Friday, March 31, 2017

Boeing achieves first flight of Charleston-built 787-10

The Boeing 787-10 took-off about 09:38 on 31 March in North Charleston, South Carolina in front of an audience of 6,000 employees, becoming the first Boeing-designed commercial aircraft to achieve first flight outside of the Seattle area.

The 787-10 will now enter a months-long flight test campaign to achieve certification and enter service with Singapore Airlines in 2018.

Boeing stretched the 787-10 by 5.49m (18ft) compared to the 787-9, requiring the addition of a semi-levered landing gear to avoid tail-strikes on takeoff.

The first test aircraft is powered by the Rolls Royce Trent 1000-TEN, featuring a 75,000lb-thrust rating.

Otherwise, the 787-10 was designed to be 95% common with the 787-9.

Boeing will assemble the 787-10 exclusively in North Charleston. Assembly for the 787-8 and 787-9 is split between North Charleston and Everett, Washington.

(Stephen Trimble - FlightGlobal News)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Alaska to fly Virgin America's A320s through 2024

Virgin America Airbus A319-112 (c/n3347) N526VA "Jane" arrives at Dallas - Love Field (DAL/KDAL) on March 8, 2017.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Alaska Airlines will operate Virgin America’s Airbus A320 family fleet through at least 2024, as it targets a decision on its long-term fleet mix by the end of this year.

Most of the leases on the 63 A319s and A320s in the Virgin America fleet expire by 2024, says Alaska chief financial officer Brandon Pedersen during an investor day presentation today. If these are allowed to expire, the airline will operate just 13 of these aircraft, 10 of which are owned, at the end of the period.

 (Alaska Airlines)

Pedersen’s presentation also shows Alaska taking delivery of all 10 A321neos from lessor GECAS, which will increase its Airbus fleet to 63 by the end of 2018. Five are due this year and five next year.

The Seattle-based carrier will make a decision on whether to keep Virgin America’s order for 30 A320neos and maintain the Airbus fleet beyond 2024 by the end of this year, says Pedersen. The A320neos begin arriving in 2020.

“The Airbus airplanes will be with us for a long time,” he says. “We will be an Airbus customer for the foreseeable future.”

Alaska touted itself as a “proud” all Boeing 737 operator prior to its acquisition of Virgin America.

The airline operates 157 737s, including 12 -700s, 61 -800s and 68 -900ERs, the Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

Alaska is weighing its future fleet size and capital expenditure commitments as part of the Airbus fleet evaluation, says Pedersen. The combined airline will have a minimum of 297 aircraft but could grow to 497 aircraft by 2024 based on its current orderbook and opportunities to extend leases.

Market demand and the decision on the Airbus fleet will be large determinants of the future fleet size, he says.

Alaska is also evaluating its long-term annual aircraft capital expenditure target. The roughly $1.2 billion in 2017 and roughly $1.3 billion in 2018 are largely set, says Pedersen, but beyond that it can adjust the level of investment.

The carrier anticipates $1 billion to $1.3 billion in aircraft capital expenditures in 2019, a number he says will change as it sets an annual target.

(Edward Russell - Flight Global News)

JetBlue opens Boston-Atlanta route

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 (c/n 2063) N568JB "Blue Sapphire" arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 15, 2017.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

JetBlue Airways launched service between Boston and Atlanta March 30, directly taking on Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines on the US east coast pairing.

New York-based JetBlue is offering 5X-daily nonstop service on the route, utilizing Airbus A320 family aircraft. Delta offers 11X-daily nonstop service on the route, with a combination of A320s, A321s, and Boeing 757s and 737-900ERs.

“It’s a new day for Atlanta travelers, who for too long have faced high fares and limited choices,” JetBlue VP-sales and revenue management Dave Clark said. When the new route was first announced by JetBlue in September 2016, EVP-commercial and planning Marty St. George described Boston as having been “underserved by high-fare legacy carriers [for decades].”

A price comparison researched by ATW on a comparative scheduling for the first week in May (i.e., an economy/main cabin Monday 6 a.m. flight from Boston, with an economy/main cabin Friday 7 p.m. return flight from Atlanta) showed JetBlue with a $92 price advantage on a round-trip ticket. When compared with Delta’s basic economy offering, JetBlue still undercut Delta’s price by $12.

Delta’s flights on the Boston-Atlanta route offer four seating/pricing options: basic economy, main cabin, comfort-plus and first class. JetBlue’s flights on the Boston-Atlanta route offer three pricing options: Blue, Blue plus and Blue Flex, which correspond to the number of pieces of checked baggage, and seven rows of “even more” space seats, available for an additional fee. JetBlue is not offering its premium Mint service on the Boston-Atlanta route.

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

Garuda Indonesia to take first Boeing 737 MAX in 4Q


Garuda Indonesia is establishing new-generation narrow-body aircraft fleets this year, as the group receives its first Boeing 737 MAX, and also adds Airbus A320neos.

The parent carrier expects to take delivery of its first 737 MAX in November or December, the airline said. Garuda has 50 of the aircraft on firm order and, at least initially, they will be used for fleet growth rather than replacement.

Garuda subsidiary Citilink has already received its first two A320neos this year, and is scheduled to receive a total of five by the end of December. The carrier has 35 on order, with all expected to be delivered by 2021. Citilink currently operates 45 A320ceos.

The Indonesian flag carrier also plans to retire its last two Boeing 747-400s in April, and will hold a farewell celebration for the aircraft. The 747s average 23 years, according to the Aviation Week Intelligence Network fleet database.

(Adrian Schofield - Aviation Daily / ATWOnline News)

Qatar Airways offers ‘laptop loan service’ to US-bound passengers

Qatar Airways will offer business-class passengers complimentary laptop computers to use on US-bound flights starting next week.

The “laptop loan service,” as the Doha-based carrier is calling it, is the latest attempt by one of the three Gulf majors—Qatar Airways, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways—to find a work-around solution to the large carry-on electronics ban imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on nonstop flights to the US from 10 airports, including Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports.

Qatar Airways’ business-class passengers will be able to collect the complimentary laptops after boarding US-bound flights. Prior to boarding, business-class passengers will be able to download their work from their personal laptop computers to USB drives, which they can then use to download needed documents on to the laptop the airline makes available. Similar to Emirates, Qatar Airways is offering a special handling service at gates in which “any electronic items prohibited by the new ban will be collected and securely packaged … [and] tagged, loaded as check-in baggage and returned safely to the customer on arrival to the US,” the airline said.

Qatar Airways additionally will make Wi-Fi available to all US-bound passengers for free for 1 hr. and is offering a $5 package that will let passengers have Wi-Fi for the duration of their US-bound flight.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the airline’s response to the electronics ban will enable a “business as usual” solution for passengers. “By providing this laptop loan service we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work whilst onboard,” he said in a statement.

Etihad is making iPads available for US-bound premium passengers, and offering free Wi-Fi for all first- and business-class passengers on US-bound flights, starting April 2.

(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

U.S. Navy Boeing EA-18G Growler (c/n G-1) 166855 / 500 VX-9 "Vampires"

Started her rotation after only a 2,000FT roll. 

