Deep in the heart of Europe, lays the historical region of Moravia, together with Bohemia one of the constituent parts of the Czech Republic. Moravia may not come up to your mind first when you think about the European aerospace industry, yet, this is a region has a long industrial tradition that has found in aviation one of its most promising areas of specialization.
While Moravia is nowhere near rivaling Toulouse or Hamburg, the nearly thirty aerospace companies that form its local aero cluster, the Moravian Aerospace Cluster, have quite a few things going for it.
“Our biggest advantage is complexity and flexibility. All our skills are concentrated in a relatively small area. That means we are able to react really quickly and effectively to solving complex requirements and supplying complex components. Also we are able to provide special processes and technologies (like heat treatment, surface treatment, composites, etc) and testing capabilities, without need to send the part across the Europe” explains Petr Tomášek, the executive manager of the Moravian Aero Cluster ”our cluster is, therefore, a great one-stop-shop and middleman for OEMs and Tier 1 companies. We can provide them with initial screening for potential suppliers and also establish for them consortia for complex assemblies”.
For example, the Moravian Aerospace Cluster boasts about the fact that it is one of few aircraft producing regions in the World able to develop, manufacture, test and certify aircraft completely in its territory.
Did I say manufacture aircraft? Yes. There are two segments of the aircraft manufacturing industry where Moravia shines with its own light. One of them is ultralight aircraft. One in every four aircraft in the ULL category in the World is manufactured locally.
And another major area of specialization, that gets the Moravian cluster a foot in the larger commercial aircraft market, is the commuter aircraft category, for up to 20 passengers.
Here the star is, undoubtedly, the Let L-410 aircraft, an admittedly old design that traces its roots back to the 1960s, but one that is still popular in its category, particularly after successive modernizations. LET Aircraft industries currently markets and services two versions of the type, the L-410 UVP-E20, and the L-410NG, that is also manufactured under license in Russia. It is in Russia where the L-410 has found its largest markets, with the model being popular among regional operators that connect isolated and remote communities throughout the expanses of this vast country.
The development of a modernized, larger version of the L-410, a project that was already considered years ago under the designation L-610, is not off the table. This new aircraft would move LET into a bigger league, that of aircraft for up to 90 passengers, but it is no more than an idea at this stage.
In fact, the Czech aerospace industry traditional links with the East, partly a legacy of the communist era but also facilitated by a common Slavic cultural and language heritage, are now being leveraged by the local cluster in its aim to position itself as a sort of industrial nexus between Western and Russian aerospace industries.
The current geopolitical tensions do not help in this enterprise, but Mr.Tomášek remains optimistic “We exhibited at MAKS 2017 and we are collaborating with GE aviation Czech in the organization of the Czech aerospace conference in April in Moscow and we are also preparing the Czech-Russian aerospace forum in May in Kunovice, Moravia. The aim is to showcase the capabilities of the Czech aviation industry and eventually sign up cooperation agreements with Russian companies, such as, for example, the United Engine Corporation”.
But Moravian aerospace companies are not only looking east. This year the Moravian Aero Cluster has been involved in trade missions and in the signing of cooperative agreements with the likes of Airbus, Leonardo, Rolls Royce and Embraer, that have found in Moravia opportunities for strategic procurement.
A small aero cluster with the ambition to fly high.
We had the chance to meet recently with the team in charge of the Frigate Ecojet project, the private Russian initiative to develop a middle of the market commercial aircraft concept.
This is not the first time we covered this interesting aircraft, whose most characteristic feature is its elliptic fuselage, so this was an opportunity to learn about the course of this programme.
The most eye-catching, if superficial, novelty is, perhaps, the name change, from “Ecojet” to “Freejet”. However, some more structural changes have also been added to the project during the last year.
The number of engines has been increased from two to four, a rather surprising change at a time when twin-engines seem to be pushing four-engined jets out of business in all categories where they are in direct competition.
Maximum take-off weight has also increased from 129.9t to 140.4t. and Operating Empty Weight (OEW) from 77.57t to 84.86t.
The design team expects to compensate some of the perceived disadvantages with some added positives, such as more thrust and lower noise thanks to a change in the shape and position of flaps. It also expects more internal functions to be driven by electricity.
When it comes to engines it is moving from the Russian-made PD-18R, PS-90A20, advanced turbofan engines to a choice of Russian and Western models: PD-14, PW1000G, and CFM LEAP, which would lead to commonality with other narrow body aircraft.
The Freejet programme managers are looking to build a network of industrial partners to move forward with the next stages of, admittedly challenging, project. So far they have partnered with three technology companies under the umbrella of the large Russian Rostec group as well as with Thyssen Krupp of Germany.
A few weeks ago, just ahead of the annual EBACE executive aviation show in Geneva, we had the chance to share some time on board a Lineage 1000E with Embraer’s chief cabin designer, Jay Beever.
