Tuesday, July 31, 2018

HondaJet Elite HA-420 (c/n 42000011) N420EX

(Photo by Michael Carter)

This is the companies display aircraft and has been converted to an "Elite". The conversion is all internal as it is an avionics upgrade package. She is seen at Oshkosh on July 23, 2018.


GE HF-120 Engine.

 (Photos by Michael Carter)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-83 (53611/2264) N961TW

Pushes back, taxies to then rotates from Rwy 1L at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE/KMKE) Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 22, 2018.

The aircraft was originally to Trans World Airlines (TWA) on May 12, 1999.

(Photos by Micheal Carter)

Deliveries Down, but Sales Climb at Gulfstream

The G650/650ER "led the way" for increased business jet sales at Gulfstream during the second quarter, said Phebe Novakovic, chairman and CEO at parent company General Dynamics. Aerospace backlog rose by $300 million during the quarter, to $12.2 billion.
(Photo: Gulfstream Aerospace)

Gulfstream Aerospace deliveries fell 13.3 percent in both the second quarter and the first half of this year, according to parent company General Dynamics’ second-quarter results released today. During the quarter, the company handed over 26 business jets (18 large cabin, eight midsize), compared with 30 (23 large, seven midsize) last year. First-half deliveries totaled 52 (37 large, 15 midsize), versus 60 (46 large, 14 midsize) in the same period last year.

Revenues at General Dynamics’ aerospace division, which includes Gulfstream and Jet Aviation, fell $432 million year-over-year, to $3.72 billion, in the first half. Segment earnings slid by $128 million, to $732 million.

Sales were a bright spot at Gulfstream, which reported a 1.3:1 book-to-bill ratio, boosting aerospace backlog during the quarter by about $300 million, to nearly $12.2 billion. “Demand signals were good in North America and Europe, with Asia-Pacific also rising,” General Dynamics chairman and CEO Phebe Novakovic said during an analyst conference call this morning. Gulfstream’s flagship G650/650ER “led the way” in terms of sales, she noted.

With certification now in hand, Gulfstream is gearing up to deliver the first G500s later this year, possibly as early as late in the third quarter, according to Novakovic. A contractual dispute between G500 engine supplier Pratt & Whitney Canada and Nordam, which makes the nacelle and subsequently filed for reorganization, could have “some impact” on G500 deliveries in the fourth quarter, she noted. “We expect the parties to expeditiously resolve their issues,” Novakovic said, adding, “This is all survivable…we can manage this.”

(Chad Trautvetter - AINOnline News)

Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5571) N571GA tbr N257A

Seen resting on the ramp at the Gulfstream Service Center at Appleton International Airport Appleton, Wisconsin on July 22, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

United States Air Force (USAF) Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5152) 06-0500

Captured at the Gulfstream Service Center at Appleton International Airport
Appleton, Wisconsin on July 22, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-V (c/n 519) N549CP

Operated by SLMF LLC, this lovely G-V is caught resting on the Gulfstream Service Center ramp at Appleton International Airport (ATW/KATW) Appleton, Wisconsin on July 22, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Airbus A220-300 (Bombardier CS300 (BD-500-1A11) / FTV8 (c/n 55002) C-FFDO

Departing from Rwy 18 at Wittman Regional Airport
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on July 23, 2018 following a day long visit.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (48490/499) N588FE "Kendra"

Taxies to then departs from Rwy 1L at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE/KMKE) on July 22, 2018.

