Thursday, March 31, 2016

Southwest will fly nonstop between Long Beach and Oakland

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7L9 (28013/682) N7817J taxies at John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA/KSNA) on March 29, 2016.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Southwest Airlines revealed its plans for service from Long Beach, the newest city in the carrier’s route map.

Southwest will fly from the Long Beach to Oakland, operating four daily round-trip flights beginning June 5.

Southwest becomes the fourth carrier to fly from Long Beach, joining JetBlue, American and Delta. The airport – located 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles– is one several commercial airports serving the greater Los Angeles metro area.

Capacity is capped at Long Beach, but Southwest was able to gain access after the city of Long Beach increased the number of flights allowed there.

Long Beach will become Southwest's 98th destination and its 10th in California.

“As we bring much needed competition to Long Beach this summer, our aim continues to be offering Californians the best value in air service,” Andrew Watterson, Southwest's SVP of Network & Revenue, says in a statement.

Long Beach said in February it would add nine additional “slot pairs” for new flights from the airport. A “slot pair” enables an airline one takeoff and one landing – enough for a round-trip flight.

JetBlue received three of the slot pairs while Southwest gained four and Delta two.

JetBlue – by far the busiest carrier at the airport – is using its newly acquired slots to add a new route to Reno and boost service on existing routes from Long Beach.

Delta has not yet announced its intentions for its new Long Beach slots.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today In The Sky / USA Today)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Boeing 737-8 MAX (36989/5668) N8702L

The second test aircraft in the 737-8 MAX program, is captured at San Bernardino International Airport (SBD/KSBD) on March 24, 2016 as it departs on then returns from a test sortie.

This flight was a bit dramatic as the aircraft had lost all power in the #2 engine and was making a quick return having declared an emergency. 

When delivered it will join the fleet of launch customer Southwest Airlines.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-8AL (35070/2115) N276EA "Spirit of Eddie Rickenbacher"

Caught departing Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 23, 2016 following an overnight stay having brought the Texas A&M basketball team into town for a tournament the evening before.

This aircraft was originally delivered to Kenya Airways as 5Y-KYB and became the first aircraft to join the fleet on the new the new Eastern Airlines.

(Photos by Michael Carter)  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Xtra Airways Boeing 737-86J (32624/961) N624XA

Captured on short final to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 22, 2016 as it arrives from Will Rogers World Airport (OKC/KOKC) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at 15:24 pst as "CXP718 (Casino Express)."

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An epic miscalculation on the price of a warplane is going to cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion

Once upon a time, there was an F-22 Raptor. It was a good plane — some even called it "the most capable air superiority combat jet in the world" — but it cost a lot.

At a sticker price of $412 million per plane, the U.S. Air Force couldn't afford to buy a lot of F-22s. So, to ensure it had a good quantity of fighter jets, as well as a few of good quality, the Air Force proposed a "high-low" solution.

On the high end, it would buy a handful of ultra-expensive F-22s to ensure air dominance.

On the low end, to boost its numbers and ensure its ability to carry a lot of bombs into combat, it would buy a whole mess of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets -- projected to cost just $35 million each.

(Lockheed Martin, which builds both planes, was happy to oblige on both ends).

That was the plan. Instead, the F-35 fighter jet is turning out to be the most expensive fighter jet ever built, and is expected to ultimately cost taxpayers as much as $1.5 trillion.

How did we get it so wrong?

The story of Air Force's monumental miscalculation of the F-35's true cost is one that will go down in the history books -- and indeed, is already considered an historical fact. But the thing is, it was a miscalculation, and not an intentional misdirection.

As revealed in a piece that ran on DefenseOne last week, Lockheed Martin (and the Air Force) truly believed that the F-35 was going to be a (relatively) cheap plane to build, in part because the three F-35 variants desired by the U.S. Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps were expected to share a large number of interchangeable parts.

In theory, each of the conventionally launched and landed F-35A, the vertical takeoff and landing F-35B, and the aircraft carrier-variant F-35C, were to use "common" parts. This commonality was supposed to save "billions of dollars" from not having to develop specialized parts for each F-35 variant and not having to maintain and run separate supply chains for each type of F-35. But as it turned out, the overlap among models is just 20%.

As it worked out, as the F-35 program grew, the three "F-35" variants grew apart. And the effort to achieve commonality may have actually added to the cost of the program, while compromising each plane's ability to do its job well.

Characterizing these results after the fact, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan says: "I'm not saying they're bad. I'm not saying they're good. I'm just saying they're hard." So as the Pentagon begins to make plans for its next-generation fighter jet, expected to enter service in the 2030s and dubbed "F-X" by the Air Force and "F/A-XX" by the Navy, there's a big incentive not to make the same mistake.

The implication being, it's looking increasingly likely that America's sixth-generation fighter jet will actually be several fighter jets, not one supposedly "common" system.

