The digital cockpit upgrade for the U.S. Army’s fleet of Blackhawk helicopters recently completed initial operational test and evaluation. Photo: U.S. Army.
Northrop Grumman said Wednesday it has completed initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) for ‘digital cockpit’ upgrades it has provided for the avionics suite on the Army’s UH-60V Black Hawk helicopters.
The successful IOT&E milestone for the avionics upgrade suite sets up the Army for a full-rate production decision in the near future.
“Northrop Grumman’s scalable, fully integrated avionics system will ensure the legacy Black Hawk fleet remains at the forefront of combat capability for decades to come. It is designed with a secure, open architecture that provides greater mission flexibility and a rapid upgrade path,” James Conroy, the company’s vice president for navigation, targeting and survivability, said in a statement.
The Army’s UH-60V digital cockpit looks identical to the -60M configuration, although it does feature significantly advanced avionics, such as new mission computers, including a Flite Pro Gen III Mission Computer.
The UH-60V Black Hawk is a retrofit of its UH-60L’s upgraded with Northrop Grumman’s ‘digital cockpit’ suite to increase pilot awareness and enhance navigational functionality by moving from an analog architecture to a digital infrastructure enabling a pilot-vehicle interface.
Northrop Grumman designed the system with an open architecture approach that allows third-party upgrades without involvement by the original equipment manufacturer. The UH-60V solution is aligned with the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standard, complies with FAA and EASA global air traffic management requirements and is compliant with safety-critical avionics standards.
“Benefits include enhanced pilot situational understanding and mission safety, as well as decreased pilot workload and life cycle cost. Additionally, providing a nearly identical pilot-vehicle interface to the UH-60M enables common training and operational employment,” the company wrote in a statement.
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Although companies that provide aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul are facing a major drop in demand, some are still working and even introducing new products or services, such as the aircraft disinfection service introduced by Lincoln, Nebraska-based Duncan Aviation, one of the largest business jet avionics modifications providers in the United States. Photo: Duncan Aviation
Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) providers are facing the possibility of a steep drop in global demand for MRO services this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic although commercial MROs may face greater declines than MROs that have a higher proportion of business aviation clients.
“Assuming our baseline scenario that anticipates recovery later this summer, the current trajectory for fleet reductions and lower aircraft utilization would reduce global MRO demand in 2020 by over $26 billion, or almost 30 percent,” according to “Impact of COVID-19 on Commercial MRO,” a March 26 study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
“North America and Western Europe would suffer the largest impact,” the forecast said. “Where possible, operators are strategically selecting aircraft to be parked based on their maintenance status and will likely defer non-essential visits like cabin re-configurations and certain component upgrades. Should COVID-19 extend beyond our baseline scenario, suppressing travel further and creating more severe, long-lasting economic consequences, the impact on MRO demand could top $35 billion in 2020, with an additional $15 billion in 2021. Conversely, if our rapid recovery scenario is realized and the number of COVID-19 cases peak earlier than expected, the MRO impact could be as low as $17 billion, or 19 percent.”
Last month, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik reported record earnings for 2019, but Johannes Bussmann, chairman of the company’s executive board, cautioned that “the maintenance industry is already suffering from the decline in air traffic” due to COVID-19.
“The full extent will hit us with a delay, which means a forecast is currently not possible, but first impacts are massive,” he said. “Everything depends on the duration of the crisis and how our customers will recover from it. We have prepared ourselves with a very comprehensive package of measures, also, to be able to deliver at any time. Especially now, our customers need a reliable technical partner.”
In an email to Avionics International, the Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA), whose founder and managing director recently appeared on the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, said that “the uncertainty many airlines are currently facing regarding the duration of the crisis, the length of recovery for travel to return and – depending on the region – about financial support of their governments, leads to the suspension of non-mandatory modifications like cabin upgrades.”
