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Friday, December 31, 2010

China Eastern To Buy 50 A320s

China Eastern expects to take delivery of the latest batch of A320s the carrier has ordered between 2012 and 2015.
The airline notified the Hong Kong stock market on December 30 of its plan to acquire 50 of the Airbus narrowbodies in a deal valued at $3.2 billion (according to 2005 list prices).
China Eastern, which already operates more than 120 Airbus A320-family aircraft, says the additional units will be used to “further enhance the route coverage” of the airline and meet added demand. Its capacity measured in available seat kilometers is set to increase 14.4% with the acquisition, not counting potential disposals of older A320s.
The deal, if it makes it into the Airbus 2010 order book, should assure the aircraft maker has a positive book-to-build ratio (in terms of gross orders), even though several weeks ago the manufacturer was still expecting deliveries to surpass new order intake.

Tu-204SM Completes First Flight

Aviastar-SP has completed the first flight of the Tupolev Tu-204SM, an upgraded version of the twin-engined aircraft aimed at giving the product a new lease on life.
The flight, on Dec. 29., took place at Aviastar’s Ulyanovsk facility.
The Tu-204 has been in production since 1989, but Russia’s aerospace industry is hoping that the enhancement being introduced now will help bridge the gap until the single-aisle MS-21 is fielded in significant numbers.
The aircraft, featuring 174-seats in a two-class layout, features slightly decreased airframe weight, more modern avionics package, a two-pilot cockpit, new auxiliary power unit and improved Perm PS-90A2 engines, designed by Russian Aviadvigatel in cooperation with Pratt & Whitney.
Next year, Aviastar-SP plans to produce another prototype, with a goal of completing type certification by 2012.
But whether the venture can really stave off the large inroads Airbus and Boeing are making in the Russian market is questionable. So far, only Red Wings, a Russian charter operator, is considering buying the aircraft, with a potential order of up to 44 aircraft under discussion. The airline is looking for more price discounts and commitments from the government to become the launch customer. Red Wings already is the largest single operator of the Tu-204.
This year, Aviastar has rolled out three Tu-204s (in cargo and passenger configurations) and now has more orders in its backlog.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

U.S. Navy Awards LCS Contracts to Lockheed and Austal

The Navy wasted little time in taking advantage of congressional support for the service’s dual-block-buy plan for its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), awarding fixed-price-incentive contracts tonight to both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA for the design and construction of a 10 ship block-buy each.
The total deal could reach 20 LCS for about $7 billion from Fiscal 2010 - which ended Sept. 30, technically - through Fiscal 2015. The value of the ship-construction portion of the two contracts — when all 10 ships of each block buy are awarded – is expected to be $3.6 billion for Lockheed and $3.5 billion for Austal.
The Lockheed contract is initially worth about $436.9 million and Austal’s deal is about $432 million, according to the Navy. Both contracts include line items for nine additional ships per contractor, subject to congressional appropriations toward the Pentagon’s annual LCS requests in coming years.
More interestingly, the average cost of both variants, including government-furnished equipment and an unidentified margin for potential cost growth across the five-year period, is $440 million per ship, the Navy estimates.
Congress had capped the average LCS per-hull cost at $538 million. Mission modules, which include the computers, weapons and platforms, are priced and provided separately.
The Navy initially wanted the two variants but said it would instead select only one version because of significant cost growth. But the service switched course again late this fall when, the Navy said, the contractors submitted bidding packages that showed the dual-block-buy would not only be affordable, but also save the Defense Department money over the long haul.
Still, government analysts said recently they still lacked sufficient information to determine whether it would be better to buy one or both versions. Some analysts suggested one of the main reasons for the change is the Navy’s desire to avoid a contract protest by the losing bidder if the service picked only one team’s variant. Indeed, a grueling duel between aerospace providers has held up the USAF KC-X tanker replacement effort.
Lawmakers earlier this month also questioned the Navy’s need for two variants – as well as a rush to get congressional approval before year’s end without being able to provide more information. But, based on Navy’s officials’ testimony that the deal was best for the service and needed to be secured now to get all the financial benefits, lawmakers authorized the plan before the Christmas holiday.
“The awards represent a unique and valuable opportunity to lock in the benefits of competition and provide needed ships to our fleet in a timely and extraordinarily cost-effective manner,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a Pentagon statement distributed after U.S. stock markets had closed regular trading. Moreover, the awards are a “unique opportunity to maximize the buying power” on the LCS program by leveraging the highly effective competition between the bidders. The statement asserted that the dual-buy approach followed 2010 guidance by Pentagon leadership to maximize competition in acquisition.
Moreover, under these contracts, both shipbuilders also will deliver a technical data package to the Navy, allowing the government a “wide range of viable alternatives” for effective future competition. Government officials have long sought more ownership over data for cost and reliability reasons, a move traditionally opposed by an industry that favors proprietary solutions.
“This approach, which is self-financed within the program by adding a year to the procurement and utilizing a portion of the greater than $2 billion total savings (throughout the Future Years Defense Program),” the statement said, “enables the Navy to efficiently produce these ships at an increased rate and meet operational requirements sooner.”

NASA Wraps Up Discovery X-ray Scans with Hope

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida wrapped up X-ray scans of the shuttle Discovery’s external tank (ET) on Dec. 29, a day ahead of schedule, in troubleshooting that has so far not detected additional stringer cracks as a result of a Dec. 17 launch pad tanking test.
Four cracks surfaced on two adjacent 21-foot-long aluminum lithium stringers during a Nov. 5 launch scrub, stalling efforts to send Discovery on the orbiter’s final flight, an 11-day assembly mission to the International Space Station.
Shuttle program managers were to meet Dec. 30 to decide whether to equip the stringer section of the 154-foot-long tank with a radial block, a modification that would further strengthen regions on either side of two thrust panels. The two ET thrust panels face Discovery’s solid rocket boosters and shoulder critical launch loads.
“So far, we’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary,” NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said, as the X-ray analysis that began three days earlier was winding down. The imagery was being scoured by experts at other NASA installations.
Additional testing of sample stringers that might confirm suspicions of an assembly problem as the root cause of the cracks also is under way.
Discovery was returned to Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) after the Dec. 17 tanking test at Launch Pad 39A. During the test, the ET’s stringer section was fitted with 89 strain gauges and temperature sensors to help determine the cause of cracks that formed as cyrogenic hydrogen and oxygen flowed into the tank and determine the potential for further damage. The VAB permitted X-ray scans of all 108 stringers, which separate internal ET hydrogen and oxygen propellant containers.
The scrub was blamed on an unassociated hydrogen leak that was repaired with the replacement of the ET’s Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate.
If shuttle managers approve the radial block modification, work would begin Jan. 3, 2011. The work schedule would permit Discovery to return to Launch Pad 39A in mid-January, in time for launch attempts during a Feb. 3 through Feb. 10 window.
A crew of six astronauts has trained to deliver and equip the station with a storage module and an external platform to secure spare parts.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Keeping JSF Healthy is Top Airpower Priority: Analyst

