US survey reveals rise in general aviation manoeuvring accidents


By David Learmount

Analysis of US general aviation safety trends in 2007 shows an increase in manoeuvring accidents against the previous year. This accident category continues to dominate GA fatal crashes, as it has since 1999, according to the latest Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Nall report.

But the most lethal mistake pilots can make, says Nall, is a decision to continue a visual flight rules trip into instrument meteorological conditions. The chance of a resulting accident being fatal is 82%.

Manoeuvring accidents, says the report, are normally the result of pilot misjudgement while carrying out “high-risk manoeuvres that demonstrate questionable pilot judgement [and] others are attributable to deficiencies in basic airmanship”. In 2007 they represented 20.2% of fatal crashes, but only 6.7% of all accidents.

Nall attributes a “fatality” index to each category, indicating the likelihood of death in the event of any given type of accident, and “manoeuvring”, at 56%, is the second most lethal after weather-related crashes.

Weather-related accidents mostly involve a pilot decision to continue a VFR trip into IMC, says the Nall report.

Landing accidents are the most common GA mishaps, representing 30.5% of all incidents, but causing only 3.2% of fatalities. These are mostly the result of low experience or lack of currency. More modern aircraft types and a greater availability of basic simulation do not appear to be having a beneficial effect on this, says Nall.

Overall, says Nall, the accident rate was fairly steady at 6.7 per 100,000 flying hours, but it is up compared with 2006’s rate of 6.06 and 2000’s best ever of 6.03. Meanwhile, fatal accidents have been following a downward trend for the past three years, reaching 1.18 fatal accidents per 100,000 flying hours. The best rate was 1.11 in 1999.


American latest to expand Gogo in-flight Internet service


By Mary Kirby

American Airlines has opted to install Aircell’s Gogo in-flight Internet system on more than 300 domestic aircraft over the next two years, as a growing number of operators commit to keeping their passengers connected during flight.

The Oneworld alliance member began trialling Gogo last summer on its 15 domestic Boeing 767-200s operating primarily on nonstop flights between New York JFK and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.

The trial gave management the ability to study customers’ willingness to take advantage of high-speed, onboard connectivity and to gauge how the service performed technically in a variety of settings over an extended period of time.

“We are pleased that the results were positive and that we have decided to move forward,” says American executive VP-marketing Dan Garton in a statement.

American will install the Aircell system on its domestic Boeing MD-80 and Boeing 737-800 fleets, beginning with 150 MD-80s this year.

The air-to-ground (ATG)-based service, which turns an American flight into a Wi-Fi hotspot, cannot support connectivity on overseas flights, however.

American has previously said it expects to equip its international fleet with satellite-based connectivity if its trial of Aircell’s air-to-ground Internet service results in successful domestic fleet-wide equipage.

“My team has been working on connectivity for many, many years and we’ve been talking to all the connectivity providers. If this is very successful domestically, then we’re certainly going to look at satellite solutions for our international fleet as well,” American manager of in-flight communications and technology Doug Backelin told ATI last year.

Aircell is eager to accommodate American should the US major make such a request.

Company CEO Jack Blumenstein recently revealed that the firm is working with a major satellite player on a hybrid solution to offer airlines an overseas solution. A technical trial of the solution could occur “in the next year or so”, he says.

Aircell’s other customers include Delta Air Lines and Virgin America – which have opted for fleet-wide equipage – as well as United Airlines, which will shortly begin a trial of Gogo.

Air Canada is also expected to soon begin offering Gogo to passengers on US-bound flights, with plans to eventually offer the service across its domestic fleet.

A decision last week by Industry Canada to invite companies to apply for an air-to-ground (ATG) license in the country brings Air Canada closer to its goal.

Canada’s Bell Mobility has long been considered a strong contender for the ATG license. Whoever is the winner, however, Aircell intends to partner with that firm.

“Aircell can’t participate in the auction since it has to be won by a Canadian organization. We would partner with the winner,” says an Aircell spokesman.

He adds: “We are obviously excited about this news and are looking forward to working with the new licensee to bring Gogo in-flight Internet to Canadian airline passengers.”


Typhoons ‘intercept’ modified Austrian 767


By Craig Hoyle

The Austrian air force demonstrated the air policing capabilities of its new Eurofighter Typhoons on 27 March.

The service used the arrival of flag carrier Austrian’s first winglet-equipped Boeing 767-300ER for the exercise. On its return to Vienna from undergoing modification in the USA, OE-LAE was intercepted by a pair of Typhoons launched from Zeltweg air base.

The flight culminated with the fighters – which are armed with Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missiles and Mauser 23mm cannon – simulating a forced landing for the aircraft at Zeltweg.

Both images © Markus Zinner/BMLV

Austria’s defence ministry says its quick reaction alert (QRA) fighters were scrambled 73 times in 2008, identifying aircraft that had entered national airspace without authorisation or lost communication with air traffic controllers.

Assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing, Austria’s Typhoons have provided QRA services since mid-2008, and its air force has a goal of having aircraft in the air within 7min of a threat situation arising.