Just about to un-stick!

Nice burners!

 "Two Green, One Red!"

A very nice surprise today as this gorgeous Growler based at the China Lake Navel Air Weapons Station (NAWS) paid a visit to Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB). The aircraft is seen departing at 14:26 pst. 

(Photos by Michael Carter)

jetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 (c/n 1785) N537JT "Red, White, and Blue"

Arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) this afternoon wearing the carriers latest tail livery "Highrise."

(Photos by Michael Carter)

jetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232(SL) (c/n 3488) N709JB "Connected to 01000010 01001100 01010101 01000101"

Sporting the carriers "Binary Code" tail livery this lovely aircraft is captured departing Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) this afternoon complete with the "Sharklet" modification.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

China’s newest all-cargo carrier takes to the skies

(PEMCO is the leading converter of 737 Classics for the Chinese market. The newest customer is Guangzhou-based startup Longhao Airlines.
 (Photo: Longhao Airlines)

Early this morning, Guangzhou-based all-cargo start-up, Longhao Airlines put its first 737-300F into revenue service on a flight between Jiangsu Nantong Xindong Airport (NTG) and Guangzhou Baiyun Airport (CAN). The carrier, which has already inked a deal to carry cargo on behalf of Shenzhen-based SF Express Airlines, has ambitious plans to put five freighters into service each year over the next decade, with a target fleet size of 50 aircraft by 2025.

While 50 aircraft might sound like a bit of a stretch, Longhao has already acquired its first three aircraft. Like its first PEMCO 737 conversion (29069, ex-China Eastern), units two and three will be converted at the STAECO facility in Jinan. During a launch ceremony held in Guangzhou, Longhao Airlines president, PEI Guo Xiao said that shortly after Longhao takes redelivery of its second 737F sometime next month, it will launch flights between Quanzhou-Nantong-Tianjin.

If everything proceeds as planned, Longhao’s network will gradually expand beyond the borders of China to include destinations in Southeast Asia, and the United States. We note however, that despite strong financial backing from its parent company SF Express, SF Airlines which received its first aircraft in 2010, did not launch international flights to Ukraine until this year. Rapid fleet expansion faces many obstacles in China, including flight crew shortages and delays in receiving CAAC approval to add new aircraft and launch new routes. However, the fact that SF Express will have access to most of Longhao’s cargo capacity could facilitate smoother growth.

In addition to the 737 classic freighter conversions, Cargo Facts believes Longhao possesses options for additional 737 classic and 737-800BCF conversions. Additional orders likely exist, but have not yet been announced.

(Charles Kauffman - CargoFacts)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson bashes Alaska Airlines at Seattle launch

Virgin Atlantic marked its new service between London-Heathrow and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday with a ceremonial flight that featured a live-streamed in-flight performance by up-and-coming UK pop-star Raye and an on-the-ground welcome of the Boeing 787-9 by Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic’s service -- which launched Sunday before being celebrated with the ceremonial Monday flight -- replaces service currently operated by joint-venture partner Delta Air Lines. It will increase the annual capacity on the route by more than 40,000 seats, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger told Today in the Sky during the Monday flight to Seattle.

“The Seattle market also fits better with the Virgin brand,” said Kreeger. “Seattle is a young, entrepreneurial, innovative, outdoorsy risk-taking kind of city and when you think of the element of the Virgin Atlantic brand and who we attract, it just seems like a great fit.”

At a press conference following the arrival of the flight and the kick-off of several days of in-city celebrations and events, Kreeger noted the Virgin brand was already well known in Seattle and on the West Coast thanks to the airline’s U.S. sister, Virgin America.

Alaska Airlines (Delta’s major competitor in the Seattle market) purchased Virgin America last year for $2.6 billion and announced last week that while Alaska will adopt some of Virgin America’s amenities and some of its cool "vibe," it will retire the Virgin America name and brand by 2019.

Saying he prepared to be polite, but “decided not to be,” Branson shared his thoughts on Alaska’s decision at the post-flight news conference.

“It’s baffling and sad,” said Branson. "When I sat down with Alaska, I genuinely believed that they would treasure the brand, that they would treasure the people, that they would treasure the product and that they knew what they were buying, And that the last thing they would do would be to rip the heart out of it, which seems effectively like what they decided to do.”

“It just seems such a waste,” said Branson. “I wonder what it was that Alaska bought and why did they bother?”

Branson also noted that Alaska has to continue paying royalties on the Virgin America brand under the licensing deal until 2040, “despite what you might have been told.”

As for Virgin Atlantic's new route to Seattle (VS105), it departs Heathrow daily at 1:20 p.m. and arrives in Seattle at 3 p.m. and leaves Seattle daily at 5:50 p.m. and arrives the next day in London at 10:50 a.m.

The route is being served by a Boeing 787-9 aircraft with 264 seats, including 31 lie-flat “Upper Class” seats, 35 premium economy seats and 198 economy seats. Virgin Atlantic's 787 "Dreamliners" will replace the Boeing 767s that partner Delta had been flying on the route. Delta's 767s carried about 50 fewer passengers than Virgin Atlantic's 787s.

(Harriet Baskas - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

Boeing Makes Billion-Dollar Bet on the 747 Hauling Cargo

Boeing has a temporary plan to save the iconic but slow-selling 747 jumbo jetliner: buying its own planes and leasing them to cargo haulers.

With the effective shutdown by Congress of the U.S. Export-Import Bank -- which traditionally has helped overseas carriers purchase planes -- Boeing lost a key sales tool. Making matters worse, leasing companies have been hesitant to finance a plane with a dwindling customer base.

So Boeing is now renting out the massive, hump-backed 747s to cargo carriers in countries such as Russia and Azerbaijan, which increases the company’s exposure to potential defaults on payments.

Through the end of last year, Boeing had provided financing valued at $1.26 billion to 747 customers through Boeing Capital Corp., regulatory filings show. That’s about a fivefold increase from the close of 2012. In fact, 747-related loans and operating leases now account for about one-quarter of the portfolio managed by Boeing’s lending arm.
As the air-cargo market recovers, the strategy may pay off for Boeing. The manufacturer recently landed a crucial 747 order from United Parcel Service Inc. that could serve as a bridge to the future for the wide-body plane. But tomorrow’s 747 -- a symbol of luxury travel when it made its debut with Pan-American World Airways in 1970 -- most likely won’t be flying globe-trotting tourists. It will instead haul oversize cargo like oil-drilling equipment as demand fades for bulky four-engine passenger carriers.

“We believe in the long-term need for this aircraft,” said George Dimitroff, head of valuations for Flight Ascend Consultancy. “As long as they don’t over-produce, which Boeing aren’t doing at the current rate, we believe there will be long-term demand.”

Boeing recorded more than $2.1 billion in losses on the 747-8, the latest version, in 2015 and 2016 as it slowed production to keep pace with dwindling sales. The company received a big boost last year when UPS ordered 14 of the jumbo freighters and took options that would double the original order size. The sale was the largest Boeing has landed for the redesigned 747 since November 2007, according to the manufacturer’s website.

