Eurocopter to send AS550 for Indian trials

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By Siva Govindasamy

Eurocopter will provide the AS550 C3 Fennec military helicopter for the trials in India’s light utility helicopter competition, instead of the AS350 civilian helicopter that was tested in an earlier tender that was later cancelled.

The company has an AS550 with its weapons on display at Paris (below) and Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter’s senior vice-president for sales and customer relations in Asia Pacific, says that the flight tests for India’s LUH competition could be begin shortly.

“This time, we have a military version of the Fennec that is ready to go on trial in India. We are waiting for the instructions and we expect the process to begin shortly. We do not know when a contract will be awarded but we are sure that we have the best product for India,” he adds.

Industry sources say that the company is favoured to get the contract, given that Bell chose not to offer its 407 this time. Eurocopter was close to winning an earlier LUH tender, but New Delhi cancelled it in December 2007 after Bell and several other companies complained that the EADS subsidiary was unfairly favoured in the selection process. Some also said that Eurocopter did not follow the rules by using the AS350 instead of a military version of the aircraft during the first trials.

Eurocopter Fennec

Eurocopter, however, always denied any charges of wrong-doing. It added that the AS550 was “exactly the same” as the AS350 “in terms of airframe, systems, main gear box, rotor head, blades, engine and performances”. India’s former defence minister subsequently exonerated the company of any wrong-doing.

India requires 197 military light utility helicopters, of which 133 are for its army and 64 for its air force. It hopes that deliveries will begin by the end of 2010 after a year-long evaluation, although this is expected to slip. The contract could be worth up to $750 million, and the companies must reinvest 30% in India under the country’s offsets policy.

State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics has been asked to develop and manufacture another 187 light utility helicopters, and the company could either do this on its own or with the help of a foreign partner.

The move comes as New Delhi aims to completely revamp its military helicopter fleets by 2020. The AgustaWestland A129, Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-52 and Mil Mi-28 are in the contest for a 22-unit attack helicopter requirement, and anti-submarine warfare and naval reconnaissance helicopters are also sought. India has also ordered 80 Mil Mi-17-V5 transport helicopters, and continues to induct the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter.

Boeing holds F-15 Silent Eagle go-ahead pending business case review

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By Stephen Trimble

Boeing has disavowed an executive’s statement at a show news conference that questioned the company’s internal financial commitment to its high-profile F-15 Silent Eagle programme.

The company on 17 June issued a statement that “reaffirmed” its commitment to a flight-test programme for a more stealthy version of the venerable F-15E, and scheduled the flight trials to launch in the third quarter of 2010.

The statement came a day after Tom Bell, Boeing vice-president for business development, said categorically that the company had withheld funding for the F-15SE flight test programme next year, pending a business case review within the next four months.

“We’re not at a point [on the F-15SE] where we have a definitive path forward,” he said.

F-15 Silent Eagle
© Boeing

But by the end of the week, Boeing’s ricocheting statements seemed to put the programme’s status back where it had begun: as one of the company’s top investment priorities.

“We know from talking with current international F-15 operators that they are very interested in the capabilities of the Silent Eagle,” says Jim Albaugh, Boeing’s president of Integrated Defense Systems.

“Making this commitment to get the programme through to a flight demonstration will ultimately help international customers understand how this aircraft meets their need for a flexible, long-range, large-payload, high-speed, multirole strike fighter with reduced observability.”

Boeing rolled out the F-15SE in mid-March without a customer, using a cosmetically modified, company-owned F-15E testbed.

The configuration introduces a canted tail and a new internal weapons bay based on a modified conformal fuel tank. It is also proposing to introduce fly-by-wire flight controls and a BAE Systems digital electronic warfare system.

Bell confirms that Boeing is in talks with Raytheon about the option of integrating a new active electronically scanned array radar designated the APG-82. That would provide export customers of the F-15SE with the same radar system selected for the US Air Force’s F-15E radar modernisation programme.

Bell also sought to lower expectations for the F-15SE’s frontal aspect radar cross-section characteristics, noting: “Until we get one on the pole and do the studies, that’s all theoretical at this point.”

Israeli industry overshadows UAV Paris first

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By Rob Coppinger

While appropriate that a European unmanned air vehicle should fly for the first time at the Paris air show on its 100th anniversary, the reality for the UAV industry is that Israel’s dominance was clear.

Austria’s Schiebel S-100 camcopter made history with its daily display at the show and at the end of the year an expected initial requirement contract will see further use of the helicopter by the German navy and army. But it is a rare occasion where an entirely European UAV is taken on by one of the continent’s governments. Instead Israel’s products are dominating the European market with high-profile examples of the UK buying Elbit Systems Hermes 450, through Thales, while the French have placed orders for Elbit’s Skylark and are using Israel Aerospace Industry’s Heron in Afghanistan.

Now IAI’s Heron TP is in a strong position in a German competition, with a decision expected early next year. The choice is between the Heron and General Atomics Predator B. Heron could win again when France, and possibly Spain, decide in December if they will buy the Thales, Indra, Dassault team version of the TP called Système de Drone.

