Airline Business team on Jet, Wow, Max, Turkey and China

The new edition of the Airline Business Podcast is now available.

Join executive editor Graham Dunn and managing editor Lewis Harper as they discuss the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, JetBlue Airways’ transatlantic launch, the collapse of Wow Air, the impact of the Boeing 737 Max grounding, and the opening of Turkish Airlines’ new mega-hub.

Mavis Toh then joins the discussion to talk through this month’s Airline Business cover interview with Juneyao Airlines chairman Wang Junjin.

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Nine aviation agencies will have seat on FAA’s Max review panel

Representatives from at least nine countries and regions will participate in a panel that the US Federal Aviation Administration convened for the purpose of reviewing the Boeing 737 Max’s flight control software.

Led by veteran US transportation safety investigator Chris Hart, the FAA’s “Joint Authorities Technical Review” panel (JATR) will first convene on 29 April, says the FAA on 19 April.

The group will likely conclude its review in 90 days, adds the FAA, signaling the 737 Max’s grounding might not lift until the second half of the year.

The non-US representatives include “experts” from civil aviation authorities, including those overseeing airlines that have already received, or have orders for, Boeing 737 Max.

Delegates hail from the aviation agencies of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates.

“The JATR team will conduct a comprehensive review of the certification of the aircraft’s automated flight control system,” says the FAA. “The team will evaluate aspects of the 737 Max automated flight control system, including its design and pilots’ interaction with the system, to determine its compliance with all applicable regulations and to identify future enhancements that might be needed.”

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The FAA established the technical review panel earlier this month, making Hart its chair.

Hart has been a National Transportation Safety Board member for roughly 11 years in two stints since 1990. He was NTSB chair from 2015 to 2017.

Additionally, Hart was deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and worked at the FAA as assistant administrator for system safety and deputy director for air traffic safety oversight.

Other US members of the review panel include representatives from the FAA and NASA.

The FAA did not immediately respond to a request to disclose names of panelists other than Hart.

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Upsets spur urgent order to disarm CitationJet active winglets

European safety regulators have urgently ordered the de-activation of a load-alleviation system on Textron Aviation Cessna CitationJets fitted with Tamarack Aerospace Group winglets.

The load-alleviation system, known as Atlas, is designed to offer superior performance to passive winglets by adapting to changing wing loads.

Atlas uses load sensors to control wing loading automatically during events such as wind gusts, and optimise the wing to improve efficiency during routine flight.

But the European Union Aviation Safety Agency is concerned over occurrences in which the Atlas system “appears to have malfunctioned”.

EASA says the resulting in-flight upsets, in some cases, led to pilots’ experiencing “difficulty to recover the [aircraft] to safe flight”.

“Investigation continues to determine the [cause or causes] for the reported events,” it adds, stating that the situation presents a loss-of-control risk.

EASA has issued an emergency airworthiness directive ordering the Tamarack Atlas to be de-activated and the active-control surfaces fixed in place, before the aircraft’s next flight.

The order affects the 525, 525A and 525B models of the Cessna CitationJet.

UK-based modifications specialist Cranfield Aerospace Solutions has published a service bulletin with instructions on pulling and collaring the Atlas circuit-breaker, to immobilise the active-control surfaces.

EASA has also ordered that aircraft flight manual supplements be amended to include new operational limitations and instructions for pre-flight inspections.

Within 100h operators should contact Cranfield Aerospace Solutions for instructions on modifying Atlas. Modification allows the Atlas to be re-activated and the limitations lifted.

EASA states, however that the emergency airworthiness directive is an interim measure, and further action may follow.

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Vision Jet pitch-down risk traced to angle-of-attack sensor flaw

Operators of Cirrus Aircraft SF50 Vision Jets have been ordered urgently to replace angle-of-attack sensors, after three incidents in which stall-protection systems improperly activated.

The US FAA has warned that activation of the stall-warning or the electronic stability protection systems could occur even if the aircraft is flying at a suitable angle-of-attack with sufficient airspeed.

