, a charter flight carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team and a group of journalists from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, crashed into a hillside near Medellin, Colombia, on November 28 because it ran out of fuel, preliminary results of the investigation indicate. The crew was waiting for clearance to land at José María Córdova International Airport outside Medellin.

The airplane also exceeded its weight limit by 400 kilograms (882 pounds) and was not certified to fly at the altitude that it flew on the route. Bolivia’s aviation authorities and LaMia “accepted conditions for the flight presented in the flight plan that were unacceptable,” Bonilla said.

Aeronáutica Civil said it expects the final accident report to be published in April 2017. A team of 23 investigators have been involved, including officials from Bolivia, Brazil, the UK and the U.S.

(Bill Carey - AINOnline News)

Preliminary Findings Point to Flap Problem in Tu-154 Crash

Investigators looking into the December 25 crash of the Tupolev Tu-154B-2 tri-jet in the Black Sea say data they have recovered from the flight recorders points to a major problem with the flaps. All 92 people on board the aircraft, including eight crew members, were killed.

The aircraft, registered RA-85572, crashed soon after taking off from Sochi, where it had stopped to refuel. Built in 1983, it was carrying the Alexandrov military choir and orchestra to perform for Russian forces serving in Syria. It had accumulated 6,689 flight hours, spending its entire service life with the Russian air force, including with the 223 Flight Detachment of the Russian defense ministry. It underwent heavy maintenance two years earlier and was serviced two months before the crash.

On December 26 and 27, divers were able to locate and recover the aircraft’s voice and flight data recorders, both of which were found in a good condition. The data retrieved thus far indicates that the flap-setting mechanism worked incorrectly in climb. Further, the crew seemed to be unable to take corrective action to address the problem in flight. The flight recorder also revealed that in moments before crash the commander recognized the failure, as he used the word “flaps” when talking to other crew members. Analysis of the retrieved data continues, and more findings are expected to be made public by year-end.

Investigators say their findings are preliminary, and the Russian defense ministry promised to publish a full report once the investigation is complete. The work is led by the Russian defense ministry’s central air force scientific research institute in Lyubertsy near Moscow.

It was not yet possible to assess whether the crew’s actions were in full compliance with regulatory requirements in the event of a flap failure. The Tu-154B-2 flight manual requires the crew to retract the flaps in two stages, pulling them in completely at the speed of 360 km/h. There was also no information made public on the distribution of loads inside the airplane and its center of gravity position, important considerations for a tri-jet with rear-positioned engines. There was speculation that the aircraft might have flown into a flock of birds, which led to a technical failure. Investigators expect that all three Nikolai Kuznetsov NK-8 engines will be recovered from the sea bottom for inspection.

The investigators are also viewing videos taken by people who witnessed the aircraft’s takeoff and climb-out. The tri-jet was last seen executing a right turn at the speed of 500 to 550 km/h. On December 29, investigators said the Tu-154B-2 was in the air for 70 seconds and attained a maximum altitude of 150 meters (492 feet).

An SPZ-1A sensor device is used to monitor whether the flaps move symmetrically; if they do not, it de-activates the hydraulic actuator and issues a warning to the crew to assume manual control. The Tu-154B-2 flight manual and other documents prescribe using an electrically-controlled stabilizer and control yoke to offset the diving force that the flaps generate should they have not retracted. Crews are required to perform simulator training to deal with such a situation. If the failure of the flaps retraction mechanism is discovered in a timely manner, the pilots are instructed to land at the nearest airfield while maintaining a relatively low speed. They are also instructed to keep the throttles at a low setting so that the engine thrust does not further complicate the issue of aircraft stability and controllability.

Developed in the early 1960s, the Tu-154 first flew in 1966 and entered production between 1968 and 1970. More than 600 copies were built before the manufacturing plant changed in 1984 for more advanced Tu-154M. Total production reached 930 aircraft, with the last example completed in February 2013 for the Russian defense ministry. Some 70 Tu-154s were lost in accidents and crashes. Several dozen Tu-154M jets remain in active service worldwide, mostly with government agencies, but some with commercial airlines.

(Vladimir Karnazov - AINOnline News) 

Qatar Airways buys 10-percent stake in LATAM Airlines

Qatar Airways says it has purchased a 10-percent stake in Chile's LATAM Airlines Group for $608 million.

The Doha-based state airline announced the stock purchase late Wednesday.

LATAM was created when Chile's LAN took over Brazil's TAM in 2012. The airline flies to some 140 destinations in 25 countries.

LATAM stock closed at $8.42 a share Wednesday, up 1.6 percent.

Qatar Airways operates a fleet of 192 aircraft out of its hub in the vast new Hamad International Airport in Doha, which is preparing to host soccer's World Cup in 2022.

It is one of the Middle East's biggest carriers, along with Dubai-based Emirates Airline and the Abu-Dhabi based Etihad Airways. The three airlines increasingly have challenged Western airlines in long-haul flights.

