A400M nations set late July deadline to fix contractual woes

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By Craig Hoyle

France and Germany have failed in their attempt to broker a six-month extension to a moratorium period to resolve issues on Europe’s delayed Airbus Military A400M transport programme, with a deadline of late July having been agreed on 22 June.

Defence ministers from the seven launch A400M nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK – met in Seville, Spain to discuss programme issues with EADS-led Airbus Military.

A400M
© Airbus Military

The UK Ministry of Defence says that it “can confirm that agreement has been reached between the partner nations for a one-month extension to the previous three-month standstill period to resolve outstanding issues with this important programme”.

The UK’s Financial Times quotes minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies as saying that London remains committed to the project “if we can be” after negotiations conclude within the coming weeks. Meanwhile, French defence minister Hervé Morin says these will focus on the at least €20 billion ($28 billion) programme’s financial aspects.

EADS declines to comment on the meeting, but says it is continuing to work on the A400M in a bid to resolve development problems. The company revealed ahead of the Paris air show that it is spending around €100 million a month on the effort. The company has requested that its customers agree to negotiate a new contract to reflect the military nature of the project.

First flight of the A400M is notionally scheduled for late this year or during the first few weeks of 2010. Deliveries of the launch nations’ 180 aircraft were contractually scheduled to begin this October, and the effort has been under the threat of possible cancellation since missing a planned flight test milestone in late April.


Eurocopter gets personnel recovery deal for German army CH-53s

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By Craig Hoyle

Germany’s BWB procurement agency has awarded Eurocopter a contract to upgrade 26 Sikorsky CH-53 transport helicopters for the German army.

Signed at the Paris air show on 18 June, the deal will see the aircraft equipped to undertake personnel recovery tasks. Prime contractor Eurocopter Deutschland says the deal is worth €24.9 million ($34.9 million), “with a large part going to the medium-sized German equipment industry”.

© Eurocopter

One prototype aircraft will be prepared, with a further 25 CH-53GE/GS transports to be modified for delivery between early next year and 2011. Each helicopter will gain a forward-looking infrared sensor, personnel locator system, new communications equipment and a rear tactical workstation as part of the upgrade.

“This project will quickly meet the Bundeswehr’s need for a wider CH-53 deployment capability for national and international missions,” says Eurocopter chief executive Lutz Bertling.

Eurocopter has previously received contracts to sustain operations of 82 CH-53s for the German army, and to conduct a wider mid-life upgrade to 40 of these.


Boeing took decision to delay 787 first flight ‘last Friday’

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By Max Kingsley-Jones

Boeing identified a structural issue with the 787 several weeks ago but it was not until last Friday that analysis confirmed that the first flight should be delayed pending a modification.

“Preliminary analysis was that we could have a credible flight-test envelope, but then during detailed analysis the envelope narrowed to the point that it would not be useful for flight-test,” says Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Scott Carson.

Speaking during a conference call today to explain the latest crisis to hit the Dreamliner programme, Carson said that the revised schedule for first flight and the impact on deliveries will be made public “in the next several weeks”.

Jim Larsen
© Jim Larsen

He expects the maiden flight delay to have an impact on first deliveries, which are currently scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

Pat Shanahan, vice-president and general manager of airplane programmes, says that the modifications required to address the structural problem “are manageable”.

The 787 programme general manager, Scott Fancher, says “several possible modifications” have already been identified and, once the final version is chosen, the airframer will proceed with detailed design and verification on the static test airframe and the first flight-test aircraft.

“The area in question is a few square inches in the side of body. The modifications are relatively small without very much weight [penalty] and a negligible impact on performance.”

Shanahan says that the area affected is in the upper region of the wing, centre section and body join, where there are multiple structures and materials including aluminium, titanium and composites. Both aluminium and titanium is being evaluated for the modification package.


NATO approves AWACS mission over Afghanistan

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By Craig Hoyle

NATO will provide improved air traffic control cover for Afghanistan under a newly approved deployment involving its Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.

Confirmed following a defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels from 11-12 June, the action is being taken “in recognition of the significant increase in both civilian and military aircraft over Afghanistan and the lack of a ground-based radar network”, NATO says.

Its announcement outlined an “immediate deployment” involving three or four of its 17 E-3As. The surveillance assets are expected to be flown from the alliance fleet’s forward operating base at Konya in Turkey.

