Saturday, March 7, 2015

Southwest Airlines launches to Central America and flies new Caribbean route

Southwest Airlines inaugurated two international routes Saturday that brought new long-haul service for customers using two of the carrier's growing gateways, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston. Each of the new routes is longer than 2,000 miles each-way and marks historic milestones for the carrier both by connecting Central America to the Southwest network of destinations and by offering its longest-ever nonstop scheduled service from any of Southwest's Texas Triangle of original cities of Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.

Beginning Saturday, Southwest Airlines operates nonstop service between San Jose, Costa Rica, and Baltimore/Washington on a once daily basis, and Aruba and Houston seasonally, once every Saturday through Aug. 8.

At Houston's Hobby Airport, Southwest employees celebrated the first Aruba-bound morning departure. This is the first-ever international flying offered from Houston Hobby. This October, Southwest is scheduled to complete the construction of a $156 million international terminal project which will give Houstonians and Southwest customers from across the network access to more international destinations.

"This is just the beginning of a very big 2015 for our Houston employees and customers with an additional six destinations across three countries coming online at Hobby later this year,” said Teresa Laraba, Southwest's Senior Vice President of Customers.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

NASA to test booster for new Space Launch System

The largest, most powerful booster ever built for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will fire up for a ground test at 11:30 a.m. EDT March 11, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems' test facilities in Promontory, Utah.

The two-minute static test is a significant milestone for the SLS as part of NASA's journey to Mars, and follows years of development. It is one of two ground tests to qualify the booster for flight. A second test is planned for early 2016. Once qualification is complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, along with NASA's Orion spacecraft, on its first flight test.

A public viewing area is available along State Road 83 North approximately 20 miles west of Corinne, Utah. The gate to the public viewing area opens at 9 a.m. EDT March11. Overflow parking is available, if needed.

When completed, two solid-rocket boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power the SLS as it begins its deep space missions. The boosters operate in parallel with the main engines for the first two minutes of flight, providing more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket to escape Earth's gravitational pull.

The first flight test of the SLS will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS is updated, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into the solar system.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Silk Way West orders three Boeing 747-8 freighters

Boeing and Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West announced an order for three 747-8 Freighter airplanes Tuesday valued at more than $1.1 billion at current list prices.

Silk Way West is an enterprise of the Silk Way Group, which includes 23 companies working in the aviation industry and related services. The airline currently operates seven Boeing airplanes, including two 767-300 Freighters, three 747-400 Freighters and two 747-8 Freighters.

“Compared one on one, the 747-8 Freighter has no competitors,” Boeing said in a company press release. “The 747-8 Freighter provides cargo operators the lowest operating costs and best economics of any large freighter airplane while providing enhanced environmental performance.” The 747-8 Freighter offers 16 percent more revenue cargo volume than the 747-400, while keeping its iconic nose door. 

With 56 747-8 Freighters in service with eight customers, the 747-8 Freighters have logged more than 500,000 flight hours and more than 88,000 flight cycles.

Blue-Chip UAS granted approval to fly drones across multiple industries

Blue-Chip Unmanned Aerial Solutions, Inc. (Blue-Chip UAS) is the first company in the U.S. to receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to fly drones “across multiple industries.” Blue-Chip UAS received the coveted authorization on Feb. 10, to provide service solutions across the oil and gas, wildlife, agriculture and aerial photography industries utilizing the FAA-certified Sensurion Magpie UAS.

Blue-Chip's Section 333 exemption authorizes UAS flight operations within five nautical miles of any airport or airfield inside Class E airspace with an approved COA, airport manager approval and issuance of a Notice to Airmen.

Blue-Chip's initial customer engagement is within the oil and gas exploration industry for Paragon Geophysical. Proof of concept test flights were successfully executed in November 2014 at the Nellis Air Force Base UAS test range in conjunction with Sensurion Aerospace, Paragon and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.

Video: First mission to visit a dwarf planet

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday.

Recent images show numerous craters and unusual bright spots that scientists believe tell how Ceres, the first object discovered in our solar system's asteroid belt, formed and whether its surface is changing. As the spacecraft spirals into closer and closer orbits around the dwarf planet, researchers will be looking for signs that these strange features are changing, which would suggest current geological activity. 

"Data returned from Dawn could contribute significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the solar system formed,” said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Dawn began its final approach phase toward Ceres in December. The spacecraft has taken several optical navigation images and made two rotation characterizations, allowing Ceres to be observed through its full nine-hour rotation. Since Jan. 25, Dawn has been delivering the highest-resolution images of Ceres ever captured.

Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres in 1801. As more such objects were found in the same region, they became known as asteroids, or minor planets. Ceres was initially classified as a planet and later called an asteroid. In recognition of its planet-like qualities, Ceres was designated a dwarf planet in 2006, along with Pluto and Eris.

Launched in September 2007, Dawn explored the giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, capturing detailed images and data about that body. Both Vesta and Ceres orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter, in the main asteroid belt.

Ceres and Vesta have several important differences. Ceres is the most massive body in the asteroid belt, with an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers). Ceres' surface covers about 38 percent of the area of the continental United States. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), and is the second most massive body in the belt. The asteroid formed earlier than Ceres and is a very dry body. Ceres, in contrast, is estimated to be 25 percent water by mass.

