Oneworld and Star reveal new members

Global alliances oneworld and Star Alliance have both been busy further expanding their membership with plans unveiled for the addition of Russian carrier S7 Airlines and Greek operator Aegean Airlines respectively.

Moscow-based S7 Airlines, sponsored by British Airways, will next month begin an 18-month alignment process ahead of becoming a full member of oneworld in 2010. For more on this story click here. Oneworld currently comprises ten carriers, while Mexicana is due to join the alliance in October.

Meanwhile Greek carrier Aegean, which already has a close relationship with Star Alliance members such as Lufthansa, has had its application to join the alliance formally accepted by Star members. For more details click here. Star currently has 21 full members and three associate members. Alongside Aegean, four other carriers – Air India, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines and TAM – are in the process of becoming full Star Alliance members.

In April, the other major global airline alliance, SkyTeam, entered formal discussions with Vietnam Airlines with a view to the latter’s entry into the alliance next year. SkyTeam currently has ten full members and three associate members.

Bombardier developing centralised health monitoring for CSeries

By Mary Kirby

Bombardier is developing a centralized maintenance health monitoring system (CMHMS) for the CSeries that will provide real-time information about the entire aircraft to ensure enhanced diagnostics and prognostics.

“We’re still designing it but if we get it right it will be accessible by maintenance technicians via personal digital assistants,” says Bombardier Commercial Aircraft programmes VP Ben Boehm.

The CMHMS will play a role in helping to drive down direct maintenance costs of the CSeries. Bombardier predicts the 110/130-seat aircraft will cost 28% less to maintain than in-production competitors, including the Airbus A319, Boeing 737-600 and Embraer 195.

The Canadian airframer is also migrating to a comprehensive aftermarket business model with the CSeries. It will offer a complete nose-to-tail maintenance programme on a fixed cost-per-flight hour basis for the Pratt & Whitney PW1500G-powered aircraft.

2010 could see five-day UAV flight at 20,000ft

By Rob Coppinger

Aurora Flight Sciences has developed a version of its Orion unmanned air vehicle that uses a commercially available internal combustion engine for a 454kg (1,000lb) payload capability and five-day endurance.

It should be selected for a joint capability technology demonstration (JCTD) programme by July for a mid-2010 first flight. Aurora declines to comment on the JCTD candidacy of the new medium-altitude version of Orion, which operates at 20,000ft (6,100m) and has a dash speed of 120kt (222km/h).

The General Atomics RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper and Northrop Grumman‘s RQ-4 Global Hawk were all developed as technology demonstration vehicles.

Cdr Eliot Gunn of the US office of the secretary of defence, advanced systems and concepts, gave details about the new Orion at the A&D Forum Unmanned Air Systems 09 conference in London on 19 May.

He said the vehicle’s subsystems consist of commercial off-the-shelf components, adding that “the real secret sauce is the integration and the composite materials they use”.

He identified Orion as a persistent surveillance JCTD from 2010 to the end of 2012. Describing it as “partially built”, he added that Aurora had used internal R&D funds to get the fixed-wing Orion close to its first flight.

Aurora had originally developed the Orion as a high-altitude, long-loiter (HALL) hydrogen-powered vehicle with its partner Boeing for the US Army. It used Ford automotive engines modified by Boeing to burn hydrogen.

Gunn says the new Orion does not use Ford engines. According to Aurora’s website the Orion HALL has a 40.2m (132ft) wingspan, gross take-off weight of 3,175kg (7,000lb) and maximum payload of 180kg.

Dutch minister confirms agreement to sell 18 more F-16s to Chile

By Craig Hoyle

Dutch undersecretary of defence Jack de Vries has confirmed plans to sell a second batch of surplus Lockheed Martin F-16AM fighters to Chile.

An agreement has been reached to supply 18 secondhand mid-life update-standard aircraft, and a contract signature is expected soon, according to a 25 May statement issued by the Dutch defence ministry.

The Netherlands sold a first batch of 18 surplus F-16AM/BMs to Chile earlier this decade, with these now flying from Antofagasta air base.

Deliveries are planned for 2010 under the follow-on deal, with the Royal Netherlands Air Force to provide limited support and Dutch civilian contractors to train 75 Chilean technicians.

The Dutch defence ministry has not confirmed the likely value of the new sale, but this is estimated at around €100 million ($139 million).

Greece’s Aegean formally applies to join Star Alliance

Greek carrier Aegean Airlines has formally applied to join Star Alliance, bringing the total membership to 29 carriers.

The airline – which has grown increasingly close to Star’s network – disclosed the decision during a briefing in Athens.

“In the near future our customers will be able to enjoy the network, privileges and loyalty rewards of the largest and most-recognised airline alliance in the world,” says Aegean chairman Theodore Vassilakis.

Star has 21 current members and another five full members – including Aegean – undergoing integration. The alliance also has three regional member airlines.

