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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Me-262 & B-24

Me-262 & B-24
Adversaries in formation over the Washington coast. The ME-262 will soon be flying with the Collings Foundation "Wings of Freedom 

More Eyes For Army UAVs

The U.S. Army will use a General Atomics’ MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) this spring to flight-test a new system of multiple sensors that can be controlled by ground troops or aircraft crews.
Called Triclops, the system adds a sensor under each wing to the fuselage sensor carried by UAVs. If Triclops works as well in flight as in the laboratory, the Army will deploy it to Afghanistan as soon as December so combat forces can test it in operations, says Tim Owings, Army deputy project manager for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
“It gives us the ability to increase the efficiency of the deployment of our systems by making a single air vehicle able to serve multiple users,” Owings says.
A key element of Triclops is new bidirectional data-link software, developed by Kutta Tech of Phoenix, that permits troops or manned aircraft crews equipped with a modified One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) to control one of the sensors and its electro-optical/infrared camera and laser designator/rangefinder while an automated control flies the UAV. Current OSRVTs are receive-only systems, allowing users to see a UAV’s video but not control the sensor. The bidirectional video terminal (BDRVT) requires a special cable and antenna and incorporates a graphic user interface that lets users direct a sensor’s camera to a point of interest with a touch screen and stylus. A platoon leader on the ground or aircraft crewmember will only control one ball at a time, but the UAV’s operator will be able to control all three at once from a ground station.
Triclops will enable a soldier or aircrew with a BDRVT to control a sensor by activating a touchscreen command and moving the sensor wherever it’s needed, Owings says. “If you’re looking at an [improvised explosive device] emplacement and have individuals fleeing in opposite directions, you could continue to track those individuals. Or if you’re over a particularly hot battlefield situation and want to view multiple stare points, you have that option.”
The additional sensors will be mounted on mid-wing hardpoints. The test version of Triclops will use Raytheon’s AN/AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload on the MQ-1C, a UAV the Army has been using in limited numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Longer-term, we will probably end up going with a lower-cost sensor, if we build this [system] in large numbers,” Owings says.
If Triclops proves to be effective in Afghanistan, the plan is to install the system on three of the Army’s UAVs—the MQ-1C, the medium-altitude MQ-5B Hunter from Northrop Grumman, and the RQ-7B Shadow, a catapult-launched platform from AAI Corp. Although the Gray Eagle flies at 15,000-20,000 ft., Hunter flies at 8,000-10,000 ft., and Shadow at 6,000-8,000 ft., their sensors produce full motion video of roughly equal quality, according to Owings.
The initial Triclops flight tests will be conducted at General Atomics’ El Mirage flight operations facility in Adelanto, Calif., and at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. Before sending Triclops to Afghanistan, the Army will include it in its Manned/Unmanned System Integration Capability (Music) exercise at Dugway in September, where crews will demonstrate manned/unmanned operations using an AH-64D Apache Block III attack helicopter controlling a Gray Eagle UAV.
Music will include a demonstration of the service’s new Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS), from which the same operators can control the Shadow, Hunter and Gray Eagle UAVs. The Army plans to field UGCS in 2012 and make it the standard control station for all of its UAVs by 2016. The troops who are taking part in the Music exercise are also slated to demonstrate a smaller, handheld version of the UGCS that is designed to fly multiple small UAVs.
The UAS project office was able to get Triclops ready for flight-testing in near-record time—barely a year—in part because the contractors spent their own money on it.
“We started last spring,” Owings says. “It was something that we literally drew on a barroom napkin and said, ‘If we did this, it could be a game-changing type of technology.’ Two weeks later, we were in the lab prototyping it.”

Aegis-Equipped Ship Provides BMD Protection

With a battery of successful ballistic missile defense (BMD) tests in its wake, the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey steamed into the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month equipped with its Aegis defense system and, analysts say, under a new set of orders for a U.S. Navy ship — provide BMD protection for U.S. allies against growing nuclear powers in the region.
The relatively new and expanding BMD role for Aegis-equipped vessels has provided a renaissance for both the system and the ships that employ them, according to Jim Sheridan, Lockheed Martin’s director of the Navy Aegis program.
The Monterey and destroyers USS Ramage and USS Gonzalez in January tracked a short-range ballistic missile target launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the Navy says.
The missile fell harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean. All three ships tracked the missile, and Monterey and Ramage simulated engagements.
Lockheed is in the midst of a major Aegis modernization effort for vessel upgrades, testing its BMD capabilities and tweaking the Aegis multimission signal processor, which enables Aegis-equipped ships to conduct BMD and ship self-defense missions without missing a beat
Lockheed Martin used the processor in October to identify and track a target, a third test in a series of scheduled exercises that began early last year.
The earlier tests focused on the anti-air warfare and BMD capabilities, while the fall test tracked a target with a higher-resolution capability, the company says, showing Aegis could handle more complex threats. Lockheed Martin conducted another test in December, Sheridan says, flying aircraft against the Aegis development site. The processor is scheduled for installation on a number of Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers and cruisers starting in 2012 as part of the system’s modernization program.
The Navy’s anticipated next-generation system — the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) — has great potential for BMD missions in certain key areas, according to John Geary, president of SEG, a Telephonics Corp. unit that provides threat engineering and analysis for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Aegis BMD program.
One of the benefits that AMDR will offer, experts note, is a solid-state radar infrastructure, similar to the dual-band system developed by Raytheon to be installed aboard the Navy’s DDG-1000 ships. “Those radars are a stepping-stone to the AMDR,” Geary says.
“Missile defense has now become a major Navy mission,” Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson says. Aegis’ recent success rate for its BMD tests show how well the system fares in that mission, Thompson says, while keeping up with its other set of missions and roles.
Warships equipped with Aegis or other similarly based technologies, Thompson says, also are more politically acceptable solutions to BMD than other options for the Obama administration.
The president’s fiscal 2012 budget requests $167 million to complete the AMDR’s technology development phase in fiscal 2012 in preparation for a Milestone B decision in the first quarter of 2013. The radar is an open-architecture solution to the requirement for BMD, while also improving the DDG-51’s air defense capabilities. AMDR is envisioned to go on the fiscal 2016 DDG Flight III ship.
The fiscal 2012 budget requests $2.1 billion for DDG-51 AEGIS destroyers and another requests $1.5 billion for Aegis BMD.

Endeavour To Demo Orion Relative Navigation

HOUSTON — Endeavour’s final flight, a 14-day STS-134 mission to the International Space Station, could feature an unusual amount of activity around the orbiting science laboratory, including a re-rendezvous demonstration of the relative navigation sensors developed for the Orion spacecraft.
The mission also could include a “family portrait” of the outpost and docked spacecraft that would be taken by a Soyuz crew. The portrait was proposed for Discovery’s last mission, but the idea was eventually rejected.
Endeavour is tentatively scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 19 at 7:48 p.m. EDT, on the 19-year-old spacecraft’s 25th trip to orbit.
A six-member crew, led by veteran astronaut Mark Kelly, has trained to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a $2 billion external astronomical observatory, and a spare parts platform.
However, NASA’s next-to-last shuttle mission also will support Storrm (Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation), the first flight demonstration of the relative navigation sensor package developed for the automated rendezvous and docking operations of Orion with secondary spacecraft.
The sensor package, a flash lidar and high-definition camera located close to the orbiter docking system, will shadow the Endeavour crew’s initial approach and docking. As they undock, pilot Greg Johnson will carry out the traditional “fly around” of the station before the astronauts maneuver through a co-elliptical trajectory to a point 29,000 ft. behind and below the station.
There, Kelly’s crew will initiate a second rendezvous, using NASA Mission Control-generated rendezvous solutions and onboard radar while the Storrm sensor package follows and records the approach for post-mission analysis.
The test brings the orbiter to a point 1,000 ft. below and 300 ft. behind the station before Endeavour is released for eventual return to Earth.
“It’s an outstanding way to take advantage of the spaceflight capabilities we have today, with both the shuttle and the space station, to demonstrate new technologies,” says NASA’s Gary Horlacher, STS-134 lead flight director.“This capability is being developed for Orion, but it’s very applicable to any spacecraft that will be docking — even in lunar orbit or Mars orbit,” Horlacher says. “It’s a very significant advance in technology.”
Family portrait
During Discovery’s STS-133 mission that concluded earlier this month, the Russian space agency vetoed a proposal to undock one of two Soyuz spacecraft at the station, piloted by a crew equipped with cameras to take photos of the docked orbiter surrounded by European, Japanese and Russian cargo craft.
But Russia objected to the hour-long glam shot, proposed two weeks before Discovery’s Feb. 24 liftoff, because it disrupted the initial test flght of the new Soyuz equipped with digital avionics (Aerospace DAILY, March 2).
However, discussions are under way to re-attempt the portrait during Endeavour’s stay, although Japan’s HTV-2 will be absent.
“They had a lot of work to do in a very shot period of time,” says NASA’s Derek Hassman, the lead station flight director. “We have the benefit of the work they did. My expectation is [we] will have a decision before we launch.”