The aircraft was originally delivered to American Airlines on May 28, 1992 as N1755.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

United Parcel Service (UPS) McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (48417/467) N259UP

Caught making an early evening arrival at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC/KSLC) on July 18, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-11F (48550/526) N592FE "Hope"

Captured on short final to Rwy 34R at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC/KSLC) on July 18, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Gulfstream G450 (c/n 4349) N312JC

This lovely aircraft is operated by Jim Crane owner of the Houston Astro's. It is seen resting on the ramp at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE/KMKE) Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 21, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-III (c/n 324) N324JW

Operated by Jordan Aviation LLC, the company's lovely G-1159 (G-III) is captured resting on the Cheyenne Regional Airport/Jerry Olson Field (CYS/KCYS) Cheyenne, Wyoming ramp in the early afternoon sun on July 19, 2018.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Boeing in $10 Billion Freighter Sale to Russia’s Volga-Dnepr

Boeing sealed a deal to sell 777 freighters with a sticker price of almost $10 billion to Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group, the world’s largest carrier of outsize cargo.

Volga-Dnepr signed a letter of intent to buy 29 of the 777s and confirmed a $2 billion order for five 747-8 freighters, Boeing said Tuesday in a statement. The 777F is priced at $339.2 million before customary discounts, while the 747-8 has a list price of $403.6 million.

Moscow-based Volga-Dnepr, known for its fleet of huge Antonov Ruslan planes, specializes in transporting oversize items such as military and oilfield equipment. It ordered a batch of 20 747-8 cargo planes two years ago, helping to extend the life of the hump-nosed jumbo jet. The purchase of the smaller 777s may signal it plans to expand its traditional freight operations as well.

With the Volga-Dnepr announcement, Boeing continues to take advantage of a rebound in air cargo after a slump that hit in 2008. On Monday, the U.S. company announced two deals totaling $6.4 billion for 777 freighters, to package-delivery service DHL and to Qatar Airlines. Boeing has a full lineup of freighters while rival Airbus only has one.

Volga-Dnepr is a longtime partner to Boeing, delivering aircraft segments to the U.S. company’s assembly plants. Doing business has at times been difficult, given sanctions imposed over Russian aggression in the Ukraine, as well as the more recent indictments arising from alleged U.S. election-meddling. The debate generated by President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday suggests the controversy will continue.

While the four-engine 747 is winding down as an option for passenger airlines, the freighter version of the humbacked jumbo jet remains a popular choice with cargo specialists. It’s bigger than the younger 777 wide-body, and has a nose that pivots up, allowing outsize items to be loaded in.

(Julie Johnsson - Bloomberg Business) 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4(WL) (33860/1528) N470WN

Captured at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on July 13, this is one of five special Discovery Channel "Shark Week" themed liveries (nose art), this one being dedicated to the Great White Shark.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6320) N620GD

Arrives back at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on July 13 2018, following a pre-delivery flight test sortie.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Singapore Airlines' new Airbus A350-941(ULR) LAX non-stops start this fall

(Singapore Airlines)

Singapore Airlines said its long-promised non-stop service between Los Angeles and Singapore will finally take flight on November 2, and it revealed plans to increase San Francisco non-stops at the same time, using an all-premium-seating aircraft.

The airline will use one of its new Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range) aircraft for the LAX-SIN non-stops, which will start out operating three days a week, then increase to daily frequencies (SQ37) on November 9 after the airline puts another new A350-900ULR into service.

On December 7, the carrier will boost LAX-SIN non-stops to 10 a week, offering a second flight (SQ35) on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The regular daily service will depart LAX at 10:25 p.m., and the second flight at 9:15 a.m.

(Chris McGinnis - San Francisco Chronicle)

Biman Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 787-8 (40126/726) 'Akasbeena' N1015B tbr S2-AJS

"Boeing 787 Heavy" climbs from Rwy 14R as it departs BFI headed to FAB.
(Photo by Joe G. Walker)

At 17:13pst on July 10, 2018, the first 787-8 for Biman Bangladesh Airlines departed Seattle Boeing Field International Airport (BFI/KBFI) bound for Farnborough Airport (FAB/EGLF) to participate in the bi-annual Farnborough International Airshow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Nigerian Air Force Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5310) 5N-FGW

Rests on the Ross Aviation ramp this evening at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB).

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Airbus wins JetBlue order for its newly rebranded A220

Airbus scored a key victory on Tuesday, with U.S. airline JetBlue announcing it would buy 60 of its A220-300 narrow-body jets, the first major order for the planemaker's newly rebranded program as its battle with rival Boeing intensifies.