Keeping the F-35 program healthy is the top U.S. airpower priority this year. After taking its medicine with a Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach in 2010, the program is in strong hands with new managers, Vice Adm. David Venlet at the program office, and Larry Lawson leading the Lockheed Martin team (see p. 55).
F-35 unit costs have gone up. But the real question is whether the F-35 shifts to a robust pace in its test program so it can make a smooth transition to full production.
Testing of the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant has been hard, and the departure of the RAF from that variant ended an era. However, the F-35 has made progress in the baseline conventional takeoff and landing variant and the carrier variant. The F-35 is a sorely needed modernization program that will fly the pants off anything out there (except the F-22). It won’t come cheap, but its capabilities will be second to none in the antiaccess environment emerging in areas such as the Western Pacific.
Later this year, we’ll see if the Pentagon funds a real long-range strike program, one that leads to down-select of a team or teams to build bomber prototypes. It’s possible that the Defense Department will opt to keep the new bomber a science project for fiscal reasons. The Air Force, however, has a serious requirement for a long-range platform that will give it firepower in antiaccess, area-denial scenarios. With just a handful of B-2s ready for action at any time, a stealthy, high-altitude bomber can’t come soon enough.
Also looming is a steeplechase course of decisions on airborne ground surveillance. Joint forces count on USAF aircraft to watch broad areas and take detailed pictures of vehicles and people moving around places such as Afghanistan. Trouble is, the Air Force has never had to come up with a full mission area strategy that copes with low-intensity conflict and the needs of contested battlespace. Modernizing this capability means deciding what to do about Joint Stars and Global Hawk Block 40, and the enticing prospect of buying new Navy P-8s and modifying them for USAF airborne ground surveillance.
Of course, long term this all depends on staying in the global business, and that means awarding the KC-X tanker contract and sticking with it.

Korean Air A380s To Have Only 407 Seats

Korean Air (KAL) will be taking delivery of its Airbus A380 in May and the aircraft will have 407 seats, the lowest seating density of any A380.
The 407 seats will include 12 first class and 94 business class seats, says the SkyTeam Alliance carrier, adding that the upper-deck will be all business class. This upper deck will have 94 lie-flat sleeper seats with 74 inch pitch, it says.
Next year it will receive five A380s with the first coming in May and then in 2012-2014 it will receive five more, it says.
The airline plans to operate A380s to Japan, Europe and the U.S.
KAL’s move to have a lower seating density signals its intention to compete more aggressively against Singapore Airlines and other premium carriers for business travelers.

J-20 - Denial Is Not An Option

More photos of the Chengdu stealth fighter prototype, reportedly the J-20, continue to emerge - although they don't add too much as yet to our understanding of the aircraft itself. It will take a little more measurement to pin down the jet's size, and without a plan view we can't say much. (The last time this happened was with the YF-12, and most people were miles away from the real aircraft.)

First, it looks like a delta, not a lambda:

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That has some signature implications, with what looks like an almost unswept trailing edge, because edges scatter forward and backwards.

More new photos: 

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The questions that need to be answered start with the size, because that will start to tell us where this aircraft falls on the bomber/fighter continuum.

The next question: how far along is the aircraft in development and, if it is pursued, when will it become operational? I would submit that the simplistic approach - comparing this aircraft to the YF-22 or X-35 and therefore projecting an IOC well beyond 2020 - is philosophically wrong, dangerous and stupid.

One problem is that we don't have a pattern for Chinese major programs. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union had its own development procedure that often confused us. The first aircraft of any type would be pure prototypes. Once the go-ahead was given for the type to enter service, MiG or Sukhoi would build a small batch of aircraft for service testing under operational conditions. Only then would full-rate production start. What was often confusing was that the service-test jets would be mistaken for operational aircraft.

China has not had many major combat aircraft programs. The most complex is the J-10, which flew in 1998 and is now well established in service with a major upgrade in flight test. The simpler JF-17 has moved even faster. However, this means that Chengdu can draw on a team which has recent experience with two full development programs and an upgrade.

Once big factor will be the engine. China's transition from dependence on Russian-developed high-performance engines is still under way. The key will be seeing whether and when the doemstically designed WS-10 replaces the Russian AL-31 in the J-10 and the J-11 (China's "bootleg" version of the Sukhoi family).

What could change things substantially is Russian-Chinese collaboration. Despite Russian concerns over China's reverse-engineering of its products, the lure of Chinese money and access to China's micro-electronics base is strong. And if Russia has permitted the export of the latest 117S engines for the J-20, it tells us a lot.

Meanwhile at Chengdu, the forward observation team is digging in for the long haul:

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Much more comfortable than Freedom Ridge back in the Interceptor days.

A Tribute to Alfred E. Kahn

Alfred E. Kahn, who died Monday at age 93, was the academic whose ideas laid the groundwork for airline deregulation.  As an economist he saw advantages for practically everyone in having the government step aside and allow the airlines to fly where they wanted to and to offer fares that they themselves set.
On the whole, deregulation has been a good move, certainly for travelers who benefit today from low fares and from the development of airlines such as Southwest, AirTran, Ryanair, EasyJet, to name a few. International deregulation also gave the major airlines the chance to become network carriers, taking over from the great old pre-deregulation airlines such as Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines.  For the airlines and the people who work for them, the last three decades of deregulation have brought plenty of misery, financial losses and disruptions. They have a multitude of stories to tell and are likely to disagree with this assessment. 
Kahn served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1977-1978 just prior to the passage of the deregulation act by Congress in the fall, 1978. He put the pieces together that provided the rare sight of a government agency in retreat.  And it was a long retreat with the airline industry struggling through a recession, the change of administrations from Carter to Reagan, and the huge, rippling changes that deregulation brought. The CAB finally lost its authority of domestic routes and fares in 1983 and closed the next year, ending 46 years as a regulatory body. I think everyone was glad to see it go, except for the lawyers and influence peddlers who had made a living out of persuading the CAB to act one way or another in favor of one group or another.   
In the role of CAB chairman Kahn was succeeded by Marvin Cohen who shared Kahn’s principles and carried out the congressional mandate in those early days of deregulation. And those days were as nutty as one could possibly imagine. New airlines appeared everywhere, and hundreds have been lost, blown away in the harsh economic winds of high fuel prices, management ineptitude and a new, rough kind of rivalry in the industry In those days Braniff International Airlines was a rising star. It opened market after poorly chosen market, a batch nearly ever week and all across the nation. The airline took a tragic dip into the international market and operated virtually empty Boeing 747s to Korea for a while. Braniff even struck a deal with British Airways and operated Concorde at subsonic speeds across the U.S. It was a heady time, much of it due to Alfred Kahn.
For those of us who covered deregulation and its impact, the job was a treat to deal with Kahn even though his tenure at the CAB was short. Through the years, though, he continued as a chief spokesman for deregulation. Beyond this very public role, he was a gentleman, quick as a cat mentally, a wizard with words and a marvel to watch as he laid out his thoughts carefully, an academic and a public servant one could admire.

