Sunday, February 24, 2019
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Space flight for commercial passengers gets much closer

Space Flight

Space flight for commercial passengers is getting closer after Virgin Galactic conducted its fifth powered test flight and second space flight of its commercial SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.

In its fifth supersonic rocket-powered test flight, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time today in the skies above Mojave CA.

Spaceship VSS Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date and, for the first time, carried a third crew member on board along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program.


Read: Boeing 777X nears rollout

This space flight means Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space. Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, flew as the third crew member in a first, live evaluation of cabin dynamics. She is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship.

In addition to this element of envelope expansion, VSS Unity flew higher and faster than ever before, as its world record-holding hybrid rocket motor propelled the spaceship at Mach 3.04 to an apogee of 295,007ft.

The crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness while the pilots “feathered” the spaceship in preparation for a Mach 2.7 re-entry, Beth floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points. The human validation of data previously collected via sensors, and the live testing of other physical elements of the cabin interior, are fundamental to the provision of a safe but enjoyable customer experience.

The glide back home was followed by a smooth landing.

Today’s flight notched several additional firsts for the industry:  The flight was the first time that a non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space, and it was the first time that a crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship;  it was the first time that three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship, and Dave Mackay became the first Scottish-born astronaut (Brian Binnie, who was raised in Scotland, flew to space in 2004).

Addressing colleagues and guests Dave said: “Beth, Sooch and I just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced. It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top, of the Earth from space, which exceeded all our expectations. I am incredibly proud of my crew and of the amazing teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for providing a vehicle and an operation which means we can fly confidently and safely. For the three of us today this was the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions, but paradoxically is also just the beginning of an adventure which we can’t wait to share with thousands of others.”

Sir Richard Branson said: “Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is a testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organizations. I am immensely proud of everyone involved. Having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet”


BEA livery, next retro scheme for BA’s 100th

A BEA BAC 1-11.

British Airways has revealed that the second design in its series of heritage liveries to mark the airline’s centenary – an Airbus 319 will be painted in the colors of the airline’s short-haul predecessor, British European Airways (BEA).

The BEA livery follows the unveiling of the first in the series a 747 in British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) colors this week.

SEE: BOAC 747 first pictures and video

The A319, reg G-EUPJ, will enter the IAC paint bay at Shannon Airport this weekend where it will be repainted with the BEA livery which flew predominantly on domestic and European routes between 1959 and 1968.

But British Airways advises that there will be a significant difference with the replica in that aircraft will have a grey upper wing, rather than the traditional red, to meet current wing paint reflectivity requirements.

How the BEA livery will look on a Airbus A319 .

Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “There’s been plenty of speculation about our next heritage livery, so it’s great to finally be able to make this exciting announcement. BEA is an important part of our history, and many customers and colleagues will have fond memories flying on its aircraft. We’re sure this latest livery will bring back a flood of emotions and pride in not only British Airways, but the UK’s impressive aviation history – and what better time to do that than in our centenary year as we celebrate our past and look to the future. I can’t wait to see this classic design taking back to the skies.”

Both the BEA and the BOAC heritage liveries are part of a special series to mark British Airways’ centenary, as the airline celebrates its past while looking to the future. More replica designs will be revealed in due course, while all new aircraft entering the fleet, including the A350, will continue to receive today’s Chatham Dockyard design.

BEA BAC 1-11 sort haul jet used on European routes.

In its centenary year, British Airways is hosting a range of activities and events. As well as looking back, the airline is also hosting BA 2119 – a programme, which will lead the debate on the future of flying and explore the future of sustainable aviation fuels, the aviation careers of the future and the customer experience of the future.

BEA Tridents that were used on medium-haul European routes.


IATA: 2018 airline safety hit masks overall improvement

IATA safety stats
The CVR from the 2018 Lion Air crash in Indonesia. Photo: CNN.

Airline safety deteriorated in 2018  but the industry estimates travelers could still take a flight every day for 241 years without experiencing an accident involving a fatality.

New International Air Transport Association (IATA)  statistics show that 523 people died in 11 fatal accidents compared to 19 fatalities in six fatal accidents in 2017.

The all accident rate, which includes turboprops, was 1.35 per million flights, or the equivalent of one accident for every 740,000 flights. This was up from 1.11 in 2017 but still better than the five-year average to that year of 1.79.

READ: New study reveals the best time to book cheap airfares.

