Aviation and airline industry news for the week Monday 28 June 2021.
United orders 270 Boeing and Airbus aircraft
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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).