Wednesday, August 31, 2016

'Sledgehammer from the sky:' Cerritos air disaster's long shadow

Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of one of Southern California’s most devastating air disasters.

Two planes — a jetliner and small single-engine aircraft — collided over Cerritos. Here’s an account of the crash and its aftermath from The Times’ archives:

“An Aeromexico DC-9 had left Loreto, Mexico, early in the morning of Aug. 31, 1986, carrying 64 passengers. As it passed about 6,000 feet above Cerritos en route to Los Angeles International Airport, the jet was clipped by a single-engine plane flown by William Kramer of Rancho Palos Verdes.”

Kramer and his wife and daughter were killed instantly. The damaged jet lost control and crashed into a quiet neighborhood just before noon.

A Times headline the next morning described it as 'a sledgehammer from the sky.’

The Times front page reporting the Cerritos jetliner crash on Sept. 1, 1986. (Los Angeles Times)

In addition to the 67 people killed in the two planes, 15 Cerritos residents died amid the flaming wreckage and burning jet fuel that destroyed at least eight homes.

In Cerritos, the emotional wounds from the crash took time to heal. In 2006, a memorial next to City Hall was completed and dedicated. The sculpture bears the names of all of the victims.

Cerritos residents also formed a group that offered support for Loreto, including equipment for its hospital. Loreto officials were on hand for the memorial dedication.

"They felt the same pain that we did," the founder of the Friends of Loreto Foundation said in 2006.

The crash highlighted problems with air traffic control systems. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration has tightened airspace restrictions around LAX and other major airports.

The horror of the crash was captured in a Times retrospective published 10 years after the tragedy:

The last time Jeffrey McIllwain saw his mother, she was standing on the porch in a house dress, saying that she loved him.

For goodness sake, he thought with the embarrassment of a 16-year-old, I'm only going to church.

At 11:52 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1986, while McIllwain was still at Sunday school, an Aeromexico DC-9 on approach to Los Angeles International Airport from Mexico collided with a small plane and slammed into the boy's neighborhood. His mother, Linda, 14 others in their houses, and 67 people aboard the two planes were killed that sunny Sunday.

It was an improbable, unthinkable tragedy: Planes plunging from blue skies into a quiet, suburban neighborhood, slaughtering people in their homes, showering body parts everywhere. Never had so many been killed on the ground as the result of an airline crash in the United States.

(Scott Harrison - Los Angeles Times)

Discarded airline bosses are walking away with eye-watering payouts

Scoot Kirby

As president of US Airways, Scott Kirby cut costs by eliminating free non-alcoholic drinks for coach passengers. This week, he was probably popping the cork on something fizzy. On Tuesday, American Airlines, which took over US Airways in 2013, announced that Mr Kirby is out of his job—and filings show that he is walking away with $13m and lifetime flying privileges.

For passengers who have felt the pinch of every airline cost-saving manoeuvre, the discrepancy will feel cruel. So-called golden parachutes are standard practice in the corporate world, and Mr Kirby’s is peanuts compared with, say, Steve Wynn, a casino mogul who negotiated a $358m exit deal. But at least he got peanuts. Airline passengers have found themselves denied even salty snacks in recent years. Employees, meanwhile, have complained of a lack of investment in basic infrastructure.

So they would be forgiven for asking where, exactly, all this money came from. Mr Kirby will receive $3.85m in cash, accelerated vesting of more than 250,000 stock shares (worth nearly $10m), free flights on American for life, and other benefits, according to a filing with the federal government, as first reported by Skift.

The airline industry is enjoying record profits, due, in large part, to low fuel costs. But it is not as if Mr Kirby was rewarded for his excellent work. According to Skift, the president was asked to leave American so that he could be replaced by his chief operating officer. United Airlines immediately announced that it was hiring him as president. It’s not a bad deal for Mr Kirby, who is now next in line for the top job at United, and who presumably wouldn’t have gotten a royal severance package had he simply walked away to join a rival.

Still, his payout is smaller than the one United gave last year to its departing chief executive, Jeff Smisek. Bloomberg estimated Mr Smisek's deal to be worth $28.6m, after he was ousted under suspicion of corruption. (The allegations related to United’s dealings with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the states’ airports, and particularly whether it flew a commercial route simply because it was handy for an official's holiday home.)

Again, there’s nothing particularly unusual about Mr Kirby’s arrangement. It is the context that will rankle with the public. Bank bosses didn’t come under fire for their golden parachutes until their companies crashed and nearly took the global economy with them. Likewise, as flyers pack into ever-smaller seats and enjoy ever-fewer free amenities, their frustration will be amplified by the knowledge that the supposedly cash-strapped, low-margin airlines were able to dig up eight-figure sums for executives whose services were no longer required.

(A.W. - The Economist)

Southwest Pilots' Huge New Deal Will Force Maverick Airline To Operate Conventionally

Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association members picket outside their airline’s annual shareholders meeting in Chicago earlier this year. Stuck in four years of fruitless contract talks, SWAPA sued Southwest in April trying to prevent it from acquiring the 200-seat Boeing 737-MAX, a new plane central to the airline’s need to increase revenue to cover rising costs. The union asserts that its contract with the carrier does not allow Southwest to introduce that new aircraft without negotiating new pay rates for flying a plane that is 20 percent bigger than the airline’s largest plane today.
(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg) 

Southwest Airlines is all grown up now (and that’s not a compliment).

Oh sure, it still doesn’t offer first class seating, or even assigned seats. There still are no meals served – and likely never will be. And a bit of Southwest’s old playful corporate style still leaks out into public view when flight attendants clown around during the otherwise boring pre-flight safety spiel, or when one of its sly TV commercials gets loaded up with inside jokes, cool cultural touchpoints and subtle put downs of its competitors.

But make no mistake, Southwest reached full maturity on Monday. After four years of frustrating and unusual-for-it ugly labor negotiations, it gave in to labor’s demands and agreed to boost its pilots pay by nearly 30 percent over seven years (back-dated to 2013). Assuming the deal is approved by the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association’s board and ratified by the company’s 8,000-puse pilots Southwest will never be the same (and it’s hard to imagine this deal failing because it’s so much more rich than the deal the rank-and-file rejected last year that would have given them only 17 percent more money).

What’s more, the new pilots’ deal now is certain to be followed by similarly expensive new deals with its mechanics and flight attendants. As a result of those the much higher costs the long-time king of the low cost carriers will be irrevocably changed in three ways:

Southwest’s labor costs will be very close to being the highest in the U.S. airline industry. That turns the carrier’s original low cost operating formula on its ear

Southwest will have to operate more in big air travel markets and compete more aggressively than ever for travelers willing to pay above average fare prices. That’s quite different from Southwest’s historical marketing approach, which has been mostly aimed at price-sensitive leisure travelers and at entrepreneurs and small and mid-size business people trying to keep their travel expenses to a minimum

Southwest will be compelled to abandon its strict go-it-alone operating model and to begin cooperating with foreign and even certain U.S. airlines in order to generate the additional revenue it’ll need to cover its skyrocketing labor costs.

In other words, Southwest is on course to become just another big U.S. airline. It’s historical distinctives – low fares, extreme operating efficiency, high esprit de corps and an irreverent and funny style – will, over time, fade and become secondary, or even tertiary marketing items instead of the main selling points.

Under the tentative new contract between SWAPA and Southwest, the carrier’s average pilot’s pay will soar from an already eye-popping $230,000 a year to almost $300,000 a year by 2020. The most senior pilots and those who aggressively seek additional flying opportunities in order to maximize their earnings can bring in much more than that. In light of the big new pay hike it’s hard to see how the carrier can avoid granting its other unionized workers similarly gracious contracts. And in short order little ol’ low cost Southwest will be vying with high cost Delta for the title of “highest paying airline.”