The ferry flight that took us from Le Bourget to Geneva provided an ideal setting to explore the amazingly creative cabin concepts that Embraer has devised for its top of the range executive jet.
Because, were you in a position to splash over $50M in your own private jet…wouldn’t you like to get something truly unique? Something that you can impress your ultra-high-net-worth buddies with?
This is pretty much what Embraer proposes. Although the most outlandish designs have yet to materialize, the Brazilian manufacturer has figured out how to make them a reality the moment the first order comes knocking the door.
Take for example, the “Kyoto” cabin interior, a Japan-themed cabin concept complete with tatamis, a sushi table and a decor that evokes Japanese cultural traditions. This concept has also what is, perhaps, the most eye-catching feature of the Lineage cabin concept series: a large over-sized window that runs along the length of the side of the aircraft providing unique panoramic views as well as a source of natural light.
Mr.Beever explained (see the video below) how they had this idea at first, but needed to verify it was technically possible. The eureka moment was when they found out that Embraer had actually worked on a similar technical solution for Coast Guard ERJ145s, where the oversized side windows are used for search and rescue operations at sea.
The idea of “opening up” the cabin towards the outside aligns also with Beever’s vision of a more “natural” design that merges somehow with the environment outside.
And while the Kyoto cabin was clearly designed with Japanese customers in mind, Mr.Beever has also thought about other constituencies.
For oil tycoons from Texas, Oklahoma and the American West, the “Western” cabin concept looks like coming out of a good old Western movie, it comes with plenty of leather, cow hides and decor elements that evoke the American West, horse saddles, spurs and the like.
Celebrities and the show business crowd may feel more at ease with artsy concepts such as the “Manhattan”, “Skyatch” and “Hollywood”, all of them inspired in the belle-epoque of 1920s America and the Art Déco triangle of New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
This executive jet cabin concept series are in a category of its their own, just judge by yourselves.
Regardless of how many of these original designs are ultimately sold – some may say their value lies precisely in their uniqueness – it is exciting to see aircraft manufacturers going the extra mile to bring such degree of originality to aircraft cabin design.
While Fokker 100 and Fokker 70 fleets have been dwindling all over the World (see our report on TAP’s last Fokker 100 flight), a small Australian airline can’t get enough of them. Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines is already the World’s largest Fokker 70/100-family operator and it is in the process of expanding the fleet with the addition of second-hand Fokkers from Austrian Airlines. (more…)
Impressions of Finnair’s A350 Business Class
The A350 XWB has been touted by Airbus and its operating airlines as representing a significant step forward when it comes to the passenger experience.
So when Finnair offered us to test theirs, we did not need to think it twice. We hopped on a flight between Helsinki and Hong Kong to see for ourselves what the hype is all about.
But first of all, and before we get on-board of the A350 itself, a few words about Helsinki airport. As Finnair’s transit hub between Europe and Asia, and, as of the time of writing this article, a major A350 base, it plays a major role in the overall passenger experience.
And, in fact, it did not disappoint, Helsinki airport is at that sweet spot, where, without being gigantic (with the implications for walking and waiting times at choke points), it is large enough to have plenty to keep you going in terms of shops, lounges and other facilities.
The Helsinki airport experience is, of course, significantly enhanced if you happen to travel business class on Finnair.
The lounge at the non-Schengen section of the airport has quite a few interesting details.
Besides the sleeping pods and ergonomic armchairs with runway views, the highlight is the wellness area that includes…well, you guess…a proper Finnish sauna.
It helps you get to the plane relaxed and ready for some in-flight sleep during the long night flight to East Asia.
And, shortly before midnight, the time arrived to board the object of our trip: Finnair’s A350-900.
Here are some pictures of the business class cabin:
As you can see, a 1-2-1 configuration with pod-like seats that can be made into flat beds.
It is a pity that the images can not transmit the smell of new that pervaded the cabin!
A large foldable screen, sockets to recharge your phone and on-board broadband (it work fine during the whole trip, although I did not attempt to use any of the most data-heavy applications such as streaming, I had no issues uploading some pictures, browsing a number of websites and going about my usual internet activities).
It was a nice surprise to find out that flight tracking is provided by FlightPath3D.
The Bose headphones were also pretty solid – providing excellent isolation from cabin noise and good sound quality.
To be honest, the movie selection was not exactly huge, neither did it feature top blockbusters. But, with excellent internet connectivity available throughout the flight, I guess this becomes less of an issue, since, just like me, many people devote quite a big share of their awake time using their own electronic gadgets.
When it comes to the food, Finnair really nailed it. Both my A350 flights were during the night, so, on both we got dinner and breakfast. What can I say? I am not a culinary critic, but food was, frankly, excellent.
Oh, and Finnair even came up with a special drink for the A350!
