Aero Vodochody shifts L-39NG certification plan

Aero Vodochody has transformed its certification plan for the L-39NG, and is now seeking to clear the type for delivery in a full trainer configuration during the third quarter of 2020. It had previously been working towards securing approval for a basic standard before the end of this year.

“An improvement of the plan is to omit the certification of the L-39NG in basic trainer configuration,” the company confirms, adding: “the new timing is driven mainly by customer demands.”

“The full trainer configuration has received such outstanding market resonance that we decided to merge the basic and full trainer certification,” says Aero Vodochody chief executive Dieter John. “[The] majority of our customers are interested in a full trainer aircraft, in which pilots can be exposed to complex operational scenarios.”

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Jan Cadil/Aero Vodochody

The programme’s first prototype made its flight debut on 22 December 2018, and is currently being employed for ground vibration testing (pictured above) conducted by personnel from the Czech Aerospace Research Centre (VZLU). The aircraft – serial number 7001 – will resume flight-test activities in September.

A second prototype (pictured below) serves as a static test asset in Prague, and the company says its third L-39NG “will be handed over to VLZU for fatigue tests at the end of this year”. Prior to this, “In October, the fourth produced aircraft will join flight tests,” it adds.

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Vladimir Stastny/Aero Vodochody

“The flight-test plan will considerably speed up this Autumn,” Aero Vodochody says. It also will use an L-39CW-based technology demonstrator in support of the NG programme, and says the Williams International FJ44-4M-powered asset has already performed more than 40 sorties.

In addition to supporting pilot instruction and lead-in fighter training activities, Aero Vodochody says it aims to secure certification of a dedicated light-attack version in the third quarter of 2021.

Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer records Aero Vodochody as having so far received firm orders for a combined 26 L-39NGs – 12 for RSW Aviation, 10 for SkyTech and four for the Senegal air force.


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Hybrid aircraft startup Zunum Aero hits financial trouble: reports

Zunum Aero, a Boeing and JetBlue-funded aerospace startup, has reported significant delays to its hybrid-electric aircraft development project amid reports the company has essentially shut down operations due to insufficient funding.

Citing statements made by former staffers, Forbes reported last week that Zunum laid off most of its 70 staffers in November 2018 and vacated facilities in Indianapolis and Bothell, Washington.

The company ran out of cash but was pursuing an agreement to land more funding and remains committed to developing electric-powered flight, according to Forbes and The Seattle Times.

Zunum did not respond to multiple requests for comment but in a recent quarterly report said its project to develop a hybrid-electric aircraft was one year late.

“Zunum Aero has experienced delays in investor fundraising since October 2018 and is looking at up to one full year programme delay at this point,” says the report, filed with the Washington state Department of Commerce.

The Commerce Department has provided Zunum with $281,683 in funding, part of a grant of up to $800,000 for the purpose of developing a prototype of an aircraft powered by a roughly 1,340hp (1,000kW) hybrid-electric propulsion system.

Like several other startups, Zunum aimed to develop a hybrid-electric commercial aircraft capable of operating regional routes linking smaller communities.

It intended to develop aircraft with 10-50 seats.

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Zunum’s conceptual fleet of hybrid-electric passenger aircraft

Zunum

Zunum’s investors included Boeing’s innovation investment unit HorizonX and JetBlue’s investment arm JetBlue Technology Ventures.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FlightGlobal.

JetBlue Technology says it was “an early-stage investor in Zunum”.

“As is the case with all our investments, we partner with startups to gain strategic insights into emerging technologies, like electric propulsion. We are aware that Zunum is continuing to fundraise amidst a growing market for electric aircraft,” JetBlue Technology adds.


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Avio Aero chief executive on powering up partnerships on key programmes

Avio Aero has had an eventful year, winning a number of key contracts and making important progress on others, including parent company GE Aviation’s all-European, and soon-to-fly Catalyst general aviation engine.

In this video – produced as part of a content partnership with the Italian propulsion systems specialist – chief executive Riccardo Procacci explains what is behind Avio Aero’s successes in the past 12 months, and describes its prospects for the coming year.