Some business aviation operators are choosing to use the aircraft downtime to perform mandated ADS-B modifications or connectivity upgrades that were already contracted prior to new travel and work-related restrictions being implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Duncan Aviation
“That certainly affects our members directly and leads to re-scheduling resources e.g. to provide special crisis related services within the modification field or to bundle resources for mandatory upgrades like the ADS-B modification. IAMA supports with establishing a virtual think tank to understand and solve the very special challenges of airlines and lessors those days,” IAMA said. “The integration of already approved modifications like ADS-B Out solutions goes on with remote communication between the STC supplier and the MRO – which is a usual process for already certified packages. Cutback might appear for prototype layovers.”
June 7 this year is the deadline for ADS-B installations in Europe.
IAMA members include Lufthansa Technik, Fokker Services, Envoy Aerospace, Eclipse Technics and Etihad Engineering.
“During COVID-19 lock-down testing and installation on aircraft may provide a problem with accessibility e.g. for prototype layovers,” Marco Wagendorf, business development manager at Fokker Services, a Netherlands-based provider of maintenance and modifications for commercial airliners, wrote in an email to Avionics.
Nate Klenke, the modifications sales manager at the Nebraska-based Duncan Aviation, an MRO which focuses on business jets, wrote in an email to Avionics that “the implementation of social separation and shelter in place have had a significant impact on aviation and the amount of work being completed, especially work related to discretionary spending.”
“However, there is still a mindset with several operators to complete upgrades on systems that may become obsolete in the near future or complete those ‘wish list’ items they have been thinking about but couldn’t fit the necessary downtime into their previous flight schedules,” he wrote. “Some operators have chosen to hold off on all discretionary spending regardless of which system is being discussed. The more savvy flight departments aren’t deferring upgrades, they are taking advantage of the low utilization of the aircraft to get ahead of aging systems.”
Duncan Aviation is also seeing revenue from business aviation operators that had not yet installed ADS-B (Out) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deadline of Jan. 1 this year.
“The beginning of 2020 brought to an end to the push to comply with the ADS-B mandate,” Klenke wrote. “However, we are still seeing some aircraft that weren’t compliant able to complete the upgrade. As a company with 39 installation locations across the country, we install a plethora of systems ranging from complete flight deck upgrades to connectivity and cabin management systems. The environment that has been created by the pandemic has caused several to limit discretionary spending which has impacted the volume of opportunities over the past three months. One thing that should be considered when comparing this, though, is that the last three years have all been very busy years as a result of the ADS-B mandate so a decline in volume should have been anticipated even without this additional hurdle.”
MRO business is likely to take a significant hit because of COVID-19, but business aviation MRO, West Star Aviation, said that it continues to see bookings, including for the Gogo AVANCE L5 pictured here.
Marty Rhine, the vice president of sales at Illinois-based West Star Aviation, an MRO that has significant corporate aircraft business, wrote in an email to Avionics that the company “has remained busy and so far we have not had a lack of work. “
“Gogo installations are holding strong,” he wrote. “Some operators are bringing in planes early since they are not currently flying, which also helps if an aircraft needs to be quarantined. We are seeing a good mix of cabin and cockpit updates, but we are cautious because the discretionary work usually slows down first, which is paint, interior, and avionics. However, we remain in good shape. We currently have several [Gogo AVANCE] L5 upgrades scheduled for later in the year. These represent signed projects post COVID-19 and current, plus we are working a few L5 upgrade projects that arrived and once in-house decided to do the upgrade. We are still seeing a decent amount of activity on L5/L3.”
While West Star Aviation has seen some indefinite postponement of operator-ordered work, “there are others that are taking advantage of the time to get their upgrades done now so they are ready when their flight schedule picks up,” Rhine wrote.
“We have had some major projects push out until the COVID-19 issues are calmed down…very large CMS [cabin management systems], along with a few that have cancelled because of the uncertainty of their situations,” he wrote. “We are seeing hesitation from some customers in signing future work because of the uncertainty in this market.”
