Category Archives: Inaugurals and First Flights

Turkish Airlines Begins Service to Atlanta

By: Benjamin Bearup / Published: May 16, 2016

Turkish Airlines began service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Monday by flying in the carrier’s signature Boeing 777-300ER featuring a special Batman v. Superman livery.

RELATED: Turkish Airlines’ “Batman v. Superman” Plane Takes Flight

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At the arrival, the first Turkish Airlines 777 was welcomed by the customary water cannon salute. (Credits: Author)

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Atlanta’s Concourse F, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joined Turkish Airlines CMO Ahmet Olmustur, and Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç in welcoming the airport’s eighth foreign carrier.

At the ceremony, Kasim Reed welcomed Turkish by stating “We are pleased to welcome Turkish Airlines as the newest carrier to Atlanta, solidifying the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport not only as the world’s busiest airport, but also the gateway to the world.” Kasim added that “The new route will open business and tourism opportunities to a vast array of global destinations and further advance Atlanta’s tourism industry.”

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Atlanta Major Kasim Reed. (Credits: Author)

Olmustur praised the new route stating “This significant launch reinforces Turkish Airlines as a global leader in aviation with an internationally known brand helping passengers widen their world.” Olmuster also highlighted the significance of Atlanta as the airlinewill now connect travelers through “the world’s most traveled airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.”

Announced on June 15th, 2015, Atlanta is the 9th city in the United States—and the newest in North America after Miami, which received service last October—for the growing carrier.

Timing for the Atlanta flight is consistent with most Turkish flights to the United States, and is suitable for connecting to much of Europe and Asia through its Istanbul hub. The flight departs Istanbul at 14:05 and arrives in Atlanta at 19:05. Leaving Atlanta, the flight departs at 22:45 and arrives in Istanbul at 16:40, all local times.

The estimated flight time is between 11 and 12 hours each way. Turkish will fly the Boeing 777-300ER on the Istanbul – Atlanta route. The largest aircraft in its fleet, the 777-300ER seats 349 seats in a two-class configuration (49 in Business and 300 in Economy). Turkish currently has 29 777-300ER aircraft in its fleet.  The airline has also said the Atlanta route will decrease from daily to 5X weekly, starting October 30th, for the winter season at least.

Turkish will likely be the second passenger airline to take advantage of the city’s Air Service Incentive Program (ASIP). Launched in 2014, the five-year program is designed to entice foreign carriers into starting service to Atlanta by offering them subsidies including a 12-month landing fee waiver, and contribution of marketing funds. So far, the airline has yet to sign a contract with the city for the Air Service Incentive Program but negotiations are currently ongoing.

In December 2014, Atlanta Airport Assistant General Manager for Commercial Development Vivica Brown told Airways “We’re focusing on this because we know that growth in international markets is exponentially higher than domestic market.” Brown added “So we thought it would be a great idea one, to incentivize airlines to start international destinations at Hartsfield, and two, to diversify our current destinations to fast-growing economies like Asia, India and the Middle East.”

RELATED: Atlanta Airport Targets International Service With New Program

Passengers were greeted to snacks and drinks courtesy of Turkish. (Credits: Author)

Passengers were greeted to snacks and drinks courtesy of Turkish. (Credits: Author)

In October of 2014, Virgin Atlantic became the first carrier to utilize the Air Service Incentive Program by launching service to London-Heathrow. At a ceremony welcoming Virgin Atlantic to the market, Atlanta Airport General Manager Miguel Southwell spoke to Airways about the program. “If your preference is to fly a U.S. airline, we have a U.S. airline. If your preference is to fly a British carrier with an outstanding reputation, then you have that choice,” he said.

Turkish stands to pose a challenge to Delta Air Lines and partners Air France/KLM on transatlantic routes out of Atlanta, along with Qatar Airways, which is set to begin its Doha service on June 1st, and also to be served with a Boeing 777-300E. Both carriers will provide a combined 608 daily seats to the Atlanta market.

Delta has been critical of Turkish Airlines and the Middle East carriers and their expansion in the U.S. market. Last February, Delta opted to suspend its daily Dubai flight that would have competed directly with Turkish and Qatar.

RELATED: Gulf Carriers Adjust Capacity on North American Routes: Are “Subsidy” Allegations Miscalculated?

