Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vacation Time!!

Greetings All, 

It is time for the end of summer break, so there will not be any updates for the next couple weeks while my wife and I enjoy a much needed hiatus as we sip wine in France.

Take care and Cheers

Michael Carter - Editor and Chief 
Aero Pacific Flightlines

Cessna 525 CitationJet Cj1 (c/n 525-0504) N9915Z

Operated by Go Far Aviation LLC (actual owner Dexter Holland, lead singer of the band "The Offspring"), this lovely 525 CitiationJet is captured on a very short final to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on September 13, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Monday, September 19, 2016

jetBlue Airbus A320-232 (c/n 1705) N534JB "Bada Bing Bada Blue"

Climbs from Rwy 12 bound for New York John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK/KJFK) on September 16, 2016.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6229) N629GA

Arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) from Savannah-Hilton Head (SAV/KSAV) as "GLF65" at 12:11 PDT.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Embraer EMB-550 "Legacy 500" (c/n 55000007) N424ML

Operated by LH Aviation LLC, this lovely aircraft is captured on short final to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on September 19, 2016.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Aeromexico Boeing 737-852 (39944/4949) XA-AMM

Holding short of Rwy 25R at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS/KLAS) wearing special markings promoting the carriers frequent flyer program "Club Premier" on September 18, 2016.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

JetBlue to Burn Renewable Biofuel Mix on Some New York Flights

JetBlue Airways Corp. will burn a mixture of biofuel and traditional jet kerosene on some flights at New York City-area airports under a 10-year purchase agreement designed to cut aircraft pollution and costs.

The airline will purchase more than 33 million gallons of blended fuel annually under the contract with S.G. Preston Co., a bioenergy company based in Philadelphia, JetBlue said in a statement Monday. It is the longest and among the largest of such agreements in the U.S. aviation industry, the New York-based carrier said.

United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. have made similar arrangements to try to reduce jet emissions which, according to the United Nations, account for about 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas output. A proposed climate accord that would limit global aircraft emissions may be completed at a meeting this fall of the UN’s aviation agency. The U.S. currently has no such standards.

“We are not going to sit around and wait for a legislator to tell us we have to buy a certain type of fuel that doesn’t exist on the market yet,” Sophia Mendelsohn , JetBlue’s head of sustainability, said in an interview. “We have to be proactive.”

New Refinery

The new fuel will be a mix of 30 percent propellant made from renewable plant oils and 70 percent jet kerosene. S.G. Preston is building a refinery to produce the biofuel, and JetBlue will begin using it in the first quarter of 2019. While the biofuel is competitively priced with traditional jet A kerosene, the program is expected to reduce the carrier’s fuel costs, Mendelsohn said. She declined to be more specific.

The portion of the fuel from plant oils is projected to cut emissions at least 50 percent per gallon. The reduction for the blended product is expected to be “a very good number,” she said, but was unable to provide a figure.

The amount to be purchased equals about 20 percent of the airline’s annual fuel use at John F. Kennedy International Airport and 4.7 percent of its total yearly consumption. About 20 percent of JetBlue’s daily flights originate at a New York metropolitan area airport, where the fuel will be used.

United in March began using sustainable biofuel on daily flights at Los Angeles International Airport under a three-year, 15 million-gallon agreement with AltAir Paramount LLC. Southwest and FedEx Corp. will use biofuel produced by Red Rock Biofuels LLC from forest waste. The Fort Collins, Colorado-based company expects to begin construction of its first refinery this year and to ship jet fuel starting in 2018, said Southwest, which will buy 3 million gallons a year.

(Mary Schlangenstein - Bloomberg)

Southwest Airlines rolls out Las Vegas service from Long Beach Airport

Taxies on "Lima" towards Rwy 30.

Commencing our takeoff roll.

 Short final to Rwy 30.

(Photos by Jason Jorgensen)

I did the inaugural Southwest Airlines flight between Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) and Las Vegas (LAS/KLAS) today, September 18, 2016. The flight (WN2138) was operated with Boeing 737-7H4 (36889/2679) N927WN. (I free-loaded on this flight as it was wide open).

We pushed 4 minutes early at 09:46 and were airborne at 09:56 and after 48 minutes in the air we touched down on Rwy 25L in Las Vegas at 10:44 blocking in at 10:47. I would be returning to Long Beach at 12:05 and this would be my aircraft for the return flight.

As I wondered around the gate area I ran across a couple folks that I had worked with at LAX (Kenny Jinbo) and SNA (David Tilbury) during my years with the carrier and it was so very nice to chat with each of them.

The return flight (WN6198) to Long Beach commenced boarding promptly at 11:35 and I was first to board behind the pre-boarding passengers as I used awards points and bought a ticket as the return flight was booked full and somehow I managed to get A1. We again pushed early at 12:02 and were off the deck at 12:16. A very short 40 minutes in the air, we touched down on Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport at 12:56 and blocked in at 12:59.

Both flights were great and ran like clock work. It is to bad this service will only last until the first of next year as the 3 slots we are using for the flights go back to jetBlue at that point.

(Michael Carter - Aero Pacific Flightlines -Editor and Chief)

Airbus could be making some serious changes to its business

Airbus Group is in the midst of a period of financial uncertainty.

In July, the European aviation giant announced $1.5 billion in charges due to setbacks in the company's A350 airliner and A400M military transport programs.

In response, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders will announce a major restructuring and cost cutting plan next month, the FT's Peggy Hollinger reported.

According to the FT, the plan will see Enders take tighter control over the Airbus' civil aviation subsidiary, which accounts for the majority of the group's income.

Further, Hollinger reported that Enders plans to streamline duplicate positions that exist within the mother company and its subsidiaries.

Airbus has struggled to ramp up development and production of its next generation A350 airliner. Even though the company remains committed to a goal of producing 10 of the wide-body jets per month by 2018, Airbus delivered just 12 A350s to customers over the first half of the year.

At the same time, the A400M military transport has beset by a series of technical issues and development delays. In June, the German government grounded two of its three A400Ms due to issues with the aircraft's drivetrain.

According to Bloomberg, the A400M is more than four years late and $5.6 billion over budget.

In addition to the charges, Airbus will also slow down production of the A380 superjumbo from 27 planes a year to 12 a year in 2018 to buy the sales team more time to secure orders.

Airbus representatives were not immediately available for comment.

(Benjamin Zhang - Business Insider)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Why Nigeria's airlines are struggling to survive

Arik Air was forced to temporarily shutdown operations on Tuesday due to insurance problems. 
(Photo by Ben King)

Nigeria's aviation sector is in dismal shape right now.

A recession, combined with a shortage of dollars, high costs and scarce fuel supplies have created the perfect storm for the industry.

One domestic airline went bust at the start of the month and another has halted services, citing problems getting hold of foreign currencies. Major international airlines -- including United Airlines and Spanish carrier Iberia -- have stopped operating in Nigeria altogether.

