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Worst airlines revealed

Rated by AirlineRatings.com, a company that has received plenty of negative attention is Indonesian carrier Lion Air.

The airline is on its way to becoming one of the biggest carriers in the world, committing $46 billion for almost 500 new planes, in one of the biggest aviation deals in history.

Geoff Thomas from Airline Ratings says “they are brand new planes – the planes themselves are magnificent. But as we saw recently one undershot the runway at Bali. Fortunately everybody walked away, but that should never have happened, it should simply never have happened to an airplane like that one (which is) state of the art.”

Eleven airlines take out the seven-star double

A380
Passengers love the Emirates' A380 bar

According to AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas, the airlines that have achieved the double seven-star for safety and product in alphabetical order are: Air New Zealand, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, EVA Air from Taiwan, Korean Air, Qantas Airways, Royal Jordanian, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

“These are airlines that are clearly standouts in the world of aviation and have dedicated years of effort to achieve these high standards,” said Mr Thomas.

“They are at the forefront of innovation and operational excellence and are always on the winner’s podium collecting awards for their efforts.”

Mr Thomas noted however that there were a number of airlines, such as Virgin Australia that were ‘knocking on the door’ of achieving the double. “Once it has completed its extensive makeover, Virgin Australia will be a seven-star airline. It’s only product inconsistency on a few routes that keeps it out of the seven-star category,” said Mr Thomas.

Best of the low cost airlines were New York-based JetBlue Airways, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, German-based TUIfly and Denver-based Frontier which achieved a seven-star safety rating and the maximum – for a budget airline – five-star product rating.

“In the case of JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and Frontier they often offer a better product than many so-called full service airlines in the US,” said Mr Thomas.

World First – 425 Airlines Independently Rated For Safety

There is relief at last for billions of flyers with the launch today of the world’s first comprehensive airline rating system.

AirlineRatings.com was created by award-winning Australian aviation editor and author, Geoffrey Thomas. The site was developed by Geoffrey and a team of aviation editors who have forensically researched airlines flying today.

The airlines are rated from one to seven stars on both safety and product quality – with seven being the highest ranking. “While air travel has never been safer and we found a record number of 137 airlines with a seven-star safety ranking, 43 have just three stars or less,” said Geoffrey.

The rating system takes into account a number of different factors related to audits from aviation’s governing bodies and lead associations as well as government audits and the airline’s fatality record.

“We view safety holistically and objectively using only internationally recognised audits from the most respected bodies,” said Geoffrey.

While major airlines in Australia and New Zealand scored very well with high ratings for both safety and product quality, many of those flying in Africa and Indonesia today scored very poorly.

“As someone who typically flies more than 75 days a year, I can tell you, it’s important to know more about the airline you’re about to hop onto than merely what they’re serving for lunch! In some parts of the world, people may be better off considering road or train options than risking a flight,” he said.

“For example, if you’re flying from London to Moscow, do you think Belavia Airlines would be a safe bet or not?” he added. “It is highly likely you haven’t heard of them and you may prefer to opt for a different airline, and yet Belavia has a perfect score of seven for safety.”

The painstaking work took more than two years and the result is a website with the most comprehensive collection of independent information about airlines, their safety ratings, product quality, aircraft types, lounge reviews, and much more.

AirlineRatings.com will be updated continuously to add new reviews, incorporate new information and re-rate airlines based on their demonstrated safety.

“We believe AirlineRatings.com is the best website for people flying today, people planning to travel and those working in the travel industry who need quick, independent and reliable information for their clients,” said Mr Thomas.

Geoffrey Thomas’s safety efforts praised

The Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California Najmedin Meshkati, PhD, CPE and former Jefferson Science Fellow and Senior Science and Engineering Advisor to the US State Department, has lauded AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas’s “seminal works” saying they have made an “invaluable contribution to the improvement of aviation safety in the world.”

As a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), Dr Meshkati teaches at and was director of the world’s renowned, 60-year old USC Aviation Safety and Security Program during 1992 to 1997.

Professor Meshkati teaches and conducts research on Human Factors in Aviation Safety; pilot mental workload assessment and situational awareness; crew resource management; cockpit design and automation; Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT); runway incursion; and loss of control in flight.

“Mr. Thomas and his articles have been a major source of information for me and I have always shared them with my students. Furthermore, I consider some of his articles in Air Transport World and Australian Aviation as “seminal” and refer to them in my classes as “must read” for any aviation safety professionals,” said Professor Meshkati.

Mr Thomas is Airlines Editor at Australian Aviation and is former Chief Editor of Washington DC-based Air Transport World.

Mr Thomas’s safety related articles have won numerous international awards and his most insightful, Back to Basics on the problems of cockpit automation deskilling pilots was published just three days before the tragic loss of the Air France 447.

“Geoffrey Thomas [has made] an invaluable contribution to the improvement of aviation safety in the world,” said Professor Meshkati.

 

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Qantas security staff to strike

Qantas Airbus A330
Qantas International has a new chief executive

Up to 80 security screening staff employed by MSS Security in the Qantas domestic terminal are expected to stop work at 2pm for one hour over calls for a better pay deal.