RELATED: Qatar Airways to Fly its Airbus A380 in Inaugural Service to Atlanta


IMG_2799Benjamin Bearup has had a love for aviation since he was born. A local from Atlanta, Georgia, Ben is accustomed to life around the World’s Busiest Airport. In his spare time, Benjamin enjoys plane spotting, traveling, tweeting, and writing. You can follow him on Twitter @TheAviationBeat, or email at benjamin.bearup@airwaysnews.com.


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Experiencing The First Nonstop Flight From San Francisco to Xi’an

By: Rohan Anand / Published: May 16, 2016

United Airlines is no stranger to China, and with demand for Chinese tourism travel to the U.S. at soaring levels, the carrier is creating an even bigger footprint abroad by expanding to secondary Chinese markets. On May 8, 2016, United celebrated history by operating the first transpacific route to Xi’an, located in the Shaanxi province in Northwest China, from the airline’s San Francisco gateway hub.

There was a palpable energy flowing through the international pier at San Francisco airport (SFO). On the departures level at Gate G-94, the waiting area teemed with soothing classical Chinese music, the scent of delicious beef skewers and colorful art displays adorning the walls and ceilings. A hop down a flight of stairs towards the jet way gave further clues into what was abuzz.

On this particular day, United was gearing up to launch the inaugural service from its trans Pacific gateway hub to Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in China, on-board a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Even though the airline is well-known abroad, especially in China, this celebration was unique. United Flight # 853 would become the first scheduled trans Pacific flight ever to land in Xi’an Xianyang International airport.

Following an elegantly-decorated sign, emboldened in vivid red colors with gray silhouettes of the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China from 210 to 209 B.C.E., I took the escalators down to the departures level, enamored by the incredible effort put forth in showcasing the cultural heritage of Xi’an. SFO airport is already renowned for its cutting-edge facilities in the International Terminal, and the plethora of stunning artwork that beautifies the building from floor to ceiling. Today, it resembled a museum more than an airport, with relics of Chinese heritage in the form of colorful posters, tapestries, low-hanging lanterns and two men dressed as the Terracotta Warriors, impeccably adhering to character.

Welcome sign at gate G-94 with escalators leading down to departures level for flight 853 on May 8, 2016. (Credits: Author)

Welcome sign at gate G-94 with escalators leading down to departures level for flight 853 on May 8, 2016. (Credits: Author)

Artwork and life-size cutouts of the Terracotta warriors of Xi'an. (Credits: Author)

Artwork and life-size cutouts of the Terracotta warriors of Xi’an. (Credits: Author)

Crew of UA 853 takes a photo with the terracotta warriors. (Credits: Author)

Crew of UA 853 takes a photo with the terracotta warriors. (Credits: Author)

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beautiful lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Bravo, Ed Pivik!

Xi’an will be United’s second link to interior mainland China, following the successful launch of the Chicago-based carrier’s service to Chengdu in 2014. The city of Xi’an is home to a population of nearly 14 million residents, inclusive of the entire metropolitan area, and has served as a leading anchor for the economic rival of interior China since the 1990s. Although United intends to serve Xi’an on a seasonal basis initially, with service running thrice weekly through October 27, 2016, the carrier aims to tap into the growing wealth of the Chinese middle class, as well as foreign students traveling to the U.S., to play a role in shaping the success of the flight. United will also launch service to another secondary Chinese city, Hangzhou, approximately 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, on July 13, 2016.

Close to the jet bridge, I was greeted by Ed Pivik, Sales and Events Manager for United, and also the mastermind who brings special events like this to life. Mr. Pivik was hardly breaking a sweat in midst of the hustle and bustle of the gate area, but then again, with several inaugural flights lined up at SFO this year, he must be a pro at this stuff already. He mentioned to me that Chengdu was doing “extremely well” for United, and while Xi’an is more a leisure-oriented market for United than some of its other Asian routes, there is plenty of untapped demand to potentially fill-up the front of the cabin with Chinese citizens having a massive appetite for travel abroad.

Still two hours out from scheduled push-back time, the area was starting to fill up as airline and airport personnel trickled in, smiling and laughing as they snapped photographs of the two men dressed as the Terracotta warriors. Xi’an is famous for its collection of statue sculptures depicting the soldiers and horsemen of Qin Emperor. The statues were discovered in 1974 by Chinese farmers roughly 1 mile east of Qin Emperors tomb. Occasionally, a makeup artist would scurry over and apply a touch-up of face paint and mascara to the two men. One maintained a rigid facial expression, poised and graceful, while the other would point to smartphones and cameras with a curious facial expression, eliciting chuckles from small children and adults alike.