On top of it all, a temporary shutdown this week by the country's largest airline -- Arik Air -- set off alarm bells.

Arik Air has since resumed operations after Tuesday's shutdown, and Arik's chairman was quick to point out that it was not due to wider problems in the sector. But he admits that business conditions are tough.

Johnson Arumemi-Ikhide, chairman of Arik Group, told CNNMoney that the shutdown, which left hundreds of passengers stranded, came after the airline's insurance expired.

The company had to scramble to get chartered planes for its passengers on Tuesday, and then scheduled additional flights on Wednesday to get operations back to normal.

Arumemi-Ikhide dismissed reports that the company was experiencing financial difficulties.

"Arik is profitable. It's not as profitable as the hard work we put in, but we made around $6 million to $7 million [last year]. When you look at our assets, cash and everything, we are positive. The issue of bankruptcy doesn't come to mind at all."

But Arumemi-Ikhide said Nigeria's capital controls, which restrict the flow of U.S. dollars within the country, hurts airlines. Essentially, some sectors have easier, cheaper access to dollars than the airlines. This has forced Arik to buy dollars through unofficial channels at a higher exchange rate.

In June, under pressure from low oil prices that have slammed Nigeria's export revenues, the central bank devalued the naira.

That in turn led to a further drop in the flow of U.S. dollars into the country as investors feared instability.

The currency crisis isn't the only problem. Profits in the notoriously tough airline industry are "thin" partly due to expensive fuel prices and scarce supplies, said Arumemi-Ikhide.

Additionally, poor infrastructure is an issue: Many runways are in bad repair, and it can be difficult for passengers to reach airports in the evenings.

"There's a need for the government to address some of the issues if they want the industry to survive," he said. "All the airlines are struggling."

Nonetheless, Arumemi-Ikhide said his company had a strong line of credit and was on track for an initial public offering in 15 months.

(Stephanie Busari - CNN Money)

Friday, September 16, 2016

US Air Force Grounds F-35s It Just Declared Ready for War

On Aug. 2, the Air Force said 10 F-35s at Hill Air Force Base in Utah were ready for war. Forty-four days later, those planes have been grounded in the latest embarrassing setback for the most expensive project in Pentagon history.

The problem: “peeling and crumbling insulation in avionics cooling lines inside the fuel tanks,” Air Force officials said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “Engineers with the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin and Hill Air Force Base maintenance Airmen have conducted inspections of eight aircraft and are currently developing procedures to resolve or mitigate the issue prior to release of affected production aircraft to the field and the return of affected operational aircraft to flight operations.”

The grounding order affects 57 aircraft, some of which belong to Norway, officials said. Fifteen of them are operational jets, the 42 others are in various states of production.

The grounding interrupts a general wave of progress for the $400 billion program, which made its debut at the Farnborough Air Show in England this summer and has been getting rave reviews from pilots. (In 2014, an engine fire caused the previous high-profile grounding and scotched the plane’s first planned trip to Farnborough.)

This new restriction is sure to cast a shadow over next week’s annual Air Force Association convention, where military leaders were expected to praise the aircraft’s latest achievements.

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin, the maker of the plane, said the 42 jets on its production line would be fixed before they’re delivered.

“This is not a technical or design issue,” Michael Rein said in an email. “It is supply chain manufacturing quality issue. It will likely require depot-level maintenance to address the corrective actions for the 15 jets in the field.”

The problem only affects the A model of the F-35, not the Marine Corps’ short-takeoff-and-vertical landing planes or the Navy’s carrier-capable aircraft.

“The root cause of the problem was determined to be use of nonconforming material for the tubing insulation and improper manufacturing processes during fabrication of the cooling lines,” the F-35 program office said in a statement. “The nonconforming material that was used is not compatible with fuel, causing degradation of the insulation and resulting in it falling off the tubing.”

(Marcus Weisgerber - Defense One News)

Las Vegas lands first-ever airline route to mainland China

It’s official: Las Vegas is getting its long-desired airline route to China.

Hainan Airlines will begin flying from Las Vegas on Dec. 2, launching three weekly flights to Beijing on Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The carrier announced its intention to operate the flights earlier this year, but received the needed regulatory approvals this week.

Hainan’s Beijing flights will give Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport its first-ever regularly scheduled nonstop route to mainland China, a destination that accounts for one of the fastest-growing segment of visitors to Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Associated Press continues that theme, writing the new flights come as Las Vegas and Asian investors "are going all in on Chinese tourism as some of Las Vegas’ latest developments on and off the Strip target Chinese nationals and Chinese-Americans."

The Beijing service becomes Las Vegas’ second regularly scheduled route to Asia. Korean Air also flies from the city to its hub near Seoul.

For Hainan Air, Las Vegas continues a recent growth spurt for the carrier in the United States. The airline also has launched new routes from cities like Boston, Seattle and San Jose, Calif., during the past few years.

Hainan Air’s 213-seat Dreamliners are configured with 36 full flat-bed business-class seats in a 2-2-2 layout and 177 coach seats in a 3-3-3 layout.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

Los Angeles here we come as Austrian Airlines adds its first-ever route to U.S. West Coast

(Austrian Airlines)

Austrian Airlines will make Los Angeles its newest U.S. destination. The carrier will begin flying from the city on April 10 with service to its hub in Vienna.

Austrian will offer up to six flights a week during its summer schedule on Boeing 777 aircraft. The California-bound flight is scheduled for 12 hours, 30 minutes while the return to Austria is scheduled for 11 hours, 55 minutes.

The Los Angeles route -- Austrian's first-ever to the West Coast of the United States -- furthers a recent U.S. expansion by Austrian. It has also added service to Chicago O’Hare, Miami and Newark Liberty since the beginning of 2013.

“After Chicago, Newark and Miami, Los Angeles is now the fourth new flight destination and the so far biggest leap into the USA,” Andreas Otto, Austrian’s Chief Commercial Officer, says in a statement. “We will fly to the West Coast with our existing fleet and are already very excited about this new venture. Initially, the Los Angeles-Vienna route will be served seasonally in the summer 2017 flight schedule.”

Los Angeles will become Austrian’s sixth destination in the United States and its seventh in North America. Its others are Chicago O’Hare, Miami, New York JFK, Newark, Toronto and Washington Dulles.

Austrian expects “about two-thirds” of the passengers using its Los Angeles-Vienna route to connect to other destinations via its Vienna hub.

Austrian is part of the Lufthansa group that includes not only Lufthansa, but also Swiss International Air Lines and Eurowings. The Lufthansa Group also owns a minority stake in Brussels Airlines.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

Deer Jet Boeing 787-8 BBJ (35309/143) 2-DEER, ex N28MS

Seattle-Boeing Field (BFI/KBFI) being prepared for her delivery flight sporting her fresh new livery.  

Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV/KVCV) on August 10, 2016 wearing her original livery as she waits to enter the paint shop.

Deer Jet took delivery of  Boeing 787-8 BBJ on September 14, 2016. She had arrived at Boeing Field the previous day September 13 after receiving a modified livery and the addition of titles at the Boeing paint facilities at Victorville.