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Airports and government agencies are still figuring out where responsibilities and authorities lie concerning drone security and mitigation technologies.
Despite keen awareness of the threats posed by drones, U.S. airports and other large facilities are currently reluctant to purchase counter-drone security systems due to a lack of clarity around regulation, responsibility, authority and effectiveness of technologies.
The Federal Aviation Administration is monitoring the security risks posed by drones as their use continues to proliferate, with the agency expecting $9 billion in drone sales by 2024.
“As the FAA has been looking at this, we’ve been trying to not completely eliminate risk; if we were to do that, we would not maximize use of the airspace,” said Leesa Papier, acting director of the agency’s office of national security programs and incident response. She described efforts to mitigate risk that include education deterrence through law enforcement, as well as the agency’s upcoming drone remote identification rule.
But as events like the December 2018 disruption of service at London Gatwick Airport have shown, education and deterrence are not enough — and a single clueless or nefarious drone operator can have an outsized impact.
That incident resulted in a loss of $25-60 million in revenue for airports and airlines, according to Justin Barkowski, vice president for regulatory affairs at the American Association of Airport Executives, and 160,000 people missed flights. Investigators never determined who was responsible for the threat.
Today, there are more than 530 counter-drone systems on the market, according to a count by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, with detection methods including radar, radio frequency (RF), eletro-optical and infrared imaging and acoustics. Interdiction methods are various as well, but there is very little clarity among industry, government agencies and even the military what systems are most effective for various circumstances.
The FAA, along with the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology division, is conducting testing and analysis of commercial counter-UAS solutions to develop industry standards for use by airports and other potential purchasers. Those activities, which Papier did not give a timeline for on the FAA side, have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re really anxious to see how we can support the development of efficient technologies that identify and detect UAS that are disruptive,” Papier said. “But at this point in time — other than the testing that we have moving forward — we really don’t have any way of seeing what that positive or perfect solution is going to be.”
“There is no one size fits all solution,” added Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, underscoring the difficulty involved in standards formation. “Different technologies may be appropriate for different environments.”
Beyond finding the right solutions, there are issues of responsibility and authority that are in the early stages of being solved. FAA controls the airspace, but airports are privately-owned enterprises; whose responsibility is it to purchase and operate counter-UAS systems — and who has the authority to act on an identified threat?
“As airports, we have very limited capability. We don’t have the legal authority to mitigate or take down a drone. That’s limited to four different federal agencies,” Barkowksi said, referring to DHS, DOE, DOJ and DOD, which have been granted by Congress the authority to take mitigative action toward threatening drones.
There has been progress, Barkowski said, driven by “tabletop exercises” conducted by many airports with government participation.
“As a result, in the event that there is a persistent drone threat at an airport, there is a process now in place to elicit and obtain the assistance and support from those agencies to come and deal with the threat,” he said. However, even that condition — a “persistent drone threat” — isn’t clearly defined.
Airports also don’t have access to drone registration information or low-altitude authorizations that have been granted to drone operators in their airspace, Barkowski said, to understand if identified drones are “friend” or “foe.” Neither do local law enforcement authorities, who are often the first responders to reported drone threats and also do not have authority to take action.
“Yes, absolutely, that’s a gap,” Papier said of local law enforcement capabilities. “There’s been a lot of talk about pilot programs enabling local law enforcement to test how this would work. Currently, only those four federal agencies currently have authority to use counter-drone mitigation technology. Under the law, there can be data and information-sharing with state and local law enforcement, but there’s no deputization or ability for them to use that technology themselves.”
“I think that’s something where we’ll see some action,” she added. “It is definitely a big issue that would need a statutory solution.”
Papier agreed that determining responsibility and authorization for airspace protection around airports is a “wicked problem” that will require joint effort by government and industry.
“Airports are not owned by FAA, so airports will have to come up with what they’re willing to accept as well, so it becomes a holistic effort on how we address this growing problem.”