There were 62 accidents overall, compared to 46 in 2017.

The rate for major jet accidents, measured in hull losses per 1 million flights, rose from 0.12 in 2017 to 0.19.

This was the equivalent of one major accident per 5.4 million flights and was still an improvement over the five-year average of 0.29 hull losses per million flights.

The 1018 fatality risk of 0.17 was up from 0.1 in 2017 but IATA said this meant on average a per person would have to travel by air every day for 241 years before experiencing an accident in which at least one passenger was killed.

They would have to travel every day for 16, 581 years to experience an accident in which everyone was killed.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said the 2018 safety record was not as extraordinary as 2017’s but 4.3 billion passengers flew safely on 46.1 million flights.

Flying was safe, he said,  and the data indicated it was getting safer.

“For example, if safety in 2018 had remained at the same level as 2013, there would have been 109 accidents instead of 62; and there would have been 18 fatal accidents, instead of the 11 that actually occurred,” de Juniac said.

“Flying continues to be the safest form of long-distance travel the world has ever known.’’

In terms of jet hull losses, six regions showed improvement in 2018 or were the same as in 2017.

Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North Asia recording no losses.

The Commonwealth of Independent States, which recorded the worst result of 1.19, and Latin America and the Caribbean were the exceptions.

The world turboprop hull loss rate actually improved compared to 2017 to 0.6 per million flights.

All regions except the Middle East-North Africa recorded an improvement.

This included the CIS, although it still recorded the worst result of any region.

The all accident rate for airlines on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry was more than two times lower than that of non-IOSA airlines at 0.98 versus 2.16.

There are currently 431 airlines on the IOSA registry, including 131 that are not IATA  members.


Delta unveils world’s biggest jet engine test cell

Delta world biggest jet engine test cell
Photo: Delta.

Delta Air Lines had the future on its mind when it built the world’s biggest jet engine test cell in Georgia.

It was the first test cell built by a US airline in more than 20 years and is capable of running a mounted, stationary engine at full power with the 150,000lbs of thrust.

That’s more than twice the capacity of Delta’s current 68,000lb thrust test cell and a sizeable margin over the most powerful commercial jet engine in the world today, the 115,000lb-thrust GE90 powering the Boeing 777.

Read: Boeing 777X nears rollout as new images released.

The airline says the 48ft high cell at its Atlanta base will allow it to test engines that are yet to be designed or built.

It is close to a 127,000 sq. ft engine repair shop that opened in 2018 as part of a big investment in the company’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations.

“These investments are about expanding Delta’s business opportunities today while also setting us up for long-term growth,” Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said at the test cell ribbon-cutting ceremony this week.

“Building on the expertise of the world’s best professionals, we will be positioned to grow with the industry’s evolving technology and next-generation engines and aircraft.”

Delta says the test cell will allow it to maintain and test a wide range of engines, including Rolls-Royce’s Trent 1000, Trent 7000 and Trent XWB power plants and Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100 and PW1500 variants of the geared turbofan.

There are already more than 7000 engines committed to the engine shop and test cell over the next three decades.

Delta said the next steps included proving and data validation for the cell with the first production test set to take place in late 2019.

The company is keen to grow its MRO business by $US 1 billion over the next five years.

It already employs more than 10,000 people to provide maintenance to over 850 Delta aircraft as well as maintenance service to more than 150 other operators.

It signed an agreement with Rolls-Royce in 2015 to become an authorized maintenance center for the UK company’s engines.


Boeing 777X nears rollout as new images released


Boeing is edging closer to unveiling its latest jet the Boeing 777X with three now in production positions and the number 1 flight test aircraft moved to an adjacent bay.

It is expected that the aerospace giant will roll out the 777X during March.

Boeing is building two models of the 777X family: the 400-seat -9, which will be the first to roll out and the longer range -8, which can seat 350 passengers and has a range capability of more than 17,220 km.

It is this model that Qantas and Air New Zealand are evaluating with a decision expected this year.

SEE Greenpoint’s luxury 777X interior. 

The driving force behind the 777X is Emirates President Sir Tim Clark, whose airline is the lead buyer with an order for 150.

Sir Tim describes the 777X as “an absolute peach”.

Key to his enthusiasm is the aircraft’s economics and greater space — it is 20 percent more efficient per seat than the industry’s long-time benchmark the 777-300ER and its cabin is wider with bigger windows.

