Demand Slump Persists In May, IATA Says

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By Adrian Schofield

Passenger traffic on international routes declined at an increasing rate in May, contradicting earlier signs that traffic might have bottomed out, according to the International Air Transport Association.

An apparent stabilization seen in previous months’ numbers now looks to have been caused by a small rise in distance flown, due to the “geographical pattern of changing travel markets,” IATA said. “There are some promising signs, but passenger numbers were still falling in May.”

Premium passenger traffic on international routes was down 23.6% in May, compared with a 22% decline in April and a 19.2% fall in the first quarter. Economy traffic dropped 7.6%, resulting in overall international passenger traffic falling 9.2% in May after an 8.2% drop in the first quarter. IATA believes premium fares were down about 20% on average in April, and about the same in May, with international premium revenue falling up to 45%.

Regional results varied widely. For example, there was growth in economy travel on Europe-Middle East and Middle East-Far East routes. Within-Europe and transatlantic traffic showed signs of stabilization, but not revival. Asia/Pacific routes saw larger declines than in April. Traffic within Central America was down an alarming 62.4% in May, due at least partly to the H1N1 swine flu scare.

Meanwhile, IATA also released its latest airline business confidence index. Generally, airline executives responding to an IATA survey were more pessimistic about the industry outlook than they were in previous surveys. Most executives foresee further declines in profitability over the next 12 months. Expectations for cargo and passenger volumes are for greater stability, but views on yield are more pessimistic.

Photo: Mexico City International Airport

Shuttle Evaluated After Foam Debris Shower

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Frank Morring, Jr.

Space shuttle experts are evaluating the heat shield protecting Endeavour following what appeared to be the worst release of insulating foam from its external tank since the Columbia accident.

Experts at Johnson Space Center should have plenty of data to evaluate, including the results of a detailed laser survey with the orbiter’s robotic arm on July 16 that covered the reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panels on the nose cap and wing leading edges. Also on tap is digital telephotography by the International Space Station (ISS) crew during the back-flip rendezvous pitch maneuver upon rendezvous on July 17.

Early results were encouraging, managers say. A set of at least four marks on the black tile in the starboard chine area appears to be less serious than a similar ding observed during the STS-125 mission in May, when no action was required. Other debris seen falling from the intertank stringer probably came so late in the ascent that there wasn’t enough atmosphere to slam it into a delicate RCC panel, as happened with Columbia.

Managers also want to know why so much foam fell from the external tank, after all the work that went into preventing it after the accident. One early suspect is the repeating fill-and-drain cycles Endeavour’s tank experienced in the month-long runup to launch. The tank was filled with cryogenic propellants six times and drained five times before the July 15 liftoff, as a persistent gaseous hydrogen leak and coastal-Florida thunderstorms forced five scrubs.

Endeavour’s seven-member crew is set to spend 16 days in space delivering the final element of Japan’s Kibo module — an experiment platform exposed to open space — and outfitting it with experiments. In the course of five spacewalks they also are scheduled to replace the oldest set of batteries on the station, deliver spare parts that will be too large to fly on any of the vehicles that can dock with the station after the shuttle retires next year, and replace Japanese ISS crewmember Koichi Wakata with NASA’s Tim Kopra.

Photo credit: NASA

House Appropriators Add Money For F-22s

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By John M. Doyle

House defense appropriators, defying a White House veto threat, on July 16 included $369 million in the fiscal 2010 defense spending bill to build more F-22 Raptors.

The Raptor appropriations, mirroring the actions of the House Armed Services Committee in its FY ’10 authorization bill, would fund parts acquisition as a down payment on 12 more of the stealth fighter aircraft.

The Pentagon and White House insist that no more than the 187 Raptors already funded by Congress are needed. And President Barack Obama has warned he will “veto any bill” that funds more F-22s.