What it means to investors

For several reasons, that might not be a bad thing. First and foremost, if cost savings from a common system have proved illusory, there's little incentive to try to do something that's "hard" -- and probably doomed to fail. Taxpayers should applaud a move by the military to learn from past mistakes.

Second, taking the easier route of building a fighter tailor-made for what the Air Force needs -- and a second plane for the Marines, and a third for the Navy -- offers the prospect of multiple defense contractors winning work. Each of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman could compete for these contracts, preserving price competition and driving costs down. And in the end, each contractor could still win a big chunk of business, building the planes it builds best.

And there's a third reason this could be good news for defense contractors, and for the shareholders who invest in them: The Pentagon's past preference for gargantuan-budget, winner-take-all competitions for "common" weapon systems has spawned a rising plague of lawsuits in the defense industry. No sooner does a company win a contract than it's immediately hit with lawsuits from the losers, hoping to steal that contract away from it.

Granted, these lawsuits generally fail, but they cost money, delaying the acquisitions process. Giving more companies a fairer shake at winning work might do a lot to make the whole process go more smoothly and -- judging from the F-35's record -- maybe more successfully, too.

(Rich Smith - The Motley Fool / Business Insider)

Delta takes delivery of first A321

(Delta Airlines)

Delta Air Lines has taken delivery of its first Airbus A321-211 (c/n 6923) N301DN in Hamburg on 16 March with plans to ferry the aircraft to its Atlanta base on 17 March, with entry-into-service scheduled for May.

“Purchasing a new aircraft, and in this case an entirely new sub-fleet for Delta, takes a team of passionate and devoted experts armed with their insight, craft and know-how from across the airline to make happen,” says Brian Shea, general manager of fleet management at Delta, in a statement.

“It’s a great aircraft with fantastic economics and cabin enhancements aimed at improving our customers’ flying experience.”

The airline plans to debut the A321 on flights between Atlanta and Orlando on 2 May.

Delta configures its A321s with 192 seats, including 20 in first class, 29 in economy comfort and 143 in economy. It will use them to replace ageing Boeing 757-200s in its fleet.

The carrier has firm orders for 45 A321s, Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer shows. It plans to take delivery of 14 more aircraft this year.

(Edward Russell - Flightglobal News)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Court gives green light for Paine Field commercial service as early as next year

Commercial flights out of Paine Field could start as early as 2017, now that a federal court has ruled against opponents.

“The ruling closes the door on all the environmental concerns, and allows us to continue to move forward,” said Propeller Airports LLC CEO Brett Smith, speaking from New York. “Certainly we’re happy with the decision.

”The decision could help Boeing executives who would be able to book air travel through Paine Field in Everett, rather than going all the way down to Sea-Tac Airport.

The commercial airport proposal has been vigorously opposed by the adjacent cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds, which had joined with the organization Save Our Communities in filing the suit in the U.S.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. That suit had sought to reverse a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration that the airport project did not require an environmental impact statement before moving forward.

Smith said his company hopes to complete a plan for a two-gate 29,000-square-foot terminal in a few months, and promised to build a striking facility at Snohomish County’s Paine Field.

“It will be clubby,” he said, adding that his company is bringing in a leading architect for the job.
“The focus is on the passenger to make sure they have a great experience.”

Airport Director Arif Ghouse said he believes commercial service from Paine Field will support Snohomish County business people, especially those who work for Boeing or support Boeing.

“We have a huge aerospace community in the Paine Field area. We get a lot of visitors coming into the area every day to meet with clients,” he said. “What we’re hearing from the business community is they would appreciate that easy access to the air market when they they’re flying out, and when clients come in to visit them.

”Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson has vigorously supported the proposed air service.
The project was approved last year, by a narrow 3-2 vote by the Snohomish County Council that approved a lease for the Propeller Airports project.

Under federal law airports receiving federal funds, such as FAA funding for Paine Field, must be open to anyone who wants to use them.

Which airlines might operate out of the Paine Field terminal – which will be limited to 24 flights a day – is not clear.

“There is substantial interest from a number of carriers,” Smith said. “It’s going to help a lot of people. There’s a real need for this in the metro area.”

Last year Alaska Air Group, which operates Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, expressed interest.

“As the hometown carrier with longstanding and deep ties in the region, Alaska Airlines is keenly interested in terminal construction that could make commercial service possible at Paine Field,” said Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan last year.

“We are taking a fresh look at Paine Field to determine whether the demand exists to support commercial service in this market and the role Alaska Airlines would have in meeting that demand.”

(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business Journal)

Boeing 737 Max may get a lift from Airbus A320neo's GTF engine blues

Boeing and Airbus are fighting to win orders for their competing small jets.