© Schiebel
Austria’s Schiebel S-100 camcopter

At the show IAI has also been able to boast about the recent news that its Heron is being used by the US military in El Salvador in the war on drugs.

Israeli companies also had more announcements at Paris than any other country’s industry. New products and new versions of existing ones were among those anouncements, with Kadima-based BlueBird Aero Systems’ fuel cell powered Boomerang, Elbit’s catapult launched Hermes-90 UAV, which is based on Holon based-Innocon’s Mini Falcon UAVs, and Innocon’s Micro Falcon now being available with Bental Motion System’s MicroBat sensor package.

Bental is also providing technology for Germany’s 3W new UAV engine. Finally, Aeronautics Defense Systems announced that its Orbiter 3 maiden flight is being planned for August.

Europe’s Sagem displayed its Patroller long-endurance surveillance vehicle and announced a successful first flight that occurred earlier this month. But it, like the full-scale model of the EADS Advanced UAV, is a project with no guarantee of full development by any government.

Worse still Germany’s federal ministry of defence state secretary Rudiger Wolf has told his French and Spanish partners for Advanced UAV that his government will not continue with that project.

Among the major US UAV players at Paris, Raytheon revealed that its surveillance KillerBee product had completed flights using a heavy fuel engine and with a Linux-based control system. Raytheon is offering its KillerBee-4 version to the US military. And Northrop Grumman announced that it had started windtunnel tests for its new cargo concept called the Mover.

But back in Israel, Urban Aeronautics is preparing to test fly this month its prototype Mule ducted fan frontline logistics and medevac vehicle, which is a contender for the US Marine Corp’s cargo UAV competition.

Reflecting the embyronic nature of the commercial UAV sector, Paris announcements saw the promotion of French start-up company Aeroart and its low-cost Featherlite mini-UAV and Alsace-based company Flying Robots’ FR102 cargo UAV.

Aeroart sees its role as conducting civilian security and observation missions while Flying Robots says it is seeking certification for its cargo UAV from the European Aviation Safety Agency. The company is promoting its secure on-board mission control software where uncertificated workers can load and unload the FR102 and stop and start it so the vehicle can then follow a set route without any need for human intervention.

A company with more proven credibility in advanced avionics technology, Rockwell Collins declared that unpiloted commercial passenger aircraft would be a part of aviation’s future. “UAVs will fly with manned aircraft in commercial airspace soon,” says its senior director of control technologies David Vos.

While not offering any sense and avoid magic wands for integrated airspace UAV operations, Boeing did announce that it was setting up its Unmanned Airborne Systems division and that reliability would be its key selling point. But like the indigenous European industry on the international and domestic markets it will face a range of Israeli products that are already operationally proven.

Qatar Airways issues stern warning to Boeing to quickly resolve 787 delay issues

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By Max Kingsley-Jones

Qatar Airways has begun the final countdown to the termination of its Boeing 787 order after losing patience over negotiations about delivery delays.

Chief executive Akbar Al Baker blasted Boeing during the Paris air show for taking too long to resolve unspecific “issues”, warning that it would “walk away” from its 60-strong 787 contract if they are not quickly resolved. “We have some serious issues with Boeing and if they do not play ball with us they will be in for a very, very serious surprise,” says Al Baker.

The airline’s 30 firm 787-8 orders (plus 30 options) were originally due for delivery from mid-2010. However, the production crisis has pushed back all customers’ deliveries by at least two years, which would indicate that Qatar’s first aircraft is not now due to arrive until the around 2013 timeframe.

© Boeing

While he is unspecific about the nature of the issues, Al Baker says that Boeing is not dealing with them “in a professional manner, and Qatar Airways is very impatient with them”. He adds that the airline has the right to “walk away” from the deal if “the delay is unreasonable”.

The Doha-based airline’s high growth rate gives it an urgent need to add more widebody capacity. As such it is understood to be looking for earlier delivery slots vacated by airlines like Northwest/Delta and other carriers which would enable its 787 to begin arriving in 2011. Sources say that if the issue is not resolved quickly a contract cancellation move is “very imminent”.

In response to Al Baker’s public tirade, Boeing says only that it is “working closely with each of our customers”.

Qatar Airways has launched an on-demand charter division, Qatar Executive, which will operate two Bombardier Challenger 605s and a single 300. The service will be aimed at government officials, businessmen, bankers and politicians.”

Tanker Teams Start Posturing for USAF Competition

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Amy Butler/Paris

Both teams vying for a massive U.S. Air Force contract to build refueling tankers appear to be taking on a more collegial tenor as they await release of the Pentagon’s requirements next month, but this newfound spirit could be the calm before the storm in a third attempt for the service to select a new design.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS North America engaged in a volley of assaults about their designs during the past two years, and last year Boeing was on the offensive against the U.S. Air Force customer after it selected the Airbus A330-tanker based design. Yet, last week both said they are open to a so-called “dual buy” of KC-135 replacements. This would call for parallel development of both platforms and a guaranteed minimum order. KC-X was originally proposed to procure 179 aircraft. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, is adamant that he wants a single winner, primarily to avoid paying for two developments, logistics and training efforts.

The Air Force’s decision to award a $1.5-billion contract to the Northrop team was found by government auditors to be flawed after Boeing protested; this prompted the Pentagon’s failed attempt last year to conduct a new duel between the companies. Gates halted the procurement in September and called for a “cooling off.”

While both teams clearly took great pains to present a cool exterior in their media briefings here last week, neither was willing to commit to a protest-free process. In the last round, both contractors engaged in attempting to shape the request for proposals (RFP) that would drive metrics for the competition, and both at times threatened not to bid if the RFP wasn’t favorable to their design.

The challenge is for the Pentagon to craft metrics to judge the attributes of dissimilar commercial platforms modified for military use.

Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, unveiled the 7A7 concept during a briefing here last week. This leaves the door open to a large 777-200ER tanker or a smaller one derived from the 767 family. The “A” stands for “advanced,” according to Dave Bowman, vice president of Boeing’s tanker programs. The intent, he says, was to show the Air Force that the team would be flexible based on service needs. “We are not in a position to tell our customer what they want. . . . We are not RFP shaping at all.” A new twist in Boeing’s team was the appearance at the media briefing of Pat Shanahan, who oversees commercial aircraft programs; during the last competition, critics said Boeing’s civil and military sectors weren’t in lockstep on the tanker proposal. Shanahan, who is shepherding the delayed 787, says, “While the 787 may be the biggest program we have in commercial, tanker is equally important.” It hasn’t been decided whether a tanker would be built on the commercial line, with minor defense-specific modifications to follow, or if the commercial sector would simply hand over green aircraft to the military side. Despite poor performance on the 767-based tanker programs for Japan and Italy, Bowman points to lessons from efficiencies in the Navy’s P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, a modified 737, as a model.

The challenge for Boeing will be to select the right platform and propose a plausible development plan based on a to-be-determined platform. The Northrop team, by contrast, is left to defend the merits of the A330-based option, which sits in the middle of the size spectrum of options.

Just how much development work has been done on these options is highly proprietary. The 777-based design could be delivered in “not exactly the same time [as a 767 design], but similar,” Bowman says; company officials say they have not conducted wind tunnel tests of a 777 design. Boeing was previously docked for development risk because its design was based on components of various 767 aircraft wrapped into a single, new-designation aircraft.

Meanwhile, Boeing officials are eager to deliver to Italy its first 767-based tanker, which is late. “We have disappointed a very important customer,” Bowman said.

Northrop Grumman’s team, by contrast, is expected to stick with its A330-based proposal. Australia is the first customer, and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the U.K. each have placed orders. Northrop Grumman is not the prime contractor in those deals.

Ralph Crosby, CEO of EADS North America, is rejecting a notion to conduct a “low-price, technically acceptable” (LPTA) competition; this calls for both entrants to qualify for threshold requirements and then engage in a price shoot-out. The larger A330 would be at a disadvantage. This LPTA model was proposed by outgoing Pentagon acquisition czar John Young last year; it is unclear whether the strategy has gained traction with his replacement, Ashton Carter.

“That works for pencils and tablets [but] it is a flawed concept” for a military system, Crosby said during a June 13 briefing here.

“The issue is what credit does one get for capability above the threshold?” he said. It would “be both injurious to the defense acquisition process and a damn bad thing for the . . . armed services.” Boeing officials support an LPTA competition, which could favor a smaller platform.

“We don’t know what it means,” says Paul Meyer, Northrop’s vice president for mobility system, noting price could refer simply to development pricing, procurement, life cycle or some combination.

He says 90-100 aircraft are needed in a dual-buy scenario to justify construction of an Airbus final assembly facility in Mobile, Ala., for the A330 platforms and a nearby Northrop Grumman plant to add the mission systems. The Airbus facility could also produce A330-200Fs and, at some point, assemble A350XWBs.

EADS is continuing testing on the first A330-200-based tanker for Australia, and Northrop Grumman is also testing components of the design it previously proposed to USAF in a ground-based systems integration laboratory.

KC-135 photo credit: Boeing

Lufthansa Needs More Action To Avoid Loss

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Jens Flottau/Paris

Lufthansa said today that it will have to come up with additional cost savings to keep the airline from making losses this year. The profit warning revises an earlier guidance predicting a significant operating profit in 2009.

The carrier stated that traffic and yields remain at low levels. It did not specify which additional measures are needed, but an official said that so far no lay-offs are on the agenda.

Lufthansa and DHL also officially launched their joint venture freight carrier Aerologic. The airline has taken delivery of its first new Boeing 777F and will add seven more until the end of 2010. Plans for additional growth are shelved, officials said, with the cargo sector being severely hit in the current downturn.

Separately, the European Commission is demanding massive capacity cuts at Austrian Airlines as a remedy for approval of the planned Lufthansa takeover. Peter Michaelis, head of Austria’s state holding OEIAG, said the commission wants the airline to reduce its fleet by 20 aircraft. That would be a cut of more than 20% as the airline currently has a fleet of 95 aircraft. Additionally, Lufthansa would have to give up frequencies on certain routes to allow for a new competitor to enter. The commission is understood to be particularly concerned with routes between Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.

Photo credit: Ingrid Friedl/Lufthansa