Boeing Delivers Last Saudi AWACS With RSIP Upgrades. Analysis

Boeing-provided picture of a Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia E-3 AWACS

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Air Force has become the latest air arm to see its entire fleet of Boeing E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircraft undergo Boeing’s Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) upgrade. This follows in the footsteps of the AWACS fleets operated by the United States, NATO, the United Kingdom and France. According to Keith Burns, who manages the Saudi Arabia AWACS fleet upgrade program for main contractor Boeing, the technological effort provides a leap in detection range and sensitivity capabilities for the massive rotodome-mounted AN/APY-2 radar antenna, only made possible after the installation of a “new radar computer” along with an accompanying suite of “modernized software”.

The upgrade program also greatly enhances maintainability via the installment of more robust hardware components in a radar control maintenance panel.

The completion of the upgrade work on the last of five Saudi Arabia AWACS announced on May 23rd 2017 follows that already applied to the US Air Force 32 remaining AWACS retro-fitted from January 13,1997 to April 5th 2005, to NATO’s 17 AWACS undertaken from 1997 to February 3rd 2000, to the United Kingdom’s 8 AWACS upgraded between 1997 and December 18th 2000 and to the 4 AWACS aircraft belonging to the French Air Force brought up to standard between 2002 and June 28th 2006.

The initial deal involving Saudi Arabia’s AWACS was inked on August 7th 2008 with $42 million covering the Phase I scope of engineering works as well as the purchase of the RSIP kits from manufacturer Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.

The subsequent Phase II-A $73 million contract was followed by another $20 million award on September 16th 2010. However the overall contracts did require that actual work of only the first of Saudi Arabia 5 AWACS would place at Boeing Field in Seattle as the remaining 4 aircraft would be modified at Alsalam Aerospace Industries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “with support of Boeing engineers, technicians and a test and evaluation team” according to Boeing.


Boeing delivered Saudi Arabia’s 5 AWACS aircraft between June 1986 and September1987. The aircraft are derivatives of Boeing’s legendary 707-320B mounting atop their fuselage the powerful 1970’s era Westinghouse AN/APY-1 radar and its more modern successor the Northrop Grumman AN/APY-2 (Northrop Grumman succeeded Westinghouse Electronics Systems). These large radar ‘complexes’ have given the AWACS also known as “E-3 Sentry” advanced surveillance capabilities at ranges in excess of 200 miles (320 kilometers) for low flying targets and out to 250 miles (400 kilometers) for higher altitude targets.

The Royal Saudi Air Force has acquired the 5 Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS thanks to the 1981 Peace Sentinel Foreign Military Sales program (which also made provision for up to 8 KE-3 refueling tankers; identifiable as KC-135 Tanker ‘clone’). Deliveries took place from 1986 to 1987. Like those operated by United Kingdom and France, Saudi Arabia’s AWACS models are powered by 4 fuel efficient CFM-56-2 high bypass ratio turbofan instead of the 4 Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbojets powering the US Air Force and NATO AWACS fleets.

Current context

With the highly publicized employment of the Saudi Arabia fighter aircraft fleet in full scale offensive operations in neighboring Yemen’s civil war, the RSIP capabilities follow previous upgrades done on the AWACS. In 1997 the Block 35.3 software upgrade was completed by increasing the memory on the IBM CC-2Er main mission computer system, itself designated Block 0. By 2003, capabilities were expanded further by the improvement of tactical data communication systems with the installation of Link 16 secure jam resistant terminals.

The AN/APY-1/-2 and AWACS Operation

With its normal crew complement of 18 an E-3 Sentry AWACS requires a four-members flight-deck crew, three technicians and 11 people assigned to core AWACS mission. For instance in the UK Royal Air Force, the mission crew itself comprises a tactical director (mission crew commander), a fighter allocator, three weapons controllers, a surveillance controller, two surveillance operators, a data-link manager, a communications operator and an electronic-support-measures operator. On NATO missions, crews consist of 12 members; a tactical director, a fighter allocator, two weapons controllers, a surveillance controller, three surveillance operators, a passive controller, a communications technician, a radar technician, a system technician depending on the mission.

The AN/APY-2 radar at the heart of the AWACS operation provides multi-mode operational flexibility split between air, maritime and electronic emitters surveillance (Electronic Support Measures). Contrasting key AWACS sub systems capabilities and their interfacing we have described on a previous post the six main Radar tactical modes as Pulse Doppler Non Elevation Scan (PDNES) mode, Pulse Doppler Elevation Scan (PDES) mode, Beyond-The-Horizon (BTH) mode, Maritime mode, Interleaved mode and Passive mode.