Earlier on Tuesday, Airbus unveiled the new A220 name for the 110-seat to 130-seat model jets, previously called the CSeries under Canadian firm Bombardier , at a ceremony at the planemaker's Toulouse facilities in France.

Airbus has taken majority control of the loss-making Montreal-based aircraft program, with Bombardier and Quebec as minority partners. The deal closed on July 1.

"We feel the 220 is the perfect fit for our network, strategy and customer experience, and most importantly, for our owners," JetBlue Chief Financial Officer Steve Priest said in a phone interview. "It really is the ideal aircraft to carry the momentum of our structured cost program well into the next decade."

The A220 will replace JetBlue's existing fleet of 60 Embraer E190 aircraft, with those jets retiring beginning in 2020.

The A220's triumph over Brazil's Embraer SA sets the stage for a fierce competition between Airbus and Chicago-based Boeing Co in the narrow-body market. Both major planemakers have recently taken stakes in smaller rivals' jet programs.

Boeing last week announced a tentative deal for a controlling stake in the commercial aircraft arm of Embraer under a new $4.75 billion joint venture.

"It's a very smart decision on JetBlue's part because the A220 is an extremely flexible airplane," Atmosphere Research Group fleet analyst Henry Harteveldt said, adding that it was a "completely new airplane" with a fuel efficiency that would allow JetBlue to carry "20 to 30 more passengers for free."

The jets will be powered by Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (GTF) PW1500G engines. Pratt & Whitney is owned by Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp .

JetBlue declined to outline the financial details of the deal.

The carrier said the new aircraft will be assembled at Airbus' Mobile, Alabama, facility.

(Alana Wise in New York and Tim Hepher in Toulouse, France - Reuters)

Canadian North, First Air will merge to serve Canadian arctic

Calgary-based Canadian North and Ottawa-based First Air airlines have announced plans to merge—the latest step in the carriers’ efforts to combine air services to best meet the needs of communities in the Canadian arctic.

The two carriers plan to operate under the Canadian North name with an administrative headquarters in Ottawa. “By merging these airlines, we look forward to new economic opportunities in Canada and internationally, and to better air services for Inuit across the circumpolar region,” the carriers said.

The deal, which requires regulatory approval, is expected to close this year.

The two carriers provide key passenger and cargo connections between communities in Canada’s northern region as well as links to the country’s major metropolitan areas down south. Inuvialuit Development Corp. (IDC)-owned Canadian North flies to 17 cities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, using Ottawa and Edmonton as southern gateways. First Air, which is owned by the Makivik Corp., links 31 communities across Northern Canada and serves Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal.

The two carriers have taken several approaches to pool resources and better meet the demands of the communities they serve. Talks to merge in 2014 ended without an agreement. That deal also would have set up a single carrier with an Ottawa headquarters. A year later, the carriers announced a codeshare deal, but First Air ended it in 2017.

The goals behind the merger and codeshare deals are similar: stretch resources to provide more consistent, reliable service to northern Canada. The challenges are not going away, and in some ways—such as finding enough qualified pilots—they may be getting worse.

“Air service is not a luxury for Northerners. It is a vital lifeline which requires ongoing investment,” IDC Chair Patrick Gruben said.

Added Makivik president Charlie Watt: “The world is changing and we need to adapt to new realities.”

The two carriers said combining forces “is the only viable way” to meet air service demands in the Canadian north. A 2017 investigation by Canada’s Competition Bureau concluded that a merger’s benefits would outweigh its drawbacks. The investigation looked at allegations that the region’s carriers were colluding to keep fares high and discouraging competition.

In 2016, startup Go Sarvaq shut down shortly before its scheduled launch date, because in part low fares offered by competitors on its proposed routes. The bureau acknowledged the fare battle, but said it found no evidence of collusion among the incumbents.

The affected pilot groups welcomed the merger plans.