Near the podium, Mr. Pivik greeted and welcomed a crew of smart-looking executives, representing a multitude of stakeholders who worked tirelessly to coordinate the planning and execution of this new route. They were joined by the United Airlines flight and cabin crew members who were scheduled to work the inaugural trip that afternoon. Hugs were exchanged, smiles beamed, cameras flashed and laughter roared.

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The live “terracotta warriors” were a huge hit!

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Passengers helped themselves to delicious Chinese treats at the gate area while waiting for the inaugural flight and listening to the opening remarks

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My best attempt at creating modern Chinese AvGeek artwork

In February 2016, United celebrated 30 years of serving the Chinese market, having purchased Pan Am’s Tokyo hub, and its corresponding routes to Beijing and Shanghai from Tokyo, back in the mid 1980’s. Initially, travelers between the U.S. and China had to make a stop over in Japan before continuing onto either country in both directions, but an Air Services Agreement signed in 1999 permitted a restricted number of U.S. and Chinese carriers to operate nonstop service between the two countries. United launched nonstop service from San Francisco to Shanghai in April 2000, which remains, to date, the oldest-operated nonstop flight from the U.S. to China on an American carrier.

In fact, the early success of United’s San Francisco – Shanghai flight became a paradigm for continued growth in China, as well as the Asia – Pacific region as a whole. Over the years, United built up additional routes from its San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles and Washington Dulles hubs to Shanghai and Beijing, and once it consummated its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, it gained nonstop access between New York and Beijing and Shanghai via Continental’s Newark hub.

Post-merger with Continental, United was quick to take advantage of the shift in tourism trends within the Republic of China, as it evolved from a closed to an open environment for inbound and outbound travelers. Combined with the enhanced economics of next-generation aircraft, namely Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, United began to look beyond congested airports in Beijing and Shanghai and onward to secondary markets with upwards of 10 million inhabitants. Faster visa processing times and the relative prosperity of China’s middle class made it clear that there was a high concentration of pent-up demand in other Chinese cities, and the 787 Dreamliner was perfectly suited to launch, “long, thin routes” to markets like Xi’an, Chengdu and Hangzhou that can be viably served 3-4 times per week from the U.S.

United hasn’t been alone in growing its presence between the U.S. and China: both American and Chinese carriers alike have pounced on liberalized route authorities to add seats, frequencies and new routes in the past five years. In 2012, there were 21 daily trans Pacific flights between U.S. and Chinese airports. By the end of 2016, that number will have doubled to 42 daily round trips. The operating efficiency of the 787, moreover, has made many routes possible, such as San Jose to Beijing, Boston to Shanghai and Seattle to Shenzhen

United leapfrogs its primary domestic competitors, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, in terms of its market share between the U.S. and China. The carrier offers 73 weekly flights from six U.S. gateways – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles and Guam – to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an and soon Hangzhou, come July 2016. It also boasts an advantageous partnership with Air China, the largest Chinese carrier serving the U.S. on a seat and frequency basis, as both are members of Star Alliance. Comparatively, Delta offers 41 weekly flights from Tokyo Narita, Detroit, Seattle and Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, while American offers 35 weekly flights from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai.

Today’s inaugural flight included a special press conference with several keynote speakers, representing United Airlines, the City of San Francisco, San Francisco International Airport and San Francisco’s General Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. As passengers excitedly snapped photos with the Terracotta Warriors, munched on sumptuous noodles, sipped on iced Pomegranate and Green Tea and enjoyed fortune cookies with a tagline, “welcome Xi’an to United’s network,” few seats in the gate area were occupied as everyone wanted to get a piece of the action.

Around 12:15 pm local time, Mr. Pivik, running the entire operation like clockwork, announced that the inaugural program was scheduled to begin, and passengers congregated around a small stage and podium to listen to the keynote speakers before the official ribbon cutting.  Today’s “master of ceremonies,” was Mr. Mike Hanna, Vice President of United’s San Francisco hub.

An affable, energetic man with a booming voice that captivated the audience, Mr. Hanna delivered a warm welcome to all guests and thanked them for their patronage to join United on its inaugural flight to Xi’an. He remarked that this was United’s second inaugural service to a new foreign market from SFO this year, following an earlier launch of nonstop service to Tel Aviv, Israel on March 30. He also mentioned that this was also the second inaugural service that United was celebrating this week, as the airline launched nonstop flights to Nashville on May 3.