Pratt Completes First GTF Engine For MRJ

Pratt & Whitney is preparing to deliver the first PW1217G geared turbofan for testing at its West Palm Beach, Fla., site following the completion of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) unit at its Middletown Engine Center in Connecticut.
A second production standard PW1217G core, without the low-pressure system, is also being readied to begin stress tests at Pratt & Whitney Canada's Longeuil site in Montreal. The PW1200G engine test program will include eight test engines over the next 24 months.
Pratt & Whitney completed initial ground testing of its first PW1000G series engine, the PW1524G for Bombardier's CSeries airliner, in February following nearly 200 hours of testing. Engine core testing, meanwhile, concluded last year with more than 260 accumulated test hours. In addition to the core testing, Pratt & Whitney has performed module-level testing for the GTF program, including fan drive gear system testing with simulations of more than 60,000 takeoffs and landings, and extensive testing on the low- and high-pressure compressor. Pratt says to date the tests have met or exceeded "efficiency and operability goals."
A total of 16 test engines will be involved in the first two certification programs, which will conclude with entry into service on the CSeries in 2013 and on the MRJ in 2014.

AirTran Shareholders OK Southwest Merger

AirTran Airways shareholders on March 23 overwhelmingly approved the airline’s proposed merger with Southwest Airlines, but the more difficult hurdle to clear is still to come: getting the go-ahead from the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), which the carriers still are expecting to happen in the second quarter of this year.
The carriers also have filed for U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) approval to transfer AirTran’s international route authorities to Southwest after their deal closes—and for a temporary exemption from the requirement so they can operate under common control until a final ruling on the transfer is made.
The airlines noted that the DOT granted similar requests for the United/Continental and Delta/Northwest deals, and they said “well-established” DOT precedent creates a presumption in favor of approving route transfer applications if “they do not conflict with important international aviation policy objectives” and are “consistent with the public interest.” Their transfer will expand the variety of international services offered to consumers and connect more U.S. cities to the international air transportation system, the airlines said.

Students Work With Industry On Scramjet

Collaboration between students and industry on a project to improve the accuracy of hypersonic engine testing is moving forward with the unveiling at the University of Virginia (UVa.) of a full-scale mock-up of a scramjet experiment to be flown in 2012.
Graduate and undergraduate students at UVa.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science are working with faculty and industry on the Hy-V program to ground- and flight-test a scramjet to develop improved methods of testing hypersonic engines.
A scramjet payload designed by UVa with Allied Techsystems’ (ATK) GASL division is planned to fly from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in 2012, says Chris Goyne, research assistant professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator for the flight mission.
The payload has two hydrogen-fueled scramjet flowpaths and will be boosted to 92,000 ft. and Mach 5 by a NASA-supplied Terrier-Improved Orion two-stage sounding rocket, which will stay attached to the second stage throughout the flight, Goyne says.
Rather than testing a specific flowpath design, Hy-V is “a representation of [a] scramjet to develop methodologies and learn lessons for ground test and flight test,” Goyne says. Inlets and combustion chambers are similar to a scramjet, he says, but not the nozzles.
One of the flowpaths is based on a design UVa has tested in its direct-connect hypersonic wind tunnel. The other has changes to the combustor to make it more representative of a real scramjet, Goyne says. Both have rectangular, two-dimensional flowpaths.
Though design of the flight payload is complete, fabrication is on hold pending the completion for freejet wind-tunnel testing of both scramjet flowpaths now under way at ATK GASL, he says.
Hy-V is being funded by the Defense Department. Because the program involves graduate and undergraduate students at UVa and Virginia Tech, NASA Wallops is providing the sounding rocket and range services under its university outreach effort.
The level of student involvement is unusual for a scramjet test program, Goyne believes. Graduate students are collaborating with ATK on design and testing of the payload, while undergraduates are working with Aerojet on different aspects of the flight mission.
“They are involved in design of the payload, wind-tunnel testing and the design of subsystems. It’s a great opportunity for them to work side-by-side with faculty and industry and gives them a head start,” he says.

Thales Addresses UAE Negotiations Leak

France’s Thales said on Friday it was close to an agreement with the United Arab Emirates over rules for future arms contracts and hit out at an embarrassing Wikileaks-style leak to a French newspaper.
The company effectively confirmed a report in La Tribune, based on a leaked diplomatic cable, which disclosed recent disagreement over the terms for any future sale of Rafale jets.
But Thales said the dispute over offsets, or counter-trade clauses built into arms deals, was close to being resolved.
“We are surprised that elements of an international negotiation should be placed in the public domain,” a spokesman for the French company said.
“This negotiation has been going on for several months and, like all negotiations, has experienced some highs and lows. We are currently in a state of convergence,” he said.
“The negotiation should be completed in coming weeks.”
Thales makes radar for the French Rafale warplane, which is built by Dassault Aviation .
La Tribune reported that French diplomats had complained in the cable that the company’s hardline stand on changes in offset rules required by the UAE was putting French interests at risk.
Agreement on the offset rules would not automatically lead to a long-awaited sale of Rafale jets, but would mark a step forward. The UAE has also been studying Boeing F/A-18s.
France has been looking for its first export buyer for the multi-role combat jet after losing competitions in Singapore, South Korea and Morocco, but has been hit by a series of slips
Last year, the UAE broke off talks over a possible Rafale purchase after objecting to progress reports in the French press, including a daily belonging to the owner of Dassault Aviation, according to sources familiar with the matter.
France suffered another setback in Brazil when the country’s recently elected president was reported to be leaning towards a rival U.S. offer, eroding French confidence in a deal.
Thales’ unusually forthright reaction to Friday’s newspaper report appeared to signal impatience with a spate of negative media reports about Europe’s largest defence electronics firm.
After a series of criticisms about his management of Thales, Chief Executive Luc Vigneron has attacked what he describes as a campaign of destabilisation being waged through the media.
Vigneron took the helm of Thales in May 2009 after Dassault became the largest industrial shareholder through a pact with the French government. The company has been at the centre of numerous quarrels within France’s fragmented defence sector. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by James Regan)

Chinese Mull Another BizAv Buy

The Chinese could soon be owners of another U.S. aviation entity – specifically the SJ30 business jet program. Sources tell AWIN that serious negotiations are under way to acquire the SJ30, now stalled by Emivest’s bankruptcy, and that the deal could close this year.
Even though the program was begun by Ed Swearingen in the mid-1980s, and the aircraft received its FAA certification in 2005, it has been bedeviled throughout by development, funding and production delays. Only four SJ30s have been delivered to date.
The current owners, a Dubai-based investment group, took control in 2008 promising to fully capitalize the program, but the light jet market collapsed shortly thereafter, and Emivest filed for bankruptcy protection last October. A contingent from AVIC evaluated the program in 2005, but then departed, committing to nothing.
Now, people close to the program report the Chinese, apparently hungry for general aviation properties, are in negotiations for the SJ30 and a deal is in the offing. “They are at the table,” says one knowledgeable source, who predicts the acquisition will be done within a few months.
“It looks like their strategy to wait was a good one,” he says.