Boeing may be about to move ahead. Strong performance by the Boeing 737 Max’s LEAP-1B engines – while the competing Airbus A320neo GTF engines struggle – could be a boost for Boeing in the fight for orders.

On Thursday, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said the German airline won’t accept a second Pratt & Whitney-powered A320neo into its fleet until issues with the geared turbofan engines are resolved.

“The engine issues are slowly improving, we’re not there yet, that’s why we have not agreed to take the second aircraft into the fleet,” he said in a Reuters story.

The engines, built by Pratt & Whitney in the U.S., currently account for 47 percent of A320neo orders.

While the Airbus narrow body jet has been significantly ahead of the competing Boeing model in orders, now 4,414 to 2,931 according to the order tracking site PDX Light, the stronger Boeing engine performance could tip the balance, said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst for StrategicAero Research in Dubai.

“While I don’t see any sudden switch or order surge to the Max as a result of either GTF-related angst or smooth-sailing CFM progress,” he said, “it will certainly make Boeing’s task easier when it comes to pitching the Max versus the Neo.”

Boeing executives have consistently said they expect a future wave of orders from the more than 200 airlines now operating Boeing 737s.

"A lot of people have not voted yet,” John Wojick, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ senior vice president of global sales and marketing, in a January interview.“It’s going to be a 20-year program at least. So we’ve got a long time to play this game out.”

Boeing now has two 737 Max jets in its flight test program, and those have been performing well, Ahmad said. He added that the Boeing 737 Max might exceed the 14 percent fuel burn improvement Boeing has promised, a big improvement over current 737NG models.

“The LEAP-1B engine is performing spot-on to what CFM said it would,” Ahmad said. "LEAP-1B certainly looks to be the less-risky option versus the GTF, particularly when you look at how legendary and always-on-spec CFM is when it comes to 737 engines.”

Here he’s referring to the joint venture between GE Engines and France’s Safran, which is developing and building the LEAP engines. Those engines will power all of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft, and 53 percent of the Airbus A320neos so far ordered.

(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business Journal)

All-woman crew lands plane in country where they can't drive a car

Royal Brunei's first ever female trio at the flight deck; (from L-R) Captain Sharifah Czarena, Senior First Officer Dk Nadiah and Senior First Officer Sariana in the flight deck prior to operating flight BI081 from Brunei to Jeddah.
(Royal Brunei)

An all-woman crew landed a Royal Brunei flight in Saudi Arabia in February.

The flight, which coincided with Brunei's National Day on Feb. 23, gained attention as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — where the female pilots cannot legally drive a car.

The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates that there are about 4,000 female pilots worldwide out of 130,000 pilots total; only about 450 women are captains.

In Saudi Arabia, only men can obtain drivers' licenses: Women risk being fined and arrested if caught driving in public. Ironically, there aren't any regulations against women obtaining a pilots' license, and the first woman to receive Saudi certification to fly a plane did so in 2014.

Royal Brunei has programs to get more women in the air. Currently two programs, an engineering apprenticeship and cadet pilot program are recruiting both men and women.

In November, an 18-year-old woman became the seventh female trainee of Royal Brunei's cadet pilot program. One of the other inductees said he was inspired by his older sister, who was the sixth woman in the program.

The captain of the Royal Brunei plane, Sharifah Czarena Surainy, was the first female pilot not only for the airline, but for any flag carrier in Southeast Asia.

“As a woman, a Bruneian woman, it is such a great achievement," Surainy told The Brunei Times in 2012 when she received her captains' epaulettes. "It’s really showing the younger generation or the girls especially that whatever they dream of, they can achieve it."

The role of women in Brunei is complex: The country is ranked 23rd in the world for economic participation and opportunity, yet they fall in last place for women's political empowerment, even behind Saudi Arabia.

The country is listed 88th on the Global Gender Gap list. 

And many activists, including Human Rights Watch, have come out against the country after the sultan pledged to operationalize a form of Sharia (Islamic law).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the instatement of Sharia law in Brunei "may encourage further violence and discrimination against women."

(Caily Rizzo - Mashable)

Hawaiian Airlines Flying The Friendly Pacific Rim Skies

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-243 (c/n 1114) N381H "Hokule'a" on short final to Rwy 25L at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS/KLAS) on November 23, 2013.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Most airlines court business customers — or more accurately their business expense accounts — but Hawaiian Airlines is finding success catering primarily to vacationers in the U.S., Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific Rim.

Mai Tais and pupus, truly friendly skies and an on-time record that’s the envy of the industry: these are the competitive advantages of the airline and its parent, Hawaiian Holdings. Its unique model focuses sharply on bringing an island-like experience to its patrons.

“It really caters to the leisure customer,” CRT Capital analyst Michael Derchin told IBD. “Maybe 1% of their market is business.”

