All posts by Barry Woods-Turner

Iran Aseman Selects the MAX

Iran Aseman Airlines has signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with Boeing for the purchase of up to 60 737 MAX aircraft.  The deal, which was announced in Tehran on April 4, consists of a $3bn firm order for 30 jets, plus purchase rights for a further 30.

This is the second large order the US manufacturer has reached with Iranian airlines since sanctions were eased in January 2016, following an international agreement on the country’s nuclear programme.  It follows an $8bn deal for 80 aircraft with Iran Air last December.

Boeing says it has negotiated the MoA under the authorisations from the US Government following a determination that Iran had met its obligations under the nuclear accord.  This latest deal still requires final approval from the government.  Once this is received a firm contract can be signed, with the first aircraft expected to be delivered to the carrier in 2022.

Flight Restrictions Tightened

The US and subsequently the UK Governments have introduced additional airline security measures on flights originating in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Britain’s Minister for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, said in a written statement to the House of Parliament on March 21 he was revising aviation security measures for selected inbound flights to the UK.

“In conjunction with our international partners and the aviation industry, the UK Government keeps aviation security under constant review.  The UK has some of the most robust security measures in the world and we will not hesitate to put in place measures we believe are necessary, effective and proportionate,” he said.

Under the new restrictions electronic devices such as mobile telephones, laptops and tablets larger than 6.3in (16cm) x 3.7in (9.3cm) x 0.6in (1.5cm) will not be allowed in the cabin on flights to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Tunisia.  Instead these items must be packed in travellers’ hold luggage.  Passengers have raised concerns that these items could be stolen or damaged.

The ban follows an earlier directive by the Trump Administration to prohibit electronic devices from a passenger’s carry-on luggage on nonstop flights to the US from eight nations.  The indefinite US ban covers ten airports and nine airlines with restrictions applying to travellers from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Although no specific reason was given for the new ban initially, Reuters quoted US officials as saying it relates to a terror threat uncovered several weeks ago, during a US Navy SEAL raid on a suspected al-Qaeda base in Yemen.  Subsequently, US Department of Homeland Security said the decision was based on this information as well the downing of a MetroJet aircraft over Egypt on October 31, 2015 and the attempt to destroy a Somali-owned Daallo Airlines Airbus A321 on February 2, 2016, after which investigations showed explosives had been smuggled aboard both aircraft.  “We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent security as they continue to target aviation interests,” US officials said in a statement.

Virgin America Brand Axed

Alaska Airlines says it will “retire” the Virgin America brand in 2019 after the two carriers merge – but will retain many of the brand elements popular among Virgin America passengers, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting and music.

Brad Tilden, CEO of Seattle-based Alaska Air Group, explained: “Our goal from the very beginning of this merger was to become the go-to airline for people on the West Coast, with low fares, convenient flights, a premium product and genuine, caring service.

“Three months in, we’ve dramatically grown our presence in California and are united behind a new purpose: creating an airline people love.”

In February, Alaska Airlines announced 25 new daily departures from San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, California, the largest addition of routes in the company’s history.

Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ VP of Marketing, said: “We spent the last ten months conducting extensive research and listening carefully to what fliers on the West Coast want most.

“While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares.”

Next year Alaska will introduce a redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities, while new staff uniforms by designer Luly Yang will be introduced in mid-2019.

Meanwhile its entire fleet of Boeing 737s will be equipped with high-speed satellite Wi-Fi by this autumn.  Guests will be able to stream free entertainment on their own devices while travelling on the Boeing fleet.  The facility will be extended to the Airbus fleet in August via the Red entertainment system.

Premium seating will be expanded across the Airbus fleet, increasing the number of First Class seats from eight to 12 and adding 18 new Premium Class seats.

On the ground, the airline is refreshing and expanding lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles and opening new facilities in San Francisco and New York/JFK.

Korean Dream Begins

Korean Air has taken delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from an order for ten placed on May 31, 2005.  The jet, HL 8081 (c/n 34810), will initially be flown on domestic services from Seoul/Gimpo to Jeju for around a month as part of the Korea Office of Civil Aviation’s required certification period.  Afterwards it will be introduced onto the carrier’s long-haul international network, with the first service to Toronto, Canada due to start on June 1.  The airline expects to receive a further four airframes this year with the final five set to arrive in 2019.  As more aircraft join the fleet, more routes will be transferred to the Dreamliner with three flights a week between Seoul/Incheon and Madrid and four flights per week between Seoul/Incheon and Beijing scheduled to start in August.  The aircraft will also substitute an Airbus A330-200 on the thrice-weekly Zurich link from October 3.