Vienna’s Typhoon fleet will total 15 single-seat Tranche 1 aircraft, nine of which have been delivered to date, according to Flight’s MiliCAS database. Its acquisition is valued at an estimated €1.6 billion ($2.1 billion).

Zeltweg, the subject of a more than €100 million modernisation programme linked to the Eurofighter purchase, will host the AirPower 2009 air show on 26-67 June. The free event was last staged in 2005, when it attracted around 250,000 spectators.


Jet-Alliance seeks to acquire 28 ex-DayJet Eclipse 500s


By Brendan Sobie

Very light jet shared ownership and management company Jet-Alliance aims to accelerate its expansion by acquiring the 28 Eclipse 500s previously operated by defunct air taxi operator DayJet.

Jet-Alliance chairman Randall Sanada says the California-based company aims to conclude by the end of May the acquisition of the VLJs on behalf of some of the owners who were left holding unfulfilled orders when Eclipse Aviation filed for bankruptcy in November.

Sanada says these owners stand to receive nothing for their 60% downpayments, given their unsecured creditor status in Eclipse Aviation’s bankruptcy proceedings, but under the proposed deal would receive an ex-DayJet aircraft after paying the final 40% to United Technologies through Jet-Alliance.

Sanada says Jet-Alliance worked with United Technologies, which was DayJet’s primary lender and holds a lien on the 28 aircraft, to structure the complex deal and has already secured the necessary approvals from DayJet’s trustee. DayJet ceased operations in September. Sanada says Jet-Alliance is now seeking approval from Eclipse Aviation’s lender and is confident the deal will close in 30-60 days.

DayJet Eclipse 500 Eclipse
© DayJet

Sanada concedes this is not a perfect solution for the owners as they will have to pay the full new aircraft price for a used aircraft that will require upgrades. In addition, some owners will receive only a half share for an additional 20% payment or a one-quarter share for an extra 10% payment, but Sanada claims this is better than receiving nothing for the 60% already paid.

“We have got a substantial group of individual deposit holders who aren’t getting aircraft because of the bankruptcy,” he says. “Jet-Alliance isn’t able to deliver on the failed promise of Eclipse Aviation, but we’ve come up with a partial solution for them to come up with something.”

If the deal is concluded it will result in an instant expansion of Jet-Alliance’s fleet from six to 34 VLJs. Sanada says Jet-Alliance manages four Eclipse 500s and one Cessna Mustang. Its first Embraer Phenom 100 is scheduled for delivery in mid-April. Its Phenom 100 is the 23rd to roll off the production line and was purchased early last year from two owners who originally acquired the aircraft from Eagle Creek Aviation.

Sanada says Jet-Alliance also has commitments to add a Mustang and acquire one of the first HondaJets. He adds that Jet-Alliance is discussing acquiring aircraft from several Eclipse 500 owners. He says there is a “substantial secondary market” for the more than 259 Eclipse 500s that were delivered before the New Mexico-based manufacturer’s bankruptcy. Jet-Alliance is also talking to several owners who have ordered Phenom 100s.

Jet-Alliance specialises in acquiring VLJs from up to four owners and chartering them when they are not in use. For each VLJ it partners with an air carrier who is fully responsible for operating the aircraft and helps with selling charters. Jet-Alliance is also partnered with jetAVIVA, which helps with aircraft sales and marketing charters along with other duties including handling deliveries.

“We endeavour to double or triple the time the aircraft is operated and generate charter revenues to offset some of the fixed costs,” Sanada says. He adds that demand to own and charter VLJs continues to increase despite the downturn in the economy as users of larger jets look to trade down to more economical and environmentally friendly VLJs.

“Look at the stigma private jets have had since the big three automakers showed up in Congress with their Gulfstreams,” he says. “It should have been a VLJ they showed up in.”

Jet-Alliance was established in 2000 and took delivery of its first aircraft, the very first Eclipse 500 to roll of the production line, at the end of 2006. Sanada says charters began as recently as July. “We’re now just bringing up our marketing efforts to let customers know about availability of aircraft,” he says.

Jet-Alliance offers only charters from six airports in southern California, but has been looking at expanding into northern California and eventually eastward. Sanada says if the acquisition of the 28 ex-DayJet Eclipse 500s is concluded, this expansion will be accelerated and Jet-Alliance will quickly have nationwide coverage as the new owners are based throughout the USA.

He says Jet-Alliance is ready to add several air carriers based throughout the country as new partners. “There are others that have made bids on the aircraft, but they’re pretty much partnering with us,” he says.

Jet-Alliance has a lot at stake in the deal as it had deposits on three unfulfilled Eclipse 500 orders. Sanada, who personally owns a stake in the very first Eclipse 500, has been actively involved in the drawn-out process of trying to secure a new investor in Eclipse Aviation’s assets as he sits on the bankruptcy committee that represents Eclipse owners. “That’s been my full-time job since November, entertaining all the proposals, and I’m not even chairman,” he says.

