EasyJet picks up Thomas Cook slots at UK airports

UK budget carrier EasyJet has picked up several slots at London Gatwick and Bristol airports from the liquidators of collapsed leisure firm Thomas Cook Group.

EasyJet says it paid £36 million ($46 million) for the slots.

They include 12 summer slot pairs and eight winter slot pairs at London Gatwick. The carrier adds that its Bristol acquisition comprises six summer pairs and one winter pair.

“Contractual terms have concluded and the slots have been awarded to EasyJet,” it says.

EasyJet is to detail its plans for the slots when it discloses its full-year financial results on 19 November.

Thomas Cook Group filed for liquidation in mid-September.

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Jet2 buys Thomas Cook slots at trio of UK airports

UK budget airline Jet2 has purchased slots previously held by defunct leisure operator Thomas Cook at Birmingham, London Stansted and Manchester airports.

Disclosing the deal, Jet2 did not specify the financial terms.

Chief executive Steve Heapy says the slots will enable the airline to continue expansion.

“We have been adding more flights and aircraft, resulting in increased capacity, at each of these bases for many years,” he states.

“Today’s announcement is the latest demonstration of our commitment to providing holidaymakers with more choice and flexibility when it comes to flying to sun, city and ski destinations with our award-winning airline.”

Cirium schedules data shows that, from Manchester, Thomas Cook operated a total of 34 routes, around a third of them long-haul.

The carrier operated 10 routes from Birmingham and nine from Stansted.

EasyJet has also revealed that it purchased Thomas Cook slots at London Gatwick and Bristol airports for £36 million ($46 million).

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UK sets out plans to overhaul airline insolvency process

New UK legislation is to be put forward to reform the airline insolvency process in order to protect and repatriate passengers more effectively, as well as enhance regulatory oversight of airlines in distress.

Details of the proposed bill have been disclosed by the UK government following the formal state opening of the country’s parliament on 14 October.

Reforms had been recommended by a government review conducted in the aftermath of Monarch Airlines’ collapse in October 2017, but have been lent greater urgency by the failure of Thomas Cook Group in September this year.

While the UK’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, referred to an aviation bill during her formal opening speech, in which she read the government’s list of proposed legislation, she mentioned only that the bill would provide for the “effective and efficient management” of UK airspace.

But the government has detailed accompanying airline insolvency legislation which aims to “strike a better balance” between strong consumer protection and the interests of taxpayers.

The inability to use the Thomas Cook Airlines fleet for repatriation emerged as a particular issue in the days after the collapse, forcing the Civil Aviation Authority to enlist multiple carriers to source sufficient capacity.

Under the proposed legislation the authority would be able to “mitigate the impacts” of a future failure, says the government.

The changes will provide the CAA with the ability to grant a temporary airline operating licence allowing the carrier to continue repatriating passengers after insolvency.

Introduction of a special administration regime, for airlines and tour companies, will keep aircraft flying long enough for passengers to be fully repatriated and supported.

The CAA’s remit will be extended to apply to repatriation of passengers whether they are protected or not under the ATOL air travel scheme, which was set up in 1973 to refund and return passengers in the event of an airline failure.

But the government cautions that there is no “silver bullet solution” and that a transition period might be necessary to enable the industry to adapt.

The broader aviation bill – aside from the insolvency amendments – will additionally provide powers to direct an airport to prepare and submit proposals to the CAA to change airspace design, to make flights more efficient.

Air traffic control licensing frameworks will be modernised and police will be given additional powers to tackle unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.

Despite the legislative declaration, the UK government does not command a majority in the lower house of parliament, which means the likelihood of progress for the proposed aviation bill is uncertain.

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Tim Clark on the vital role the UK plays for Emirates

Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, tells FlightGlobal ahead of his appearance at next month’s Airlines 2050 conference in London that the UK market is critical to the carrier’s current and future success.

The UK currently accounts for 26% of Emirates’ capacity and has been growing in recent years at 6-7% per year.

“The UK is a really, really strong story for Emirates and continues apace. It provides 56% of our total profit from our European operations,” says Clark.

But the UK cannot rest on its laurels, he adds: “All the airports are going to have to do quite a lot with regard to what I see as demand for the United Kingdom. The more they can do, with regard to capital infrastructure spend, the more airlines will come.”

Airlines 2050, organised by FlightGlobal, takes place in London on 17 October. Find out more at flightglobal.com/Airlines2050

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UK prepares to test combined strike with Royal Navy and RAF

The Royal Navy (RN), Royal Air Force (RAF) and UK industry are approaching a crucial demonstration of the country’s formative carrier strike capability, with the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth at the heart of the activity.

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Ryanair aims to fly full UK schedule despite strike go-ahead

Irish carrier Ryanair expects to operate its full schedule of UK flights on 22 and 23 August despite failing to secure an injunction today preventing industrial action by pilots represented by the BALPA union.

Ryanair had earlier today secured an injunction in the Irish High Court preventing a planned two-day walkout over the same period by pilots in Ireland. But it failed in efforts to get an injunction in the UK High Court to prevent the planned stoppage by UK pilots.