“The merger announcement is a positive step for both pilot groups,” said Bill Rodgers, chairman of ALPA’s Canadian North Master Executive Council (MEC). “The Canadian aviation industry is small, and a more efficient, stronger airline will be better suited to withstand the current economic pressures our two airlines have been facing.”

First Air MEC chairman and first officer Charlene Hudy noted that the two pilot groups are of similar size and have shared understanding of the challenges faced by both carriers. “It’s a practical business decision for this merger to take place, and I am optimistic this will have a positive end result for our pilots in the long term,” she added.

First Air operates a fleet of 20 aircraft, including 13 ATR 42s, five Boeing 737-400s, and two 737-200s, Aviation Week’s Fleet Discovery data show.

Canadian North has 16 aircraft, including 10 737-300s, three 737-200s, and three de Havilland Twin Otters.

In addition to its core northern region services, both carriers have sizable charter businesses.

(Sean Broderick - Aviation Week / ATWOnline News)

Gulf Air CEO: CS100 orders canceled; studying alliance options

Following reports on several European aviation spotters’ websites that the Bahraini national carrier had dropped its longstanding order for the Canadian aircraft, the newly-inaugurated Airbus-Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP) issued a brief statement July 6 that it still had a contract in place with the airline.

In a response from an email, however, Gulf Air CEO Krešimir Kučko responded July 7 that the “CSeries order has been recently resolved with Bombardier after numerous discussions over the past period of time in mutual agreement, according to which Gulf Air will not proceed further with the delivery of any aircraft.”

The order had been in doubt since 2016, when the airline’s then-acting CEO said that he was looking at whether the CS100 still had a place in the airline’s future plans. The airline has been silent since.

Airbus completed a transaction July 1 for majority control of the CSeries program and owns a 50.01% stake in CSALP.

Kučko also confirmed reports that Gulf Air is considering joining one of the three main airline alliances. This follows the announcement earlier this year of Gulf Air’s long-term expansion plans and the start of a significant growth spurt in its fleet.

“As a strategic goal, Gulf Air is indeed considering approaching one of the three global airline alliances,” Kučko said. However, no decision would be taken until a study on the matter had been completed, he added.

(Alan Dron ATWOnline News)

Airbus introduces Bombardier C Series jet re-branded A220

A220 reveal in front of Airbus employees and members of the global news media
(Image: Airbus)

Airbus has just re-branded the Bombardier C Series jet acquired in a recent deal with the Canadian plane maker as the A220 and has already set “double-digit” and even “triple-digit” sales targets for the A220-100 and A220-300 models, formerly known as CS100 and CS300. The rebranding seals the takeover of the loss-making Montreal-based aircraft program with Bombardier and Investissement Québec that came into effect on July 1, 2018.

Airbus revealed the A220 at a ceremony held at the company’s headquarters operation, Henri-Ziegler Delivery Centre, near Toulouse, France. The A220-300 landed directly from the painting at 12:25 am CEST, July 10, 2018, at the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (TLS) wearing its new Airbus name and livery. The European plane maker has hailed the introduction of the A220 Family, the latest member of Airbus’ single-aisle jetliner product line, as a “historic moment” for the company.

“Today, we are thrilled to welcome the A220 to the Airbus family and are honored to see it wearing its new Airbus colors for the first time,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus President Commercial Aircraft, also thanking the staff at Bombardier and the supply chain who have worked on the aircraft over the past years. “The A220 now enters a new phase in its career with all Airbus’ resources behind it," Faury stated in an official press release on July 10, 2018.

The A220 family comprises two models, the A220-100 and the A220-300, formerly Bombardier’s C Series. The 110-seat CS100 will be known as A220-100 and the 130-seat model, formerly CS300, will now be known as A220-300. According to Airbus, the aircraft are fully optimized for the 100 to 150 seat market and will “perfectly complement” the plane maker’s existing best-selling A320neo family.