GA Safety Outreach Program Launched By FAA

Determined to continue driving down the number of general aviation accidents, the Federal Aviation Administration – working with industry organizations like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association – will begin a major effort next month to reach out to the pilot community to focus on improving safety through a series of nearly 100 public meetings and related activities.
The outreach effort, under which FAA safety advisers visit the GA community and engage pilots in safety awareness programs and discussions, will begin April 2 during the annual Sun ’n Fun gathering in Lakeland, Fla. Agency officials have targeted another 97 events across the country that will be visited by FAA safety teams.
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told reporters Monday that while the general aviation fatal accident rate has gone down in recent years, “We want to take that rate down [another] 10 percent over the next five years.” He acknowledged that GA flying has declined over the past few years due to the recession and rising fuel prices, but he said it is important to keep pushing the accident rate down because “we expect traffic to come back” in the future.
FAA’s “safety stand down” effort will focus on professionalism, preflight checks, maintaining situational awareness during cruise and attention to airspeed and aircraft control. FAA stresses that pilots should “approach every flight as if your life depends on it, because it does.” FAA also warns that pilots should avoid complacency and be on guard for loss of control.
One area of particular concern is the high number of fatal accidents involving amateur-built aircraft, officials said. While amateur-built airplanes account for only about 5% of total general aviation fleet hours, they are involved in 22% of U.S. fatal general aviation accidents.
FAA is working on Advisory Circular guidance containing training experience recommendations for owners, pilots and flight instructors.

LaHood Vows To Bring Obama To Wichita

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking today before a rally with more than 2,000 general aviation workers in Wichita, vowed to “do everything I can” to persuade President Obama to visit the city to show his support for the industry and its contributions to the economy. LaHood’s remarks came after Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer renewed his invitation for the president to visit the self-proclaimed “Air Capital of the World.” Brewer first issued the invitation in 2009 as the general aviation market began to unravel and manufacturers in Wichita were laying off thousands of employees and moving facilities to Mexico as leaders in Washington were criticizing the use of corporate aircraft.
But the tone of today’s rally was one of an industry climbing out of its economic malaise. “This industry is coming back,” says General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President and CEO Pete Bunce. “The world is waking up to the utility of these aircraft.”
GAMA organized the rally in partnership with Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier Learjet. The rally was held at Cessna’s facilities but attended by workers throughout the Wichita general aviation community. David Coleal, VP and general manager of Bombardier Learjet, joked that this was one of the first times Bombardier has had the opportunity to park its aircraft at a Cessna facility.
Also attending the rally were Cessna Chairman Jack Pelton; Bill Brown, executive VP of global operations for Hawker Beechcraft; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R); Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and freshman Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).
But LaHood’s presence in Wichita was symbolic for the city, which has long asked for the administration’s support of Wichita and the general aviation industry at large. LaHood told the crowd that in his travels over the past couple of years as secretary, this was the warmest reception he had received.
“We get it,” he told the workers. “The general aviation industry supports 1.2 million jobs across America ... I believe the industry’s efforts are crucial to President Obama’s goal of doubling exports within five years – just as they’re essential to keeping America on trajectory toward economic recovery.”
He acknowledged the challenges brought by the economic crisis, but said, “You out-innovation, you out-build, you keep our economy in constant motion. You are the epicenter for general aviation.” LaHood vowed that he would “stand with you, work with you and fight with you.”
Pelton added that “This visit and this rally means a great deal to this community.” He stressed the importance of collaboration, and said, “If the government gets out of our way and supports us, there’s no telling how big we can get.”
Coleal cited a Brookings Institute study that found Wichita to be a leading city for exports. “Even during a severe economic downturn, the GA industry remains one of the only sectors in U.S. manufacturing that still contributes positively to the balance of trade,” he says. “This underscores the critical role that general aviation can play in growing U.S. exports.” Brown, meanwhile, stressed the advances in training and the highly skilled workforce.

Juno Is Solar Marvel Bound for Jupiter

NASA’s Juno mission will probe Jupiter’s atmosphere in search of clues to how the largest planet in the Solar System, and the Solar System itself, were formed from a primordial cloud of gas.
Jupiter is probably the oldest planet, but it keeps its secrets veiled beneath the clouds and massive storms we can see from Earth. By sending Juno beneath the planet’s radiation belts in a polar orbit that takes it just 3,000 mi. above the cloud tops, scientists hope to unravel some of those mysteries with sounding measurements that should reveal the planet’s composition and structure.
“The primary questions that we’re after have to do with the origin of Jupiter, the origin of the Solar System and how planets were made, and how and why the planets are a little bit different than the Sun, and particularly the history of the volatiles that eventually led to Earth and life itself,” says Southwest Research Institute scientist Scott Bolton, the Juno principal investigator. “In particular what we’re after is how much water or oxygen is inside of Jupiter.”
The nuclear-powered Galileo mission dropped a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere in July 1995 that returned data for almost an hour. But while the probe obtained good measurements for nitrogen and sulfur, it stopped working—crushed by the mounting pressure 150 km below the cloud tops—before it could return a valid figure for water. Finding that figure will be one of the primary objectives of Juno.
“We don’t really know where the water came from on our Earth,” Bolton says. “We have these oceans and people say, ‘Well, maybe they came from comets.’ Some of the people like to think that it came from the heavy bombardment period. . . . Maybe Jupiter was bombarded, too, and that’s where its water came from. Maybe that’s where the heavy elements came from. We don’t really know. Those basic measurements are fundamental to tell us the history of Jupiter, to place where it formed, how long it took to form and the process that made it. It kind of gives us the traceability of these volatiles at that stage of the Solar System.”
Basically, Juno will use its microwave radiometer to measure the absorption of radio waves by different components of Jupiter’s atmosphere, including water and ammonia. The atmosphere “glows” in radio wavelengths, and the frequency tells scientists what is blocking the radio waves or letting them through.
“If I go down deeper with a longer wavelength, then the atmosphere can become more transparent to me at the longer wavelength, and I’ll see the glow from deeper down,” Bolton says. “The reason the atmosphere is transparent or opaque is because water and ammonia are doing the absorbing in the atmosphere at these particular wavelengths. . . . At the top of the atmosphere and the very high frequencies, I’m measuring ammonia. Deeper down I’m measuring water because that’s what’s doing most of the attenuation. So it’s sort of a trick. That’s our microwave experiment, and that’s largely the basis of Juno.”
A probe in polar orbit close to the planet also was attractive to scientists trying to figure out the planet’s internal structure by making very precise measurements of its gravity, using the Doppler shift in spacecraft communications back to Earth. Based on that data, researchers may be able to determine if there is a core of heavy elements at the center of Jupiter, something they don’t know today.
NASA was already considering a polar-orbiting mission to Jupiter just to measure the planet’s full magnetic field, so Juno filled the bill for that. And the polar orbit gave researchers a chance to use the aurora there to study the polar magnetosphere “as a freebie,” he says.
“All these groups formed together under me to create Juno,” says Bolton.
Once the data start flowing in 2016, Juno will be able to answer questions that go beyond the particulars of its target planet. Scientists believe the Solar System was formed when a cloud of hydrogen and a little helium coalesced into the Sun, with the leftovers going on to form Jupiter. But Jupiter has other elements, and accurately measuring them—starting with water—has long been a goal of space scientists.
“Something must have happened after the Sun was formed to allow Jupiter and the rest of the planets to be formed with a little bit different mix,” Bolton says, explaining that the cooling of the primordial planetary disk allowed different materials to separate out at different rates, beginning with the water ice. The goal of Juno is to fill in the blanks.
“We go to Jupiter to do this because it’s big,” he says. “It has most of the material other than the Sun. If I take everything else in the Solar System I don’t get Jupiter.”