The Boeing 777X combines the best features of the current 777 with a longer fuselage, new engine and the composite wing design from the Boeing 787.

The photo below shows three 777X aircraft in the main production bay and the first rollout aircraft in the adjacent bay.

Other airlines that have ordered the 777X are Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, and All Nippon Airlines.

Qantas’s competition, called “Project Sunrise” also includes the Airbus A350 and the airline is demanding Sydney to London non-stop capability with 300 passengers.

Both Airbus and Boeing say they can meet the airline’s demands or close to it.

Qantas plans to add underfloor bunks to the winner of its competition because on ultra-long-haul flights the aircraft will carry virtually no cargo, just passenger’s bags.

Air New Zealand is going to accelerate the redesign of its interior offering at its Hangar 22 seating project after it decides on either the  Boeing 777X or A350 in April.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon told at the inaugural of the airline’s first service to Chicago last year that the airline had been bringing customers through to experience mock-up cabin spaces in an attempt to learn their thinking about space, storage, and privacy.

“We’ve been running customers through a number of mock-ups that at this stage are quite primitive and quite conceptual but are giving them a feel about what they want to play back to us around that,” he said


Qantas boss sees youngsters swapping booze for travel

Airlines booze youngsters
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce Photo: Qantas

Airlines may be benefiting from a move by young people to trade booze and binge shopping for experiences, according to Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

It was once a given that leisure travel was a discretionary spend, a luxury item that was among the first on the chopping block when the economy hit a rough patch.

But this no longer appears to be the case.

Australian airlines say they are not feeling the pain some industries are seeing as consumer confidence is battered by low wages growth and falling house prices.

And Joyce reckons the changing tastes of young consumers may have something to do with it.

“We’re not seeing some of what the retail sector is seeing out there maybe because the new generation of flyers are spending more on experience, less on retail, less on alcohol,’’ he told the airline’s interim results news conference Thursday.

READ: Qantas sees fall in interim profit, tips strong finish to the year

Nor are travelers trading down in the way Woolworth’s boss Woolworths boss Brad Banducci is seeing with a switch at his liquor outlets from French champagne to cheaper,  locally-made bubbly.

Banducci attributed the significant drop in French champagne sales to rising household costs.

READ: Qantas offers points for carbon offset payments

Joyce said Qantas had seen no sign of the same trend when it came to premium travel.

He pointed to record results for the domestic operations of Qantas and low-cost carrier Jetstar as evidence both ends of the market are healthy and have room for growth.

He said there was a significant increase in business from small to medium enterprises tying into its loyalty program and it was seeing record demand for its premium cabins.

“For example, on the Perth-London route our premium cabins are full at 95 percent which means we’re displacing premium passengers,’’ he said.

“So we think there are growth opportunities there so at the moment we are absolutely not seeing any weakness in any of the premium classes.

“If anything, they continue to be very strong across the board.”

There was no significant update on Project Sunrise, the plan to use hub-busting planes on ultra-long-haul routes such Sydney-London.

The contenders for the project are variants of the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777X, with Qantas expected to make a decision later this year.

Qantas had hoped the planes could perform the mission with 300 passengers on board but Joyce confirmed it looked like “there won’t be full passenger payloads year-round on some of those routes”.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t be selling all classes,’’ he said. “We have those limitations today on certain routes —  on Dallas for parts of the year we don’t sell all of the seats on the A380.

“It will be similar to that”

Joyce noted it was still some time before the project Sunrise aircraft would be in operation and aircraft performance was changing all the time.

He said the airline needed an aircraft that would not only fly from Sydney or Melbourne to London and New York but one that could be rotated to do Sydney-Hong Kong and Sydney-Los Angeles.




Qantas to ditch paper boarding passes, offers points for carbon offset

Qantas points carbon offset
Photo: Qantas.

Qantas will offer frequent flyer points to people who offset their carbon emissions as part of an environmental push that aims to end paper boarding passes and remove 100 million single-use plastic items annually.

Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce the initiative at the airline’s interim results Thursday in what he labeled a “step change” in the airline’s environmental approach.

READ: Qantas sees fall in interim profits but tips a strong finish to the year

Qantas has one of the airline industry’s most successful carbon offset programs and was an early adopter of the concept.

Joyce said the initiative to award frequent flyer points was aimed at increasing the take-up of the scheme.

“So, on a flight like Melbourne to London, which you would need to pay $A51 to offset your carbon emissions, we’ll give you 510 points if you do that,’’ he said.