Walter Cho, President of Korean Air, commented: “The 787 will be a key member of Korean Air’s fleet as we continue to introduce next-generation aeroplanes to our customers.”  He went on to say the carrier wasn’t pursuing new routes for its 787s, but concentrating on increasing current route frequencies.  (Photo Boeing)

Embraer Reveals E2 Launch Customer

Norwegian regional carrier Widerøe has been confirmed as launch customer for the Embraer 190-E2, the first member of the Brazilian manufacturer’s second generation E-Jet family.

The airline signed a contract on January 17 for up to 15 aircraft, consisting of three firm orders for E190-E2s and purchase rights for a further 12 examples (variant unspecified).  The total deal is potentially valued at up to $873m if all options are exercised, with initial deliveries expected to take place during the first half of 2018.

John Slattery, President & CEO, Embraer Commercial Aviation remarked: “The market is keen to know the identity of the E190-E2 launch operator and we’re pleased to end that suspense on this Valentine’s Day – Widerøe is the ‘perfect match’.  The airline has a special place in our hearts; they are proven pioneers in their field who have achieved major success and remain hugely ambitious, similar in many ways to the path taken by Embraer.”

The prototype E190-E2 during its maiden flight on May 23, 2016. (Embraer)

Stein Nilsen, Widerøe’s CEO commented: “We will be very proud to be the first airline in the world to operate the E190-E2.  Knowing the hard-work Embraer is putting into the certification campaign, especially in terms of maturity, we have every confidence in a smooth entry into service.  The E190-E2 will be a big leap in our history, and planning for the first deliveries is now well underway.”

AirAsia X Heads to the US

Malaysian low-cost long-haul carrier AirAsia X has outlined plans to introduce links to Honolulu.  The four-times weekly service will operate between Kuala Lumpur and Hawaiian capital via Osaka, Japan starting on June 17.

AirAsia X Group CEO Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said: “This is the game-changing destination we have all been waiting for.  By connecting Asean and North Asia to the US with our low fares, we will make it possible for those who could only dream of a vacation across the Pacific to take that trip.  We wish to thank all the relevant authorities and governments for their support in making this a reality.”

The route launch came just two weeks after AirAsia X received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate services into the US for the first time.  The approval allows the carrier to operate from Malaysia to any US destination.

Meranun added: “This is a major milestone for AirAsia X.  Our expansion up until now has concentrated on Asia, Australasia and the Middle East and we are excited about our first foray into an entirely new market as we look beyond Asia Pacific.  As part of our growth plans, we are also looking to resume our very popular London rotations, and are working towards securing the necessary approvals.”

Record-Breaking Flight for Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has launched the world’s longest commercial flight, flying non-stop from the Qatari capital Doha to Auckland, New Zealand.

Qatar Airways’ first flight to New Zealand flies over the city of Auckland on its final approach to the airport. (Qatar Airways)

The inaugural service departed Doha on February 5 and arrived in Auckland early the following day – a significant day for all New Zealanders as it was Waitangi Day, celebrating the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.

Operated by one of the carrier’s Boeing 777-2DZ(LR)s, A7-BBB (c/n 36013), the flight took 16hrs 20mins to complete and covered 9,032 miles (14,535km). After touching down in New Zealand for the first time the aircraft was given a traditional water cannon salute by the Auckland Airport Fire Department.

Travelling on board the flight was Qatar Airways’ Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker who said: “The launch of our new service to Auckland is an important milestone for us as we expand both in the region and globally across our network providing more options and better connections to exciting business destinations in Europe and the Middle East.  Arriving on Waitangi Day and achieving the world’s longest flight for the return record-breaking service makes this an even more momentous occasion for Qatar Airways and provides another accomplishment to celebrate in this our 2oth year of flying the flag internationally for Qatar.”

Auckland is the first New Zealand city served by Qatar Airways.  The new daily flights are operated by the carrier’s 777-200LRs, which are configured in a two-class layout with 42 Business Class and 217 Economy Class seats.

