COMAC creates second assembly line

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Chinese aircraft manufacturer COMAC has launched a second assembly line at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport.

This announcement came as COMAC completed the manufacture on another ARJ21-700 aircraft last week. That aircraft successfully performed its first production flight, remaining in the air for nearly four hours.

The previous single assembly line at Pudong, limited production to 15 aircraft annually, which is now set to double. COMAC aims to contest to the dominance of Airbus and Boeing aircraft such as Embraer, using the ARJ21-700 within the small regional jet market which it describes as “an underserved market”.

Currently, COMAC has delivered 23 ARJ21s to local airlines such as Chengdu Airlines, Genghis Khan Airlines, Jiangxi Air and CFGAC, with another 278 aircraft to be delivered across various carriers.

The manufacturer has hopes for its C919, a mid-size jet seating around 160 passengers and the twin bodied C929 fitted for around 300 passengers. The first delivery of the C919 aircraft is expected to reach China Eastern Airline in 2021, followed by test flights of the C929 in 2025.

Although the majority of interest has been from Chinese airlines, UK airline Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary stated that he was “still committed to the C919.” In 2011, the airline signed an MOU with COMAC regarding the aircraft.

O’Leary further commented on the importance of another aircraft manufacturer, stating, “When you look at the state of the industry in the last twelve months, the delay of the MAX, the grounding of the MAX aircraft, the delay in the return to service has put enormous pressure on capacity across the industry and that has also meant there has been less growth.”

Malaysia Airlines

AAPA reviews travel restrictions

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Malaysia Airlines

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) is encouraging the Government to refrain from travel restrictions in response of COVID-19.

With reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that the virus has spread to over 100 countries, it is believed that most of the cases are through local transmission rather than from abroad. Consequently, WHO has argued against travel and trade restrictions, “as such measures are generally ineffective.”

WHO issued a report on 10 March 2020 which stated that only 45 have informed the organisation of restricting measures and supported the choice with associated public health rational, as is required under the International Health Regulations (IHR). Nonetheless, over 90 countries still possess travel bans. The travel restrictions have caused major disruptions to supply chains, commerce, trade and peoples’ livelihoods due to the economic impact.

As air travel has been remarked as safe by medical experts, the airline industry has been adhering to WHO and IATA guidelines on inflight hygiene and disinfection to protect the passengers. This has included improved cleaning of the aircraft and airline lounges and using hospital grade HEPA air filtration systems on board aircraft.

Currently, no reports of COVID-19 infections attributed to inflight transmission have been made which has caused the industry to debate the necessity of travel restrictions.

“The airline industry is fully committed to the safety and well-being of the travelling public,” commented Andrew Herdman, AAPA Director General. “Asia Pacific are well-equipped to handle health crisis’ and are strictly following established guidelines developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in consultation with the WHO and Airports Council International (ACI), covering the management of public health risks.”

Herdman reiterated the importance to notice that the travel restrictions have caused a disruption “to people’s livelihoods and the negative repercussions to the wider economy.” He calls for a more globally coordinated set of policy measures which addresses the risk of coronavirus but reduces the social and economic impact. Resources could be then be used towards strengthening the public health response.

Air Serbia

Air Serbia seek out Sukhoi SSJ100

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Air Serbia

Serbia and Russia are rumoured to resume discussions over the potential purchase of Sukhoi SSJ100 aircraft for Air Serbia. It is expected that eight aircraft may be added to Air Serbia’s livery.

Air Serbia is searching for options for a fleet renewal to aid its impending network expansion and replace its existing capacity. The airline launched 21 new routes in 2019 and plans to add another 10 this year. However, operating one of the oldest fleets of any national airline in Europe, there is a pressing need to change the aircraft. At the end of 2019, it was reported that Air Serbia was close to a deal with Sukhoi to lease or purchase the SSJ100 for the expansion.

After a fatal crash in May 2019, which cost 41 lives, many SSJ100 aircraft were grounded. Airlines such as Interjet called for a withdrawal of the model soon after.

In order to reinstate itself within the aviation industry and raise the profile of its SSJ100 aircraft, the manufacturer is aiming to find a customer in Europe. Currently, Aeroflot is the only European airline to use the SSJ100 regularly and in 2019, announced its intention to acquire five more.

Russia-based Azimuth Airlines is the operator of a fleet solely of Sukhoi aircraft, recently bringing a profit to the airline and resulting in the profile of Sukhoi as a potential option.


Volotea ventures into Spain

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Volotea plans to open up four new bases in Spain and increase its route network, aimed to ease the International Airlines Group’s (IAG) purchase of Air Europa.

IAG is owned by Iberia and agreed in November 2019 to buy Air Europa, expecting to boost the company’s connections within the South American transatlantic market, turning Madrid into a major European hub airport.