Another thing worth noting is how seriously Finnair takes its focus on Asian markets. For example, pretty much all crew on board our flight were bilingual English-Chinese (plus most of them speak Finnish I guess, I did not test that), as were all the announcements and in-flight communications. This is a strategy that has also its equivalent on the ground with similar efforts on the side of Finavia, the Finnish airport operator.
I am not sure whether it was the sauna I had just before my flight, the great food or the quietness of the A350-900, but it might have been the time I managed to sleep for longer than in any business class I have experienced before.
On November 29th Portuguese flag carrier TAP retired its last Fokker 100.
When flight TP1937 from Porto, operated by “Albatroz” (CS-TPA), touched down at Lisbon Portela airport, it brought a quarter of a century of Fokker 100 service in Portugal to an end.
Two decades after the historical Dutch aircraft maker Fokker closed its doors (its MRO operation lives on as Fokker Aviation, though, after it was acquired by Stork BV), it is getting increasingly difficult to spot Fokker 100s anywhere in Europe. Austrian Airlines remains pretty much the only major airline still flying the type in the continent (and not for much longer!).
This was, thus, a hard to miss opportunity. It may well be the last chance to fly on an aircraft that, although belonging to an ageing generation, has proved itself to be a reliable workhorse for many airlines. Before the arrival of more modern models from Bombardier and Embraer, the Fokker 100 provided a very valid alternative in the 100-seat segment.
TAP’s Fokker 100 were operated by Portugalia, now in the process of being rebranded as “TAP Express”. Portugalia started as a private airline during the air market liberalization of the early 90s.
The Fokker 100 was actually the first aircraft in its fleet and, although later new aircraft types were brought into service (namely Embraers, like the E-190 that flew me to Lisbon), the Fokker 100 remained in service throughout the airline’s existence, covering some of its top routes, such as the “Ponte Aerea”, the shuttle between Lisbon and Porto, Portugal’s two main cities.
This last Fokker 100 flight generated quite a lot of media attention and it happened to be also quite an emotional trip for the crew.
The captain, Mario Quintanilla, and most of the crew had been on Portugalia’s first Fokker 100 flight back in 1990, on exactly the same route.
A copy of the 1990 newspaper page announcing the entry into service of that same aircraft we were in was handed to every passenger of the flight
Upon arrival to Lisbon, the Fokker 100 was welcomed by the traditional water salute, while TAP staff congregated to greet the crew.
New era for TAP
Perhaps more remarkable than the Fokker 100 going out of service, though, is the background upon which this happened: the major shake-up of TAP to make it a major player in the transatlantic market.
The visit to Lisbon was, in fact, an excellent opportunity to learn about the exciting transformation that the Portuguese flag carrier is going through after David Neeleman (of JetBlue and Azul fame) invested in the company to turn it around completely.
TAP had traditionally been focused on Brazil and Portuguese-speaking Africa, yet, the new management team has identified North American as the future area of growth.
With flying times between Lisbon and the US among the shortest from any European capital (it is about six hours from Boston to Lisbon) as well as no backtracking between city pairs, TAP aims to take advantage of geography to become a major transatlantic hub. Its a strategy mimicking what Finnair does at the other extreme of Europe with its Asia-oriented strategy.
The Portuguese airline has opened new routes to Boston, New York JFK and Toronto. These add to the already existing routes to Newark (its traditional US gateway) and Miami.
The fact that David Neeleman and his team are keeping close personal links with JetBlue, made it possible for TAP to become partners with the American carrier. By starting flights to JetBlue’s hub at JFK airport T5, TAP is able to tap JetBlue’s domestic network in the US, while the American carrier can offer its customer onward connections to many points in Europe and Africa.
A similar arrangement is also in place in Brazil with Azul (the Brazilian airline being another of David Neeleman’s creations).
The Portuguese flag carrier is also investing in fleet renewal. TAP is going to be the launch operator for the Airbus A330neo (it has 14 of the type on order), although its delivery, after being pushed back by Airbus, is not expected until at least March 2018.
Here is TAP’s A330 current cabin interior – the A330neos will be equipped with the new Airspace by Airbus cabin interior. TAP has also 24 A321neo and 15 A320neo on order.
Following the Fokker 100 retirement, TAP Express (the new regional brand based on the Portugalia operation) will be flying Embraer E190s and ATRs (the latter wet-leased from Portuguese carrier White)
But it is not only the hardware, new services are also being devised to support TAP’s transatlantic strategy that go hand-in-hand with Portugal becoming one of Europe’s up and coming tourist destinations.
A case in point is the Portugal Stopover program, that makes it possible for passengers transiting between North America and European destinations via Lisbon to take advantage of a number of special offers to stay over in Portugal for 2 or 3 days (or even longer) rather than just transit through the airport.
The country’s peripheral location, becomes an asset as soon as you have a home-base carrier with the capability and the vision to build it into a continental gateway.