Derchin, who has a buy rating on Hawaiian, says he initiated coverage with a buy rating back in February 2014, when the stock was trading around 11. Now it’s approaching 50.

“It’s been a grand slam home run,” he said.

Hawaiian, which expanded into Australia in 2004 and began daily service to Tokyo’s Haneda airport in 2010, has been growing its long-haul business. This year, it will begin service to Tokyo’s Narita airport. Hawaiian says it flew a record 10.7 million passengers in 2015, a 4.7% increase from 2014.

“The allure of Hawaii is really pretty universal,” Hawaiian Chief Commercial Officer Peter Ingram told IBD. As the middle class grows in Korea and China, the airline expects to fly more Asian tourists to Hawaii, he said.

Branching Out

Ingram notes that Japan has always had a big presence in Hawaii and that tourism from Japan is rising with the strengthening yen. The airline currently flies from Hawaii to Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Tahiti, Japan, South Korea and China.

He also said that Hawaiian offers service to smaller cities on the Pacific Rim, such as Auckland in New Zealand, Brisbane in Australia, and Japan’s Sapporo, that “don’t register on the map of the big carriers.” Though, after Hawaiian began service to Auckland, American Airlines started flying there too, says Ingram.

And of course, the airline outpaces everyone on inter-island flights within the Hawaiian chain, with about 160 daily departures.

“We understand travel to Hawaii better than anyone. We’re prepared to take on any competitor who enters the market,” said Ingram.

All of the big three U.S. carriers, American, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines compete with Hawaiian for the mainland-to-Hawaii business. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America also offer flights. And Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways also flies to Hawaii from Japan.

Additionally, wags have predicted for years that Southwest Airlines would enter the Hawaii market. But it won’t happen this year, says Helane Becker, an analyst with Cowen & Co., who spoke with IBD.

“Southwest doesn’t have any aircraft with extended over-water operations certification,” she said. “It would take about a year to get … certified from the FAA on the existing fleet. And we would know if they applied for it. … They haven’t, so we don’t view Southwest as a short-term threat.”

Becker rates Hawaiian at market perform. She says the stock is at a high valuation, but adds, “They’re a very strong competitor on the West Coast, and they’ve been growing aggressively.”

On-Time Arrivals

For each of the past 12 years, Hawaiian has led U.S. carriers in on-time performance, according the U.S. Department of Transportation. And the airline is noted for its top-notch service; it even still serves food, included in the fare on mainland-to-Hawaii flights.

It’s also adding luxury to its liners. In October 2015, Hawaiian said it will put lie-flat seating in its Airbus A330 premium cabins.

“Those airplanes do all our long-haul flying outside Hawaii,” said Ingram. Hawaiian’s customers are couples or families, he said. And unlike business travelers, they don’t necessarily want isolation.

“We’ve worked to custom design” the seats to accommodate our customers, he said. “We will have planes with these seats in the second or third quarter of this year.”

Ingram says the majority of Hawaiian’s A330s will be retrofitted by the end of 2017.

The airline is also adding the A321 NEO to its fleet this year — a single-aisle, smaller long-haul aircraft. It will enable Hawaiian to fly more cost-effectively from smaller locations on the West Coast of North America to Hawaii, said Ingram.

The airline’s net income for its fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, more than tripled to $37.9 million from $11.1 million in the year-earlier period. Similarly, diluted earnings per share rocketed up to 66 cents from 17 cents in the year-earlier quarter.

Yet, total revenue declined slightly in the fourth quarter to $574.2 million from $574.8 million. For the full year, total revenue grew a bit to $2.32 billion from $2.31 billion. The company’s revenue took a hit from foreign-currency impacts, reduced fuel surcharges (from lower fuel costs) and thus lower total fares, as well as higher capacity from competitors, which put pressure on the fares in North America, Ingram said.

Fueling Profits

So what’s fueling the jump in income and earnings on declining revenue? Well, cheap fuel. For the fourth quarter, Hawaiian’s aircraft fuel costs dropped 41.4% to $88.4 million from $150.8 million.

Asked if Hawaiian would stockpile or hedge fuel at the current low prices, Ingram demurred: “We do hedge fuel, but we’re not speculators.”

Zack’s puts Hawaiian’s first-quarter 2016 earnings at 73 cents a share and full-year 2016 earnings at $4.57 per share. But both Derchin and Becker estimate Hawaiian will earn $5 per share for 2016.

Not long ago, its stock price was at 5. Hawaiian (in business for 87 years) went through its second bankruptcy in 2003-2005, and its stock was still bumping along at a dismal 5 to 6 from 2011 through early 2013, when it finally started climbing. In the past year, the stock has jumped up from a low of 19.66 in mid-March 2015 to 52-week intraday high of 46.98 on Wednesday.

“We’re feeling very optimistic about our prospects for 2016,” Ingram said. “We’re seeing flatter comparisons on foreign exchange, and we’re seeing continued strong demand throughout our network.”

