British Airways to ground 16 747s and 757s for winter

By David Kaminski-Morrow

British Airways is to ground 16 aircraft for the upcoming winter season, to rein in capacity following the sharp decline in passenger demand.

It will ground eight Boeing 747-400s and eight 757-200s in order to cut capacity by 4% for winter 2009-10.

BA has already laid plans to sell the 757 fleet to another operator for cargo conversion.

The airline has already increased its capacity reduction for the summer season to 2.5% from the 2% it disclosed in March.

Over winter 2008-09 the airline cut capacity by 3.1%.

BA says it has the flexibility to withdraw more of its long-haul aircraft, notably as the number of jets in its fleet older than 20 years – some of its Boeing 747-400s and 767s – is set to increase. Sixteen of its 121 long-haul aircraft will be above this 20-year threshold in 2010-11.

“We are taking action to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on our business,” said BA chief Willie Walsh, after detailing a heavy full-year operating loss for the airline of £220 million ($349 million).

BA’s operating loss in the fourth quarter reached £309 million, as revenues dropped by 8.4% to £1.9 billion. Yields were down 2.5%, but 16% excluding exchange.

Aurora Flight Sciences’ solar powered UAV flies

By Rob Coppinger

Aurora Flight Sciences‘ unmanned aircraft SunLight Eagle flew on 12 May. The solar-powered, 34.7m (114ft) wingspan, 75kg (165lb) UAV became airborne at New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center at Las Cruces airport.

© Aurora Flight Sciences

Its first test objective was the collection of data on its aerodynamic performance and the solar cells. The next step for SunLight Eagle is to fly longer at higher altitudes. This will require an improved control system and the addition of a parachute. The next flight could be in August.

BA sinks into £220m operating loss for 2008-09

By David Kaminski-Morrow

British Airways has posted an operating loss of £220 million ($349 million) for the year ending 31 March, against a previous profit of £878 million.

The loss includes a restructuring cost of £78 million.

BA’s revenues for the period were up by 2.6% to just under £9 billion for the year, but fuel costs neared £3 billion while passenger and cargo demand dropped.

The carrier has turned in a pre-tax loss of £401 million compared with a £922 million profit in the previous year.

“The prolonged nature of the global downturn makes this the harshest trading environment we have ever faced and, with no immediate improvement visible, market conditions remain challenging,” says BA chief Willie Walsh.

Traffic volume and yield have not improved over the last quarter of last year, says the airline, and BA is not issuing new financial guidance for the current six-month or 12-month period because of the “difficulty in forecasting revenues”.

BA chairman Martin Broughton says: “In the last 12 months we have gone from a record profit to a record loss due to the current tough economic environment.

“That only serves to underline the extremely difficult trading conditions that we are facing, despite our best ever operational performance, and any recovery is likely to take longer than initially envisaged.”

He says the revenue outlook “continues to be weak” but BA expects to reduce its fuel costs by about £400 million.

BA also intends further cost reductions from capacity and other efficiency measures to mitigate the deterioration in revenues.

Carriers could face GPS software glitch next month

By John Croft

A software bug resident in a wide range of multi-mode GPS receivers (MMR) built by Rockwell Collins could cause datalink and other problems during the chronological transition from 20 to 21 June, cautions the European Aviation Safety Agency.

In a safety information bulletin (SIB) published 20 May, the regulator “strongly” recommended that operators with the units, which fly on practically all Boeing and Airbus models as well the Bombardier CRJ series, develop mitigation plans to deal with the potential problems, which were brought to EASA’s attention by Rockwell Collins.

EASA says the error “may cause the MMR to compute a date that is 512 weeks or approximately 19.5 years in the past” unless the unit is powered on during the transition between the days (at 0000h GMT) or if an onboard source such as a flight management system or flight deck clock is set up to provide time to the MMR instead.

While the anomaly will not affect “position, integrity and time of day provided by the MMR,” says EASA, it could prohibit the use of air traffic control datalink functions, result in incorrect date information on flight deck clocks, and possibly cause loss of maintenance and condition monitoring system data, as well as other anomalies.

Rockwell Collins says through the course of GPS system development and product regressiont tesing “our engineers discovered a minor software anomaly that affects the way the GPS receiver handles the date after June 20, 2009”.

Stressing the anomaly does not in any way compromise navigation precision or integrity, the company adds: “We have been working closely with our customers and regulatory agencies to rapidly resolve this issue with minimal impact to our customers.”

Republic to fly 100-seat E-190s for Midwest

By Lori Ranson

Republic Airways Holdings is set to become the first US regional carrier to operate 100-seat jets once it starts operating Embraer E-190s for partner Midwest Airlines.

The two airlines are expanding their air services agreement to cover two extended range “AR” Embraer E-190s, with flights starting in August and September.

Each 100-seat aircraft will feature 20 of Midwest’s “Signature” class seats. Midwest CEO Tim Hoeksema says the Embraer jets “are part of a comprehensive fleet plan being finalized by Midwest”.

Hoeksema also says the new E-190s will give Midwest flexibility in terms of route network and range, “with the potential to once again fly nonstop to the West Coast from our Milwaukee hub”.

Midwest plans to announce the new E-190 routes in the near future.

The deal expands a 10-year pact Midwest and Republic reached in late 2008 for the operation of 12 E-170s by Republic for Midwest. Republic at that time agreed to supply $15 million in financing to Midwest, and a further $10 million if Midwest met certain milestones.

Republic sits in a rare position with the opportunity to fly 100-seaters for Midwest. Scope limits in US mainline carrier pilot contracts generally have no caps on 50-seat operations. But the number of 70-seat-plus aircraft flown by regional carriers is usually tied to mainline growth, and no contract allows for the operation of 100-seaters. Midwest, however, has none of those constraints.

Republic is sourcing its E-190s through a 60 month lease with GECAS.

USA wants UK Zephyr in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Rob Coppinger

The UK-designed solar-powered, high-altitude, long-endurance Zephyr unmanned air vehicle is to fly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Developed by UK technology company Qinetiq, the latest versions have an 18.2m (59.6ft) wingspan, 30kg (66lb) mass with a 45kt (83km/h) cruise speed. Zephyr is designed for surveillance or communications missions and has achieved flight endurances of 54h and 82.3h.

“We are in the final throes of an agreement of how to move forward to operationally test [Zephyr] outside the USA. We are very close to getting an operational solar-powered system,” says Cdr Eliot Gunn of the office of the secretary of defence, advanced systems and concepts, unmanned systems joint capability technology demonstrations programme, oversight executive.

Long-range signals intelligence is the US Department of Defense’s primary interest in Zephyr, Gunn told the A&D Forum’s Unmanned Air Systems 09 conference in London on 19 May. The DoD may also want to provide Zephyr to other “combatant commanders” beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, he adds.

A Zephyr prototype is being flown at the US Army’s Yuma proving grounds in Arizona for additional testing. Zephyr 5 prototypes have been flown at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico.

Gunn says the endurance record setting prototype was called Zephyr 6, but that a contract has now been awarded for Zephyr 7.