With full production status reached in 1997, the RSIP upgrade was, according to Northrop Grumman the most significant effort to improve the performance of the AN/APY-1/-2 radar delivering greater radar range resolution (augmented six-fold) with azimuth and elevation accuracy doubling. Overall capabilities were enhanced in keeping with modern aerial threats requirements such as small cruise missiles and reduced Radar Cross Section (stealth) aircraft. The implementation of new signal processing facilities (advanced Pulse Doppler waveforms, pulse compression) supported by the main computer hardware upgrades and installation of modern Graphical User Interface-based operator display promised overall mission efficiency increase by a factor of 1.5.

In the current context Saudi Arabia AWACS upgrade can only fully be justified within the realms of the bitter rivalry with Islamic Republic of Iran whose air force TO&E has retained lasting features (and equipment) from its 1970’s intimate collaboration with the United States. Furthermore, the IRIAF is now very likely to be sooner than later dramatically reinforced when acquisition of the powerful long range multirole Sukhoi Su-30 fighters aircraft will be enacted.

For more details on the RSIP application and AWACS evolving capabilities see our previous analysis:

Following 50th Delivery, ANA Now Operates The World’s Largest Boeing 787 Fleet

787-9 ANA 50th 787
787-9 ANA #467-ZB689 (50th ANA) Delivered on August 17th 2016

ANA, Japan largest carrier has reached a milestone when taking delivery of its 50th Boeing 787 Dreamliner on August 17th 2016. The new aircraft was handed over by manufacturer Boeing that day at an official ceremony held at the Everett facility near Seattle, Washington state.

By initiating a 50-aircraft order back in 2004, ANA become the launch customer for Boeing’s new highly fuel efficient 787 type. The first aircraft delivered to the fleet; a Boeing 787-8 arrived in 2011. Subsequently the carrier has accepted another 35 Boeing 787-8 along with 14 stretched 787-9 variants. The 787-9 started being delivered from 2014. This 50th aircraft delivered is a stretched 787-9.

To date the carrier has outstanding order for another 30 Boeing 787-9 plus 3 of the even larger Boeing 787-10.

Currently ANA claims the world’s largest 787 fleet with 50 aircraft out of 449 delivered to 39 airlines worldwide. Citing figures obtained from ANA, Airways Magazine indicates that replacing the older 767-300 by the state-of-the-art 787 has generated $98 million in savings each year for the carrier.

With its ability to operate on thin long haul routes, the 787 has extended the airline reach to non-stop destinations, more advantageously on routes where passenger traffic is less affluent. This makes it an ideal complement to the much larger Boeing 777 whose wider fuselage is better applied to denser , more mature routes. In all, since its entry into service the 787 can claim  to have allowed airlines the opening of more than 500 new direct, non-stop routes. ANA is betting on opening direct flight to Mexico City and Phnom Penh in the nearest future.

In comparison ANA’s 777 fleet currently stands at 57 aircraft including 16 Boeing 777-200, 12 Boeing 777-200ER, 7 Boeing 777-300 and 22 Boeing 777-300ER. Another 6 Boeing 777-300ER are still on order with Boeing together with 20 Boeing 777X.  At full strength ANA could see up to 83 Boeing 777 operate under its brand.

ANA’s fleet structure suggests that operating the 777 fleet with 787 in equal proportion (83 Boeing 777 and 83 Boeing 787)  will offer the carrier an opportunity to simple double the footprint of its international long haul destinations coverage.


FlyDubai 737-800 Crash On Approach In Rostov-On-Don, Russia Kills All 62 On Board

A FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 identical to the aircraft that crashed Saturday March 19th 2016 while attempting to land in Rostov-On-Don during bad weather. All 62 on board were killed. (wikipedia picture Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)
A FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 identical to the aircraft that crashed Saturday March 19th 2016 while attempting to land in Rostov-On-Don during bad weather. All 62 on board were killed. (wikipedia picture Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)

A Boeing 737-800 operated by United Arab Emirates low cost carrier FlyDubai crashed while attempting to land at Rostov-On-Don in southern Russia this Saturday March 19th 2016. The aircraft had departed Dubai six hours earlier with 55 passengers and 7 crews on board. Operating as Flight 981, the 737-800 first aborted its landing while 6.7 km short of Rostov On Don Airport Runway 22, visibly due to gusts of wind approaching 67 km/hr.  At this juncture it appears that the aircraft was put on holding pattern nearby for close to two hours before pilots began to re-initiate another landing attempt. During the same time, another aircraft that had aborted two landings had already been diverted to Krasnodar. This second attempt to land failed tragically when the FlyDubai aircraft plummeted suddenly towards the ground from an altitude of 3,975 ft at about 5.6 km short of the runway.

