Marines Weigh Rotor Fixes On CH-53D Fleet

By Bettina H. Chavanne

The U.S. Marine Corps’ CH-53D Sea Stallion fleet is facing a higher scrap rate on its rotor blades than in the past, and the service is juggling priorities to avoid a gap in capability.

An Improved Rotor Blade (IRB) program will eventually replace D-model blades with those flying on the CH-53E Super Stallion.

Program Manager Capt. Rick Muldoon said the D-blade scrap rate has spiked more than 80 percent.

“We’re in a bit of a tight spot,” he said. “We’re very diligently managing the inventory we have while we accelerate getting the aircraft to fly with the [E-model] blades.”

Flight-testing is anticipated “any day now,” Muldoon said. But with engineering analysis and technical directives remaining, the entire program will not be completed until the end of the year or the start of 2010.

“Dealing with the blades came second” to preparing the CH-53Ds for so-called high-hot operations in Afghanistan, where temperatures and altitudes are pressuring helo performance.

Ten D-model aircraft were re-engined with General Electric’s T-64-GE-416 engines. The Super Stallion was modified with 419 engines, with upgraded fuel controls and a titanium nitride compressor airfoil and improved hot section components (Aerospace DAILY, Nov. 6, 2008).

In the future, the Marines may look at using the new blades to increase the gross weight, Muldoon said. But “there may be too big a price to pay in dynamic components,” he said.

Photo: USMC


NASA Pushes Toward Space Station Completion

Guy Norris and Andy Nativi

Kennedy Space Center

Final elements of the International Space Station (ISS) are moving toward completion in NASA’s Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) here, where near-term work is focused on completing the payload for STS-127, scheduled for a June 13 launch.

Due to be carried aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on its 23rd flight, the payload will include the Japanese-supplied exposed facility that represents the final elements of the Kibo experiment module. The exposed section will be used to house science experiments in the vacuum of space and forms a “porch-like” structure attached to the end of the module. This will be mounted on the “Harmony” Node 2, and will be accompanied in Endeavour’s cargo bay by nine large external spare parts mounted on an integrated cargo carrier.

Endeavour has been sitting at the ready on launch Pad 39B for a potential rescue mission for the ongoing STS-125 Hubble repair mission. But assuming its help will not be needed, Endeavour soon will be moved to Pad 39A in preparation for its upcoming ISS resupply and delivery mission. Discovery is meanwhile close to being refurbished in the nearby Orbiter Processing Facility in readiness for the upcoming STS-128 ISS delivery mission scheduled for Aug. 6.

STS-128 is slated to deliver crew systems racks and stowage aboard the “Leonardo” multipurpose logistics module. The mission also will deliver an ammonia tank mounted aboard a lightweight multipurpose experiment support structure carrier.

NASA also expects Node 3 to be delivered here by an Airbus Beluga transport on May 20 from Thales/Alenia’s site in Torino, Italy. The unit is the second European Space Agency-supplied node, and will support the Cupola observation deck currently in the final stages of preparation at the SSPF. Fitted with large armored windows, the Cupola was originally withdrawn from the ISS plan but later reinstated after pressure from the astronaut community. It is now scheduled to be launched on Feb 4, 2010, on STS-130.

NASA plans to make the most of the last few shuttle missions to the ISS to deliver a batch of large-scale spare parts that will be stockpiled on specially developed Express Logistics Carriers (ELC). Carrying spares such as gyroscopes, pumps, tanks and other significant “rotables,” two ELCs will travel to the ISS on STS-129, scheduled for Nov. 12. The manifest of spares, or “orbital replacement units,” include a battery charge discharge unit, plasma contactor unit, control moment gyroscopes, nitrogen tanks, pump module, high-pressure gas tank, ammonia tank and a trailing umbilical system reel assembly. Work on equipping the ELCs is now under way at the Kennedy Space Center processing facility.

Photo: NASA


Services May Split On Sigint, Sensor Programs

By Guy Norris and Andy Nativi

Boeing is refining a variant of the 737-based P-8A maritime patrol aircraft for the U.S. Navy’s EP-X signals intelligence (Sigint) requirement, but it says smaller platforms are again on the table for the Army, which wants a twin turboprop solution for a proposed revival of its Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) program.