Craig Hoyle/Flight International
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

Speaking ahead of the deployment decision, NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force deputy commander, UK Royal Air Force Air Cdre Dai Whittingham, said: “We are ready to deploy, and to support the International Security Assistance Force. Clearly, the [August presidential] elections will be a matter of interest for us,” he added.

In addition to providing an air traffic control function, the E-3A fleet will be capable of managing airborne strike operations against the Taliban.

Home based at Geilenkirchen in northern Germany, NATO’s AWACS force totals almost 1,500 military personnel, including 30 multinational aircrews. Sixteen alliance nations assign personnel to the force, with Romania having joined recently. The Czech Republic will be included soon.


Boeing announces delay to 787 first flight and deliveries

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By Max Kingsley-Jones

Boeing has announced that it has postponed the maiden flight of the 787 after deciding to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the first Dreamliner.

The airframer says that the need was identified during the recent regularly scheduled tests on the full-scale static test airframe. It adds that “preliminary analysis indicated that flight test could proceed this month as planned. However, after further testing and consideration of possible modified flight-test plans, the decision was made late last week that first flight should instead be postponed until productive flight testing could occur.”

Boeing says the 787 first flight – which was due to take place before the end of June – will be rescheduled along with the first delivery (due in quarter one 2010) following the final determination of the required modification and testing plan.

787 engine start
© Boeing

“It will be several weeks before the new schedule is available,” says the airframer. “The 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane No 1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight-test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft in the production system.”

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Scott Carson says a team of experts has already identified several potential solutions. “Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localised area requiring reinforcement,” he says.

“Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes, and this is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team,” he adds.

A conference call involving Carson, Pat Shanahan, vice-president and general manager of airplane programmes, and Scott Fancher, vice-president and general manager of the 787 programme, to discuss the issues today at 10:00 EDT. A webcast of that call will be accessible at http://www.boeing.com.


Partners take long-term view as AeroLogic set to launch

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By Graham Dunn

Executives at new German cargo venture AeroLogic admit it is too difficult to predict when the freightmarket will recover from the current economic crisis, but believe the long-term prospects outweigh the difficult launch environment.

AeroLogic, which received its first Boeing 777 freighter last month and has now secured its air operator’s certificate, will launch operations on 29 June. Capacity on the joint venture carrier will be shared between DHL Express and Lufthansa Cargo, predominantly on their respective weekday and weekend peaks. The first aircraft will operate weekdays on the Leipzig-Bahrain-Singapore-Delhi-Leipzig express route for DHL and the Leipzig-Tashkent-Hong Kong route for Lufthansa Cargo.

AeroLogic will take its second 777 freighter next month and two more in December, at which point it will also begin operating flights out of Lufthansa Cargo’s Frannkfurt hub to Asia and North America. Four more aircraft will follow in 2010.

Aerologic

Plans for the Leipzig-based cargo carrier were first unveiled in September 2007. But global air cargo traffic has plummeted over the last nine months.

Speaking at a press conference in Leipzig marking AeroLogic’s formal launch, Deutsche Post DHL chief executive Frank Appel said: “It is important to invest in opportunities even in times of difficulties. In the light of an inevitably recovering market, the strengthening of vital trade lanes through cost-efficient shared use of modern freighters must be viewed as a smart investment.

“Nobody can foresee when the economy is going to recover. We just have to wait for the figures and see if they are going up or down. The latest figures we have are April and we neither see it going up or getting worse. It looks a bit like the bottom has been reached, but we have no clear sign of improvement.”

AeroLogic launch

By launching slightly later than planned, as a result of last year’s Boeing strike delaying deliveries, the carrier has managed to avoid much of the slump so far.

But AeroLogic managing director Thomas Pusch says: “We will have to make a few adjustments [to our plan]. We earlier said we wanted break-even in 2010 and that continues to be our target.”

He says firm targets are difficult to set given the ecomomic uncertainty, but states that the 777Fs will provide increased efficiency: “When you have a downturn you try to operate as economically as possible.”

The new carrier is taking a cautious approach over initial plans to expandthe fleet to 11 aircraft.Pusch says: “We start with the eight, and then we see what the market will be.”

DHL Express executive vice-president forglobal network management and operationsCharlie Dobbie adds: “We haven’t placed the order yet for [the further] three. It is very easy to scale up. For now we are quite happy with can meet the demand.”