Boeing Launches GoldCare For 737NG

Boeing just announced GoldCare services for 737NG operators. GoldCare, the moniker for an aftermarket program that can include material services, maintenance and engineering, planning and 24/7 operations support, rolled out for the Boeing 787, but now the OEM is offering it for its next-gen narrowbodies.
TUI Travel became the launch customer for the 787 aftermarket management program last April, when it selected GoldCare coverage for its 13 787s.
The OEM says it is having “advanced discussions with multiple customers” for 737NG GoldCare, but it has not announced a first client for the service.
Further details of the 737NG service offering are not available, including which maintenance providers and suppliers will participate to support the narrowbodies. The objective for the 737NG is the same as for the 787, however: Boeing wants to help owners reduce costs and operate the aircraft to maximize its efficiency and lifecycle.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cathay Orders A330s And 777s

Cathay Pacific Airways has ordered 25 more aircraft, a mix of Airbus A330s and Boeing 777-300ERs.
“The airline has entered into an agreement with Airbus to buy 15 more Airbus A330-300s and a separate agreement with Boeing for 10 more Boeing 777-300ERs,” says the Oneworld carrier. It also says it has inked a deal with International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) to add two more Airbus A350-900s. All of these new aircraft will be delivered before the end of 2015, it says.
The orders are in addition to September’s deal in which Cathay ordered 30 Airbus A350-900s to be delivered from 2016 to 2019 and six Boeing 777-300ERs to be delivered between 2013 to 2014.
Cathay says the latest order will enable it “to replace older, less fuel-efficient aircraft as they are progressively retired from the fleet and at the same time continue with the expansion of the passenger network.” Cathay now has 91 aircraft on order for delivery
between now and 2019, it adds.
The two Airbus A350-900s, being ordered through ILFC, will be delivered in 2015 and will be the first of the type to join Cathay, it says.

F-22s Could Be Assigned To Libyan Operation

The Pentagon is generating plans for a no-fly zone over Libya—plans that could produce the first combat assignment for the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.
Whether the idea progresses beyond this stage is subject to United Nations and NATO support, the scale of Libyan military action against its civilians, and the reluctance of the U.S. to take on stewardship of military operations in yet another Muslim country. Nonetheless, the idea does show how the U.S. Air Force confronts the task of taking down a large air defense system.
The Lockheed Martin F-22, F-16CJ Wild Weasels and some cyberoperations would be employed in shutting down Libya’s air defense system, which consists “almost exclusively” of Russian-built SA-6 surface-to-air missile (SAM)systems. The munitions are similar to those that opposed NATO forces involved in operations in Serbia and that shot down the single F-117 fighter lost in combat, says a former Air Force chief of staff.
While the SA-6 Gainful (2K12 Kub) is the most effective SAM in the Libyan inventory, others include the SA-2 Guideline (S-75), SA-3 Goa (S-125) and SA-5 Gammon (S-200).
U.S. aircraft carriers are moving to the western Mediterranean, but operations in Afghanistan may not permit them to maintain a long-term no-fly zone over Libya. That task would likely fall to the Air Force, says a senior USAF official.
“Creating and enforcing a leak-proof no-fly zone over Libya can be done without stretching U.S. forces,” the veteran fighter pilot says. “The Air Force has the capacity to do this without seriously affecting its missions in Afghanistan. There is no air superiority problem in Iraq or Afghanistan that requires more fighters and AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control Systems], than [those] already committed [to that mission].”
“With respect to the no-fly zone specifically, it’s an extraordinarily complex operation to set up,” says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We would have to work our way through doing it in a safe manner and not put ourselves in jeopardy . . . over air defenses that could actually . . . take those aviation assets out of the air. There are an awful lot of people talking about this [no-fly zone] and an increasing desire to understand it specifically.”
Basing could be an issue. “Obviously it would be desirable to operate from bases in Italy,” the former Air Force chief of staff says. “Italy would likely allow us to use its bases because of [its] vested commitment to [maintaining] access to Libyan oil and gas.”
A worst-case scenario, with NATO rejecting support of a no-fly zone, might have shorter-range U.S. fighters flying out of Egypt, using facilities like Cairo West where multi-national Bright Star exercises are conducted.
“I engaged my counterpart in Egypt a number of times,” Mullen says. “They want to sustain the relationship [with the U.S. military].”

Free Trade Zones Benefit Latin America MROs

All three major maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in Central America are located in free trade zones, which expedite parts delivery, elifminate taxes and help cut maintenance turnaround times.
The three MROs are Coopesa, in San Jose, Costa Rica; Aeroman, in San Salvador, El Salvador; and ST Aerospace Panama, in Balboa, Panama.
The latest news from El Salvador is that Aeroman completed its 1,000th aircraft heavy check in February, an Airbus A319 for US Airways. The maintenance facility completed the first 500 between 1987-2006, which reveals the fast pace growth in recent years.
The facility now mostly completes more work-intensive checks that require two to four times the number of days as smaller checks, however, so executives there say the pace of logging heavy checks actually might slow down, due to more work on larger, more labor-intensive packages.

New BMD Target To Launch In Late Fiscal 2012

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to use its new Extended Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (EMRBM) during a flight trial in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Lockheed Martin was awarded a $359 million contract a year ago to develop the target, which is described as having a longer range than a typical medium-range threat system. “EMRBM can fly short but it is really optimized to be at the higher end,” says Tory Bruno, vice president of strategic systems and missile defense for Lockheed Martin Space Systems here.
The EMRBM is built on the same production line in Courtland, Ala., as Lockheed’s LV-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile target. Bruno says the missiles use common components including navigation systems and avionics. The major difference between the two is the rocket motor.
The work was sole-sourced to Lockheed as an adjunct to the company’s existing target work for MDA, agency officials say.
Included in the work scope is delivery of five missiles that will be used in flight trials of the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) and Aegis defensive systems. The EMRBM target is designed to be air-launched, and it is capable of deploying countermeasures. Countermeasures are slated for use as early as fiscal 2013.
As EMRBM moves forward, MDA’s other plans to buy new short- and medium-range targets seem to be stalled. Plans announced in 2009 supporting a sweeping strategy to acquire targets have largely crumbled, or at least slipped significantly.
Agency officials say that a new short-range target is no longer needed “immediately” and the strategy for buying a new medium-range target has been scrapped because a competition “failed to produce savings, leaving the planned MRBM program unaffordable.”
Some flight tests have slipped to accommodate the lack of a new target. MDA will continue acquiring existing targets from Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences, L-3 Coleman and the Naval Surface Warfare Center to fill short-range requirements.
Meanwhile, contractors are awaiting MDA’s announcement of who will be providing the new intermediate-range ballistic missile target; an announcement is expected as soon as this week. Lockheed is spending some internal research and development (IRAD) funding to make its LV-2 family of missiles more modular.
“We actually chose to no-bid [the IRBM target] as a prime because we already have our LV-2 and ... we thought it made a lot more sense to invest in the LV-2, and we put some IRAD into it to make it even more modular,” Bruno says. “By putting a little investment in it ... you don’t have to fly everything every time, and it makes a cheaper target.”
A request for proposals for an intercontinental ballistic missile target is slated for release shortly. Lockheed Martin is offering a derivative of its LV-2 family for that competition, Bruno says.
The company has reduced the per-target price by 10-15% by using a modular approach, he says. Also, the LV-2 design is “ship and shoot,” meaning that once delivered from Courtland, it is fully tested and assembled. Existing missiles require funding teams at the launch site for preparation and testing.