Meetings scheduled with the Army next month have been “initiated to work out all the mature options, and to really ask the question,” says Boeing director of airborne sigint campaigns, Paul Summers. Earlier this month, Summers says, the Army announced its intent to opt for a twin turboprop-powered aircraft for ACS. “So the Army is going to a smaller platform,” he adds.

As originally conceived, the ACS was a common reconnaissance airframe to replace the Army’s RC-7, RC-12/RU-21 Guardrail, and the Navy’s EP-3E Aries II platforms. A Lockheed Martin and Embraer bid based on the ERJ-145 regional jet was selected in 2004, with 34 aircraft intended for the Army and 19 for the Navy. However, amid rising costs and a realization the aircraft was too small to host the necessary mission systems, the program was cancelled in January 2006.

The Army subsequently moved to revive ACS later that year, and the upcoming meetings are designed to see “what future directions the Army will take,” according to Summers. The Army contacted prospective ACS bidders May 8 announcing a refocus of the program. The Army specified type of aircraft and top-level changes in program structure. The formal release of these changes is expected to be posted online to the Army Interactive Business Opportunities Page imminently.

Although the Navy’s EP-X remains “far from solidified”, Summers adds that a P-8A-based bid will “leverage 90%” of the patrol aircraft’s development from a structures perspective. The EP-X is expected to require a full Level IV command and control capability over UAVs and their sensors, combined with onboard processing and data fusion capability, Summers says.

To meet the requirements for what Boeing expects to be a 19-26 aircraft program, the company’s P-8A-based bid is likely to include the same nose radar, electro-optic sensor, self-protection suite and basic communication systems. It is also expected to retain both the underwing and under-fuselage weapons station. Summers says discussions are ongoing to understand if the ventral weapon bay, which can handle up to five, light torpedo weapons, is required or could be used to host systems and electronics, which weigh almost twice that of the EP-8.

Part of that derives from the need to carry on board a much larger mission crew, which will rely on 10-14 multifunction consoles (versus on the P-8). Also the EP-X will feature 360° radar coverage and is required to offer a full ground mobile target indicator mode (GMTI). Boeing has already chosen two main electronic partners, Raytheon and Argon ST, the latter mainly entrusted with the communications intelligence package.

Artist’s concept: Boeing


ATA Reports April Traffic, Revenue Down

Madhu Unnikrishnan madhu_unnikrishnan@aviationweek.com

Demand for air travel in the U.S. continues its freefall, according to the latest data from the Air Transport Association (ATA), which reported that April marked the sixth consecutive month of falling domestic airline revenue.

Revenue from passenger flights fell 18% in April, compared with the same month in 2008. This was in part due to a traffic slump of 6.3% compared with April 2008, ATA reports. International traffic was not immune, ATA said, as trans-Pacific, transatlantic and Latin America routes were also down.

Commenting on the ATA report, J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker noted that RASM declined 11.5% in April. More than the 10% the investment bank had predicted. Despite this, Baker says demand seems to have stabilized. Given that Easter shifted from March to April this year, demand drops between the two months suggest that conditions may have stabilized, Baker said.

Cargo traffic, considered an augury of the direction of the economy, remains weak, ATA reported. Cargo traffic in March, the last month for which data are available, fell 21% year over year, the eighth consecutive month of declining cargo traffic, ATA said. Traffic in the Pacific fell by 28%. “The industry is seeing less demand in the cabin as well as in the cargo holds — clear signs of the widespread slowdown in global economic activity,” said ATA President James May.

Photo credit: JetBlue


ATA: $2 Billion More In PFCs Does Not Make Sense

James C. May

President and CEO, Air Transport Assn.

In today’s tough economic climate, unfairly raising taxes on airline passengers to produce $2 billion more for airports doesn’t make sense. But that’s exactly what HR915, the FAA Reauthorization Act, would allow.

This increase of passenger facility charges (PFCs) comes despite the fact that PFC collections have been at record levels the past two years and are expected to rise again in 2009. PFCs are a direct tax on passengers and it’s time our airports break their addiction to them. Airports must resist treating air travelers as the equivalent of an ATM.

In the short history of PFCs, passengers already have been taxed nearly $70 billion. With the proposed increase, a roundtrip ticket with one stop – which most passengers traveling from small and mid-sized communities purchase – could cost each passenger $28 in PFCs, meaning a family of four could pay upward of $112 just to airports.

