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.

Airbus links with engine makers to seek clarity from authorities on open rotor airworthiness requirements

By Max Kingsley-Jones

Airbus has joined forces with engine manufacturers to seek clarification from certification authorities on the likely airworthiness requirements for open-rotor-powered airliners.

Several engine manufacturers are exploring open rotor engine designs as a possible way to deliver a step-change in operating economics for future airliners. However, Airbus‘s powerplant chief, Sebastien Remy, wants more clarity from the European Aviation Safety Agency and the US Federal Aviation Administration on certification requirements, to prevent designers heading down blind alleys.

© Fligthglobal/Tim Becheno-Brown
An artist’s impression of an aircraft with open rotors

“Open rotor [powered aircraft designs] are concepts and do not exist so are not covered by any certification rules, per se,” he says.

“It is an area that we are addressing with the engine manufacturers to propose to the airworthiness authorities [what requirements they will set] to certificate these types of machines.”

While open-rotor airliner configurations have been studied for many years, there are questions about likely airworthiness rules in areas such as engine layout and blade containment.

Remy says that it is important that “we understand perfectly what kind of rules we have to follow” to ensure that any designs being evaluated would be viable from an airworthiness standpoint.

He adds that the lack of airworthiness benchmarks means “there is currently some uncertainty about the true performance of these new concepts”.

Shuttle Landing Delayed

Jefferson Morris

Weather issues have prompted a decision to delay the shuttle landing at least one day. More coverage will follow; below is the story we filed Thursday night.

A low pressure system in Florida is making a Friday landing of Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) appear somewhat unlikely, although the orbiter itself is clean and ready.

“I’ll tell you, it doesn’t look great,” STS-125 Entry Flight Director Norm Knight said of the weather during a press conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston Thursday afternoon. “We’re waiting for that system to move out. We expect it’s going to improve over the next couple of days, but again, it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing.”

The crew of Atlantis is gearing up to return home after their successful final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. With the help of a power-down period Wednesday, the shuttle should be able to comfortably remain in orbit until Monday if need be.

NASA is only considering a KSC landing on Friday, with opportunities at 10 a.m. and 11:39 a.m. EDT. If weather prevents a return to KSC that day, the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in California will be activated as well on Saturday. For now, the weather at Edwards is “just great,” Knight said.

Late inspections of the orbiter’s thermal protection system revealed no damage that would preclude a safe re-entry, and shuttle managers have no concerns about a short in a quadruple-redundant actuator control system that occurred during liftoff from KSC.

As Atlantis climbed to orbit May 11, Aerosurface Actuator 1 (ASA 1) shorted out, which cut off one of four channels controlling aerodynamic surfaces on the shuttle, including the elevons, body flap and rudder.

The ASA box is located in an avionics bay in the shuttle’s aft compartment. The four ASAs receive signals from the shuttle’s general purpose computers and translate them for the actuators. The rest of the system has been fully checked out and there are “no issues” for landing, Knight said.

The original headline on this story read: Weather Casts Doubt On Friday Shuttle Landing

File photo of STS-122 landing: NASA

Still No Viable Bidders for Eclipse Assets

Fred George

There are still no viable bidders for Eclipse Aviation nearly 90 days after its creditors petitioned the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware on Feb. 24 to liquidate the Albuquerque VLJ start-up’s assets in accordance with Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy laws.

The action followed Eclipse’s failed attempt to reorganize under Chapter 11. Subsequently, at least four entities entertained the feasibility of bidding for Eclipse’s assets. Of note, Daher-Socata is one of the firms that informed Jeoffrey Burtch, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee appointed for Eclipse, of its interest in purchasing the insolvent firm’s assets, according to company insiders. Daher-Socata conducted comprehensive pre-purchase due diligence research that even included a senior leadership team member flying an EA 500 demonstrator aircraft, the same sources disclosed.

But none of the bidders has yet fielded a proposal to the liking of company creditors and other stakeholders, thus diminishing each day the odds of Eclipse’s being brought back to life under new ownership. Various blogs have erroneously reported that Burtch set June 24 as the proposed date for the auction of Eclipse’s assets. While Burtch could not be reached for comment, three of the potential bidders, including David Green representing the Eclipse Owners Group, Peter Reed of New Eclipse Acquisition LLC, and Mike Press, a co-founder of Eclipse Aerospace, said no firm auction date has been set. A June 24 court hearing date has been reserved by Burtch, but that’s more pro forma than substantive. The various stakeholders apparently are holding out for a better offer.

Meanwhile, Eclipse Aviation’s key engineers, technicians and software gurus continue to drain out from Albuquerque, making it increasingly unlikely that there will be sufficient technical support needed to maintain and upgrade the current fleet of 259 aircraft, let alone restart new aircraft production.

Of looming importance, company insiders say, Eclipse has a very large regulatory skeleton hidden in its Albuquerque closet that will impede a new firm’s attempt to earn a production certificate. While last year’s rigorous special certification review failed to uncover any serious deficiencies in the EA 500 type certification process, it did find dozens of lapses in Eclipse’s production line quality control systems. All of those quality control deficiencies will have to be corrected before the FAA re-issues an EA 500 production certificate, company insiders said.

Most qualified potential bidders already know they’ll have to invest $50-million-plus to resume new aircraft production. With the need to fix the recently uncovered production line quality control snags, the downsides are daunting for most would-be suitors. Few bidders, outside of general aviation powerhouse Daher-Socata, have the resources to undertake such a challenge. Absent a sweet bid from Daher-Socata in the next few weeks, Eclipse’s creditors may have to face the bitter reality that the insolvent company is dead and cannot be brought back to life. What remains of Eclipse’s $1-billion-plus investment is only worth what the market now is willing to offer. And that’s not much more than one to two cents on the dollar, according to most of the bidders.

Photo credit: Eclipse Aviation