To cover those much higher costs, Southwest will have to begin pursuing “big” dollar travelers like never before. The Dallas-based carrier built its business model around selling tickets on short haul flights to grandmas and college back packers, and to penny-pinching day-tripping business people who did not have the huge travel budgets to fund their business trips. Yet it quietly has been the case for 15 or 20 years that Southwest is much more focused on big city travelers in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas than on those in smaller cities like Corpus Christi and Albuquerque that it featured in its early years.

But in the years ahead Southwest will have to become much more focused on milking every dollar possible out of big city markets. It no longer will be able to maintain the pretense of still being a low fare carrier. It may not be a high fare carrier because of its lack of first class seating, but it’s already possible to find lower priced seats on competing carriers than on Southwest. And in the future it will become easier to do so.

That’s why the airline has signed up to buy up to 300 new Boeing 737 MAX 8-200s – which at 200 seats will be the biggest version ever of the 7237 that Southwest ever has flown (and it only flies 737s). It not only will need to carry passengers willing to pay more, it will need to carry more of them. It’s also why Southwest also now is expanding beyond the domestic market and into Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. As bank robber Willy Sutton famously said when asked why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is.”

And don’t be totally surprised if the carrier begins charging its passengers at least some fees. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that the carrier has abandoned a major advertising theme because of economic realities. In the 1980s and 1990s Southwest’s entire advertising effort was built around its unequaled operating efficiency. It even had a huge trophy, called the Triple Crown, created so that it could awarded it to itself for leading the industry in all three of the major customer satisfaction statistical categories – fewest mishandled bags, fewest passenger complaints, and best on-time arrival performance. 

But as it grew and began expanding into bigger markets with more congested airports, its smooth operations grew considerably rougher. Today Southwest is a middle of the pack performer in all of those categories. The rising pressure to seek Big Dollar passengers and to carry more travelers per flight will only complicate and slow down its operations even further. You likely will never hear a Southwest executive say the words “Triple Crown” again.

Not only must Southwest now become more like conventional competitors, American, United and Delta in its pricing, operations, marketing and route selection, it also will be forced to abandon its maverick, we-do-it-our-way approach. With only the smallest of exceptions here or there, Southwest has operated for 45 years as a stand-alone product. It doesn’t cooperate with other carriers to hand off passengers who want to fly part way on Southwest and part way on another carrier.

With only a couple of insignificant exceptions, it never has cooperated with foreign carriers to sell connecting flights to foreign destinations or foreign travelers connecting flights to interior U.S. destinations. But upon ratification of its new pilots agreement Southwest will get for the first time the right to begin cooperating with foreign carriers to do just that. It also will get the right to jointly market service with certain other airlines – mainly smaller “regional” airlines, to exchange passengers on lower demand routes to small cities.

The new pilots’ agreement does put some limits on Southwest’s ability to engage in so-called “code sharing” agreements with other airlines. Once passenger traffic on such routes reaches certain levels Southwest would be required either to take over that flying itself or to curtail the service. But such limits will have little real world impact. Now that SWAPA is prepared to allow the code sharing camel’s nose in under the tent, there’ll be no stopping that big animal from eventually getting all the way inside.

The additional revenue and business opportunities such deals represent will be too sweet for either Southwest or its pilots to give up. Thus, if it makes sense for Southwest to takeover that additional flying itself it will, and its pilots will be happy. And if doesn’t make sense for Southwest to take over that flying – like, say, on a Los Angeles-China route, it will be in both sides best interest to loosen the restrictions and allow for even more code sharing.

It is difficult to forecast a day when Southwest would join one of the three big international airline alliances – oneworld anchored by American, Star anchored by United and SkyTeam anchored by Delta. That may well never happen. Still, Southwest is all grown up now. It’s not the pesky little upstart with low costs and a cheeky attitude anymore. It’s a 720-plane behemoth, with relatively high costs and it will have to behave like the other behemoth carriers. It will have to take ever bigger steps away from its maverick, low-cost, low-fare origins in order to generate the bigger revenues it will need to cover its higher costs.
The upside of that is that Southwest today is fully capable of going toe-to-toe with the Big Three conventional airlines. Indeed, because of its higher costs these days, it must do so. But increasingly it will have to do so on the Big Three’s terms.

(Dan Reed - Forbes)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Japan's ANA says 787 engine repairs could take three years

Rolls Royce - Trent 1000 Engine.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Japanese carrier ANA Holdings Inc said on Tuesday it could take as long as three years to replace faulty turbine blades in the Rolls-Royce engines powering its Boeing 787s.

ANA said last week that under certain flight conditions some of its 50 Dreamliners have been affected by vibrations caused by cracked turbine blades in the rear sections of the engines, forcing three flights since February to return to airports in Japan.

The carrier has halted 18 flights this month resulting in 82 million yen (613,713.12 pounds) in lost revenue as it works on the jets and has said it may cancel other flights in coming months.

Rolls-Royce was not immediately available for comment. The company has so far said the problem is limited to a portion of 787s operated by the Japanese airline.

All of ANA's Dreamliners are powered by Rolls-Royce engines. The Japanese airline, which was the 787's launch customer, is the biggest operator of the Boeing plane, with more than a tenth of the global fleet.

Of the 445 Dreamliners in operation worldwide, about 40 percent use the Rolls-Royce engines, according to Boeing.

Other operators of 787s equipped with the Rolls-Royce engine include British Airways, Air China, Air New Zealand, LATAM Airlines Group and Singapore Airline's Scoot.

Airlines that order the 787 Dreamliner can choose between the Rolls-Royce engines and General Electric Co's (GE.N) GEnx engines.

(Maki Shiraki - Reuters)

Why Boeing's Dreamliner pitch to Pakistan is a big win for both jetmaker, airline

A recent pitch by Boeing Commercial Airplanes boss Ray Conner to Pakistan, offering to swap an order for five 777 jets into a Dreamliner purchase instead, could benefit both the airline and help the jet maker avoid an embarrassing production cut, an aerospace analyst suggests.

In a private letter the Puget Sound Business Journal obtained and published earlier this month, Conner urged Pakistan's Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to convert Pakistan International Airways' existing order for five Boeing 777-300ERs to some new Dreamliners.

Conner told the Pakistan prime minister that switching to Dreamliners would make Pakistanis proud to fly their national airline again, but also would restore profitability to the money-losing airline by reducing fuel and maintenance costs on the jets. This would help PIA prepare for privatization, Conner added. Conner told the Pakistan prime minister that switching to Dreamliners would make Pakistanis proud to fly their national airline again, but also would restore profitability to the money-losing airline by reducing fuel and maintenance costs on the jets. This would help PIA prepare for privatization, Conner added.

In a recent analysis that Netherlands based analyst Dhierin Bechai wrote about the Conner letter published here, he suggested Boeing had more than PIA's best interests at heart when it proposed the order swap.

Conner was thinking about Boeing's own Dreamliner production lines, Bechai suggested.

"The letter tells it all," Bechai said."To me, the letter is a sign that Boeing is trying to fill delivery slots for the Boeing 787 so that it can increase rates to 14 per month, in the best case, and in the worst case, be able to fill up slots that are freed up now. I think the letter is a sign of Boeing preparing itself for another (production) rate cut, where it is aggressively trying to convert 777 orders to orders for the Dreamliner," Bechai wrote.

"In times where Boeing has been discounting the Boeing 777-300ER to increase its attractiveness and fill the big holes in the production (line), this letter seems to be very odd." Bechai added. "To me it is also clear that Boeing is not really concerned about PIA to the extent it claims in the letter, but is trying to facilitate a swap here that benefits their own plans."

Though Boeing has its own agenda, Bechai said such a deal remains good for Pakistan's national carrier.

The Dreamliner is better suited for PIA's fleet and would really help the airline cut costs, Bechai explained.