It’s unusual -- and risky -- for a planemaker to buy and lease its own product on a large scale. If the cargo carriers default or don’t renew operating leases, it would be Boeing Capital’s responsibility to line up other customers, a challenge in a niche market. If the plane experiences a greater-than-expected decline in value, Boeing’s earnings or cash flow could be “materially adversely affected,” according to the filing.

Boeing’s shares were little changed at $177.56 in New York Wednesday. They have gained 14 percent this year through Tuesday’s close.
Stepping In

It’s also a shift for Boeing Capital, which has whittled down its loan portfolio by two-thirds from $12.2 billion at the start of 2004 as the unit shed its ambitions of becoming Boeing’s answer to GE Capital. Since selling the General Electric Co. unit a $2 billion commercial loan portfolio in 2004, Boeing Capital has focused on supporting the company’s aircraft sales and managing a portfolio of loans and operating leases aimed primarily at out-of-production aircraft.

The recent spate of 747-related operating leases isn’t a reversal of that strategy, Timothy Myers, president of Boeing Capital, said in an interview. His division stepped in to close the 747 deals after a financier had difficulty lining up equity, Myers said. With cargo traffic growing, he expects to find buyers for those aircraft.

“We are in the process of doing that right now: offloading some of those transactions that we’ve done in the past,” Myers said. “This year most likely there will be multiple parties taking those assets.”

The Export-Import Bank has been dubbed the “Bank of Boeing” for the backing it has given to aircraft purchases by foreign carriers unable to tap conventional credit markets. But it’s been blocked from providing loan guarantees of more than $10 million because it lacks a board member whose nomination has been stuck in a Senate committee since 2015. Conservative Republicans are opposed to the agency’s mission.

“We may step in and support a few more deliveries,” Myers said. “But what we’re trying to do is find more third-party financiers to do that.”
‘Too Big’

Uncertainty over the global economy and freighter demand are complicating that task. Nippon Cargo Airlines parent Nippon Yusen KK announced March 24 that it was canceling its final two orders of the 747 freighter variant, which has a list price of $387.5 million. Although buyers typically negotiate steep discounts, it was “just too big, too expensive,” said Neel Jones Shah, a consultant who formerly headed cargo operations for Delta Air lines Inc.

While the four-engine 747 is one of the best-selling jets in Boeing’s history, the latest version has struggled to gain sales as airlines shift to more-efficient twin-engine aircraft for long-range flying. The planemaker had a backlog of just 26 unfilled orders through the end of February, 19 of them freighter models, while its order tally for the year stands at two cancellations. There are also five “white tails” -- the nickname for jets built without an airline buyer -- taped up and sitting in storage.

Boeing’s shares were little changed at $177.56 in New York Wednesday. They gained 14 percent this year through Tuesday, the third-biggest advance among the 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

To market analysts like George Hamlin, the UPS order is a sign of more deals to come, barring a global recession or other market turmoil. That deal alone could keep Boeing’s 747 in production for another four years.

A generation of older air freighters will soon need to be retired, and the Boeing jumbo has standout technology, from its fuel-efficient engines to nose that flips open to load oversize freight, said the Hamlin Transportation Consulting president.

“UPS is a bellwether or bell cow, whatever term you want to use,” said Hamlin, a former Airbus Group SE executive. “In the intervening time period with UPS bridging the gap, it’s possible other orders may appear.”

Global air freight in January increased by 6.9 percent from a year earlier, down from the 10 percent growth in December but far outpacing the 3 percent average annual pace recorded over the past five years, according to the International Air Transport Association, an aviation trade group.

“The 747-8’s future is closely tied to the cargo market, and we’re keeping a close eye on that segment as it continues to show signs of improvement,” said Randy Tinseth, a Boeing vice president for marketing.

(Julie Johnsson - Bloomberg News)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Solenta Aviation to fly newly-converted ATR-72F for DHL

This freighter-converted ATR72 (463) will soon fly for DHL in Solenta Aviation’s fleet.
(Solenta Aviation)

Yesterday, South Africa-based Solenta Aviation took re-delivery of an ATR72-200F, converted to large-door freighter configuration by Switzerland-based IPR Conversions Ltd., at its ASI-Maintenance facility in Toulouse, France.

IPR holds the STCs to perform both bulk-load and large-door modifications on the ATR72-200 and -500 series turboprobs. The first STC is for what IPR refers to as a “structural tube” conversion in which the floor is secured and the windows are plugged. A second option includes the installation of a large cargo door (LCD) 116” x 71” which allows for the loading of up to five containers or pallets with dimensions of 88″x 108″.

DHL has opted for the LCD configuration for the most recent aircraft (463), which is equipped with an Ancra cargo loading system. Solenta will induct the aircraft into its fleet of ATR freighters which fly on behalf of DHL in mostly inter-African regional service, connecting Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Mauritania. IPR says it has orders for at least three more ATR72 LCD conversions with Ancra cargo systems.

(Charles Kauffman - CargoFacts)

Spirit Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-83 (49619/1483) N814NK

Captured on short final to Rwy 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) in November 2002 sporting the carriers special "10 Anniversary" livery. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Trans World Airlines (TWA) Boeing 747-238B (20009/147) N307TW

This was a non-standard livery for the carrier and an aircraft we all hunted 21 years ago. I licked out and caught her in great afternoon while at work in December 1996. She was originally delivered to Qantas Airlines as VH-EBA "City of Canberra" on July 30, 1971. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Trans World Airlines (TWA) Lockheed L-1011-385-1-15 "Tristar 100" (c/n 193B-1109) N31029

The only TWA Tristar to wear the carriers new livery rolls out on Rwy 25L following it's arrival at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) in October 1996. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Trans World Airlines (TWA) Lockheed L-1011-385-1 "Tristar 50" (c/n 193B-1066) N31019

Captured on short final to Rwy 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) in February 1997. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Trans World Airlines (TWA) Lockheed L-1011-385-1 "Tristar" (c/n 193B-1060) N41016

Rotates from Rwy 24L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) in December 1995. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-III (c/n 425) N492A

Operated by Western Jet Aviation, this lovely aircraft is captured departing Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) in August 2002. (Kodachrome K64 Slides).

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-IVSP (c/n 1376) N12NZ

On short final to Rwy 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) in November 2002. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-V (c/n 564) N54PR

Very short final to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) in August 2002. (Kodachrome K64 Slide).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Qatar Air Chief Accelerates India Push, Plans New Routes to U.K.

Qatar Airways may order 100 new jetliners before the end of this year to power its push into India and also plans to announce two new routes to the U.K. even as the country prepares to exit the European Union, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said.

The Persian Gulf carrier is confident that a new aviation policy mapped out by “futuristic” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will permit 100 percent foreign ownership of a domestic airline, Al Baker said Monday in London.

Qatar Airways is briefing lawyers in India and will seek formally to establish the new airline soon, with a tender for aircraft to follow. “It could be this year,” the CEO told journalists after addressing the Qatar-U.K. Business and Investment Forum. “It depends how fast we can arrange our application.”