If a deal can’t be struck with MSS today, United Voice assistant secretary Pat O’Donnell says union members could carry out strike action including shutting down some of the security lanes and explosives swabbing on every single passenger.

Mr O’Donnell said the meeting was likely to cause delays for passengers, who were advised to arrive earlier than usual for their flights.

However an emailed statement released by Qantas communications advisor Sarah Algar said MSS, the contractor which provides security screening services for Qantas and Jetstar, has “contingencies in place”.

“We don’t expect this will cause any disruptions to customers at the airport or flight delays,” the statement reads.

Ms Algar would not detail what these contingencies were and MSS did not respond to calls for comment but The West Australian understands MSS will use non-unionised workers to plug the gaps.

The United Voice union, which represents the security workers, claims the company’s Melbourne-based employees have recently been offered a far superior deal to those in WA.

“They recently offered higher increases to Melbourne, penalty rates and better rates for morning shifts,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The action comes during Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce’s visit to Perth.

Mr O’Donnell said it was a happy coincidence the airline chief would be in Perth.

“That was just a bit of luck,” he said.

“We’re quite happy that he is in town.

“Part of the problem with these contract companies is they make profits by paying the lowest amount of wages they can get away with but we think Qantas has to take some responsibility.”

Regardless, they workers will return to work after the meeting wearing shirts emblazoned with “Paid Less in the West”.

Man tried to open exit door on US flight

Passengers and crew aboard the Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland told investigators that 23-year-old Alexander Michael Herrera made “unusual statements” before trying to open the plane’s door, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said.

Flight 132 was preparing to land at Portland International Airport when the Arizona man set off an alarm by pulling the door handle in the emergency-exit row, Steele said.

Witness Henry Pignataro told KGW-TV that a woman seated next to Herrera asked for help.

“I put him in a choke hold and brought him down to the ground,” Pignataro said.

Pignataro said he and another man held down the passenger and asked flight attendants for restraints. He said they brought three sets of shoelaces, which Pignataro and the other man used to bind Herrera’s legs.

The flight attendants then brought extra seatbelt extensions, and the witnesses applied those to Herrera, as well.

Pignataro said Herrera – listed as 100kg his booking information – was then placed into a seat, where he calmly sat “surrounded by big guys” until the plane landed only nine minutes behind schedule.

Herrera was being booked into a Portland jail on a charge of interfering with a flight crew, and was expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday before a federal magistrate.

Virgin gets nod for Tiger deal

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced this morning that it would not oppose the proposed acquisition by Virgin Australia of 60 per cent of Tiger Airways Australia. Virgin Australia is the second largest domestic airline operator in Australia, behind Qantas and has expressed its intention to triple Tiger’s fleet over the next five years. Tiger started operations in November 2007 and services 16 domestic routes with 11 planes.

“The ACCC’s view is that this acquisition is unlikely to lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the Australian market for domestic air passenger transport services,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said. “Essential to reaching this view was the ACCC’s assessment, made after thorough and extensive testing of the issue, that Tiger would be highly unlikely to remain in the local market if the proposed acquisition didn’t proceed. Absent this conclusion the acquisition raised considerable competition concerns.

“In making this assessment the ACCC had particular regard to Tiger Australia’s history of poor financial and operational performance. In six years in Australia, Tiger has never made an operating profit, and its current losses are large. These losses remain a big drag on the entire Tiger group.” The Virgin takeover will bring security to Tiger Airways staff.

The ACCC also tested the likelihood of Tiger Australia’s performance being improved by either its current owner (the Singapore-based Tiger Airways Holdings Limited) or other potential shareholders or joint venture partners if the proposed acquisition did not proceed.

“The ACCC considered it unlikely given the current circumstances that Tiger Australia would be turned around under any of these scenarios to provide vigorous competition as an independent operator. Instead its key assets, being the 11 Airbus aircraft, would very likely be redeployed into the Asian operations of its parent company,” Mr Sims said.

He added that the ACCC would always prefer to see a greater number of independent airlines competing in the domestic market. “However, our investigations showed that Tiger Australia had been unable to establish itself as a viable competitor despite substantial investment and numerous changes of management and strategy over the years,” Mr Sims said. “We concluded that it was highly likely that Tiger Australia would leave the market if this acquisition didn’t go ahead, and accordingly blocking the acquisition would not serve to protect competition. Virgin Australia now has the opportunity to pursue its stated objective of transforming Tiger Australia into an effective competitor to Jetstar for price sensitive travellers.”

The ACCC consulted widely with a range of interested parties, including other airlines, airports, tourism organisations and industry bodies throughout the course of its review.

Virgin shares were up two cents, or 4.6 per cent, to 45.5 cents at 9am in a broadly firmer market.

 

Welcome to the new world of Digital Airlines

My name is Geoffrey Thomas, author, publisher, commentator and lecturer and together with a team of highly qualified international editors we have designed the ultimate airline information website listing more than 420 full service, low cost and regional airlines across the world.