The analyst emphasized that PIA's own challenges and difficulties stretch beyond the airline's fleet, though, and plague "management layers of the company."

Conner's letter to Pakistan's prime minister emerged just before Indian airline Jet Airways asked Boeing to postpone delivery of its order for 10 new Dreamliners for two years.

Bechai's report suggests Boeing will announce a Dreamliner production cut within six months.

(Andrew McIntosh - Puget Sound Business Journal)

Why Bell Helicopter's New V-280 Could Be a Game Changer on the Battlefield


A new Army-led effort to engineer a next-generation tiltrotor aircraft for the 2030s includes the integration of a high-tech 360-degree sensor suite quite similar to the one used on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter called a Distributed Aperture Systems, or DAS, developers explained.

“Instead of having sensors mounted to the turret, you have sensors that are mounted to the aircraft – so essentially you have sensors staring in 360-degrees around the aircraft at any given time. Those images are stitched together so it appears as one continuous image to the pilot. Both pilots can make use of the same system,” Vince Tobin, Vice President of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, Bell Helicopter, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

This technology will also allow troops riding in the back of the aircraft to wear goggles or a helmet giving them a view of the surrounding sensor feeds as they transit to a mission, Tobin added.

The DAS system will also form the basis a small-arms enemy fire detection technology which will search for and locate the signature of incoming enemy attacks. The sensors will be able to discern the location and heat signature coming from enemy small arms fire, giving the aircraft and opportunity to quickly attack with its weapons – lowering risk of injury to the pilots, crew and passengers.

Army Future Vertical Lift - 2030s:

The new Bell tiltrotor, called the V-280 Valor, is part of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program aimed at establishing requirements and paving the way toward a new Future Vertical Lift aircraft designed to meet a wide range of new requirements.

The concept behind the Army’s joint Future Vertical Lift program is to engineer a forward-looking, future aircraft able to reach airplane speeds and yet retain and ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter.

“The aircraft will have an ability to come to a hover in challenging conditions and then, while at a hover, operate at low speeds with maneuvering capability to roll and yaw. We want it to have the handling perspective to make the aircraft able to do what it is able to do,” Tobin added.

The V-280 Valor will also have yet-to-be-determined Degraded Visual Environment technology that allows sensors to see through obscurants such as brown-out conditions, bad weather and other impediments to navigation. Part of this will also include a system called Controlled Flight into Terrain wherein an aircraft has an ability to quickly re-route itself it is approaching a dangerous obstacle such as a mountain, rock wall or building structure.

The new attack variant is expected to use a modernized or next-generation of existing Apache sensors and targeting systems called the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or MTADS/PVS.

When it comes to sensors and mission equipment, Bell engineers are building a tiltrotor aircraft with what is called “open architecture,” meaning software and hardware able to quickly integrate new technologies as they emerge. The concept is to construct a helicopter that is not intended to operate today but rather advance technology well into the 2030s and beyond. Therefore, it will need to anticipate the weapons, sensors, computer processors and avionics likely to emerge by the 2030s.

This will likely draw upon a semi-autonomous navigation technology built into the aircraft known as “fly-by-wire.” Bell Helicopter developed the initial algorithms for this technology, which is also now on the V-22 Osprey.

Another survivability technology potentially slated for the aircraft is a system known as Common Infrared Countermeasure, or CIRCM; CIRCM is a lighter weight variant of an existing technology which uses a laser-jammer to throw incoming enemy missiles off course – therefore protecting the aircraft.

"We are looking to the DoD customer to see what they want. Either way we can get that on the airplane,” Tobin explained.

Bell helicopter has now attached the wing to the fuselage of a new, next-generation tiltrotor aircraft engineered to reach speeds of 280 knots, fly for 800 kilometers on one tank of fuel, hover and maneuver in “high-hot” conditions and function as both a utility and attack helicopter platform.

The intention is to build an advanced, high-tech tiltrotor demonstrator aircraft to take flight in November of 2017 as part of an effort to ultimate build a future aircraft able to begin operations in the 2030s.

“There is one long wing. We attach the middle of the wing to the fuselage - the entire wing is one piece bolted to the fuselage of the airplane. One wing covers both sides. The wing is attached with aircraft grade structural fasteners. There are enough aircraft fasteners to provide sufficient strength to hold the aircraft together,” Vince Tobin, Vice President of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, Bell Helicopter, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

In addition, the future aircraft is intended to be able to use fuel-efficient engine technology to allow an aircraft to travel at least 800 kilometers on a single tank of fuel. Such an ability will enable the aircraft to operate more easily one a single mission without needing Forward Arming and Refueling Points, or FARPs.

The idea is to engineer and aircraft able to fly from the west coast to Hawaii without needing to refuel.

“FVL is a high priority. We have identified capability gaps. We need technologies and designs that are different than what the current fleet has. It will carry more equipment, perform in high-hot conditions, be more maneuverable within the area of operations and execute missions at longer ranges,” Rich Kretzschmar, project manager for the FVL effort, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.

Requirements for the program are still being refined for the Army-led program, which is aimed at service future aircraft for all four services.

These requirements, now being put into actual demonstrator aircraft built by both Bell and a Boeing-Sikorsky industry teams, include building and aircraft able to reach speeds greater than 230 knots, hover in thin air at 6,000-feet and 95-degrees Fahrenheit, achieve a combat radius of at least 434 kilometers and be configured to include emerging sensors and mission equipment technologies likely to emerge by the 2030s.

“We had set 230 as the speed requirement because we wanted to push the technology. We wanted people to bring new ideas and new configurations to the table,” Dan Bailey, JMR TD Program Manager, said in an interview with Scout Warrior several months ago.

Advancing Tiltrotor Technology:

Bell intends to build upon and advance existing tiltrotor technology such as that which is currently operation in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft. The Osprey continues to perform well in a wide range of missions and has recently been selected by the Navy to perform the Carrier On-board Delivery or COD mission transporting troops, equipment and weapons on-and-off surface ships.

The V-280 Valor is designed to be slightly bigger than an existing Black Hawk helicopter and use 24-inch seats to carry 11 passengers with gear, Tobin said.

“What Bell has done is taking its historical V-22 aircraft, and all the demonstrators before that, and applies them to this next-generation tilt-rotor. It is a straight wing versus a V-22 which is not straight. This reduces complexity,” Bailey explained. “They are also building additional flapping into the rotor system and individual controls that should allow for increased low-speed maneuverability.”

The tiltrotors are slated to go on in November, Tobin added.

“We will get the gear boxes and transmission in before we get those blades on,” Tobin explained.

Depending upon ultimate requirement established by the Army and DoD, Bell expects to engineer an attack variant of the aircraft with a slightly different fuselage configuration.

“An armed attack version will have a gun, 2.75in folding-fin rockets and some type of point-to-point missile - hellfire or some later generation missile that would guide off of a laser or IR. We are being open ended in that we are not designing any specific requirement,” Tobin explained.

(Kris Osborn - The National Interest / Scout Warrior)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trump effort to stoke fear over Boeing laughed off by experts

Workers assemble Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the company's massive assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C., on Dec. 19, 2013.
(Bruce Smith -  Associated Press)

Read more here:

For over a year, Donald Trump has had a message for voters whose livelihood depends on the aircraft industry, specifically aviation giant Boeing – elect me, or your jobs are moving to China.

Aircraft industry analysts say that claim is unfounded – “side-splittingly hilarious,” in the words of Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, which studies a wide range of aviation-related industries.

“They’re an embarrassing misunderstanding of the aircraft industry,” he said of Trump’s claims.

Yet Trump continues to raise the idea of Boeing leaving the United States. “Oh, don’t worry; if I’m president it won’t happen,” the Republican presidential nominee said last month at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “If I’m president, Boeing will be very happy – believe me.”