She departed Boeing Field at 12:05 PDT as "2DEER" bound for Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK/ZBAA) and her new home. 

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Emirates Boeing 777-31H(ER) (42338/1433) A6-EPS

Captured departing Boeing-Paine Field (PAE/KPAE) on September 14, 2016 on a pre-delivery test flight as "BOE660."

(Photos by Michael Carter)  

Ex Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-490 (28885/2891) N788AS

Departs Boeing-Paine Field (PAE/KPAE) on September 14, 2016 as "ASA9466" bound for the aircraft storage facilities at Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV/KVCV) to await her final fate.

(Photos by Michael Carter) 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black pilots allege racial discrimination at United Airlines

Black pilots are alleging they’re flying through unfriendly skies at United Airlines.

A group of 18 black pilots are calling on federal officials to investigate what they allege is a pattern of discrimination that has tarnished everything from hiring to promotions, according to a statement from the group, called The United Coalition for Diversity. The pilots claim that United has an “utter lack of diversity at the management level” and has systemically kept black employees from entering the managerial ranks.

The claim may focus on alleged problems at one airline, but women and men of color have made few inroads with the profession. Ninety-seven percent of aircraft pilots are white, while compared with just 80 percent of all occupations. Only about 5 percent of commercial airline pilots are women. One researcher, looking at data from 1966 to 2003, found that desegregation hadn’t progressed since 1980.

“It is time for all pilots to be provided with equal opportunities, regardless of the color of their skin,” Brian R. Mildenberg, the attorney for the pilots, said in a statement. “According to the coalition pilots, the executive leadership of United Airlines has failed over the years to integrate the airline and remedy the serious concerns of racial discrimination against black pilots that have plagued United for more than two decades.”

United said the claims are “as baseless today as they were four years ago when they were originally filed,” referring to lawsuits previously filed by the pilots. “We are very proud of our diversity record and programs – as an example 5 of our 8 chief pilots at our hubs are people of color and women (including 3 African Americans),” a spokeswoman said in an email.

She added, “So, this is clearly just an attempt by the plaintiffs’ attorneys to try to put pressure on United to settle these meritless claims.”

The coalition is pointing to a 40-year old case as failing to provide meaningful change. In 1976, United entered a consent decree with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over diversity. As part of the agreement, United provided more than $1 million in back pay and agreed to hire minorities and women into upper-level jobs including pilot and management roles.

While that should have helped minorities and women climb through the ranks, the coalition is alleging that the white pilots reacted to the consent decree by creating a “secret, racist organization called “the Vault,” which they claim was geared to keeping black pilots from advancing at United.

“White pilots have disparagingly referred to African-American pilots as ‘consent decree hires’ and ‘equal opportunity hires’,” the coalition alleges.

Black pilots claim they were subjected to racist photos and messages, such as one that showed a black man lynched by white supremacists with the words “How to move up in seniority at United Airlines.”

United’s current new pilot recruitment classes are predominately white, the group said. The coalition is asking for Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate hiring, training, and promotion at United Airlines.

(Aimee Picchi - Moneywatch / CBS News)

Singapore Air Won’t Extend Lease on Airbus A380 Jet in 2017

Singapore Airlines Ltd. said it won’t extend the lease on its first A380 super-jumbo jet, a move that is set to test second-hand demand for the world’s biggest commercial aircraft.

The carrier, the first operator of the Airbus Group SE plane, will see the contract expire in October 2017 and doesn’t plan to exercise an option to extend it, Singapore Air said in an e-mail Wednesday. The airline’s first five A380s are on 10-year leases, and a decision on the other four planes will be made later, it said.

Airbus has said demand for A380s has fallen far short of its original projections, forcing the company to drastically cut output earlier this year. The jet-maker has said it sees a second-hand market for the plane as major carriers including Emirates and Singapore Air come to the end of their initial lease terms, potentially offering low-cost Asian airlines an option of flying more people on six- to eight-hour routes.

In May, aircraft-leasing firm Doric said the company and fellow owner Dr. Peters Fund KG of Germany are preparing for a possible return and needed refurbishment of the five A380s from Singapore Air starting next year, reserving time in paint shops and exploring the availability of hundreds of replacement seats.

Airbus shares fell 0.5 percent to 53.53 euros as of 10:52 a.m. in Paris. Singapore Air gained 0.4 percent to S$10.55 as of 4:55 p.m. in the city state.

Demand for the A380 has dwindled in recent years with the introduction of more nimble twin-engine jets. While Emirates has ordered more than 140 of the planes and has about 80 in services, only two other operators, Singapore Air and Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd., have bought 20 aircraft or more.

The aircraft faced a further setback when Qantas said in August it is deferring deliveries of eight A380s it has on order. Malaysia Airlines Bhd. said last week it is in talks with carriers in China and other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations about offloading its six A380s because the giant double-deckers are no longer needed in the fleet.

(Anurag Kotoky - Bloomberg Business / Technology News)

Boeing imposes overtime pay limits for 80,000 workers

Boeing is clamping down on overtime pay for 80,000 of its workers in the United States, beginning in mid-October, to cut costs as jet sales slow.

The company announced the new policy in an email to all U.S. employees on Wednesday, Boeing communications director Chaz Bickers said, even as chief executive Dennis Muilenburg was in California telling investors at a conference that "on balance, the aerospace marketplace is looking solid and growing."

Boeing will limit paid overtime for U.S.-based salaried exempt, non-union workers, beginning Oct. 14, to what the company email described as "mission-critical or production-critical work only."

The Chicago-based company won't say how much it hopes to save thanks to the move, but Bickers said "improving competitiveness across the company allows us to compete and win when there’s immense pressure in the marketplace."

The email described the overtime limits as "another step in the company’s efforts to improve our affordability and competitiveness so that we can better position ourselves to grow sales to customers with the innovative products and services they need."

"More sales will allow us to invest in future products and create more work for employees who make the world’s best airplanes," the email added.

The company-wide policy affects about 80,000 salaried, exempt Boeing employees based across the U.S.

Salaried exempt employees are those who receive an annual salary, and are not entitled to overtime pay under federal or state law, the email said.

The company, which employs almost 160,000 around the world, could not immediately say how many workers in the Puget Sound will be affected.

But the pay of union-represented Boeing employees in the region and elsewhere will "remain in line with current collective bargaining agreements," the Boeing spokesman said.

The policy does not affect non-exempt, non-union employees who are covered by overtime pay rules set by federal and state law.

(Andrew McIntosh- Puget Sound Business Journal)

Hong Kong Airlines buys 9 Airbus aircraft for $2.31 bn

Hong Kong Airlines said Thursday it had bought nine Airbus aircraft for a catalogue price of $2.31 billion, seeking to bolster its Asian network as an expanding Chinese middle class takes to the skies.