Al Baker revealed last month that he planned to set up an Indian carrier with a fleet of 100 narrow-body jets, breaking into a fast-growing market where local rules previously prevented full ownership by foreign airlines. He said at the time that the Qatar Investment Authority could fund the venture, leaving Qatar Air to run it, though it’s not clear whether such an arrangement would avoid the curb.

Qatar Air is targeting an Indian foothold after Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi took a 24 percent stake in Jet Airways India Leading Asian carriers Singapore Airlines Ltd. and AirAsia also have 49 percent holdings in affiliates in the subcontinent, though no foreign operator has been able to acquire full control.
U.K. Growth

Al Baker sought to use QIA to secure a position in discount specialist Indigo during its initial public offering, but the fund failed to gain the required approvals in time.

Qatar Air’s expansion plans elsewhere include the addition of two new routes to Britain, the CEO said at the investment event. The carrier already offers 72 weekly services to the U.K., where it serves London’s Heathrow hub as well as Manchester and Birmingham in England and Edinburgh in Scotland.

Al Baker said his company accepts that a ban on passengers carrying large electronic devices aboard U.S.-bound flights from a clutch of Mideast and African nations including Qatar is a “security decision,” adding that it’s too early to say if the measures will hurt business.

“I don’t think it is targeted at Gulf airlines,” he said. “It is a decision made by the United States that we as an operator have to follow. We have to comply and make sure that we don’t cause any inconvenience to our passengers.”

Qatar Air customers bound for the U.S. are required to surrender their laptops and other equipment when passing through security screening, unlike those at Dubai-based Emirates, who can hang on to them until the gate. Qatar Air doesn’t plan to hand out loaner devices in the cabin, something Emirates President Tim Clark has said may be an option.

“We don’t want to do anything that will violate the directions we have received,” Al Baker said.

(Christopher Jasper- Bloomberg News)

Delta to launch New York JFK-Rio de Janeiro 767 flights in December

Delta Air Lines will launch daily New York JFK-Rio de Janeiro service starting Dec. 21, pending US Department of Transportation (DOT) approval.

The Atlanta-based airline will use a Boeing 767-300 featuring 35 lie-flat business-class seats, 32 Comfort+ seats and 143 economy seats on the Rio de Janeiro route. It will be Delta’s second daily nonstop to the city, joining the airline’s existing service between Rio and Atlanta.

“Delta’s continued route expansions demonstrate our commitment to the Brazilian market and the strength of our alliance with our Brazilian partner, GOL,” Delta director-Brazil Luciano Macagno said.

With the Delta-GOL alliance, passengers will be able to transfer at Rio’s Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG) to 23 further destinations within Brazil, Delta said.

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

Fiji Airways reports $40 million operating profit for 2016

Fiji Airways Group reported FJD84.5 million ($39.7 million) in 2016 group operating profit before tax, up 20.4% from FJD70.2 million in 2015. Total revenue for the year was FJD825.3 million, up 1.2% over FJD815.3 million in 2015. The company did not release net profit/loss results for the year.

“Last year … culminated in the largest profit the airline has ever recorded … in a year when we had the most devastating cyclone in our nation’s history slow down tourism and [we launched] three new international routes,” Fiji Airways MD and CEO Andre Viljoen said. “The result would not have been possible without the backing of the Fijian government and the Fijian people.”

In 2016, the airline launched new routes between Fiji’s Nadi International Airport and San Francisco, Singapore, and Vava’u, Tonga. The airline group, which includes national carrier Fiji Airways and domestic subsidiary Fiji Link, carried 1.4 million passengers in 2016, up 7.7% over 2015.

“The financial results and other accomplishments also show what government and state-owned entities can do together when government has a strong and focused vision and established a proper operating environment, and then lets management do what it is supposed to do as a commercial entity,” Fiji Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said.

The airline said yields were under pressure throughout the year, attributable to increased capacity of competitors, combined with airfare discounts offered by competitors taking advantage of low fuel prices. A tropical cyclone hit the island in February 2016, to which Fiji Airways responded by slashing its airfares, causing the company over FJD40 million in lost revenue.

“However, these actions by Fiji Airways are largely responsible for Fiji’s tourism growth of 5% experienced in 2016,” the company said.

“2017 will be another busy year … targeting many further service improvements … [and] increasing our focus on Singapore with a dedicated new sales team in place and a codeshare partnership with Jet Airways to target more Indian travelers,” Viljoen said.

In 2017, the airline plans to open a new route between Nadi and Adelaide, Australia in June. Additionally, the airline will extend its Nadi-San Francisco route to year-round service.

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

Hawaiian Airlines pilots ratify labor agreement

Hawaiian Airlines pilots have voted by a 76%-24% margin to ratify a new five-year, three month labor contract, ending two years of sometimes contentious negotiations and threatened strike actions.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents the carrier’s 670 pilots, said 97% of Hawaiian’s pilots participated in the vote. The new contract will take effect April 1 and run through July 2022.

According to ALPA, the agreement will immediately increase pay for Hawaiian’s pilots, backdated to September 2015, between 20% and 45%, depending on an individual pilot’s seat, years of service, and aircraft type. By the time the contract becomes amendable in 2022, overall pay rates will have risen between 36% and 86%. The new contract will also bring all of Hawaiian’s pilots under a single retirement plan by 2022.

“With this agreement, Hawaiian pilots have finally achieved pay rates that bring us to parity with the other major carriers we compete with worldwide,” ALPA’s Hawaiian Airlines Master Executive Council vice chairman David Moore said. “It … should make Hawaiian an attractive destination for new pilots.”

The US National Mediation Board (NMB) supervised the negotiations, which began in March 2015 with the aim of reaching an agreement by Sept. 15 of that year. When that date passed without an agreement, collective bargaining began in late September 2015. The two parties reached a tentative labor agreement in February 2017.

Hawaiian reached new labor agreements with three unions representing over 2,200 employees in 2016. The airline remains in negotiations with the Association of Flight Attendants, whose contract became amendable in January 2017.

(Mark Nensel - ATWOnline News)

Embraer moves into major certification phase of E190-E2 flight testing

Embraer said it has completed the aerodynamic freeze of the E190-E2 and is moving to the major certification portion of the next-generation E-Jet’s flight-testing program.

There are four E190-E2 aircraft in flight testing, the first having flown May 23, 2016 and the fourth flying for the first time March 17.

Embraer last week completed flight tests that validated how the E190-E2 handles extreme cold. “The most recent tests involved attaching simulated ice shapes to critical surfaces of the aircraft—wing leading edge, horizontal and vertical stabilizers,” the Brazilian manufacturer said in a statement. “Data collected during these were used to clear the aircraft for the upcoming tests in natural icing conditions.”

The simulated ice tests marked the end of development flight tests, Embraer said, enabling it to firm the aerodynamic configuration of the aircraft and commence major certification flight tests. Embraer said the development flight tests were used to calibrate the E190-E2’s aerodynamic modeling, validate handling qualities in flight and on the ground, assess aircraft characteristics in icing conditions, fine-tune control laws and flight envelope protection functions, and optimize the overall aircraft configuration for maximum performance.

The E190-E2 is slated to enter service in the first half of 2018 with Norwegian regional airline Wider√łe.