Trump’s favorite example of what might be lost has been Boeing’s “big, big […] beautiful” facility in North Charleston, S.C. The company’s new plant employs more than 7,500 South Carolinians.

“All of a sudden you’re gonna be reading a big front-page story, all over the place, that Boeing is going to leave South Carolina, they’re going to make all their planes in China. Because that’s what they do,” he said in South Carolina ahead of its Republican primary in February, warning that China would bully the U.S. by devaluing its currency.

Aboulafia, however, says there’s one big flaw in Trump’s argument: South Carolina is the very place where Boeing is outsourcing jobs – from its facilities in Washington state.

“He’s standing at the very center of where the jobs are shifting and he’s saying they’re going somewhere else completely,” Aboulafia said. “If there was someone in that crowd who wasn’t confused, tell them to call me and tell me what the hell they’re thinking.”

The South Carolina site has expanded from manufacturing the 787 to designing and producing parts for the 737 MAX and the upcoming 777X. The North Charleston site houses the 787 Dreamliner final assembly and delivery facility, and delivered its 100th Dreamliner in February. It has a rapidly expanding research center with over 400 engineers.

“The South Carolina facility is new, brand new. It’s a huge tectonic shift (from previous production in Seattle) – so the idea of saying, ‘Nope this isn’t the future; China is the future,’ is ridiculous,” Aboulafia said.

Adam Pilarski, vice president of aviation consulting group Avitas Inc., said when he heard Trump’s claims about Boeing, his reaction was, “Are you kidding me?”

“These statements about moving jobs don’t make sense. Obviously he doesn’t know much about this industry,” he said, adding that Trump’s one-size-fits-all approach to manufacturing doesn’t work in the aerospace sector.

“Aviation is different,” he said. “In order to produce stuff, you need a huge amount of supervision, not to mention the processes the FAA has for being approved – it’s very, very labor-intensive in terms of regulatory authority.”

Pilarski, who has observed the aviation industry in China for 30 years, said that while it’s possible to bring all that supervision overseas, it would be hugely expensive compared to staying in the U.S.

Boeing’s new plant in China, which has been one of Trump’s favorite talking points, is unlikely to make a large difference to U.S. jobs.

“That’s a completion facility, which is basically installing carpets and some light paint work. This is not aircraft building,” Aboulafia said, adding that the lack of intellectual property protections makes China unappealing for high-level aircraft work, anyway. It was announced in September that the new plant would install interiors and paint exteriors on Boeing 737 airliners.

“That interior work is not that critical since it doesn’t create a huge value – that’s not where the new technology is,” Pilarski said.

There is another, glaring reason that aviation experts say Trump’s old-fashioned focus on labor is completely off: robots.

“Automation is moving jobs back to the U.S. very fast,” Aboulafia said.

He cited the example of the Boeing 777X, which, starting next year, will be manufactured using robots to make wing skins and spars, a main structural component running the length of the wing. Making a single full-length piece would save on manufacturing costs. In contrast, the composite wing span of the 787 is made in three sections by Mitsubishi in Japan.

“Composite materials are very capital intensive, not labor intensive, and it’s increasingly heavily automated, so what jobs there are depend on a high-level skill set,” Aboulafia said, adding that those jobs are going to be based in the U.S. as aircraft production becomes more automated – making Trump’s Boeing example irrelevant in the long run.

Boeing says the China plant will have no impact on the facilities mentioned by Trump.

“We have no plans to close our commercial airplane assembly plants in either Washington state or South Carolina,” Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said in a statement.

The Trump campaign did not respond to McClatchy’s request for comment.

While he’s doled out dire warnings for Boeing’s future, Trump has also benefited from the company. It was one of the biggest gainers in his portfolio in 2015, earning him $3.96 million on 65,000 shares of the aerospace giant, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Trump is also a fan of its products. His now-famous Trump-emblazoned private jet is a Boeing 757 he purchased from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011 for $100 million.

(Vera Bergengruen - The Charlotte Observer)

Lawmakers to Navy: Leave Marine One Upkeep in Connecticut

 (Associated Press)

Connecticut's congressional delegation is urging the U.S. Navy to suspend any possible plans to shift maintenance of the Marine One presidential helicopter fleet from Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford to a facility in Florida.

Members of the state's all-Democratic delegation sent a letter Monday to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus urging him to hold off on any relocation pending a "thorough review of all direct and indirect costs" of a possible relocation.

The delegation says no other facility has the expertise to maintain the helicopters. They say the fleet has been supported and maintained by about 85 workers in Stratford over the past four decades.

Sikorsky was acquired by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin in 2015.

Negotiations concerning the Marine One contract between Lockheed Martin and the Navy recently fell through.

(Associated Press /

Monday, August 22, 2016

Alaska Airlines breaks ground on $40M Anchorage hangar

Alaska Airlines formally broke ground Monday on construction of a $40 million aircraft maintenance hangar in Anchorage.

Officials with the Seattle-based airline say the planned 105,000-square-foot structure is part of a $100 million investment in Alaska that includes new cargo planes and rural terminal improvements.

On Monday, airline officials and state and local officials were on hand to unveil the design for the Anchorage hangar, which will be nearly three times the size of the current structure. Officials also dug shovels into a rectangle of soil at the facility’s future site.

Construction is slated for completion in summer 2018. The project is expected to employ 150 at the height of construction.

Anchorage-based architecture firm McCool Carlson Green and general contractor Kiewit were brought in to design and build the hangar.

(The Seattle Times / Associated Press)

Boeing tanker moves into production with $2.8 billion contract


The U.S. Air Force awarded The Boeing Co. a $2.8 billion contract for production of two batches of refueling tankers, moving along a program that has to this point been hampered by delays and cost overruns for the Chicago aircraft manufacturer.

Under the contract, which is being managed out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Boeing will deliver two low-rate initial production lots of seven and 12 KC-46A tankers. The Air Force is seeking 179 of these planes to replace about a third of its aging tanker fleet.

Richard Aboulafia, a Fairfax-based aviation consultant at the Teal Group said with this contract "removes a lot of the remaining risk on the program — better late than never.”

The risk Aboulafia speaks of is largely related to the cost overruns Boeing has had to shoulder at various stages of the development of the program. Boeing won the contract for the tanker in February 2011 and did so by bidding very aggressively for a fixed-price contract. Boeing has had to take several charges totaling more than $1.5 billion as a result of this arrangement.

Boeing's worst days with the program seem to be behind it, though Aboulafia said the company isn't completely out of the woods.

Further challenges could hit the company if "transitioning to production costs more than anticipated" or "there is some kind of glitch that shows up when producing,” he said. These are "not nearly as severe as the challenges associated with making an aircraft meet the mission requirement, but still, they’re there.”

Wright-Patt announced earlier this year that Col. John Newberry was taking over as system program manager for the KC-46 Pegasus development program. In that role he oversees the remainder of the test process and initial production deliveries by Boeing of the new air tanker.

Wright-Patt is Ohio’s largest single site employer, with more than 26,000 workers and supporting roughly 60,000 jobs locally when you factor in the defense contractors and other companies that are here because of the Air Force presence. Wright-Patt alone accounts for more than $4 billion in economic impact locally each year.

Ohio is the No. 1 supplier to Boeing, which has an office in Dayton and spends more than $11 billion with at least 375 suppliers in the state, including many in the Dayton region.

Among the local suppliers for Boeing are UTC Aerospace Landing Systems in Troy, which has 700 employees.

In addition to large national employers like UTC, the Dayton area also is home to Boeing suppliers such as Projects Unlimited Inc., which has about 165 workers. Also, Centerville-based SelectTech Services provides support in structural engineering, while Boeing uses Troy-based Dare Electronics for devices that monitor voltage or perform sensing or control functions.