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Gogo is furloughing 60 percent of its active workforce, including employees pictured here, at its network operations center. Photo: Gogo
Gogo will furlough up to 60 percent of its workforce starting May 4, as the in-flight connectivity service provider enacts cost cutting measures in response to the impact that the decline in business and commercial airline traffic in March and April has had on its revenues.
All three of Gogo’s business segments – including business aviation, commercial aviation North America and commercial aviation rest of world – will see a combined 600 employees impacted by the furloughs. Oakleigh Thorne, president and CEO of Gogo, said in a press release that the decision was crucial for the long-term health of Gogo’s business.
“In March, we announced 16 levers that we can employ to dramatically lower our costs in order to ensure our long-term viability, and we believe we are implementing the appropriate measures to accomplish that goal,” Thorne said.
Passenger traffic on commercial airlines using Gogo’s service has declined 95 percent this month compared to the same period a year ago, resulting in a projected 60 to 70 percent reduction in sales for the company during the month of April. On the business aviation side, Gogo also experienced a decrease in new plan activations due to the drop in business jet flights.
Other cost-cutting actions Gogo is also considering include “renegotiating terms with suppliers, delaying aircraft equipment installations, deferring purchases of capital equipment, reducing marketing and travel expenses and eliminating non-essential spend,” according to Thorne.
The company has also applied for an $81 million grant and a $15 million U.S. government assistance loan under the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a bill that provides a total of $2.2 trillion in economic stimulus aimed in emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
A provision in the CARES Act also provides $61 billion in grants and loans as well as excise tax relief for the airline industry. Passenger and cargo carriers, part 145 repair stations, ticketing agents, and airline and airport contractors are eligible for assistance from CARES.
“We established best- and worst-case scenarios and action plans against the 16 levers based on market conditions against those scenarios,” Thorne said. “Based on where the market is today, we believe these personnel actions are necessary, and if conditions worsen, we have additional levers to pull if needed.”
Last month, during a quarterly earnings call for investors, Thorne discussed how he expects the overall aircraft connectivity service provider-to-airline relationship to change in the near future, with the demand for free service having the biggest long-term impact.
A representative for Gogo told Avionics International that the impact of COVID-19 will not delay their plans to launch a fifth generation in-flight connectivity network next year.
“Regarding Gogo 5G, our plans remain in place and 5G will continue to be a top priority for the company,” the representative said.
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
Some of the major international and regional carriers operating aircraft featuring Gogo’s air to ground or satellite-based 2Ku connectivity have announced their own plans to ground airplanes and furlough employees as well. Virgin Australia, for example, a 2Ku operator, according to an Apr. 21 report published by CNN, has entered into voluntary administration after temporarily laying off 80 percent of its workforce and stopping 95 percent of its flights over the last month.
Another airline featuring 2Ku, British Airways, is using a government-backed job retention scheme to pay more than 30,000 U.K.-based cabin crew and ground-based employees up to 80 percent of their base salary in April and May. The airline also reached an agreement for up to 4,000 pilots to take four weeks of unpaid leave between April and May. Air Canada, which features 2Ku across its entire fleet, has suspended all flying to the United States until May 22.
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Jose Odini, the chief of the World Food Program’s aviation safety unit, discusses the program’s operations during an Apr. 21 webinar.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the possible utility of drones in beyond visual line of sight operations for the remote delivery of medical and other supply payloads up to 50 kilograms.
“We are following this very closely,” Michel Schaffner, air operations lead for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said during an Apr. 21 Flight Safety Foundation webinar, “Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic: Humanitarian Efforts.”
“We have drone project initiatives that we have implemented,” Schaffner said, adding that currently there are “limited possibilities due to regulations.”