Airlines are critical to today’s world yet so much about them is totally misunderstood and this was our motivation to build this website.

To bring to life the extraordinary world of air travel. Airlineratings.com provides an objective A-Z portrayal of the global airline industry with an industry first transparent airline safety rating system plus an objective and relevant in-flight product rating system.

Our rating system has been developed and is judged by some of the most highly awarded and respected editors in the industry. But there is far more to this wonderful resource – Did you know, Ask the editors, What plane is it, Lounge and Food reviews, Videos with facts / statistics and so, so much more.

This is a one-stop-shop website designed for everyone who is interested in travelling or air travel. And we invite your participation with our make a difference module and have a chance to win one of many wonderful prizes.

It is with great pleasure that we unveil this site to you.

Testing regime pushes planes to the limit

The view at 10,000ft above Queenstown is simply stunning for passengers aboard our Air New Zealand flight. But in the cockpit, The West Australian and Channel 7’s Today Tonight crew see a very different picture. We’re about to land on a tiny runway nestled between treacherous mountains. Heads are down scanning an array of screens that weave computer wizardry as the plane’s navigation system uses global positioning satellites to pinpoint the dangers that have claimed so many lives in the past or forced planes to divert.

Required Navigation Performance (RNP)
Dubbed RNP (required navigation performance) and introduced in the late 1990s, the system allows pilots to fly in blinding cloud, rain and snow around mountains right to the runway and saves costly diversions. And its accuracy? A few metres.

Queenstown is known as one of the world’s most difficult and challenging airports for landing and takeoff. Air New Zealand’s Airbus A320 fleet manager Capt. Hugh Pearce says RNP is complex and needs 25 different navigation systems and backups to work correctly.

A single diversion can cost as much as $30,000, making the value of RNP compelling. But it’s not just safe landings in airports such as Queenstown that are driving airlines’ push for RNP. Because of its high-precision capability, RNP can save airlines millions of dollars in fuel costs by using much shorter – and mostly curved – approaches to airports.

RNP is just one of many new technologies that have dramatically improved airline safety, resulting in the lowest number of accidents since 1945. Last year, there were only 475 deaths from 23 accidents while the industry carried 2.9 billion passengers.

Compared with traditional cockpits, the improvements in computerised cockpits are significant with the elimination of up to 600 dials and gauges. And procedures are cut. If an engine catches fire, a pilot now needs to take four actions instead of 15.

Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)
Two of the greatest advances in the cockpit are the traffic collision avoidance system and the enhanced ground proximity warning system. TCAS provides pilots with collision protection if there is a failure by air traffic controllers. It tracks all planes by picking up their identity transmission and warns of an impending collision and what action is required. It has saved thousands of lives.

Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS)
EGPWS shows pilots the world’s terrain database on their computer screens and colour-codes mountains relative to the plane’s altitude. And the gadgetry doesn’t end there. There is a 3-D weather radar that detects turbulence and an auto-land system that has an accuracy of just a metre.

Aircraft testing improves safety
Another critical aspect of keeping passengers safe is testing the planes, an extremely sophisticated and expensive process. When Boeing built the 365-seat 777, it had to prove that the 777 structure could carry the maximum design load in the most extreme conditions over the life of the plane.

Enter the ultimate torture chamber. Applying the torture were 96 hydraulic actuators which punished the 777 in 120,000 simulated flights – double its expected life span. The most dramatic testing was done on the wing. After simulating two lifetimes of testing, engineers bent the wing upwards 7.31m – equal to a load of 120,000kg – before it fractured.

But testing wasn’t always that sophisticated. In 1932 the Douglas Aircraft Company used a steamroller to test the structural integrity of its DC-1 wing.

And there are a host of operational tests. One of the most impressive is the velocity minimum unstuck test which determines the plane’s minimum lift-off speed. The test pilot tries to get the plane to take off at the normal speed, which results in the plane “sitting” on its tail before lifting off. Another torturous test is rejected take-off. The 777 was loaded to its maximum take-off weight and brought up to take-off speed. Without using reverse thrust, with worn brakes the pilot must bring it to a stop using brakes only. After stopping, the brakes became so hot they glowed red. However, no action can be taken for five minutes, representing the time taken to get emergency vehicles to the plane.

Another test is the cold soak, where the plane is left for three days in a blizzard before start-up. And the engines that power these giants of the air have to endure even worse. General Electric’s GE90 – the world’s largest engine that develops 76,000hp – had to soak up 4.5 tonnes of water and 1.5 tonnes of ice a minute, along with an assortment of dead birds. But testing is just one aspect.

Expensive maintenance
Maintaining a plane is extremely expensive. Airbus A380 tyres cost $92,000 each and must be changed about every six months. The A380 has 32 of them. An A380 windscreen-wiper blade will set an airline back $1000 and a complete overhaul every five years lasts two months, takes 40,000 man hours and can cost more than $6 million. The improvements in cockpits are significant with the elimination of up to 600 dials and gauges.

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