Airline Dispatch

Aviation and airline industry news for the week Monday 5 July 2021.

Bumps in the road to recovery

Southwest Airlines flights at McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada. Image: Ken Lund/CC2

The week opened here with the start of the Independence day weekend in the United States and was a test of airline companies plans to scale up travel following the slow-downs with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Air travel has been on the rise over the past month, with airline trade association International Air Transport Association (IATA) claiming domestic air travel worldwide has recovered to 76 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 level. The industry has been on reduced activity for most of the past 15 months so opening up quickly caused some problems, not least of which were weather related.

According to Flightaware.com, low-cost carrier Southwest cancelled 2,687 flights during June, while American Airlines cancelled 2,423.

Southwest have blamed the weather and an IT outage, but the Southwest pilot’s association are also blaming a lack of personnel – ramp staff, customer service agents, flight attendants, and pilots. The association says, as more people come out of training, the cancellations and delays should ease.

Vox is also attributing the problem to labour shortages.

American Airlines is having to scale back it’s planned expansion due to labour shortages. The airline said staff shortages meant is could not quickly recover from weather disruptions as they occurred and have cut 1 per cent of their scheduled flights through July to build additional resilience.

 

Europe reopens in fits and starts

Europe is opening in fits and starts with the European Union lifting restrictions on member states inviting tourists from ‘green’ category countries (including New Zealand). Countries that have already begun welcoming back tourists include Denmark, Spain, France Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Ireland is planning for a 19 July return. Greece, Croatia and Cyprus. Some countries, namely Portugal and Britain have had to pause their re-opening to curb rising case numbers.

A full picture of the state of the EU re-open can be found on the website: https://reopen.europa.eu/en

 

IATA traces the state of the industry

Graph showing international holiday bookings increasing. Click image for more information. Source: IATA.
  • Air cargo has grown and is now 9.4 per cent above pre-crisis levels. A V-shaped economic recovery is reflected in the performance of air cargo.
  • Global passenger air travel is slowly recovering but travel demand is lagging OECD consumer confidence measures due to strict travel restrictions.
  • Big divergence in domestic vs international travel with domestic in the mid-70 per cent with international at less than 20 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
  • Domestic travel recovery rates are dependent on how well the virus is being controlled in that country.
  • Holiday bookings on international services starting to pick up

 

Premium economy’s rebound

Air New Zealand premium economy seats. Image: Kent Wien/CC2.0

Nobody expected the airline system to return looking the same as it had before the pandemic and one interesting difference caught by The Air Current was that returning passengers are migrating towards different levels of service.

The article says one of the trends is that the return of passengers has been in the leisure and family sectors, and the business; and that both segments are gravitating towards premium economy.

 

London Heathrow Terminal 3 reopening

Heathrow Airport Terminal 3. Image: NewbieRunner/CC2.0

London’s Heathrow airport, the worlds second-busiest airport by international passenger traffic, is to re-open on July 15, 2021.

 

Cargo plane night ditch

Transair B737-275C(A) N810TA at Tainan Airport May 2019. Image: li cheng TSAI/CC2.0.

A Transair night cargo flight, RDS810, flown by a Boeing 737-275C(A) was written off in a ditching incident shortly after takeoff from Honolulu. The two pilots survived with serious injuries and were recovered shortly after the wreckage sank. Initial reports indicate that the ditching was caused by the failure of one or both engines and the inability to maintain altitude to return to the airport.

 

American Airlines cancels plans to return to New Zealand

American airlines 787-9 N839AA landing at Sydney airport. Image: Bidgee/CC3.0

More bad news for New Zealand travellers came on Thursday when American Airlines announced it had scrapped plans to fly to New Zealand from the end of the year. The airline had earlier committed to flying between Auckland and Los Angeles and Dallas and between Los Angeles and Christchurch. Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood told RNZ Checkpoint that there was too much uncertainty for American to commit to New Zealand.

Air New Zealand brings back long haul routes it suspended early on in Covid-19 pandemic

Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner ZK-NZI
Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9. Image: Ian Pattison/CC2.0

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Air New Zealand announced it was to return to the long-haul routes it suspended in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be increasing frequencies on those it had been operating.

Network suspensions included flights from Auckland to Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Vancouver, Tokyo, Honolulu, Denpasar and Taipei.

The flights are expected to resume from 31 October and 31 December 2021.

It also axed the London – Los Angeles portion of its Auckland to London route, and closed Auckland to Buenos Aires.

For the first half of this year Air New Zealand’s long-haul services have been limited to Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul, all departing from Auckland.

 

Delta ramps up with used planes

Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-941 at Detroit. Image: Alan Wilson/CC2.0

Following an aggressive aircraft retirement programme in 2020 over COVID-19, Delta airlines has had to accelerate its build-up according to Simple Flying.

The airline retired over 200 aircraft from its fleet during the year, many of which were planned cuts accelerated by the pandemic. In an effort to ramp-up capacity, Delta has turned to the second-hand market to acquire seven Airbus A350-900s from LATAM, and 29 Boeing 737-900ERs from Lion Air.

 

Invercargill airport air traffic control services to remain

Mount Cook Airline ATR 72-500 (72-212A) ZK-MCA at Invercargill Airport in July 2005. Image: Phillip Capper/CC2.0

Following a review of air traffic management services in December 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority has decided to retain air traffic control service for Invercargill’s airport.