Alfred Kahn, Godfather of Deregulation Dies

Alfred Kahn, the former head of the Civil Aeronautics Board and widely acknowledged godfather of U.S. airline deregulation, died Dec. 27 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., at age 93.
A renowned economist, Kahn was a vocal opponent to government control of industry, and in 1971, while a professor at Cornell University, published “The Economics of Regulation,” a two-volume work that included a call to deregulate U.S. aviation.
That book, and his relaxation of local government control of electric, gas, telephone and water companies during his tenure in the mid-1970s as chair of the New York Public Service Commission, led to his appointment in 1977 as chairman of the CAB, and a mandate from President Jimmy Carter to overhaul the country’s airline industry.
A year later, Congress passed the U.S. Airline Deregulation Act, a law that released the industry from overt government control. In 1997 Aviation Week recognized Kahn’s work by awarding him the L. Welch Pogue award, which is presented to an individual considered a visionary and a preeminent leader of contemporary aviation.
Although best known for this achievement and as Carter’s “inflation czar,” Kahn was heavily involved in other industries, and had a passion for communications and energy policy. Recently this extended to net neutrality, the contentious issue of how consumers should access the Internet, where he argued that providers should be able to charge for different types of access.
Born Oct. 17, 1917, in Paterson, N.J., Kahn received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from New York University in 1936 and 1937, respectively, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1942. In the early 1940s, he worked at the Brookings Institution, the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the War Production Board as an economist.
Kahn began his teaching career at Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., and in 1947 he joined Cornell University, rising to dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Cornell Board of Trustees. He was an emeritus professor of political economy at Cornell when he died.
According to Cornell, Kahn died of cancer. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

China's Minsheng Seeks 10-15 Bizjets

China’s Minsheng Financial Leasing is in talks for 10-15 business jets, following a plan to accumulate orders for 100 by 2014.
The company, set up to exploit what its owners rightly expected to be rapid growth in Chinese business aviation, has ordered 17 aircraft since signing its first purchase contract in April 2008, says the firm’s aviation and legal consultant, David Tang.
The lessor is an affiliate of China’s Minsheng Bank. It specializes in financial leases for Chinese customers and generally orders an aircraft only when it has secured a client. But Tang says that if it can secure attractive terms the company considers buying extra aircraft in expectation of finding customers.
He did not disclose which manufacturers the company was currently talking to about the next order.
Minsheng’s customers so far are showing a strong preference for large, long-range types such as the Gulfstream G550. The lessor expects increased interest in Chinese domestic flying to generate a rise in bookings for medium-range aircraft in 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lufthansa, Netjets To Announce Cooperation

Lufthansa and Netjets Europe are close to announcing a major cooperation agreement, industry sources tell Aviation Week.
As part of the agreement, Netjets will take over corporate jet flying as part of the Lufthansa Private Jet scheme next year replacing Lufthansa’s own fleet of corporate aircraft. Neither Lufthansa nor Netjets were prepared to comment yesterday.
Lufthansa has used Netjets in the past when it originally launched its private jet offering. But the work was taken in-house in 2008 when group subsidiary Swiss International Air Lines bought Zurich-based Servair Private Charter. The unit—then called Swiss Private Aviation—operated 5 Cessna Citation CJ1s, CJ3s and XLS+ on behalf of Lufthansa.
However, Lufthansa’s clients used the service in a different way than expected. While Lufthansa saw the offering mainly as hub feeding and de-feeding into secondary airports, passengers instead booked many secondary airport to secondary airport trips that became prohibitively expensive for the operator because they mean a significant amount of positioning flights. As a Swiss company, Swiss Private Aviation also was not allowed to fly German domestic routes. The offering was also limited to Europe.
Industry sources say Lufthansa hopes the large European Netjets fleet will make empty positioning flights a much smaller problem and the scheme can be expanded at least to North America through Netjets. Officials say that the Lufthansa Private Jet offering is not in doubt. However, Swiss Private Aviation is expected to shut down with its 60 employees to be transferred to other positions in the group.

Lessons Learned From Maintenance Mergers

When two airlines merge, there are some important human factors considerations for maintenance organizations. What are they? O&M put that question to Hal Heule, president of HMH Consulting, who was senior VP technical operations during the America West-US Airways merger.
Heule, who provided executive leadership for the operational integration of the two carriers, says there are three standout issues maintenance organizations should have a plan to address. Interestingly, two of those three issues—communication and training—are relevant to maintenance organizations every day, not just those undergoing a merger:
Communication. The announcement of a merger causes immediate distraction in any workplace. Technicians will ask themselves and each other: Will I have a job after the merger? Will my job change? Will I have to move? These are natural concerns, and Heule says it is important to address them head-on, repeatedly, with solid information. Otherwise, rumors and misinformation will take over and degrade job performance, increasing the likelihood of a maintenance error.
“We ratcheted up communications from the corporate level down to the manager level,” says Heule. He says he and his team were constantly on the road, asking technicians what they were thinking and reminding them to be aware of potential distractions.
Training. Heule’s biggest “lesson learned” from the America West-US Airways merger was in the area of training. “I wish we’d done more of it, and I wish we had done it better,” he says. “In some cases, we moved too fast with too much information.” If he had to do it all again, Heule says he would beef up the training department and slow down the training process, devoting more time, attention and resources to this critical area.
In particular, Heule says he regrets not carving out time to explain the reasons for the changes in procedures and technologies. By neglecting the “why,” those attending training often devoted as much energy to wondering why they needed to change as they put into learning the new material. When educating staff on a new way of doing things, trainers must win their buy-in into the “why” before they will engage with the “how.” If employees are not 100% onboard with why the new way will be better, that limits their ability to engage with the material.
Integration workload. Not surprisingly, it takes a lot of work to integrate two major airlines. Maintenance leaders cannot expect to handle the added workload and still fully perform their jobs. “Integration happens more smoothly if you have more people,” says Heule. Unfortunately, many mergers, under pressure to show quick cost synergies, eliminate personnel too swiftly. “Don’t be in a big hurry to reduce staff,” Heule warns. “You’ll need every hand on deck during the integration.”
Where there are redundancies, consider redeploying personnel to areas such as training, which need more attention. Another option is to split the workload: give one person responsibility for merger issues while another runs the day-to-day airline operations. For instance, when US Airways found itself with two heads of maintenance planning, one was made head of combined operations planning while the other was tapped to manage the maintenance operation integration.
The bottom line: every maintenance operation has its distractions, and those distractions skyrocket during a merger. Taking the time to manage communications, plan out training that addresses the “why” behind forthcoming changes, and keeping all maintenance personnel employed through the merger—even if it means assigning new, merger-related responsibilities—vastly reduces the human factors issues that can lead to error.