In Middletown, Magellan Aerospace has about 120 employees and makes a variety of products for Boeing such as exhaust systems for the 767, large access doors on the new KC-46 tanker and F-15 engine shrouds.

Among the other local suppliers listed by Boeing are Dayton Aerospace in Beavercreek, Konecranes in Springfield and Esterline Corp. in Xenia, as well as Renegade Materials Corp. in Springboro that supplies polyimide composite materials for aircraft and was named a top supplier for Boeing in the 2015 supplier awards.

James Bach - Dayton Business Journal)

Will Boeing Beef Up Its Orders for Wide-Body Planes?

As of August 16, Boeing Co. has taken net orders totaling 38 for its four wide-body jets: the 747, 767, 777 and 787. The company guided full-year orders for all its commercial planes at 535 and wide-body orders totaling 215. To date, the company has booked 335 orders, of which 297 are for the narrow-body 737.

With just over a quarter of the year remaining, Boeing has taken orders for less than 20% of the wide-body planes it has forecast. The company has begun walking back its planned increase of 787 production, currently 12 per month, to 14 per month by the end of the decade. In Boeing’s conference call discussing second-quarter results, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said:

"Our principle here is to keep wide body supply and demand in balance. And we’re confident in the 787 program across that span of scenarios, and we’re going to continue to work campaigns to fill out to the 14 a month rate step-up, and we’ll evaluate timelines and decisions around that. But you can be very confident that whatever we decide, we’re going to keep supply and demand in balance."

In what may be an even more important decision, the company is now planning to reduce production of the current model 777 from 8.3 per month to 7.0 per month early next year, with an eye to reducing the rate to 5.5 per month in 2018. The 777 Classic, as it’s called, is a bridge to production of the new 777X, which is due for production in 2020. Last month the president of the company’s commercial division said that orders for the 777 Classic are “pretty solid” through the third quarter of 2017. According to Aviation Week, 777 production is about 55% sold for 2018 and 30% sold for 2019.

Boeing’s Chief financial officer told a conference audience earlier this month that over the next couple of months the company will have more insight into orders for the 777 Classic, “We’ll either solidify those orders and be able to [match the bridge plan], or we’ll modify the production rate, at least through that bridge.”

Through August 16, Boeing’s backlog of orders totaled 5,697 commercial jets, of which 4,404 are orders for the 737. The 777 backlog is 476, including both the Classic and the 777X, of which just 170 are orders for the Classic.

At a production rate of seven per month that backlog will last two years, but that leaves Boeing with no backlog until the 777X is in production. The company has admitted it needs 40 to 50 new orders per year for the 777 in order to bridge the production gap between the new and old versions of the plane. So far this year it has taken eight new orders.

(Paul Ausick - 24/7 Wall St.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Five Reasons Boeing's Big Bet On Air Force Tankers Will Pay Off Handsomely

 A Boeing KC-46A tanker refuels a C-17 airlifter (also built by Boeing) during Air Force testing in July. Aerial refueling greatly extends the reach of joint and coalition aircraft. The KC-46A will be able to refuel three fighter-size aircraft in flight at the same time.
 (U.S. Air Force / Boeing)

The Air Force announced Thursday that it has awarded the Boeing Company a $2.8 billion contract for the first two production lots of KC-46 Pegasus aerial-refueling tankers totaling 19 aircraft. The award follows an August 12 “Milestone C” approval by the Pentagon’s top weapons purchaser signaling that the tanker has surmounted development obstacles and is considered ready for production. Boeing will begin delivering the first production planes to the Air Force in about a year.

Developing the Air Force’s next-generation aerial refueler from its 767 wide-body jetliner has proven harder than Boeing anticipated. When they bid aggressively to win the fixed-price development contract in 2011, Boeing executives figured they might not hit the $4.3 billion target price the Air Force had established, but they could avoid absorbing cost overruns above the ceiling price of $4.9 billion. The way the contract was written, the government would cover 60% of costs above the target price until the ceiling was reached, and then it was all Boeing’s money.

Although Boeing engineers ended up completing the program close to their planned schedule — they used up all six months of slack built into the plan, and then some — their cost estimates proved too optimistic. The Air Force says tanker development will eventually cost $6.4 billion, meaning Boeing (a contributor to my think tank) has had to cover over a billion dollars in unexpected expenses. However, that is a small price to pay for the aerial refueling franchise that Boeing has secured. Here are five reasons why Boeing’s bet on next-gen tankers is going to pay off handsomely for shareholders.

The current program is just the beginning. The Air Force has 450 Cold War tankers that it must replace. So the present $52 billion program to build 179 next-gen tankers by 2027 is just the beginning of what will be needed. According to the Pentagon’s latest aviation funding plan, “continued procurement of KC-46s beyond FY 2027 or the acquisition of a new tanker will be necessary beginning in FY 2028.” Having invested heavily in developing and sustaining that first tranche of tankers, the Air Force is unlikely to go looking for another plane before it commences follow-on buys in 2028. Add in likely sales to foreign customers, and Pegasus production will probably be worth over $100 billion to Boeing.

Most tanker revenues are generated after delivery. Military aircraft typically cost more to sustain over a multi-decade service life than they do to manufacture. Some of those post-production costs are items like fuel, but a big chunk consists of maintenance, spare parts, repairs, and the modifications necessitated by changing threats and technology. Boeing already does a booming business in aircraft services, and it will have the inside track to participate in sustaining Pegasus. So the long-term value of KC-46 to the company is more like $200 billion rather than $100 billion. The Air Force will insist on doing some sustainment organically, but it can’t afford to reproduce the infrastructure Boeing already has for supporting 767s.

Boeing has preserved a 60-year franchise in aerial refueling. By bidding aggressively to win KC-46, Boeing preserved one of its most valuable military franchises. All of the tankers in the current Air Force fleet were built by Boeing, and the venerable KC-135s that Pegasus initially will replace — last produced in 1965 — were themselves successors to the propeller-driven KC-97 tanker that Boeing derived from its B-29 bomber. In other words, Boeing has more experience with aerial refueling than any other company in the world, and preserving that franchise was crucial to the business strategy of its defense unit.

Militarized jetliners are becoming a core offering. With the gradual waning of legacy McDonnell Douglas aircraft lines, Boeing is placing renewed emphasis on leveraging its commercial transport expertise into military markets. It has sold earlier tanker versions of the 767 to Italy and Japan, radar planes based on the 737 to Australia, South Korea and Turkey, and a commercially derived maritime patrol aircraft called Poseidon to the Navy. To the extent that it can successfully adapt its jetliners to future military missions such as refueling, surveillance and intelligence gathering, it generates important synergies (not to mention opportunities) for the whole enterprise.

Airbus is blocked from becoming an Air Force supplier. One reason Boeing bid so aggressively to beat Airbus in the competition for the tanker program is that it didn’t know how much financial help its heavily subsidized rival would get from friendly European governments. The Air Force refused to take subsidies into account, even though the World Trade Organization has ruled that the plane Airbus was offering probably wouldn’t even exist in the absence of illegal “launch aid.” Boeing bet big to win the tanker in part because allowing Airbus to become a major supplier to the Air Force (Boeing’s biggest military customer) would have impaired the long-term outlook for its entire business.

With the announcement on Thursday that KC-46 production will now commence, though, it is easier to step back and see the wisdom of Boeing’s tanker bet. One thing that has allowed America’s biggest exporter to survive while most of its former rivals in the aircraft business have disappeared is the ability to think and plan for the long term. Aircraft development and demand cycles extend over many years, so staying ahead requires being able to look beyond quarterly earnings calls. The smart bet that Boeing made on the Air Force’s next-generation tanker will still be paying dividends to shareholders and stakeholders alike long after all the executives engaged in the decision are retired and gone.