Airbus CEO Eric Schulz says his company is “enthusiastic” about selling the A220, considering its technology which should give the aircraft a decisive edge in a very competitive market. Shulz also expressed his “optimism” that Airbus will support to make the new A220 “a great commercial success."

In fact, Airbus has already set a target of at least 100 orders for the aircraft by the end of 2018 alone, as David Dufrenois, the program’s sales chief, was quoted saying at the unveiling ceremony in Toulouse by Bloomberg.

“I don’t think it will be very long before we see the first results on the market,” Airbus CEO was quoted as saying in a separate report by Reuters. Over the next 20 years, the European plane maker aims to reap a “triple-digit” level of sales of the jet. The company also expects a demand for a total of 7,000 jets in the A220 category over the same period, including Airbus‘ own A319.

(AeroTime News / Airbus Press Release)

Breaking News: Convair 340 crash in South Africa

A Convair 340 (ZS-BRV) painted in the colours of 'Martin Air Charter' crashed while apparently returning to Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria, South Africa on July 10, 2018, killing at least one person. Another 19 passengers/crew are said to have been injured.

The aircraft appears to have hit the roof of a shed and crashed on scrub covered ground in the Derdepoort area, some 6km east of Wonderboom Airport. One witness is reported to have said that he saw 'smoke trailing' from one of the aircraft's engines before it crashed. The accident happened in daylight and in VMC. It is understood that the aircraft had been 'donated' to the Aviodrome and was due to be ferried to Lelystad, Netherlands later in the week.

(FlightGlobal News)

Bamboo who? Vietnam start-up’s ever-shifting strategy

Vietnamese start-up Bamboo Airways’ commitment to 20 Boeing 787-9s represents a startling growth in ambition, but the prospective carrier’s strategy is far from clear.

Bamboo Airways is nothing if not ambitious. First announced by local property conglomerate FLC Group in early 2017, Bamboo Airways would initially serve Vietnam leisure destinations. Congested airports such as Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat and Hanoi’s Noi Bai would be avoided.

Early plans called for Bamboo to fly international passengers direct to secondary cities, addressing the clear market opportunity of flying North Asian tourists to Vietnam.

"With new flights connecting provinces with tourism potential, Bamboo Airways will not create additional pressure on overloaded airports, and will help fully exploit under-used infrastructure," said general manager Dang Tat Thang.


A media report in early 2017 quoted FLC Group chairman Trinh Van Quyet as saying that the carrier would lease seven Airbus aircraft and start services in early 2018.

The early 2018 service start never happened, but in March 2018 a memorandum of understanding was signed with Airbus for 24 A321neos. This despite the carrier’s lack of approval to start services. Should all go well, it said it would even go for an additional 24 A321LRs.

In April, FLC revealed that it was recruiting for 92 pilots, 250 cabin crew, 90 technical staff, and nearly 100 administrative employees. It said that it wants to operate 40 routes by 2023, consisting of 24 domestic and 16 international destinations.

In the first two years of operation, the carrier said that it planned to operate between eight and 10 domestic routes. Internationally, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand were identified as targets.


FLC added that it expected to start services at the end of 2018. Curiously, it said that it would only submit its official application for an air operator’s certificate in July. Why this hadn’t been done to ensure a launch in early 2018 wasn’t clear.

But, just in case anyone doubted its ambitions, Bamboo committed to 20 787-9s at the end of June. Apparently, it has even paid deposits to Boeing. The deal was announced in a Washington DC ceremony attended by no less than Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, Vuong Dinh Hue.

During all this there was little mention of the 2017 strategy of flying leisure passengers to secondary Vietnamese cities. The new plan, which presumably complements the 2017 leisure destination plan, calls for operating 787-9s from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – Dang’s “overloaded airports” – to Europe and that holy grail of Vietnamese airlines, the USA.

Conventional airline thought would suggest that the 787s would provide feed in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for the carrier’s fleet of A321neos, but again this would contradict the 2017 idea of avoiding big, congested hubs.