Congress Wants Ship Missile Defense Plan

Congress wants the U.S. Navy to submit a report by March 31 to show how the service plans to incorporate its ship-based ballistic missile defense requirements with its force structure needs, according to the recently passed defense authorization legislation.
The report should include :
• An analysis of whether the requirement for sea-based missile defense can be accommodated by upgrading Aegis ships that exist as of the date of the report or by procuring additional combatant surface vessels.
• A discussion of whether such sea-based missile defense will require increasing the overall number of combatant surface vessels beyond the requirement of 88 cruisers and destroyers in the Navy’s 313-ship fleet plan.
• A discussion of the process for determining the number of Aegis ships needed by each commander of the combatant commands to fulfill ballistic missile defense requirements, including the number of such ships required to support the “phased, adaptive approach” to ballistic missile defense in Europe.
• A discussion of the impact of Aegis Ashore missile defense deployments, as well as deployment of other elements of the ballistic missile defense system, on Aegis ballistic missile defense ship force structure requirements.
• A discussion of the potential effect of ballistic missile defense operations on the ability of the Navy to meet surface fleet demands in each geographic area and for each mission set.
• An evaluation of how the Aegis ballistic missile defense program can succeed as part of a balanced fleet of adequate size and strength to meet the security needs of the U.S.
• A description of both the shortfalls and the benefits of expected technological advancements in the sea-based missile defense program.
• A description of the anticipated plan for deployment of Aegis ballistic missile defense ships within the context of the fleet-response plan.

New U.S. Intel Aircraft Efforts Take Flight

The U.S. Army and Air Force are continuing to field intelligence-collection equipment—especially for detecting and following individuals on the battlefield—to support intensifying operations in Afghanistan.
These new systems include sophisticated wide-area surveillance cameras as well as signals-intelligence (sigint) collectors, and they represent a step forward in the Pentagon’s efforts to counter improvised explosive devices (IED). But the services are only making rudimentary strides in linking the intelligence provided from them; this is forcing manpower-intensive operations to exploit the data from these new aircraft.
However, a recent Army effort to quickly field a new sigint collector has been stalled by contractor protests.
Northrop Grumman and L-3 Communications each filed protests in mid-December with the U.S. Government Accountability Office over their losses to Boeing for the $323-million contract to develop the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER-based Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Emarss). Boeing’s contract, signed with the Army Nov. 30, was expected to deliver aircraft for use in Afghanistan 18 months later, though that plan is likely to be dashed while federal auditors review the Army’s source selection. Auditors have until March 25 to render a decision.
A Lockheed Martin/Sierra Nevada team also lost the competition. Bids from Raytheon and SAIC were rejected during an earlier phase of the program. Emarss is a scaled-down version of the defunct Aerial Common Sensor program, which was canceled in 2006 owing to weight issues and integration problems by the Lockheed Martin/Embraer team.  
L-3 was considered the frontrunner in the competition to develop this communications-intelligence system. L-3 is wrapping up similar work modifying Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ERs for the Air Force’s MC-12W Project Liberty program. Based on the Army contracting officer’s documentation, L-3 bested Boeing in two of four key areas. L-3’s price, $273 million, was lower by about $50 million, and L-3 received higher marks for its ability to integrate subcontractors, including small businesses. The two companies were equally rated in both technical performance and past performance.
The Army put the most emphasis on technical performance. Next in priority came cost, then past performance. The subcontractor and small business plan took the lowest priority. “The non-cost factors, when combined, were significantly more important than the cost/price factor,” says the Army’s documentation. “Pursuant to these guidelines, Boeing was determined to provide the best overall value to the government in proposing the most objective level performance capability and a design that facilitated future growth to the system.”
Lockheed Martin/Sierra Nevada is less likely to protest because Boeing’s bid won on technical and past performance, the intelligence official says. Boeing is well-versed in the protest process; the company objected to a win by Northrop Grumman/EADS of the Air Force’s KC-135 replacement contract and won. As a result, Boeing and EADS are once again competing for that work, estimated to be worth $35 billion.
Roger Krone, who heads Boeing Network and Space Systems, says one discriminator for his company’s Emarss bid was probably the use of Defense Receiver Technology (DRT), a signals-intelligence equipment manufacturer purchased by the company in late 2008. “We’ve been in the tactical [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] area really for a couple of years,” Krone says, noting that much recent work has been on small-scale but strategic projects. “It has been a focus area for us. We just see it as a growth area.”
The newly acquired Argon ST, which specializes in communications and intelligence, also was an integral part of the Boeing campaign, he says. “We think the Boeing value added [was] inside the skin of the aircraft, not the aircraft piece,” Krone adds.
Boeing’s campaign team was headed by its Phantom Works division, and once the contract was won, it shifted to Krone’s division.
At the suggestion that Boeing was an underdog, Krone says, “one might just look at the landscape and say, ‘if I were the customer I don’t know if I’d want to double down’” by selecting L-3. “I might want somebody else in that business.”
Krone declines to say where Emarss modification work would be completed.
Meanwhile, Air Force officials are wrapping up production of the last five MC-12W Project Liberty aircraft at L-3’s facility in Greenville, Texas. This plant’s performance was a major factor in the company’s proposal for Emarss.
A government official says that 30 of 37 MC-12Ws are forward-deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to support ground troops there. The remainder are used for training in Mississippi. The program was hastily initiated in July 2008 after Defense Secretary Robert Gates chided the Air Force for lackluster in-theater intelligence-collection. The first Project Liberty aircraft flew its first combat sortie in June 2009. The Pentagon plans to buy five more MC-12Ws; two for the Army and three for the Air Force. Though expected for delivery within a year, they are not yet on contract.
Air Force officials are planning to upgrade the first seven aircraft with a Ku-band satellite link; the first aircraft off the production line were provided with Inmarsat communications links, according to a government official. That modification could take as long as eight months, as “we basically have to gut it out and start over” to install the equipment, the government official says. Additionally, the service plans to eventually add glass cockpits to the entire fleet. The full-motion video (FMV) is relayed via the Ku-band system.
Though Project Liberty was fielded primarily for its FMV capability, the camera also includes an infrared component and the aircraft carries some signals-intelligence collectors.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is continuing to experiment with various wide-­area surveillance systems. One is the Blue Devil project. The aircraft component, dubbed BD-1, is fielded on the King Air 90 and includes a wide-area camera as well as signals-intelligence systems. The concept of operations calls for this system to track individuals using the FMV sensor based on sigint cues, such as cellular phone usage. SAIC is the prime contractor and the fleet will be contractor-owned and -operated.
Blue Devil adds to the wide-area surveillance capability on the earlier Air Force Angel Fire aircraft. The Blue Devil camera will provide a better swath size than Angel Fire and it adds an infrared capability (allowing for night operations looking for individuals planting IEDs) along with the sigint capability, according to another government official.
The same King Air 90s used for Angel Fire in Afghanistan were brought back and modified; they are now carrying the BD-1 equipment. Industry officials say BD-1 executed its first flight in U.S. Central Command this month, and there are four Blue Devil aircraft overseas. Angel Fire was not unlike the Army’s Constant Hawk project, which is managed by L-3, in that the system was used as a forensics tool in the IED fight. The wide-area camera is designed to stare and, if an event occurs, officials can backtrack through the images to see who planted the IED and from where they came.