Investigation of the incidents has identified a “quality escape” during assembly of the Aerosonic angle-of-attack sensor as the probable cause, says the FAA, adding that screws securing the potentiometer shaft to the angle-of-attack vane shaft might have improper torqueing.

As a result the aircraft might display spurious indications based on erroneous angle-of-attack data, including abnormal low-speed information.

Such false indications might result in unintended automatic flight-control activation and excessive nose-down attitude. The pilot could experience difficulty controlling the aircraft and there is a risk of possible collision with terrain, the FAA warns.

“The noted condition presents an immediate danger to pilots and passengers of [the SF50] because an uncommanded pitch down may be difficult to recover from in some flight regimes, with potential fatal consequences,” it adds.

It has barred operators from further flights until the suspect Aerosonic sensors are replaced with a different model.

Inappropriate engagement of the stall-warning system could result in audio alarms and stick-shaker activation, followed by possible underspeed protection engagement or activation of the stick-pusher. The pilot would also see colour-coded airspeed indications displaying the stall band, regardless of the actual indicated airspeed.

The latest of the three SF50 incidents leading to the FAA action occurred this month, while two others have taken place since November last year.

One event resulted in the aircraft, while under manual control, activating several downward pitch commands as well as stall-warning alerts and the stick-shaker. Another operator reported stall-warning and stick-pusher failure in flight, while a third had stall-warning and stick-shaker activation, and related failures, during descent.

While a Cirrus service bulletin issued on 16 April, covering replacement of the sensor, allowed 5h time in service beforehand, the FAA says that even this short period “does not mitigate” the unsafe condition, and it has ordered the sensors replaced before further flight.

Operators will be allowed, however, to fly affected aircraft to a location where the modification work can be performed, subjected to specific procedures.

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Bell promises to build 407GXi in USA if selected by US Navy

Bell has confirmed that if selected for US Navy’s TH-XX trainer contest, its 407GXi will be assembled at a facility in Ozark, Alabama.

Although the company bills itself as the “only US-based manufacturer” to be participating in the competition, the airframer builds its entire civil range – including the 407 – in Mirabel, Canada.

Texas-headquartered Bell submitted its offer to the navy on 2 April, it says. There had previously been uncertainty as to whether it would offer the light-single 407GXi for the requirement, or the light-twin 429.

One key criterion demanded by the navy is that the helicopter is qualified for instrument flight rules (IFR) operations. Bell has previously said it was seeking IFR certification for the 407, although it is unclear if has received that approval.

“Our Ozark team has proven their capabilities delivering Bell 407s to the navy through the [Northrop Grumman MQ-8C] Fire Scout programme,” states Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder.

Bell faces competition for the 130-unit deal from Airbus Helicopters with the H135 light-twin and Leonardo Helicopters with the single-engined TH-119.

Both aircraft would also be built in the USA if selected: at plants in Columbus, Mississippi and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, respectively.

A decision is expected from the US Navy later this year as it moves ahead with replacement of its Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet.

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What guides US carriers’ widebody premium decisions?

There is a premium revolution underway at the US network carriers. Business class seats are becoming more spacious and private, and premium economy cabins – long the missing onboard segment – are becoming standard with widebody fleets due for outfitting in the next two years.

But where American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines break is on how many of each premium seat to offer – critical calculations that are part of their larger revenue and margin-boosting segmentation initiatives.

“The focus on premium passengers is aligned with a focus on higher margins for legacy carriers,” Evercore analyst Duane Pfennigwerth said on investments in February.

Business class products have been de rigeur since the 1990s, with American ushering in the latest generation of seats in 2013. The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier followed that with the first premium economy cabin at a US carrier in 2016.

American, despite being the first with premium economy, has smaller business cabins on comparably sized aircraft than either of its competitors. Delta has the largest premium economy cabins and United the largest business class cabins of the three.