“For those of you who want to enjoy some country music,” he added, which was received with a several chuckles from a predominantly Chinese group of passengers.

Mr. Hanna remarked that while this is the second iteration in a string of new services from SFO on United to various global points, with Singapore starting June 1, 2016, Auckland on July 1, 2016 and Hangzhou, China on July 13, 2016, he underscored that the Xi’an service remains a top priority for United given the massive importance of Chinese tourism in the United States and vice versa. Cities like Xi’an, previously without direct links to the North American continent, will now be able to draw larger tourism crowds given the enhanced connectivity to San Francisco and beyond via United’s gateway hub at SFO.

Mr. Hanna then introduced Marcel Fuchs, Vice President of Atlantic and Pacific Sales at United, another dynamic personality who stirred up the crowd with his energy. Mr. Fuchs introduced the four Captains who would be flying the inaugural flight to Xi’an, including the Chief Pilot of United’s San Francisco pilot base. He drew parallels to the launch of United’s nonstop flight to Chengdu in 2014, and the significance of focusing on growth in China beyond Shanghai and Beijing. Consistent with that trend, United is creating more channels for customers by adding Xi’an and Hangzhou to its route network, and continuing the tradition of serving, “the beautiful country and people of China.”

But beyond tourism, Mr. Fuchs mentioned that there are other reasons to connect the U.S. to Xi’an: it is critical for developing business, trade, leisure and student exchange ties between the U.S. and China. United States President Barack Obama and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, have declared 2016 as, “the year of China – U.S. tourism,” with more than 3 million Chinese tourists expected to arrive on U.S. shores by year end.

Finally, Mr. Fuchs noted that this flight would be operated in conjunction with Air China, a valued Star Alliance customer, and how the route connected Silicon Valley with Xi’an’s geographical location at the Eastern end of the Silk Road.

Next to join the team on the stage was Luo Linquan, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, who greeted the crowd by wishing everyone a, “Happy Mother’s Day,” speaking in Mandarin. His smile was beaming from ear to ear. For Consul General Luo, this was an extremely happy day for the future of U.S. relations with China, and having the privilege to join in the celebrations of the inaugural flight was a big pleasure for him.

Consul General Luo mentioned that in 2015, more than 4.75 million tourists traveled between the U.S. and China, including 2.1 million U.S. tourists visiting China, and 2.7 million Chinese tourists visiting the U.S. Breaking down this figure, this equates to roughly 30,000 people flying each day between the two countries. Reiterating Mr. Fuch’s remarks about 2016 being, “the year of tourism” for China, he expects that number to exceed 5 million visitors, in total, by year end, facilitated, of course, by United’s growth in mainland China. He even alluded to how his sisters have started visiting the U.S. in recent years for extended stays, enjoying the, “beauty of San Francisco,” and feeling at home with nearly 1 million people of Chinese descent living in the Bay Area.

From a commercial perspective, the number of flights between the San Francisco and China is growing at an astonishing speed. In 2013, the number stood at 5 daily departures to Beijing and Shanghai, whereas in 2016, that number will have more than doubled with new links to Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Xi’an and Hangzhou added to SFO’s route map. Three of these (Chengdu, Xi’an and Hangzhou) will be flown on United, while China Southern operates the services to Wuhan and Guangzhou.

After Consul General Luo spoke, it was time for Mark Chandler, Director of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce, to take the stage.

“This is a great day – not just because it’s Mother’s Day, but because we’re flying to Xi’an for the first time,” Mr. Chandler remarked. “[United], you really are helping the city by creating great economic channels, and we’re seeing that development every day. I’ve been to Xi’an, and not only are the Terracotta warriors one of the largest bucket list items, but there are also hundreds of incredibly historic artifacts and places to go, and the food is incredible, particularly Xi’an noodles.”

 The final speaker for the media event prior to the ribbon cutting was Ivar Satero, SFO Chief Operating Officer and soon-to-be new Airport Director.

“The success of this flight is so important to the partnership of SFO and United, all over the world,” he mentioned. “United also commits and promises incredible economic benefits to the Bay Area. At SFO, we pride ourselves on serving the world, and being the U.S. airport with more flights to mainland China than any other U.S. airport, with 73 flights to China per week (over 10 per day), this flight will contribute to the 35% year-over-year growth to China.”