Volotea will gain a number of connections and slots held by Air Europa and Iberia, bringing its total of operated routes to 354 in 2020. The LCC expects to fly up to nine million passengers this year in compared to 7.6 million in 2019. It’s opened between 30 and 60 routes annually since it began operations in 2012: 92 routes in Spain alone.

The proposal would see the airline expect to open two to four bases in Spain, strengthening its connectivity between the Canary and Balearic Islands, as well as Asturias, the Basque Country and Galicia.

Volotea Founder and CEO, Carlos Munoz described the expansion plans as an “important step forward” for its presence in Spain. He said, “The challenge is very exciting and I’m sure that the great team at Volotea will be able to offer the Spanish client what we know best: to launch new routes at very competitive prices and with a high level of service.”

Wizz Air calls for cancellations due to Covid-19

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Wizz Air has announced that due to the Covid-19 impact, it has suspended flights from all of the airline’s destinations to Italy, with immediate effect. Additionally, flights to Tel Aviv and Eliat, Israel were halted on 12 March 2020.

In a bid to contain the coronavirus, lockdowns within Italy has led Wizz Air to decide to suspend flights from London Luton to Bari and Catania. Similarly, the implementation of a 14-day quarantine period for arriving passengers to Israel, steered the airline towards postponing flights to Tel Aviv until 23 March 2020.

At the end of February, Wizz Air began to cut connections to numerous destinations, including Italy, as it saw a decrease in demand for flights in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Since then, ABTA warned the industry that the situation in the country could change quickly, leading to Wizz Air and rival airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair to temporarily cancel connections.

The airline has stated that its difficult to predict the impact that the outbreak will have on its new financial year that will begin next month but, has claimed that it is debating to cut a further 10% of flights in April and June. In order to address the financial implications of the Covid-19, measures such as “significant” cutting of cost overheads, spending and the pausing of recruitment are underway.

Passengers have been reassured that they will be informed of any affected flights and accommodated an alternative route at the earliest possibility. Those who booked from the airline’s website are able to rebook or get a refund for any interruptions.

Editor’s comment: To boldly go where no one has…

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The UK is leaving the European Union aviation safety regulator, EASA, after the Brexit transition period, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed. It means that many of the senior figures within EASA, who are British, will return from its headquarters in Cologne over the coming year.

“As you would expect from an independent nation, we can’t be subject to the rules and laws made by somebody else, so we can’t accept rules from the EU Commission and we can’t accept rulings in terms of court cases from the European court of justice or anybody else, any more that the US would,” Shapps told Aviation Week in Washington.

He added: “A lot of the expertise and key figures within EASA is British.”

Shapps’s comments were echoed by the Department of Transport, with a spokesperson stating: “Being a member of the EASA is not compatible with the UK having a genuine economic and political independence. We will maintain world-leading safety standards for industry, with the CAA taking over these responsibilities, and will continue to work with colleagues in the EU to establish a new regulatory relationship.”

The EU made it clear that the UK would no longer be able to take part in any involvement with EASA, the only exception being restricted to any bilateral aviation safety concerns of agreements.

The withdrawal’s impact has already been highlighted by the trade body ADS, an organisation which represents more than 1,100 UK businesses in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, told the BBC that this could raise potentially more paperwork and certifications required in order for products and designs developed in the UK to be used within the industry overseas. The impact of this is unknown but could well be damaging to the UK’s commercial aviation industry.

As for the regional airlines, when the UK leaves EASA, it might well need to certify aircraft separately itself, the cost of which may somehow have to be contributed by the airline operating the type, which for some may prove impossible.

It’s a brave new world the UK’s aerospace industry is moving into, let’s just hope that when we get there, we’ve arrived in peace and in profit.

Zipair’s American dream

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Japan Airlines new subsidiary low-cost carrier (LCC), Zipair, has announced its plans to offer transpacific flights between Japan and America.

Zipair has confirmed its aim to use a fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s to operate mid- to long-haul flights. The airline intends to use 10 787s to fly routes across the Pacific to destinations in America, becoming the first LCC to operate this sector.

Although Zipair has yet to begin flying, it has not stopped it from making future plans. The airline is expected to launch in May, beginning with flights to Bangkok followed by Seoul in July. However, no date for its American dream has been provided as it is still to obtain ETOPS certification, the airline stating that it is working on pilot training.

Zipair has voiced its intent to become a “new basic” class of carriers, sitting between the low-cost and full-service categories.


Airlines fill Flybe’s vacant routes

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Airlines have begun to take the place of Flybe on its now vacant routes, following the regional airlines collapse on 5 March 2020.