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Avio Aero drives innovation by partnering on key technology programmes

Avio Aero is pioneering a number of innovative technologies in engine systems, and linking up with some of the leading manufacturers on key European research programmes designed to make aviation greener and more passenger friendly.

In this video – produced by FlightGlobal as part of a content partnership with the Italian propulsion systems specialist – we find out what Avio Aero is contributing to, and learning from, its technological collaborations with companies such as Airbus Helicopters.


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Aero Vodochody chief Giordo to depart

Aero Vodochody is parting company with chief executive Giuseppe Giordo, who led a three-year restructuring effort during which the Czech airframer introduced the revamped L-39NG jet trainer, and restarted limited production of its flagship L-159 light attack fighter.

The former head of Alenia Aermacchi was recruited by Czech shareholder Penta Investment in 2016, and is being replaced by chief financial officer Dieter John.

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Aero Vodochody

A company statement says Giordo is leaving after an agreement with Penta “based on closure of the initial phase of company repositioning and the opening of new horizons”.

The L-39NG, a new version of the Cold War-era Albatros light jet trainer with a Williams International FJ-44-4M engine, Martin-Baker ejection seat, and Genesys Aerosystems flightdeck, was launched at the Farnborough air show in 2014 and flew for the first time in December.

Senegal is the only confirmed customer, with orders for four examples, although Aero Vodochody says it has commitments from three other customers for a further 36 aircraft. First deliveries are scheduled for 2020.

Penta rescued the formerly state-owned Aero Vodochody from likely closure 10 years ago. The investment group says John, who previously worked for Airbus and Bombardier Transportation, will “now lead the second phase of transformation by continuing implementing the defined strategic roadmap”.

Under Giordo, Aero Vodochody also began producing the Honeywell F124-GA-100-powered L-159 again after a hiatus of 14 years, delivering one example apiece to Iraq and the Czech Republic, although no further orders have been secured.

However, at last year’s Farnborough show, the company unveiled a new variant of the L-159 developed with Israel Aerospace Industries – dubbed the F/A-259 Striker – to pitch for the USA’s OA-X close air support requirement.

The company is also a significant aerostructures player, producing aircraft components for the Embraer KC-390 and Airbus A220, among others.


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Aero Vodochody L-39NG completes first flight

The first pre-production L-39NG jet trainer (msn 7001) completed its maiden flight on 22 December from Vodochody airport in the Czech Republic.

This new-generation derivative of Aero Vodochody’s long-established trainer was flown by company test pilots David Jahoda and Vladimír Továrek.

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Aero Vodochody

The 26min first flight involved a climb to 5,000ft (1,525m), during which several development tests were carried out. The maiden sortie comes just over two months after the roll-out ceremony on 12 October.

“The L-39NG performed extremely well and fully met our expectations in terms of stability and controllability,” said Jahoda after the test flight. “We could even perform some tests like configuration changes, acceleration up to 200kt, turns to 30, 45, and 60 degrees and slow down to approach speed.”

The manufacturer says the aircraft was flown in a configuration representative of serial aircraft, including the final upgraded wet wing and air inlets. Aero’s goal is to achieve type certification by the end of 2019.

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Aero Vodochody

Click to watch the video of the first flight

“This pre-series first flight represents a significant milestone sending an important message to our customers. We can fully fulfil our commitments and we will be ready to deliver the first aircraft in the first quarter of 2020,” says Giuseppe Giordo, President & chief executive of Aero Vodochody Aerospace.

The L-39NG is a single-engined two-seater powered by a Williams International FJ44-4M turbofan engine, which replaces Ukrainian-supplied AI-25 engine that powered its predecessors. The new variant features an advanced full-glass cockpit, onboard virtual training system and a helmet mounted display.