(Kathleen Doler - Investor's Business Daily)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Boeing seeks efficiency by moving 747 and 767 programs under one director

Slow but efficient – that’s the pace Boeing is seeking, as it pulls the 747 and 767 jetliner programs under one leader.

The consolidation, announced Tuesday as part of a larger restructuring of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will put both Everett aircraft assembly lines under the direction of Bruce Dickinson, who has been running the 747 line.

Boeing is dropping 747 production to one plane every two months this month, while it will slightly raise 767 production to two per month by 2017.

Between the two programs, that would be just 2.5 planes a month, a snail’s pace compared to other Boeing jetliner production lines. Building aircraft slowly brings a unique set of issues quite different from building them rapidly. The new management structure will allow Dickson to focus on slow-cooking skills, analysts say.

“It’s management of the legacy programs, consolidation of the units and the ability to control costs,” said Michel Merluzeau, an aerospace analyst who is a managing partner for Frost and Sullivan. “It makes absolute sense.”

While the two jets visually look quite different — the 747 with four engines and the 767 with two — they have much in common.

• Both are what’s known as “legacy” designs, meaning they’re mostly aluminum, with basic airframes designed decades ago.

• Both are primarily sold as freighters, which gives a different focus to their production – less on appearance and more on service.

• They’re physically close together at the west end of the vast Everett assembly building, with the 747s on the southwest corner, and the 767 on the northwest.

Between them the two jets take up the western half of the 4.3 million-square-foot building, with the 747 occupying three entire bays. The 747 factory floor these days seems relatively quiet during visits, due to the jet’s large size and slow production rate.

Analysts suggest that bringing the two models into one unit, under one leader, may help the relatively small production team remain large enough to cross-train, so there won’t be skills gaps.

“There would be shared people and teams to optimize the cost,” said Addison Schonland, a partner at Air Insight in Baltimore. “Boeing is trying to drive down costs, and it behooves them to keep the skill set high and functional, move them from one program to another.”

The fact that both jets are primarily sold as freighters is another synergy, with the 767 showing surprising promise for a model that Boeing several years ago was on the verge of halting.

Air Cargo Management Group Managing Director Bob Dahl said that the 767, now with unfilled orders for 75 jets mostly from FedEx, may well win more from air express carriers UPS and DHL which operate aging 767 fleets. He added orders may also come from growing Chinese freight carriers.

(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business journal)

MASkargo bets on BSA with Silk Way

MASkargo has placed a bet on A330-200Fs and block space agreements as it moves to cut freighters from its own fleet.

The cargo arm of Malaysia Airlines has been “exploring fleet options” for some time now, according to the company’s May 2015 Twitter feed, but appears to have finally come to a decision. We reported in May 2015, that MASkargo was considering exiting the main-deck freight business, but it now looks like it will only make a partial exit. Reports from several sources, quoting MASkargo executives, confirm that the airline will phase out its two 747-400Fs, but retain at least two of its four A330-200Fs to operate intra-Asia flights.

MASkargo said block space agreements (BSAs) with other carriers will gradually replace the long-haul intercontinental cargo flights formerly operated by MASkargo’s 747 freighters. There had been speculation in the media that the first candidate for such an agreement was Emirates, but a report in ch-aviation, quoting MASkargo CEO Mohd Unus Idris, confirms that the first partner will be Azerbaijan-based Silk Way Airlines.

“The signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation between Silk Way Airlines and MASkargo signifies a collaboration that will enhance each other’s network and meet their market needs,” Idris said. “It will allow MASkargo to have a wider presence globally especially in the Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS region. Likewise, this collaboration presents an invaluable opportunity for Silk Way Airlines to strengthen their position within the Intra-Asia network.”

Regarding the 747-400Fs, MASkargo has already parked one. The other is seeing limited service, and will reportedly be parked by the end of this month.

Of the four A330-200Fs, MASkargo currently operates two on its own behalf. Until recently, it operated the other two on an ACMI basis for Turkish Airlines, but Turkish returned one of the leased units late last year and, as far as Cargo Facts can determine, MASkargo has left it parked at Kuala Lumpur (KUL).

Charles Kauffman - Cargo Facts News)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5527) N38NG

Taxies on "Lima" past the Gulfstream service center following her short visit.

Rotates off Rwy 30 on a simply gorgeous evening.

Climbs into the early evening SoCal skies.

"Positive climb, gear up!"

Departs Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 14, 2016 following a visit to the Gulfstream service center.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

The World's Top Fighter Pilots Fear This Woman's Voice

The woman who lent her distinctive twang to the F/A-18 Super Hornet flies off into the sunset.


All F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets come with a female voice that issues greetings and warnings, in tones ranging from stern and sharp to extremely urgent.