Funding Puts NASA At Square One Again

Congressional action to fund the government through March 4, 2011, leaves NASA pretty much right where it started in February when the Fiscal 2011 budget came out, with everything—from an extra space shuttle flight to early use of commercial replacements for the shuttle—uncertain.
In addition to a short-term continuing resolution (CR), NASA has received its Fiscal 2012 “passback” from the White House Office of Management and Budget along with a strongly worded presidential caution to all federal agencies not to expect much wiggle room on the spending figures it contains.
As President Barack Obama signed the CR, which funds the government until the incoming Congress gets its feet on the ground, top NASA managers huddled to set short-term priorities to match the temporary measure. They continued work started last week when Administrator Charles Bolden and his top aides retreated to a hotel across the street from agency headquarters in Washington to begin figuring out how to face a funding slowdown in the wake of the November elections, which turned control of the House over to deficit-wary Republicans.
In legislative parlance, the latest CR contained no “anomalies” for NASA, continuing funding levels and conditions set out in its Fiscal 2010 appropriation. That means the Constellation program that Obama killed with his budget request remains on the books, as does legislative language prohibiting NASA from embarking upon the White House’s new approach to human spaceflight that would rely on commercial providers.
It remains to be seen where the agency will find the $600 million it needs to mount one more shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) beyond the two scheduled for February and April, and to accelerate development of the commercial cargo craft needed to ease the ISS resupply burden after the shuttle is grounded for good.
“The continuing resolution by itself does not endanger the extra shuttle mission, because on an annualized basis, the continuing resolution provides enough funding to fly the mission,” NASA stated in a canned response to the inevitable question.
The short-term CR casts a shadow over plans to launch a risk-reduction flight of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Taurus II vehicle next year to hasten its ability to deliver cargo to the ISS after the shuttle is retired. The Dulles, Va.-based company has said it cannot mount the flight on its own, and needs extra cash from NASA to carry it out.
Also uncertain is how NASA will handle the $1.5 billion shortfall in funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, including an extra $200 million that may be due in the next year. NASA’s supporters on Capitol Hill had been hopeful the agency would squeak by on a 10-month CR, giving the agency Fiscal 2010 spending levels through the end of the new fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2011, and removing the restrictions on new starts.
That would have clearly left enough money for the STS-135 shuttle mission tentatively planned for June 2011; given agency managers the flexibility to speed commercial cargo-vehicle development with the Taurus II launch and additional support for Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 and Dragon cargo vehicles; and allowed NASA to begin the heavy-lift launch vehicle ordered in the agency’s three-year authorization act, which the president also has signed.
Beth Robinson, the agency’s chief financial officer, has told the headquarters mission directorates for exploration and space operations that they will have to use the funds available to them collectively to pay for the programs they have on their separate plates under the new authorization act. The agency is considering combining the two directorates to smooth that process, although a NASA spokesman says “that thinking is ongoing, and a decision has not been made.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hawker Beechcraft Will Stay in Wichita

Well, so much for moving to the Big Easy. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. announced today that the State of Kansas has ante’d up $60 million to keep the OEM and 4,000 jobs in Wichita, a figure that convinced Chairman and CEO Bill Boisture to unpack his bags and stay put.
Earlier this year Boisture said he was contemplating moving the entire company to Louisiana, to take advantage of incentives it has proposed as an enticement.
Today’s agreement was announced by Boisture, along with Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson (D), Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. The state’s package requires Hawker Beechcraft to maintain its current product lines in Wichita over the next 10 years.
Thanks to the new pact, Boisture said, “We intend to have the best trained work force in the industry to power the development, manufacturing and projection of our diversified product line of business turbine aircraft, trainers and special mission offerings to emerging global markets from here in Kansas.”
The package includes $10 million over three years for tuition reimbursement and training for employees attending the National Aviation Training Center, Wichita State University or any of the other Kansas Regents’ institutions. Hawker Beechcraft will also receive $10 million in the first year, followed by $5 million each year for the next four years, for other expenses related to the project, such as the purchase or relocation of equipment, product development, labor recruitment, or building costs.
In addition the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County have also agreed in principle to each provide $2.5 million over the course of five years.

Carter: Healthy JSF Worth Slip In Production

The Pentagon remains willing to slow F-35 Joint Strike Fighter production to shore up problems in the development and testing portion of the single-engine stealthy fighter program, says Ashton Carter, who oversees procurement for the U.S. Defense Department.
“Ultimately, a successful [system design and development] program will reduce program costs because we won’t have to go back and retrofit aircraft and we will design in lower cost,” Carter told Aviation Week during a Dec. 21 interview. “If that means waiting a little while— as we have waited—for production aircraft, that is worth the wait.”
Despite a 13-month development delay to the Lockheed Martin project initiated last February, senior Pentagon officials are considering yet another slip to the F-35 development project that, if approved, is likely to be announced in February at the latest, with the forthcoming Fiscal 2012 budget submission to Congress.
The potential of a further slip to F-35 production is not likely to affect international customers, Carter says. “I think that we will be able to ramp up production in such a way that we will be able to satisfy all of the international customers in the timetables that they can absorb and pay for the aircraft, and I think that the schedules can be made to match up pretty well.” The first international release of the aircraft is now expected in 2014; that could slip if the Pentagon restructures the project once more to accommodate additional development work. Already, eight countries have signed on as partners in the program. Singapore and Japan also are interested in following Israel in procuring the aircraft directly from Lockheed Martin.
In contrast to the Pentagon, an aggressive early production schedule is viewed as critical to Lockheed Martin, which is still competing against the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Saab Gripen and Eurofighter in several international markets for sales. Company officials stress that proceeding with production concurrently with development will help to reach a critical mass in the number of near-term orders and drive the per-unit price of the aircraft down as soon as possible. The Pentagon’s position, however, has in the past year been to reduce concurrency to avoid the potential of rework on aircraft produced early in the production line.
The last F-35 restructuring occurred as the Pentagon recertified the triservice, multinational program to move forward despite the projected unit cost nearly doubling from $50 million to $95 million. That overrun breached the limits in the Nunn-McCurdy statute, prompting a major review of the project and recertification prior to continuing work.
The recertification came last summer, after Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz was dismissed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the program manager position was elevated by one rank. Vice Adm. David Venlet, the new program manger, has since conducted what Carter says is the first comprehensive review of the $382 billion program.
This technical baseline review is complete and has not been released to the public. It will provide the basis for Gates’ forthcoming decision on how to proceed with the F-35. “That was the whole reason for restructuring the program office and getting Dave Venlet in,” Carter says, acknowledging that the restructuring in 2010 is likely only a start for the new direction of the program.
“The first thing I asked him to do was to get to the bottom of the management of the Joint Strike Fighter program because last year we had to rely on a few cost analysts for the most accurate picture we could get of the status of a large and important program,” he continues. “I feel [as if] I and the sectary of defense have for the first time in years through the technical baseline review an accurate high-fidelity management information picture of the Joint Strike Fighter.”
Carter says that the recent signing of a fixed-price, incentive-fee low-rate-initial-production Lot IV (LRIP IV) contract with Lockheed Martin “was a step forward, but there is no question there are many steps ahead” in reining in cost for the program. Based on the LRIP IV contract, the target prices of the three F-35 variants without engines are as follows: conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL)—$111.6 million; Short takeoff and vertical landing (Stovl)—$109.4 million and carrier variant (CVs)—$142.9 million. Though Stovl appears to cost the least, the per-unit engine price is the highest. Also, this number is lower because the purchase includes 17 Stovls versus 11 CTOLs and only four CVs.

