U.S. Space Policy Review Under Way

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By Frank Morring, Jr.

National Security Adviser James Jones is conducting a government-wide review of U.S. space policy at the request of President Barack Obama, as former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine heads into the final set of public hearings on the review he is conducting of human spaceflight options.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Aviation Week July 21 that Jones – like Bolden a retired Marine Corps general officer – was directed to “review our present policy and decide whether it is in keeping with our vision of the 21st century and where we want to go, and try to come up with a coherent space policy into which NASA and our plans fit, and ideally they would fit perfectly.

“He has already started getting together representatives from all the space communities in the country – thats DOD, NASA, commercial space, Department of Transportation and anybody else that has space assets, and science people,” Bolden said in a telephone interview.

The new NASA administrator and Lori Garver, the new deputy administrator, were to meet with White House Science Adviser John Holdren later in the afternoon of July 21 to establish their agency’s role in the White House review. Earlier, Bolden told agency employees the two reviews of NASA programs that are under way are comparable to what happens every time a new commandant takes over the Marine Corps., and are “not something to fear.”

No deadline has been set for completing the top-level White House review, which Garver said she did not believe foreshadows re-establishment of the National Space Council used in the past to oversee broad space policy. The Augustine report on human spaceflight is due by the end of August, and Bolden said he and Augustine are scheduled to testify in House and Senate committee hearings on the options it contains soon thereafter, “so it will be public, and it will be public pretty quickly.

“My hope is that Dr. Holdren and I will have had an opportunity to sit down with our staffs, enough time really to digest what’s in the report,” he said. “I am optimistic about what’s going to be in it, to be quite honest. What we have to decide this afternoon is the approach we take in getting the information to the president. I don’t want to presuppose how the president’s going to want to handle that, whether he wants us to give him recommendations in order, or a single recommendation, or whether he says, ‘Thanks a lot, I’ll go do this myself.’ I don’t anticipate that, but that’s not my prerogative.”

Bolden said he expects the options for U.S. human space access presented in the Augustine report to cover a range of alternatives to the Ares I crew launch vehicle now in development, and expressed confidence that “whatever comes in we can work with.

“The understanding that I have with the president … is he believes in NASA’s mission,” Bolden said. “As he told the Apollo astronauts and their families yesterday, he has been inspired by this agency through the years from the time that he was a child, and he pledged to do everything he could to support our ability to carry out his charge to us to continue to inspire people.”

Artist’s concept of Ares I: NASA

Continental Posts $213M Loss

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By Adrian Schofield

Despite seeing some promising signs on the demand front, Continental plans to cut 1,700 more positions as part of a new drive to find $100 million in cost reductions and new revenue.

These moves were revealed yesterday as the carrier reported a $213 million second-quarter net loss, prompted by a 24.2% decline in passenger revenue, compared with the same period last year. Mainline unit revenue dropped 16.9%, with yield falling 18.3% — worrying declines but no worse than expected.

The 1,700 job cuts are in addition to major reductions the carrier has already announced for flight attendants and reservations agents. The latest rounds are across all work groups, including management and clerical staff. The carrier will look to voluntary programs to minimize layoffs as much as possible.

Revenue initiatives will include increasing the checked bag fee and the telephone reservation fee by $5. Other revenue moves are in the pipeline, although the airline is giving no details yet.

While April and May numbers were dire, June looked better, said airline President Jeff Smisek — who was last week named to take over as CEO at the beginning of next year. This was particularly true of business traffic, which “is stabilizing” at low levels, Smisek said. “The economic environment doesn’t appear to be getting better, but it’s not getting worse either.”

Revenue from business travelers was down 35% in June, an improvement from the 38% drop in April and May. Overall, July unit revenue looks to be down 16%-18% on a consolidated basis, and 17%-19% for mainline. Mainline domestic booked load factor for the next six weeks is about two to three points higher than at the same time last year. Transatlantic bookings are also up, but transpacific bookings are still down.

“From a [unit revenue] degradation perspective, we do think we’ve hit bottom — although we don’t know how long we’ll bounce along the bottom” before any sign of actual recovery occurs, Smisek said. The demand stability, of course, is due to much lower fares. “The demand is clearly there…more than we expected” at the reduced fare levels.