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Cell set-up pays dividends for Avio Aero

Even during a late afternoon visit, Avio Aero’s factory in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples, is abuzz. It is not only because the Italian propulsion systems manufacturer is engaged in the fastest engine ramp-up in peacetime – the plant makes low-pressure turbine vanes and the combustor for the CFM International Leap engine that powers all Boeing 737 Max aircraft and is one of two options for the Airbus A320neo. Avio Aero is also five years into what chief executive Riccardo Procacci describes as a “transformation” under owner GE Aviation. That process involves overhauling each of its sites with new equipment, but also in the way employees are organised and think about their job.

At the plant, where Avio Aero is also, in another dedicated hall, gearing up for volume production of the low-pressure turbine for the Boeing 777X’s GE9X, traditional process- or functional-based departments have largely been scrapped. Instead, shop floor staff work in self-contained, colour-coded zones, focusing on one product.

As he leads us around decades-old buildings packed with new machinery, Marco Rossi, Avio Aero’s lean leader at the Pomigliano plant, explains that the idea is to have as many functions as possible in one cell. This in turn reduces the time wasted every time a component – or a worker – has to move from one area of the factory to another.

DRIVING ACCOUNTABILITY

Everywhere charts detail not just production numbers and targets, but how many kilometres of transporting parts around the shop floor the company has saved by rearranging an area in a certain way, which he says is very much the “GE way”.

If this means employees are getting less exercise by walking than they used to, Avio Aero is certainly becoming leaner as a result, he says. The cell-based approach also encourages a “sense of ownership” among each team member. “It’s about bringing accountability, visibility, responsibility down to machine level, rather than something that only concerns the executive office,” he says.

Neither is working in self-contained cells within the factory something that encourages employees to adopt an insular outlook, Rossi insists. While the notice boards record how teams are performing relative to others, staff are encouraged to look at what colleagues in other groups are achieving, and to share and learn from best practice. This is something that Avio Aero management are also encouraged to do between factories. As Rossi notes: “It’s about democratising data. Each team knows how they are performing. You cannot improve what you don’t measure.”

According to Procacci, who is based at Avio Aero’s headquarters and largest factory near Turin – there are others in Brindisi, on the Adriatic coast, and in Poland – the company’s physical and cultural change is “in full swing, but we are not done by any means”. Four of the five years since GE’s acquisition of the Italian firm were spent “establishing the basis for us to win the right to get to the new phase of transformation”, he says. Now, he says, the company is undergoing a lean manufacturing revolution that is “really about how we activate and engage our 4,800 people, not just the managers”.

Just over half of Avio Aero’s revenues come from work carried out for its internal customer or its CFM International partner Safran. The Leap and the GE9X, which is due to fly on the 777-9 next year, as well as the new general aviation Catalyst engine, are the key emerging programmes.

“These are the ones that are ramping up or getting ready for ramp-up and will define the company for the next 20 to 30 years,” says Procacci. In addition, legacy products such as the CFM International CFM56, as well as the GE Aviation GE90 and GEnx “are still very crucial, and help to pay our bills today”, he says.

CUSTOMER RETENTION

However, other customers remain important, and Avio Aero has held onto almost all of its third-party business since the takeover, including the accessory drive train on Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000 family. Avio Aero has a 4% stake in Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW800 family for the Gulfstream G500/G600 and Dassault Falcon 6X business jets and supplies combustors for the PT6 family.

On the military side, it makes the power gearbox for the Airbus Military A400M’s Europrop International TP400 and has a 20% share in the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Eurojet EJ200. Firewalls are strong and “we behave as a good business partner to our third-party customers”, insists Procacci.

As far as developments are concerned, the major areas of focus for Avio Aero – reflecting its current portfolio of products – are gearbox technologies, both power and accessory, low-pressure turbines, and combustion systems.

Avio Aero has also invested heavily in additive layer manufacturing, and is in, what Proccaci describes as, an “industrialisation phase”, with its Cameri centre of excellence, near Milan, “getting ready to build [titanium aluminide GE9X low-pressure turbine] blades by their thousands from next year”. The company is also expanding its Brindisi factory to host new machines that will laser-print the 12 or so parts it is producing for the Catalyst.

Avio Aero is also carrying out research with the Polytechnic Univerity of Bari into the potential of using additive technology for repair. “We are really pushing the technology of what EMB [electron beam melting] can do,” says Procacci.