(Associated Press)

Emirates receives first Rolls-Royce powered A380, resolves issues with engine maker

Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul airline, has taken delivery of its first Rolls-Royce engine-powered Airbus A380 superjumbo and has resolved its dispute with the engine maker over a technical issue.

The A380 jet arrived in Dubai on Thursday morning, two days after Airbus said it would delay the delivery of 12 A380s to the airline over the next two years.

An Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters the Rolls-Royce engine jet had arrived, but declined to say when it would be deployed for passenger services.

The three-class configured jet was originally scheduled for delivery on Dec. 2. Emirates also operates two-class, business and economy A380s.

The airline "has come to an agreement with Rolls-Royce on the technical issue relating to engines for our A380s," a different spokeswoman told Reuters, adding two more Rolls-Royce powered A380s would be delivered before the end of 2016.

Planemaker Airbus said on Tuesday it had delayed deliveries to Emirates of six A380s in 2017 and six in 2018 following agreements between Emirates and Rolls-Royce as well as Emirates and Airbus.

Emirates President Tim Clark said on Nov. 18 the airline had some technical issues with the Rolls-Royce engines.

Rolls-Royce is to supply engines for 50 Emirates A380 jets. The $9.2 billion deal, announced in April 2015, was the largest order in the history of the British company.

Emirates is the biggest operator of the A380 having ordered 142 of the superjumbo jets. The rest of its A380 fleet uses Engine Alliance, a joint venture of General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.

(Alexander Cornwell - Reuters)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-990(ER) (WL) (41727/5738) N493AS "More to Love"

Captured at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on December 28, 2016 as she makes a morning departure to Cabo San Lucas (SJD/MMSD), and her afternoon return from same sporting this gorgeous livery commemorating the carriers marriage to Virgin America.

(Photod by Michel Carter)    

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Afghanistan's first female fixed-wing pilot Niloofar Rahmani requests US for asylum

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female air force pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, poses for a photograph at an Air Force airfield in KabulSHAH
(MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

The first female fixed wing-pilot of Afghanistan, Captain Niloofar Rahmani has requested for asylum in the United States, Afghan defence ministry said on Monday (26 December). Rahmani made the request after allegedly receiving death threats from hard-line insurgents.

The 25-year-old captain has been training at the air bases in Arkansas, Texas and Florida for the last 15 months. She was scheduled to return to Afghanistan last week but cited fears for her safety shortly before her departure. She revealed on Thursday (22 December) that she applied for asylum in the US in summer.

In an interview to New York Times, she said "Things are not changing" in Afghanistan. She added that "Things are getting worse and worse." The decision sparked stinging criticism that she was betraying her country.

General Mohammad Radmanish, Afghan defence ministry spokesperson dismissed the claims of her life being in danger and said," What she said in the US was irresponsible and unexpected. She was meant to be a role model for other young Afghans, She has betrayed her country. It is a shame."

He further stated "I am sure she lied by saying she was threatened, just to win the asylum case. It is baseless that she claimed her life was at risk while serving in the Afghan Air Force."

"Since Captain Rahmani's claim is new, we expect her to change her mind and return to her own country and continue serving as a pilot. We request from our American friends and government to reject her asylum case and send her back, because knowing the truth, Captain Rahmani's life isn't at risk at all," he added.

In 2015, the US State Department honoured her with Women of Courage award even as they celebrated her achievements and touted her as an example of its success in advancing women's rights in Afghanistan.

There was little support for her decision in Afghanistan and elicited worries that her asylum request could impact the training of Afghan pilots outside the country.

Colonel Ayan Khan, a helicopter pilot in Afghan Air Force said, "Captain Rahmani's claim that she was harassed in the workplace is not true, because in the air force all the pilots and staff are well-educated and highly trained people. How can they harass their female colleague who serves along them?"

(Pavitra Dwibhashyam - International Business Times)

Delta cancels order for 18 Boeing 787s inherited from Northwest

Delta Air Lines had inherited the order for 18 787-8s from the company’s 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines.

Delta Air Lines scrapped an order for 18 Boeing widebody 787 Dreamliner jets, a commitment that was inherited with the company’s 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines.

Atlanta-based Delta reached an agreement with Boeing on the cancellation, without disclosing terms, according to a statement from the carrier Tuesday. The 18 jets had a list price of about $4 billion. But when standard industry discounts are taken into account, the actual value is closer to $2.2 billion, according to estimates from aircraft valuation firm Avitas.

The airline is sticking with orders already in progress for 120 narrow-body Boeing 737-900ERs. The 787-8 Dreamliners had been on Delta’s order book since the Northwest Airlines deal.

“This business decision is consistent with Delta’s fleet strategy to prudently address our widebody aircraft needs,” Greg May, Delta’s senior vice president of supply chain management and fleet, said in the statement.

Delta’s decision had been predicted. While some Northwest pilots held out the 787 as a “star,” known for its fuel efficiency and a body made of composite materials, some of Delta’s 777 aircraft had nearly the same capabilities, said Bob Mann, head of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y.

Also, Delta tends to fly bigger planes on average than its peers, and the larger 777 is more consistent with that strategy than the 787, Mann said.

“I wasn’t surprised, but I was surprised they took 10 years to do it,” Mann said of the cancellations.

U.S. airlines have been deferring or canceling orders for widebody jets, the long-haul aircraft that have two aisles. Delta earlier this year deferred taking four Airbus Group SE A350s until 2019 and 2020, instead of the originally scheduled 2018. American Airlines also said this year it would take 22 A350s an average 26 months later to cut capital expenses.

Delta still has widebody orders for 25 A350s and 25 smaller A330neo planes on its books. The 787s have a list price of $224.6 million, although large discounts are customary for major airlines.

“We’ve been working closely with Delta as their needs have evolved since inheriting the order from Northwest,” said Boeing spokesman John Dern. “Delta is a valued customer and we continue working with them to meet their future fleet requirements. Customer interest in the 787 continues to be strong, with almost 1,200 orders to date.”

(Michael Sasso - Bloomberg News / The Seattle Times)

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 (29842/1401) N446WN

Not to be outdone, this Southwest Airlines crew performs their crosswind landing technique for the crowd in the observation lot at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS/KLAS) on December 16, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Allegiant Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 (49912/1659) N864GA

Just can't get enough of these crosswind landings at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS/KLAS). This crew just about put the wingtip into the pavement on December 16, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Note to Iran: Buying Boeing Jets Is Good -- but Don't Brag About a 50% Discount

An Iranian official seemed to brag that Iran got a 50% discount on its $16.6 billion purchase of Boeing jets. But at Boeing and Airbus, nobody pays the list price.

An Iranian official says the country paid half price for Boeing jets, which he seems to view as something to be especially proud of. He shouldn't.

Iran, wake up. Everybody pays half price for Boeing jets -- except for those who pay even less. And it is the same at Airbus. Nobody pays the list price. "Volume customers -- that is, anyone who needs more than a dozen jets -- get 50% off Airbus and Boeing list prices if they ask politely and wear a tie," said Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst at the Teal Group.

On Sunday, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported that Iran's deputy transport minister said his county will only pay half of the announced price for 80 new Boeing planes, according to The Associated Press.

"Regarding the style of our order and its options, the purchase contract for 80 Boeing aircraft is worth about 50% of the amount," said Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan, according to the AP. He did not elaborate.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said, "We don't discuss the specifics of any agreements." Moreover, airlines that buy aircraft from Boeing and Airbus make agreements not to disclose the actual price they paid.

However, "It is well known that large orders come with large discounts, whether from Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier or Embraer," said aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham.

"Iran's statement of a 50% discount is in keeping with this reality," he said.

Aviation consultant Addison Schonland added, "The reason the minister in Iran made that statement was to indicate to his people how clever they were."

However, Schonland said, "a small airline might pay 50% for aircraft, but the test is 'What would American or British Airways or United pay if they bought 100 jets at a time?'"

"They would not get 50% off -- they would probably start at 60%," he said. "Iran got a deal, but it was not quite the deal they thought they got."

On Dec. 11, Boeing and Iran Air, Iran's national airline, said the carrier will buy 50 737 MAX 8s, 15 777-300ERs and 15 777-9s, with a combined list price of $16.6 billion.

And 10 days later, Airbus and Iran announced another deal, in which the carrier agreed to purchase 100 jets, including 46 A320 family jets, 38 A330 family jets and 16 A350s. Price was not announced. Deliveries are to start in 2017, while Boeing deliveries begin in 2018.

Boeing's deal with Iran is controversial. Although the company has the U.S. government's approval to fill the order, some Republicans in Congress are opposed and President-elect Trump has been critical of the Iran nuclear accord that enabled the deal.

Financing may also be a problem. Schonland said he expects the likely solution is that the Bank of China, a major aircraft lender, will end up as the financier.

"The Chinese would like to get rid of dollars and turn that money into profitable assets," he said. "The planes could be sold to the Bank of China, which could lease them to the Iranians. For them, it's a logical thing."

Perhaps the worst case for the lender, if the loan were not repaid, could be that Chinese customers -- who already provide about 25% of all Boeing orders -- would take possession of the aircraft.

(Tim Reed - The Street)

Boeing reinvents the 777 assembly line while production cranks on

To prepare for the new 777X, Boeing is radically retooling major pieces of the assembly process for its big widebody 777. Despite a slowdown in the production rate, it can’t stop the assembly line, so adding and subtracting equipment requires a complex choreography.

Boeing is radically revamping how it will build the 777 widebody jet — a plane that still earns it vital profits despite a slowdown in sales and production rate, so it can’t afford to stop the factory while it retools.

An exclusive tour of the 777 line this month revealed a complicated manufacturing dance under way to solve this logistical puzzle. The remodelspansthree assembly bays inside the giant factory and will replace massive, decades-old fixtures with new, more flexible equipment.

Jason Clark, vice president of 777 operations, brimmed with energy as he described the chess-like moves he’s making around the assembly line that churns out the current 777, spurred by the need to get ready for the forthcoming 777X model.

So wide-ranging is the revamp that in one assembly bay, construction crews are busy digging up the old concrete floor and installing systems underneath a new 6-foot slab.

Clark pointed to the remaining patch of newly uncovered soil, where engineers had unearthed anchor beams from the static-test airplane on the original 747 jumbo jet.

“That dirt hasn’t seen the light of day since 1968,” he said.
Remodeling for bigger wing

In about a year, Boeing will begin building the first 777X, which has a carbon-fiber composite wing. Longer and a different shape from the current jet’s metal wing, that wing won’t fit on the fixture that joins the metal wing to the jet’s body.

So Clark’s engineers are setting up and testing new, flexible equipment that can handle any wing size or shape, progressively removing the old equipment, then shifting the new into the spaces vacated by the old.

Despite the looming production-rate cut next summer, all this extra work should stave off some of the job losses on the 777.

Hidden behind the widebody-jet plant’s giant doors is a frenzy of manufacturing innovation, encompassing four major projects:

• A new way to complete 777 metal wings.

• A new flexible system for joining the wings to the fuselage body.

• A planned new, temporary 777X final-assembly line.

• And an entirely new, highly automated system — designed and built by Mukilteo-based engineering firm Electroimpact — for assembling the 777X’s carbon-fiber wings.

This last piece is almost a replica of the composite-wing assembly setup Airbus has in its wing plant in Broughton, Wales.

“We’re very competitive with Airbus,” said Clark. “But there’s just things in industry where it makes sense to be common.”

The impressive restructuring of 777 final assembly is separate from the setup of the adjacent $1 billion plant where Boeing will fabricate the 777X’s carbon-fiber wings, which give the new plane a wingspan nearly 23 feet longer than the current model.

Meanwhile, Boeing is also working on the not-yet-smooth introduction of a new robotic method to assemble the 777 fuselages in another building on the site.
Intricate chess game

Though designed to accommodate the 777X and its giant carbon-fiber wings, the new production system is being introduced now for the current 777 with metal wings in order to fix any bugs in advance of the new jet’s debut.

About 80 to 100 current-model 777s will be built on the new system before the first 777X shows up, Clark said.

In the first piece of the puzzle, the metal wings are already being completed in a totally new way.

Mechanics formerly finished the wings by installing the control surfaces and engine pylons while perched high on the slanted deck of a monumental fixture where the wings are joined to the center-fuselage section.

This month, mechanics began completing the wings at ground level, able to walk around the 106-foot-long structure as it rests on hydraulic jacks that raise or lower it to provide access.

The wings now arrive complete and “fully stuffed” with all systems for joining to the center-fuselage section in that big monumental wing-to-body join fixture.

And already the next phase of the 777 plan is under test in the adjoining bay that formerly housed the extra “surge” line for the 787 Dreamliner: a new way of doing the wing-to-body join.

Boeing is testing a system with the completed wings each supported by three giant jacks. In computer-controlled unison, these move the wings along the floor into the attachment position next to the center-fuselage section, which sits on its own jack.

Once both wings are joined to the fuselage, the center jack is withdrawn, and the whole thing is supported only by the six jacks under the two wings.

This center-fuselage-with-wings section then pulses forward along the ground to the next station in final assembly, the jacks again moving the whole thing in unison.

Just before the holiday break, a faded center fuselage — retrieved from an old Japan Airlines 777 in a desert scrapyard — sat atop its jack for tests of this system.

Graffiti were scrawled in large, crudely painted letters across its side: “Not a production part” — as if there were any doubt.

Clark said his team is ready to bring in a wing and do a check that everything fits during the Christmas production break.

In January, said Clark, “We’re going to actually join the wing to an airplane.”

When that system is perfected, able to handle any size or shape of wing, in about 18 months the old wing-body join fixture will be dismantled and torn out, Clark said.

Beyond the new wing-support jacks in this same bay, where the floor is being dug up, is where Boeing will put an initial 777X final-assembly line for production of the first couple of dozen aircraft.

Clark said this initial low-rate production line will be up and running in about a year. It will be used to get 777X assembly running smoothly, without slowing down production of the current 777.

By 2020, this temporary line will close, and both models will go down the main 777 line, complete with its new wing-to-body join system.
Imitating Airbus

When the temporary line is scrapped, that same bay is earmarked for the most dramatic innovation in the building: the plan to assemble the jet’s carbon-fiber wings.

But because that bay is full until then, Boeing is setting up the composite wing-assembly equipment in another temporary location, taking up 150,000 square feet one more bay over.

From a balcony there, the four Electroimpact automated wing-assembly stations look eerily similar to the Airbus A350 composite-wing-assembly setup, also designed by Electroimpact.

Just as in Wales, the wing skin panels, spars and ribs are positioned and slid into a drilling and fastening cell where an Electroimpact robotic machine suspended from a gantry moves across the wing, fastening it together.

“The industry is starting to centralize around what’s the best technology,” Clark said, comparing the convergence to what happened earlier in the auto industry.

“You can walk into a BMW plant in Munich or a Ford plant in Detroit, and the production systems are very similar,” said Clark. “A novice couldn’t tell the difference.”

One difference from the Airbus system, he said, is Electroimpact has designed it to be movable. It’s bolted to the floor but will be uprooted in 2020 and moved to the bay where that 1968 dirt is being dug.
Renton revamp

Offering grounds for optimism that this 777 transformation will go well, Boeing has already successfully completed a similarly bold remake of the 737 production system in Renton to prepare for the 737 MAX, which should deliver ahead of schedule next summer.

Yet there’s also the less successful introduction of robotic assembly of the 777 metal fuselage in a building next to the main Everett assembly plant.

Teething problems there have resulted in the robots damaging irreparably at least one fuselage panel, and progress in getting the system up to production rate has been slow.

However, Clark said the team has learned from each glitch and made adjustments.

“We’re not completely out of the woods yet,” he acknowledged.

But he expects that in the first half of 2017, the new system will be rolling out 777 forward- and mid-fuselage sections at full rate, with aft-fuselage sections to follow by year end.

“The 777X gets the benefit of all that learning,” Clark said.

(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)

Airbus postpones deliveries of 12 A380 planes to Emirates Airline

Planemaker Airbus said on Tuesday it was postponing the delivery of 12 A380 planes to Emirates Airline over the next two years, and added it would step up cost cuts to minimize the impact of these delays.

Airbus, whose main rival is U.S group Boeing, said six deliveries of the A380 would be postponed from 2017 to 2018, with another six postponed from 2018 to 2019, following an agreement between Emirates and engine maker Rolls Royce and a consecutive deal between Airbus and Emirates.

"Airbus re-confirms the target to deliver around 12 A380s per year from 2018 as announced earlier in July 2016. Further fixed cost reduction initiatives will be accelerated so the impact on break-even in 2017 is minimal," the company said in a statement.

Emirates Airline had said in November it was having some unspecified technical issues with Rolls-Royce engines for A380 jets.

Airbus, which earlier this month announced a deal to sell 100 jets to IranAir, reported in October lower-than-expected third quarter profits, although it broadly maintained its full-year financial forecasts.

Airbus shares closed flat on Tuesday. The stock is up by around 1.5 percent since the start of 2016, underperforming a 4.6 percent rise on France's benchmark CAC-40 index.

(Sudip Kar-Gupta - Reuters)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2016!

I hope you are having a fantastic holiday with family and friends.

Happy Holidays from myself and the staff here at Aero Pacific Flightlines. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Serbia Stewardess Who Survived 1972 Plane Crash, Record Fall Dies at 66

Vesna Vulovic, a former stewardess, survived a plunge from 10,000 meters (about 33,000 feet) when in 1972 her plane blew up in midfight. She gives an interview to the Associated Press in Belgrade, Serbia, Feb. 15, 2008.

Vesna Vulovic, a Serbian stewardess who miraculously survived a plunge from 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) after her plane exploded in midair in 1972, has died. She was 66.

Serbia’s state TV said Saturday Vulovic was found dead by her friends in her apartment in Belgrade. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Vulovic was working as a Yugoslav Airlines flight attendant January 26, 1972, when the Douglas DC-9 airliner she was aboard blew up high above the snowy mountain ranges of Czechoslovakia. All 27 other passengers and crew aboard perished.

Bomb suspected

Vulovic entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1985 for “the highest fall survived without a parachute.”

It was suspected that a bomb was planted inside the jet during a scheduled stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark, but no arrests were ever made.

Trapped in the plane’s tail cone, she plummeted to earth in subfreezing temperatures and landed on a steep, heavily wooded slope near a village. The fuselage tumbled through pine branches and into a thick coating of snow, softening the impact and cushioning its descent down the hill, crash investigators said at the time.

Vulovic was rescued by a woodsman who followed her screams in the dark forest. She was rushed to a hospital, where she fell into a coma for 10 days. She had a fractured skull, two crushed vertebrae and a broken pelvis, ribs and legs.

Memory of accident lost

Initially paralyzed from the waist down, Vulovic eventually made a near-full recovery and even returned to work for the airline in a desk job.

She never regained memory of the accident or her rescue. She told the AP in an interview in 2008 that she could only recall greeting passengers before takeoff from the airport in Denmark — and then waking up in the hospital with her mother at her side.

An instant national heroine, she went on to put her celebrity to use in political causes, protesting against Slobodan Milosevic’s rule in the 1990s and later campaigning for liberal forces in elections.
(Associated Press)

Why Nazi Germany's World War II 'Flaming Coffin' Bomber Was a Total Disaster

A Heinkel He 177 with its crew, Sept. 23, 1944. Heinkel finally gave up on the twinned DB 606 engines and redesigned the He 177B to have four conventional engines, with three prototypes flying in 1944, but by then it was too late, with bomber projects being cancelled and production concentrating on fighters. 
(Bundes archive photo)

Put yourself in the shoes of a German pilot during World War II. It’d be more than just a bit concerning if your assignment was to fly the “Flaming Coffin,” a.k.a. the “One Way Bomber” or “Volcano.”

But the hot, flammable He 177 Greif, or Griffin, was Nazi Germany’s only long-range heavy bomber produced in appreciable numbers. The 35-ton machine — when fully loaded — was a mistake, and more importantly, contributed to the German defeat by sucking up valuable resources into an ineffective and compromised aircraft.

The all-metal He 177 was both interesting from an engineering standpoint and fundamentally flawed for the same reason. In 1937, soon after manufacturer Heinkel Flugzeugwerke delivered its first prototype, the military ordered the company to modify the Greif into also being capable of dive bombing, a tactical focus bordering on obsession within the Luftwaffe.

Yes, dive bombing in a heavy bomber.

Except dive bombers tended to be on the smaller size given the intense stress and high Gs caused by pulling up after a dive. Because of the stress, dive bombers such as the Ju-87 Stuka needed to be tough and therefore heavy.

But not too heavy, and not too big.

The He 177 was too heavy and too big, however, and could not do a proper, near-vertical dive without plunging into the ground. It could do a shallower dive, or glide, but not very well.

Light aircraft such as fighters could dive-bomb, too, but this was extremely risky as they could dive too fast to pull up in time, or risk breaking up during the descent. And dive bombers needed to get close to be accurate.

Air brakes, of course, could slow a dive. But balancing size, weight and sturdiness was always key factor in determining a dive bomber’s success.

Another obvious problem for the He 177 was the aircraft’s size, which made it an easy target from the ground. A payload of more than 13,000 pounds of bombs and a range of more than 3,000 miles means it guzzled fuel, and Heinkel kept adding on weight to strengthen the Greif’s structure.

So as the plane “improved,” it became even thirstier for fuel … just as Allied bombers began devastating Germany’s oil supplies. A constellation of machine guns rounded out the He 177, but the precise configuration of its defensive armament changed over time.

“I had to ground that aircraft because it consumed too much gasoline, and we just didn’t have enough of it,” Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering told the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after the war.

The Greif was compromised from almost the very beginning. What’s curious is how Heinkel tried to solve the inevitable engineering challenges that derived from the dive-bombing requirement.

Heinkel gave the He 177 four DB 601 engines interconnected in two pairs, with each pair responsible for powering a single propeller. Each pair also produced more than 1,900 kilowatts of power each, and the two propellers — as opposed to four in most heavy bombers — gave the plane stability during a gliding descent, although it obviously couldn’t dive as steep as a Stuka.

As a result, the Greif was technically a glide bomber, not a dive bomber.

Regardless, it was still way too big and terrible at the job. More seriously, the engines were prone to bursting into flames. The engines were complex, fitted extremely tightly — and covered in a similarly tight cowling — that made them run hot and hard to maintain.

Excessive heat and risk of fire was a constant concern.

The He 177 even had a negative effect on other experimental German weapons. The Nazis developed two high-tech anti-ship guided bombs, the liquid-fueled Hs 293 and the free falling Fritz X.

Both bombs were radio guided and the He 177 served as their primary delivery platform. But the He 177’s poor performance “greatly limited the bombs’ employment, indicating Germany’s integration problems,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Schollars wrote in the Air Force Journal of Logistics.

The negative consequences of the He 177 reached beyond bombs to more radical and experimental planes. The Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first operational jet fighter, came too late in the war to make a major impact — and it would’ve been unlikely to change Germany’s fortunes had it arrived sooner. But the bad experience of the He 177 contributed to Adolf Hitler’s skepticism about the new jet fighter.

Hitler steered precious resources into the Me 209 — a planned successor to the Bf 109 fighter plane — knowing it would cut into the Me 262’s production, according to Lt. Col. Schollars.

Finally, Germany built more than 1,000 He 177s. Remember, each bomber had four DB 601 or DB 605 engines — the latter an upgrade to stop the fire hazard.

They were the same engines used in the Bf 109.

That was a lot of engines built for the largely useless He 177, and the Luftwaffe could have fought longer and harder, and with more Bf 109s, had it not been so seduced by dive bombing — which lost its tactical effectiveness once the Allies gained air superiority.

Richard Suchenwirth, author of the 1959 book Historical Turning Points in the German Air Force War Effort, partly blamed the He 177 for ending the Luftwaffe as a war-capable entity.

He also referenced a proposed version of the Greif with four propellers:

In the report of a fighter staff conference which took place on 3 July 1944, the following appears:

“… In a conference lasting nearly five hours with the Reichsmarschall on Saturday, we were told that the old He-177 will be pulled out of production as soon as those few machines now being finished are out of the way, and that the entire labor force concerned will be freed for our use in other programs. Moreover, it was decided not to start production on the new He-177, not even in limited numbers. This means that the entire working plant — labor force, equipment, and everything else — is at our disposal.”