“Most of the countries are not ready,” he said. “They have not implemented or are not able technically to implement drone traffic into the air traffic. As well, there are some issues of perception because we are working in mostly conflict areas where drones are more seen as a threat, rather than bringing aid. But we hope it will be very useful in the near future, and we’re working hard on that to introduce drone operations, and we’ll see what can be done. Maybe there’s also an opportunity for the future after this pandemic to use drones for types of situations where you cannot physically as a person – you are a threat to the rest of the population – so you go there with cargo and leave without a pilot.”
The ICRC uses 22 manned aircraft and 20,000 personnel to aid people in more than 90 countries – many of them war-torn, such as Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, and South Sudan. Among the aircraft are Ilyushin Il-76 and Lockheed Martin C-130 transports and short take-off and landing De Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo and Dash 8 planes. Last year, the ICRC delivered 5,000 tons of cargo.
Hassan Shahidi, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, said that “there has been significant activity internationally to develop regulations that will allow these types of [drone] operations.”
“I think that this crisis actually highlights the usefulness of these types of tools, of drones to deliver medicine and needed material, in these kinds of missions,” he said. Shahidi said that authorities should accelerate the development of standards and regulations for drones “so we can use them more in the field on a routine basis.”
Zipline, a Silicon Valley-based drone delivery service, has been moving medical supplies in Rwanda since 2016. On April 17, working with the World Health Organization, the company delivered 51 COVID-19 tests administered in rural areas of Ghana to its distribution center in Omenako, then to the capital city of Accra for testing and analysis. Zipline had planned for a U.S. launch in the fall, but is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to begin emergency operations in the near future, focusing on the distribution of test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). Photo: Zipline
A lack of navigation aids in developing nations can bedevil the delivery of humanitarian supplies and may further spur future drone deliveries.
Humanitarian aviation operations by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) are “mainly carried out in non-controlled airspace lacking navigation aids or taking place in active fight zones, while serving the most vulnerable communities and refugees,” said Jose Odini, the chief of the WFP’s aviation safety unit.
The U.N. aviation program and United Nations Humanitarian Air Service use 90 aircraft – 25 percent of them helicopter – to deliver food and other supplies under the WFP. Such aircraft include the Il-76, the Dash 8, the Airbus A320 and C-295, the Let L-410, the Embraer 135 and 145, and the Bell 412 and Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopters.
“The search for new tools to enhance our cargo delivery capabilities took center stage in 2019,” according to the WFP’s 2019 annual report. “The prospect for the deployment of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and airships for last-mile delivery of relief cargo is an asset, thanks to the combined effort of WFP supply chain, aviation regulators and industry actors.”
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Sumitomo Corportation, which has partnered will Bell and Japan Airlines to bring urban air mobility to Japan, acquired a stake in OneSky Systems. Photo: Bell
Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corporation has acquired a stake in OneSky Systems, a developer of unmanned traffic management (UTM) services and analytics, as part of its Series A fundraise. Sumitomo recently partnered with Bell, developer of the APT unmanned cargo drone and Nexus electric air taxi, along with Japan Airlines to create an on-demand mobility network in Japan.
OneSky was established by Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) in January 2018 to apply its suite of software products to air navigation services, including airspace management, real-time flight monitoring and collision avoidance. In May 2019, the company announced it had begun live flight testing using its UTM platform in partnership with Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) and Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.
“We are very pleased to become part-owner of OneSky Systems,” Kevin Hyuga, general manager of construction and transportation systems at Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, said of the new acquisition stake. “Sumitomo has a longstanding history in transportation, including the aerospace market. We see significant potential in growing and scaling OneSky’s capabilities so that it can support the air mobility needs of the future.”
Working with Bell and Japan Airlines, Sumitomo intends to build the infrastructure and regulatory environment necessary for an aerial mobility network for cargo and passenger drones — a mission which will require UTM services like those offered by OneSky.
In January, Bell announced it is building AerOS, a software ‘operating system’ to manage and optimize UAM vehicle operations, including fleet maintenance, passenger-facing interactions and vehicle deconfliction services.