Sanada confirms a group of owners have set aside funds to bid for the assets should other offers fall through. But he says restarting production is not likely in the near future and the focus for now is on supporting the existing fleet.

“We don’t believe now is the time to restart production,” Sanada says. He adds that while the owners have not found a “formula” for restarting production if they assume ownership of the assets, resuming production could be pursued later if a new investor, in particular an experienced manufacturer, can be secured.


Indonesian regulator imposes new law on scheduled airlines


By Leithen Francis

Indonesia’s government has introduced a new law requiring scheduled airlines to have at least ten aircraft by early 2012.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation director of airworthiness and aircraft operations, Yurlis Hasibuan, says the government has introduced a new law requiring that all scheduled airlines, operating aircraft with more than 30 seats, must have at least ten aircraft.

He says the new requirement comes into effect on 12 January 2012 and that scheduled carriers that fail to meet the deadline will have to become charter operators or close down.

He also says carriers must own some of its aircraft and will be unable to rely solely on aircraft leases to meet the new requirement.

This new law is designed “to encourage the airline operators to be good in business and to be safe and become a big company”.

“We don’t like to have an airline that only has one or two aircraft,” he adds.

Indonesia today has around 15 scheduled carriers and around seven need to acquire more aircraft to have a fleet of ten, says Yurlis.

He also says carriers might merge in an effort to meet the new requirement.

Indonesia’s regulator in recent years has been introducing new requirements in an effort to improve the country’s air safety and get Indonesia off a European Union blacklist that bars all Indonesian airlines from operating to Europe.

Indonesia has also had in place a requirement that all new airlines start with at least two aircraft.

Yurlis says scheduled airlines that launch after 12 January 2012 will need to start with a minimum of ten.


IATA expects normal growth will not resume until 2011


By Brendan Sobie

IATA expects passenger demand to fall further and warns it could take longer for a recovery to emerge compared to previous recessions.

Last week IATA reported a 10% drop in international RPKs for February and widened its loss estimate for 2009 from $2.5 billion to $4.7 billion. IATA chief economist Brian Pearce says the association also has adjusted downward its forecast for 2010 as it sees a “weakened and delayed recovery”.

“The speed of recovery will be a lot slower than in the past,” Pearce told reporters at a briefing today at IATA’s Washington office.

He adds in a “normal” cycle, there would be a sharp rise in cargo traffic figures from late 2009 or early 2010 and a sharp rise in passenger figures about six months later. But this recession is expected to be different although it is difficult to predict exactly how long it will be before there are sharp increases in traffic figures.

Pearce would not provide a loss or profit estimate for 2010, saying this estimate will not be made public until May or June. But he says the new 2009 estimate of a $4.7 billion loss is worse than the 2010 figure as IATA sees some stabilization and “weak growth” taking place next year.

“We do expect to see some recovery in 2010,” Pearce says.

But he adds given the expected slower than usual pace of the recovery IATA does not expect “stable growth” to resume until 2011.

“We see 2011 [as the return] for a more normal growth rate,” Pearce says.

A key factor behind IATA’s projection of a slow recovery is the lack of available credit. “It seems commercial banks in spite of the bailouts are not in position to loan freely,” Pearce says.

He adds this affects consumer demand as well as the ability of airlines to recapitalize. He says it is critical for governments to provide sufficiently large stimulus packages because “the private sector is not there to spend”.

He points out some economists believe stimulus packages valued at up to 10% of GDP are required. US President Barack Obama’s package is only worth about 5% to 6% of GDP.

“Our recovery is critically dependant on governments producing stimulus packages of sufficient amounts,” Pearce says.

Pearce adds it is also critical that governments do not become protectionist. “We need world trade,” he says. “We need developing nations to recover as well.”

If governments do not spend enough, the risk is job losses will continue and consumer confidence will continue to decline, which in turn affects travel demand.

IATA is now projecting a 12% drop in industry revenues this year to $467 billion and a 6% drop in international RPKs. Pearce says IATA’s new forecast has total RPKs in 2009 and 2010 at 17% below the levels they were projected to be in its pre-crisis forecast.

Pearce warns the fact the recovery could take longer than usual to surface could put airlines in a precarious position. He says airlines with the most cash “are in the best position because we face a weakened and possibly delayed recovery”. He adds most airlines outside the US “have entered the downturn in a worse cash situation than other downturns”.

US carriers are in relatively better position. “They have shrunk domestic capacity so much they are in a more robust situation to ride out the downturn,” Pearce says.

The only silver lining is the relatively low price of oil, which IATA believes has already saved many airlines from going bust. IATA expects airlines will pay on average $50 per gallon of fuel this year, compared an average of $99 to $100 last year.

“If oil prices spike up again that’s a problem,” Pearce says. “We’re expecting oil to remain relatively low.”

He adds airlines typically see their unit costs increase in a downturn because they do not have the ability to lower fixed costs. But with fuel prices expected to stay low, this downturn will likely be different.