There has been a call to recover Flybe’s previous connections, as it provided the majority of air services at Southampton, Belfast City and Exeter, as well as about half of those to Jersey, at Cardiff Airport and Wales.

Scottish airline, Loganair is to take on 16 of Flybe’s routes, focusing on airports at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and Inverness. Following Flybe’s fall, many departures were cancelled across Scottish airports, but this new announcement will see the addition of nearly 400 new flights to its current schedule.

The failure of Flybe saw the loss of 2,400 jobs but there is also concern about the prospects for airport roles, such as baggage handlers, at some of Flybe’s biggest hubs: Aberdeen, Birmingham and Manchester. However, Loganair expects to open up a recruitment line for former Flybe workers as it plans to hire employees. The airline expects to recruit pilots, cabin crew and engineers, accumulating 100 new positions across four locations. Loganair commented that taking on the routes would “help former Flybe ground handling agents and airport operators at locations such as Southampton and Exeter to preserve employment in their business.”

Loganair worker

After failing to secure a financial foothold and rejected proposals to a change in its air passenger duty (APD), Flybe did not manage to stay afloat which has had more repercussions that the loss of flights. “The collapse of Flybe is already having a domino effect on good jobs across regions where aviation is vital for sustaining connectivity and supporting local economies,” the GMB workers union said.

Airlines such as Blue Islands and Eastern Airways are currently needing to restore their own booking systems as they had relied on Flybe’s systems prior to its crash. Also, Virgin has had to shelve its plans to use Flybe for its regional and feeder services, although it has stated that it will “explore options” to connect to UK regions.

“Flybe played a critical and unique role in the UK aviation system, supporting the development of the regions by providing essential connectivity that no other airline or other mode of transport offered,” stated UK Airport Operators Association CEO, Karen Dee.

Silver Airways

Silver Airways looks at the bigger picture

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Silver Airways

Based at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), regional airline Silver Airways announces it wants to operate larger aircraft for connections between the US and the Caribbean.

Silver Airways currently operates the ATR 42-600 and added the ATR 72-600 in November 2019. These aircraft are suited to the airline’s market with its smaller runways in Bahamian islands. The airline flies to the remote parts of the Lucayan Archipelago in the Bahamas but looks to expand its network to additional Caribbean destinations.

The submitted application to the US Department of Transport (DOT) would allow Silver Airways to operate a larger version of the ATR 72-600 on upcoming flights to the Dominican Republic and Saint Martin, which it aims to launch in spring 2020. The airline focuses on undeserved regional routes from its three hubs in Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

“This is an exciting time for Silver Airways and regional airline flying as we continue our fleet transformation and focus on providing the highest level of safe, reliable and customer-focused service,” commented Steve Rossum, CEO of Silver Airways. He stated that the addition of the ATR 72-600 was a “great milestone for Silver Airways, ATR, our customers, our airline partners, the communities we serve and our team members.” The larger version of this aircraft is aimed to extend the airlines reach in the Southeast US and the Caribbean.

“We are proud to be part of Silver Airways’ ambitions and expansion plans,” said ATR Chief Executive Officer, Stefano Bortoli. “After the start with the 42-600, we will now see the 72-600 operating in the US, introducing the most modern standards of regional aviation at the most competitive cost.”

Wizz Air announces new Abu Dhabi subsidiary

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Hungarian-based airline, Wizz Air, has revealed the date of its new Abu Dhabi subsidiary. The airline is aimed to be launched in Q3 of 2020.

Wizz Air CEO, Jozsef Varadi, stated “The joint venture agreement underpins our long-term dedication to bringing an economically and operationally highly efficient as well as environmentally most sustainable airline business model to boost Abu Dhabi’s aviation development. Wizz Air’s mission feeds into Abu Dhabi’s diversified economic strategy as we aim to stimulate traffic by creating demand to the benefit of growing Aby Dhabi’s touristic and economic diversity.”

The airline said that it will focus on strengthening routes to markets where Wizz Air is established, expecting to produce connections to Central, Eastern and Western Europe.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is the second low-cost airline to be recently announced within the Abu Dhabi aviation market.

The new airline expects to see competition from Etihad and upcoming routes from Indian budget airline SpiceJet.

Mohamed Hassan Al Suwaidi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company (ADDH) said, “Tourism is a high priority in Abu Dhabi’s growth strategy. Significant investment is going not only into our airports but also the tourist infrastructure, including hotels, resorts and cultural attractions. Last year, the emirate achieved a record high of 11.35 million visitors and a key driver for this is the connectivity that enables people to visit Abu Dhabi easily and affordably.”

With multiple airlines and low-cost carriers covering the aviation market in the UAE is looking to evolve. Where it has been a hub for long haul flights, the area is expected to become a destination in itself in the future.