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 The route had been traditionally operated by Boeing 747-400s up until the middle of 2012 when the aircraft were withdrawn for cabin upgrades.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.
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.
Dubai-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.
Zurich 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).
An Iraqi Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 ‘frogfoot’ attack plane returning from a bombing mission against ISIS targets on Monday July 7th 2015 accidentally dropped a bomb while overflying Baghdad. The bomb fell on inhabited properties causing the death of 12 residents among which at least three were children and two women. Another 25 people were also wounded. An Iraqi official General Saad Maan Ibrahim speaking to the Associated Press evoked the possibility of a technical malfunction as the cause of the accidental ordnance release. The Iraqi Air Force first received a batch of ex-Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 on June 28th 2014. By July 1st another 7 Su-25 had been transferred from Iran to help Iraq’s defense against the Islamic State. The 7 aircraft sent from Iran were reportedly from dozens of Saddam Hussein’s era Iraqi Air Force jets flown to Iran during the 1991 Gulf War in an attempt to escape destruction from US bombardments.
The Paris air show 2015 saw EVA Airways order 5 new Boeing 777F, a $1.5 billion list price investment towards building its future cargo fleet. The move highlighted the Taiwanese carrier effort towards modernizing its cargo fleet yet consolidating most economically its entire long haul passenger and freight mission on 2 variants of a single 777 type.
Following retirement of its last MD-11 Freighter this past March, the airlines management had indicated its desire to retire its 8 Boeing 747-400F within three years.
In fact March 23rd 2015 saw the last scheduled flight of a MD-11F in the Taiwanese carrier’s color when registration aircraft B-16113 departed Taipei to Anchorage. The same aircraft, the last MD-11F still operating would soonafter arrive at San Bernadino, California for long term storage. Throughout the 21 years that the airline had operated the type, 12 MD-11 have served split duties between freighters (9 aircraft) and passengers (3 aircraft).
Alongside the MD-11F, the remaining portion of the cargo fleet had rested 8 Boeing 747-400F. These included 3 Boeing-built 747-400F dedicated freighters augmented by 5 Bedeck Special Freighter converted from passenger or combi airframes. While the dedicated freighter are generally brand new airframes equipped with Boeing’s factory-built nose cargo door loading system, the conversion variants always re-assign older passenger or combi airframes pulled out of service for a new life as a freighter. The heavily modified jets see their fuselage structurally reinforced, and are fitted with large left-side cargo door on the rear section of the aircraft main deck. The nose door loading system has proven extremely convenient for loading and unloading heavier / outsize cargo.
For EVA Airways Cargo the absence of nose cargo doors on its 6 MD-11F (MD-11 are not designed with a nose loading system) and 5 of 8 Boeing 747-400F aircraft suggested a logistics operations not built to accommodate the outsized loads niche market.
The absence of such a requirement augured well for the prospects of acquiring the highly economical 777F, a Boeing-built freighter variant of the ultra long range 777-200LR; a twin-engines 102 metric tonnes-capable alternative to the tri-jet 92 tonnes-capable MD-11F. Applying the same comparison to the 112 tonnes-capable but four-engined 747-400F tends to shine the 777F in an even more flattering operating economics light. With Eva Airways having already realized the benefits of acquiring 21 Boeing 777-300ER as the ultimate economical replacement for the MD-11 and 747-400 in passenger service, the freighter variant can only make more sense in light of the large experience and support structure already accumulated from the 777-300ER operation.
Vietnam Airline has taken delivery of its first Airbus A350-900 aircraft on June 30th 2015 in Toulouse, France. This aircraft is the first of 14 A350-900 ordered from Airbus part of major plan to revamp the long haul fleet product. Qatar Airways is the only other carrier to date having received a A350XWB.
The new aircraft is actually 1 of 4 aircraft that will be operated under lease while the 10 remaining orders will be financed by the carriers. Dutch lessor AerCap has been identified as the owner of this particular aircraft.
The Vietnamese national carrier has configured the 305-seats aircraft in a 3 class arrangement consisting of 29 fully flat beds Business Class seats along with 45 Premium Economy seats and 231 Economy seats. Following a two-months familiarization on the Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City route, the A350 will be deployed on the Hanoi – Paris daily route this coming September replacing the 6 times weekly Boeing 777-200-operated flights. On this route, the aircraft promises to immediately bring tremendous commercial pressure to bear on rival carrier Air France. The comfortable state of the art jet can operate at a 25% fuel advantage against Air France’s 777-200ER.
The Vietnamese carrier long haul fleet future bet has already been aggressively hedged between selecting the better of two competing products as the coming months will also see Airbus A350’s rival Boeing 787-9 arrive.
The Indonesian Air Force Lockheed C-130B aircraft that crashed into a neighborhood on Tuesday June 30th 2015 and was carrying near maximum payload had been built in 1951. While no one from amongst the 122 passengers nor 12 crew members survived the air disaster, another 7 people on the ground had also reportedly been killed. The Lockheed C-130B carried the registration number A-1310 with construction number 3616 and had just taken off from Soewondo Air Force Base bound for a set of remote Indonesian islands at a 7 hours flight distance. The aircraft did not stay airborne more than 2 minutes following its take-off. Onlookers observed that one of the aircraft propeller was not rotating properly when the airplane started veering to its right, plunging towards a neighborhood in the town of Medan.
The Indonesia Air Force had operated anywhere between 16 and 24 C-130 types of aircraft from the early 1960’s onwards. The aircraft that crashed on Tuesday was a early variant -B model operated by 32 Squadron. Already in 2009 another C-130 had crashed killing more than 100. With a nation consisting of thousands of islands spanning 3 time zones, the C-130 seems to have been a perfect fit for supplying remote bases while also ferrying civilians. The later case would explain the high number of passengers on board that aircraft.
In the previous decades numerous embargoes on military equipment imposed by the US (on account of Indonesia human rights abuse in East Timor and other places) did impact the readiness of the already aging fleet of C-130B and C-130H all Vietnam era airframes. By 2009 various contracts had been authorized by the US aiming at re-conditioning particularly the C-130B fleet consisting of 5 aircraft.
While the large number of passengers on board the aircraft (135) indicates the aircraft may have been operating beyond its maximum payload limit. In such case the unavailability of one of four engines would most likely prevent the aircraft from remaining air borne. Most C-130 versions would accept a maximum of 92 troops or 64 paratroopers with their gears but special scenario envision a maximum load not to exceed 124. The investigation is ongoing.
The crash of a lone F-16 flying a night training mission over the Arizona desert Wednesday June 24th 2015 did not initially hint of a setback for a major security program between the US and Iraq. The following day, a Iraq Defence Ministry spokesperson Brigadier General Tahseen Ibrahim revealed that Iraqi Air Force Brigadier General Rafid Mohammed Hassan was at the control of an Iraqi Air Force-owned F-16 Fighting Falcon that had crashed the previous evening a few miles from the town of Douglas, Arizona. Confirmation of the death of Brigadier general Rafid Mohammed Hassan came on June 26th when after battling an intense fire ignited following the accident, rescue teams recovered his body from the crash site.
Iraq Air Force general demise over the Arizona desert
The tragic and highly published death of such high ranking Iraqi Air Force officer had occurred at the most unlikely of places and circumstance. News of the downed F-16 had almost immediately evoked the certainty that an American pilot was at the control of an Arizona Air National Guard 162 Fighter Wing own F-16, the large F-16 unit based 120 miles away in Tucson. In fact death of an Iraqi Air Force general piloting a fighter plane over desert terrain could only logically occur in Iraqi territory where it is most currently needed to carry out combat missions notably against ISIS.
Instead the high ranking pilot had been flying alone in what has been reported to be a brand new Iraqi-owned twin seat F-16D Block 52 factory #1601, the very same aircraft paraded as the IrAF own first-of-the-kind on June 5th 2014 at Lockheed Martin’s main facility in Fort Worth Texas. That aircraft had first flown on May 2nd 2014 according to F16.net database.
A unit awaiting being re-located to Balad Air Base, Iraq
Brigadier General Rafid Mohammed Hassan had belonged to an aerial outfit consisting of 8 brand new F-16 Block 52 aircraft delivered from June 2014 onwards. This was part of the 36 aircraft order made by Iraq to Lockheed Martin, a deliberate effort sanctioned by American defense administration planners to re-arm the nation air arm post Saddam Hussein regime. With the tense security situation prevailing in Iraq and the perceived vulnerability of Balad Air Base complex where the aircraft were due to be stationed, decision had been made to deliver the aircraft directly to the group of Iraq pilots in-training with the 162 Fighter Wing at Tucson International airport. Delivery scheduling probably saw the first three of the new fighter planes arrive at Tucson by December 2014, subsequent to which one aircraft was added every month from January 2015 to May 2015 bringing the outfit to a total of eight aircraft. Iraq’s Defence Ministry recently indicated that with the fight against ISIS raging, the unit was expected to re-locate to its Balad home base, Iraq on July 12th before immediately starting full combat operations.
