737’s new ‘sky interior’ experience

April 28: Boeing announced that seven airlines will be the first to incorporate the new, spacious 737 ‘Boeing Sky Interior’ starting in late 2010, featuring soft, blue-sky-like lighting overhead.

The airlines are: FlyDubai, Continental Airlines, Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, Malaysia Airlines, TUI Travel PLC, GOL Airlines and Lion Air.

Drawing from years of research used to design the interior for the 787 Dreamliner, the 737 ‘Boeing Sky Interior’ features new, 787-style modern sculpted sidewalls and window reveals that draw passengers’ eyes to the aeroplane’s windows, giving passengers a greater connection to the flying experience. On a more practical note, the sidewall design integrates the air vent so that before-flight security checks go more quickly for maintenance staff.

The new design offers larger, pivoting overhead stowage bins that add to the openness of the cabin. The bins give more passengers room to store a carry-on roll-aboard near their own seat, adding both extra convenience and extra legroom. Boeing redesigned reading-light switches so passengers can find them more easily and avoid accidentally pressing the flight-attendant call button.

Speakers are integrated into each row’s passenger-service unit to improve sound and clarity of public address operations, while the new integrated air vent and improved noise-dampening materials reduce overall cabin noise.

IATA criticises UK Government on Air Passenger Duty

April 28: In its release of traffic data for March, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) thinks an upturn in aviation’s fortunes may not be too far away.

“The global economic crisis continues to reduce demand for international air travel,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Airlines cannot adjust capacity to match demand. Load factors have dipped sharply from last year. All of this is hitting revenues hard,” he said. “The only glimmer of hope is that cargo demand has stabilised this month, although at a shockingly low level. It’s not the end of the recession, but we may have found the floor.”

However, new concerns over swine influenza could have a significant impact on traffic. “Safety, as always, is our number one priority. IATA is working in close co-operation with the World Health Organisation to ensure an efficient response of the air transport industry to the challenges that swine influenza will present,” said Bisignani. “It is still too early to judge what the impact of swine flu will have on the bottom line. But it is sure that anything that shakes the confidence of passengers has a negative impact on the business. And the timing could not be worse given all of the other economic problems airlines are facing.”

Noting the deteriorating financial situation of many airlines, Bisignani urges governments to move forward with liberalisation – particularly of the archaic ownership restrictions that prevent cross-border access to capital and consolidation. “Air transport is an economic catalyst and can play an important role in driving recovery, but only if we are financially sound. Access to global capital and the freedom to consolidate would go a long way to shoring up this industry – without government bail-outs,” said Bisignani.

“Unfortunately, instead of using airlines to drive growth, many governments see us as a cash cow. It is shockingly disappointing that the UK Chancellor is continuing with plans to raise the UK Air Passenger Duty in the middle of this economic crisis. When the government should be doing everything possible to stimulate the economy, it makes no sense to dampen demand for air travel with increased taxation. Look no further than the Netherlands where collecting an extra EUR 312 million in extra revenues with a new departure tax cost the economy up to EUR 1.2 billion in lost revenue. The Dutch had the good sense to abolish the tax. Let’s hope that others will follow.”

The Dutch Government is helping stimulate its economy through an aviation policy document submitted to Parliament by Camiel Eurlings, the Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, and Jacqueline Cramer, the Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning, who say the Netherlands has an important part to play in European aviation.

To strengthen the country’s competitiveness, the government is abolishing aviation tax and supporting measures that aim to promote quieter, cleaner flights. By 2040, the Netherlands wants to make Schiphol the world’s first climate-neutral airport.

White House apologises for ‘Air Force One’ gaffe

April 27: The appearance of the US President’s personal Boeing 747 aircraft, ‘Air Force One’, together with an accompanying F-16 flying low over Manhattan’s financial district, sparked fears among New Yorkers of a September 11-style attack, many of whom still bear the mental scars from 2001. Workers evacuated offices and the emergency services were inundated with calls.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) confirmed that the aircraft was on a photographic sortie over the Statue of Liberty, but many – including the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg – criticised the DoD for being ‘insensitive’.

The White House issued a statement by way of an apology – Louis Caldera, the Director of the White House Military Office, said: “Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologise and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused.” President Obama, who was unaware of the sortie, was reportedly furious.

Airline shares tumble with swine flu outbreak

April 28: Already suffering from the fallout of the global economic crisis, airlines took a battering on the stock markets as the outbreak of swine flu sparks speculation of a worldwide pandemic.