The industry “is living on the back of a great deal of leisure demand [stimulated] by the low fares,” Smisek said. However, a major caveat is that the carrier can’t predict what will happen in the fall, after the summer leisure travel season ends and the airline will have to rely on business traffic more. While comparisons will get easier after the fourth quarter, this could be misleading because that was when the industry downturn really began to bite last year.

For the second quarter, the loss was $169 million excluding $44 million in special charges. Consolidated revenue was down by $918 million to $3.1 billion. Of the decrease, about $50 million was attributed to the H1N1 flu scare. Fuel cost dropped by 46%, or $762 million. Consolidated traffic fell 6.4% on a 7.8% capacity decline, causing load factor to rise 1.3 points to 82.7%. Mainline traffic dropped 5.7% compared to a 7.3% capacity decline, with loads up 1.5 points to 83.2%.

Continental ended the second quarter with $2.8 billion in unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments.

Photo: Benet Wilson

777 Fuel Mod Tests

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Aviation Week & Space Technology

Boeing has completed flight tests of a modified fuel-metering unit and fuel-oil heat-exchanger (FOHE) on a new British Airways Rolls-Royce Trent 800-powered 777-200ER. The modified system is designed to prevent the buildup of ice, which was suspected as the cause of a crash-landing of a BA 777 at London Heathrow Airport in January 2008, and an engine rollback on a Delta Air Lines 777 last November. The redesigned unit has also been mandated by the European Aviation Safety Agency, which says operators must fit the redesigned FOHE by the end of next year or within 6,000 flight hours.

Photo credit: Boeing

787 Dreamliner Flight Test Airplane Painted in Special Boeing Livery

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EVERETT, Wash., July 21, 2009 — The fifth Boeing [NYSE:BA] 787 Dreamliner flight test airplane has been unveiled sporting a special Boeing livery.

Painted white with blue accents, the new livery incorporates visual and color elements from the distinctive blue-and-white Boeing Commercial Airplanes livery seen on the first 787 flight test airplane and other new commercial models. The simplified paint scheme will be applied to the three remaining unpainted flight test airplanes (Nos. 3, 4 and 6). Airplane No. 2 has been painted in the colors of launch customer ANA of Japan.

The modified livery, which saves time and expense compared to the full Boeing livery, will remain on the airplane until the flight test program is completed and it is refurbished and delivered to a customer.

The airplane’s two GEnx engines have been temporarily removed and returned to GE Aviation so that planned minor improvements can be made.

Continental Apologizes For Frisking Indian Ex-President

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Continental Airlines made an apology to former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Wednesday after staff had frisked him at Delhi airport, to Indian uproar.

The Indian government has filed a police report against the airline, as protocol at Indian airports exempts specific dignitaries from security checks, and gave Continental Airlines seven days to respond.

“Continental Airlines apologizes to the former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for any misunderstanding and/or inconvenience related to the security screening,” the airline said in a statement.

“Our intention was never to offend Dr. Kalam or the sentiments of the people of India.”

Continental Airlines had earlier said there were no exemptions to its security procedures and that it believed Kalam had not been offended.

Kalam is seen by many Indians as the founding father of the country’s missile program and a man with a common touch.

He was frisked in April but the check caused an outcry in the Indian media and parliament when it became public knowledge. The aviation minister called it “unpardonable”, according to local media reports.

Indians posted blogs or comments on the internet asking how Americans would react if a former US president were frisked by a foreign airline.

Delta Air Lines Posts Quarterly Loss

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Delta Air Lines reported a quarterly loss Wednesday and said it was not planning for any meaningful rebound this year as the recession continued to hurt air travel.

Delta, which became the biggest airline when it acquired Northwest in October, said its second-quarter loss was USD$257 million, or 31 cents a share.

Excluding merger expenses of USD$58 million, Delta said it lost USD$199 million, or 24 cents per share.

The airline industry is cutting capacity to adjust to lower demand. Delta has announced plans to cut international capacity by 15 percent starting in September.

Delta has said it might need to cut more jobs. In May it offered pilots a voluntary separation package in hopes of reducing expenses. But only 215 of the 9,400 pilots eligible for the package signed up, the union that represents them said last week.

Operating revenue was USD$7 billion, while operating expenses were USD$6.9 billion, including USD$1.8 billion for fuel and related taxes.

Delta ended the quarter with USD$5.4 billion in unrestricted liquidity.

“The industry faces substantial challenges from unprecedented revenue declines and volatile fuel prices,” said Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO.