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Arik Air Mulls Plans To Serve U.S.

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Neelam Mathews mathews.neelam@gmail.com

Nigerian carrier Arik Air is in midst of deciding whether to start flights to New York.

The announcement is expected by the beginning of next month. Arik Air has also been invited to be the national flag carrier of Niger.

The West African Republic of Niger, which borders Nigeria and Benin to the South, and Algeria and Libya to the north, is the largest nation in West Africa, with its capital in Niamey. Over 80% of its territory is covered by the Sahara desert.

“We view the invite from Niger as a wholly positive endorsement of Arik Air indicating that we are viewed as having the necessary expertise, ability and network in the region that makes Arik Air’s business model attractive to West African states seeking to restructure and enhance their aviation industry,” an Arik Air spokesman told AWIN.

Arik Air has received traffic rights to 11 international destinations, including Houston, Atlanta and New York. It has already launched services to London and Johannesburg.

“Needless to say, it is our ambition to launch this route (U.S) and that has not diminished,” the spokesman said. “Until we are in a position to confirm commencement of U.S operations, we aren’t able to speculate on what aircraft would be used on these routes,” he added.

Arik Air has taken delivery of two airbus A340s from Kingfisher Airlines for its operations to London and Johannesburg. “There is an option for a third A340, but this is still in negotiation,” explained the spokesman.

In May, a Kingfisher spokesman confirmed that a wet-lease agreement for two A330s was completed with Arik Air, indicating that it would not add further long-haul sectors to its present unprofitable routes to London Heathrow. The Arik Air spokesman now says that negotiations are ongoing. “Needless to say, we are always interested and will consider any new inventory that comes onto the market.”

Kingfisher has five A330s in its inventory, two of which are idle.

Arik Air has been successful in the difficult economic climate. In the space of six months, it launched two long-haul flights — from Lagos to London and Johannesburg on the two new A-340’s (of Kingfisher).

“We have enhanced our domestic market share from 30% Q1 2007 to 42% Q1 2009 as well as consolidating regionally with the commencement of operations to Senegal, the Gambia and Sierre Leone,” says the spokesman.

Arik Air operates a fleet of 27 medium-haul and long-haul aircraft. It serves 20 airports across Nigeria as well as Accra, Ghana; Cotonou, Benin; Niamey and Agadez, Niger; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Banjul, Gambia; Dakar, Senegal; London Heathrow and Johannesburg. The airline currently operates a combined total of 120 daily flights from its hubs in Lagos and Abuja.

Photo credit: Arik Air


Critical U.S. Defense Capabilities At Risk

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Aviation Week & Space Technology editorial

It is hard to believe that the world’s largest aerospace manufacturing base, serving the world’s largest aerospace marketplace, could be struggling to maintain its industrial capability in areas critical to U.S. national security. But it’s true, and it’s getting worse. Most troubling is that the erosion is most advanced in those areas of technological superiority that have historically underpinned U.S. defense strategy.

Recently, we have reported on the industrial-base challenges facing key sectors from solid-rocket motors to military rotorcraft. What we found is that many of the capabilities that have made the U.S. the predominant military force in the world are the very ones that are fragile.

Critics would argue the industrial base does not need coddling because contractors are making huge profits. But a financially healthy industry is not necessarily a technologically robust one. The U.S. must be able to arm its forces for today’s wars, but the surge in demand for the basics of warfare should not come at the expense of crucial specialized industrial capabilities.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his Fiscal 2010 budget outline in April, he noted the decisions were made without taking into account industrial base implications. That may have been the right thing to do when trying to rebalance the budget and flush away outmoded thinking. But it is not the right thing to do when it comes to the Quadrennial Defense Review and shaping U.S. defense priorities for years to come. What value is a defense strategy without the industrial base to deliver the capabilities required?

And setting aside industrial base considerations does not mean the issue goes away; it means the policy is unspoken and incoherent. Traditionally, the Pentagon has given the individual services considerable leeway in how they handle the industrial implications of their procurement decisions. This results in some radically different approaches. The Navy continues to buy small numbers of Tridents to keep the submarine-launched ballistic missile base warm. The Air Force, on the other hand, has nothing in its ICBM plans after the Minuteman III propulsion replacement program ends. Similarly, the Navy keeps buying F/A-18s, while the Air Force has cut its connection to the fourth-generation fighter base. As for the Army, it keeps buying helicopters designed decades ago while the industry teeters on the edge of losing its capability to develop new military rotorcraft.

The Pentagon occasionally has acquiesced to preserve an industrial capability when competing producers were struggling to stay in business. Allowing Boeing and Lockheed Martin to combine expendable launch vehicle businesses was one.

The Pentagon has also shown it can act when needed to protect vital capabilities—for example, by starting work on a replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. Nothing smacks of outmoded Cold War force structure like big boomers, but without a new program there might be no designers left to craft a new strategic submarine when it is needed most, years from now.

