NASA shuffles aeronautics deck with flat budget

By Rob Coppinger

NASA will see no growth in its budget for aeronautics research through 2014, and in real terms may even shrink owing to inflation, in budget proposals set out by the White House.

President Barack Obama has pushed NASA’s aeronautics budget for the current fiscal year to 30 September to $650 million, with a $150 million top-up from his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 to be spent on NextGen air traffic management development.

But beyond that, aeronautics research at NASA faces a cut in real terms if inflation rises much above 1% in the first half of the next decade. After the FY2010 request for $507 million, aeronautics research’s annual increases never rise above $4 million.

In 2010 NASA will shift some focus to fundamental studies with its “integrated research” budget, which aims to investigate greener aviation technologies. But while integrated research starts with $62.4 million, by 2014 that will drop dropped to $60.5 million, and all this funding is taken from other programmes.

NASA’s aeronautics research mission directorate associate administrator Jaiwon Shin defends the funding: “Our budget is stable because we have robust research.”

President Obama’s FY2010 total NASA budget request is for $18.7 billion, including $1 billion provided for in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and more than $2.4 billion above the 2008 level.


British pilot survives Harrier ejection in Afghanistan

By Craig Hoyle

The UK Ministry of Defence is investigating the cause of an accident in which the pilot of a BAE Systems Harrier GR9A was forced to eject from the aircraft while attempting to land at Afghanistan’s Kandahdar airfield on 14 May.

The MoD confirms that the aircraft’s pilot sustained minor injuries in the incident, which occurred during an emergency landing at the coalition base. A full assessment of the damaged Harrier has yet to be completed, but an MoD official confirms: “There is no evidence of any enemy action”.

Drawn from the combined Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Joint Force Harrier (JFH) organisation, the UK’s GR7/9 force has sustained a five-year commitment in Afghanistan. The aircraft are used to support the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, providing vital close air support for ground personnel from Kandahar.

Crown copyright
© Crown Copyright

Scheduled to be replaced in theatre by RAF Panavia Tornado GR4s, the current JFH deployment involves air force and navy personnel assigned to the RAF’s 1 Sqn, home-based at Cottesmore in Rutland. The Harrier force had been expected to complete its combat commitment in Afghanistan in late April, but delays to the completion of base infrastructure work and ongoing upgrades to the Tornado have seen this extended until around mid-year, the RAF says.

The 14 May crash represents the first serious accident encountered by JFH during its deployment. Two parked Harrier GR7s were also damaged during a Taliban mortar attack early in the detachment.


Bombardier CSeries designed around fleet carbon management

By Mary Kirby

Carbon offsets are dismissed by some critics as an excuse for individuals and corporations to carry on with bad behaviour rather than implement real change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But ask Bombardier how it views such programmes and it will tell you plainly that carbon offsetting is part of a new environment-driven reality that airframers and operators are going to have to build into their business models.

Closing fast are European Union plans to include in its Emissions Trading Scheme all flights arriving or departing from airports in the EU. The ETS is a “cap and trade” scheme by which total industrial emissions will be capped at 2004-6 levels. Amounts above this level must be offset or traded.

Implementation is fast approaching, notes Bombardier. This August, operators must submit their plans for pre-compliance to the EU member state government where their aircraft is domiciled or flies the most. In January 2010, a two-year pre-compliance period begins with required reportage in preparation for January 2012, when the ETS becomes operational for aviation.

WRITING ON THE WALL

The USA has warned Europe to expect an international legal challenge as soon the scheme is built into national law. However, Bombardier sees the writing on the wall, and is looking at how “completely new services like a carbon offset programme” can be incorporated into its fleet management initiatives, says Michael McAdoo, vice-president, fleet management for Bombardier Customer Services.

He points out that Bombardier’s Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-powered CSeries, which is expected to enter service in 2013, is the airframer’s first new commercial platform that offers fleet management “literally inherent with the design of the aircraft”.

The company already has experience in managing carbon offsets. On 1 February 2008, Bombardier introduced a voluntary scheme in partnership with UK-based carbon-offset seller ClimateCare, whereby owners can offset the annual carbon emissions from their business aircraft based on average operating hours for each aircraft type.

At the top of the food chain is the Global Express line, which can be offset at a current price per flight hour of just over $71. The price tag to carbon-offset Challenger jets ranges from $41.11 for the Challenger 300 to $70.04 for the Challenger 870CS. All types in the Learjet line, apart from the Learjet 25D, 35A and 60 XR, can be offset for less than $30 per flight hour.

Using the same monthly billing system currently employed for Bombardier’s Smart Services per flight-hour programmes, such as Smart Parts and Smart Maintenance, aircraft owners report the total monthly flight-hours of the aircraft enrolled. The money is then invested in low-carbon technology projects that focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency and methane capture.