Airports already receive billions in tax money. According to the Government Accountability Office, airports received an average $13 billion per year in PFCs, federal grants and bonds from 2001-2005 for capital improvements, in addition to billions more from airport concessions and other nonaeronautical sources. The proposed increase is not needed and ignores current economic realities and the effect of the downturn on aviation. In asking for more, airports seemingly want Congress to ignore their holding of more than $27 billion in unrestricted financial assets.

While some airports may be feeling pressure from credit markets, this temporary situation does not justify a permanent change in PFC funding, which will cost billions in additional taxes. Indeed, several airports have issued bonds after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided them special relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for new private activity bonds, as well as allowing the refinancing of certain outstanding AMT bonds. Although credit markets are tight, airports continue to maintain extremely high credit ratings, and of the 77 airports rated by S&P, all enjoy investment-grade credit. Historically, airports have no trouble making successful bond offerings for critical, viable projects. That is by far the best way to assure real project scrutiny.

Airports, of course, have legitimate capital needs to be able to handle expected increases in passengers and operations. The issue is just how much money they need for these essential projects, as opposed to how much they want for their wish lists. Unfortunately, because approval of PFC-funded projects is relatively easy (only four proposals have been turned down by the Federal Aviation Administration in 17 years), they too often have been used to support controversial projects of questionable value – like “bike racks,” which would also be eligible for PFC spending under the bill. There is no justification for adding more tax dollars to the pile.

The best and most certain way to reduce flight delays and make legitimate airport improvements is not to increase the PFC tax to fund airports’ pet projects, but instead to modernize our air traffic control system to alleviate airspace congestion and make better use of existing airport facilities. That is what will provide real improvements, not more money for airports to spend on “nice to have,” but nonessential projects. The U.S. economy and the commercial airline industry cannot afford policies that hamper economic growth or add additional fees and costs, and airports do not need a PFC increase.

Photo credit: Air Transport Assn.


Comms, Jammers Top USAF FY10 Unfunded List

By Amy Butler

More battlefield communications capabilities, jammers, infrared satellites and F-35 spares and support equipment are among the $1.9 billion in unfunded priorities for the U.S. Air Force along with the Fiscal 2010 budget request sent to Congress this month.

The list, which is signed by the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, is addressed to Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; it was sent to Congress May 18 in response to a request from McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

Top on the list is a $180.2 million need for to pay for leasing and operating two additional BD-700, Bombardier Global Express aircraft outfitted with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload. It is used to extend the range of ground communications equipment and to dispatch messages sent from equipment that uses different formats.

Already, the Air Force is leasing the services of one BACN-equipped BD-700 in U.S. Central Command; in the 2010 request, the service asks to buy this platform. The unfunded aircraft would help support operations in Afghanistan, according to the list. Schwartz says that this need is so critical that the USAF would provide offsets to ensure their funding.

Second on the list is a need for $78 million for four upgrade kits for the EC-130s being used to support war operations. The kits are needed to bring the aircraft in CentCom up to a common configuration and provide eight SPEAR wide-area high-powered jamming pods for the aircraft.

Third up is a $103.4 million unfunded request for Operationally Responsive Satellite-1 and a follow-on which, until now, was not publicly discussed. ORS-1 is a Goodrich-led effort to quickly build an infrared imaging satellite to support urgent needs in CentCom; according to Schwartz’s list a shortfall in this capability is projected for the command next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

Such funds would finish development of the first spacecraft and provide for the second satellite, described by Schwartz as a clone of ORS-1. The satellite was expected to be complete within 24 months of contract award and to operate for at least two years. This measure could spark interest from the intelligence community, which typically provides IR imaging capabilities for commanders around the globe.

For tactical aircraft, Schwartz outlines a need for $143 million for spares and support equipment for 10 aircraft already requested in the 2010 outline. These requirements ensure the delivered aircraft are fully supportable in the field and ensures no unit cost increases for aircraft costs would be passed to U.S. and coalition partners, Schwartz says.

For the combat-search-and-rescue mission, the four-star general is hoping to buy three additional HH-60G Pave Hawk loss replacements if an extra $120 million is appropriated by Congress. The Air Force outlined plans in its 2010 request for the purchase of two UH-60M models, being built by Sikorsky for the Army, for later conversion into the a configuration similar to the Pave Hawk, which can refuel midair and has specialized defensive and navigation systems.