Dawn's mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft.

The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Civil helicopter demand remains steady over next five years

In its 17th annual Turbine-Powered Civil Helicopter Purchasing Outlook, Honeywell Aerospace expects that 4,750-5,250 civilian-use helicopters will be delivered during 2015-2019. The 2015 outlook presents a snapshot of the helicopter business at a point in time and reflects the current business and political environment.

The forecast estimates the five-year share of demand from the U.S. and Canada at 34 percent, up nearly eight points on stronger North American buying plans. When combined with Latin America, the Western Hemisphere represents 53 percent of the five-year global demand. Europe's share tallies 24 percent, with the Asia-Oceania region accounting for 14 percent, and Africa and the Middle East contributing nine percent.

Operators who intend to purchase a helicopter within the next five years noted that the age of their current aircraft (which includes factors such as maintenance costs, performance erosion and safety concerns), contracted replacement cycle and warranty expiration were all key reasons for their decision.

"Purchase interest for helicopters in training, tourism, firefighting and law enforcement categories is trending up,” said Mike Madsen, president, Defense and Space, Honeywell Aerospace.

Operator preferences by class of helicopter
  • Light single-engine helicopters continue to be the most popular helicopter class, garnering almost half the new purchase interest in the 2015 survey. The Airbus EC130/AS350 series, Bell 407, Bell 505 and Robinson R66 were the most frequently mentioned models.
  • Intermediate and medium twin-engine helicopters are the second most popular product class, with approximately 31 percent of total survey participants planning to buy a new model of this type. The most frequently mentioned models were the AW139, AW169, Bell 412, EC145T2 and Sikorsky S-76 series. Emerging super-medium-class helicopters such as the AW189, Bell 525 and EC175 rely on large fleet operators in the energy, natural resource, and search and rescue sectors for substantial portions of their demand, and may be underrepresented in the current survey sample. Near-term interest may be volatile based on conditions in the energy markets.
  • The light twin helicopter class earned between 18-19 percent of total operator purchase plans in the 2015 survey, with the EC135, Bell 429 and AW109 series helicopters noted most frequently.
  • Heavy multi-engine helicopters, such as the EC225, AW101 and S-92, registered small but steady levels of new helicopter purchase plans in the 2015 survey; however, demand from large oil and gas fleet operators not included in the survey continues to support volume in the heavy class even though some near-term replacement activity may be deferred. Mi-8/17 purchase plans are not fully represented due to limited response from Russian operators in the 2015 survey.
Satisfaction with aircraft 

Again in this year's survey, Honeywell asked all respondents to indicate their current satisfaction over the past year with each model of aircraft they operate. For models that received more than 25 responses, the make and models with the highest net scores are the AW139, Robinson R66, Bell 407, Bell 429, Bell 412, Bell 206L, EC135, EC145, AS350B series and Sikorsky S-76C.

These top platforms account for over 70 percent of all survey make and model mentions and can be considered the top current production helicopters in terms of recent customer satisfaction attitudes and likelihood to promote.

Helicopter use expected to increase 

Helicopter fleet utilization is expected to increase this year. Planned increases by region include:
  • North America: 27 percent of operators plan increases and only six percent plan decreases.
  • Europe: 10 percent of operators plan increases and four percent plan decreases.
  • Latin America: 45 percent of operators plan increases and only four percent plan decreases.
  • Middle East and Africa: 18 percent of operators plan increases and only three percent plan decreases.
  • Asia-Oceania: 14 percent of operators plan increases and six percent plan decreases.
Oil and gas operators reported the highest flight-hour use per aircraft at approximately 850 hours per year, followed by tourism with a strong increase to just under 700 hours per year and then law enforcement at more than 600 hours per year. Emergency medical services, training, firefighting and general utility were closely grouped at approximately 400-450 hours per year. The lowest average use was reported by corporate segment operators at just over 360 hours per helicopter per year.

As a side note, the U.S. Transportation Command is currently seeking a contractor that may be able to provide four heavy rotary wing aircraft capable of flying 150 hours per aircraft per month (1,800 hours per year).

Most popular posts February 2015

1.) Lufthansa to demonstrate pilot-controlled taxiing system without engines running - TaxiBot, a semi-robotic pilot-controlled vehicle, transports airline aircraft from terminal gates to the runway and back, without using the airplane's own engines. [Full story]

2.) Delta adds Boeing 717s for Los Angeles/San Francisco service - Delta Air Lines will introduce Boeing 717 aircraft on eight of the 15 daily flights between Los Angeles International (LAX) and San Francisco International airports in June, offering 40 percent more seats on its hourly nonstop Delta Shuttle. [Full story]

3.) NTSB releases report on fatal Boeing 747 crash in Afghanistan - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released their first public factual report for the ongoing investigation into the April 29, 2013 crash of a National Airlines Boeing 747 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. [Full story]

4.) Singapore-based airline receives first 787 Dreamliner - Boeing and Scoot Pte Ltd. announced the delivery of the Singapore-based airline's first 787 Dreamliner. [Full story] 

5.) FBI begins market research to replace 'alert aircraft' - The FBI Mission Support Contracts Unit, in support of the Critical Incident Response Group, is seeking information about leasing, purchasing, or leasing to own, an alert aircraft, according to contract documents released in February. [Full story]