It doesn't matter if the pilot is wearing a Malaysian, Kuwaiti, or Australian flag on his flight suit, the airplane speaks in a Tennessee twang that sounds a lot like Loretta Lynn in the middle of a very bad day. Embark on a miscue, and the jet issues an audible correction: “Roll right! Roll right!” or “Pull up! Pull up!”

U.S. Air Force pilots refer to voice of the Super Hornet as “Bitchin' Betty,” while among Britain's Royal Air Force she is known as “Nagging Nora.” But a real woman personifies the aircraft, 60-year-old Leslie Shook, and she recently retired after 35 years as an employee of Boeing Co.

“I knew I had an accent which I did not think was desirable in the plane,” Shook said in an interview, the voice familiar to generations of fighter pilots coming in clear over a telephone. “No one ever said anything about it. I was my own worst critic as far as that goes.”

After powering up the F/A-18 and hearing Shook's greeting, a pilot won't typically hear much from her again unless the situation gets serious. You might be in danger of flying into a mountain, triggering a warning recorded by Shook. Or perhaps you have just drained half the fuel supply for the mission, in which case you will hear her repeat: “Bingo. Bingo.”

Nearly every aircraft has its own voice. The first digital voice in a U.S. combat jet was that of Kim Crow, a professional actor who still does voice-over work. For whatever reason, women’s voices have been common in fighter jets and numerous civilian aircraft.

Shook worked in St. Louis for McDonnell Douglas, which Boeing acquired in 1997. McDonnell was among the first to use voice commands on the flight deck, for both civilian and military jets, and the company favored women for the job.

Shook’s involvement with the Hornet came about by happenstance, as one more job to record following a long day in her work as a video-services coordinator for the defense contractor. That meant she helped arrange such things as video shoots, photography, audio recordings, television commercials, and speaking events.

In the mid-1990s, when an F/A-18 customer requested a voice command for the jet’s ground-avoidance system, Boeing arranged a recording session. Several people were involved, including a Navy lieutenant colonel, and the woman recording the command wasn’t suitable.

“They did not like her voice; it was too sweet for the airplane,” Shook recalled. She was feeling tired and hungry that evening, ready to get home, and she stepped in with some voice advice. “I explained to them that Betty has a cadence, a sharpness to get your attention.”

The Navy officer suggested Shook do the recording, and the fighter jet quickly had its digital scold.

Shook tried to persuade Boeing managers to hire a professional voice actor to take over the job, but she was told there wasn’t money. So she studied cassettes of her predecessor's delivery for two weeks as she drove to work, practicing for her recording sessions.

“I was flabbergasted at the whole thing,” Shook says now. “I never expected to be in that jet.”

Boeing has delivered roughly 2,000 F/A-18 Hornets and the more advanced Super Hornet, and each one comes with about 50 English-language voice commands and alerts. Customization remains rare. “I was part of the package of the aircraft as it was, as it was sold,” Shook said. “If you’re in Malaysia you still get me, in English.”

The Swiss Air Force once requested a more Germanic-sounding pronunciation of the word “mach,” used to alert a pilot when breaking the sound barrier. Shook spent 45 frustrating minutes in the recording booth, trying to force her drawl into an approximation of an authentic Swiss pronunciation, before surrendering.

“I had to say, ‘Gentlemen, I can’t do that. I can’t make the sounds that you’re needing me to make.’” Swiss fighter jets now have a Tennesseean saying “super super” to denote supersonic speed.

(Justin Bachman  - Bloomberg Business)

Southwest Airlines earns nod as best airline for ‘vacation value’ travel

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4 (32509/2000) N248WN is the 2000th 737NG built and sports special markings on its nose commemorating that fact. She is captured at John Wayne Orange County Airport (SNA/KSNA) on April 6, 2014.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

Southwest Airlines’ affordable, no-fee fares have made it a popular choice among leisure travelers, and Monday, the Dallas-based company earned a nod from Money Magazine as the best airline for “vacation value” travel.

Southwest beat out 10 other domestic airlines to earn the “Best in Travel” award. Money ranked the airlines based on average fares, wait times, fees and customer-satisfaction ratings.

“The best thing about no-frills Southwest Airlines is that the low price includes so much,” the magazine writes, citing an average fare of $256. “Want to check two bags? They’re free. Need to change your reservation at the last minute? No problem.”

The magazine also credits Southwest’s growing network of domestic destinations as making the company’s footprint “competitive with the major legacy carriers.”

Placing second behind Southwest was Alaska Airlines, which earned high marks for its strong on-time arrival rates, its low fares and unique perks like regional beer served on flights.

Singapore Airlines took the top honor in the international category, with customers giving the airline high scores for its food, drink and entertainment amenities as well as its comfy seats, according to Money.

The magazine did not release its rankings for airlines that did not receive an award.