(Loren Thompson - Forbes)

Navy F-35C Landed So Precisely, It Tore Up a Runway

F-35 practices a carrier landing.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Dane Wiedmann)

Before seven of the Navy’s carrier-variant F-35 Joint Strike Fighters embarked aboard the carrier USS George Washington for a third and final round of developmental testing, they completed a required ashore training period, practicing landings at Choctaw Naval Outlying Field near Pensacola, Florida.

The landings went well — maybe a little too well.

“They were landing in the same spot on the runway every time, tearing up where the hook touches down,” Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, head of Naval Air Forces, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “So we quickly realized, we needed to either fix the runway or adjust, put some variants in the system. So that’s how precise this new system is.”

The new system in question is called Delta Flight Path, a built-in F-35C technology that controls glide slope and minimizes the number of variables pilots must monitor as they complete arrested carrier landings. A parallel system known as MAGIC CARPET, short for Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, is being developed for use with the Navy’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. Together, these systems may allow carriers to operate with fewer tankers, leaving more room for other aircraft, Shoemaker said. reported on the implications of this new landing technology from the carrier George Washington earlier this week, as the first operational pilot-instructors with Strike Fighter Squadron 101, out of Oceana, Virginia, began daytime carrier qualifications on the aircraft. On Thursday, Shoemaker had an update on the ongoing carrier tests.

Of about 100 F-35C arrested landings were completed on the carrier, he said, 80 percent engaged the No. 3 wire, meaning the aircraft had touched down at the ideal spot. As of Monday, there had been zero so-called bolters, when the aircraft misses an arresting wire and must circle the carrier for another attempt.

“I think that’s going to give us the ability to look at the way we work up and expand the number of sorties. I think it will change the way we operate around the ship … in terms of the number of tankers you have to have up, daytime and nighttime,” he said. “I think that will give us a lot of flexibility in the air wing in the way we use those strike fighters.”

Tankers, or in-air refueling aircraft, must be ready when aircraft make arrested landings in case they run low on fuel during landing attempts. Fewer bolters, therefore, means a reduced tanker requirement.

“Right now, we configure maybe six to eight tankers aboard the ship,” Shoemaker said. “I don’t think we need … that many. That will give us flexibility on our strike fighter numbers, increase the Growler numbers, which I know we’re going to do, and probably E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye carrier-launched radar aircraft] as well.”

The F-35C’s last developmental testing phase is set to wrap up Aug. 23. MAGIC CARPET is expected to be introduced to the fleet in 2019, officials have said.

(Hope Hodge Seck - DoD Buzz)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Boeing execs: Dreamliner has 'hit its stride' as strong sales, China deals fuel growth

Jet Aviation Flight Services Boeing 787-8(BBJ) (35309/143) 2-DEER, ex-N28MS rests on the ramp at Victorville (VCV/KVCV) on August 10, 2016.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Senior Boeing officials argued Wednesday that the jet-maker's Dreamliner 787 has put its early troubles behind it after more than 100 million people have flown aboard the wide-body jet.

"We fully acknowledge a challenging entry into service of the 787, but the 787 is now hitting its stride, " Bob Michael, a senior marketing manager at Boeing, told reporters at a special briefing on the manufacturer's Dreamliner program.

"Some 120 markets are now connected non-stop thanks to the 787," he added, citing the Dreamliner's greater range and fuel efficiency as driving factors.

Michael said the Chicago-based aircraft maker currently has 1,161 orders for Dreamliners on its books from 65 different customers.

That includes 153 orders for the 787-10 variation of the jet, he said, including 10 Dreamliners sold to unidentified super wealthy buyers or VIPs.

Michael said that 15 percent of the deals involve leasing companies, which build jet portfolios and eventually lease them to airlines as immediate or temporary needs arise.

Acknowledging what they called "softness" in the global market for huge wide-body jets like the Dreamliner, the Boeing officials nevertheless reiterated that they remain optimistic about increasing sales to Chinese airlines.

"If you look at the Chinese market, I'm not seeing any signs of weakness there. It's very hungry public that wants to travel abroad," said Ihssane Mounir, a Seattle-based senior vice president of sales for Boeing who serves customers in Northeast Asia.

"They didn't have that before in China. The middle class in China equals the population of the entire United States," Mounir added, citing recent Boeing deals with Air China and China Eastern airlines.

"You have a market this is under-served and continues to be under-served," Mounir added.

In April, Boeing said China Eastern Airlines finalized an order for 15 Dreamliner 787-9s. That deal was worth nearly $4 billion at current list prices.

Mounir said Boeing's partnership with All Nippon Airways of Japan as a launch customer has helped improve the Dreamliner's design, efficiency and reliability as an airplane.

"We could not have selected a better partner to go through the growing pains of a new program with," he said.

(Andrew McIntosh - Puget Sound Business Journal)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A $652-million project to move LAX runway will be scrapped after lawsuit

A proposal to move the northernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport closer to homes will be shelved indefinitely under an agreement announced Wednesday, ending a key lawsuit challenging the planned modernization of LAX.

The settlement, which will go before the City Council for approval next week, would halt a $652-million project to relocate the runway 260 feet closer to the communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey.

Filed in May 2013 by the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, the suit alleged that Los Angeles World Airports had not done the required environmental impact evaluation or taken measures to reduce any adverse effects resulting from the move.

For years, the runway project has been a major issue in residential neighborhoods because of the potential for increased noise and air pollution.

“We are turning a new page and standing up for communities next to the airport,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in making the announcement.

The agreement includes plans for a community park on the airport’s north side, as well as additional passenger gates in the central terminal area to replace those that currently must be accessed by shuttle buses.

Safety improvements will be made to the two northern runways, air pollution monitoring will be increased and an ongoing dialogue about airport projects will be established between LAX, the alliance and the surrounding community.

However, the settlement also will lift a cap on the number of passenger gates at the airport — which had limited LAX’s passenger volume to about 79 million annually.

“This is a landmark agreement, a natural meeting of the minds,” said Denny Schneider, president of the alliance. “It demonstrates a new era in cooperation that has not been seen in 40 years.”

The $5.5-billion in airport improvements passed by the council in May 2013 included terminal additions, a transportation center, a consolidated car rental facility, a people mover and stops for Metro light-rail trains.

The most controversial was the plan to separate the two northern runways and install a taxiway between them.

Supporters, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, contended the project would increase the safety and efficiency of moving aircraft — especially the largest airliners — around LAX.

Neighborhood activists and local elected officials contended the proposal would be costly and achieve few, if any, of the promised safety improvements.

“The airport and the surrounding neighborhood have been at war for decades,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes LAX. “Today, there is peace.”

Two similar lawsuits brought by Culver City and Inglewood are pending. Garcetti said he has met with officials from both cities and was confident the suits could be resolved.

(Dan Weikel - The Los Angeles Times)

787 launch customer ANA keeps coming back for more

All Nippon Airways celebrated Wednesday the delivery of the airline’s 50th 787 Dreamliner.

Less than five years after Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) took delivery of the first 787 Dreamliner, the airline on Wednesday accepted its 50th.

While Boeing last week cited “softness” in the wide-body jet market and lowered expectations about near-term demand for the 787, ANA’s milestone allowed the jet maker to celebrate the success of the Dreamliner in passenger service.

Hideki Kunugi, senior vice president of ANA Americas, said the airplane’s fuel efficiency — 20 percent better than the 767 it replaced — is today saving the airline about $98 million per year.

“The 787 plays a vital role” in the airline’s plans to expand its international network, he said.

The economics of the midsize, long-range jet have allowed ANA to open up long-haul routes not only to giant hubs like New York and Los Angeles but also to mid-size cities.

Hence its nonstop flights from Tokyo to Düsseldorf, Germany, and Brussels, as well as Seattle and San Jose, Calif.

“Without the Dreamliner, Seattle and San Jose would not be possible,” Kunugi said.