With travel restrictions starting to be implemented on long-haul routes, share values of many of the major airlines dipped by up to 16 points. British Airways recorded an 8% drop in value, while Lufthansa was similarly affected at 9%. The only good news for the airline industry is that oil prices fell, with fears that the flu epidemic could further damage chances of economic recovery in the short term.

UPS confirms retirement of its DC-8 fleet

In its first quarter results, UPS has confirmed that it has taken an impairment charge on its entire fleet of 44 DC-8 aircraft, including related engines and parts. Earlier than expected retirement of the DC-8s will make UPS’s air fleet the most modern, fuel efficient and noise compliant in the industry. Retirement of the 40-year old fleet is a reaction to the downturn in the global economy, and is an attempt by UPS to mitigate losses though the rest of 2009. It is thought the last DC-8 will be retired by May 31, 2009 instead of the originally scheduled date of 2013.

An impairment charge is a specific reduction on a company’s balance sheet that adjusts the value of its goodwill. Due to accounting rules, a company must monitor and test the value of its goodwill, to determine if it is overvalued. If it is, the company must issue an impairment charge on its balance sheet, to take into account the reduced value of the goodwill.

Swiss takes delivery of its first A330

April 20: Zurich-based Swiss International Air Lines received its first new A330-300, one of nine ordered in September 2007 to expand its medium- to long-haul network.

Powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 772B EP engines, the A330-300 has an all-new, three-class layout with a total of 236 seats (183 seats in Economy, 45 in Business Class and 8 in First Class).

“We are more than pleased to introduce the eco-efficient A330-300 to our fleet. Its true wide-body cabin, combined with our all-new, high-class product increases passenger appeal, comfort and style, while its outstanding performance strengthens our competitiveness and reduces the environmental impact at the same time,” said Christoph Franz, CEO of Swiss.

Orders for the A330-300 now stand at more than 390 from 39 customers.

Air China Cargo receives 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighter

April 22: Air China Cargo and TAECO (Taikoo Aircraft Engineering Co) celebrated the ‘re-delivery’ of the carrier’s first 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighter, the first of three 747-400BCFs it has ordered. The aeroplane has been converted from an Air China 747-400 Combi.

“Our 747-400BCFs will provide increased efficiency compared to our 747-200Fs and bring greater operational commonality with our newer 747-400 Freighters,” said Air China Cargo Vice President Xiao Ping.

Air China Cargo is receiving the eighth conversion from a combi model, also the 29th to be converted at the TAECO facility. A second conversion for Air China Cargo is also under way at TAECO. Nine carriers have ordered 49 747-400BCFs, all converted from existing airframes. “Our Boeing Converted Freighter programmes are built upon understanding and meeting our customers’ needs,” said Nancy Nicholas, Director of the 747-400BCF Program for Boeing.

Modifications for the combi-to-freighter conversion include a strengthened main-deck floor, full main-deck lining installation, provision for a new cargo handling system and complete revisions to the aircraft systems. The 747-400BCF has positions for 30 pallets on the main deck, a volume that is comparable with the 747-400 production freighter.

Allegiant Air bucks the trend

April 19: Allegiant Travel Company, parent company of Allegiant Air reported an increase in operating margin and nearly tripling its first-quarter profit compared to 2008.

“The first quarter was superb, with an all-time high operating margin,” stated Maurice Gallagher, Jr., CEO and President of Allegiant Travel Company. “Looking forward, we expect second quarter costs to be substantially lower than the prior year, both because of significantly lower fuel costs and increased utilisation.”

The airline currently operates 41 MD-80s, serving locations in the southeast United States as well as operating charters for the US Department of Defense.

Austrian Airlines awaits privatisation

Austrian Airlines Group (ÖIAG) has been hit hard by the recession, announcing its traffic figures for the first quarter. The airline carried nearly 16% fewer passengers compared to 2008.

In mid-March, the Executive Board recommended its shareholders accept the takeover bid from Lufthansa. Dr. Andreas Bierwirth and Dr. Peter Malanik, Members of the Austrian Executive Board, issued the following statements: “The announcement that the syndicate partners have accepted the takeover bid of Lufthansa marks an important milestone in the privatisation process. Now, following the signing of the agreement between ÖIAG and Lufthansa in December 2008 and the takeover bid submitted by Lufthansa to small shareholders of Austrian Airlines AG at the end of February 2009, we are another step closer.

“With our successfully implemented multi-layer package of internal cost-cutting measures such as a cut in production, short-time working and a cut in salaries as well as a programme to increase internal efficiency, we are actively working to counter the global slump in demand.”