The Hong Kong-based airline, which serves a wide range of mainland Chinese cities as well as international routes, said the nine A330-300 aircraft would cover a wide range of destinations in Asia.

"Today's announcement underscores our plan to operate an extensive regional network in Asia," Hong Kong Airlines president Zhang Kui said in a statement published Thursday.

"The A330's flexibility also allows us to further deploy these aircraft to some long-haul routes in the future," Zhang said.

Hong Kong Airlines was established in 2006 and operates an all-Airbus fleet made up of 11 A320s and 22 A330s.

Its international destinations include Bangkok and Osaka, and it will be launching a route between Hong Kong and Auckland, New Zealand in November of this year.

The purchase comes as China was on Tuesday predicted to become the world's first trillion-dollar aviation market, with mainland Chinese residents travelling by air in ever greater numbers.

China is expected to add more than 6,800 new aircraft to its commercial fleet worth $1.03 trillion by 2035, US manufacturer Boeing said in its annual China Current Market Outlook Tuesday.

Passenger traffic is estimated to increase 6.4 percent annually in China over the next 20 years as the country reforms its economy to rely more on consumption and the service industry to drive growth, Boeing said.

A quarter of Boeing's deliveries over the last three years were to Chinese airlines, it says.

Boeing, maker of the 737 MAX and 787 Dreamliner, competes with Europe's Airbus for global dominance in the aircraft market.

Airbus in March started construction on a new facility to deliver wide-body planes in China while Boeing has reportedly submitted to the Chinese government plans for a factory in the eastern province of Zhejiang. 

(AFP News / Yahoo Business News)

Boeing challenges Denmark over choice of Lockheed Martin jets

Here we go again! Boeing is basically crying fowl again as another foreign government has chosen a competitors product over theirs.

(Michael Carter, Editor and Chief Aero Pacific Flightlines)

Boeing formally challenged a decision by the Danish government to pick Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet over its own Super Hornet, saying on Thursday the choice was based on a "flawed evaluation process".

Boeing said it had submitted a request to the country's ministry of defence that would require it to provide all materials related to the procurement evaluation and decision announced in June.

"We believe the ministry's evaluation of the competitors was fundamentally flawed and inaccurately assessed the cost and capability of the F/A-18 Super Hornet," said Boeing vice president Debbie Rub.

In May, Boeing challenged the Danish government's recommendation to buy 27 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, questioning data which suggested its Super Hornet fighter jet was a more expensive option.

Denmark's Defense Minister Peter Christensen confirmed that Boeing would get access to the requested information.

"I note that we had a very thorough and transparent process before the Danish choice of fighter jet. This led to a broad political agreement," Christensen said in an email.

A ministry report in May evaluating each fighter jet candidate was based on data estimating that the Super Hornet would have a service life of 6,000 flying hours, while Boeing thinks the right figure for Denmark is 9,500 hours.

The report also concluded that the total cost of the F-35 jet is 42.2 billion Danish crowns ($6.4 billion) while the Super Hornet would cost 60.6 billion crowns. ($1 = 6.6284 Danish crowns)

(Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen - Reuters)

Rubio Calls For Suspension of Cuba Flights After TSA Admits No Agreement on Air Marshals

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida excoriated the TSA and the Obama administration on the Senate floor Wednesday, just hours after a government official admitted that there are no air marshals on non-charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

The revelation came about earlier in the day during a House Homeland Security subcommittee meeting attended by TSA officials.

Questioned by Rep. John Katko, a Republican serving upstate New York, Huban Gowadia, deputy administrator at the TSA, confirmed that there currently aren't any air marshals aboard non-charter flights because Cuba hasn't signed a draft of the proposed agreement sent in August of this year.

This contradicts a statement made last month by the TSA that the marshals would be allowed on board "certain flights to and from Cuba.”

Katko accused the TSA of misinforming the public as the Obama administration opened the door for the first commercial flights between the two countries since 1961.

"You mislead the American public when you released your press release saying that it was going to be on select commercial flights," Katko said. "And it did it at a time right before the flights were about to start, OK?"

Rubio took to the Senate floor to blast the administration's handling of security issues surrounding the newly allowed flights.

"Back in May, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, at the Department of Homeland Security told the House Homeland Security Committee that new scheduled air service from the United States to Cuba and vice versa was not going to start until air marshals were allowed to be on board those flights," the GOP senator said.

Going on to mention the TSA statement made in August, Rubio said, "Basically what we have here is an outright lie."

"I think we need to unite across the aisle and basically say no matter how you feel about Cuba policy, we all agree that travel to Cuba should be safe, no less safe than travel to the Bahamas, no less safe than travel to the Dominican Republic, no less safe than travel to Mexico," the senator fumed.

(J.J. Gallagher - Good Morning America / ABC News)

Royal Air Maroc shows off Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Washington Dulles

 The business-class cabin on Royal Air Maroc’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner is seen prior to the carrier’s inaugural departure from Washington Dulles on Sept. 8, 2016.
 (Photo: J. David Buerk)

Royal Air Maroc showed off its Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” on Thursday (Sept. 8) at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The tour of the airline’s newest aircraft type came as the Moroccan carrier completed its inaugural round trip between Casablanca and Washington Dulles, which becomes just the second U.S. gateway for Royal Air Maroc.

“Royal Air Maroc is thrilled to launch the only nonstop service between Washington, D.C., and Casablanca,” CEO Abdelhamid Addou said in a statement accompanying the carrier’s first day of service to Washington Dulles.

“We are equally excited about deploying the state-of-the-art Boeing 787 on this important route,” he added.

Indeed, Royal Air Maroc opened its Dreamliner to the media for a brief show-and-tell after the aircraft made its inaugural arrival to Washington Dulles from Casablanca. The aircraft took off a short while later for the return trip to Morocco.

Royal Air Maroc’s Dreamliners seat 274 passengers in a layout that includes 18 lie-flat business-class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. The economy cabin is arranged in a 3-3-3 layout.

Royal Air Maroc offers three weekly flights between Washington Dulles and Casablanca, which is its primary hub. Connections via Casablanca are available to dozens of destinations throughout Morocco, West Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Royal Air Maroc is now the third African carrier to fly from Washington Dulles. South African Airways offers one-stop service to Johannesburg. Those flights stop in Dakar, Senegal, or Accra, Ghana, depending on the day of the week. Ethiopian Airlines flies nonstop from Dulles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. The return flight makes a stop in Dublin, Ireland, on its way from Addis Ababa to Washington.

Royal Air Maroc took delivery of its first Dreamliner on Dec. 31, 2014. The airline now has four Dreamliners in its fleet with one more on order.

Washington will become Royal Air Maroc's third destination in North America. It also flies to New York JFK and Montreal.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

China to spend $1 trillion on 6,810 new aircraft


Chinese airlines will spend more than $1 trillion on new aircraft over the next two decades as they seek to meet booming demand for air travel, according to a new forecast by Boeing.

The massive spending spree will pay for an estimated 6,810 aircraft, and turn China into what Boeing describes as "the first trillion dollar aviation market."