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While each carrier has at one point taken the premium-product reins, United recently moved the ball forward with its announcement of expanded premium cabins on a range of aircraft. Investments include a new subfleet of 21 Boeing 767-300ERs with expanded business class cabins to operating new Boeing 787-10s with 65 premium seats – 44 in business and 21 in premium economy – on prominent domestic and international routes.

With their various layouts, what guides American, Delta and United’s decision making in search of that premium-seat sweet spots?


“We feel quite confident about the different configurations we have to serve a diverse global network,” American senior vice-president of marketing, loyalty and sales Kurt Stache tells FlightGlobal on its widebody premium seating configurations.

While the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier is quick to tout the fact that it is the only US airline still offering a first-class cabin – an eight-seat affair on its Boeing 777-300ERs – it also has some of the smallest business class cabins versus its peers. Both its 787-8s or -9s have fewer business class seats than comparably sized aircraft at either Delta or United.

Delta’s Airbus A330-900s, which begin replacing 767-300ERs in July, have 29 business seats and United’s 787-8s have 36 business seats.

“Yes, United is adding more premium seats, but we certainly have the flexibility to move aircraft around to meet demand,” says Stache on the 787 configurations. He emphasises that, where demand warrants, American flies aircraft with larger premium cabins, like its highest premium-seat count aircraft on the 777-300ER to London.

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American’s business class cabin on the 777-200


The largest share of 777-300ER departures at American, nearly a quarter, are from London Heathrow, Cirium schedules data for June shows.

In addition, the airline has a metal neutral joint venture with British Airways that allows the carriers to optimise premium seats across the Atlantic, including with BA’s fleet of premium Boeing 747-400s with 130 first, business and premium economy seats.

Premium economy is a lucrative offering for American. The cabin commands nearly twice the fare of economy seats, says Stache, who adds that the airline can easily add another row or two of the product if demand warrants whereas business class seats are a more intensive investment.

“With the exception of the 767s and the A330-300s, we’re done,” he says on the premium economy roll out. “Demand has been good, the price point has been where we thought it would be.”

American will retire its 767s and A330-300s by 2022.


Atlanta-based Delta slots itself somewhere between American and United when it comes to premium configurations. Its A350-900s, which it ordered instead of 787-9s in a 2014 campaign, have fewer business class seats than the comparable 787s at United but a large premium economy cabin.

“Having all five cabins available, I think we feel very comfortable in the size of each one of those,” said Glen Hauenstein, president of Atlanta-based Delta, responding to a question on its premium cabin density during a quarterly earnings call on 10 April.

The “five cabins” he refers to are business class, premium economy, extra-legroom economy, economy and basic economy. However, the latter two are the same seat just different fare classes.

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Delta business class suites on the 777


Delta focuses on a more exclusive business class product, being the only US carrier to offer suites with closable doors, and more premium economy seats. For example, it has 48 seats of the latter on its Boeing 777-200s while American and United both only have 24 seats.

Hauenstein touts this large premium economy cabin when asked why Delta shrank the size of its business class on the 777, saying: “We’re introducing an entirely new cabin on the airplanes. We’re trying to best match the consumer demand with the products and services we have.”

Premium density, including both business and premium economy, more than doubled to 76 seats from just 37 seats when the carrier began reconfiguring its 777-200s last year.

Delta has said that premium economy seats command roughly 1.7x economy fares. It plans to finish installing the cabin on aircraft in 2021.

The carrier is also the only of the three to disclose premium-related passenger revenue, which amounted to $3.27 billion, or 35% of total passenger revenues, in the first quarter. Premium revenues grew 8% year-over-year.


“We’re putting more premium seats on the 787 than either American or Delta, because we have real premium demand in those markets,” Kirby told employees at United’s San Francisco hub at the end of March. He was referring to the Chicago-based carrier’s Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles hubs, which he calls the “three of the biggest premium demand markets in the world”.

American’s three largest international gateways Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami and Philadelphia, and Delta’s are Atlanta, Detroit and New York John F Kennedy in June, schedules data shows.