While the 787s are only due for delivery from 2020-2021, Bamboo apparently feels this is too late, and hopes to push this to 2019. The aircraft will have four classes: first, business, premium economy and economy.

During the June ceremony, incidentally, FLC chairman Trinh told FlightGlobal that the carrier continues to make progress toward a local AOC, and that he expected it soon. Just two months earlier, however, the carrier had said that the AOC application would only be made in July.


Anyway, Trinh added that Bamboo would launch sales in October 2018, with flights to begin in the fourth quarter. The airline's headquarters will be in the coastal city of Qui Nhon, which it plans to link with Hanoi in Bamboo's inaugural route. It also plans to begin flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This is one of Asia’s most competitive routes and in sharp contradiction to the 2017 plan to avoid hubs.

Irrespective of its strategy, several obstacles remain in Bamboo’s path: it is not a given that Vietnam will achieve FAA category 1 status, although there appears to be progress in this area. Despite apparently high-ranking connections, FLC also has yet to receive its local AOC. Other parties, including AirAsia and local MRO firm Aerostar, have tried for years to launch airlines, but to no avail.

Even if Bamboo gets off the ground, getting up to scale and becoming profitable competing against the likes of VietJet is far from easy.


The carrier’s website adds little clarity. While it states that it hopes for a late 2018 launch, it acknowledges the regulatory challenges.

Aviation enthusiasts, however, will enjoy the site’s casual use of pictures. On one page is an artist’s depiction of a pure white A380 taking off. The caption reads “Bamboo Airways will take off at the end of 2018.” Another page has a 747-400 landing at dusk. The caption reads “No one knows when Bamboo Airways can take off.”

The two pages could well have been posted at different times, but this is not clear.

The site also makes much of the carrier’s plans to avoid Vietnam’s big hubs – although recently it seems company leadership has changed tack on this.

For the time being, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Bamboo Airways has LOIs to order for 24 A321s and 20 787-9s. Airbus and Boeing will, of course, hope these are firmed up. The upstart unit of FLC Group has made headlines, but it remains to be seen if Bamboo’s strategy, or lack of one, will deliver a success story.

(Greg Waldron - FlightGlobal News)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Saudi Arabian Airlines in Boeing 777X order talks

Saudi Arabian Airlines is exploring a potential order for Boeing 777X wide-body jets, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

It was not immediately clear when Saudi Arabia's state-owned airline, also known as Saudia, could reach a deal or how many 777X jets it is interested in.

Saudia and Boeing declined to comment.

The airline's director-general Saleh bin Nasser al-Jasser told Reuters last November that a wide-body jet order would be considered in 2018.

A potential Saudia order could alleviate production pressure for Boeing which is now unlikely to sell 80 jets that IranAir ordered before the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran and said it would reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the agreement that had reopened global trade with Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities.

Companies from Saudi Arabia and the United States have signed business deals worth tens of billions of dollars since Trump took office in 2017.

The discussions also come at a time when doubts have been expressed about the solidity of existing 777X orders from the Gulf, particularly from Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways which is restructuring after accumulating $3.5 billion in losses in the past two years.

The 777X is an upgrade to Boeing's successful mini-jumbo series. The 406-seat 777-9 is due to enter service in 2020.

Saudia operates a mixed fleet of 148 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, including 777 twin-engined jets, according to its website.

Saudia has been restructuring since 2015, divesting from non-core businesses with the plan of returning to profitability by 2020.

(Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher - Reuters) 

Are composite airframes feasible for narrowbodies?

Boeing and Airbus has been building aluminum aircraft for decades when they switched to composite designs for their respective 787 and A350 programs. Whether that material change can be replicated for next-generation medium-haul aircraft, however, is unclear.

Long-haul aircraft are being produced at comparatively low rates. Out of 763 aircraft that Boeing delivered in 2017, the 737 family accounted for 529, or 72%. The US manufacturer handed over 136 Dreamliners (18%), with the rest of the deliveries split between the 777 (74 units), 747 (14) and 767 (10).