Flydubay is, together with its most famous sibling Emirates Airways one of two airlines fully owned by the United Arab Emirates government. Both carriers have operated as completely seperate entities, even though there were some mutually managed operations segments early in the low cost’s beginning. The carrier which currently operates a fleet of 49 Boeing 737-800 had started operation in 2008 following a $3.74 billion order for 50 Boeing 737-800 with Boeing at that year’s Farnborough Air Show. A subsequent order at the January 2014 Dubai Air Show will position the carrier as the operator of another 11 Boeing 737-800 augmented by up to 75 Boeing 737 MAX 8. Opening the Rostov-On-Don route took place in 2013. The aircraft involved was registered as A6-FDN and was carrying 55, mostly Russian nationals passengers along with 7 crews. It had been delivered January 19th 2011 brand new and was later re-configured into a 12 business and 162 coach seating configuration.


sources: aviation safety network , Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia

Airbus A320NEO Enters Service With Lufthansa


Lufthansa the launch customer for Airbus new A320NEO aircraft began operating the type this January 25th 2016 with its maiden flight on the Frankfurt – Munich route. The aircraft registered D-AINA (MSN 6801) was delivered to Lufthansa on January 20th 2016 ahead of another 70 A320NEO and 45 A321NEO ordered by the group from the European plane maker. The A320NEO (New Engine Option) represents Airbus latest incarnation of the highly successful A320 family which has sold nearly 6,900 since the late 80’s with 4,500 NEO destined for some 80 airlines since its plans were finalized in 2010. The aircraft characteristically differs from regular A320 aircraft due to the addition of the new blended wing extension christened “sharklet” (similar to boeing “Winglets”), as well as with their new larger diameter engines. New Engine Option identifies the presence of the new clutch fan technology Pratt & Whitney PurePower Geared Turbofan engines PW-110JG-M. The powerplant is expected to take narrow body air travel to a whole new lower boundary of operating economics burning 15% less fuel and producing 20% less emission. Delivery of the new aircraft had been due December 22nd but was postponed following problems with the PurePower engines. The relatively low key first flight paves the way for a new era of air travel.

Two Years After Tragedies, Malaysia Airline Withdraws 777 From Fleet

So long 777 in Malaysia Airlines Livery

Malaysia Airlines is ending Boeing 777 operations immediately, the Independant UK reported. The government-owned carrier has announced that the new restructuring plan being currently executed imposed to do away with the aircraft that was involved in the two MH17 and MH370 tragedies. Both incidents had involved two of the carriers 6 Boeing 777-200ER. MH370 is a 777-200ER that disappeared somewhere probably in the Indian Ocean on March 8th 2014 with all 239 people on board. MH17 incident involved another Boeing 777-200ER being shot down by a surface to air missile while cruising over battle- scarred Ukraine, killing all 298 on board. Despite the recovery of a small number of aircraft parts, the aircraft involved in the MH370 tragedy is missing to this day.

The effort marks a dramatic new direction for the carrier whose image suffered tremendously from the two catastrophes. Instead of the Boeing 777-200ER, the carrier will for now operate 737-800 on the Guangzhou – Kuala Lumpur route and Airbus A380  on the Heathrow – Kuala Lumpur. The 777-200ER started arrived in the fleet in 1997. By 2004 the carrier had 17 such aircraft operating its long haul fleet. The carrier loss of two aircraft paved the way for the gradual phase out, visibly in an effort to distance itself from the tragedies. Subsequently 8 aircraft found their way back to the lessors leaving only 7 aircraft operating in the fleet. The long haul fleet is now left to operate with 19 A330, 6 A380 and 2 enduring 747-400.

Singapore Airlines To Launch Ultra Long Range A350 Variant For Direct Flights To The US

Singapore A350
Airbus Rendering Of Singapore Airlines A350XWB

On October 13th 2015, Singapore Airlines has announced it was adding 4 more A350-900 to its current outstanding order of 63 with Airbus. On that occasion, the carrier detailed new plans to fly direct non-stop flights to the US once it takes delivery of 7 specially configured new Airbus A350-900. The 7 aircraft will be taken from the current backlog of 63 A350-900XWB on order with Airbus, and receive special modifications to increase their endurance. Re-designated as Ultra Long Range, the new A350-900 aircraft variant will incorporate an increase Maximum Take Off Weight sufficient to accommodate the extra fuel needed for the longer cruise, along with necessary modifications to the fuel system. In addition the aircraft is set to receive aerodynamic improvements which have not yet been specified by Airbus at this time. The decision by the airline to re-introduce direct flights between Singapore and the US comes two years after it stopped operating the world’s longest commercial non-stop flight linking Singapore to Newark. On that route first established since 2004, the airline relied upon a quad-engined A340-500 configured strictly with 100 of the carrier award-winning fully flat business class seats. Following the route closure, the A340-500 aircraft used by Singapore Airline on that route were to be re-purchased by Airbus which it appears has kept them (5 aircraft) in storage ever since. The 18.5 hours Newark Singapore intended to save business travelers the 4 hours additional time that connecting flights on non-direct routes impose. However the significant duration of flight itself may have discouraged some business travelers.