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Following the London court ruling today, BALPA has confirmed the planned strike by UK pilots employed by Ryanair will go ahead.

“Ryanair foolishly tried to stop our strike in the High Court today and failed,” says BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton. “Despite that, we extended an olive branch to Ryanair as a way of getting back around the table and calling off strikes over the next two days.

“We are extremely disappointed that Ryanair have taken such a belligerent and negative stance. We have become used to their macho posturing, but sadly it is their passengers who will pay the price for Ryanair’s attitude.”

Ryanair in its own statement says that “thanks to the great work and volunteerism of the vast majority of our UK based pilots,” it now expects to operate its full schedule of flights to/from our UK airports.

While it says it does not expect significant disruptions on 22 August or 23 August, Ryanair adds it cannot rule out “small flight delays” and/or flight changes. “We are working hard with our pilot teams to minimise any such delays for our customers and their families,” it says.

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BAE nears final Typhoon delivery for UK

BAE Systems is close to delivering its final Eurofighter Typhoon for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), as it eyes fresh export opportunities to extend production of the multi-role type beyond 2024.

Due to be handed over later this year, the RAF’s final Tranche 3-standard Typhoon made its second flight from the company’s Warton final assembly site in Lancashire on 5 August, and is now undergoing remaining equipment installation and trials, says Andy Flynn, Eurofighter and Centurion capability director at BAE Systems Air.

Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer records the RAF as having a current active fleet of 116 Typhoons, the oldest of which are 14 years old. Under current plans, the type should remain in UK service until 2040, operating alongside its short take-off and vertical landing Lockheed Martin F-35Bs.

A major operational update for the RAF’s Typhoons delivered via a BAE-led Project Centurion activity earlier this year is being followed by further work to enhance the type’s human-machine interface, Flynn says.

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BAE is currently manufacturing Typhoon structures at its Samlesbury plant in Lancashire in support of a 28-aircraft deal with Kuwait, for which Eurofighter partner company Leonardo is performing final assembly in Italy. The UK company has already supplied the first three major units of equipment in support of the acquisition, and will continue deliveries through to 2022.

“Coming really quickly behind that we have got the Qatar jets,” says Flynn, confirming that the build process has begun. Upcoming test activities to be conducted in support of the purchase include integrating Mk 82- and Mk 83-series general purpose bombs and Lockheed’s Sniper targeting pod, he adds.

Typhoons produced for both Kuwait and Qatar will be equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) sensors produced in a so-called “Radar 1” standard by the Euroradar consortium. Already in flight-test using instrumented production aircraft IPA8 in Germany, the AESA hardware will also soon be flown aboard IPA5 from Warton.

BAE on 31 July disclosed that it has signed a contract amendment with Qatar, under which the delivery of some of its eventual 24 Typhoons will be accelerated into 2022.

Group finance director Peter Lynas confirms that all of the nation’s aircraft will be handed over between 2022 and 2024, with peak deliveries to occur during 2023. Under an acquisition previously outlined as worth approximately £5 billion ($6 billion), Doha also will receive nine Hawk advanced jet trainers from BAE.

Meanwhile, in a half-year results report published on 31 July, BAE says: “The memorandum of intent signed between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UK government in March 2018 remains under discussion for a further 48 Typhoon aircraft, support and transfer of technology and capability.”

If finalised, the agreement will include in-country final assembly of the type, 72 of which have previously been acquired for the Royal Saudi Air Force.

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EJ200 trial to accelerate UK hypersonics research

A Rolls-Royce (R-R)-led team is to conduct a two-year study into hypersonic propulsion systems for the UK Ministry of Defence, with the technology demonstration linked to its Project Tempest future combat air system activity.

Supported by a £10 million ($12.2 million) funding allocation, the work will also involve technology partners BAE Systems and Reaction Engines. Activities will include “design studies, research, development, analysis and experimentation relating to high-Mach advanced propulsion systems”, the companies say.

Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo on 19 July, R-R chief engineer for defence future programmes Conrad Banks said phase one work will involve adapting a Eurojet EJ200 turbofan to test Reaction Engines’ heat exchanger technology, in a bid to reduce inlet temperature.

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“If you can cool the intake air down, suddenly you can expand the flight envelope on your gas turbine, and it introduces some exciting supersonic and hypersonic applications,” Banks says.

Pointing to an HTX experiment conducted earlier this year in Colorado, USA, Reaction Engines says it has already demonstrated during ground-based testing the ability to cool a 400˚C (750˚F) inlet temperature – the equivalent of flight conditions at M3. Using its precooler technology, the company’s goal is to take a 1,000˚C inlet temperature on its SABRE engine design for a reusable spaceplane to -150˚C within 1/20s.

Using an adapted EJ200 as a technology demonstrator, R-R and its partners will assess the demonstrated drop in temperature, “and see how that affects the performance of the engine”, Banks says. “That will give us the technology to be confident to predict and develop future systems,” he adds.