Bombardier acknowledges that while business aviation contributes just 1%-1.5% of total aviation emissions, per-passenger CO2 emissions for the midsize business jet sector soar high above per-passenger emissions from other forms of transport (see chart).

Still, it is the aviation industry as a whole that must face radical changes in environmental law.

Air Transport Action Group executive director Paul Steele summed up the CO2 situation at last month’s Aviation and the Environment Summit in Geneva. This year, he said, “is an absolutely critical year, not just for society in general but certainly for our industry”.

Stressing the prevailing sense of urgency, he added: “It appears to me that the industry has probably got three or four months to really take a role and try and get around how it can help craft its own destiny in these discussions and that’s something we shouldn’t dismiss lightly, something that we really should keep in our mind.

“Because next year, or the year after, when we reconvene at the Aviation and the Environment Summit, those political dies will already have been cast, and as an industry we will be operating under a new framework. And I think that is a sobering thought for all of us to take home.”


Austria’s Niki receives first Embraer 190

By David Kaminski-Morrow

Austrian budget airline Niki has taken delivery, in Brazil, of its first Embraer 190 regional jet.

The carrier’s founder, former Grand Prix racing driver Niki Lauda, accepted the twin-engined aircraft at a ceremony in Sao Jose dos Campos, Embraer‘s headquarters.

Niki ordered five of the type last year under an agreement which also includes five options. The carrier plans to use the jets on routes from Vienna and Innsbruck to destinations within Europe.

Niki Lauda
© Embraer

Lauda says the type “fits perfectly” into the airline’s development plans: “It is ideal for the establishment of new routes, as it keeps the start-up costs low and offers passengers the familiar comfort of a medium-haul jet.”

Niki Embraer 190
© Embraer

Niki was set up six years ago and the airline operates to such cities as Frankfurt, Munich, Milan, Paris, Rome, Moscow and Stockholm.


Czech Republic orders C-295 transports

By Craig Hoyle

Airbus Military has signed a deal to provide the Czech Republic with four C-295 transports.

To replace the Czech Republic air force’s remaining five Antonov An-26s, the tactical transports will be delivered between the end of this year and late 2010, says Airbus Military.

Announced on 13 May, the deal also includes a logistics support agreement, the company adds.

© Airbus Military

The C-295 is built alongside smaller CN-235 transports on a new assembly line at the Airbus Military (formerly EADS Casa) San Pablo site near Seville, Spain.

Current capacity is for a combined 24 aircraft a year, although the facility could sustain an increase to 35, Airbus Military says. It is currently building C-295s for Portugal, including the first of the type to be equipped as a maritime patrol aircraft.


Thailand to delay order for second batch of Gripens

By Siva Govindasamy

Thailand plans to delay the purchase of an additional six Saab Gripen fighters because of a deepening economic crisis, and its air force chief has warned the move could leave gaps in the country’s national security.

The Thai government has cut its defence budget for the next fiscal year to 151 billion baht ($4.38 billion) from 171 billion baht. Most of the cut was from money set aside for the follow-on Gripen order, with the defence ministry suffering most as the government tightened belts all around to fund an economic stimulus package.

The Royal Thai Air Force had wanted to take delivery of the second batch of fighters from 2013, and the deal would have been similar to one last year for six Gripens and one Saab 340-based airborne early warning aircraft.

Saab Gripen
© Saab

Saab is scheduled to deliver a first batch of six Gripens from 2011, but the delay in buying the rest hampers the service’s plan to form a full squadron by 2015 to replace some of its Northrop F-5Es.

“This affects the potential of the armed forces because they need modern weaponry,” Air Chief Marshal Itthaporn Subhawong told the Bangkok Post. He says he will take the issue up with the government, adding: “We must explain what is essential, and need a review from the government. Weapons result in national security. Without strong defences, neighbours will not have respect for us.”

Others point out that the move will result in higher costs for the air force because it will be more expensive to maintain a smaller fleet of fighters. “It may not affect air force operations as the country still has the F-5s and [Lockheed Martin] F-16s to protect its skies, but it will certainly increase the costs in the near term,” says one source.

The decision puts further pressure on Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party, which has had to borrow up to 270 billion baht to prop up Thailand’s reeling economy and may need more help.

The government also relies on the armed forces for its legitimacy, having taken power earlier this year after an army coup toppled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and the two governments that followed fell when the military withdrew its support.

Thailand’s army also requires new utility and attack helicopters. Earlier this year, the armed forces ordered a third Embraer ERJ-135 regional jet for VIP transport and medical evacuation missions.