To get to this point, ANA suffered through a turbulent early ride.

After working closely with Boeing on the design of the airplane, then giving the jet maker its launch order in 2004, ANA got its first delivery in September 2011 — three years and four months late.

Just over a year after the jet entered service, a main battery started smoking aboard one of ANA’s planes in flight, and the airline endured with all other 787 operators the grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet for more than three months.

But the battery problem was fixed, and Boeing has now delivered 447 Dreamliners to 39 airlines.

As of July, more than 108 million passengers have flown on more than 569,000 Dreamliner flights.

Opening new routes

ANA now flies the 787 on 40 percent of its international routes, and it plans to open more routes to previously unserved destinations.

In September, it will introduce the 787 between Tokyo and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Next February, it will fly the jet nonstop between Tokyo an Mexico City, which on the northbound leg takes more than 14 hours.

Kunuga said the opening up of Mexico City “is only possible thanks to the 787, which can operate such long-haul routes with greater comfort and efficiency than any other aircraft.”

The airline sees this route as “a first very important step” to expanding connections to Central and South America.

Last week, Boeing Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith — citing the marked lack of orders in the wide-body jet market recently — for the first time publicly admitted that Boeing may not increase the 787 production rate from its current 12 jets per month to the planned 14 per month toward the end of the decade.

At the delivery ceremony Wednesday, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for northeast Asia, Ihssane Mounir, said that despite the general softness in demand, China remains a bright spot that offers hope of buoyant future sales.

“China will continue to drive the demand,” he said. “I’m not seeing any signs of weakness whatsoever.”

ANA has 33 more Dreamliners on order, including three of the largest model, the 787-10, which is scheduled to enter service in 2018.

It anticipates 40 percent growth in revenue from its international routes during the next four years, in an expansion leading up to and preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The plane delivered to ANA on Wednesday is the 787-9 that Boeing test pilots flew last month in the daily aerial displays at the Farnborough Air Show in England.

(Dominic Gates - Seattle Times)

AW609 Tiltrotor Flight Testing Resumes

On August 10, AW609 tiltrotor prototype AC1 arrived at Leonardo-Finmeccanica's Philadelphia plant after flight testing resumed in Arlington, Texas. The AW609 flight-test program had been halted following the fatal October 2015 crash of AC2 in Italy.
 (Photo: Leonardo-Finmeccanica)

AW609 tilt-rotor prototype AC1 arrived at the Leonardo-Finmeccanica Philadelphia plant yesterday after recently resuming flight testing in Arlington, Texas. The AW609 flight-test program had been voluntarily halted following the fatal October 2015 crash of AC2 in Italy.

Plans call for AC1 to be be based out of Philadelphia, before being shipped to Italy for updates and modifications. The AW609, slated to be certified by the FAA, will be built in Philadelphia.

In May, Italian prosecutors impounded AC3 before it could make its first flight as part of their manslaughter probe into the AC2 crash. That aircraft was released by prosecutors last month and is expected to be shipped to the U.S. to join the flight-test program in Philadelphia, where AC4 is currently being assembled and readied for first flight in 2017.

Despite the 10-month delay in the flight-test program, as well as calls for wind tunnel retesting and redesign of the fly-by-wire flight control system by Italian ANSV aviation investigators, the company insists that the AW609 remains on track for certification in 2018.

(Mark Huber - AINOnline News)

Lockheed inaugurates T-50A ground-training facility

The T-50A trainer/light attack aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries.
(Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin )

Doors open at Lockheed Martin ground-training facility for T-50A aircraft.

Lockheed Martin has inaugurated its ground-based training facility for the T-50A advanced trainer and light attack aircraft being offered to the U.S. Air Force.

The Advanced Pilot Training facility is located in Greenville, S.C. It is housed in a refurbished building and features tooling and manufacturing equipment to complete final assembly and flight operations for the T-50A trainer aircraft as well as Lockheed's T-50A Ground Based Training System.

"From the innovation of our Skunk Works team in Palmdale, California -- who brought this program to life -- to the employees in Greenville who will build the T-50A, the brightest minds and the latest technology have been brought together in this facility to provide the U.S. Air Force with a low-risk, highly capable aircraft and training solution," said Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Executive Vice President Orlando Carvalho.

The T-50A was developed jointly by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries. It builds upon the proven heritage of the T-50, of which more than 150 are flying around the world today.

The T-50A is a supersonic trainer with a maximum speed of more than 1,000 miles per hour, a range of more than 1,150 miles and a service ceiling of 48,000 feet. In addition to its rotary cannon the aircraft can be armed with bombs and missiles.

It is being offered by the company for the U.S. Air Force's T-X trainer program.

(Richard Tomkins - UPI)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Yes, NASA's New Megarocket Will Be More Powerful Than the Saturn V

Artist's illustration of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the pad. SLS is scheduled to fly for the first time in late 2018.

There's been some confusion and controversy about this claim ever since the SLS — which NASA is developing to get astronauts to Mars and other deep-space destinations — was announced in September 2011.
NASA officials have long maintained that the most muscular form of the SLS will be capable of lofting 143 tons (130 metric tons) of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO). That's where the confusion comes in: The LEO capacity of the agency's famous Saturn V moon rocket was about 154 tons (140 metric tons), according to a 2006 U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report.


But arguments for the Saturn V's supremacy are based on a flawed, apples-to-oranges comparison, said Kimberly Robinson, manager of strategic communications for SLS at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Specifically, the 143-ton figure for SLS refers to pure payload, whereas the Saturn V could loft 154 tons of "injected mass," Robinson said. 

That injected mass included the Saturn V's third stage, as well as the fuel present in the stage, according to the authors of the 2006 CBO Report (who wrote that they sourced their information from Richard Orloff's "Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference").

The SLS team has calculated some apples-to-apples comparisons, and the new rocket comes out on top, Robinson said Aug. 3 during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

"We have a payload mass to LEO of about 122.4 metric tons [135 tons] for Saturn V," said Robinson, who did not give the FISO presentation but chimed in to answer a question posed by a listener. (The FISO talk was given by Chris Sanders of Aerojet Rocketdyne, Bob DaLee of Boeing and Orbital ATK's Mike Fuller. These three companies are the prime contractors for SLS.) 

The "injected mass" capacity of SLS comes out to 173 tons (156.9 metric tons), Robinson added. She, Sanders, DaLee and Fuller all cautioned, however, that these numbers for SLS are not carved in stone.

"We're talking about a 130-metric-ton-class vehicle," Robinson said. "It doesn't tell you exactly the capability."

The Path to Mars

SLS is an evolvable vehicle, with three primary variants currently envisioned. All of them consist of a core stage, along with two solid rocket boosters (SRBs).

The first version, known as Block 1, will have a LEO payload capacity of 77 tons (70 metric tons). The Block 1B iteration will boost that to 116 tons (105 metric tons), while the Block 2 will max out at 143 tons (130 metric tons) to LEO.

But SLS was not designed with Earth orbit in mind. The rocket is a key part of NASA's plan to get astronauts to Mars, which the agency aims to do before the end of the 2030s.

SLS will launch Red Planet pioneers aboard the Orion crew capsule, which is also in development. Orion has one flight under its belt, an unmanned test to Earth orbit in December 2014 that lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy (which is the most powerful rocket currently in operation).

SLS is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2018, when a Block 1 booster will launch an uncrewed Orion on a weeklong trip around the moon known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). 

The SLS team has been notching its milestones, including an SRB ground test in June, on time and as expected, DaLee said. 

"Everything looks good and on schedule for a late '18 launch," he said during the FISO talk.

Science missions, too

While SLS was designed chiefly to launch astronauts, the rocket could also play a large role in NASA's robotic exploration plans going forward, agency officials have said.

Planetary missions launching atop the SLS could get to their destinations much more quickly than probes sent on their way by currently available rockets, and also carry more science gear, DaLee said.