“We want to see whether or not the technology is really going to work,” says Air Vice Marshal Simon Rochelle, head of the Royal Air Force’s chief of staff, capability. “The theory of all of this appears to be right,” he says, adding: “We are seriously looking at what the spiral of this experiment would look like” for potential future applications.

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UK details Reaper transition plan as Protector advances

The UK is planning to achieve a seamless transition in its delivery of unmanned surveillance services from the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator to the company’s more capable Protector RG1 by 2024, with flight testing of the new model now gathering pace.

General Atomics says a first delivery from a 16-aircraft order of Protectors for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) will be made “in the early 2020s”. Wing Commander Judith Graham, the service’s programme manager for the Reaper and Protector, says its current assets are scheduled to leave operational use around 2024.

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“Reaper is an extraordinarily valuable capability for the UK government – we don’t want a capability gap,” she notes.

A phased drawdown of the Reaper force will be managed as the replacement system comes online, with this process to include ending the UK’s long-term use of ground-control station (GCS) infrastructure for the current type at the US Air Force’s Creech AFB in Nevada. The UK has ordered seven GCS to support operations with the Protector fleet from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Graham says the new model will provide a “step-change in capability”, most notably resulting from the RAF’s “ability to certify it for use in UK airspace”. The service expects to secure approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to perform training flights from Waddington in the first half of 2024.

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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems president Dave Alexander points to the Protector’s increased 5,670kg (12,500lb) gross take-off weight, 2,720kg internal fuel capacity, 45% greater wing area and 3,500ft (1,070m) take-off performance as key updates. With civil-certificated flight-control software, lightning protection and an anti-icing capability for all-weather operations, the new type also features an automatic take-off and landing function, and has an airframe design life of 40,000h.

Two prototypes are already being used in the USA. “The first [production-] conforming aircraft is about ready to fly, and a fourth will be ready early in the first quarter of 2020,” Alexander said at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) on 20 July. The type’s development is being co-ordinated with a Protector combined test team, which already has UK personnel at the airframer’s facilities.

General Atomics displayed its new GCS for the Protector at RIAT. This has positions for a pilot, sensor operator and a mission intelligence co-ordinator and uses an adapted version of Collins Aerospace’s Pro Line Fusion avionics suite.

On service introduction, the Protector RG1 should be armed with MBDA’s Brimstone 3 air-to-surface missile and Raytheon UK Paveway IV precision-guided bomb, and carry a General Atomics Lynx synthetic aperture radar. Sense and avoid technology, including a forward-looking radar are also being installed to enable routine integration within civilian airspace. “Now it’s better than having someone in the cockpit,” Alexander notes.

The RAF is already looking at potential future updates to the Protector airframe, such as the integration of a maritime search radar, to enable the type to complement the UK’s future fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime patrol aircraft. Other currently unfunded enhancements could include adding new weapons, such as MBDA’s Spear 3 air-to-surface missile, and countermeasures equipment for self-protection.

Meanwhile, General Atomics and Cobham Aviation Services UK will work together to develop a through-life support solution for the Protector fleet. The airframer says it will work with Cobham – which has provided technical and maintenance support for Reaper GCS equipment installed at RAF Waddington since 2015 – in areas including “developing maintenance strategies that provide lower-cost sustainment”.

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UK plans growth of military training fleet

UK defence procurement officials are evaluating an expansion of the country’s military flight training fleet, with decisions on the acquisition of new rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft due over the next 12 to 18 months.

Babcock and Lockheed Martin joint venture Ascent Flight Training displayed at the Royal International Air Tattoo for the first time all seven aircraft types it operates under the UK’s Military Flying Training System (MFTS).

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These include the BAE Systems Hawk T2, Beechcraft King Air 350ER Avenger and T-6 Texan, Embraer Phenom 100 and Grob Aircraft G120TP, plus the Airbus Helicopters H135 Juno and H145 Jupiter rotorcraft.

Although describing these as “cutting edge aircraft”, Air Commodore Simon Edwards, Royal Air Force (RAF) programme director for MFTS, acknowledges that the fleet needs to grow.

Under the rotary-wing element of MFTS, Ascent has acquired 29 H135s and just three of the larger H145s for tri-service training at RAF Shawbury’s Defence Helicopter Flying School.

While noting that the two helicopter types are “are exceeding specifications by some way” – particularly with regard to their reliability – and are “very much part of the success story”, Edwards says that the H135 is not large enough for all rear-crew training tasks.

A future acquisition creates the “opportunity” to “rebalance the fleet mix”, he says.

Additional fixed-wing aircraft will also be required, he says, “to increase the capacity and meet the growing front-line needs”.

However, the acquisition – due in 2020 – will have to decide on the balance required between the Grob Aircraft 120TP Prefect, Phenom 100 and the T-6.

Rear-crew training is currently conducted at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall using four Avengers. Training provision at that site will see “further growth”, says Edwards.

This could involve additional assets – or another type – to match the training requirements of crews for the RAF’s incoming fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime patrol aircraft, the first of which is due to arrive in the UK early next year.

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