Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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Hi Fly’s A330neo raises bar for wet lease operators

West lease Hi Fly A330neo
Hi Fly's A330neo. Photo; Hi Fly

When you think “wet lease widebody”, you probably think of an elderly, inefficient Boeing 777-200 or Airbus A340-300 with seats from decades ago, questionable provision of inflight entertainment, and none of the bells and whistles that make up the modern passenger experience.

Watch dramatic MD-80 landing and see how low you can go.

Hi Fly, the Portuguese wet-lease operator best known for its decision to take an Airbus A380 — the only one to have entered the secondhand market — has a new proposal in the form of its Airbus A330-900neo, a modern aircraft with an equally modern interior.

“The acquisition of the A330neo aircraft is a significant step forward for Hi Fly, says airline president Paulo Mirpuri, noting that “we are in the vanguard of those who have taken delivery of the new aircraft and we are happy to be able to offer these latest airliners to our customers. Also, the addition of the A330neo to the Hi Fly Fleet leaves us operating the youngest, cleanest fleet in our history.”

Mirpuri, who has an eponymous environmental foundation, suggests the neo has a 14 percent reduced fuel burn compared with the A330ceo aircraft, of which the aircraft operates several split between its Portuguese- and Maltese-registered fleets.

Onboard the new A330-900neo, which from the seat plans listed by Hi Fly seems to be registered as CS-TKY, it’s a high-density configuration.

There are eighteen business class seats up front and 353 economy class seats throughout the rest of the plane pitched at 30-32” in Airbus’ charter/leisure/LCC 3-3-3 configuration.

wet lease Hi Fly A330neo
Hi Fly’s premium offering.

That’s something of an ‘ouch’ down the back, especially for those ending up in a 30” row. The ultra-narrow nine-abreast layout is no fun for anyone who isn’t a small child.

(Interestingly, Hi Fly’s other A330 listed, 9H-SZN, seems much more premium, with 32 business class seats stretching the entire length between doors 1 and 2, then 31 premium economy seats and 237 premium economy seats in the more comfortable 2-4-2 layout, pitched at 31-32”.)

On the plus side, Hi Fly will be offering RAVE, the inflight entertainment system from Safran, formerly known as Zodiac. It’s a great IFE platform that should allow the airline to be flexible and responsive for the ‘circuses’ part of the ‘bread and circuses’ distraction tactic from discomfort at the knees and elbows.

Safran is also providing the business class seating, an implementation of its relatively premium Aura Enhanced product in a 2-2-2 configuration. These are fully flat seats without direct aisle access, and a surprising choice for the wet-lease operator.

I would have expected something with greater density: the “midnight clamber” from window seat across a slumbering aisle neighbor is by no means the worst with Aura, certainly compared with something like a Collins Diamond or Thompson Vantage.

In economy, Italian seatmaker Geven has provided the nine-abreast product, and while 3-3-3 is not going to win any width-related comfort awards it at least looks pleasant. The sea effect of the dark blue with light blue on the fabric feels surprisingly premium, even if the beige of the headrest and IFE surround is a little blah. It will be interesting to see the extent to which Hi Fly takes advantage of the A330neo’s LED lighting systems to wash these beige spaces with some color.

wet lease Hi Fly A330neo
The nine across economy offering is tight.

Also interesting will be passenger reaction to this aircraft from the airline where it first finds a home. Hi Fly president Mirpuri noted at the delivery of the A330neo that it will be heading to the “far east” for a “flag carrier”.

The only major airlines in the far east operating an aircraft with economy seating this narrow are AirAsia X and Cebu Pacific, although Philippine Airlines used to have a similar configuration before its pivot back towards being a premium carrier.

A crucial question: will passengers notice the difference?


British Airways strike grounds most flights amid fears turmoil may continue

British Airways strike
Photo: Nick Morrish/British Airways.

The travel plans of almost 200,000 passengers have been plunged into chaos as a strike by pilots prompted British Airways to cancel most of its flights Monday and Tuesday.

And there are worries the heated dispute and irst ever pilot strike to hit the UK carrier is set to continue.

The strike by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) is scheduled to be followed by another on September 27 and the union has warned further dates may be announced.

The airline said it had canceled 1700 flights scheduled over the two days.

READ: Airline freight and passenger numbers hit by Trump’s trade war.

At the center of the turmoil is a  dispute over an offer by British Airways for an 11.5 percent salary increase over three years at a time the airline is posting healthy profits.