“In the journey to bring Advanced Air Mobility to reality, Sumitomo offers a wide array of capabilities to the relationship with Bell spanning a breadth of infrastructure provisions and use case applications,” a representative for Bell told Avionics. “AerOS is designed as a digital platform that is capable of integrating a diverse set of services that can include, but is not limited to, UTM providers like OneSky.”
In March, NASA announced OneSky as a developmental airspace simulation partner for its initial Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge event, also including Bell as a vehicle provider information exchange partner.
OneSky did not disclose the total amount raised in its Series A or other participating investors besides Sumitomo. In March, Sumitomo also announced investment in Origin Wireless, a developer of advanced wireless sensing technologies that can leverage 5G connectivity.
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On the fourth and final episode of this new four-part podcast series, we feature discussions with connectivity professionals on various aspects of how the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic is impacting aviation.
On the fourth and final episode of this new four-part podcast series, we feature discussions with connectivity professionals on various aspects of how the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic is impacting aviation.
Guests on this episode include the following:
At 1:38, we feature comments made by Schmutz during the FLYHT Aerospace quarterly earnings call that occurred Apr. 9, where he discusses how the COVID-19 travel restrictions and impact on the airline industry is impacting his company’s ability to supply technologies and how he sees the impact playing out moving forward.
At 13:40, Pigott describes how Global Eagle has been working in support of airline customers that are grounding their airplanes and his expectation for the long-term appetite airlines will have for operational and passenger-facing connectivity.
At 35:55, Wissink provides some insight on how Honeywell recently supported the connected enablement of a reconfigured Boeing 767-300 normally operated by the New England Patriots that was used to transport more than one million N95 masks to the U.S. from China.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on for our next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
Listen to this episode below, or check it out on iTunes. If you like the show, subscribe on your favorite podcast app to get new episodes as soon as they’re released.
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Airlines based in the Middle East are resuming limited flight operations in support of COVID-19 passenger repatriation and going through maintenance checks, such as disconnecting batteries, as an Etihad Airways technician pictured here does. Photo: Etihad Airways
Middle Eastern carriers are resuming limited passenger flights, using the grounding of airplanes to perform extensive maintenance checks and introducing new airport testing and mask wearing requirements in response to travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Both Emirates and Etihad added more cities to their flight schedules this week, as both carriers have slowly been resuming international flying since the beginning of April. Emirates first received approval from UAE civil aviation officials to start carrying passengers on flights Dubai to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels and Zurich, with four flights a week to London Heathrow Apr. 2.
As part of a new partnership with the Dubai Health Authority, Emirates also introduced its first COVID-19 blood testing for passengers prior to a flight to Tunisia Apr. 15.
“The testing process has gone smoothly and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dubai Health Authority for their initiatives and innovative solutions. This would have not been possible without the support of Dubai Airport and other government authorities. We are working on plans to scale up testing capabilities in the future and extend it to other flights, this will enable us to conduct on-site tests and provide immediate confirmation for Emirates passengers traveling to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates,” Adel Al Redha, Emirates Chief Operating Officer said in a press release.
On Apr. 16, the Dubai-based carrier also added three new weekly flights to Manila as part of a repatriation program for Filipinos needing to return home. As part of the flight operations they have resumed, Emirates is requiring passengers to wear their own masks inside of airports and while onboard aircraft.
Emirates in coordination with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) will be introducing additional precautions. Passengers on a April 15 flight to Tunisia were all tested for COVID-19 before departing from Dubai. Emirates is the first airline to conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers. Photo: Emirates
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways provided an operational update Apr. 16, noting that it expects to begin operating a “reduced network of scheduled passenger services” starting May 1. Since March 25, the airline has operated 500 total special passenger, freighter and cargo flights to destinations such as Amsterdam, Bogota, Brussels and Dublin, among others, in support of COVID-19-related medical transport and passenger repatriation flights.