Other important research and development projects include the latest iteration of the European Commission’s Clean Sky initiative, designed to reduce emissions, noise and carbon dioxide produced by aircraft. “Our aspiration is to become a programme leader on a system level, using our experience of the Catalyst engine,” says Procacci. “It is something we are focusing on with other European companies with a view to joining forces.”


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SAS contracts Aero Norway for CFM56 support

Engine maintenance provider Aero Norway has been selected to service CFM International CFM56-7Bs powering Scandinavian Airlines’ 67 Boeing 737NGs.

SAS has signed a rolling agreement covering scheduled and unscheduled shop visits and on-wing support, says Stavanger-based Aero Norway.

Noting a “flexibility of work scope that we, as an independent organisation, can offer”, chief business officer Rune Veenstra states that “light workscopes, fast slot induction and quick turnaround [times] will all deliver tangible benefits to SAS”.

He adds: “It is the flexibility we can offer and our commitment to induct unscheduled removals within specific timeframes that underpin this new agreement.”

On-site support will be provided by Aero Norway at Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm airports.

SAS has previously sent CFM56s to Aero Norway for maintenance.

The carrier intends for its 737NGs – a mix of -600s, -700s and -800s – to be replaced, eventually, with Airbus A320-family aircraft.


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​Aero Norway wins CFM56 support deal from SAS


Scandinavian carrier SAS has engaged engine maintenance specialist Aero Norway to service CFM International CFM56-7Bs powering the airline s Boeing 737NG fleet.

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Aero Vodochody and IAI pitch revamped L-159 for OA-X need

Aero Vodochody and its new partner Israel Aerospace Industries are making a late bid to be selected for the US Air Force’s OA-X close air support programme with an advanced version of the L-159 they say could be ready for delivery from 2020.

The two companies also say that – if chosen for the roughly 350-aircraft requirement – they would consider setting up a production line and supply chain for the Honeywell F124-GA-100-powered jet trainer in the USA.

Although OA-X funding has not yet been agreed, the Czech airframer’s chief executive Giuseppe Giordo expects the Pentagon to open a formal competition “soon”, and says the “combat-proven” L-159 would be “the most cost-effective and lowest-risk option”.

The USAF has already invited Textron Aviation and Sierra Nevada/Embraer to take part in an evaluation exercise this summer with their Beechcraft AT-6 and A-29 Super Tucano, respectively.

However, Giordo says the USAF “cannot afford the risk of flying with turboprops”, adding: “We do believe that US pilots need to have the best assets in close air support missions. This is not a developmental airplane. It has been used in a real operational war environment and can perform many roles.”

Aero Vodochody and IAI’s Lahav division announced in April that they are to collaborate on a version of the L-159 that will see the jet trainer equipped with a new, “fourth-generation” avionics suite and “other solutions”, believed to be weapons integration systems. The current variant already features IAI equipment, including an Elta Systems radar and optional datalink.

The company restarted low-volume production of the L-159 in 2016 after cancelling the programme in the mid-1990s when sole customer the Czech Republic furloughed most of its fleet of 72 aircraft. However, after a successful decade-long effort to sell the surplus types to the Iraqi air force – which has used them in its campaign against so-called Islamic State insurgents – and US adversary training specialist Draken International, Aero Vodochody has built two additional aircraft.

Giordo says two L-159 production lines could be established – one building the latest version for the transatlantic requirement with IAI and a possible US partner, and the existing facility near Prague focusing on the existing variant.

The partnership with IAI could also potentially include the smaller L-39NG: a re-engined version of its venerable Albatros jet trainer that Aero Vodochody hopes to fly by November and have operational by the first quarter of 2020.

The “new generation” L-39 already includes a Williams International FJ44-4M powerplant and Genesys Aerosystems glass cockpit. The Czech company secured its first customer, Senegal, earlier this year, with a deal for four armed examples. Giordo says it is “finalising contracts” with two other undisclosed operators.

Giordo says a further version of the L-39NG, with “fourth-generation” IAI avionics, could be offered.


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