After the House Appropriations defense subcommittee completed marking up the FY ’10 bill, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the subcommittee chairman, told reporters he did not think Obama would have to veto the spending or authorization bills over the F-22.

“It won’t come to that,” Murtha said. “We will work it out. We want to work with [the Obama administration].”

The defense appropriations subcommittee also bucked the White House by including $560 million to fund continued development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter alternative engine program, which the Pentagon has been trying to kill off for years.

Murtha’s committee also put in an extra $400 million above the administration request to make operational at least five rotorcraft from the cancelled VH-71 presidential helicopter program.

“We think that will take care of five to seven helicopters,” Murtha said, adding, “you just can’t cancel programs and get nothing for it.” Murtha conceded, however, that the money in the subcommittee bill might not be enough to field that many helicopters. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pulled the plug on the VH-71 program, which was six years behind schedule with a projected cost of $13 billion, about $7 billion more than originally planned.

The subcommittee also included $440 million for the Air Force replacement aerial refueling tanker. Although Murtha has urged splitting the program between competitors Boeing and a Northrop Grumman-EADS team, the bill leaves that decision to the Defense Department, although it “encourages” the department to produce more than one aircraft a month.

The bill also allocates $3 billion to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, $200 million below the administration’s request, due to “a chronic under execution of accounts.”

Photo: Lockheed Martin

U.K. Government, MPs Clash On Helo Strategy

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Douglas Barrie/London

The British government today decided to abandon an aspiration to bring forward a medium-lift helicopter acquisition and instead pursuing a life-extension program — the same day a Parliamentary committee said this was exactly the wrong approach.

Quentin Davies, the minister for defense equipment and support, threw the ministry’s medium helicopter acquisition program into turmoil in June when he insisted on an “eleventh hour” fundamental review.

Industry scrambled to respond to the review, which included accelerating the Future Medium Helicopter program instead of carrying out life extension programs for the Royal Air Force Puma and Royal Navy Sea King Mk4 helicopters.

Secretary of State For Defense Bob Ainsworth said Thursday, “Following a review, the Defense Ministry decided that it is not feasible to advance the purchase of the Future Medium Helicopter and forego the Puma Life Extension Program, without placing unacceptable risk on operational commitments.”

Parliament’s Defense Committee published its report on U.K. helicopter capabilities, also on July 16, which is highly critical of the life extension programs.

“Given the age of both Sea King and Puma … extending their lives at considerable cost is not the best option, either operationally or in terms of the use of public money. We do not believe that these LEPs [life extension programs] will provide adequate capability or value for the taxpayer. Only a procurement of new helicopters can meet the original objective of reducing the number of types of helicopter in service within the U.K. Armed Forces.”

At the time of the review Davies said the ministry would explore “dispensing with those two life-extension programs and bringing forward the future medium helicopter procurement, which would … need to be done on a modified off-the-shelf basis.”

The long-term shortfall in battlefield rotary lift is once again being highlighted by the war in Afghanistan. It is an area which has suffered comparative procurement neglect, with funding cuts and introduction into service dates deferred over the past few years.

Previous delays in the planned acquisition of a replacement for the Sea King Mk4 and Puma forced the military to look at life-extension programs for the Puma and Sea King to at least partially bridge a capability gap.

Part of the government’s problem was the very tight timescale for bringing forward the Future Medium Helicopter procurement. It needed 20 of the new helicopters to be available quickly to try to avoid a gap should it not proceed with the Puma and Sea King the life extension programs. The Royal Air Force has an operational fleet of 34 Puma helicopters, while the Royal Navy has 37 Sea King Mk4s. The Future Medium Helicopter procurement would replace both types, but not on a one-for-one basis. Overall a total of 50 airframes will eventually be required to replace the two types.

Perhaps an even more fundamental problem was the cost.

The problem for Davies is that the medium helicopter procurement option was — one industry executive suggests — more expensive than the cost of the extension programs. While these only buy roughly an additional decade of service, the ministry is already facing severe budget pressure in the near term. The Puma program will be billed at more than £300 million ($516 million).