(Conor Shine - The Dallas Morning News)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lockheed's Hybrid Wing Body Plane Will Fly This Year, in Model Form

Lockheed Martin's Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) airlifter will fly sometime this year-or at least a four percent scale model of the aircraft will fly. The model has completed testing in a low-speed wind tunnel and is ready to be refurbished and flown for real.

Aerospace companies use low-speed wind tunnels-such as Lockheed's in Marietta, Georgia-to test models of the aircraft they are designing. Lockheed's 45-pound HWB model has a wingspan of 10-feet, and is capable of flying using 10-pound thrusters that are essentially ducted fans.

The model's thrusters are not exactly to scale for the large-diameter turbofan engines that are planned for the full-sized aircraft, but the propulsion produced is the same.

(Lockheed Martin)

The HWB is an appealing design, blending the wings into the body of the aircraft to make room for larger-than-normal engines and achieve high fuel efficiency. If it goes into production, it could ultimately replace large cargo aircraft used by the military.

Design models and the wind tunnel testing suggest that the HWB could carry as much as the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the biggest cargo plane used by the U.S. military (payload capacity 240,000 pounds), and burn 70% less fuel than the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, the most commonly used military cargo plane.

Rick Hooker, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program manager for the HWB project, told Aviation Weekly that the model aircraft will be flown remotely "sometime this year."

Unlike flying-wing aircraft such as the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the HWB does not rely on any advanced control effectors, such as thrust vectoring, to maintain stability. In other words, it's designed to fly just like a normal plane. "It flies just like a tube-and-wing aircraft, using aileron, elevator and rudder," Hooker told Aviation Weekly.

In addition to the low-speed tests that were conducted on the model that will fly, Lockheed has also tested a heavy metal half-span model of the aircraft designed to withstand transonic speeds in the National Transonic Facility at NASA Langley Research Center.
If all goes smoothly during the model flight tests later this year, then we just might see Lockheed lay out some plans for the development of a full-sized airlifter.

(Jay Bennett - Popular Mechanics / Aviation Weekly)

Airbus may lose a $5.3-billion order — but it's not their fault


In 2011, Airbus and Qatar Airways announced to great fanfare a 50-plane order for the new A320neo airliner.

Five years later, that deal could be in jeopardy.

The Pratt & Whitney 1100G geared turbofans engines Qatar selected to power the planes are not up to Qatar's exacting standards, Bloomberg's Andrea Rothman reported.

According to Bloomberg, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told the press in Germany this week that his airline is at the point where they will either walkaway from the deal or select an alternative engine.

"While we don’t discuss the details of our talks with customers, we can say that we are working closely with Qatar Airways to agree on deliveries and we’re confident that with Pratt & Whitney’s support we will address any early learnings and meet our targets," Airbus said in a statement to Business Insider.

"The A320neo is already meeting its commitments regarding fuel burn, noise and weight."

At 2015 prices, the 50 A320neos are valued at roughly $5.3 billion, although it's likely Qatar negotiated a sizable wholesale discount.

The PW1100G engines are said to be experiencing uneven cooling, which leads to parts of the engine rubbing together, Bloomberg reported.

To alleviate these cooling problems, operators must run cool air through the engine for three minutes, Pratt & Whitney said in December. 

However, Qatar Airways, which operates in an extreme Middle Eastern climate, is particularly wary of any potential overheating. Al Baker, who is known for his tough tactics, has also declined to take delivery of new airplanes for far less serious problems.

The A320neo, or "New Engine Option," is Airbus' next generation short/medium range airliner with upgraded aerodynamics, avionics and engines. The jet is supposed to deliver significantly improved range, acoustics, and fuel economy.

Much of the A320neo's magic comes from the two advanced engines options from CFM International and Pratt & Whitney.


The Pratt & Whitney powerplant Qatar selected is considered to be one of the best new engines around. In fact, a variant of the geared turbofan engine can also be found on Bombardier's fuel-sipping C-Series airliner. Earlier this year, Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson praised the Pratt & Whitney engine's innovative technology. 
Should Pratt not be able to come up with an acceptable fix in time, Qatar could opt for the CFM's highly acclaimed LEAP 1-A engine.
The Airbus A320neo quietly entered service in January with Germany's Lufthansa with the PW1100G engines. Although it should be noted that while Qatar's fleet spends much of its time in 100-plus degree desert heat, Lufthansa's A320neos tend to operate in more temperate locales. 

Qatar Airways and Pratt & Whitney were not immediately available for comment.

(Benjamin Zhang - Business Insider)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gulfstream G550 (c/n 5328) N1911W

Operated by Fifth Third Leasing Company, this lovely G550 arrives at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 10, 2016.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G-III (c/n 482) N111HC

Captured on a very short final to Rwy 30 at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) as it arrives on March 10, 2016 from San Diego International Airport (SAN/KSAN) as "VHT11" at 17:15 pst.