As one example, he cited the as-yet-unnamed robotic mission NASA plans to launch toward the potentially life-harboring Jupiter moon Europa in the 2020s. A Europa mission that launched atop an SLS Block 1B, as opposed to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, could shave 4.5 years off the journey (from 6.5 years down to 2 years) and carry twice as much payload, DaLee said.

"Size really does matter, in multiple ways," Sanders said.

(Mike Wall -

Monday, August 15, 2016

The world's largest helicopter can lift an airliner with remarkable ease

(Photo by Dmitry Terekhov)

Even against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, there is no doubting the sheer size of the Russian-built Mi-26 helicopter.

But it's only when the aircraft lands that observers are truly able to appreciate the magnitude of the helicopter, the world's largest.

Designed and built by Moscow-based Mil Helicopters, the Mi-26 stands roughly the same height as a three-story building and its rotors have the same span as the wings of an Airbus A320.

Since its first flight in 1977, the Mi-26, also known as the Halo, has been a stalwart in the ultra-heavy lift industry.

Powered by a pair of 11,000 horsepower turboshaft engines, the Halo and its five-man crew can transport up to 44,000 pounds of cargo, or roughly 11 family cars, at once. The Halo's power and payload capacity is more than twice that of the U.S Army's workhorse CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

According to Avia-Russia, military versions can carry as many as 90 combat ready troops, or 63 seated civilians, or even 60 stretchers; putting the helicopter's performance on par with the legendary Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport plane.

Here, an Mi-26 is transporting a retired Tupolev Tu-134 airliner. The long-serving airliner is set to become a training tool at the Emergency Situations Training Center outside of St. Petersburg, Russia. 

(Associated Press)

However, the Halo is sometimes called into more dangerous situations. 

With a range of nearly 500 miles, the Mi-26 is the helicopter of choice in situations that require large payloads to be delivered to inaccessible or unusual places. In the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, an Mi-26 delivered heavy earth-moving equipment to remote mountain gorges to prevent flooding and mudslides.

In 1999, a Halo helicopter even hauled a frozen 23,000-year-old woolly mammoth out of the Siberian tundra.

(Benjamin Zhang - Business Insider)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Military personnel sue after plane plummets 4,400ft after a camera got stuck in controls

Ten people are suing the Ministry of Defense after a military plane they were on plummeted 4,400ft when the captain's camera got stuck between controls. A number of those on board suffered minor injuries but many are still suffering the mental impact of the incident such as PTSD, anxiety and phobias of flying.

Almost 200 people were on the board the plane at the time, according to the Sunday Times, which was over the Black Sea when the captain's Nikon camera got stuck between the armrest and side-stick controller. 

Many of the passengers were thrown against the roof of the cabin. The co-pilot had to drag himself back to the cockpit where he helped return control – partly with his feet on the roof.

The Voyager aircraft fell for 27 seconds at 15,800ft a minute.

The 10 suing the MoD include nine military personnel and a civil servant – three of whom have been medically discharged from the army since the incident took place in February 2014. The Voyager was traveling from the UK to Afghanistan. The lawyer from the claimants said a number of the passengers believed the plane had been shot down over Afghanistan.

The captain is set to appear before a court-martial in February charged with perjury, making a false record and negligently performing a duty.

Associate solicitor Rhicha Kapila, said some of the claimants suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, mood swings and stutters since the incident, affecting their lives outside of as well as in the military. "They could hear people saying, 'Please don't let me die.' It was a state of chaos and very frightening," she said.

Former commander of UK troops in Afghanistan, Richard Kemp, told the paper that the case was "symptomatic of a compensation culture". "On the whole, servicemen pride themselves on being more robust, more hardy and less inclined to go for the compensation," he said.

(James Tennent - International Business Times)


Fifth G500 Flight-Test Aircraft Focuses On Cabin Interior Experience
(Gulfstream Aerospace)

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. announced on August 5 2016, that the fifth Gulfstream G500 test aircraft has completed its first flight. The aircraft is the first production test aircraft to be outfitted with a full interior and serves as the testbed for the cabin.

The G500 departed from Savannah-Hilton Head International airport with Flight Test pilots Brian Dickerson and Andy Martin and Flight Test engineer Dustin Johnson on board. The aircraft climbed to a maximum altitude of 48,000 feet/14,630 meters and reached a speed of Mach 0.84 during the 4-hour and 5-minute flight.

“This first flight of our G500 production test aircraft marks another significant event for the G500 program and Gulfstream’s history of delivering on our promises,” said Mark Burns, president, Gulfstream. “This fully completed aircraft focuses on the passenger experience and ensures that we deliver the most reliable, comfortable and functional cabin environment on both the G500 and G600.”

The G500 production test aircraft is testing the complete passenger experience for form, fit, function, noise and comfort, as well as the passenger interface with various cabin elements. Tests will include repetitive operations of all systems during many different phases of flight. The test aircraft will also be taken through a variety of missions, including overnight trips, hot and cold weather scenarios and turbulence.

“The many hours of interior testing this aircraft will undergo, from galley and lavatory use to comfort and cabin health during long flights, help us hone every aspect of flying on the G500,” said Burns.

The G500 seats up to 19 passengers in three living areas. The aircraft has forward and aft lavatories and a full-size galley that can be located either forward or aft. The G500 and G600 also feature an industry-leading cabin altitude and 100 percent fresh air that boost mental awareness and reduce fatigue. Gulfstream’s large oval windows, the same size as those on Gulfstream’s G650 and G650ER, allow for an abundance of natural light.

With five aircraft now flying, the G500 flight-test program continues to advance. In July, the fourth test aircraft made its first trans-Atlantic flight and European debut to appear at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow outside of London. To date, the G500 test fleet has flown more than 320 flights and more than 1,300 flight hours. The aircraft has reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.995 and an altitude of 53,000 ft/16,154 m. The longest flight clocked in at 8 hours and 24 minutes.

The G500 is slated to receive type certification in 2017 and deliver in 2018. The G600 is projected to enter service in 2019.The G500 can fly 5,000 nautical miles/9,260 kilometers at Mach 0.85 or 3,800 nm/7,038 km at Mach 0.90, while the G600 can carry passengers 6,200 nm/11,482 km at Mach 0.85 and 4,800 nm/8,890 km at Mach 0.90. The maximum operating speed for both aircraft is Mach 0.925, the same maximum speed as the G650 and G650ER.

(Gulfstream Aerospace)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

North Korea's Air Koryo named the worst airline in the world again

Passengers in Pyongyang board an Air Koryo flight headed for Beijing in June. The carrier was ranked as the worst in the world by Skytrax for the fourth straight year.
 (AP Photo / Wong Maye-E)

For the fourth year in a row, North Korea’s Air Koryo has claimed the dubious honor of being ranked the worst carrier in the world.

But Air Koryo may not be that bad, according to online reviews.

The ranking, based on 13.25 million survey questionnaires compiled by Skytrax, an air-transport research company based in Britain, named Emirates as the world’s best.

The Dubai-based airline, rated four stars on a one- to five-star rating system, wowed passengers with amenities like onboard showers, lounges, gourmet food and 2,500 channels of movies and television.

Air Koryo was the only one-star rated carrier, which Skytrax said “represents a poor quality of product delivered across the assessment sectors, combining with low and/or inconsistent standards of front-line staff service.”

But to be fair to Air Koryo, several of the 46 reviews posted on the Skytrax website described the carrier as adequate, although not spectacular.

Among the features that raised concerns among reviewers was the onboard meal of hamburgers made of a “mystery meat,” safety demonstrations that often were skipped, entertainment that consisted of propaganda films played in a loop and overhead luggage racks with no doors to keep bags from falling down on fliers during turbulence.

(Hugo Martin - Los Angeles Times)