“We are implementing a series of network-wide route and fleet efficiencies, while conducting an extensive brand study and trialing new service concepts in our guest experience proposition,” Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group said in a press release that featured the latest operational update. “We are also using this time to drive further internal improvements in the efficient use of automation and technology across all areas of the business, while maintaining productivity, creativity and quality.”
Etihad’s engineering division is also said to be undergoing what the airline says is the “biggest aircraft maintenance program in its history.” This will include maintenance work on 96 passenger aircraft including 29 Airbus A320 and A321s, 10 Airbus A380s, 38 Boeing 787s, and 19 Boeing 777-300ERs. Thus far, the team has checked 5,000 aircraft touch points and laundered almost 19,000 seat covers.
In Doha, Qatar Airways has been focused on increasing its cargo carrying operations, with an Apr. 8 update from the carrier confirming it has transported more than “50,000,000 kilograms” of medical and aid supplies in support of countries combating the pandemic. Additional capacity has also been introduced by Qatar to cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Paris, Amsterdam, Muscat, Kuwait, Delhi, Beijing and Melbourne.
Etihad Airways is partnering with Australian company Elenium Automation to trial new technology which allows self-service devices at airports to be used to help identify travelers with medical conditions, potentially including the early stages of COVID-19. Etihad will be the first airline to trial the technology, which can monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of any person using an airport touchpoint such as a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, a security point or immigration gate.
On Apr. 14, Qatar signed an $850 million financing agreement with Irish aircraft leasing firm Standard Charter to fund the purchase of seven Boeing 787-9s.
“The bank has been a close partner of Qatar Airways for many years and have proven their support for the airline by closing this transaction during difficult times resulting from COVID-19. Qatar Airways focus remains on finding solutions to get as many people back to their homes to be with their families and loved ones during these difficult times and this is made possible by the support we have from so many people including our close partners such as Standard Chartered,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement confirming the financing agreement.
Although limited flight operations are resuming, and cargo operations as well repatriation flights continue, airlines collectively in the region are still losing revenue from the significant decline in passenger flights. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) latest projections estimate up to $19 billion in revenue loss for airlines based in the Middle East in 2020 compared to 2019.
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CANSO Director General Simon Hocquard discusses ADS-B data indicating an 89 percent drop off in flights to and from Europe since mid-January due to COVID-19. CANSO and Aireon presented findings during an Apr. 16 webinar.
The analysis of space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data on flights before and during the COVID-19 shock may help aviation recover economically, according to Aireon CEO Don Thoma.
The real-time and historical ADS-B data from aircraft relies on the Iridium constellation of 66 satellites.
On Apr. 16, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO) and Aireon kicked off an effort to share such data with the aviation industry, including air navigation service providers and airlines.
“At the holistic view, part of what we’re doing with this initiative is we’re not just looking at the global aspect of what’s happening from an air traffic perspective, but pulling together the members of CANSO to start doing some deep dives,” Thoma said during a CANSO/Aireon webinar on Apr. 16, “An ATM [Air Traffic Management] Data-Driven Response to COVID-19,” featuring Thoma and CANSO Director General Simon Hocquard.
CANSO and Aireon was to hold its first such “deep dive” on Apr. 16 with air navigation service providers (ANSPs) from Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We plan to do a continuing set of these deep dives bringing experts in from the industry and from the CANSO membership to look at this data to draw conclusions and support for what’s happening in a given region, how you draw parallels with other regions, to what impact it will have on a specific region,” Thoma said. “For an air carrier, that’s where the benefit will come in. They’ll understand what’s happening regionally, globally, etc. Aireon has been working with our customers-the air navigation service providers – as well as some airlines in trying to better understand from this data how it can be used to support their analysis, operations, [and] planning for what happens going forward.”
Thoma said that ADS-B data will help airlines and cargo companies minimize losses by better targeting of flights to regions where air carriers are able to realize some profit.