A little more than ten months later, Germany’s ruin was complete. It is certain that the tragedy of the He-177 was one of the factors which had contributed to its downfall.

There’s an important lesson there. Over-investing resources in a bad design can help destroy your air force.

(Robert Beckhusen - The Buzz / The National Interest)

Air-Launched Orbital Rockets: Orbital ATK Shows Virgin Galactic How It's Done

 Orbital ATK's Stargazer -- carrying a Pegasus rocket on its tummy.
(Image source: Orbital ATK)

Sir Richard Branson wants to launch satellites from airplanes. But it's not exactly an original idea.

For years, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has been trying to invent a better way to launch rockets into space. Instead of launching from Earth in a fiery blast and a cloud of dust, Virgin Galactic aims to carry a "SpaceShipTwo" spaceship into the stratosphere, strapped to the belly of a "WhiteKnightTwo" mothership -- then detach the former from the latter, and rocket to 62 miles above sea level.

If Branson can succeed in the endeavor, he'll build a space tourism business enabling well-heeled thrill-seekers able to afford the $250,000 ticket to enjoy several minutes of weightlessness on the edge of space.

But Orbital ATK can push them right past that edge, and actually into orbit.

Space tourism isn't Virgin Galactic's only business. "Leveraging" its work with SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin says it's also building a business to service the small satellites revolution. As the company explains on its website, it won't be long before Virgin can put satellites into orbit by air-launching them with a "LauncherOne" rocket carried by a Boeing 747-400 mothership.

But here's the thing: Orbital ATK is already doing that. 

Been there, done that

Orbital is already an established provider of terrestrial launch services -- rockets blasting directly from Earth to space. But Orbital also does air launches. Last week, Orbital announced its latest launch of a small satellite into space from an airborne aircraft, a mission it has conducted successfully 29 times in a row since 1997. The 61-pound Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, satellite that it launched will be the first of an eight-satellite NASA constellation used to forecast the formation of tropical storms.

Orbital loaded CYGNSS aboard a Pegasus rocket, carried on the underbelly of a Lockheed Martin L-1011 aircraft -- one dubbed "Stargazer" by Orbital ATK. Then, at an altitude of 39,000 feet, Orbital detached the Pegasus, ignited its engine, and blasted it, and CYGNSS, into orbit.

Space is hard

Now here's where things get interesting from an investing perspective: Virgin Galactic has from time to time floated plans to IPO the company, following in the footsteps of Branson's Virgin America airline (which had its IPO in 2014, rocketed in value, and was ultimately acquired by Alaska Air). Presumably, Branson would prefer to notch a few successes with the company, though, before taking Virgin Galactic public.

Unfortunately, Virgin's space tourism business hit a rough patch when its SpaceShipTwo crashed during test flights in 2014, and it still hasn't fully recovered. But now, Virgin's LauncherOne business offers a second path to profits. Virgin is promising to offer launch prices as low as $10 million once it has the system up and running -- a mere fraction of the $50 million-plus that Orbital charges. That price point promises to win a lot of business from small-satellite operators -- and, potentially, to disrupt Orbital ATK's air-launched satellites business.

On the other hand, it took Orbital ATK several years to work out the kinks of air-launched rockets-to-orbit. In fact, in its early years, Pegasus experienced in excess of a 20% failure rate, losing multiple valuable payloads before figuring out how to make the process work. Assuming Virgin Galactic faces a similar learning curve, it could be some years before its business matures enough to reassure investors and support an IPO.

Meanwhile, Orbital ATK just keeps extending its lead -- and collecting $50 million a launch.

(Rich Smith - The Motley Fool)

Passengers can expect more comfortable flights and it's not because of the seats

Air travel in the future should be a lot more comfortable for passengers despite economy airline seats that are getting more cramped.

The newer jets that are coming online in the next few years will create a cabin atmosphere that mimics a lower altitude and keeps the air inside the cabin more humid than current planes.

Passengers can experience the more comfortable conditions on some newer planes already in use, such as the Boeing 787. But fliers should notice the changes more often now that the airline industry is going through an airplane-buying spree while profits are high and demand for air travel continues to grow.

“As planes come on board, people are going to find air travel much more comfortable,” said George Hobica, founder of the travel comparison site

The reason for the improved conditions is directly related to the new composite materials used to build the new plane frames.

To reduce the stress on the traditional metal frame, airlines now pressurize the cabin to be closer to the pressure outside. When a plane is cruising at 36,000 feet above sea level, the atmosphere inside the cabin feels like its 8,000 feet above sea level. For passengers, that can cause shortness of breath and fatigue.

But with new fuselages made of stronger, more flexible carbon-reinforced plastic composites, the plane can withstand more stress, allowing airlines to increase the inside pressure to a more comfortable atmosphere that feels like 6,000 feet above sea level.

Also, the new frame material is more resistant to corrosion, which means airlines can keep the atmosphere in the cabin more humid, reducing the dry eyes and parched throats suffered by passengers.

