The unveiling of a new livery on Thursday of Etihad Airways’ first A380 at Airbus’s Hamburg factory signaled the start of a new era for the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, as it prepares to launch its first services with the superjumbo in December.
AIN Air Transport Perspective » September 29, 2014
Airbus began immediate processing of flight-test data from the A320neo’s September 25 first flight, which Single Aisle program experimental test pilot Philippe Pellerin described as “a lot of fun” as he emerged from the aircraft at the Toulouse-Blagnac factory in southwest France. The first A320neo, powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM geared turbofan (GTF) engines in the 33,000-pounds thrust class, “really feels like an A320–which is good news,” remarked fellow experimental test pilot Etienne Miche de Malleray, who occupied the right-hand seat.
Controversy continues to swirl in India over whether excessive spending by Air India on a fleet acquisition order in 2006 has led to its present financial difficulties. The clamor follows a book by former Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai titled The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper-Not Just an Accountant. The CAG acts as an independent authority established by the constitution of India to audit the expenditures of the government of India and its corporations.
“An airline with revenues of $1.2 billion was asked to take on a debt of $8.2 billion [including pre-existing debt],” said Rai during a recent television interview. He credited former aviation minister Praful Patel for having ‘nudged’ Air India to increase the Boeing order from the original 28 to 68 denied the allegation. The government has given the airline a $5 billion equity infusion until 2021.
Air India’s order consisted of 111 aircraft—43 Airbus A320- seriesfamily jets and 68 Boeings, including eight 777-200LRs, fifteen 777-300ERs, eighteen 737-800s and twenty-seven27 787-8s.
“Air India has been sliding—there is no doubt about it—probably [because of] certain decisions thatwhich were forced [upon it]…it has been pushed [into]…buying and selling of aircraft,” Indian aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pasupati said at a recently held press conference. “This does not appear to have been done with a commercial plan in mind.”
Air India has also drawn criticism for selling five newly bought 777-200LRs. “When any purchase has a debt portion of 97 percent, there’s no way it can be commercially viable,” said Rai. “Within five years of the 777s being bought, they had to be sold to Etihad for the price of one…at one-fifth of the price.”
Still, according to former Air India senior official Shakti Lumba, unforeseen market forces contributed to the 777s’ withdrawal.
“In all fairness, Air India was never able to use these aircraft to full capacity as the market went down,” he told AIN. “However, the carrier got value for its money as the remaining loan is now being paid by Etihad.” Besides, he explained, the order got placed before the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India, and both airlines listed individual requirements. “The main culprits of Air India’s poor dispatch reliability were the 777s and 787s, with their constant breakdowns,” Lumba added.
Air India has already taken delivery of 17 of 27 Dreamliners. It expects the final delivery by 2016. On whether Air India appears headed toward divestment, Pasupati said no decision hasd been taken. “I do not want to stir a hornet’s nest,” he added.
South Africa’s Denel has unveiled plans to design and build a new 15- to 24-seat commercial turboprop aircraft called the Sara.
Satellite-based surveillance developer Aireon will provide a free emergency tracking system for aircraft when the satellite constellation it will use is launched and operating, as expected, in 2017. Aireon announced the service on September 22, saying the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 earlier this year makes global emergency tracking “essential.”
Aireon’s surveillance system will use automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers contained as hosted payloads on new Iridium Next satellites to send position reports to subscribing air navigation service providers over oceanic and remote regions of the Earth beyond radar coverage. Iridium plans to launch the second-generation constellation of 66 low-Earth-orbit satellites between 2015 and 2017.
The Aireon Aircraft Locating and Emergency Response Tracking service, branded as “Aireon Alert,” will be provided “as a public service to the aviation community, free of charge,” the company said. Operating from a 24-hour emergency call center, it will provide authorized search-and-rescue organizations with the location and last flight track of any 1090-MHz ADS-B transponder-equipped aircraft flying in airspace without other surveillance. Airlines will not have to equip with new avionics.
“The existing gaps in surveillance, particularly in cases of lost aircraft, became abundantly clear this past year,” said John Crichton, president and CEO of Nav Canada, an Aireon joint-venture partner. “The tragic disappearance of Flight MH370 prompted worldwide urgency to look for solutions. Aireon’s response amounts to a global public service, offering Aireon Alert universally with no fee.”
Aireon is a joint venture of Iridium Communications and ANSPs Nav Canada, Italy’s ENAV, the Irish Aviation Authority and Denmark’s Naviair. Nav Canada will acquire a 51-percent interest in the venture by late 2017.
A competing ADS-B-based surveillance system is also progressing. Earlier this month, ADS-B Technologies and satellite communications provider Globalstar announced the completion of the latest flight demonstration of its space-based ADS-B Link Augmentation System (ALAS), tracking a round-trip flight between Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. The test “marked the first time that a flight demonstration tested a dual-link (1090 MHz and Universal Access Transceiver) space-based ADS-B system in all environments and for extended periods of time,” the companies said. “The flight proved that the 1090ES and UAT versions of the ALAS technology work continuously, reporting the aircraft’s position every second during a flight of nearly 7,000 miles.”
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