Russia’s S7 formally to join Oneworld alliance

By David Kaminski-Morrow

Russian carrier S7 Airlines is to join the Oneworld alliance, and will begin integrating itself with the airline group from June.

S7’s accession has been “unanimously” accepted by the 10 current members of Oneworld.

The Moscow-based carrier, sponsored by British Airways, is to begin an 18-month alignment process ahead of becoming a full member in 2010.

Through S7, Oneworld will have access to another 54 destinations of which 35 are in Russia.

It will also provide the alliance with connections to eight countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

S7 will take initial steps towards Oneworld on 1 June when its network will be added to the alliance’s round-the-world fare packages.

But the integration process, says the alliance, will also involve switching information technology systems and changing internal processes and S7’s formal accession date will be determined “once all its pre-joining requirements are sufficiently progressed”.

S7 Airlines Boeing 737

S7 chief Vladimir Obyedkov says Oneworld membership will be one of the “most significant” steps in the airline’s history.

Oneworld says the acceptance of S7 will expand its global network to nearly 750 destination in total, and give the alliance a combined fleet of 2,300 aircraft transporting over 330 million passengers.

Russia has long been viewed as a region of relatively low alliance coverage. Following the decision of Aeroflot to join SkyTeam, both Star Alliance and Oneworld have been left with difficult choices as a result of turmoil in the Russian airline sector.

Oneworld managing partner John McCulloch says that S7 will fill one of the alliance’s “few remaining membership ‘white spaces'” and says the Russian carrier “matches our alliance’s demanding quality requirements”.

Panamanian MRO completes its first E-190 ‘C-check’

By Leithen Francis

Panama Aerospace Engineering (PAE) now has local certification to do heavy maintenance checks on Embraer 190s and has just completed its first ‘C-check’ on this aircraft type.

A spokeswoman in Singapore for PAE’s parent Singapore Technologies Aerospace says the Panamanian maintenance, repair and overhaul firm received Panamanian certification last month to do heavy maintenance checks on E-190s.

She says since then it has completed its first ‘C-check’ on an E-190 and this particular aircraft was from Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines.

The spokeswoman also says PAE in February received US FAA certification to do heavy maintenance checks on Airbus A320s.

Airbus seeks regulatory clarity on open rotor design

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.

“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”.

French navy unveils major upgrade for Panther helicopter

By Kieran Daly

France has unveiled details of a mid-life upgrade of the Eurocopter AS565 Panther that will substantially enhance the capabilities of an aircraft playing a key role in anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

An aircraft sporting some of the upgrade elements appeared for the first time in public at a briefing at the French Mediterranean naval base of Hyères with a new digital cockpit.

Test pilot Cdr Guillaume Guitard says the objective of the programme is to give the type “significantly increased operational capability” in line with its new missions addressing threats such as piracy and narcotics smuggling.

He says: “We have done a lot of standalone improvements like datalinking and a sniper system. But now it is quite old and we expect to have an upgrade according to the new missions.”

Particular concerns addressed by the €80 million ($110 million) programme are the aircraft’s lack of night-vision goggle compatibility, ageing communications fit, and relatively light offensive and defensive equipment.

Arnaud de Michelis, programme manager for France’s DGA procurement agency, says: “I think we have managed to provide a very nice package for the French navy. I strongly believe that this aircraft is going to be a revolution for the French navy, both in terms of how the crew will work together and the way the fleet will use this aircraft as a tool.”

Panthers are deployed on three frigates in active anti-piracy operations off the East African coast, as well as other deployments in the Caribbean on counter-narcotics work and elsewhere. They were involved in recent operations in which 22 pirates were arrested at sea.

The new cockpit is NVG-compatible and includes a 10in (255mm) screen in the middle of the panel, which is used mainly to display forward-looking infrared (FLIR) or tactical information to be shared between the two pilots.

The electro-optics developed by Sagem now include a Euroflir 410 FLIR mounted on the left-hand side due to the chin-mounted radar, television and a laser telemeter.

Communications upgrades consist of a new tactical radio with anti-jamming and a Link 11 datalink primarily for passing sensor data to the frigate operating the helicopter via the tactical situation system in the rear cabin.

Flight-testing of the whole package, developed by French government operational support agency SIAé, is due to start flight-testing in October.

A second package, based on the Eurocopter Tiger, is a self-protection system including a Thales radar warning receiver, EADS laser and missile warning, and an MBDA flare dispenser. Flight-testing of that package is due by the end of next year.

The first aircraft without the self-protection system is due for delivery in mid-2010 and the first three aircraft will be modified by Eurocopter. SIAé, which already performs the maintenance on the Panther fleet, will handle the rest.

Early examples are expected to take about 11 months each, including the standard maintenance work, but later aircraft should take only around six months ensuring that the 16 helicopters are delivered with the self-protection system between mid-2012 and mid-2014.