Boeing officials say flying is also becoming more pleasant because many of the newer planes, including the 777X, will have larger windows and wider cabins.

“Every day we are going to have more and more of these planes that offer this experience in service,” said Kent Craver, Boeing’s regional director for cabin experience and revenue analysis. “It’s something we have created that is important to the customers we serve.”

(Hugo Martin - Los Angeles Times)

1 Key Way That the Alaska Air-Virgin America Merger Is a Game Changer

The Embraer E175 regional jet could be Alaska Air's secret weapon for capitalizing on its recent acquisition of Virgin America.

Alaska Air finalized its acquisition of trendy competitor Virgin America last week. This acquisition should provide a big boost to Alaska Air's earnings next year. Virgin America has earned a pre-tax profit of nearly $200 million over the past 12 months, whereas the annual cost of financing for the deal is less than $50 million.

However, in the long run, the main way that Alaska will benefit from this acquisition is through revenue synergies and new organic growth opportunities. In particular, Alaska Air's experience with using regional aircraft like Embraer's E175 opens up lots of growth opportunities in San Francisco, Virgin America's main base. That could be worrisome for market leader United Continental.

Virgin America has a limited route map

Virgin America is a fairly small airline by U.S. standards, with only 63 aircraft. Fifty-three of those planes are A320s with 146 to 149 seats. There is also a small subfleet of 10 119-seat A319s.

As a result, Virgin America only serves 21 airports (representing 19 cities) from San Francisco. Furthermore, nearly all of its destinations are very large markets -- it lacks the smaller regional aircraft that it would need to be successful on many other routes.

Even with this relatively limited footprint, Virgin America has been quite successful in competing against United Airlines in San Francisco. However, United is a behemoth. It operates about 275 daily flights to roughly 100 destinations from San Francisco. Virgin America's comparatively small scale complicates its efforts to gain share among business travelers.

Alaska Air has a potential solution

Unlike Virgin America, Alaska Air uses regional aircraft to supplement its mainline fleet. This allows it to serve a wider range of destinations from its hubs.

In the past few years, Alaska Air's regional subsidiary Horizon Air has operated a fleet of more than 50 turboprops on short-haul regional routes. Alaska has also been relying increasingly on regional airline partner SkyWest to operate roomier Embraer E175 regional jets on so-called "long and thin" routes. By next spring, SkyWest will operate 20 E175s for Alaska Air, flying routes like Seattle-Milwaukee and Portland-St. Louis.

The Embraer E175 appears to be working very well for Alaska. As a result, earlier this year, it ordered 30 E175s for Horizon Air to operate in-house, with another 33 options. Fifteen of these new planes will be used to replace turboprops; the rest will be used for growth.

By deploying some of these E175s in San Francisco over the next few years, Alaska Air and Virgin America can build up their route network there in a way that wouldn't be possible with mainline aircraft. This will enable them to challenge United Continental on more routes than ever.

Alaska Air begins to expand in San Francisco

Alaska Air hasn't wasted any time in bringing new regional jet service to San Francisco. On the day that the merger closed, it announced three new nonstop routes from San Francisco. Two of those will use Embraer E175s.

Starting next summer, Alaska Air will offer two daily roundtrips between San Francisco and Minneapolis using E175s. It will also offer four daily roundtrips between San Francisco and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. With these flight additions, Virgin America and Alaska will together serve 20 of the top 25 destinations from San Francisco.

Both of these new routes have plenty of passenger traffic. However, as a new entrant, Alaska Air is likely to be more successful by starting with small planes, in order to offer multiple daily flights without flooding the market with capacity. As these routes mature in the coming years, they could potentially be up-gauged to mainline aircraft.

There are plenty of other routes from San Francisco for which the Embraer E175 would be an ideal aircraft, either for opening new markets or as a long-term solution. The more business routes that Alaska and Virgin America serve from San Francisco, the greater their chances of luring corporate accounts away from United Airlines with the promise of lower fares.

In the next few years, the biggest constraint on adding new E175 flights is likely to be gate space. Fortunately, San Francisco International Airport recently started work on a terminal expansion project that will start to address overcrowding at the airport, enabling incremental growth by 2019 or 2020.

Good news for Embraer?

If Alaska Air's E175 regional jet operations in San Francisco perform well, the company could exercise many of its E175 purchase options in order to expand further. That would be very good for Embraer, which is in the midst of a tricky model transition.

Embraer is already essentially sold out of production slots for 2017. It is scheduled to deliver the first next-generation E2 planes in early 2018, but the current-generation E175 will remain in production for at least three or four years beyond that. Unfortunately, Embraer doesn't have many E175 firm orders for 2018 and beyond as of now.

Alaska Air could be a key source of incremental E175 orders for Embraer during the 2018-2021 transition period. Indeed, the E175 is uniquely suited to accelerating Alaska Air's growth in San Francisco, enabling it to expand into markets where Virgin America has historically been unable to compete.

(Adam Levine-Weinberg - The Motley Fool)