The pilots want a bigger share of those profits after giving concessions such as pay cuts  in harder times

BALPA said almost 100 percent of pilots supported the strike action and the strength of feeling amongst pilots should be a wake-up call for British Airways.

It said there were currently no further negotiations, despite an offer to hold talks last week

“Pilots are standing firm and have shown just how resolute they are today,’’ BALPA general secretary Barry Strutton said.

“British Airways needs to start listening to its pilots and actually come up with ways of resolving this dispute.”

Strutton had earlier told the BBC that a  union profit-sharing proposal would see staff receive up to 7 percent of base pay in good times and zero when times were tough.

The union argues the difference between its plan and that proposed by the airline amounts to an additional £5 million.

BA labeled the strike action “unjustifiable” and “reckless”, saying labor unions representing 90 percent of all BA staff had accepted the 11.5 percent offer.

It described its offer as “very fair and well above the UK’s current rate of inflations”, noting the average salary for a BA captain was £167,000 [$US206,000] plus flying allowances. The increase would take this to £202,000,  it said.

“We continue to pursue every avenue to find a solution to avoid industrial action and protect our customers’ travel plans,’’ the airline said.

Qatar Airways’ incredible seat sale


Qatar Airways has launched an incredible seat sale for Australian travellers from $1069*.

The sale is on from Monday 9 September to Sunday 15 September 2019 for a variety of travel dates (details at bottom).

The award-winning airline invites customers to plan early for their next journey and explore one of its over 160 global destinations by taking advantage of exclusive individual fares, special rates for companion fares when booking two or more tickets, as well as a range of other offers with Al Maha Services, Discover Qatar, Qatar Airways Holidays and Qatar Duty Free (QDF).

SEE amazing rainbow off Qatar 777.

Qatar Airways Privilege Club members can also earn double Qmiles** on all bookings during the promotional period. The airline invites all travellers to enrol in the Privilege Club today at qmiles.com to benefit from this promotion when booking their next trip during the offer period.

Qatar Airways Chief Commercial Officer, Mr Simon Talling-Smith, said: “We are thrilled to give customers the chance to explore the world ‘like never before’ with our great offers across the extensive Qatar Airways network.

“With several recently-added exciting new destinations to discover, such as, Rabat, Morocco; Izmir, Turkey; Malta; Lisbon, Portugal; and Davao, the Philippines, and as well as Langkawi, Malaysia, and Gaborone, Botswana, to follow in October, why not try somewhere completely new for your latest overseas adventure?

The national carrier for the State of Qatar currently operates a modern fleet of more than 250 aircraft via its hub, Hamad International Airport (HIA) to more than 160 destinations worldwide.

The airline has launched a host of exciting new destinations in 2019, including Lisbon, Portugal; Malta; Rabat, Morocco; Davao, Philippines; Izmir, Turkey; and Mogadishu, Somalia; and will add Langkawi, Malaysia; and Gaborone, Botswana, to its extensive network in October 2019.

* Offer valid until 15 September 2019, unless sold out prior. Fares (AUD) quoted above, including $1,069 from Melbourne to Dublin are the lowest adult return prices per person including taxes, fees, and airport charges departing from Melbourne when booked with one or more companions. Other sale dates may be available. Other sale fares are also available departing from Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra. ‘Companion’ refers to a minimum of two (2) and maximum of nine (9) people travelling together on the same booking for the entire journey. Economy Class companion fares shown above are for departures from 21 September – 27 November 2019, 20 January – 18 March 2020, and 22 April – 22 May 2020. Inbound blackout dates apply in Economy Class between 15 September – 25 October 2019, 10 December – 23 December 2019, 1 January – 2 February 2020, and 5 July – 10 August 2020. All travel must be completed by 31 August 2020. Fares may vary due to currency fluctuations. Seasonal surcharges, weekend surcharges, and blackout periods may apply. For all other terms and conditions please review at time of booking.

** Double Qmiles apply to flights booked before 15 September 2019 and travel by 31 August 2020. Registration is required; log in to your account, select “My Offers” on your dashboard menu, and register.


Typhoon Faxai set to disrupt air travel in Japan

Credit: The Weather Channel

Typhoon Faxai is moving toward Japan’s Honshu Island and will likely strike near Tokyo with damaging winds, heavy rain and battering waves say The Weather Channel.

The website is reporting that “Faxai is currently equivalent in strength to a Category 3 hurricane and is centred about 200 miles south of Tokyo.”

It says the typhoon “is forecast to hit near Tokyo Sunday night into Monday, local time, with maximum sustained winds equivalent to a Category 2 or 3 hurricane.”