Iberia Buys A330 To Replace A340s

Iberia is buying eight A330-300s with options for eight more to phase out 16 higher fuel burn A340s in a move that signals increasing fuel prices could again spur fleet modernization.
Delivieries of the new order are to start in second half of 2012 and run into the first half of 2014.
Iberia parent, International Airlines Group, says “the new aircraft will be more cost effective to operate as they are around 15% more fuel efficient than the aircraft that they replace.”
Iberia says its longhaul fleet currently consists of 18 A340-300 and 17 A340-600 aircraft.

NASA Stalemate May Cause More Layoffs

The U.S. government’s ongoing failure to devise a spaceflight plan for NASA after the shuttle fleet is retired raises the specter of more workforce cuts in the 50-year-old U.S. launch industry, with serious industrial-base implications for the nation, according to the head of rocket-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR).
“To me the shuttle ending is just a huge scenario that in the history of spaceflight this country has never faced,” said PWR President Jim Maser after attending a CEO meeting March 7 called by top NASA management. “I don’t think people understand what we in business will have to do to accommodate that without a follow-on, because we’re going to have to significantly reduce staff, and [the Defense Department is] going to have to carry a lot more than they’re used to carrying.”
Maser estimates that NASA, the White House and Congress have “four to eight months” to choose a way forward for the U.S. space agency and begin sticking to it. After that, he expects “hundreds” of layoffs at PWR as he begins to roll up unfunded rocket-engine programs like the J-2X cryogenic upper-stage engine.
Developed for the Ares I crew launch vehicle under the old Constellation program, the first full-up J-2X is set to begin testing at Stennis Space Center next month. But with no additional funds in sight, Maser says the development will be mothballed.
Similar conditions could await other PWR engine programs, including the reusable version of the space shuttle main engine (SSME), the venerable RL-10 upper-stage engine and the workhorse RS-68, depending on how NASA proceeds.
The RS-68 powers the Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) that lifts high-value Defense Department payloads; and without a NASA role for the engine, Maser says the Pentagon will have to pay much higher prices for the hardware, given the low production rates of large rocket engines.
“We’re going to continue to be, what I would call vilified, for making business decisions,” he says. “To me it’s all very predictable and at this point very avoidable, but we’ve got to change the uncertainty. Right now it’s just arguing. There’s no time for that.”
Congress is still working on funding for NASA’s fiscal 2011 budget request, which killed Constellation, and is unhappy with the agency’s fiscal 2012 request that continues the basic policy of the earlier request. In the interim, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a compromise NASA authorization that allows work on the commercial route to the International Space Station embodied in the fiscal 2011 request, but orders the agency to develop a heavy-lift rocket for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
That rocket is still in development, with NASA engineers trying to figure out how much of the old Constellation contracting and workforce can be shifted into the new development. That work is likely to involve at least one of the PWR engines, but final decisions have not been made.
Maser says he told NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the CEO meeting that “you called me 13 months ago and told me Constellation was canceled. You have not called me and told me what it’s being replaced with.” But Bolden and his deputy, Lori Garver, replied: “We feel your pain, and we’re trying to work it,” Maser says.

747-8 heads for old Mexico and New Mexico

Boeing started engine runs on RC001, the first 747-8 Intercontinental, at Everett on Mar 8. Engine start-up sets the clock running on the path towards flight line gauntlet and first flight later this month. Check out thisBoeing video for an interesting take on these preparations.
Boeing says the General Electric GEnx-2B engine runs began at 11:57 a.m. (PST) and lasted approximately two hours and 45 minutes. The first engine was started with bleed air from the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW901C auxiliary power unit, while the remaining three were started using the standard cross-bleed system says Boeing. The engines were powered down and inspected and will be restarted following a technical review. A flow balance test is scheduled to take place on Mar 9.

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Engine runs on RC001 (Boeing)

Testing of the 747-8F freighter meanwhile continues with one of the fleet, RC503, expected to fly south on Mar 9 for runway testing at Mexico’s Toluca airport. As well as being at a relatively high elevation of 8,448 ft, the airport’s main runway 15/33 is one of the longest in Latin America at 13,780 ft. Closer to home, the first stretched 747-8, RC501 is meanwhile scheduled to conduct certification brake testing at Roswell, New Mexico.

787 inducements

blog post photoMichael Mecham

The announcement Monday during the Asian Aerospace exhibition in Hong Kong that Air China has ordered five 747-8 Intercontinentals was good news for Boeing, which has seen the passenger version of the newest edition of its iconic intercontinental transport lag behind freighters.
But the news set some observers wondering what inducements Boeing might have offered to win the deal. “Can you say, ‘Compensation for 787 delays?’” piped in one of them.
This line of thinking suggests that the discounts were very deep on the new four-engine jet because of Air China’s discontent over delivery delays for Boeing’s two-engine wonder. 
It should be noted that Air China is no stranger to the 747. It bought its first in 1986 and ordered 16 over the years, including 14 747-400s. 
Those who have followed the 787 program might recall that when Air China and other Chinese carriers signed their initial intent to buy the new plane, Boeing officially changed its name from 7E7 (“E” for efficient) to 787. At the time, company officials noted the happy coincidence that the number eight just happens to be fortuitous in the Chinese language. 
The signing ceremony was in Washington and a big deal. The general agreement – formalities came later – was penned by Yang Jiechi, then China’s ambassador to the U.S., and Alan Mulally, then Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ CEO. 
With a list-price value of $7.2 billion (reportedly the largest ever signed for new aircraft by Chinese authorities), it easily exceeded another deal of the moment – a $1.4 billion commitment from China Southern Airlines to buy five Airbus A380s. 
Six Chinese carriers were involved in the 787 order, but when Yang and Mulally met the exact distribution of the 60 planes was not announced. 
But it was clear what China did want by being one of Boeing’s early 787 customers. It wanted at least one of the shiny new airplanes to carry passengers to the Beijing Olympics in August 2008. 
Well, we know how that worked out. 
Once the order was completed, Air China emerged as the buyer of 15 long-range 787-9s powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000s. With the 747-8I it will switch powerplants to a derivative of the Trent’s competitor on the 787, the General Electric GEnx-2B67. The GEnx is the sole powerplant on 747-8s. 
Here’s some other comments by people who don’t want to be quoted but who say they have heard from within Air China’s ranks (the airline isn’t talking). Some of the new 747-8s will be assigned to a VIP role for senior Chinese government officials. Apparently one reason for that assignment is that they prefer four-engine transports, thus ruling out any of the 19 777-300ERs that Air China has on order or the 10 777-200s it already flies.

Discovery Final Destination ?

NASA’s workhorse space shuttle Discovery is set to land in a few hours from now, marking the end of a career that covered 365 days in space and 148 million miles on the clock. But after what everyone hopes will be a smooth touch down at Kennedy Space Center at 11:57 a.m. EST on Mar 9, what happens next?
When Discovery’s fate is finally announced on April 12 (the 30thanniversary of the first shuttle launch), the money appears to be on a decision to send it to the Udvar-Hazy Center annex of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If confirmed, the Discovery would take the place of the Enterprise, the aerodynamic test vehicle used for shuttle landing evaluations.

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Discovery on its final mission. (NASA)

All told, some 29 museums and other exhibition organizers are apparently vying for the privilege of displaying Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and – assuming it becomes displaced – the Enterprise.
But it seems the true destination of Discovery is not yet as firm as some may have us believe. A few days ago I spoke to Roger Krone, President of Boeing Network and Space Systems which includes the company’s space exploration, satellite and International Space Station businesses and he hinted that the shuttle’s ultimate destiny is far from certain.

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Discovery's first launch - August 30, 1984 (NASA)

Discovery's last launch - video taken from a passing passenger aircraft (YouTube)

“I heard on the radio that this orbiter goes to the Smithsonian – I talked to a very knowledgeable person at NASA who said that decision has not been made. They’re putting together a committee to look into that. We at Boeing are agnostic and we’ve no opinion. We’ll inert the orbiter and get it ready to go where it will go,” says Krone.  Boeing may be agnostic about where the shuttle will go, but its employees are full of emotion and pride over the achievements of the fleet and have a particular soft spot for Discovery. “This was always our return to flight vehicle – it was the first to return after Challenger and Columbia,” says Krone.
“We haven’t been asked to look at specific locations – but you can imagine (depending on where it would go ultimately) how might it get there?”

Faster FInish

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Thanks to leprechauns and shamrocks, March has a pretty solid reputation as the greenest month of the year. Well, us here at O&M thought we'd with this tradition and feature a story about environmentally-friendly paints and coatings in our March issue (Faster Finish, pg. 30).

In the piece, Paul Seidenman and David Spanovich highlight some of the newest basecoat/clearcoat systems and chromate-free primers that cut down on layers of paint and harmful chemicals. 

The folks over at AkzoNobel, Sherwin-Williams and Dean Baldwin painting have gifted us with cool stop-motion footage of their crews making aircraft , so check out this video we made to accompany the article.

Sorry, no hint of leprechauns in this one -- just my midwestern narration (and lots of tape!).

Monday, March 7, 2011

EADS Opts Not To Protest Boeing Tanker Win

Airbus parent EADS has conceded defeat in an epic, decade-long contest to sell aerial tankers to the Pentagon and confirmed it would not protest the award of a $30 billion contract to Boeing.
EADS North America Chairman Ralph Crosby expressed disappointment after Boeing won the contract on the third attempt, but said the U.S. company had undercut the bid to use European Airbus aircraft by a total of $2 billion.
“It’s clear the there is no foundation for protest,” he said, adding that the Air Force had followed the ground rules.
EADS confirmed its decision at a news conference after Reuters reported on Thursday that it was poised to waive its right to appeal the contract for 179 planes, turning its focus to other weapons contracts and acquisitions.
The move may ease transatlantic tensions over defense contracts but is likely to dismay lawmakers in Alabama, where EADS planned to assemble its fleet.
For Boeing, the move marks a double victory — keeping its 767 production line running for a decade longer, and blocking Airbus from establishing a commercial airplane manufacturing site in the United States on the back of the tanker deal.
EADS shares closed earlier down 0.4%. Boeing was down 1.28% at $70.43 after making big gains on Thursday.
The Pentagon awarded the hotly contested contract to Boeing last week, calling it the “clear winner” in a competition that Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions said had devolved into a “low price shootout.”
Air Force officials had said EADS was entitled to protest if it believed errors were made, but that the Pentagon expected to prevail in any protest.
The EADS move paves the way for Boeing to begin work in earnest on an initial $3.5 billion development contract for the first 18 planes that it signed with the Air Force last week.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson said the news was almost all good for Boeing, allowing it to hold on to a core franchise and keeping its main rival out of the U.S. market.
But he said Boeing would be under intense pressure to perform under the very aggressive bid it submitted.

AgustaWestland and BA609 - Bell Finally Ready to Sell?

Bell Helicopter has agreed to sell its share in the BA609 civil tiltrotor to AgustaWestland, the Italian helicopter manufacturer's CEO Giuseppe Orsi said here at Heli-Expo on Mar. 5, writes ShowNews' John Morris.

Just a day later, Bell CEO John Garrison gave a far-less definitive answer when asked to confirm he had agreed to sell the BA609 program, but it is clear the two companies are getting closer to a deal in the long-running saga.

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Photo: AgustaWestland

A year ago Orsi said that AgustaWestland’s frustration over Bell dragging its feet on the program had forced him to set a deadline of end-June 2010 on the fate of the program. An agreement was reached, but negotiations have been stymied by difficulties in transferring assets from Bell to AgustaWestland.
These problems revolve around separating the intellectual property rights of the civil tiltrotor from the U.S. military’s V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, which Bell builds in partnership with Boeing.
“We are now developing a very definite separation of intellectual property rights from the V-22,” says Orsi. “Bell has agreed to sell; we have agreed to buy. We hope the deal can be concluded within the next couple of months.”
Bell's version? "We continue to work on the best way to go forward to certification [of the BA609] will take a partnership to get there," says Garrison. But he did concede the negotiations are "active", noting a Bell team is heading back to AgustaWestland this week.
Asked why Bell would want to sell its share in the BA609 program, Orsi says “just compare our range of civil helicopters with theirs. It is clear where they must allocate their resources instead of looking at a limited market.”
Ironically, Bell used to be a partner in what is now the AgustaWestland AW139, the world’s fastest selling medium twin-engined helicopter with more than 500 delivered or on order. Bell is now exploring a competitor under its “Magellan” program for a future medium twin.

Cessna Delivers 1st Intl Skycatcher

For a little airplane, the Skycatcher has caused Cessna some big headaches, but things seem to be smoothing out. The planemaker reported yesterday that it had stuffed one of them in a crate and sent it to Australia, thereby checking off its first international delivery.
Announced in 2007, the Skycatcher is Cessna’s entry in the light sport aircraft (LSA) category. A VFR two-seater powered by a Continental 0200D engine and featuring a Garmin G300 cockpit, the aircraft sells for $113,500.
To keep costs low, the Skycatcher is built in China. The original plan called for the aircraft to be manufactured, outfitted, painted and test flown in China and then disassembled and shipped to various reassemblers around the world. But that hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons, one of which is the Chinese won’t permit the test flights to occur at the manufacturing site because it’s military-controlled.
As a result, the anticipated flood of Skycatchers – Cessna has orders for hundreds of them – was instead an ooze.
However, the Chinese are now building a new factory dedicated to Skycatcher production and the pace of deliveries is already increasing. Some 30 Skycatchers arrived last year, and Cessna is forecasting five times that number will be delivered this year.