The ministry’s intent is to be under contract on at least the Puma life extension by the year’s end. Ainsworth says: “We are continuing to assess how we can best continue to deliver the capability currently provided by Sea King Mark 4.”

Given the time pressures, and the pressure on funding, a go-ahead for the Mk4 life extension now seems the most likely outcome.

Photo credit: RAF

Indian Engine RFP Expected This Week

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By Neelam Mathews

NEW DELHI — The long-awaited request for proposals (RFP) to provide 99-125 engines for the Indian Air Force’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft is expected to be released this week.

Proposals for the two candidate engines — GE’s F414 and Eurojet’s EJ200 — will be due by Oct. 12 if the RFP is released on July 17.

In October 2007, Eurojet signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which is developing the LCA and evaluating alternatives to the GE F404 engine powering the Tejas prototypes and initial production aircraft.

A senior official of Eurojet says it will transfer data under the agreement to India’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), which is responsible for developing the indigenous Kaveri engine planned for the LCA.

“We have interest in doing more with GTRE. However, we shall wait for milestones to be reached,” an official says. “Once you have a ticket to ride….synergies [with other projects] are quite natural, though the customer might think different.”

With severe delays to the Kaveri program and performance limitations with the initial LCA, the Indian air force is keen to push ahead with an off-the-shelf engine acquisition. Former air force chief Fali Homi Major said early this year: “We need five squadrons of the Mk2 LCAs. When integrated with the new engines, the LCA Mk2 should fly in 2013.”

The GE414 powers the Boeing F/A-18E/F and Saab Gripen NG, while the EJ200 powers the Eurofighter Typhoon. All three aircraft are contenders in India’s 126-aircraft multirole fighter competition now under way.

“Our engine needs minimum changes and will not delay the LCA,” the Eurojet official said.

F414 Photo: Volvo

Boeing To Unveil New Satellite

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By Michael Mecham

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems (BSIS) will formally introduce its first new satellite in a decade on July 16, the Boeing 702B, although initial details of the deal that is launching the system were revealed last spring by Intelsat.

Boeing is expected to reveal it has an order for four spacecraft from Intelsat. Intelsat previously said the first 702B will be designated Intelsat 22. At the time, neither it nor Boeing would reveal features of the new spacecraft’s design. Intelsat 22 is to carry a UHF payload for the Australian Defense Forces, along with 48 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders for Intelsat’s own use.

The new satellite class is expected to draw on the original 702’s advances in avionics and other platform systems, but offer customers propulsion and power choices that will make it a smaller version of the original.

The original 702, which is expected to now be designated the 702A, was introduced in 1995 as a successor to the Boeing 601 High Performance platform and first launched in 1999. It has become one of the industry’s most powerful telecom platforms, with 18 kW end-of-life power.

The 702B is expected to employ the same flight control and avionics advances as the 702A but let customers choose smaller or less expensive propulsion tanks, solar radiators and other subsystems. One likely choice will be between a conventional liquid fuel propulsion system and the more powerful Xenon ion system that Boeing pioneered on the 702.

BSIS Vice President and General Manager Craig Cooning has previously remarked that the 702 is more satellite than some customers need. He is slated to make the B-model announcement with Intelsat Senior Vice President Ken Lee.

The B-model is expected to be built on a platform that is smaller than the basic 6.5 ton 702A. Cooning has discussed the need to allow customers to use smaller launchers than the Delta IV/Proton/Ariane 5-class boosters the 702A requires.

As such, it will be a more direct successor in size to the original 601 than the 702A, which Boeing developed to satisfy demand for very large telecom platforms.

While 601 sales have been eclipsed by the 702A, it still has some users.

The 601 was the basis for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-O satellite launched June 28.

Artist’s concept of Boeing 702 satellite: Boeing