EVA To Order Another 2 Boeing 777-300ER With 24 787-10

EVA AIR 787-10EVA Air has manifested its intention to acquire another 2 Boeing 777-300ER along with 24 Boeing 787-10. The new build aircraft package compounds a list price of $8 Billion. The October 15th 2015 statement by manufacturer Boeing Company reminded that the Taiwan-based carrier already operates 21 Boeing 777-300ER with another 15 due for delivery from Boeing together with another 5 Boeing 777F. The introduction of the stretched 787-10 in EVA Air fleet alongside the workhorse 777-300ER will provide a more profitable -fuel efficient- alternative on marginally less dense routes.

Finally Thai Airways Introduces Much Awaited A380 Service On Heathrow-Bangkok Route

Thai Airways A380 will finally serve Bangkok – London route

Thai Airways International, Thailand main’s carrier has finally introduced its flagship A380 on the coveted Bangkok-London Heathrow on July 1st 2015. The move comes more than two years after the aircraft became operational in Thai service. The route had been traditionally operated by Boeing 747-400s up until the middle of 2012 when the aircraft were withdrawn for cabin upgrades. After the one-year hiatus necessitated by the cabin upgrade work,  the 747-400s returned to service on March 31st 2013 with a four airplanes rotation servicing the two daily frequencies. That one year span between upgrade was completed saw the interim use of the A340-600.

At that time in 2013 Thai Airways had only taken delivery of 4 of the 6 A380 it had on order with Airbus. While two aircraft were assigned on each of the Frankfurt and Paris destinations, the airline’s management never fully committed the type on the London route despite expectations that delivery of the 2 remaining A380 scheduled to arrive by late 2013 would make additional aircraft available. A380 service to London was first scheduled to launch December 1st 2013 but was postponed first until October 30th of the following year 2014, and then indefinitely. In the meantime the carrier curiously downgraded capacity on the line by withdrawing one of the two 747-400 with a A340-600.

The Airbus A340-600 used previously on the Bangkok - London route alongside Boeing 747-400
The Airbus A340-600 used previously on the Bangkok – London route alongside Boeing 747-400

Thai Airways International 747-400s are configured with 374 seats comprising 9 in First, 40 in Business and 325 in Economy. The A340-600 can seat 267 with 8 in First, 60 in Business and 199 in Economy. The A380 for its part boosts capacity to 507 with 12 seats in First, 60 in Business and 435 in Economy.

Emirates Places A380 On Dubai-Dusseldorf Route

Emirates_A380_A6-EDJDubai-based Emirates Airlines recently announced it is beginning daily service with its A380 between Dusseldorf and Dubai replacing Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The new destination marks the carrier’s 12th service to a European city, and its 84th globally. Dusseldorf will also be the third German city to receive the A380. Emirates which now operate 62 Airbus A380 will also bring the A380 to Madrid beginning August 1st and Copenhagen on December 1st.


Etihad Airways Introduces Brand New 787-9 On Abu-Dhabi – Zurich Route

Etihad_Airways_Boeing_787-9_Dreamliner_A6-BLAZurich Airport and Etihad Airways officials along with the media gathered at the gate of the re-fashioned daily flight offering between Zurich and Abu Dhabi, the carrier’s home base in the United Arab Emirates. The route that has previously been served with an Airbus A330-300 is only the third, beginning July 6th 2015 where the carrier is deploying its new state-of-the-art Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner after Brisbane and Washington DC. The 787-9 will also begin serving the Abu-Dhabi – Singapore route on August 1st.

The aircraft cabin which is introducing a new level of comfort that will soon make the 787 a rising star in Etihad Airways fleet is configured with 235 seats including 8 First Class Suite Seats, 28 Business Studio Seats and 199 Smart Economy Seats.

Etihad began taking delivery of 787-9 on February 2015.  It has orders for 71 Boeing 787-9 and 787-10 both stretched variants of the basic 787-8. Having taken delivery of 4 Boeing 787-9 aircraft to date, the carrier intends to gradually deploy the type launching highly differentiated long haul product linking the world’s major destination through its Abu-Dhabi hub. Airline officials point out that it will soon become possible to travel from Zurich to Singapore in a 787 (via Abu-Dhabi).