“Currently, we’ve the largest carbon offset program of any airline in the world and we want to make that better.”

The airline has also set itself a target of reducing electricity use by almost 20 percent by 2020 and, like many airlines, wants to significantly reduce its landfill.

“In the process of carrying 50 million people, we generate some 30,000 tonnes of waste in Australia each year,’’Joyce said. “That’s the same weight as about eighty 747s.

“Across Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar we want to reduce our waste to landfill by 75 percent and remove 100 million single-use plastic items per annum.

“And we’ll do this  by the end of 2021.”

The Qantas boss said this was the highest waste reduction target set by any airline in the world and went well beyond the recent European Union ban on single-use plastics in terms of scope and speed.

“Our coffee cups will be recycled, some 21 million of them,’’ he said.

“Our boarding passes and crew manuals will be replaced with paper-free alternatives.  Even plastic frequent flyer cards are going digital.”

Joyce said reducing waste wasn’t just the right thing to do but was good for business.

“It will take time, but we’re already starting – and we’ll be asking our industry, regulators, customers and our people to help,’’ he said.


Qantas tips strong finish to the year after interim profit falls

Qantas interim profit falls
Qantas interim profit falls.

Qantas saw its underlying pre-tax profit drop by $A179m to a still healthy $A780m in the first half of fiscal  2019 but says it expects a strong second half.

The airline attributed the fall, and a $A105m drop in statutory profit before tax to $A735m, to a  $A416m increase in its fuel bill. Net profit fell 16 percent to $A498m.

But group chief executive Alan Joyce said he was pleased with the way the business responded to challenges and opportunities in the first half.

“Our dual brand strategy with Qantas and Jetstar in the domestic market meant these segments delivered another set of record earnings,’’ he said.

“Across our network, capacity is broadly meeting demand, including shifts to capitalize on the continued strengths of the resources sector.”

Qantas International was hardest hit by an increased fuel bill that couldn’t be recovered. This saw earnings before interest and tax fall by 60 percent to $A90 million.

But the airline said it continued to benefit from the introduction of the more efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner as well as hub and network changes.

Joyce said the airline’s new Melbourne-Perth-London service had seen the  London market profitable for the first time since 2010.

He said several four-engine Boeing 747s would be retired this financial year with leaving the fleet of last week to bring the total number to eight.

He said the retirement of the last 747 at the end of calendar year 2020 would help the airline’s overheads and reduce costs in other ways such as spare parts, training, maintenance and fuel burn.

Benefits had also come from network changes that had seen Qantas return to Singapore and restructure its trans-Tasman operations.

READ: Virgin Oz posts strongest interim profit in a decade.

But competition remained strong and this could be seen in the low fares on offer, particularly across the Pacific.

He also noted broader international market growth was slowing and Qantas expected international capacity to be flat in the second half and, for the first time since 2010, in negative territory for the northern summer.

This was only the second time he’d seen this since becoming CEO, he said.

The Qantas boss said low-cost offshoot Jetstar International was performing well while the joint ventures in Asia had been hit by higher fuel costs, although Jetstar Japan was performing well.

Group domestic achieved another record profit with a 1 percent increase to $A659m and Joyce said the domestic operations continued to enjoy “significant leadership in market share and margins”.

Qantas Domestic contributed the bulk of that result, $A453m.

“That comes largely from both airlines delivering more for our customers,” he said, adding that balance supply and demand by having the right capacity settings was also key.

“Broadly the domestic market remains well balanced and where there are opportunities we’ll grow into them,” he said.

“The resource sector is a good example. We’re increasing our capacity within Western Australia by almost 10 percent because of the demand that we’re seeing.”

Joyce noted there were some domestic capacity limits in the first half due to pilot retraining but this was not expected to be a significant issue in the second half.

Earnings at Qantas Loyalty were up 4 percent to $A175m.

He said credit cards that earned Qantas points grew by 4 percent, compared to a 1 percent decline in the overall credit card market

He noted 36.5 percent of all credit card expenditure in Australia was now on a Qantas-earning credit card.

“Looking ahead, we think Qantas is well positioned,’’ Joyce said.

“Forward bookings remain strong. Competitor capacity growth has slowed internationally and is relatively flat.

“Our ongoing transformation program is on track. And oil prices have declined from the peaks we saw last year.