Boeing's two 787 final assembly lines in Seattle and North Charleston together produced, on average, 11 aircraft per month. That rate is to be increased to 14 Dreamliners – or 168 per year – from 2019.

Airbus delivered a total of 718 aircraft in 2017. The A320 family accounted for 558 (78%), with an average monthly output of 47. The European airframer meanwhile delivered 78 A350s, 67 A330s and 15 A380s last year. In May 2018, finance chief Harald Wilhelm said the manufacturer had achieved a target of producing 10 A350s a month.

The difference in volume indicates the scale of change that Airbus and Boeing would face if they were to adopt a composite airframe for a single-aisle aircraft – especially as the two manufacturers have plans to further increase narrow-body production.

Jose Sanchez, executive expert in composites at Airbus, confirms to FlightGlobal that there are no technical obstacles to building a single-aisle type with a composite airframe. The predominant composite material employed across the industry for large primary structures is carbonfibre pre-impregnated with resin (pre-preg). The carbonfibre is laid up in layers and assumes its final form through curing, under pressure and temperature, in an autoclave, and is thus categorised as a thermoset material.


Sanchez says that in-service experience with the material – which has been used for structures like empennages for decades – is "absolutely fantastic". But he acknowledges that simply expanding production capacity will not be enough to enable adoption of a mainly composite airframe for high-volume programs, and that further development is required to make composite aerostructures manufacturing more economical.

"We are making some effort to further reduce the manufacturing costs [and] improve the productivity of the production," he says. Efforts are focused on reducing raw material costs which Sanchez describes as "far higher" than for aluminium, and on improving production processes. "With today's technology, we can manage. But we have to make a strong effort to reduce the costs," he says.

Miguel Castillo Acero, vice-president of technology development at Spanish aerostructures specialist Aernnova, estimates that the costs of producing composite aerostructures are 40-100% higher than for comparable metal components, depending on part complexity.

This is especially relevant to single-aisle aircraft, where profit margins tend to be slimmer than for long-haul jets.

Triumph Aerospace Structures vice-president of engineering Martin Perya thinks it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" to adopt a composite airframe for a single-aisle aircraft with today's carbonfibre technology. He says "high level" investment would be required to scale up production capacity with facilities featuring autoclaves, clean rooms and cold storage spaces, and that such infrastructure is "largely impractical for higher-volume production".

Perry notes that autoclave processing is "the single most cycle-time-affecting process in the value chain". He adds: "The economic viability [of potential capacity expansion] is very wearisome as the investment required would be significant and return on that investment is somewhat risky." He believes a "different approach" is needed as "there is a kind of limit that I think the industry is... hitting right now with that thermoset technology".

For today's carbonfibre structures, autoclave curing is necessary as "high pressure and high temperature... assure us of the quality and mechanical properties of the composite material", says Castillo Acero. "If we avoid the autoclave, [any alternative] process has to be robust enough to achieve acceptable... mechanical properties."

Castillo Acero does not suggest a complete departure from thermosets, but thinks the proportion of components requiring autoclave treatment might have to be reduced and more equipment cured via alternative methods. Out-of-autoclave curing is used for a limited range of parts today.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are exploring ways to improve current composite aerostructures' production and inspection. While much of the carbonfibre lay-up process has already been automated, the use of pre-preg stock has limits in terms of how much material can be deposited at a time. Suppliers are looking at ways of depositing dry fibres and separately adding resin, for example, through infusion or insertion of resin sheets between fibre layers.

Increased automation is another avenue to raise productivity in the short term. Today, manual work characterises much of the raw material handling and lay-up preparations, autoclave operations, and component rework and inspections after curing, notes Castillo Acero.


In the longer term, he foresees a step change in productivity with a shift towards greater use of thermoplastics. This material can be cured – in ovens or in heated press-moulding tools – within minutes, rather than the hours typically needed for thermosets in autoclaves.