Printer Bomb Scare Raises Issues For Congress

Congress will have its hands full dealing with a multitude of policy issues raised by the October discovery of explosive printer bombs destined for U.S.-bound, all-cargo aircraft, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says in a December report.
A key conflict is whether the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can rely on risk-based strategies as alternatives to 100% cargo screening and inspection. TSA and the air cargo industry argue that risk-based approaches are adequate to the security task. Congress, in its first mandated cargo security procedure, pressed for 100% screening of cargo placed on passenger aircraft.
The policy debate is likely to focus on how Congress will charge the TSA to treat in-bound international cargo shipments on cargo and passenger aircraft that are not screened. The agency is working with international cargo operators to increase the screening of cargo on passenger aircraft, but the 100% level may not be possible until August 2013.
TSA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are relying on risk-based targeting of shipments in the interim. These include application of the Known Shipper Program that has amassed a database of millions of shippers approved to place cargo on passenger aircraft. In addition, industry has recommended the following: Use of enhanced targeting of shipments based on Customs’ experience with the Automated Targeting System, more uses of explosive trace detection technology, increasing deployment of canine teams, and improving security through a supply chain approach.
TSA has developed a risk-based rating system and scheduling tool that aid cargo inspections outside the U.S. The agency also has 10 international cargo transportation security inspectors at field offices in Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami and Frankfurt. An additional eight TSA representatives are working with 240 foreign passenger and all-cargo air carriers that operate flights to the U.S. And, the agency has trained more than 500 canine teams now in place at 78 airports, and it has 150 of its own canine teams at the 20 busiest airports.
The problem with a 100% security screening mandate is cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a $250 million cost in the first year and $650 million per year for the following five years to implement the mandate for 100% baggage screening on passenger aircraft. The CRS report estimates that the mandate could cost more than $700 million just in the first year and perhaps as high as several billion dollars annually.
The report suggests that Congress may look into the adequacy of the TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Program under which third parties are certified to screen shipments at factories, warehouses, logistics centers and cargo consolidation facilities. The agency’s plan is to screen as many shipments as possible prior to their arrival at airports and to avoid a log jam. As of late August, more than 1,000 facilities were certified; but only 400 shippers were among them. Much expansion is expected for FY2011.
Other issues include costs and benefits of blast-resistant cargo containers, the use of private screeners rather than TSA employees, and the need for a technology that is capable of screening cargo loaded in containers or on pallets.
“Neutron beam technologies offer a potential solution, allowing automated explosives detection capabilities of containerized and palletized cargo,” according to the report. A neutron beam unit was installed at Houston’s George Bush International Airport in 2005 for $8 million, but the program was later suspended. “However, the high cost and large footprint of the machines have been significant deterrents to their use.”

Flight Testing Begins for HondaJet

The first FAA-conforming HondaJet flew for the first time yesterday from the Honda Aircraft Co. facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C. During the 51-minute flight aircraft’s flight characteristics and performance were analyzed and systems checks were conducted.
“This is a very important milestone for the HondaJet program,” said Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft President and CEO. “We’ve proved to the FAA that we’re not only good at designing aircraft, but that we have good processes as a company.”
Two other aircraft will join in the flight test program by next summer. And another two will be employed in structural testing. All five aircraft are being built with production tooling in the company’s R&D center.
Fujino tells Aviation Week that the program, which had experienced a year-long delay, is “catching up very rapidly.” The aircraft’s GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines are expected to receive FAA certification in 2011 and, he says the aircraft should meet its schedule targets of certification and first deliveries in the latter part of 2012.
The company claims orders in hand for more than 100 of the $4.5 million light jet and Fujino says that number has remained stable throughout the business jet market collapse that began in 2008. What cancellations did occur have been largely offset by new sales, he says.
Meanwhile, the company is nearing completion of its 266,000 sq ft aircraft production facility on its Greensboro campus. Once it is finished in early 2011, Honda will begin moving in equipment and personnel and begin pre-production preparations and training necessary to support HondaJet production ramp-up beginning in 2012.
Fujino says he expects the facility will turn out 30-40 aircraft in the first six months of production.
Asked if other models are planned, he says, “We cannot sustain a company with one product,” but declined to speculate on what might be the next aircraft. He did say that future aircraft might not feature the HondaJet’s unique engines-on-vertical-pylons design, but would likely incorporate concepts that are equally innovative.
The company currently employs 550 people at the Greensboro operation, and expects to add another 150-200 workers as production ramps up.