New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago were the five largest international gateways in the USA during the year ending in September 2018, the latest available, US Department of Transportation data shows. The agency does not report international air fare data.

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United’s business class cabin on the 767


While United configures both its 787-8s and -9s with more business class seats than either those at American or the A350 at Delta, it has yet to disclose plans to reconfigure either aircraft with its premium economy product. It aims to complete installations of the new cabin on widebody aircraft by end-2020.

The 777-200 is the one type where all three airlines offer their full suite of products. United configures its aircraft with two-fewer premium seats – 74 versus 76 – than Delta, but up to 22 more business class seats than either competitor.

“Our international network has much higher margins than [Delta and American],” says Kirby, noting that the carrier sees a high percentage of passengers paying to sit in business class at its three coastal gateway hubs. “That’s the secret sauce for United.”

United’s premium product investments are part of a larger target to to achieve earnings per share (EPS) of $11-13 by 2020. In 2018, its EPS was $9.13.

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​AirAsia’s Vietnam dream hits the rocks – again

AirAsia’s third attempt for a low-cost carrier in Vietnam have fallen through, with the termination of a joint venture with local partners.

“The Company wishes to announce that its wholly-owned subsidiary AirAsia Investment Limited, together with Gumin Company Limited and Hai Au Aviation Joint Stock Company, have amicably agreed to terminate and release each other from all obligations under the transaction agreements in relation to the proposed joint venture in Vietnam, effective 17 April 2019,” says AirAsia in a statement.

The carrier initially announced the joint venture in March 2017, and had reiterated its commitment to the initiative in December 2018.

The decision marks a setback for AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes, who views Vietnam as a core part of Southeast Asia’s airline industry.

In December 2018, when AirAsia restated its commitment to its joint venture partners, Fernandes had this to say: “AirAsia is an [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] airline. And in Asean, Vietnam is one of the last remaining countries with a large population we’re not in. Today’s memorandum reaffirms our commitment to making AirAsia in Vietnam happen. Last year, when we announced this JV, we were bullish about Vietnam and we remain incredibly bullish about serving one of the most dynamic, fastest-growing economies in Asia.”

The departure from the Vietnam joint venture with Gumin and Hai Au marks AirAsia’s third failure to start an airline in Vietnam.

In September 2007 it signed a letter of intent with Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Corp (Vinashin) to set up a Hanoi-based airline, but in 2008 Hanoi abruptly decided not to award new operator licenses. Vietnam Airlines was bitterly opposed to the new airline.

In 2010 AirAsia tried again with a plan to buy 30% of start-up VietJet, but again Vietnam Airlines opposed AirAsia’s entry. It was even hostile to the proposed name of the new carrier, VietJet AirAsia.

In 2011 AirAsia dropped out of the venture citing several issues. One it specifically mentioned was the Vietnam authorities’ unwillingness to allow use of the AirAsia name in Vietnam. Eventually, VietJet Air took to the air without AirAsia.

Despite the most recent set back, AirAsia maintains that it is still interested in Vietnam owing to its geography, growing aviation market, and overall potential.

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Bell to use 525 helicopter technology for US Army FARA bid

Bell has broken silence on the US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competition, with executives saying the company will propose a helicopter to meet the army’s needs, not a tiltrotor, as some observers expected.

The company plans to use new technology developed for its civil Bell 525 Relentless, a twin-engined, medium-lift helicopter, to create a helicopter that can meet the US Army’s desire for a high-speed, light-attack and scouting aircraft.

The Bell 525’s ability to fly faster than 200kt (370km/h) make that aircraft a solid basis for the company’s FARA bid, says Scott Donnelly, chief executive officer of Textron, Bell’s parent company.

“The technology that we invested in terms of the rotor technology, the fly-by-wire systems, control systems has enabled us to field a more conventional helicopter that has very high speed [and] very efficient, very smooth operating capability,” he says.

The company will scale down the 525’s technology “to a size and weight that’s consistent with the FARA requirement”.