“These factors point to a strong second half and we expect to completely recover our increased fuel costs by the end of the year.”

Joyce said management was mindful of potential signs of weakness in the broader economy and it was always adjusting capacity to meet demand in individual markets.

“But overall revenue and yield indicators remained positive,’’ he added

“Above all the resilience we’ve built into the business gives us plenty of confidence about our performance going forward.”

American offers chopper transfers at LAX, JFK

American chopper transfer
Photo: American Airlines

Private suites, personal screening services and helicopter transfers designed to avoid long traffic jams are among the perks being offered to well-heeled American Airlines customers for a price.

American is latest to come out with expanded services catering for affluent passengers traveling through New York JFK or Los Angeles airports.

The US carrier’s Five Star Service is marketed as “a premium and personal airport experience available departures, connections and arrivals in select markets”.

The basic service costs $US350 for the first person, $US100 for additional adults and $US50 for each child. There is also a more expensive Five Star Select.

The new additions mean customers in LA or New York can skip the traffic with a private helicopter transfer from Blade that will pick them up at the destination of their choice and fly them to the airport.

According to Blade founder Rob Wiesenthal, the helicopter transfer reduces a 90-minute drive to a five- to seven-minute flight.

Once at the airport, they’ll be picked up by a Cadillac and taken to American’s Flagship First check-in.

After clearing security, they can head to the Admirals Club, Flagship First lounge or Flagship First Dining before their flight.

The helicopter service is also available for arriving customers.

According to Blade’s website, chartering the entire helicopter costs between $US695 and $US1325, depending on how far ahead it is booked,  but a seat can be purchased for as little as $US195.

Passengers can also access The Private Suites entrance to LAX, offering customers with departing flights private security screening and a Cadillac escort across the tarmac to their gate or a lounge.

United Airlines is another airline to offer this service and passengers can be driven directly to the aircraft.

READ: United private terminal shows how the other 1 percent lives

American says arriving customers can clear international customs in fewer than five minutes with The Private Suite’s dedicated international arrivals hall.

The sticker price for the service on The Private Suite website is $US1200 for two people.

“We understand the value our customers put on their time and a personalized end-to-end travel experience — whether it is a private travel experience, a little more luxury, fine dining in the airport or getting to the gate quickly, we have them covered,” said American vice president of global marketing Janelle Anderson.

“This gives our customers a range of choices when traveling on American.”

The concept of helicopter transfers is not new, and New York Airways once transferred passengers from Manhattan heliports to city airports in 10 minutes.

The cost of a one-way flight from New York to La Guardia in 1955 was $US4.50.

The service was most famous for its flights from the top of the iconic Pan-Am building and for shuttling The Beatles to the Port Authority heliport for their concert at Shea Stadium during their 1965 US tour.

It ceased operating in 1979 after its third fatal accident.


Cathay in big annual profit turnaround

cathay profit turnaround
A Cathay Pacific A330. Photo: Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific has pulled off an impressive turnaround that is expected to produce a net profit for the 2018 financial year of $HK2.3 billion ($US290 m).

This compares with a net loss in fiscal 2017 of $HK1.26 billion as the Hong Kong-based airline posted its first back-to-back losses in more than 70 years.

The airline revealed the guidance in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Wednesday.

READ: Cathy launches new Hong Kong-inspired menu.

Among the factors to which it attributed the turnaround were a focus on customer service and improved revenue management.

“Load factors were sustained and yield improved despite competitive pressures,’’ it added.

“The cargo business was strong. Capacity, yield and load factors increased.  The Company’s transformation programme has had a positive impact.”

The airline cautioned it was still finalizing its annual results, which are due to be released in March.

Cathay has been expanding its network,  revamping lounges and improving its inflight product.

It has also been restructuring to reduce costs and improve efficiency in the face of increased competition from mainland Chinese and regional low-cost carriers.

Its interim net loss of $HK263m was better than some analysts predicted and airline officials predicted it would benefit from an improved second-half performance.

Chairman John Slosar said at the time the operating environment remained challenging but the three -year transformation was on track.

“There is still much to do, but I am confident in our future,’’ he said.

The second half was not without incident, however, and Cathay revealed in October that a data breach had compromised 9.4 million customers.

It later said cybersecurity experts engaged to search the dark web and other sites had found no evidence the stolen details had appeared in criminal forums.

More recently, it made international headlines when it decided to honor $US16,000 premium tickets accidentally sold for $US647.





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