More Countries Invest In Marine Forces

Most nations have marines—amphibious assault forces that act as first responders when governments project power. Theater commanders will say the benefits of a mobile force of marines, operating with naval support and dedicated air and ground assets, cannot be overstated, especially in an era of asymmetric warfare and littoral operations. So effective is this model of rapid light infantry that even landlocked Paraguay has a battalion of marines.
The number, capabilities and support of marine forces varies. Most nations, ironically, lack the ships and logistics necessary to optimize such forces. This may be changing. Although industrial militaries in the West periodically examine the structure and value of marine forces (see related story on p. 30), many developing countries are expanding their units. The reasons involve regional influence, coastal security, protection of trade and suppression of criminal activity, notably piracy. Moreover, with more countries participating in security and peacekeeping coalitions, fielding and maintaining an effective amphibious force is vital to a successful deployment.
Amphibious forces are among the most complex and expensive in a navy. They need dedicated naval assault forces to project and sustain power, well-trained and motivated personnel, specific and costly equipment, and must hone their skills with constant training. As a result, only a few nations can afford true amphibious forces. Nevertheless, countries in many regions are looking to increase the size and capabilities of their marine forces.
Some NATO members such as the U.K., Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have marine units. Others assign marine activities throughout their forces. France, while having an amphibious naval capability, does not have a true marine force, even though the army fields three regiments called marines and there is a special forces component of the navy. Germany also has no marine force, primarily because an amphibious force projects power, which Germany is reluctant to do.
NATO, which has a doctrine for amphibious operations, has studied and wargamed amphibious raids and larger operations to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere, but a lack of political will keeps such plans off the table. The only recent amphibious operations among NATO members were landings by Italy and France for the initial deployment of their Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) troops, disaster relief operations and non-combatant evacuations.
Still, NATO can rely on joint Spanish-Italian and U.K.-Dutch amphibious forces. The U.K. has a Royal Marines force at brigade level and a strong amphibious naval force. The Dutch maintain a brigade of 3,000 marines and two modern LPD (landing platform dock) amphibious craft. One Dutch battalion is integrated with the U.K.’s 3 Commando Brigade to form the U.K./Netherlands Amphibious Land Force.
Spain fields a brigade of 6,200 marines and relevant amphibious naval forces, while Italy has created a peculiar joint amphibious brigade, combining naval infantry units and a regiment of army riverine and delta troops converted to amphibious assault duties.
Elsewhere in the region, Portugal relies on two marine battalions with 2,000 troops, but has limited naval transport. Greece has a marine infantry brigade that is part of the army, which the navy supports with limited amphibious forces. Turkey is increasing its amphibious naval component; Romania has a marine battalion but lacks transport vessels; and Russia is rebuilding its naval amphibious force. Moscow believes that the quickest approach entails acquiring LPDs from the West to support elite naval infantry forces, which include 8,000 in one division, two brigades and some regiments. The Russian navy has been negotiating with France to buy Mistral amphibious craft, but recently announced an open tender for the ships.
Large amphibious forces are common in the Pacific Rim. China has 7,000 marines and special forces in five regiments. This is likely to expand as the navy builds more amphibious assault vehicles and strengthens its blue water fleet. Taiwan has a bigger marine force, with two active divisions and one in reserve totaling 35,000 troops. They are primarily for defensive operations—e.g., repelling an invasion by China.
If China attempts to invade Taiwan, and its missile, naval and air attacks and blockades do not force surrender, amphibious assault operations would take place. China, however, is also looking at naval power projection to defend territorial claims and economic exclusion zones in the Western Pacific.
India has a marine force of only 1,000, which is surprising since experts believe the country will eventually vie with China for influence in the region. The country also has a large coastline to patrol, is committed to keeping shipping lanes open and faces ongoing insurgencies in parts of the country. India’s naval amphibious component is adequate, and being reinforced.
South Korea fields a large and capable naval infantry that mirrors the U.S. Marine Corps, with 25,000 men in two divisions and a brigade supported by a growing and modern navy amphibious component including two LHDs (landing helicopter docks). Marines in South Korea would play a defensive role or launch a naval attack in a conflict with Pyongyang.
Geography—including a large coastline—and decades of war drove Vietnam to build a powerful marine force of 25,000, even though the navy lacks the means to project their power and support them. Vietnamese marines are mostly for coastal defense and riverine and delta operations.
Geography also led Indonesia to build up naval infantry, given its need to protect the hundreds of islands in the country. The marine force of 15,000 in two brigades will increase to 22,000 with the planned addition of two brigades. The navy has a patchwork of amphibious vessels, with four LPDs in service or under construction, 18 LSTs (landing ship, tank) and 14 LCUs (landing craft utility).
The Philippines, with many islands to protect, has more than 8,000 marines, but minimal naval transport and assault capabilities. The troops are for counter-insurgency missions.
Japan’s navy is building an amphibious force, which will include LPDs and LHDs and a helicopter air wing. Given the sensitivity of Asian countries to a real or perceived Japanese offensive capability, establishing a dedicated naval amphibious assault infantry is not an immediate move for Tokyo. Naval forces will instead transport and support army units.
Australia has an integrated military force and, while lacking a large marine infantry, is increasing its naval transportation and power projection capability, including amphibious assault assets.
Most of Africa has no significant amphibious forces. Some countries on the Mediterranean have such capabilities, notably Morocco, which has a naval infantry force of 2,000 but only one LST. Algeria plans to develop an amphibious capability, but has no marines. The navy is to acquire at least one LPD, and is increasing rotary wing assets.
Saudi Arabia has the most powerful marine force in the Middle East—3,000 naval infantry who rely on LCUs for coastal operations. The growing Iraqi forces include a marine battalion for coastal and riverine operations, mainly defense on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, whose southern end borders Iran. (Iran has no amphibious assault capabilities to speak of.)
Almost all South American countries with a coast have marine forces, even if they are not matched by naval amphibious capabilities. Brazil’s marine force is 15,000 strong. The navy has several amphibious assault vessels and wants more. Chile has four regiments with more than 2,700 marines, but no naval amphibious force. Venezuela has 10,000 naval infantry, which also operate in riverine roles. The force comprises five brigades, with two more being equipped. Its four LSTs, however, are not sufficient.
Peru has a naval infantry force of 3,500 and is expanding its naval amphibious arm by acquiring decommissioned U.S. vessels. Argentina’s 2,000 marines are among the country’s best troops, though the navy has few airborne and assault capabilities. Colombia has a powerful naval infantry, with four brigades and 22,000 troops, but its main role is guerrilla warfare. Ecuador has three marine battalions, with 1,500 men, and small amphibious vessels. Bolivia has a naval infantry force of 1,000, but no amphibious capabilities.
Mexico plans to increase its naval infantry force to 16,000 from 10,000, but has a small amphibious force. Honduras has a battalion of marines but only one LCU. Guatemala has a marine battalion, two LCUs and one mechanized landing craft. Cuba’s naval infantry, despite a large coastline, is only 500.

EC Criticizes Airports Over Snow Closures

The European Commission again is criticizing European airports over the handling of recent disruptions caused by heavy snowfall and is suggesting that it may have to set minimum service requirements for airports.
The airports, however, say they “are doing their utmost” to maintain operations and assist stranded passengers, and blasted attempts by some media outlets to equate the current situation with the fallout from last spring’s volcanic eruption in Iceland.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Dec. 21, the EC’s transport policy commissioner, Siim Kallas, said he is “extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow. It is unacceptable and should not happen again.”
The commissioner said the EC is “monitoring the situation very closely and is in constant touch with airlines, airports, rail operators and national authorities responsible for passenger rights.”
His statement comes as London’s Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, continues to struggle to return to normal operations after the first snowfall on Saturday morning. The airport closed both runways over the weekend and only reopened the second runway on Tuesday evening. It is currently only operating 30% of scheduled flights. Thousands of passengers have been stranded with many being forced to sleep on terminal floors due to a shortage of hotel rooms.
“In recent days, I have become increasingly concerned about the problems relating to the infrastructure available to airlines—airports and ground handling—during this severe period of snow. It seems at this stage that this is a “weak link” in a chain which, under pressure, is contributing to severe disruption.”
Kallas says he intends to call a meeting with airports to ask for further explanations and “take a hard look at what is necessary to make sure they would be able to operate more effectively in the similar situations in the future.”
“Airports must “get serious” about planning for this kind of severe weather conditions. We have seen in recent years that snow in Western Europe is not such an exceptional circumstance. Better preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe is not an optional extra, it must be planned for and with the necessary investment, particularly on the side of the airports.”
Airports across Western Europe have been accused of serious under investment in winter equipment and staff to cope with the severe weather conditions. Airport operator BAA, which owns London’s Heathrow, spent just £500,000 ($773,480) on upgrading its snow clearing equipment and staff training this year despite expected pre-tax profits of nearly £1 billion.
Kallas added: “If there is a need for support from the European Commission in terms of regulation on minimum service requirements for airports in this area, I am prepared to do that, for example, when we bring forward the airports package on slots and ground-handling which is foreseen before summer next year.”
ACI-Europe countered that 88% of flights planned to and from European airports took place on Monday, Dec. 20. In a statement also released on Tuesday, ACI-Europe said: “Aside from the localized impact of weather conditions, the current situation also reflects variations in airport infrastructure configurations and layouts,runway and apron capacity as well as local air traffic control restrictions.”
Olivier Jankovec, director general, ACI-Europe, said, “For quite a while, we have been calling for airports to be given appropriate authority to control how their infrastructure is being used by others. The forthcoming revision of EU legislation on ground handling is the opportunity to allow airports to set minimum operational standards for ground handlers in relation to service quality and safety.”
Attempts to compare the snow-caused disruption with the volcanic eruption are “exaggerated” and ignore the differences in the scope and impact of the disruptions, the airport group said