Life in the US with the 162 Fighter Wing
At the time of his death, General Rafid Hassan had been living in the US taking part in the program for 4 years. The group of Iraqi pilots had increased in size initially from 2 to 16 in 2012 and 26 currently. The 162 Arizona Air National Guard Fighter Wing based in Tucson International Airport had long housed the International Training Program for F-16 client nations pilots. The unit has relied on a core of 80 F-16 instructor pilots to work with 70 international trainee pilots each year getting them familiarized with operating the sophisticated combat jet. As early as April 1992, the program began training F-16 fighter pilots for the Republic of Singapore, followed in 1993 by Bahrain, Portugal in 1994 and Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey in 1995. By 1996 Belgium also joined followed in 1997 by Jordan and Norway, Denmark in June 1998, and Japan in late 1998. Italy was added to the program in October 2000 and Greece joined in January 2001. The United Arab Emirates gained access to the program in August 2001. By 2004 Oman and Poland had also joined. Other nations such as Israel, Chile and Taiwan have also participated either receiving initial F-16 pilot training or gaining advanced F-16 handling experience on specific weapons or qualifying F-16 instructor pilots. A six-to-eight month basic course is normally dispensed until flight lead upgrade training thus paving the way for the famed instructor pilot certification.
At one point the base’s own 162nd Fighter Wing Resident unit has also served host to foreign units such as the 148th Fighter Squadron, a United Arab Emirates outfit equipped with 13 F-16E/F (Block 60) aircraft instituted from June 27th 2004 until October 20th 2010.
Uncertainty lingers for the Iraqi F-16
With the Iraqi core F-16 pilot cadres having lost what is likely to have been their most senior member, the unit seems to have a long road to travel before becoming the combat ready outfit that Iraq so badly needs in the face of lingering adverse security issues. The pressing schedule motivated by a showdown with ISIS may adversely affect the morale and maturity of the entire unit compounding the risks for the entire program and especially Iraq.
The $4 billion deal between Delta Airlines and Boeing announced June 10th 2015 is contingent on the ratification of a new tentative agreement with the airline’s 12,000-strong pilot union. This investment highlights a major effort by the airline to revamp its aging narrow body fleet. This latest order for 40 737-900ER comes in addition to an existing backlog order with Boeing of another 100 such aircraft and another 27 aircraft already in operation. Bracing for major narrow body aircraft retirements, the bulk of which is set to occur by 2019 will see the Boeing 737-900ERs supplant mainly the carrier’s 123 Boeing 757-200 (whose average fleet age is 20 years old), and 117 MD-88 (who average over 24 years of age).
The 20 Boeing-owned Embraer E190 aircraft that form the other part of the deal are former Air Canada aircraft that Boeing acquired part of a previous deal announced in December 2013. By taking these aircraft, Boeing had facilitated the arrival of up to 109 Boeing 737 MAX with Air Canada. With 9 Business class seats in a 1-2 configuration and 88 Economy seats in 2-2 the E190 will help Delta assume traffic on business-friendly travel routes now currently operated by some of its regional subsidiary.
In a stunning reversal of commercial fortune, Dassault Rafale scored its third customer in as many month this year alone. The year has proven pivotal for an aircraft that had yet to find a foreign customer after more than 10 years of service in its home country. The latest order sealed May 4th during French president Francois Hollande visit to Qatar will see 24 aircraft supplied to the oil rich small gulf nation. The Euro 6.3 Billion package ($ 7.1 Billion) which comprises 18 single seats and 6 tandem seats aircraft and as many as 12 options, will also provide advanced MBDA-produced air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions along with Sagem precision strikes kits. The kingdom intends to upgrade its air force with a more advanced aircraft than the highly effective 12 Dassault Mirage 2000-5 acquired in the 80’s. The contract is likely to see as many as 36 pilots and 100 technicians trained.