The carried added the Doha-Auckland-Doha daily rotations will also offer 116 tonnes of belly-hold capacity every week to support the growing imports of raw, industrial and consumer materials into New Zealand.  While in Qatar the Hamad International Airport freight terminal, operated by Qatar Airways Cargo, offers ‘QR Fresh’ a seamless temperature-controlled handling and storage solution, to deliver perishable products such as dairy produce, meat and fruits from Auckland into the Middle East and on to major European markets.

Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight touches down on New Zealand’s Waitangi Day in Auckland. (Qatar Airways)





Maiden ATR Biofuel Flight

Swedish carrier BRA, formerly Braathens Regional, has performed the world’s first biofuel-powered flight of an ATR turboprop aircraft.  The scheduled service from Stockholm/Bromma to Umeå on February 1, was fuelled with a 45% mix of fossil-free used cooking oil.

Christian Clemens, Chief Executive Officer of BRA, declared: “Sweden is currently debating a new tax on aviation.  It will have a minimal impact on emissions, and will unfortunately slow down the pace in which we can continue to make aviation more sustainable.  The ATR 72-600, especially if powered by biofuels, is the optimal transportation on many of our routes and features the highest standards of environmental care.”

Clemens revealed that there are several research and development biofuel initiatives currently underway in Sweden involving different types of wood.  More than 50% of the country is covered in forests, and these, grow at a rate of 120 million cubic metres annually.  Making domestic air traffic in Sweden completely fossil-free would require less than 2% of the total annual forest growth.

Christian Scherer, CEO of ATR who was on board the one-off flight said: “Today’s challenge is to get large-scale production of biofuels at affordable prices while avoiding a negative impact on the environment.  Swedish airlines like BRA can take advantage of the massive expansion of its forests, along with the operation of fuel-efficient turboprops, to reach the ambitious goal of halving CO2 emissions by 2025.

Airliner World was on board the special BRA biofuel flight, so look out for a full report in our April issue – which goes on sale on March 8.

Cessna Celebrates

Textron Aviation company, Cessna is celebrating the 45th anniversary of the first Citation delivery.

The maiden jet, a Citation 500, was handed to American Airlines in January 1972, where it was used for the development of the carrier’s training programme.  Since then Cessna has delivered more than 7,000 examples to customers around the world with the fleet amassing nearly 35 million flight hours.

Kriya Shortt, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, commented: “This milestone marking 45 years of industry leadership is really a celebration of the thousands of people through the years – customers and employees – who have made the Citation family of business jets the world leader.”

There are currently eight Citation models in production consisting of the Mustang, M2, CJ3+, CJ4, XLS, Latitude, Sovereign and the  X+, with a further two models, the Longitude for the super mid-size market and the Hemisphere, Textron Aviation’s entry into the large-cabin market, under development.

Beluga XL Takes Shape

Airbus has revealed the first images of its next-generation oversize cargo airlifter, dubbed the Beluga XL, which is taking shape at the company’s production facilities in Toulouse, France.

The core airframe is an extract of an Airbus A330-200 freighter that has already been structurally reinforced and will form the platform on which the Beluga XL will be built.  Assembled in December, it currently lacks a nose fuselage and tail assembly, both of which will be added later this year as this first airframe starts an 18-month integration process.  This will involve the aircraft’s structure being completed and its mechanical and electrical systems fitted.  After which it will be moved to a second station for ground testing and engine installation.

Work starts on the airframe integration of the first Beluga XL aircraft. ((Airbus)

Bertrand George, Programme Head for the Beluga XL, commented: “The coming year of final integration will be a series of small steps.  The number of holes to be drilled, and fasteners to be installed, is far bigger than on any other Airbus aircraft.”

A total of five Beluga XL airlifters are being built with the first expected to make its maiden flight next year.  After flight testing and certification the first aircraft is scheduled to join Airbus Transport International in 2019.  The new jets will replace the company’s existing fleet of Beluga STs, which were derived from the shorter-fuselage A300.  The manufacturer says when the first Beluga XL enters service it will provide crucial support to production ramp-up as it can carry a full set of A350 XWB wings.

Integration of the aircraft’s core airframe will be performed inside the two-section L34 building at Airbus’ Lagardére industrial zone. (Airbus)