Flight Dispatch

Aviation and airline industry news for the week Monday 28 June 2021.

United orders 270 Boeing and Airbus aircraft

United Airlines has ordered 70 Airbus A321neo as part of a US$30 billion order

In a show of optimism at the world airline economy United Airlines has made a staggering 270-aircraft order. At current list prices, it is worth over US$30 billion and is the largest in the airline’s history.

The order was for a balance of Boeing and Airbus single-aisle airliners and included the new ‘United Next’ customer experience on board the airplane, which will be retrofitted to the remainder of the fleet.

The 50  Boeing 737 MAX8s will begin flying this summer while the remaining 150 MAX 10s and 70 Airbus A321neos will enter service in early 2023.

 

Lufthansa’s Airbus A340-600 redux

Lufthansa Airbus A340-624. Photo: Phillip Capper / CC2.0

Higher activity levels have forced Lufthansa to unretire five of its long-range wide-body quad-jet Airbus A340-600s. The aircraft were put into storage in September 2020 during the pandemic but will be brought back into service to allow the airline to, once again, offer First Class travel to destinations in Asia and North America from its hub in Munich.

The A340 flights will begin in summer 2022 and will be joined in summer 2023 by long-range, wide-body twinjet Airbus A350-900 which will also offer First Class.

 

Air New Zealand cancellations due to COVID-19 and the weather

Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Ian Pattison / CC2.0

The week did not start very well for Air New Zealand with the Government announcing that ‘quarantine-free travel’ from Australia would be paused from late Saturday night until midnight Tuesday 29 June. This saw the cancellation of 89 flights from the ‘lucky’ country.

The pause was extended for some locations as it became apparent the outbreaks were not being contained. Full details are available at the Government’s COVID-19 website:

https://covid19.govt.nz/travel/quarantine-free-travel/australia/

The pause was then followed by the air turnback of flight NZ942 from Rarotonga. The diversion was the result of an aborted landing attempt at Rarotonga. The flight took off from Auckland at 11:30pm local time and arrived back 8h 15m later at 7:45am local time.

Things did not improve much for the airline. As the week got underway a low-pressure system started harassing flights around the South Island and lower North Island, eventually causing the cancellation of 12 of them.

 

Boeing 777X programme delayed

Boeing 777X with folding wingtip. Photo: Dan Nevill / CC2.0

More bad news for Boeing from their aviation regulator. Seattle daily newspaper The Seattle Times obtained a copy of a letter sent to Boeing by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) denying the manufacturer permission to advance the testing phase of the certification process for its new Boeing 777X long-range wide-body twinjet.

The letter cites a number of safety problems, including an un-commanded pitch event without input from pilots, which the agency says the manufacturer has not yet fully understood and corrected.

Officials said in the letter that the company may need to increase the number of test flights planned and will push certification out to late 2023, adding a two-year delay to the programme.

An unidentified FAA official says that the agency has become cynical of the manufacturer since the 737 MAX fiasco and the days of Boeing being able to say to the FAA ‘just trust us’ are long gone.

 

New Zealand CAA ‘ungrounds’ 737 MAX

Boeing 737 MAX aircraft grounded at Boeing Field in April 2019. Photo: Sounderbruce / CC2.0

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s aviation regulator Civil Aviation Authority, says it is supportive of allowing the Boeing 737 MAX to return to the skies over New Zealand on a case-by-case basis. The agency says it has been working with counterparts in the United States, Canada and Europe to provide assurance that the aircraft can be operated safely.

The technical changes involved adding a second angle of attack sensor to the system that detects high angle of attack conditions. Other improvements mean that the system will only operate once rather than repeatedly, which is what may have led to the crash of two of the type in 2019. There are also software improvements to the flight computer that will take more information into consideration such as airspeed and altitude before taking evasive action.

 

Air New Zealand numbers improve

Air New Zealand’s latest Airbus A321-200neo. Photo: Ian Pattison / CC2.0

While total passengers are still down on 2020, Air New Zealand says its May numbers are up 1,158 per cent on the same time last year.

With May being the first full month of trans-Tasman bubble travel, it carried 844,000 passengers compared with 67,000 in May last year.

However, the airline was still 41 per cent down on 2020; illustrating how healthy the airline’s business had been in the lead-up to the pandemic-induced slowdown.

 

Rolls-Royce ACCEL all-electric plane testing continues

Rolls-Royce ACCEL electric racing sports plane.

Meanwhile, in sustainability news, aero engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce has pledged an £80m investment into the development of energy storage systems (ESS) for electric aircraft. The ESS products are expected to power electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems in applications including the fixed-wing aircraft in the commuter market.

The company has designed ten different aerospace battery systems, three of which have accumulated more than 250 hours of flight.

One of the latest projects is being developed with Electroflight as part of the Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) programme. This project is aimed at developing the world’s fastest all-electric plane, the Rolls-Royce ACCEL. The aircraft is based on the 260kW Sharp Nemesis NXT kit-built sports plane designed for air racing and is powered by a three high power density electric motors delivering over 750kW at maximum power.

The current speed record for an electric aircraft is 182 knots (337km/h) and was set in 2017 by a Siemens-powered Extra 330. When powered by a conventional piston engine, the Sharp Nemesis NXT can reach speeds of up to 355 knots (657 km/h).