(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

Russia requests 747 autopilot changes after Bishkek crash

Pilot error, controller oversight shortcomings and a potentially confusing or potentially dangerous autopilot mode are key takeaways from a preliminary report on the crash of an ACT Airlines Boeing 747-400 freighter crash following an error prone instrument approach to the Manas International Airport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on the morning of Jan. 16.

All four crew members were killed as were 35 residents of a settlement located beyond the end of runway 26 after the Turkish-registered aircraft overshot the runway in low-visibility conditions and attempted a go-around at too low an altitude. Another 37 residents were injured.

Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), which is investigating the crash along with the airline, Turkish investigators, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Boeing and others, made six safety recommendations as part of the preliminary report, published March 24.

Included are calls for pilots to pay closer attention to charted details for instrument landing system (ILS) approaches and for controllers, when equipped, to monitor and inform pilots to “significant altitude deviations” from the charted approach paths. The report does not offer a probable cause or contributing factors for the crash.

Information from the flight data recorder (FDR) showed that Flight TK6491, inbound to Manas from Hong Kong for fuel and a crew change before departing for Istanbul, was at too high an altitude for its autoflight system to capture the glideslope (vertical reference signal) from the ILS.

The normal intercept occurs at a level altitude of 3,400 ft. above sea level at approximately 4 nm from the runway end, beyond which the glideslope signal provides for a 3-deg. descent angle to the touchdown point. Flight 6491, however, was approximately 600 ft. too high and descending at that point. The aircraft continued its descent to 3,400 ft., an altitude it reached when approximately 2.5 nm from the runway. The glideslope display in the cockpit was in the “full down position,” indicating the aircraft was too high, according to the IAC.

The pilots continued in level flight at 3,400 ft. until capturing a 9-degree angle “false glideslope” at approximately 1.1 nm. from the runway end. The guidance system transitioned then captured the false glideslope and began a steep descent. The aircraft during the approach had passed two ground-based position markers—the outer marker and the middle marker—that are keyed to critical altitudes on the approach chart. Despite receiving those indications on the cockpit displays, which would have made clear the aircraft was significantly higher than allowed at both locations, the pilots did not abort the approach.

False glideslopes are a known shortcoming of the ILS, caused by “sidelobes” of the main signal along the ideal 3-deg. slope. Sidelobes will typically have a slope of 6 deg. and 9 deg. To avoid capturing a false glideslope, pilots are taught to intercept the 3 deg. glideslope at the proper entry altitude and position. For Runway 26 at Bishkek, the intercept occurs at 3,400 ft. altitude and approximately 4 nm. from the runway.

The IAC is recommending that pilots “pay attention” to approach chart information, including the monitoring of distance and altitude at reference points along the path to the airport.

Two other recommendations involve the “inertial mode” operation of Boeing autopilots, a feature on virtually all Boeing aircraft to protect against a loss of external glideslope or localizer (lateral position) ground station signals. Using the inertial mode, the autopilot will continue an approach at a 3 deg. glideslope angle using internal guidance until a valid glideslope signal is regained or until the crew shuts off the autopilot.

At Bishkek, the IAC said an “FMA Fault 2” event that occurred 15 sec. after capturing the false glideslope sent the autopilot into inertial mode in addition to notifying the pilots with textual and aural cautions. Fault 2 indicated that the aircraft autopilot can no longer track the glideslope; however the autopilot remained engaged, as designed. Several other alerts occurred in the cockpit, including an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System Mode 5 alert indicating excessive deviation from the glideslope.

With autopilot engaged and tracking an internally computed 3-deg. glideslope, the descending 747-400 crossed the departure end of Runway 26 at 110 ft. above the ground. Seconds later, at the decision height of 99 ft., the first officer called “minimums” and reported no visual contact with the ground. The aircraft continued to descend to 58 ft. before the crew initiated a go-around. The descent stopped 3.5 sec later, but too late—the aircraft struck upsloping terrain and obstacles at 165 kt. airspeed.

According to the IAC, the housing was located approximately 3,200 ft. from the runway end. IAC recommended that airport administrations analyze the “acceptability of construction in the immediate vicinity of airdromes.”

Regarding the Boeing inertial mode autopilot feature, the IAC recommended that airlines provide theoretical and practical training covering the “awareness, procedures and aspects of flight operations” when the autopilot switches to inertial mode during a glideslope descent.

The IAC also wants the FAA and Boeing to consider changing the autopilot logic to prevent the system from following the inertial mode guidance “in cases when the approach path does not allow landing in the appropriate area” on the runway.

(John Croft - ATWOnline News / Aviation Week)

NCA cancels remaining 747-8F orders

Japan-based NYK Group, parent of Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA), said it reached an agreement with Boeing to cancel NCA’s two remaining orders for 747-8 freighters.

NCA was a launch customer for the 747-8F, placing an order for eight units in November 2005, and upping its total to fourteen in early 2007. However, by the time the carrier took delivery of the first of those fourteen freighters in July 2012, the air freight world was a much different place. Demand growth had disappeared, and not only was NCA (like carriers everywhere) struggling to fill its freighters, the market for used freighters had also disappeared, making its plan to sell or lease out its 747-400Fs as the -8Fs entered the fleet more difficult.

So it was not surprising that, in September 2015, NCA, which had by then taken delivery of eight 747-8Fs, cancelled four of its remaining six orders.

And now, eighteen months later, with the carrier having taken no more deliveries, parent NYK Group has posted a notice on its investor relations site saying: “NCA has come to an agreement with Boeing on the cancellation of two 747-8F freighter aircraft.” In a nutshell, NCA has come to the conclusion that, in today’s air freight world, it cannot justify additional freighters.

The cancellation leaves Boeing with a 747-8F backlog of thirty units — fifteen from Volga Dnepr Group (for subsidiary AirBridgeCargo Airlines), fourteen from UPS, and one from Silk Way West Airlines. On the passenger side of the program, however, the news is not so good. Of the forty-eight orders Boeing has taken for the 747-8I, it has delivered forty-one, leaving it with a nominal backlog of seven units. But four of those seven were ordered by now-bankrupt Russian carrier Transaero, so the real backlog is three (all for Korean Air).

This leaves a total backlog of thirty-three, of which at least a few have already been built and rolled out. At its current production rate of six per year, Boeing still has perhaps four years worth of production in its 747-8 backlog, so it is hardly time for panic, but the clock is ticking on the program.

Regardless of the order situation, the 747-8F is a beautiful and impressive airplane.

(David Harris - Cargo Facts)

Honda faces long haul to recoup jet costs

Hondajet HA-420 (c/n 42000013) N420KA operated by Leavitt Group Wings LLCtaxies at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on October 10, 2016.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

After three decades building an airplane from scratch, Michimasa Fujino, 56, chief engineer of the Hondajet, might have to reach a ripe old age to see Honda Motor Co's pet aviation project recoup its development costs.

Honda has declined to reveal the costs, but the automaker has been researching aircraft development since 1986, and Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at aerospace consulting firm Teal Group, thinks it has likely spent roughly $1 billion on the jet program since the early 2000s - more than double the $400 million typical for similar jets.