Randy Tinseth, a marketing executive at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement that he expects passenger traffic in China to grow by 6.4% a year over the next 20 years.

The country's growing middle class and new visa policies "gives us every reason to expect a very bright future for China's long-haul market," he said.

Boeing predicts that three-quarters of the new deliveries will be single-aisle aircraft that carry between 90 and 230 passengers, and cater to both business and holiday travelers.

Demand for widebody planes will also increase, with 1,560 new planes helping to triple the country's fleet over 20 years. The category includes aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the company's classic 777 line.

Boeing has played a major role in developing China's aviation industry and infrastructure, and the Chicago-based company estimates that it pumps roughly $1 billion a year into the country's economy though joint ventures and purchases from suppliers.

In 2015, Boeing estimated that Chinese airlines would spend $950 billion over 20 years.

(Charles Riley- CNN Business)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why Russia, Iran and China Should Fear the U.S. Marine's F-35 Stealth Fighter

(Lockheed Martin)

The U.S. Marine Corps said it would soon begin testing its F-35B stealth fighters with the U.S. Navy’s new fire-control network.

If the testing leads to operational use, the Marines’ F-35s could function essentially as fast, armed, radar-evading surrogates for the Navy’s E-2 radar planes — extending the detection and engagement range of a variety of munitions.

Marine Corps headquarters slipped its announcement of the testing into a Sept. 1 update on F-35B testing. The Corps declared its first F-35B squadron combat-ready in July 2015, but operational testing of the stealthy warplane continues.

The F-35B detachment of Marine Operational Test & Evaluation Squadron 1 at Edwards Air Force Base in California recently completed test-firings of the AIM-120 air-to-air missile.

Next up, according to Marine Corps headquarters — tests of the F-35B’s compatibility with the Naval Integrated Fire Control Counterair network, or NIFC-CA. The announcement did not say when the NIFC-CA testing would take place, but the Navy had previously stated that it would test F-35s with NIFC-CA in September 2016 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

That test would involve F-35s detecting targets for a land-based battery of SM-6 surface-to-air missiles. It’s not clear if the Marines are joining the Navy’s F-35-NIFC-CA testing or conducting separate trials on their own.

Poorly understood outside of naval circles, NIFC-CA is arguably one of the most important developments in the U.S. military. NIFC-CA is, in essence, a network architecture that combines several different sensors, datalinks and munitions.

NIFC-CA allows, say, an aircraft to pass targeting data to a warship armed with SM-6 missiles. The SM-6 — a 22-foot-long weapon that mates a two-stage rocket booster with the seeker head of an AIM-120. The Navy hasn’t released the SM-6's maximum range, but it could be as great as 250 miles. The sailing branch did claim that one 2014 at-sea test of the SM-6 resulted in the longest-range surface-to-air engagement in history.

In any event, the SM-6 clearly can “shoot” farther than a warship’s sensors can “see.” But if an aircraft flying far ahead of the ship can relay its own targeting tracks, it can help the SM-6 to strike at its farther-possible range.

NIFC-CA began entering frontline service in 2013. At present, the standard application of NIFC-CA combines SM-6-armed destroyers with Navy E-2D radar-early-warning planes. But there are only a handful of E-2Ds in service. The Navy wants to add more aircraft and munition types, including surface-to-surface weapons, to the NIFC-CA architecture — and clearly the Marines want in, too.

If the upcoming F-35B-NIFC-CA testing proves fruitful, it’s possible that, in future wars, F-35Bs flying from Navy assault ships or even from British aircraft carriers or land bases, could stealthily penetrate enemy air defenses, detect enemy ships, planes and even ground forces and cue U.S. warships to lob far-flying missiles over the horizon at the targets.

The expansion of the NIFC-CA network has reassured U.S. military leaders that American naval forces should be able to defeat so-called “anti-access area-denial” systems — radars, jet fighters, ballistic missiles, etc. — that China, Russia and Iran are creating in order to keep U.S. forces away from their borders.

Asked in August 2016 whether the Navy’s aircraft carriers could safely operate inside enemy anti-access umbrellas, Adm. John Richardson was unequivocal. “Yes,” Richardson said. Adding the Marines’ F-35Bs to the Navy’s fire-control network should only boost his confidence.

(David Axe - The National Interest

Southwest Engine Fan Blade Broke off Mid-Flight Last Month

A fan blade on a jet engine snapped off a Southwest Airlines Co. plane last month in a violent failure that sent debris slamming into the plane, according to a preliminary investigative report released Monday.

Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found evidence of a crack “consistent” with metal fatigue in the titanium-alloy blade, it said in a statement released on the agency’s website.

The Boeing Co. 737-700 was forced to make an emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, Aug. 27 after parts of the left engine broke apart, damaging the fuselage, wing and tail. The plane lost cabin pressure and passengers Tweeted pictures of themselves with oxygen masks on.

While no one was hurt on the flight from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida, some of the 99 passengers aboard reported on social media that the diversion was harrowing as they looked outside and saw the air intake known as a cowling had been ripped loose, exposing the front of the engine. The five crew members also weren’t hurt.

The CFM56 engine was built by CFM International Inc., a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Safran SA. The NTSB has not determined the cause of the failure.

Lost Pressure

An unidentified shard put a 5-by-16-inch (13-by-41-centimeter) gash in the side of the plane above the wing, according to investigators. The cabin leaked air and lost pressure after the failure, though the NTSB said no metal from the engine pierced the cabin and no debris was found within the plane.

NTSB investigators view so-called “uncontained” failures seriously because they can fling heavy metal parts into fuel lines, electronics and the passenger compartment. And under requirements in the U.S. and other nations, it’s never supposed to happen.

Regulations hold that jet engines must be built with a strong enough exterior casing to prevent fan blades and other debris from breaking through in the event of a failure. Tests must be conducted simulating a fan-blade breakup to prove that the metal shards can’t escape.

Modern jet engines contain a series of spinning fans and if one of them breaks apart it can eject blades and other metal debris at high speeds.
Checking for Cracks

Engine manufacturers and airlines conduct periodic inspections on planes designed to spot any evidence of cracks or weakening of the metal due to fatigue. Investigators did not say why they suspect the fan blade broke loose.

"GE and Safran continue to assist the NTSB in its investigation," GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said.

The last maintenance check on the Southwest plane was on Aug. 21, according to Brandy King, an airline spokeswoman.

While increasingly rare, engine failures that propel shrapnel into the fuselage of a plane have proved fatal in the past. A mother and child seated in a Delta Air Lines Inc. plane were killed on July 6, 1996, in Pensacola when the left power plant on a Boeing MD-88 broke apart while accelerating for takeoff.

After the front fan blade disintegrated, it sent metal shards flying into the plane where people were sitting, according to the NTSB. A manufacturing defect in the engine, made by United Technologies Corp. division Pratt & Whitney, should have been detected by airline maintenance workers performing routine inspections, the NTSB investigation concluded.