Furthermore, thermoplastics tend to be more impact-resistant than thermosets. Additionally, it is possible to melt resin in thermoplastics through heat and weld components together with a structurally reliable joint, which could facilitate weight savings in larger assemblies.

GKN Aerospace, through its Dutch aerostructures division formerly known as Fokker Technologies, supplies thermoplastic leading-edge parts for the A380 and control surfaces for Gulfstream G650 business jets. Russ Dunn, GKN's senior vice-president for engineering, technology and quality, says thermoplastics have traditionally been used for lighter-loaded structures, while thermosets are suitable for large, complex primary structures, as they can be optimized for high static strength.

However, GKN is exploring the use of thermoplastics for "major structural components" – including fuselage skins, empennages and wing components – and is making "very good progress", says Dunn.

Perya describes thermoplastics as "almost the holy grail" of aerospace materials. Looking back at how employment of thermosets has grown over past decades, he expresses surprise that the aerospace industry did not concentrate earlier on opportunities offered by thermoplastics. He thinks the manufacturers were slow to adopt the material after they had spent time and effort on development of thermoset composites.

"You had such a huge investment, they [manufacturers] were trying to get a return on that investment and the time to get everybody comfortable [with using] thermosets," Perya says. But in order to achieve the "next big step" in lowering costs and raising productivity, he says: "We need to move away from that technology to thermoplastic-type technologies."

As Boeing evaluates options for its proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), it is arguably under greater pressure than rival Airbus to decide whether to adopt a composite design for an all-new aircraft. Marketing vice-president Randy Tinseth said in March that the airframer would use on the NMA "proven and understood" technologies rather than radical new ones, and that the manufacturer plans "no big technology push as we saw on [the] 787".

While the NMA is an exploratory project that has yet to be launched, Boeing has discussed its vision of service entry circa 2025. The company declined to comment for this article.

If Boeing or Airbus were to switch to a composite design for a next-generation single-aisle aircraft, manufacturers would need to establish a new industrial production system that is capable of accommodating the huge output of today's 737 and A320 assembly lines, which have been established over several decades and have grown their production gradually over that time. This might be a bigger technological and industrial challenge than the previous shift from metal aircraft to composite designs for the 787 and A350.

While the two twin-jets represent Boeing and Airbus's latest technology, Dunn thinks the aerospace industry is still on a "journey of learning" and has not yet utilized the "full potential of composite structures". He foresees that improvements in the deposition of composite material will deliver efficiencies in the manufacturing process and aircraft design.

"The better control we can get of our manufacturing processes and our inspection technologies, the more conservationism we can remove and... the more cost-effective the products will be," he says, adding: "My view is that a bigger journey is left to be done, and there is more opportunity for improvement on the next generation of composite aircraft."

But he notes: "For every improvement that is made on the composites side, there is work ongoing on the metallic side... Whether [composites] will make the better business case than the alternative [for a future single-aisle aircraft] depends on how quickly and how strongly the opportunities on the metallic side come through."

(Michael Gubisch - FlightGlobal News)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A321-271N (c/n 8129) N212HA "WiliWili"

Taxies to then departs from Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) bound for Honolulu - Daniel K Inouye International Airport (HNL/PHNL) on July 6, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6317) N617GA tbr VP-CPU

Captured departing from and returning to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) following her first post paint-out and interior installation flight on June 18, 2018. 

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650(ER) (c/n 6025) N988HK, ex-VP-CZZ

Taxies to then departs from Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on June 28, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6274) N136ZC

Arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on June 25, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650(ER) (c/n 6249) N666FH

This lovely aircraft is captured arriving at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) following a flight from Fairbanks International Airport (FAI/PAFA) on June 20, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6316) N898S

Taxies to then departs from Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) bound for Boise Air Terminal / Gowen Field (BOI/KBOI) on her delivery flight, June 27, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6339) N639GA

"GLF94" arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) from the factory at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (SAV/KSAV) on June 30, 2018.

(Photos by Michael Carter)