A five-year delivery delay and developing its own engine bumped up the bill.

The company that gave the world the Honda Civic, which revolutionized compact cars in the United States in the 1970s, is betting its $4.5 million dollar, six-seater light business jet, the first aircraft developed by an automaker since World War Two, will expand the fuel-efficient private jet market.

The jet began deliveries in late 2015 and is priced slightly higher than competitors in the conservative light businessjet segment.

"The biggest mistake people make when getting into the aircraft business is (thinking) that the cash hemorrhaging ends once you start delivering aircraft," said Aboulafia.

"But very often, it increases," he said, citing marketing and production ramp-up costs.

Fujino, CEO of Honda Aircraft Company, has said he expects it will take at least five years to start generating profits, and Aboulafia thinks it could take much longer to recoup sunk costs.

"If they, miraculously, can generate $1 million in profit on each aircraft, then they need to sell 1,000 planes, after they build the (first 100 or so) aircraft that are unprofitable," he said.

The project has depended on Honda's deep pockets. The automaker's net profit for the 2016 financial year was around $3 billion, more than triple that of Textron , maker of the rival Cessna Citation M2 jet.

Honda hopes the project will have intangible benefits - varnishing its brand image to claw back automobile market share in North America, which has slipped below 10 percent in the past few years, and leveraging jet-engineering skills to raise the efficiency and performance of future car models.


Fujino acknowledges that customers, particularly first-time buyers, may need convincing.

"We want to show customers that even though we don't have a history of selling aircraft, we're in the market because we have something new to offer," he told Reuters in an interview.

"For us that's more important than having a track record."

Businessjet operators have shown interest, as it would offer an upscale alternative to turbo prop jets, often used for small charter services.

"The Hondajet would provide a new product for that segment, which is now mostly rattling around on old turbo props," said Richard Hodkinson, vice president of aircraft sales and acquisitions at aircraft services operator Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys, California.

"It wouldn't be bigger than a turboprop in terms of the cabin, but it would be new, it would be quiet, it would be more efficient, and you'd be in a jet."

To sell the jet, Honda, which is targeting wealthy individuals and business owners, has taken a page from the auto industry playbook, establishing a dealership network across the Americas and Europe, though it plans to sell directly to fleet operators.

"The car dealership model works for achieving high-volume, localized sales. The model may not be perfect, but Honda U.S. car sales have expanded by leveraging the strengths of the dealer system," said Fujino.

Some think that could be a mistake.

Established makers often sell directly to customers and offer maintenance and parts services through their own sales outlets, which takes time and resources to establish, but enables them to control quality and consistency of service.

"You can't transfer the dealership model from the auto industry to aircraft," said Aboulafia. "You're sending a message that you're not going to be a big player ... If they want to develop a family of products and really get out there and be a force in the market, then it's a missed opportunity."


Unlike the cheap-and-cheerful Civic, the Hondajet is marketed like an expensive sports car, presented on a slowly rotating platform in the company's delivery room, a pristine, high-ceilinged hangar at its headquarters in Greensboro, N.C.

"The Hondajet is meant to evoke the image of being the sports car of business jets. We wanted it to have the 'wow' factor of a beautiful car," Fujino said late last year.

The jet has been a labor of love for Fujino, who confounded industry colleagues with the craft's engineering masterstroke: engines mounted on the wings, not the fuselage, which reduces cabin noise and makes space for a full-sized washroom, a first in its segment.

He also says he found an aerodynamic sweet spot for the engine placement, helping the jet use an average of roughly 15 percent less fuel than rivals, which include the Phenom 100, made by Brazil's Embraer SA , and the Citation M2, its biggest competitor.

In the delivery room, Fujino obsesses over every detail of presentation, angling the lighting to highlight the contours of the aircraft's softly pinched nose, inspired by a Ferragamo stiletto.

He often personally hands over the keys to new owners and says he intends to keep that up even as annual production rises from around 25 now to perhaps 80 in the coming years, nearly double the Citation M2, according to Teal estimates.

"I know the faces of all of our current customers," he said.

(Naomi Tajitsu and Maki Shiraki - Reuters)

Lockheed’s $29 Billion Copter Poised to Win Pentagon’s Approval

The Pentagon is poised to review -- and probably approve -- a new helicopter from Lockheed Martin Corp. to transport heavy cargo for the Marine Corps in a program valued at as much as $29 billion.

The Defense Acquisition Board has scheduled a March 30 meeting to review whether to approve low-rate production for the first 24 of a planned 200 King Stallion helicopters. The initial contract would cover two of the aircraft capable of lifting 27,000 pounds (12,200 kilograms), according to Defense Department documents. Quantities would grow annually, to four next year and 14 in fiscal 2021, according to the latest published acquisition report.

The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter.
(Lockheed Martin)

Approval to proceed would be the first major acquisition decision under Defense Secretary James Mattis. It would also begin to unlock the revenue Lockheed expects to reap from sales, spares and repairs over the life of the program. The latest budget plan increases spending to $1.9 billion in fiscal 2020 from $892 million this year, including development.

The “big” revenue potential for the helicopter designated the CH-53K was the primary incentive for Lockheed’s $9 billion acquisition of the Sikorsky helicopter unit from United Technologies Corp. in 2015, Bruce Tanner, Lockheed’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. He said the King Stallion is the same size as its predecessor, the Super Stallion, but can haul triple the cargo.

“Frankly, when we acquired Sikorsky it was the 53K program that drove most of our valuation as to why we wanted to own Sikorsky,” Tanner said. “It was the fact of that aircraft.”

Potential Overshadowed

The King Stallion has international sales potential as well, and discussions are under way with Germany and Israel, Tanner said. “From a revenue perspective it is going to be the lion’s share of what we expect from Sikorsky for the next 10 to 15 years, probably, once it gets into production,” Tanner said.

The helicopter’s potential was overshadowed as Lockheed wrestled with accounting-control weaknesses and plummeting commercial helicopter deliveries at Sikorsky.

Cheap fuel prices have slowed offshore oil and gas drilling and sapped demand for the large helicopters that industry uses to ferry people and equipment. Deliveries of commercial choppers are expected to generate less than $300 million in revenue this year, down from sales of about $1.25 billion in 2014, before Lockheed’s acquisition, according to estimates by Jefferies.

The King Stallion should generate more than $500 million this year for Lockheed, according to Howard Rubel, a defense analyst at Jefferies.

The Marines will probably be the biggest customer, although there’s a chance the Navy could join in if it needs to add a craft with larger capacity, Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst with the Teal Group, said in an email.

The commercial market is less promising. “Much of the world heavy lift market has gone with Boeing’s CH-47 over the past few decades,” Aboulafia said. “The CH-53K might be too big and expensive to change that.”

‘Lot of Money’

Democratic Representative Niki Tsongas questioned the helicopter’s currently projected production cost of $122 million per chopper at a congressional hearing on March 10.

That’s “a heck of a lot of money,” Tsongas said. “And even if there is no additional cost growth, it seems worth pointing out that $122 million per aircraft” exceeds the current cost of Lockheed’s F-35. The latest Air Force model of the advanced fighter jet is estimated to cost $94 million each, including engines.