Shrapnel Damage

The NTSB and other accident investigation agencies around the world occasionally probe other cases in which engines on airliners fail so violently that shrapnel escapes the hardened casing around the turbine and causes more damage.

An Airbus Group SE A380 double-decker jet flying from Singapore to Sydney suffered extensive damage on Nov. 4, 2010, when high-velocity debris from one engine sprayed the plane and two other power plants.

The Qantas Airways Ltd. pilots managed to land in spite of damage to the plane’s hydraulics system, electronics and three out of the four engines, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The failure was traced back to pipes installed on the engine that were too thin and cracked, according to the ATSB.

Overall, jet engine reliability has improved dramatically since the technology was introduced and airliners now routinely fly across oceans with just two power plants because breakdowns are so rare.

While far below the leading causes of accidents and death, engine failures ranked fourth in the decade from 2006 through 2015 with 165 fatalities, according to Boeing statistics. 

Southwest has begun repairs on the plane, the airline said in an e-mailed statement. The carrier deferred to the NTSB to release details of the investigation.

Lawsuit seeks to keep Alaska Airlines from acquiring Virgin America

A group of 42 consumers is suing to prevent Alaska Airlines from purchasing Virgin America.

Alaska Airlines announced plans in April to buy Virgin America. The deal is scheduled to be completed by December. Both airlines fly to Hawaii.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the plaintiffs described the deal as “substantial and foreboding” and said it contributed to a growing trend of mergers involving large airlines, according to a story in the Las Vegas Sun.

Such mergers increase costs for fliers while eliminating expansion, decreasing the number of available seats on flights and reducing the variety of travel destinations, plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Alioto told the newspaper.

Contacted by Pacific Business News, Alioto said he filed a motion Thursday seeking a preliminary injunction that would halt the acquisition until the lawsuit is decided.

While Alaska Airlines is a good carrier, it's vital that Virgin America remain in business with other low-cost airlines, he said.

"Their competition is extremely important if there's going to be any competition in the airline industry," he told PBN.

The plaintiffs are seeking a court order prohibiting the $4 billion ongoing acquisition, which includes Alaska Airlines paying $2.6 billion in cash and assuming $1.4 billion in current debt and leases.

Last week, Alaska Airlines announced its intention to cut about 225 Virgin America management positions as part of the merger.

Alaska Airlines, based in the Seattle area, has 157 aircraft and 880 average daily flights. San Francisco-based Virgin America has 63 aircraft and makes about 200 daily flights.

(James Ptichard - Pacific Business News)

Delta and Korean Air rekindle a partnership grown frosty

 (Delta Airlines)

Delta Air Lines and Korean Air are taking steps to mend a chilly relationship, announcing an expansion of their partnership Wednesday where each airline can sell tickets on some of each other's flights.

Delta will also launch a new non-stop flight from its hometown of Atlanta to Seoul Incheon International Airport in June.

The two carriers were founding members of the SkyTeam alliance in 2000. But that relationship started to fray after Delta reportedly pushed for — and Korean rejected — a joint venture agreement across the Pacific Ocean. In such a deal, airlines share revenue and work together on pricing for a set of flights. (United Airlines has a joint venture with Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways and American Airlines has such a partnership with Japan Airlines.)

Since then, Delta has made Korean a weaker partner than other SkyTeam members such as Air France and KLM. It became harder for Delta fliers to earn miles on Korean and each airline made it harder to sell flights on the other's carrier — something Wednesday's announcement reverses.

Delta also started to look elsewhere for its Asian expansion. For instance, last summer, Delta purchased a 3.55% stake in China Eastern and started to talk about connecting passengers through its Shanghai hub.

Since that time, Delta has a new CEO, Ed Bastian, and has been shifting its Asia strategy again. Just last month, it eliminated several more routes to Tokyo's Narita International Airport, a sign that it is starting to dismantle that hub.

Delta still talks about its partnership with China Eastern, but a renewed agreement with Korean could provide its passengers with quicker access to secondary cities within Asia and let them avoid China's notorious air traffic delays.

Representatives for both airlines downplayed tensions Wednesday, saying the agreement simply enhances the partnership. Korean will now be able to sell tickets on 115 of Delta's routes within the U.S. and Canada, through a process known as codesharing. Delta will be able to sell tickets directly for 32 Korean Air destinations beyond Seoul including Taipei, Osaka, Singapore, Nagoya and Okinawa.

(Scott Mayerowitz - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why labor's anger with Southwest Airlines management is likely to linger

The following story touches on numerous reasons that I made the hard choice to retire this past July after almost 21 years with Southwest Airlines.

I had planned to stay much longer with the carrier but due to the continuing misguided changes (enhancements) to employee work rules and benefits and the pure separation (detachment) between Dallas Corporate and its hard working work groups (all work groups) I made the choice to get out while the getting was good.

I hope you enjoy the following story and please keep in mind that the pilots and flight attendants are not the only work groups at Southwest Airlines that care for our customers as both groups like to claim and or take credit for.

The folks on the ground (customer service agents, operations agents, and ramp agents), are on the front lines everyday making it happen for our customers and flight crews alike! 

Michael Carter: Editor and Chief, AeroPacific Flightlines 

After years of negotiations, Southwest Airlines pilots — more than 8,500 of them — appear to be on verge of ratifying a new contract that will reward them with generous pay hikes over several years and other benefits related to retirement and work rules.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the pilots union, which wields considerable power within the airline, is about to let Southwest management off the hook.

In a lengthy and provocative cover letter included in the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association (SWAPA) August newsletter, pilots union president Jon Weaks, known by his members to be a man inclined to speak his mind, offers up a very grim assessment of what he perceives to be at least some of the managerial failings of the carrier for which he flies.

The letter, in its entirety, certainly suggests that last month's no-confidence vote by SWAPA and three other key unions — mechanics, flight attendants and ramp agents — was not just about their collective pique over prolonged contract talks, but rather a real concern about how the carrier they work for is being managed.

Referencing the well-publicized system outage that hit Southwest Airlines in late July, Weaks in his letter wrote "last month's operational failure was not the sole reason for the four unions finally speaking up. It was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. There has been a growing history of self-induced failures within our airline, and we have been attempting to highlight them and propose solutions to senior management for quite some time. Thus far, our inputs have fallen on deaf ears."

Weaks went on in his letter to offer an assessment of how Southwest, which has its largest hub at Chicago's Midway Airport, handled its system outage in July compared to the way rival Delta Air Lines handled a similar outage just days later.

Weaks said Delta, a much larger carrier, cancelled about the same number of flights during its outage that Southwest did. But that's where the similarities ended, according to Weaks.

Noted the SWAPA president: "Whereas our 'leadership' was nowhere to be seen or heard from for the first few days of the meltdown, Mr. Bastian (Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian) was in his operations center issuing personal apologies to customers within a few hours of the event's start. It was the Delta CEO himself communicating to the flying public. Two days into the (Southwest's) failure, our CEO finally spoke to employees about vagaries relating to a 'one-in-a-thousand-year flood' and 'brownouts'."