WATCH: Spectacular go around in bad weather at St Maarten Airport. 

Japan Meteorological Agency warned that central and eastern Japan including Tokyo could see record winds.

The season’s 15th typhoon is due to make landfall in the Kanto region or Shizuoka Prefecture bringing winds of up to 216 kilometres per hour.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have canceled many domestic flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.


Another stellar performance from easyJet

Boarding our flight at Split.

Another stellar performance from easyJet with staff once again going above and beyond by throwing the book away and using initiative and trust.

The real test of an airline is how does it respond under pressure or when “things” are not in the training manual.

So, the story starts for us when we had to cut short a business and leisure trip to Croatia.

We were booked to fly from Split to London Gatwick on Thursday, September 12 but on the 6th made the decision we needed to get home to Australia (via London on Qantas).

A late-night online change was made for a 10 am flight (EZY8394) the next morning. While the booking was confirmed no boarding passes were available, which meant the flight was overbooked.

WATCH: Spectacular go around at St Maarten Airport 

At our early check-in (7 am) at Split Airport on Saturday the 7th our fears were confirmed that indeed it was overbooked.

However, the senior check-in agent at Counter 1., assured us that it was almost certain we would get on.

At Split Airport all airlines are handled by one agency and the whole operation is very impressive as is the airport terminal. Counter 1 is where problem issues are handled.

As promised 30 minutes before departure we had our boarding passes from two ladies who really knew their stuff.

However, the extra we had paid for speedy boarding and exit rows, was lost in the system so we had the row behind.

No worries about the speedy boarding as we were almost last to board due to having to wait as standbys.

Once onboard I noticed that the exit row in front of had a number of free seats.

I inquired with one of the flight attendants if I could move and she rightly said that you had to pay extra, which had to be done beforehand.

I then explained our situation and said I had the paperwork for the original flight in my bag and she said she would have to check with her senior. (Because of my height of 194cm we always select exit rows.)

Back she came and said “no problem”.

No proof required – although we had it.

So, from being on standby with most flights out of Split fully booked we went to exit row seats on our desired flight.

Now that is a win, particularly on a low fare airline.

And the service on board didn’t stop there with the crew in fine form interacting with passengers and getting everyone fed and watered.

I thought to myself that this crew looked more like a team you would find in first class on Emirates or Singapore Airlines.

For a snack, I chose the Mezze Snack Box at a cost of Euro 6, plus orange juice and coffee, which really hit the mark.

The cockpit crew were excellent keeping us informed all the way to Gatwick.

The landing was silky smooth.

All in all an outstanding experience with ground staff and cabin crew going out of their way to assure us and help us.




Airline freight and passenger numbers hit by Trump’s trade war

airline IATA freight low
No quick recovery in sight for air freight.

The US-China trade war continues to drag down global airline activity with air cargo experiencing its ninth consecutive month of year-on-year falls and passenger figures showing a soft start to the northern hemisphere summer.

International Air Transport Association figures show global air freight markets contracted by 3.2 percent in July compared to the same period in 2019.

The Asia-Pacific, which accounts for more than third of air cargo, was particularly hard hit with volumes down 4.9 percent.

IATA attributed the fall to weak global trade — volumes are down 1.4 percent compared to a year ago —  and the intensifying dispute between the US and China, where year-to-date trade volumes have fallen 14 percent compared to the same period in 2018.

Nor is there any sign the situation will improve: the global Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) pointed to falling manufacturing orders since September 2018 and all major trading nations are reporting falling orders for the first time since February 2009.

“Trade tensions are weighing heavily on the entire air cargo industry,’’ IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said.

“Higher tariffs are disrupting not only transpacific supply chains but also worldwide trade lanes.

“While current tensions might yield short-term political gains, they could lead to long-term negative changes for consumers and the global economy. Trade generates prosperity.

“It is critical that the US and China work quickly to resolve their differences.”

Slowing global airline passenger demand growth in July saw what IATA described as a soft start to the northern summer peak, although all regions still saw traffic increases.

Total global traffic in July rose 3.6 percent compared to the same month in 2018, down from 5.1 percent annual growth in June.

Monthly capacity increased by 3.2 percent and the global load factor rose 0.3 percentage point to a new monthly record of 85.7 percent.

“July’s performance marked a soft start to the peak passenger demand season,’’ de Juniac said.

“Tariffs, trade wars, and uncertainty over Brexit are contributing to a weaker demand environment than we saw in 2018. At the same time, the trend of moderate capacity increases is helping to achieve record load factors.’’