“Everybody knows the airline industry is incredibly data-driven,” he said. “They look at data on every aspect of their business from their operations, to their maintenance, to their passenger yields, to their pricing. We’ve seen certainly through our customers and airlines that access our data that there’s a substantial amount of desire to get better insights into what’s happening globally and to look at the data in an area where access to real time critical data on a holistic basis certainly helps expedite that analysis.”
Such data “will be really important for them to maximize the recovery from their perspective because it’s [COVID-19] a huge shock to the airline industry and anything they can do to help improve the exit out of the shock is very useful,” Thoma said.
CANSO Director General Simon Hocquard discusses the percentage decline in air traffic by region since January.
Globally, flight hours declined from 214,740 on Nov. 1 last year to 63, 488 on Apr. 13 – most precipitously starting at the end of March because of broader flight restrictions by the United States, European Union, and China, according to Aireon and CANSO data.
Overall, 37,780 aircraft were flying globally in early January, compared to 16,780 as of Apr. 13 – a 56 percent drop, according to the data.
In early January, aircraft flew an average of 6 hours daily, compared to 3.8 hours as of Apr. 13. Air traffic to and from Asia began to fall sharply in late January, followed by a steep decline in air traffic to and from the Middle East in late February, and then declines in other regions.
Contrary to what he called the common wisdom, Hocquard said that he does not predict a “V” shaped bounce back for air traffic, but rather a more gradual “U” shaped recovery with a lag at the bottom of the curve.
“Since the pandemic first started, we’ve been dealing with a dynamic air traffic picture globally, travel restrictions, changing air cargo patterns, the complete closure of international airports, the grounding of airlines, and so on, and at the same time we’re keeping the ATC, the air traffic control infrastructure, operating to enable repatriation flights, medical support flights, and the transport of vital goods,” Hocquard said.
“Aircraft are still flying and quite a lot in some parts of the world,” he said. “As with any crisis, confusion reigns supreme, and only through timely and accurate data and analysis can we find our way out of the crisis. Now more than ever, we need data to help, to understand the current crisis, and charge our way through it.”
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Starting Apr. 20, Boeing plans to resume its commercial airplane production operations in Puget Sound in a phased approach based on aircraft types, after suspending operations for 14 days due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The return to production is limited to the Puget Sound-region facilities, with Boeing’s 787 production site in South Carolina remaining closed. Commercial production will resume a week after defense production operations in the region restarted on April 13.
“This phased approach ensures we have a reliable supply base, our personal protective equipment is readily available and we have all of the necessary safety measures in place to resume essential work for our customers,” Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said in a press release confirming the plan to resume production.
Their phased approach will see employees on the 737, 747, 767 and 777 production lines return starting April 20, with those working the 787 program returning April 23, and most employees across all segments returning by April 24, according to Boeing.
Employees who can telecommunicate will continue to work from home and the company is also introducing social distancing and enhanced health and safety procedures throughout its production sites as well.
“Enhanced measures will continue until conditions allow for a return to regular work and cleaning processes. Boeing will continue to monitor government guidance on COVID-19, assess impact on company operations and adjust plans as the situation evolves,” Boeing said in a statement confirming the plan to resume production.
Among the company’s practice to reinforce enhanced cleaning and physical distancing include the following:
Staggered shift start times to reduce the flow of employees arriving and departing work
Visual controls such as floor markings and signage to create physical distance
Asking employees to perform self-health checks before coming to work and to stay home if they are ill
Boeing’s decision to resume commercial production comes two days after their first quarter deliveries were announced, which included a total of 50 commercial aircraft deliveries, including 29 total 787s.
Prior to temporarily suspending production in March, Deal said he still expects the company’s flagship 737 MAX airplane to return to service by mid-year. In March, there were a total of 150 cancellations for 737 MAX orders reported by Boeing, including 75 from Irish leasing company Avolon and 34 of 135 aircraft on order by Brazil’s GOL.
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