And that isn't all. Weaks was critical of the massive breakdown in customer service that accompanied the July outage.

Wrote Weaks: "Our flying public was left without the one thing that supposedly separates us from our competition: Customer service."

Weaks pointed out that the Southwest meltdown was characterized on social media platforms by "anger that continued to grow for days following the event, whereas the Delta meltdown was characterized by initial anger and then a level of positivity about how the company reacted."

Weaks even wrote of one of the horrific situations that appeared to be a result of the Southwest meltdown and the carrier's inability to get it under control: "Some of the most upsetting stories from our failure, and we know there were many, including wheelchair-bound senior citizens left alone only to be discovered late at night by crew members walking by in a terminal void of employees."

Finally, Weaks ended his provocative letter by stepping back and taking a look at the big picture in terms of how labor at Southwest views management in general and in particular CEO Gary Kelly, whom Weaks apparently believes hasn't fully taken under advisement the historic no-confidence vote last month.

"For a CEO, this is a jarring notice that self-reflection is long overdue," Weaks wrote. "He (Kelly) should ask himself 'what have I done as CEO that could breed so much discontent within my company's employees?'." ... This lack of self-awareness is one of the fundamental flaws within our executive suite that brings us to calling for new leadership. This is not about a contract as he (Kelly) would have everyone believe. In fact it could be considered rather risky to antagonize management when labor is negotiating. ... This is much bigger. This is about sustaining what those who came before us built here at Southwest Airlines."

A request for comment from Southwest Airlines management was not immediately answered.

(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)

Honeywell Aviation Services Boeing 720B-051B (18384/237) N720H

Rests on the Flight Path Learning Center ramp at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on December 17, 2003 to take part in ceremonies celebrating the Centennial of Flight.

This simply gorgeous aircraft was original delivered to Trans World Airlines (TWA) as N795TW on September 30, 1961.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

American Trans Air (ATA) Lockheed L-1011-385-1-15 Tristar 100 (c/n 193B-1230) N194AT

This gorgeous aircraft is captured on short final to Rwy 24L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) on June 19, 2005. She was originally delivered to Trans World Airlines (TWA) as N8034T on March 8, 1982.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Boeing is making a major change to its planes that could end jet lag as we know it

During the development of the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing encountered countless engineering hurdles.

One of which was the decision to build much of the plane out of carbon-fiber reinforced plastics and other composite materials instead of the aluminum most commonly used on commercial airliners.

While the engineering of the composite airframe may have been a challenge, it's a decision that allowed Boeing to make a major change to its aircraft that could greatly reduce the effect of jet lag on its passengers.

"The Dreamliner has a composite fuselage and that allowed us to pressurize it at whatever altitude we wanted because the material is not as susceptible to fatigue," Blake Emery, director of differentiation strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told Business Insider in an interview.

Currently, most airliners have cabin air pressure equivalent to that of an altitude of 8,000 feet. For the Dreamliner, Boeing cut that down to 6,000 feet.

"To lower the cabin altitude, we actually increased the air pressure inside the cabin," Emery added. "It's a bit counterintuitive for most people."

Why does air pressure matter to passengers?

For most of us, a long flight is usually followed by some combination of symptoms that include headaches, lack of appetite, lack of energy, nausea, and sleeplessness.

All of these afflictions have been conveniently bundled together with a disruption of one's internal body clock to form something we call jet lag.

But the reality is that jet lag is far more serious.

The very symptoms we attribute to jet lag may actually be attributed to acute mountain sickness, which affects individuals exposed to altitudes above 6,500 feet.

In a study conducted by Oklahoma State University with the help of Boeing, researchers wrote:

"Some passengers on long commercial flights experience discomfort characterized by symptoms similar to those of acute mountain sickness. The symptoms are often attributed to factors such as jet lag, prolonged sitting, dehydration, or contamination of cabin air. However, because barometric pressures in aircraft cabins are similar to those at the terrestrial altitudes at which acute mountain sickness occurs, it is possible that some of the symptoms are related to the decreased partial pressure of oxygen and are manifestations of acute mountain sickness."

The study found that passengers who go from sea level up to 8,000 feet of altitude saw the oxygen content in their blood fall 4%. Although this didn't trigger full on acute mountain sickness, it did bring on what the study called "increased prevalence of discomfort after three to nine hours" of exposure.

"The research showed passengers' bodies reacted at 6,000 feet similar to that at sea level," Emery said. "So we decided to pressurize the Dreamliner at 6,000 feet."

At 6,000 feet, the cabin air is more dense and has a greater level of oxygen saturation. As result, the body does not have to work as hard to oxygenate blood and sustain itself.

According to Emery, since there isn't a perfect one-to-one correlation between altitude and jet lag, Boeing has taken additional measures to mitigate the symptoms. These measures include an increase in cabin humidity as well as a new air-filtration system.

Why haven't we had this all along?

The Dreamliner won't be the only Boeing jet to have a have a lower cabin altitude. The company's upcoming 777X wide-body mini-jumbo jet will also be pressurized at 6,000 feet.

However, unlike the composite Dreamliner, the 777X, Boeing's successor to landmark 777, will be primarily made of aluminum.

"Aluminum aircraft can be pressurized to 6,000 feet," Kent Craver, Boeing Commercial Airplanes regional director of passenger satisfaction, told Business Insider in an interview. "In fact, most business jets are already pressurized to that level."

In addition, Airbus is also working to lower the cabin altitude on its next generation of airliners.

Airplane makers have traditionally avoided lowering the cabin altitude because boosting the air pressure inside the cabin puts greater stress on aluminum airframes. This increases the likelihood of metal fatigue and shortens the service life of the airplane.

However, Boeing believes it can successfully lower cabin altitude on the 777X without going to a composite body.

"We know the 777 fuselage, its structural qualities, and its fatigue margins really well," a Boeing spokesperson told us in an email. "We also understand the requirements of the lower cabin altitude in terms of cycles and pressures on the fuselage. As a result, we can achieve it with a few local reinforcements and change those loads out to accommodate lower cabin altitude."

The Boeing 777X is set to enter service in 2019.

(Benjamin Zhang - Business Insider)

Airbus wing plant is a model of robotic technology

Inside a huge north Wales facility specifically designed for automation, Airbus assembles the wings of the A350, currently the largest composite wings in commercial aviation. In Everett, Boeing will have to match this technology to build the giant wings of its forthcoming 777X.

Like a cartoon space alien with a dome-like skull, an Airbus Beluga transport plane arriving from Madrid drops from the sky above this village 200 miles northwest of London and taxis to a stop with its front end tucked inside a large building off the runway.

Its bulbous forehead pops open to disgorge massive wing panels — 98 feet long and 20 feet wide — that will soon be assembled by sophisticated robots and about 800 humans into the largest carbon-fiber composite wings now built for commercial aviation.