IATA noted that July international passenger demand rose 2.7 percent compared to July 2018, which was a deceleration compared to the 5.3 percent growth recorded in June.

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their weakest monthly international growth since 2013 – 2.7 percent – while North American airlines saw traffic climb 1.5 percent compared to the previous July, down from growth of 3.5 percent in June.

The airline trade association said this reflected the slowdown in US and Canadian economies and the trade dispute.

There was better news for domestic travel demand with global traffic growth in markets tracked by IATA rising 5.2 percent.

This was up from 4.7 percent growth in June and the domestic load factor also inched up to 86.5 percent.

Dramatic MD-80 landing. How low can you go?


This incredibly dramatic MD-80 landing was posted by Airplane Pictures.

The landings at St Maarten Princess Juliana airport are stunning with people flocking to the island paradise to witness the spectacle.

SEE amazing video from inside the eye of Hurricane Dorian.

But sometimes the onlookers get a bit more than they bargained for as you will see in this video.

Delving inside the “A320ski”, Russia’s Irkut MC-21


Delving inside the “A320ski”, Russia’s Irkut MC-21 takes one back to the Tupolev Tu-204 from thirty years ago in the late 1980s. It was nicknamed the 757ski, and you may be getting your Shirley Bassey on with some history repeating with the Irkut MC-21, the Tu-204’s successor aircraft.

The MC-21 in Russian, stands for magistralniy samalyot, or “mainline airliner”, which the linguistically oriented will note means that it is actually the “MS-21” in its Russian equivalent since the S sound in the Latin alphabet is represented by the Cyrillic letter that looks like the Latin C.

WATCH: Incredible night time-lapse video of 737 landing.

In the great history of the 757ski and the Tu-144 “Concordski”, the MC-21 received its own nickname from wags: the A320ski. This small twinjet is aimed at exactly the larger end of the small airliner market that the A320 family and its A320neo successor is targetting, and is indeed offering one of the same engine option in the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan PW1000G family, alongside homegrown Aviadvigatel powerplant options.

Indeed, the MC-21 comes in a bit bigger than the Airbus narrowbody’s fuselage. A cabin width of 3.81m within a fuselage of 4.06m compares with the A320 family’s 3.70m cabin width and 3.95m fuselage width. It’s interesting to note that both airframers therefore specify 25cm of sidewall space, or 12.5cm on either side of the cabin.

Inside, Irkut is showing 2-2 business class seats and 3-3 in economy, just like an A320 or indeed a Boeing 737 (or 757, 727 and all the way back to the 707).

What that means for the passenger experience is an opportunity for pleasantly wide seats: that 11cm difference means almost two centimetres per person additional room compared with an Airbus A320.

Translating into the imperial measurements that are frustratingly still standard within the industry, across the six economy seats that means the MC-21’s seats could be approaching 19” wide, which is almost an inch wider than the A320 and almost two more than a 737.

In business, that means the two seats on either side of the aisle each get a couple of inches more width.

That’s comfort you can take to the proverbial bank — but only if you have a supply chain willing to create a new wider generation of seats for these aircraft. Seats, too, are a very complex enterprise, as all the many delays to new aircraft and production of existing aircraft with new seats have shown. Without that, all you have is a really wide aisle and possibly some extra space on the window side of the seat rows, depending on how the MC-21’s seat track supports are located.

All in all, though, finding a seat maker to add width to a product that’s already certified shouldn’t be too hard given the number of smaller seat makers out there. It may not be the most elegant or most space-efficient in terms of pitch, but it should do the job.

But what’s on the outside matters too. Remember what Virgin Blue’s CEO Brett Godfrey said back in 2003 about the 737-800 vs the A320, one of which had sweeping, modern-looking winglets versus the less elegant wingtip fences? And don’t forget rule 17 from Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works: “If it looks ugly, it will fly the same”.

Beauty is all subjective, but the MC-21 is no Il-62, nor a Tu-154.

The front end feels a little snubby, and not in the way that the A320’s nose is cute-snubby. Part of that may be from the flight deck windows, which give it the look of someone peering through ill-fitting glasses perched on the end of a nose too small for the frame design.

The tail looks too big for the airframe like an A330 vertical stabiliser was put through the washing machine on too high a heat. The wing is skimpy, feels a little too far forward, and is reminiscent of an A310 — but, crucially, without any kind of modern aerodynamic device on the end of it, whether winglet or raked wingtip.

It all just looks and feels a bit 1980s, and this stuff matters.