Other capabilities are at similar cusps, but it is not clear the Defense Dept. will act in time to preserve them. The U.S. is building fifth-generation fighters, but are they enough to sustain its lead in low-observable technology as a next-generation bomber slips further into the future? Will the Pentagon choose to allow its stealth design expertise to erode, and the airborne leg of the nuclear triad to shrivel?

Gates is right to attack programs where requirements creep and cost growth becomes indefensible. Some programs should be killed, but that discipline must not be twisted to taint what should be a strategic approach to the industrial base. Pentagon leaders have long said their buying power is focused not on programs, but on capabilities. Protecting industrial capability is not the same as propping up foundering programs. Once a highly specialized capability has atrophied, it is difficult and time-consuming to reconstitute it. You can’t just go to Silicon Valley and hire away specialists in radar-absorbing materials; there aren’t any there.

Mention preserving the defense industrial base and critics hear government subsidies. But this is not about preserving jobs or pork barrel stimulus. It’s about holding on to critical design skills and manufacturing capacity on which the U.S. built its security.

Photo: Wikipedia


Boeing/Iridium Team Completes High Integrity GPS Program Milestones

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ST. LOUIS, July 10, 2009 — A team led by Boeing [NYSE: BA] with support from Iridium Satellite LLC today announced that it has achieved two major milestones to further develop and demonstrate capability enhancements to the High Integrity Global Positioning System (GPS) program for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

The first milestone, completion of the Enhanced Narrowband (ENB) software modification to computers on Iridium satellites, enables second-generation GPS-aiding signals to be broadcast through the entire Iridium constellation. These broadcasts will enable rapid, more accurate GPS position fixes anywhere in the world. The GPS-aiding signal will allow appropriately equipped warfighters to quickly lock on and maintain a GPS signal, even while operating in restrictive environments such as urban areas, forests, mountains and canyons, as well as under enemy jamming attempts or amid battlefield radio frequency noise.

“The completion of this on-orbit software enhancement to the Iridium constellation represents a significant step toward delivering aiding signals with embedded GPS data anywhere in the world and on demand,” said David Whelan, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems chief scientist and vice president/deputy general manager, Boeing Phantom Works. “This will provide warfighters with improved GPS anti-jam and time stability transfer capabilities.”

The second milestone was a demonstration of the acquisition of a GPS signal under substantial jamming while moving.

“When a military GPS receiver is jammed, it cannot obtain a position fix, and movement only makes the situation worse,” said Whelan. “Even from a cold start, it took only minutes for the High Integrity GPS-aided receiver, in a moving vehicle, to receive the GPS signal while being jammed. Without assistance from the High Integrity GPS system, a position fix would never have been obtained.”

“GPS has become an indispensable tool for military operations, so we are pleased that we have reached these milestones with Boeing,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Campbell, executive vice president of Government Programs, Iridium. “Because of the unique design of our global satellite network, Iridium is able to help deliver such added precision and robustness to this important capability used in U.S. Department of Defense mission-critical operations.”

The principle behind High Integrity GPS, also known in government circles as “iGPS,” uses satellite signals from the Iridium low-Earth orbit telecommunications system and the U.S. Air Force-operated GPS mid-Earth orbit navigational satellites. Iridium provides a high power signal and rapidly changing ground track to accelerate an initial position fix by users. The GPS system provides navigational data in time, location and velocity. The result is an augmentation to GPS that provides iGPS receivers with improved navigation, higher signal integrity, precision accuracy and more jam-resistant capabilities. High Integrity GPS also has the potential to provide geographic positioning data to within centimeters, a vast improvement over current stand-alone GPS, which provides data within meters.

The ENB software upgrade was completed on schedule and within budget, and will support a system-level demonstration later this year.

The team includes Boeing Phantom Works’ Advanced Network and Space Systems, Iridium, Rockwell Collins, Coherent Navigation and experts from academia.

Iridium Satellite LLC (www.iridium.com) is the only mobile satellite service (MSS) company offering pole-to-pole coverage over the entire globe. The Iridium constellation of low-Earth orbiting (LEO), cross-linked satellites provides critical voice and data services for areas not served by terrestrial communication networks. Iridium’s subscriber growth has been driven by increasing demand for reliable, secure, global communications. Iridium serves commercial markets through a worldwide network of hundreds of distributors, and provides services to the U.S. Department of Defense, and other U.S. and international government agencies. The company’s customers represent a broad spectrum of industry, including maritime, aeronautical, government/defense, public safety, utilities, oil/gas, mining, forestry, heavy equipment and transportation. Iridium has launched a major development program for its next-generation satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, which will result in continued and new Iridium MSS offerings. The company is headquartered in Bethesda, Md., and is currently privately held.


Shuttle set to launch after 24-hour delay

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) — NASA began preparing for a launch of space shuttle Endeavour on Sunday, a day after liftoff was postponed over concerns of possible effects from a lightning storm.

Image from NASA TV shows a lightning strike Friday night near the shuttle launch pad.

Image from NASA TV shows a lightning strike Friday night near the shuttle launch pad.

External tank fueling began just before 10 a.m. Sunday, with a planned launch time of 7:13 p.m., NASA said.

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“The forecast is 70 percent ‘go’ for liftoff,” the space agency said on its Web site.

Endeavour had been scheduled to take off at 7:39 p.m. Saturday.

Eleven lightning strikes hit within a half-mile of the launch pad Friday night, Mike Moses, the space shuttle program integration manager, told reporters Saturday. Video Watch lightning strike the shuttle launch pad »

“We need to be 100 percent confident that we have a good system across the board. … [We’re going to] spend 24 more hours to just make sure that we’re good,” Moses said. View behind-the-scenes images of Endeavour »

Endeavour’s launch was postponed twice last month because of a liquid hydrogen leak.

Endeavour, carrying seven astronauts and a key component for Japan’s Kibo science laboratory, is to head to the International Space Station for a 16-day mission. Five spacewalks are planned for the crew after the shuttle docks. View an interactive of what mission will do in space »

The Kibo science lab, also called the Japanese Experiment Module, is Japan’s first human space facility and has been more than 20 years in the making.

The mission’s primary goal will be to install what amounts to a porch in space. Endeavour is carrying in its cargo bay two platforms for the Kibo lab, which is already part of the space station. One platform rides up and back on the shuttle, while the other will stay permanently fixed to the Kibo laboratory for scientific experiments that require exposure to space.

For many of the 16 days, the station will resemble a construction site, except that astronauts will be in space suits instead of hard hats and operating robotic arms instead of cranes. And just like at a job site, it will all be going on at the same time.

CNN’s John Zarrella and Dick Uliano contributed to this report.


US Approves Continental Joining Star Alliance

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The US Department of Transportation Friday approved a bid by Continental Airlines to join United Airlines and other carriers in the global Star Alliance.

The final DOT order, which gave the carriers limited immunity from antitrust law, permits carriers to share pricing, scheduling and other information within the alliance.

Opponents of the immunity had argued that allowing Continental into the alliance would dampen competition and harm consumers with higher fares.

United and Continental, however, cheered the government decision, which enables carriers to build international networks without running afoul of US law that discourages mergers between domestic and overseas airlines.

“United, Continental and the Star Alliance carriers will be able to compete more effectively in an increasingly global air travel market,” UAL CEO Glenn Tilton said in a statement.

“It ensures global competition with other antitrust immunized alliances while encouraging the retention and growth of open skies between the US and other nations,” said Continental CEO Larry Kellner in a statement.

“From a network perspective, their network just got a lot bigger, and it will allow them to be more competitive with other airlines,” said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Hunter Keay.

United and Continental initiated the partnership last year in lieu of a discarded plan to merge the two carriers. Some experts, including UAL’s Tilton, say the airline industry desperately needs consolidation to remove excess capacity and cut costs.

OVERCOMING ANTITRUST CONCERNS

The Star Alliance was created in 1997 with member airlines now offering a combined 17,000 daily departures to 160 countries.

The immunity designation allows alliances to maximize revenues by operating crucial aspects of their businesses as one company, a practice normally prohibited by antitrust laws.

The order, signed by Christa Fornarotto, an acting assistant secretary at the Transportation Department, limited antitrust immunity for some US routes to Canada and to Beijing, acknowledging concerns raised by antitrust officials at the US Department of Justice.

“The venture, as well as the broader alliance, will create substantial new service options and fare benefits for consumers,” the Transportation Department said in the 3O page order.

“After careful consideration of DOJ’s and other parties’ arguments, we confirm our tentative decision that this application is not anti-competitive,” the government said.


Alaska Air Says Bag Fee Worth USD$70 Mln

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Alaska Air Group said Friday that a fee it began charging passengers this month for a first checked bag was expected to add USD$70 million or more to annual revenue.

The parent of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air also said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that the fee, which it began charging on July 7, was expected to add about USD$30 million in revenue for its second half.

In its investor update, Alaska Air also said it expects revenue per available seat mile (RASM) to be down 6 percent to 7 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier for Alaska Airlines.

The company added that a modification of Alaska Airlines’ affinity card agreement with Bank of America was expected to result in about USD$15 million of incremental revenue that it expects to record for June, pending a final accounting review.

It said the impact of the card agreement change was not included in its RASM forecast.

Alaska Air also noted that it has reached agreements with Boeing and Bombardier to defer firm aircraft deliveries to future periods.