The King Stallion’s cost is estimated to drop below $89 million after full-rate production begins, Marine Lieutenant General Gary Thomas, deputy for programs, said at the hearing. “That’s still very expensive and we’re working very hard with” Lockheed “to keep the cost down and to drive value for the taxpayer.”

Testing Office

A spokesman for the Pentagon’s test office said in an email that the helicopter is on course to meet its key performance parameters for range, payload and reliability, citing a Feb. 24 assessment. Army Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cabiness said the helicopter has so far demonstrated it’s reliable and available 85 percent of the time needed -- exceeding the 83 percent required at this point.

The King Stallion has demonstrated to date that it has the capability to support the “most stressing” Marine missions, Cabiness said. Still, one of the helicopter’s most serious problems is the high temperature of engine exhaust from two of its three engines, which must be fixed, the testing office assessment found.

“We will continue to track system maturation as we further demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft and implement any needed improvements,” Mike Torok, Lockheed’s program manager for the CH-53K, said in an email. “We remain confident as we head toward” the Pentagon decision.

(Anthony Capaccio and Julie Johnsson - Bloomberg Technology)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New China Airliner Major Threat to Boeing

Boeing recently said that Asia, and particularly China, are the key to its future growth. China just put up a barrier to those ambitions. Its new, locally built jetliner has passed a critical series of tests.

In Boeing's most recent 20-year industry forecast (2016 to 2035), its experts wrote:

The Asia region continues to demonstrate vigorous economic growth at a rate of 4.1 percent per year, outpacing the global average by 2.9 percent. Driven by China and India as the main engines of growth, the region’s share of world GDP is projected to rise from 31 percent today to 39 percent by 2035. The significant growth rate in this emerging market is expected to continue.

As a result, airlines, airport capacity, and passenger traffic are expected to experience a robust growth rate in the next 20 years. Demand in commercial aviation is also coming from the continuing expansion of the middle class in Asia, where a greater sector of the population is reaching income levels that make flying more affordable.

The People's Daily described the latest development in China's local initiative:

China's first large domestically designed and built passenger jetliner has passed a major technical assessment, bringing it a closer to its maiden flight, sources with the developer said Saturday. An evaluation committee consisting 63 aviation specialists from across China has agreed the C919 is technically ready for its maiden flight, said the Shanghai-based aircraft maker, Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) in a press release.

The experts have worked in seven teams to assess the jet's design, structure and performances, which they have tested in labs, on board and during low-speed taxiing, it said. The committee has proven the C919 is technically airworthy but the jet is still subject to electromagnetic compatibility and taxiing tests before it takes to the air.

The jet was built in 2015 and COMAC completed the onboard systems installation as well as major static and system integration tests before the technical assessment. The C919, with over 150 seats and a standard range of 4,075 kilometers, is expected to compete with the updated Airbus 320 and Boeing's new-generation 737, which currently dominate the market.

By the end of 2016, 21 customers had placed orders for more than 500 C919 aircraft, and COMAC expects to sell at least 2,000.

Boeing is often identified as the single largest American exporter.

(Douglas A. McIntyre - 24/7 Wall Street)

Third Airbus plane purchased by Iran lands in Tehran

Iran’s official IRNA news agency is reporting that the third of the 100 planes it purchased from Airbus following a landmark nuclear with world powers has joined its commercial fleet.

The now Iran Air A330 jet landed in Tehran Saturday after a flight from Toulouse, France, home to the headquarters of the European consortium.

It has 32 business and 206 economy class seats.

Iran Air received its first and the second planes from Airbus in January and March.

Iran’s flag carrier sealed a deal with Airbus in December for 100 planes. It separately reached an agreement to buy 80 planes from Boeing.

Most of Iran’s 250 commercial planes were purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 2016, only about two thirds of them were operational because spare part shortages.

(The Associated Press / The Seattle Times)

3 leadership lessons from Richard Branson's heartfelt goodbye letter to Virgin America

Under his umbrella company Virgin Group, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has more than 60 businesses. But having scores of businesses does not make it any easier when one closes down, according to Branson.

In December, Alaska Airlines bought Virgin America, and this week, Alaska Airlines announced that it would close the Virgin America brand in 2019.

The 66-year-old entrepreneur has written and published an emotional farewell.

"Many years ago, I shed tears over selling my beloved Virgin Records for $1 billion," writes Branson. "Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines' decision to buy and now retire Virgin America."

Branson's letter contains three lessons all business leaders can learn from.

Know when to fold 'em

If there comes a time when a business model isn't working, you have to be tough with yourself, despite the emotional attachment you have to your company.

"Sadly, [Alaska Airlines] could not find a way to maintain its own brand and that of Virgin America," Branson writes. But closing one brand can be necessary to keep the rest of the organization and its dozens of companies healthy.

Besides, he's moving forward. "As an entrepreneur's brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop," says Branson.

"As an entrepreneur's brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop." -Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

In particular, the billionaire says he is focused on projects including a hotel in San Francisco, a sports festival and a new cruise line. He is also still building a space tourism business.

Love the Journey

Branson has celebrated many launches, milestones and triumphs along the way.

"We went through a lot together," says the entrepreneur. "The launch parties, the networking, the productivity on flights, the live concerts at 35,000 feet, the marriage proposals, the first in-flight wedding, the Oprah Skype to the plane!

"And who could forget that time in 2008 when I nearly ripped my arse jumping off the side of The Palms in Vegas?"

Even as he announces the closure of the brand, Branson honors the process of building a company and salutes his indispensable employees.

"This was the ride and love of a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been on it with all of you."

Stay Positive

"I'm told some people at Virgin America are calling today 'the day the music died.' It is a sad (and some would say baffling) day," says Branson. "But I'd like to assure them that the music never dies."

Branson encourages Virgin America employees to remain optimistic and future-focused.

"Build a business that puts its people first," he says. "Work with partners who share your same progressive and inclusive values. Focus on delivering a great customer experience, and success will come. Make business a force for good.

"Stay positive; attitude is everything."

(Catherine Clifford - CNBC)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5421) N421GD

Seen at rest on the Gulfstream service center ramp at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 23, 2017.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Malaysia Air CEO Mulls Deals for 42 Jets in Wide-Body Expansion

Malaysia Airlines plans to seal deals for as many as 42 wide-body jets over the next few months as the unprofitable carrier seeks to rebuild its long-haul network following a surge in demand.

Terms should be agreed in the next six to eight weeks for the lease of up to a dozen used Airbus Group SE A330 or Boeing Co. 777 aircraft, Chief Executive Officer Peter Bellew said in an interview. That could be followed later in the first half by an order for 25 to 30 new Boeing 787s or A330neos, as the upgraded Airbus model is known, potentially worth more than $7 billion.

Bellew is looking to expand wide-body operations after Malaysia Air slashed its fleet and route network in response to a bookings slump that followed two fatal plane crashes in 2014. Sales have now recovered to the extent that the carrier posted an 81 percent load factor in the fourth quarter of 2016, including a 90 percent occupancy rate in December, when it made money.