Oil Spike Prompts Airline Profit Fears

Airlines seemed well positioned just a few months ago to absorb higher fuel costs, which were forecast to rise through 2011 along with rising crude oil prices. Of course, that was barring any shocks to the system. Now all bets are off, with oil supplies in Libya and some other oil-producing countries at varying degrees of risk and crude oil prices at their highest level in two years.
The oil price spike of 2008 caught the world’s airlines flatfooted, tipping the industry into near-record losses. In response, airlines reduced capacity and ditched unprofitable routes. When prices stabilized at $85 per barrel and economic recovery sparked increased travel demand, yields rose enough for the world’s airlines to generate $16 billion in profits last year. With better hedge positions, healthier balance sheets and greater access to credit, the airline industry appeared in a much stronger position to deal with prices in the $75-90 range.
But there is a tipping point, depending on how high crude oil prices go, and that is what has the industry and the financial community concerned.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a strong reminder that things might quickly change for the worse if fuel prices stay where they are, not to mention go beyond. The global economy could reach an inflection point at around $120 per barrel, analysts have warned. Another recession might then be unavoidable with possibly deep structural effects on the airline industry.
IATA already has downgraded its financial forecast for the world’s airlines, halving it from last year’s $16 billion to $8.6 billion. And this is on the assumption that $96 per barrel remains on average for the balance of the year. The industry will remain profitable if demand for air travel is strong, but if there’s a shock that affects economic growth, the industry could tip into the red, says Brian Pearce, IATA chief economist.
The $500 million difference between the earlier forecast and the current one looks comparatively insignificant, but behind it are two strong trends that could cancel each other out.
A $1-per-barrel increase costs the industry more than $1 billion, but that effect is dampened through hedging policies. IATA predicts the industry will have to spend $10 billion more on fuel in 2011 than it did last year. Oil will be 20% more expensive and fuel costs will on average represent 29% of an airline’s operating costs.
On the other hand, demand is currently still stronger than IATA anticipated. The trade body now expects air travel to grow by 5.6% in 2011, up from its previous forecast of 5.2%. Cargo traffic will grow by 6.1%, up from 5.5%. Passenger yields are expected to improve by 1.5% and cargo yields by 1.9%.
But IATA Director General/CEO Giovanni Bisignani warns that “stronger revenues will provide only a partial offset to higher costs.” He emphasized that “today oil is the biggest risk. If its rise stalls the global economic expansion, the outlook will deteriorate very quickly.”
And that is the wild card. The conflict now raging in Libya has taken a crucial part of the world’s oil supply offline. Although news is unclear, the International Energy Agency, an energy watchdog, estimates that Libyan oil production has fallen by about 800,000 barrels per day, and the country has a total capacity of about 1.6 million barrels per day.Out of the world’s daily production of 85 million barrels per day, this doesn’t seem like much, but Libyan crude has an outsize effect on transportation. The low sulfur content of Libyan oil—and its proximity to European refiners—make it particularly well-suited for use as jet fuel. “It’s the Champagne of oils,” says John Kingston, editorial director of Platts, which, like Aviation Week, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Saudi Arabia, with 3.5 million barrels per day of spare capacity, has begun upping production to offset the loss of Libyan oil. But Saudi oil has a higher sulfur content; therefore it is problematic as jet fuel. “Refiners will have to scramble to make up the difference in transportation fuels,” says Kingston.
With the price of Brent futures already topping $116, is the break-even point for airlines within sight? It depends on whether rising crude prices choke off an economic recovery and kill demand for corporate and leisure travel. “In terms of economic recovery, at $100 per barrel, we’re nervous; $150 would be bad, and at $200 we’re pretty damn sure economic growth would stall,” says Adam Sieminski, Deutsche Bank chief energy economist.
For airlines, the inflection point could come sooner. Breakeven is at $110-120, says Michael Lowry, project manager for Aviation Week’s Top-Performing Companies study. “If oil gets past $120, we’ll see losses, including at Southwest [Airlines].” At $150, airlines will scramble to cut capacity. “$200 per barrel is liquidation territory, when we can expect to see airlines go out of business,” says William Swelbar, an economist in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Some carriers already have begun slowing down expansion to prepare for higher-than-expected operating costs. American Airlines decided to trim capacity growth to 3% from 4.2% as planned earlier. Delta Air Lines will increase capacity by no more than 5%, when it originally wanted to add around 7%. More carriers are likely to follow. International Airlines Group (IAG), consisting of British Airways and Iberia, said in late February that it is closely watching the situation and was prepared to cut back on capacity if needed. Other airlines hope that higher fuel surcharges will stick without detrimental effect on demand.
Egyptair is among airlines most affected by political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. It has seen its traffic plunge. The airline is postponing the launch of two new services to North America as a consequence of a massive decline in traffic. Egyptair originally planned to start flights from Cairo to both Washington and Toronto in the summer, but that will have to wait until later this year, Chairman Hussein Massoud says. The airline is also considering the deferral of future aircraft deliveries, but has not yet made a decision.
Egyptair has kept the fleet busy recently by operating numerous evacuation flights from Libya in the past few days when most other carriers—including Emirates, Qatar Airways, British Airways and Lufthansa—pulled out over security concerns. On Feb. 28 alone, Egyptair had 16 flights to Tripoli, two to Sirte and 10 to Djerba, mainly to fly compatriots out of the country. Massoud says that while there will be a decline in traffic in 2011, Egyptair hopes the recovery could be relatively quick, particularly because it has built an international connecting network in Cairo that is not solely dependent on traffic to and from Egypt.
The situation in North Africa and the Middle East remains volatile and could deteriorate—with dire consequences for both the world’s economic recovery and the airline industry. “I don’t think we’ll get to $150 per barrel this year,” says Sieminski. “But if social unrest takes one more exporting country—Algeria, Oman—offline, we’ll get there.”