As is often true in aviation — and equally important in Russia — the context is important to understand. The MC-21 is manufactured by Irkut and was designed by Irkut subsidiary Yakovlev. All are part of the overarching Russian public-private airframer United Aircraft Corporation, and UAC has not been shy about reorganising its various component parts.

Designing, building, manufacturing and industrialising a modern airliner is one of the most complex and difficult enterprises humanity has yet achieved. In the same way that a substantial aim of the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, né Regional Jet, is to develop homegrown modern jet airliner production in Japan, and the Comac C919 and ARJ21 in China, the MC-21 is intended to do the same in Russia.

Indeed, it also aims stubbily towards the future of the Sino-Russian CRAIC consortium to create the C919 widebody — the A350ski, anyone?

Air Canada’s A220: Great, but waiting for cabin innovation

Air Canada
Business Class on the A220

When Air Canada starts operating its Airbus A220 aircraft (né Bombardier C Series), it’s aiming long and thin within North America. Air Canada seems to be using the A220 as something of a “tech shuttle”: routes announced are from Montréal to Seattle and from Toronto to San José, the smaller airport to the south and east of Silicon Valley.

Both routes are likely to end up somewhere between five and a half and six hours long, and there’s a lot to be said for showcasing the passenger-pleasing attributes of the A220 on routes that are high value yet have relatively low demand.

These “long and thin” routes are one of the sweet spots Airbus has been banging on about for the A220, as indeed Bombardier was when the aircraft was previously called the C Series.

WATCH: Incredible night time-lapse of the 737 landing 

Mark Galardo, Vice President of Network Planning at Air Canada, explains that “the two routes announced today are the first of many future possibilities as the A220 will allow us to further develop our North American network, offering customers new routes and more robust year-round schedules.”

“Flights are timed to provide connectivity in Montreal to and from Europe and North Africa including Casablanca, Paris, Nice, Lyon, Algiers, London, Frankfurt, Geneva, Rome, Dublin and more,” the airline says, which rather usefully allows passengers the option of connecting at YUL to Europe and Africa rather than other airports. On the return, Canadian pre-clearance at Montréal is significantly more pleasant than waiting on arrival in the United States, where the flight will arrive as if it were a domestic service.

Inside the plane, the interiors are remarkably good. The 12 business class seats are Collins Aerospace MiQ, a hugely popular product in this sort of recliner segment (or if they’re not, they’re so close that someone’s going to be getting a call from some very unhappy lawyers). That’s the same seat that Delta Air Lines already operates on its A220s, although Air Canada’s appears to be in a fabric cover, which is substantially less sticky and thus more pleasant in warmer weather.

READ: Qantas 787 – the fastest 17 hours in the air

MiQ’s primary benefit, to my mind, is the retracting outside armrests, which are certainly there on the aisle side but which may not be there on the window side — it’s unclear at this point from the rendering image.

Still, apart from the important benefits of allowing wheelchair-using passengers to transfer easily across, the retracting armrests allow a wider range of seating positions and, helpfully, let the aisle side passenger swivel their knees around to let the window passenger out.

Back in economy, the wider seats of the A220 will make this an Air Canada aircraft of choice, and indeed will provide a more pleasant passenger experience than any Air Canada widebody, particularly its narrow 787 nine-abreast seating.

Full seatback inflight entertainment, as well as wifi and power are on board, with the juice supplied by AC sockets and both the larger USB-A and new smaller USB-C sockets. This is very smart on Air Canada’s part, and will be especially useful for these tech shuttles.

Air Canada’s A220 looks great and will undoubtedly be as popular as the others in service, if not more so thanks to all the bells and whistles. The wider implications for the A220, though, are certainly thought-provoking, especially in the pointy end.

This is only the second A220 with an actual premium cabin, with the aircraft at Swiss, airBaltic and Korean Air all-economy-seat variants with a bit of Eurobusiness middle-seat-free nonsense on the two European airlines. That Air Canada chose the same business seat as Delta would be more notable if it weren’t the popular MiQ, but even so it’s interesting to observe.

The A220 has a lot of potential, especially for long and thin routes like this. A big question remains whether any airline will add business class seating with more than a recliner on what is, in any case, the most comfortable narrowbody on the market.

Amazing rainbow off a Qatar Airways 777-200LR


This amazing photo of a rainbow in the condensation a vapor trail from a Qatar Airways 777-200LR was captured by ePixel Aerospace.

The aircraft was operating QR921 from Auckland to Doha and was overhead Brisbane at 30,000ft at 805km/hr.

WATCH: Spectacular go around at Saint Maarten Airport.



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