“Things have gone a bit better a bit quicker than I expected,” said Bellew, an Irishman who became Malaysia Air CEO last July after joining as chief operating officer in 2015, following nine years at Dublin-based discount specialist Ryanair Holdings Plc. “We’re ahead of where we hoped we would be.”

The Asian carrier needs the leased jets mainly to replace single-aisle Boeing 737s on 10 or 11 medium-haul routes that are capable of supporting wide-bodies, including services to India, Bali and Hong Kong, Bellew said. The plan has become attractive after hire rates fell 15 percent in 3 1/2 months, he said.

China Growth

Malaysian Air is also rapidly adding new routes to China, with nine due this year and another eight in 2018, taking the total to 24. The expansion, part of a plan to make Malaysia a top destination for Chinese tourists, reflects a recovery in bookings that collapsed after the disappearance of Flight MH370 while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Bellew said he’ll seek to take half a dozen leased wide-bodies in the first half of next year, followed by the same number in 2019, all about six years old. A330s would be the obvious choice, though 777s would allow the carrier to add longer routes, perhaps reinstating a service to Amsterdam, he said.

The 25 or more new jets that Bellew is evaluating would likely be bought direct from Airbus or Boeing and would join the fleet between 2019 and 2023, with 15 replacing older aircraft and the rest for expansion. The re-engined A330neo comes in two sizes advertised at $255 million and $291 million before discounts, while the 787 Dreamliner has three variants priced between $225 million and $306 million.

The airline is also poised to take delivery of six Airbus A350 wide-bodies, allowing it to move the same number of A380 superjumbos to a new sister carrier specializing in carrying people on the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

720 Seats

With A350 handovers delayed by a shortage of interior fittings at Airbus, the first plane is due a couple of months late in November or December, Bellew said. All should arrive by June 2018, after which the A380s will be refitted to allow their capacity to be varied between 635 and 720 seats, with the airline commencing operations in December of that year.

Dubbed Project Hope, the startup has yet to be given a permanent name, though most of its management team will be approved at a board meeting next week, Bellew said, adding that a CEO has yet to be chosen but will almost certainly be a Malaysian national. Long-term support deals have been struck with Airbus and engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and that could extend to investment in the venture next year, he said.

Malaysia Air had a loss last year that was less than half the internal forecast, it said March 1, and aims to reduce the deficit by more than half this year before becoming “consistently profitable” from 2018.

(Christopher Jasper - Bloomberg Business News)

Pilots' union says AA is leaving standby passengers behind

The head of the pilots' union says American Airlines is leaving thousands of standby passengers at the gate to make sure that flights depart on time.

Dan Carey, president of the Allied Pilots Association, said Thursday that nearly 20,000 passengers were denied boarding in February even though there were empty seats. He called it intolerable.

American carried more than 14 million passengers last month.

The airline has been trying to improve its on-time performance. It ranked eighth among the nation's largest 12 airlines at on-time arrivals in 2016, but rose to third in January, the latest month for which government figures are available.

American did not immediately comment.

(David Koenig - Associated Press / ABC News)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

jetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 (c/n 2231) N590JB "Liberty Blue"

Holds short of Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) as it readies to depart to San Francisco International Airport (SFO/KSFO) on maech 23, 2017.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

American Airlines to buy stake in China Southern

American Airlines is in negotiations to buy a stake in China Southern Airlines in an effort to strengthen both carriers’ position on Sino-US routes, two industry sources told ATW.

According to news reports, Fort Worth, Texas-based American plans to buy Guangzhou-based China Southern’s H shares, released by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, via a $200 million investment.

China Southern is worth about $10 billion at market value. As a stakeholder, American would be able to nominate an observer without voting rights on to China Southern’s board. However, industry sources told ATW that since a final agreement had not yet been reached, specific details of the deal could still change or ultimately fail.

American Airlines declined to comment.

China Southern suspended stock trading March 23 because it was “planning an important strategic cooperation deal,” according to a company statement. However, the airline went on to say it would “reveal the important strategic cooperation deal within five working days and resume stock trading.”

At its annual meeting in January, China Southern said it would “focus on conducting cross shareholding with global leading players or set up a joint subsidiary with them to promote the reforms of diversifying its ownerships [required by Beijing] in 2017.”

Industry analysts pointed out both carriers could enhance their positions on the fiercely competitive Sino-US routes.

According to China Merchants Securities, Beijing-based Air China, which holds a 20% market share of Sino-US routes, has a strategic cooperation deal with fellow Star Alliance member United Airlines, which has a 22% market share. Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, which finalized a an expanded partnership agreement with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines in 2015, has a 17% market share, while SkyTeam member Delta has a 10% market share.

(Katie Cantle - ATWOnline News)

SWISS to begin CS100 operations from Geneva

Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) is set to renew its Geneva-based aircraft allocation from Airbus A320s to an all-Bombardier CSeries 100/300 fleet.

The first aircraft, a CS100, will begin operations March 26 from Geneva on intra-European services to destinations such as London Heathrow, Dublin and Athens.

Geneva will also be the home base of SWISS’s first Bombardier CS300, delivery of which is expected in May. The larger CS300 offers 145 seats, 20 more than the CS100.

By the end of 2018 SWISS said its Geneva-based fleet will consist solely of CSeries aircraft: one CS100 and seven CS300s. The new twinjets supersede the seven A320s that are currently stationed there.

SWISS has placed six CS100s in scheduled services, and one further aircraft is expected to be delivered every month, rising to two deliveries a month at some point later in the program.

On March 22, ATW reported that SWISS is converting its final five CSeries aircraft orders from the CS100 to the larger CS300, to produce a total CSeries fleet consisting of 10 CS100s and 20 CS300s by the end of 2018.

The CSeries aircraft will gradually replace SWISS’s Avro RJ100s fleet on short- and medium-haul routes.

(Kurt Hofmann - ATWOnline News)

Alaska to retire Virgin America brand in 2019

Alaska Air Group will retire the Virgin America brand in 2019, bringing the entire operation under the Alaska Airlines name.

The news comes after months of speculation about whether Alaska, which acquired Virgin America in late 2016, would keep its brand, which is viewed as having broad marketing value.

"We concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares," says Alaska's vice-president of marketing Sangita Woerner in a media release.

Though it will ditch the Virgin brand, Alaska says it will retain many of the features that made the Virgin America product appealing to travelers.

The company intends to update its airport lobbies and aircraft, outfit employees in new uniforms in 2019, introduce new seats and equip Boeing 737s with "expressive blue mood lighting", the airline says.

It will also equip all 737s with high-speed satellite wireless internet beginning in fall 2018, and will refresh airport lounges.

In addition, Alaska will increase the number of premium seats on Virgin America's Airbus A320 aircraft beginning in 2018.

It will increase from eight to 12 the number of first class seats on the A320s, and equip those aircraft with 18 premium seats in economy, Alaska says.

(Jon Hemmerdinger - FlightGlobal News)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Omni Airways Ltd Gulfstream G-V (c/n 641) C-GUGU

Captured arriving at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) at 12:26pm pst following a short flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX).

(Photos by Michael Carter)