Author Archive

Ben Sandilands – an appreciation

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Last Friday the aviation journalism fraternity lost a special member, Ben Sandilands.

Here is a link to background on this remarkable character.   Ben followed and reported on aviation for 60 years.  There was very little about the industry he did not know or have an educated opinion on.   You will read that Ben was a legend – he really was.  He was a walking aviation encyclopedia; having covered the industry for so long he knew everyone and also knew when the truth was scarce.  He had a warm giggle and smile, but a sharp word for those who skirted the truth.  Commercial aviation has a few of those.  You just have to read his work on MH370 to get a glimpse.

Ben was most frequently the first place to go when there was an “incident”.  He had that crucial item in the midst of news frenzy – context and experience.  Here is talking about the Germanwings crash.  You will note his calm voice and reasoned thinking.

Here is a list of Ben’s recent work.  We will miss him very much.

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C919 first flight coming

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China has scheduled this week to conduct the first C919 flight test. The C919 was built to meet world travel demand and challenge the dominance of Boeing and Airbus. China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) has been set to take wing to Shanghai on Friday, the company said on Wednesday, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

“If climate conditions are unsuitable, the initial flight will be reprogrammed,” COMAC said, adding that “engineers had completed about 118 tests.”

The C919 represents nearly a decade of efforts to reduce dependence on Airbus and Boeing. The C919 is China’s first big passenger plane and the latest sign of China’s growing ambition and technical ability, arriving a week after China launched its first national aircraft carrier and signaled a Spacecraft with an orbiting space laboratory.

The C919 can accommodate 168 passengers and has a range up to 5,555km. According to IATA, the Chinese travel market should surpass the United States by 2024. China is a huge battlefield for Boeing and Airbus, with its ever-expanding travel market. Airbus estimates that Chinese airlines need nearly 6,000 new aircraft in the next two decades, while Boeing estimates 6,800 aircraft. Both put combined price tags for those planes to about $ 1 trillion.

Shanghai’s COMAC has a long way to go before it can challenge Boeing and Airbus. COMAC could be able to rely on purchases by rapidly expanding Chinese airlines. COMAC has already received 570 orders by the end of last year, almost all from China’s national airlines. It is possible that in the next century China will become a player in the world aviation game.

China has dreamed of building its own civil aircraft since the 1970s when it began working on the narrowbody Y-10, which in the end was thought to be invaluable and yet it never entered into service. The first regional COMAC jet, the ARJ21 with 90 seats, came into service in 2016, many years late. The ARJ21 is currently reserved for Chinese domestic routes, and an FAA certification is still missing, which will allow it to fly in the United States.

The first C919 flight test was due in 2016 but was delayed. In addition to the C919, China is also working with Russia to develop a long-haul jet C929. Although the C919 is made in China, foreign companies are playing an important role by providing systems as well as engines, made by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric (GE) and Safran of France.

During a visit to COMAC in 2014, President Xi Jinping said he did not have a domestic airplane in China and this left the country at the mercy of foreign industrial groups, the state media said then. China last August launched a new multi-billion dollar jet-engine conglomerate with nearly 100,000 employees, hoping to fuel their own aircraft with self-produced engines.

After this first flight of the C919, it will still have to pass a series of tests to obtain the Chinese airworthiness certification before COMAC can sell the plane. The first prototype of the C919 is currently engaged in ground tests, which are taking place at Shanghai Pudong. In March last year, the CAAC completed the review of the entire project, technically approving the first flight.

The C919 “air baptism” was actually expected in 2014 but it progressively slid due to development issues. In particular, COMAC has been hit by a number of technological disadvantages and a long list of supplier-related problems. In the end, the C919 roll-out arrived in November 2015, following a strong pressure from the Beijing authorities. The first delivery, for this reason, has been postponed from 2018 to 2020.

The launch customer will be China Eastern Airlines, which acquired 20 of the aircraft. COMAC received the special flight permit from China’s Civil Aviation Administration on April 22, as well as a temporary registration of civil aircraft and an aeronautic aviation license. The flight permit and the station license expire on May 31st. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also started working on the certification of the C919. This confirms COMAC’s departure from the FAA for the Western certification of its aircraft but highlights its intention to market the C919 internationally.

Fabio Gigante

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Vietjet announces Five-year Plan

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Vietjet announced it is embarking on a Five-year Plan to enable sustainable growth beginning 2017. The ambitious plan was announced at the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting of the Vietjet Aviation Joint Stock Company in Ho Chi Minh City.

The program, focusing on sustainable development, involves investments in enhancing internal human resources; protecting the environment; carrying out corporate social responsibilities; complementing national tourism development strategy; promoting local economic development; popularizing cultural practices and aviation civilization among passengers and in the community.
In 2017, Vietjet is committed to operating the airline with top priorities on safety and reliability, continuing to innovate and improve service quality and operation efficiency and managing the recently listed company in accordance with international standards and the Vietnamese Accounting Standards (VAS) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

“Vietjet is ready to conquer new heights. I am confident that there is a bright future in the air and Vietjet is making every effort to bring it closer,” said Vietjet Chairwoman Nguyen Thanh Ha.
The meeting also reviewed the operation of the fast growing new-age carrier in 2016, approved the business plan for 2017 as well as the contents related to management and administration.  The company had an excellent year.

In 2016, Vietjet received 12 new aircraft, increasing its fleet to 41 aircraft consisting of 30 A320 and 11 A321 aircraft, transporting 14 million passengers, an increase of 50.9% compared to 2015, leading the Vietnam domestic market.