(Photos by Michael Carter)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6003) N211HS

Operated by the Starbucks Corporation, this gorgeous G650 is capture soaking up the Southern California sun at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) on March 10, 2016 as it rests on the Gulfstream service center ramp.

(Photo by Michael Carter)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6194) N694GA

Gulfstream G650 N694GA arrived at Long Beach Airport (LGB/KLGB) as "GLF694GA" this afternoon at 15:05 pst following a flight from the Gulfstream factory at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (SAV/KSAV).

(Photos by Michael Carter) 

Ultra-budget airline Ryanair is launching a high-class corporate jet service

(Francois Lenoir - Reuters)

When you think about Ryanair, the word "luxury" doesn't spring to mind.

After all, it's one of Europe's largest budget airlines and prides itself on being a "no-frills" carrier where the cost of ticket includes minimal service. For example, you pay extra to eat or drink on board and even to check in bags. 

So, one thing you definitely don't associate with Ryanair is "high class private jets."

But that's all set to change, as the airline is launching a chartered corporate jet hire service.

Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely said in a statement that the company was excited to get into the corporate market, saying the jets would be "newly customised Boeing 737-700, seating up to 60 passengers, on business class, reclining, leather seats, crewed by Ryanair’s industry leading pilot and cabin crew professionals."

He added that those jets would be available for "private charter."

The spruced up planes would include "fine dining" and is being aimed at companies, sports teams and governments. The planes can be hired for destinations "up to six hours away." However, the rental price was not divulged. 

Ryanair has spent the last two years moving away from its ultra-low budget image, in a strategy known as "Always Getting Better." It seems to have worked as the company attracted more than 100 million customers for the first time ever in 2015.

Ryanair's share prices spiked slightly upon hearing the news, before settling at €13.47 (£10.39; $14.75), up from €10.71 (£8.26; $11.73) a year ago.

(Matthew Nitch Smith - Business Insider)

Gulfstream G650 (c/n 6112) VP-CGN "Genie"

Got a proof shot of this lovely Gulfstream G650 parked on the AirFlight ramp late this afternoon.
(Photo by Michael Carter)

United confirms 10-abreast seating on some of its 777s

United Airlines Boeing 777-222(ER) (30549/291) N216UA departs Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX) bound for Honolulu International Airport (HNL/PHNL) on December 19, 2012.
(Photo by Michael Carter)   

United Airlines plans to retrofit 19 of its 74 Boeing 777 widebodies into a high-density domestic configuration that will include 10-abreast seating in economy, the carrier confirmed to Today in the Sky.

United will apply the change to nine of its Boeing 777s that are already used for domestic flights, mostly on flights to and from Hawaii. The other 10 Boeing 777s to be retrofitted will be shifted from United’s long-haul international routes, a move that comes as the carrier’s new Boeing 787 “Dreamliners” pick up more of that flying.

United’s move to 10-across seating in the coach cabin of its 777s echoes a broader industry trend on the popular widebody. Boeing says airlines ordering the aircraft requested 10-across seating on about half of the 777s delivered last year. That’s up from about 30% in 2008, according to the U.S. jet-maker.

Even among U.S. carriers, American already flies some of its 777s with a 10-abreast layout in coach. Emirates, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand, KLM and Air France are among global carriers flying at least some of their 777s with 10 across in coach, a configuration that allows them to add more revenue-producing seats to the plane.

As for United, the update to its 19 Boeing 777s – set to begin this May – will increase capacity to 364 seats, including 28 in business class and 336 in coach. That will be a 20-seat increase over the comparable domestic-configured 777s that United currently uses on the domestic routes from Hawaii.

As has been rumored, the coach-class layout will feature 10-abreast seating in a 3-4-3 configuration. Currently, United’s domestic-configured 777s seat nine across in coach in a 2-5-2 layout. United expects to have all 19 of the 777s scheduled to get the retrofit completed by May 2017.

United’s 777s that remain on international routes will continue to seat 9-across in coach. Those 55 aircraft have up to 269 seats total.

While the economy cabin in the reconfigured domestic 777s will go from 9- to 10-abreast, there will be some upgrades. United will install in-seat power outlets throughout the cabin, including in coach.

The 777s will be Wi-Fi-enabled, allowing passengers to stream entertainment options to their personal devices. United also will install two mobile device holders – one for tablets and one for phones -- at each economy seat.

In business class, United will replace the recliner seats now on the domestic 777s with flatbed seats.
With the retrofits, all 19 of United’s 777-200 models of the jet will be in the domestic configuration.

All 55 of United’s 777-200ERs will retain the international configuration. United has not yet revealed what its plans will be for the new 777-300ERs that are yet to be delivered to the carrier.

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