Fifth on the USAF list is $81 million for 81 AAQ-129 forward looking infrared kits aboard the Pave Hawk fleet, the existing AAQ-116s are no longer being supported by the contractor. Supply of existing FLIR kits are critically low due to increased wartime attrition and sustainment challenges.

Schwartz asks for $158 million to accelerate procurement of two HC-130J aircraft for use in Africa and Europe, a measure that the chief describes as late in meeting the need. Lack of aerial refueling platforms in European and African commands critically limit personnel recovery operations in these theaters and also impinges their ability to support other combatant commanders, he says.

Finally, the list seeks to add a nuclear detection kit onto new Space-Based Infrared System missile warning satellites. It also suggests two undisclosed classified efforts (one for $140 million and another for $191.1 million) and $50 million for five active electronically scanned array radar kits for F-15C aircraft.

Click here to view a pdf of Schwartz’ list.

Image: US Navy


Comms, Jammers Top USAF FY10 Unfunded List

By Amy Butler

More battlefield communications capabilities, jammers, infrared satellites and F-35 spares and support equipment are among the $1.9 billion in unfunded priorities for the U.S. Air Force along with the Fiscal 2010 budget request sent to Congress this month.

The list, which is signed by the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, is addressed to Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; it was sent to Congress May 18 in response to a request from McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

Top on the list is a $180.2 million need for to pay for leasing and operating two additional BD-700, Bombardier Global Express aircraft outfitted with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload. It is used to extend the range of ground communications equipment and to dispatch messages sent from equipment that uses different formats.

Already, the Air Force is leasing the services of one BACN-equipped BD-700 in U.S. Central Command; in the 2010 request, the service asks to buy this platform. The unfunded aircraft would help support operations in Afghanistan, according to the list. Schwartz says that this need is so critical that the USAF would provide offsets to ensure their funding.

Second on the list is a need for $78 million for four upgrade kits for the EC-130s being used to support war operations. The kits are needed to bring the aircraft in CentCom up to a common configuration and provide eight SPEAR wide-area high-powered jamming pods for the aircraft.

Third up is a $103.4 million unfunded request for Operationally Responsive Satellite-1 and a follow-on which, until now, was not publicly discussed. ORS-1 is a Goodrich-led effort to quickly build an infrared imaging satellite to support urgent needs in CentCom; according to Schwartz’s list a shortfall in this capability is projected for the command next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

Such funds would finish development of the first spacecraft and provide for the second satellite, described by Schwartz as a clone of ORS-1. The satellite was expected to be complete within 24 months of contract award and to operate for at least two years. This measure could spark interest from the intelligence community, which typically provides IR imaging capabilities for commanders around the globe.

For tactical aircraft, Schwartz outlines a need for $143 million for spares and support equipment for 10 aircraft already requested in the 2010 outline. These requirements ensure the delivered aircraft are fully supportable in the field and ensures no unit cost increases for aircraft costs would be passed to U.S. and coalition partners, Schwartz says.

For the combat-search-and-rescue mission, the four-star general is hoping to buy three additional HH-60G Pave Hawk loss replacements if an extra $120 million is appropriated by Congress. The Air Force outlined plans in its 2010 request for the purchase of two UH-60M models, being built by Sikorsky for the Army, for later conversion into the a configuration similar to the Pave Hawk, which can refuel midair and has specialized defensive and navigation systems.

Fifth on the USAF list is $81 million for 81 AAQ-129 forward looking infrared kits aboard the Pave Hawk fleet, the existing AAQ-116s are no longer being supported by the contractor. Supply of existing FLIR kits are critically low due to increased wartime attrition and sustainment challenges.

Schwartz asks for $158 million to accelerate procurement of two HC-130J aircraft for use in Africa and Europe, a measure that the chief describes as late in meeting the need. Lack of aerial refueling platforms in European and African commands critically limit personnel recovery operations in these theaters and also impinges their ability to support other combatant commanders, he says.

Finally, the list seeks to add a nuclear detection kit onto new Space-Based Infrared System missile warning satellites. It also suggests two undisclosed classified efforts (one for $140 million and another for $191.1 million) and $50 million for five active electronically scanned array radar kits for F-15C aircraft.

Click here to view a pdf of Schwartz’ list.

Image: US Navy


Air France-KLM, Delta To Share Atlantic

Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines Wednesday agreed to operate as one airline over the North Atlantic, seeking to boost their 25 percent share of the world’s busiest market as the industry scrambles for savings.