Meanwhile, the airline’s shareholders approved a move to raise foreign ownership levels. Foreign shareholders are now able to hold up to 49% of the company.  It might not be the kind of news item reported much in the west, but Vietjet ranks second in the list of five airlines having the most attractive flight attendants.  The company is, apparently, attractive on several levels.  (How will Tony Fernandes compete with that?)

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Premium – A Fleet Review of Air France/KLM

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Air France and KLM merged in 2004.  The joint company has hubs in Amsterdam and Paris.  Because of their long histories in aviation, these two airlines have a reach to every corner of the globe.  Both companies have numerous subsidiaries that cover regional and cargo services.  In this analysis, we only looked at the mainline passenger fleets.

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ATR denies signing the contract with Iran Air: We are “still working”

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ATR denies signing the contract with Iran Air to provide twenty aircraft. The news was reported yesterday by the Iranian news agency and later reported by Reuters. The Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer, a joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo, has now explained they are “still working” to finalize the contract and there are “no updates” on the agreement previously signed between the two parties.

In February of 2016 ATR and IranAir signed a first Memorandum of Understanding for the firm order of twenty ATR 72-600s and options for another 20.  At list prices, the value of the deal is about one billion Euros. After the pre-agreement, however, as in the case of contracts already signed between IranAir and Boeing and Airbus, the parties define issues related to finance and procedural matters. In particular, one of the areas which is under discussion between IranAir and ATR is the maintenance of PW100 turboprop engines, built by the Canadian division of Pratt & Whitney, a division of the American conglomerate United Technologies Corporation. Although the contract at least four ATR 72-600 has not been signed yet, in any case, they have already been painted in the livery of Iran Air and are supposed to be delivered within fifteen days of signing.

Although the contract has not been signed yet, at least four ATR 72-600s, have already been painted in the livery of IranAir and are supposed to be delivered within fifteen days of signing.

Fabio Gigante

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Russia’s aviation industry gets a haircut

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One of the primary reasons the Russia state decided to merge its various aerospace companies was to ensure they did not spread national resources too thin.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, money became real and budgets became serious.  UAC became a joint stock company in 2006 with the state owning just over 80%.  UAC is now the owner of legendary names like Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev. In fact, UAC now also owns Voronezh Aircraft Production Association, Beriev, Irkut, Mikoyan, Aviastar-SP, KNAAPO and TAPO.  This combine effectively covers the entire range of aerospace.

A report from Russia explains what has happened with the UAC budget.  The budget cut is only part of the problem – The state expects that the industry (essentially UAC) will produce 457 fixed-wing aircraft including 296 commercial airliners plus 154 military, cargo, and specialized aircraft, and seven GA aircraft.  Under the old budget, UAC was expected to deliver 298 civilian and military airframes through 2025.  This will be very difficult to achieve.  But, of course, there’s more. The share of Russian-made aircraft in the country’s major airlines is also targeted –  the state wants this figure to reach 27.2% by 2025.  But as the following chart shows, that will be tough.

The smaller satellite countries of the CIS are more dependent on Russia and their airline fleets reflect this.  So the big nut to crack will be Russia itself, where 32% of the fleet is from Western OEMs.  As the next table illustrates, Russia has some very old aircraft.  The aircraft listed account for 83% of the listed active fleet. The only Russian aircraft under 20 years old are the SSJs and IL-96s.

If we look at the Russian fleet of Russian-made active airline passenger aircraft,  we can see why the Russian state feels they can set the higher target for Russian-made aircraft.  We can also see why the Russian and Chinese are interested in developing the C929 for the larger seat capacity segment.

If we consider the active Russian airline passenger fleet of Western aircraft we see the following.  At the top end, Russia does not have an option to replace Western aircraft.  There is another gap between what the SSJ and MC-21 offer.  Does the SSJ get a stretch to close the gap? We would expect so. Then in the turboprop arena, there is also a gap.  Formerly this could have been handily done by deploying Antonov aircraft, but those days are gone.  UAC contacted us to point out that they have a turboprop solution with the IL-114-300, which seats up to 60 passengers.

If Russia can use the SSJ, MC-21, and C929 as shown, they would be able to reduce the Western sourced aircraft in the Russian fleet to 23%.  This fits comfortably inside the goal set by the latest state plan.  However to meet this plan UAC will probably need more, not less capital.  A stretched SSJ will require R&D funding.  The MC-21 becomes a crucial part of the replacement of Western aircraft but it also means the full MC-21 family needs to be deployed.  This will require funding for development.  Then there is the C929 where R&D is shared with China.  Even with a partner, Russia will need to provide UAC with its share of this cost.

Can the Russian state do anything else to support UAC’s ability to reach its targets? Yes – Russian needs to set about replacing very old Russian-made aircraft with products from UAC immediately.   What else could support this effort?  The state can lean on its banking and finance sectors to provide UAC with competitive leasing options for export customers.   These financial sources could own the aircraft and lease them to customers outside Russia.  With UAC’s ruble costs covered in local currency, UAC does not have to bear the financial risk.  The finance sector can manage this risk and effectively profit from financing the exports.

But to get all these parts of the aerospace sector functioning in concert requires the state make the first step.  And step #1 is not to cut the financing without offering a quid pro quo.  After all, few sectors of the Russian economy are better placed to reach the manufacturing export goal of 40%.  Supporting UAC helps it to achieve the goals set.

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