Australia ADS-B Leads ATM Revolution

It is increasingly clear that Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast represents the future of air traffic management. But while many countries are embracing ADS-B, nobody is moving as quickly as Australia to turn its promise into reality.
Airservices Australia has already established itself as a leader in satellite-based surveillance by introducing the world’s most extensive ADS-B network. Now it is looking to expand the technology into new areas to create a truly national system.
For the past year Airservices has used ADS-B to provide continent-wide coverage of its en route airspace. Its next major step will be to bring ADS-B to lower altitudes. This time, however, the issues are far more complex, and the government and other airspace users are grappling with the same dilemmas confronting other countries as they consider satellite-based air traffic management (ATM).
Industry debate is under way in Australia as to when—and how—ADS-B should be introduced at lower levels. Airservices has proved with its en route network that there are no technological barriers; but with more stakeholders involved in lower airspace, questions about mandates and deadlines for equipage become more taxing.
The government has proposed a series of phased mandates, although discussions over this approach are still at an early stage. Significantly, regulators believe mandates can be met without the government funding to equip aircraft that many in the U.S. view as essential for the success of an ADS- program.
Airservices CEO Greg Russell says it is “not rocket science to figure out that this technology is going to play an integral part in the future of ATM . . . some of the periphery [details] are still being worked out, but [the system] is going to be satellite-based.”
By any measure, Australia has been a pioneer in ADS-B. When Airservices began operational use of the network in upper airspace across the continent, it was—and still is—the most ambitious ADS-B deployment. Australia was also the first to use this technology to implement reduced separation, and the first to introduce a mandate for ADS-B equipage in upper airspace.
Other nations, notably the U.S., started the ball rolling with ADS-B development and trials. “It is not important who was first [to develop] the technology, but who was the first to use it operationally so [the airline] industry can get the benefits—and certainly Australia led the way there,” says Qantas Technical Pilot Alex Passerini.
Many international and domestic airlines are already reaping safety and efficiency advantages from ADS-B. ­Qantas, naturally, has been one of the major beneficiaries, and Passerini says the carrier is a big supporter of ADS-B. This is evidenced by the fact that it is spending roughly AU$25 million ($25.5 million) to equip its fleet. It plans to finish retrofitting some types before the mandated deadline for upper airspace so it can realize the benefits earlier.
The Australian network is based on 29 ground units spread across the country, providing complete coverage of airspace above Flight Level 290 (FL290). An offshore station on Lord Howe Island allows coverage of important international routes into the East Coast, and Airservices has an agreement under which it exchanges some ADS-B data with Indonesia where their airspaces join.Airservices began using ADS-B in 2004 and achieved full national coverage in December 2009. Under a directive from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), all aircraft in upper airspace must be equipped by 2013.
What this gives Airservices is surveillance over vast areas of Australia’s hinterland for the first time. Its radar coverage is limited to a J-shaped area concentrated on the East Coast, with small patches of coverage around the major centers of Adelaide, Perth and Darwin.
Australia was in many ways the ­perfect environment for introducing ADS-B. Its large land mass meant that a cost-effective system was essential, and there was no existing surveillance infrastructure over most of the country that would have to be phased out. These conditions also exist for Nav Canada, another ADS-B pioneer. ADS-B “was made for countries like ours,” says Russell.
Network deployment cost AU$14 million, and the total rose to AU$80 million including necessary telecommunications upgrades. This was still a relatively modest price, considering that providing radar coverage over a similar area would be “prohibitive—you just wouldn’t do it,” Russell says.
The service is ADS-B “Out,” which allows Airservices’ controllers to see accurate aircraft positions on their displays based on GPS information transmitted by Mode S transponders. The refresh rate of ADS-B positions is twice per second, far faster than the 8-sec. updates for radar.
The safety benefits are obvious—controllers can see en route traffic over the entire country for the first time, and this helps them to prevent traffic conflicts. Previously controllers relied on procedural separation in non-radar airspace, which gave them only a predictive estimate of where aircraft were.
ADS-B has allowed controllers to cut aircraft separation distances to 5 nm, versus the previous standard of 30 nm, which gives them more flexibility to handle congestion.
This has been particularly useful for the many international routes that cross the West Coast of Australia and continue on to the major East Coast cities. Because these flights are mostly timed to arrive in the morning, there was “bunching” occurring as they entered Australian airspace at around the same time. Since more than 70% of the international aircraft using Australian airspace are ADS-B equipped, controllers can deconflict this traffic more effectively.
The introduction of en route surveillance has also been a big help during severe weather events, particularly in the monsoon and thunderstorm season in the north of the country. With aircraft positions now known more precisely, diversions and re-routing are a lot easier.
Another new procedure enabled by ADS-B is user-preferred routing (UPR), which Airservices hopes to introduce soon, Russell says. This will allow equipped aircraft to re-route during flight to take advantage of wind conditions and reduce fuel burn. An existing program known as flextracks allows airlines to choose between different defined routes, but UPR “is where the big [fuel] savings are,” says Russell. “These aircraft will finally be able to use their onboard avionics to full advantage.”Airservices plans to trial UPR on routes between New Zealand and Australia, and then roll it out systemwide within the next 12 months.
Qantas’s Passerini says the advantages of ADS-B for en route flights are indisputable for the airline. From a safety perspective, the fact that controllers can see aircraft positions means they can monitor route adherence, and alert pilots if they stray off course. Conflict-detection capability will also help prevent problems before they arise.
On the efficiency side, controllers are able to approve altitude changes more readily, so pilots can fly at higher levels as they burn off their fuel loads. For example, a passenger jet will burn 1-1.5% more fuel if it is flying 2,000 ft. or more off its optimum altitude.
UPR will mean further benefits, says Passerini. More flexibility on transcontinental routes will make it easier for aircraft to take advantage of the jetstream eastbound, and avoid it westbound.
There has not been any serious pushback from airlines regarding the 2013 ADS-B mandate for upper airspace, Russell says. More than 70% of aircraft on international routes have the required ADS-B Out capability, but only 20-30% of domestic aircraft are equipped. Russell expects these numbers to rise quickly, and he notes that by 2013 carriers will have had five years’ notice of the change. Virgin Blue, for example, is expected to have a large turnover in its domestic fleet by 2013, which will help boost the domestic ADS-B percentage.
Qantas has no problem with Australia’s mandate for aircraft equipage, and supports CASA “drawing a line in the sand” for ADS-B, says Passerini. The airline is making a considerable investment to ensure that its entire mainline fleet will be ready before the deadline.
So far, all of the airline’s Airbus A380s and A330s and Boeing 747-400s meet the ADS-B standard. All new deliveries of 737-800s are equipped, but the carrier is still working to retrofit 15 of this type that were delivered before ADS-B was offered.
Qantas expects the -800 fleet to be ready 9-12 months before the deadline. The carrier decided it was “worth doing ahead of time,” says Passerini. Airservices operates a “best-equipped, best-served” policy that helps encourage the early adoption of ADS-B, Russell notes.
Of the airline’s 26 Boeing 767s, it has so far decided to modify 17 of the youngest for ADS-B. Some of the 767s will likely be phased out, but the carrier could still decide to retrofit more, Passerini says. The 737-400s are due to be retired, so they won’t be upgraded. In the Jetstar fleet, all of its A330s have been equipped, as have three-quarters of the A320s.
While it is hard to find anyone to fault the introduction of ADS-B at higher altitudes, there’s more disagreement over its application below FL290. Lower airspace brings general aviation and regional carriers into the mix, with a new range of issues to address.General aviation operators are concerned about having to buy expensive equipment that they cannot offset through efficiency gains as airlines can.
To address this, in 2008 the Australian government proposed a scheme where avionics upgrades needed for ADS-B would be subsidized. This would have allowed the government to accelerate its move to full ADS-B coverage, with equipage mandated by 2012 for all aircraft that are required to carry a transponder. However, the plan fell apart when it became clear that legal and tax complications would make the idea untenable. The failure of this plan “was a lost opportunity,” says Paul Tyrrell, CEO of the Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA).
Regulators are now making another attempt at requiring ADS-B in lower airspace. A government aviation white paper stresses this goal, and CASA issued a discussion paper late last year that proposes a timeline for expanding the ADS-B requirement.
As Russell describes it, the basis of the plan is a series of mandates applying to specific classes of airspace. A notable difference from the last attempt is that there is no subsidization on the table this time. “We’re not going into incentives; we think that a series of gradual mandates with plenty of notice is the way to proceed,” says Russell.
The plan is still fluid, and much debate is needed before it becomes a formal proposed rule, Russell says. “People generally agree with the principle, but the question of timing is always something for discussion.”
Technically, expanding the system will not present many challenges for Airservices since its “backbone” has already been established. Coverage spreads upward in a cone from the ground-based stations, so there are already areas around the ADS-B stations that are covered.
Airservices will have to install more ground units to fill the gaps, but the cost should not be greater than the amount spent on the upper airspace network.
The first mandate proposed by the CASA discussion paper would apply to airspace over FL110 within 500 nm of Perth, with all aircraft required to have ADS-B Out capability by the end of 2015. Air traffic in this area is increasing thanks to the growth of the mining industry in Western Australia.
By the end of 2017, the requirement will expand to all Class C, D and E airspace—essentially, controlled airspace around major and medium-size airports, and the busy mid-level airspace along the East Coast. This timeframe will also apply to Class G airspace above FL110, which is the uncontrolled airspace over most of the country.
From 2020, ADS-B will be required at all altitudes around regional airfields with scheduled service.The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) of Australia says it recognizes the advantages of ADS-B for the broader aviation industry in improving air traffic services. However, the organization is concerned about the timing of the proposed mandates for lower airspace, and does not believe they should apply to all aircraft.
General aviation faces “a disproportionately bigger investment in relation to aircraft size, and gains the fewest benefits” from ADS-B, says AOPA Vice President Andrew Andersen. A subsidy of any kind would be welcomed by the GA sector, and Andersen says it was a “disappointment” that the previous subsidy plan failed.
A subsidy plan is about the only reasonable way GA users could equip quickly enough to meet the timetable as outlined in the CASA discussion paper, says Andersen.
However, he says general aviation “has got to be realistic—there is no subsidy on the table, so we have to work with what we’ve got.” In the absence of a subsidy, there must be an adequate transition period, says Andersen.
The current transition timetable being proposed is not adequate, according to AOPA. Andersen says the 2017 deadline should be pushed back, since the GA fleet that would be affected could not be completely equipped in that time. Aside from anything else, suitable products are not yet available at a reasonable cost, he says.
Additionally, Andersen does not believe there is any need for aircraft that operate under visual flight rules (VFR)—particularly in Class G and E airspace—to be forced to equip for ADS-B. General aviation aircraft operating in Class E are already required to carry transponders, he notes.
The focus of mandates should be on instrument flight rules operations and aircraft in controlled airspace, says Andersen. “Even the harshest regulatory view wouldn’t make the safety case to cover all aircraft.”
Another group that will be affected by the ADS-B expansion comprises the regional carriers that serve smaller communities. “Everyone is aware that over time ADS-B is the future, and we’re generally pretty supportive,” the RAAA’s Tyrrell says. “We’re all for new technology if it helps operators increase safety and stay in business, and increases efficiency.”
However, Tyrrell believes some sort of incentive should be considered. “The black boxes that go in the aircraft are quite expensive—the upfront cost can be enormous,” he notes. If subsidies are off the table, tax incentives could be used to allow operators to write down installation costs very quickly.
Deciding how to address concerns like these appears to be the major remaining obstacle to the expansion of ADS-B in Australia. And if they are smart, other countries will be watching closely to see how these questions are resolved.
Photo Credit: Paul Sadler/Air Services Australia