Ninety minutes later, it’s ready to take off for Bremen, Germany, with a new load so large it must be tilted at a 45-degree angle to fit inside: an almost complete A350 wing.

This model of technological prowess, combined with geographical inefficiency, is what Boeing is contending against as it gears up to make its own, even larger composite wings for the 777X in Everett. 

Designed for wings 

Airbus puts together its wings in a $520 million state-of-the-art facility here that John Gillbanks, head of Airbus A350 wing production, says is “specifically designed for automated wing assembly.”

On a recent tour of the half-million-square-foot main building, partially assembled wings glided in and out of fixed stations, drilled and fastened mostly by robotic machines. The key pieces were designed and built by Mukilteo engineering firm Electroimpact, a prime supplier to this wing facility that opened five years ago.

Like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the A350 has wings, tail and fuselage made from carbon-fiber composites.

The initial A350-900 model, which entered service last year and carries 325 passengers, competes with the 787 Dreamliner.

The larger A350-1000, carrying 366 passengers, is to begin flight tests this fall and will compete against Boeing’s 777. It will also go up against the 777X, which will feature new composite wings attached to the traditional metal 777 fuselage.

To build such large composite wings is a major technological undertaking. The parts must first be fabricated from carbon-fiber tape infused with epoxy resin that is baked to hardness in massive high-pressure ovens called autoclaves.


Airbus’ composite parts are fabricated at facilities scattered widely around Europe, in England, Scotland, Germany and Spain. The one-piece wing skins are so large they must be flown to Broughton in the ungainly, custom-built Beluga.

Shaping structure

The assembly process begins with mechanics stacking the aluminum ribs and composite spars that form the wing’s ladderlike internal skeleton onto a movable cart that holds the unfastened pieces in position.

In the first station, this loose assembly is laid horizontally on top of the lower wing skin and the upper wing skin is dropped into place on top.

Movable arms aligned with lasers push and hold the structure into its precise alignment, which includes a twist to the outer end of the wing for better aerodynamics, as the automated machine tacks the structure together with temporary fasteners.

The wing is then moved to the next station, where a big Electroimpact machine drills and fills new holes to permanently fasten the wing skins.

As the machine stitches the wing together, two operators sit underneath it, monitoring the fastening process and controlling it where necessary with handheld triggers.

Creation of the basic wing structure is the most automated piece of the process. After that, it takes a lot of manual work to complete the wing: Altogether, about 800 mechanics and engineers work directly on the A350 wing at Broughton.

When the wing is backed out of the Electroimpact fastening machine and movedalong to the next station, a metal platform closes around it.

Mechanics walk around the wing on this platform, kneeling on pads along the edges to install the final fasteners by hand.

In the last station, mechanics install brackets on the wings’ trailing edges.

Each has a kit ready to hand with slots holding every bracket and bolt needed for the job, as well as a drawing showing where each piece goes in the assembly.

The wing then leaves the main building, delivered by transporter to the wing equipping facility next door, for the installation of the leading edge panels, the fuel system and the remaining brackets for wire harnesses.

Before it exits, the wing gets a coat of beige protective paint and the fuel system is tested for leaks.

“Over there, it’s a box,” said Gillbanks, of the wing-assembly facility. “Over here, it’s a wing.”

Yet even now, ready to leave Broughton, it’s still not a full wing.

The wing is transferred via Beluga to Bremen, where the big trailing-edge flap is attached and the final hydraulic, pneumatic and electrical systems are installed.

Broughton has done most of the work, Bremen has finished it. Only then is the complete wing flown one more time in the Beluga to Toulouse, France, for A350 final assembly.

This year, shortages of interior components have delayed A350 final assembly. Airbus has delivered just 21 of the jets through the end of August, with many more sitting on the flight line awaiting seats or lavatories.

Yet Broughton continues to churn out eight sets of A350 wings per month, with a plan to go to 10 sets per month, then 13 sets per month by the end of 2018.

Boeing’s 777X wing

Boeing’s 777X composite wing, including a 12-foot-long folding wingtip extension, is 10 feet longer than that of the A350.

In Everett, Boeing’s plan for building that giant wing has one very significant advantage over the Airbus setup in Broughton:

With the large wing parts being fabricated on site in a new, highly automated $1 billion building, there’ll be no need for anything like Airbus’ expensive parts-delivery operation.

While Airbus has to truck wing spars from England and Scotland, and fly in the wing skins from Spain and Germany, Boeing will simply deliver the big 777X wing parts next door, into the main Everett plant, said Jason Clark, Boeing vice president of 777X operations.

“The entire wing from spar and stringer fabrication all the way through final assembly is going to happen right here on this site,” said Clark, in an interview at Boeing Everett.

Yet in trying to emulate the automated efficiency of Broughton, Boeing also has a disadvantage.

Rather than working within a clean-sheet, purpose-built facility like the Airbus A350 wing factory, Boeing must clear space to assemble the 777X wing inside that widebody jet-assembly building in Everett, originally constructed in the late 1960s and expanded in the 1990s.

Although it’s the largest building by volume in the world, right now it’s filled with equipment for building not only the 777 but also the 747, 767, and 787 jets.

There’s room to shift lots of the tooling around, but it won’t be as easy as moving into a brand-new space.

Clark said Boeing will reveal details of its plan for 777X wing assembly soon, but for now indicated only a broad outline. He said Boeing has learned both from Mitsubishi’s experience building the 787 wings in Japan and from its own highly efficient operation in Renton for building the 737 wings.

Citing the horizontal-build format in Renton, Clark implied that the 777X wings will be assembled flat to allow both mechanics and robots easy access.
It will be “a very efficient, well-balanced line with automation and manual portions,” Clark said. “You’ll love it when you see it.”

Among the major suppliers of integrated automation equipment involved, Clark mentioned Electroimpact and MTorres.

As noted, Electroimpact supplies key drilling and fastening equipment on the A350 wing assembly. And it supplies to Boeing the carbon-fiber lamination technology that will be used to fabricate the 777X wing skins and spars.

MTorres is a Spanish company that supplies all the carbon-fiber lamination equipment used to fabricate the wing parts of the A350 in Britain, Germany and Spain. It has established an engineering team in Everett and supplies Boeing with integrated manufacturing cells that bond the stringers to the 777X wing skins.

With this degree of cross-pollination, it’s not surprising that the Boeing plan — horizontal build, highly automated, common equipment suppliers — sounds like it could be similar to what Airbus is doing in Broughton.

The automation that will do the drilling and fastening likely won’t look like the automotive-style robots that Boeing is now introducing, with considerable difficulty, to build the 777 fuselages.

Instead, as in Airbus Broughton, the business end of the robotics will almost certainly travel along the wing on an overhead gantry.

“You’ll see a lot of standardization throughout the (aerospace) industry when it comes to structure and wing assembly,” said Clark. “We’ll never do it identical to Airbus. But there’ll be a lot of similarities.”

(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)