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Bell 525


It is unclear if Bell intends to put forward a modified and shrunken Bell 525 airframe for its FARA proposal, or update another airframe with technologies from the 525. Bell declined to further detail its FARA configuration.

The US Army’s FARA will be comparable in size to Future Vertical Lift Capability Set 1, a light-attack and scouting aircraft with a minimum internal payload of six passengers. That aircraft was expected to have a top speed in excess of 200kt.

Bell manufactured the US Army’s last scout helicopter, the OH-58 Kiowa, a military variant of the Model 206A JetRanger. The US Army retired its last OH-58 in 2017.

Though it has exceeded 200kt in test flights, the Bell 525 has an advertised max cruise speed of 160kt. It is designed to carry two flight crew and up to 16 passengers for corporate, emergency medical services, oil and gas, and rescue operations. Bell hopes to have the helicopter Federal Aviation Administration type certificated by the end of 2019.

Donnelly says basing Bell’s FARA proposal on the 525’s technology will give the company’s bid an edge in terms of affordability.

“This is obviously a big step in terms of a more conventional rotorcraft, but I think we have a proposal on the table that meets the requirements, that can do it in a very cost-effective, very highly reliable and sustainable way,” he says.

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Boeing finishes 737 Max update test flights

Boeing has completed the final test fight for the updated software of the Boeing 737 Max, paving the way for a certification effort.

Nonetheless, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave no timeframes for certification in a video posted on Twitter. He says that the aircraft manufacturer is “making steady progress towards certification”.

Muilenburg adds that test pilots have completed 120 test flights using the updated manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) software, which has been implicated into two recent 737 Max crashes.

This amounts to more than 203 hours of air time, Muilenburg says.

He adds that more than 85% of the 737 Max’s customers worldwide have had exposure to the updated software through a series of simulator sessions.

The Boeing chief was himself on another 737 Max demonstration flight, where he “saw first-hand this software in its final form, operating as designed across a range of flight conditions”.

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Muilenburg’s comments came a day after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) updated pilot training standards to ensure that 737 Max pilots understand MCAS.

The FAA’s flight standardisation board has also found the modified MCAS system to be “operationally suitable” following an evaluation.

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Investigations into two recent fatal 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia have focused on the MCAS software, implicating it as a contributory factor to the crashes.

A preliminary investigation report into the 10 March crash of an Ethiopian 737 Max 8 said the aircraft crashed after flight control software pushed the aircraft’s nose down. The pilots followed procedures laid out by Boeing and the FAA to address such a scenario, officials said.

Five months earlier, a Lion Air 737 Max 8 crashed following similar circumstances. The 737 Max remains grounded around the world, while regulatory approval is still being sought.

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Brazilian authorities certify Embraer’s Praetor 600

Brazil’s civil aviation authority ANAC has granted a type certificate to the Embraer Praetor 600 super-midsize business jet, a milestone coming roughly six months after the airframer publicly launched the Praetor programme.

Embraer calls the Praetor 600 “the most disruptive and technologically advanced super-midsize business jet”, noting the aircraft has 4,020nm (7,445km) range with four passengers.

That is range enough to fly routes such as London to New York, Miami to Sao Paulo and Dubai to London.

The Praetor 600 can carry up to 12 passengers.

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Embraer has previously said it expects the US Federal Aviation Administration to certify the Praetor 600 early in the second half of 2019.

The company unveiled the Praetor 600 and its smaller sibling, the Praetor 500, at the NBAA trade show in October 2018.

Both aircraft are derivatives of the Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 jets, sharing the same fuselage and wings.

Honeywell HTF7500E turbofans power the Praetor, and the aircraft has Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion flight deck electronics with 15.1in displays. Cockpit systems include an enhanced vision system, synthetic vision guidance and predictive wind shear capability, Embraer says.

The Praetor 500 and 600 also have fly-by-wire technology.

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The Praetor 600’s cockpit, with Collins avionics


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