American Falls Out Of Orbitz

American Airlines pulled its inventory from Orbitz and its corporate travel solution Orbitz for Business Dec. 21 after a circuit court judge’s ruling cleared the way, giving American at least a temporary victory in the escalating battle over how its inventory is distributed.
But the legal battle is not over. Travelport, which owns 48% of the online travel agency and filed the lawsuit, says it will continue to pursue its case.
The decision by the circuit court Judge Martin Agran in Cook County, Ill., dissolves the temporary restraining order that had prevented American from removing its bookable flights and fares from Orbitz as of Dec. 1. And the dispute is emblematic of a broader battle going on among airlines and third-party distributors.
American demanded that Orbitz directly connect to American’s internal reservations system for flight and fare data instead of getting it from the Worldspan global distribution system, which it says will enable American to better customize its pricing and lower its costs.
With direct connect, American says it can better access its customer relationship management database to personalize pricing offers—including fares and fee-based ancillary services—based on who is buying the ticket. It also would avoid paying a fee to Travelport for each booking.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, it is important for American to be free to customize its product offerings to improve the customer experience as well as distribute its products in a way that does not result in unnecessary costs,” American said in a statement released after the judge’s Dec. 21 ruling.
Orbitz, however, says its GDS agreement with Travelport limits its ability to meeet American's demands. And Travelport, the parent company of the Worldspan and Galileo GDSs, says American is contractually obligated to provide full content to Orbitz and other Travelport affiliates to the same extent it is offered to competitors.
Travelport also argues that American’s direct-connect insistence would make it much more difficult for consumers to compare prices and for travel agents and corporate travel departments to manage their business.
But while the current fight pits just one airline against one GDS company, the potential impact is much broader. Many other airlines are pushing direct connect and more personalized pricing as well, but American has been the most aggressive, making a big pitch to travel agencies to access its inventory with direct connect instead of a GDS.
Kurt Ekert, Travelport GDS chief commercial officer, told the court that “if American is successful in its actions here, I believe the customer migration away from Travelport to American’s direct connect or other solutions will be massive.”
The validity of that concern can be questioned—in his ruling, the judge noted that Ekert also testified that he is not aware of any travel agent that will switch to using American’s direct connect—but others in the industry clearly are worried about the broader implications.
The Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel departments, declared the lawsuit “represents merely the opening skirmish in the larger battle for the future of the open marketplace for travel.”
Single-supplier direct connect proposals, like the one advanced by American, “can cause massive fragmentation of airfares and ancillary fees, depriving consumers of the ability to compare the total cost of air travel options across all airlines,” BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell asserts.
Charlie Leocha, director of The Consumer Travel Alliance, decried “a heavy-handed attempt by American Airlines to prevent consumers from easily searching and comparing its fares against those of other airlines.”
Sabre said, “We strongly agree with the many industry and consumer groups who believe American’s actions will make it much harder and more costly for agents and consumers to easily comparison shop among airlines, which will result in increased prices for consumers," says Chris Kroeger, senior VP, Sabre Travel Network.
The National Business Travel Association also criticized American and says it believes direct connects that bypass the GDSs "will result in a significant increase in capital expenditure that business travel buyers will ultimately bear.
Orbitz says it will “continue to seek an arrangement” with American to get the inventory back. It is not clear how, which may be why Orbitz also emphasizes that American’s absence will not have a huge impact on its business.
From the fourth quarter of 2009 through the third quarter of 2010, Orbitz Worldwide generated more than $800 million in sales for American, the company says. Revenue earned on American tickets and the associated ancillary products—such as rental car and hotel bookings and travel insurance sales—accounted for approximately 5% of Orbitz Worldwide total revenue for the nine months ended Sept. 30.

Qantas Returns More A380s To Service

Qantas now has five Airbus A380s back in service as grounded aircraft are cleared and new deliveries arrive, and it expects to have seven flying by the end of January.
The carrier is gradually returning its six A380s to service after they were grounded for inspections due to the uncontained failure of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine on a Singapore flight on Nov. 4.
The first two aircraft resumed flying in late November, and a third became operational last week. Also last week, a new A380 was delivered from Airbus. Qantas returned another of the grounded aircraft to service this week – bringing its operational total to five.
This will leave just two of the original six A380s grounded. One is expected to return “in the coming weeks,” a Qantas spokeswoman says. It will be joined by another new delivery that was delayed from December. The remaining grounded aircraft will be the A380 that suffered damage during the uncontained failure. There is no timeline for this aircraft’s return to service.
Qantas’ A380s are not being used on the carrier’s transpacific flights to Los Angeles at the moment, due to concerns about operating at full thrust. The airline is in discussions with Rolls-Royce about when this restriction can be lifted, although no announcement has yet been made regarding these routes.
Meanwhile, Qantas’ latest traffic figures show that its international operations were dampened by the A380 problems. In November, international traffic declined 2.2% year-on-year, with a 1.8% capacity drop. This resulted in load factor decreasing by 0.3 points to 82.7%.
Group-wide statistics were brighter, thanks to domestic and regional operations. Traffic rose 3.3% year-on-year on a 4.9% capacity increase. This resulted in load factor slipping by 1.2 points to 81.1%

LAN Orders 50 Airbus A320 Family Aircraf

South American operator LAN Airlines has firmed an order for 50 more Airbus narrowbodies as it continues to bolster its short-haul fleet.
The order confirms a memorandum of understanding signed at this year’s Farnborough Air Show, and adds to the airline’s current Airbus narrowbody order tally of 98 airframes.
Deliveries of this latest order are scheduled to begin in 2013, and will include A320s fitted with Airbus’ Sharklets. The order also includes 10 A321s, the only Airbus narrowbody not operated by LAN.
“Since 2008, our short-haul fleet has been entirely composed by Airbus A320-family aircraft. Through this agreement, we confirm LAN’s commitment to the development of commercial aviation in Latin America by carefully selecting our aircraft based on its ability to effectively and efficiently serve our short- and long-haul flight needs,” says LAN’s Chief Operating Officer Ignacio Cueto in a release.
LAN previously has ordered 15 A318s, 32 A319s and 51 A320s, and currently operates 62 aircraft from the European manufacturer’s narrowbody family. By the end of the year it intends to operate 63, and plans to expand this to 76 Airbus narrowbodies in 2011, 84 in 2012 and 94 in 2013.
LAN’s current plan forecasts a fleet of 136 aircraft from the A320 family by the end of 2018.
This growth is in tandem with the current fleet plan at LAN’s merger partner TAM, which intends to operate 121 Airbus narrowbodies by the end of 2010 (85 A320s, 27 A319s and seven A321s) and 124 next year. In 2012 TAM’s plan envisions a 128-strong all A320-fleet, rising to 132 in 2013 and 137 in 2014.