The profit-sharing venture between the two largest airlines on each side of the ocean had been expected for months but underpinned a strong rally in Air France-KLM shares after it unveiled narrower than expected full-year losses.

The pact between Delta and Air France-KLM has won anti-trust clearance in the United States and involves sharing revenues and costs on 200 transatlantic flights and some 50,000 seats a day.

It was inspired by the first transatlantic co-operation deal between Dutch KLM and Northwest Airlines in 1997 and a similar pact between Air France and Delta 10 years later — but goes further than either in sharing prices and capacity planning.

Air France and KLM merged in 2004 and Delta bought Northwest last year, paving the way for a four-way partnership.

The deal affects routes worth a combined USD$12 billion in revenues, split evenly between the two carriers.

Air France-KLM CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said he had “no anxieties” about the possibility of the European Union blocking the deal, which is retroactive to April 1.

The airlines said the new partnership would increase choice for passengers by opening up connections between virtually any two points in Europe and the United States and denied it would mean higher ticket prices on the most competitive routes.

“As in the past 10 years there will be pressure for travel to get cheaper and as are able to realize cost synergies we will be able to give these give these back to consumers,” KLM CEO Peter Hartman told reporters.

The airlines expected synergies of USD$150 million each.

THREE ALLIANCES

The deal is part of a trio of grand alliances taking place in a new Battle of the Atlantic between global carriers.

British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia are seeking approval to co-operate on those routes with a decision due by October. Continental aims to join an existing alliance between United Airlines and Germany’s Lufthansa.

United pilots want to block that deal over job fears.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson sought to reassure his own 80,000 staff over the Air France-KLM tie-up.

“Our employees will benefit because being part of a strong vibrant airline is ultimately good for them,” he said.

Virgin Atlantic, whose owner Richard Branson has branded the AA-BA plans a “monster” monopoly, cautiously backed Delta.

“There is good consolidation and bad consolidation, and this could be good consolidation. Whereas BA and American are already the two biggest transatlantic carriers, Air France and Delta do not overlap on anything like the same scale,” a spokesman said.

After beating its own latest profit warning for the year to March 31, Air France-KLM pointed to signs that the economy is stabilizing but said there was no evidence yet of a recovery.

It reported a 2008/09 operating loss of EUR129 million euros compared with its March forecast of EUR200 million.

“The results were better than expected due to costs and their comments about signs of stabilization in both cargo and passenger,” said aviation analyst Stephen Furlong at Dublin-based brokerage Davy.

Air France-KLM said it had shed 2,700 posts in 2008/09 without resorting to compulsory sackings and predicted 3,000 more positions would go in the current financial year.

The results came ahead of full-year operating losses expected to be posted by British Airways on Friday.


CSA Q1 Loss Widens To USD$51 Million

Czech Airlines (CSA) posted a first quarter loss of USD$50.87 million, wider than last year’s loss of USD$44.03 million, the company said Thursday.

Revenue fell to USD$214.53 million from USD$282.26 million a year ago. Operating loss was USD$45.65 million, versus USD$35.15 million last year.

The state-owned airline is due to be sold later this year.


Ryanair To Call For Aer Lingus Chairman Pay Cut

Irish budget airline Ryanair will propose large pay cuts for the chairman of rival carrier Aer Lingus and his non-executive directors at the group’s annual meeting, Aer Lingus said Thursday.

Ryanair, which owns nearly 30 percent of Aer Lingus, has a fractious relationship with the former state carrier, which it has twice tried to take over via hostile bids.

Ryanair is proposing that the pay of Aer Lingus chairman Colin Barrington be cut from EUR175,000 euros (USD$241,200) received in 2008 back to the EUR35,000 level earned by his predecessor in 2006.

The group is also proposing that the remuneration of non-executive directors be cut from EUR45,000 to EUR17,500, the level earned in 2006.

Aer Lingus, which has recently cut jobs and pay to trim costs, said it was recommending Ryanair’s resolutions be rejected at the annual meeting on June 5.

“The Aer Lingus board believes that the existing non-executive directors’ fees and chairman’s fees are reasonable having regard to the high level of board activity and the increase in directors’ responsibilities since the IPO,” the group said in a statement.

Aer Lingus said in February all its board members had voluntarily reduced their fees for 2009 by 20 percent resulting in annual fees of EUR36,000 for the non-executive directors and EUR140,000 for the chairman.