He also touted that SFO airport was also the first U.S. airport to create a dedicated Chinese website, with www.flysfo.cn launched in 2014. In addition, he mentioned the exciting 10-year capital development program in the pipeline to make significant improvements to SFO airport, including United’s Terminal 3 (used to house domestic operations), its international terminal and a new luxury Grand Hyatt hotel to be built on-site with 350 rooms.

“It’s a pleasure to be a part of this celebration,” he added.

Following the speeches, the speakers, as well as Mr. Pivik and several of the United crew members, lined up to take a photo before the official ribbon cutting. Mr. Hanna made the closing remarks thanking the crew, the ground operations personnel, the airport staff, gate agents, terracotta warriors, media and fellow speakers.

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Luo Linquan, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, speaks at the podium adjacent to Mike Hanna, Vice President of United’s San Francisco hub

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Ribbon-cutting ceremony with United crew on the inaugural as well as speakers for the media event

Then, the official boarding process began.

Following visa checks prior to entering the jetway, guests on the inaugural received a gift compliments of United, including a business card holder along with a thank-you note.

On-board, I settled into my seat and was warmly greeted by the lovely crew serving the BusinessFirst cabin that afternoon, including Gavin, in-flight service manager, and Noreen, who would be my serving my row throughout most of the flight.

We had a long taxi out to the runway, and while we encountered a bit of a hold-up prior to take off given the heavy inbound traffic into SFO at that hour, the views of the parallel landings onto SFO’s runways were stunning.

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Seat 3K in BusinessFirst on United’s 787 Dreamliner

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from left to right: gift handed to all enplaning passengers, amenity kit and menu for UA 853

Once airborne, passengers relaxed into their seats for the 12+ hour flight. Our routing would take us directly west of the California coast for a few hundred miles, before heading up Northwest to meet up with the Alaskan coastline, over Siberia, Mongolia and then straight into Xi’an.

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Crossing the Pacific Ocean

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Crossing north to the Alaskan coastline

Lunch service commenced approximately one hour into the flight. The menu for today’s flight included 5 courses for the main meal, a mid-flight snack (both a hot option as well as self-serve bar) and a hot breakfast prior to arrival.

Menu: Inaugural service from SFO to XIY

To Begin

  • Prosciutto melon with garnishes
  • Fresh seasonal greens with tomatoes, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese and croutons with a choice of ranch or italian dressing

Main

  • Tenderloin of beef: asiago broth, brown butter gnocchi and green asparagus, OR
  • Kung pao chicken: chile sauce, bell pepper, Chinese broccoli with mushrooms and steamed rice OR
  • Newburg-style seafood: fillet of turbot and shrimp with creamy lobster sauce, green lentils and mixed vegetables, OR
  • Stir-fry noodles: beef in oyster sauce, dim sum and bell pepper.

To Finish

  • International Cheese Selection, including grapes and crackers served with Port
  • Gelato with your choice of toppings

Mid-Flight Snack

  • Chinese-style soup, with noodles, won ton, shrimp, scallops, vegetables and mushrooms in a savory broth

Prior to arrival

  • Pepper Jack cheese omelet with black beans, corn, roasted pepper with red skin and sweet potatoes, chicken sausage and corn and black bean medley
  • Congee: traditional Chinese-style rice porridge with chicken, corn and mushrooms
  • Cereal and Banana with milk

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Landing in Xi’an was smooth, with stunning views of the city and surrounding farmlands. Taxi to the gate was short, and after we disembarked, special guests, media, the crew and Mr. Fuchs (who came on the inaugural) headed down to the tarmac to take photos by the Dreamliner aircraft. The plane looked radiant in the late afternoon Chinese sun, and just as it had been in the departures area at SFO roughly 14 hours before, the ground staff at Xianyang airport greeting us was beaming with pride upon receiving the inaugural flight.

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Waking up somewhere over Siberia…

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descent into Xi’an

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UA Flight Crew – 853 in Xi’an

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United had sent out a team of personnel to Xi’an in advance to accommodate passengers and help train the staff for the inaugural services. Some came from world headquarters, while others were station agents based out of some of United’s other Asian cities, such as Shanghai and Tokyo. The incredibly hospitable staff at Xi’an handed out gifts and posed for selfies as the refreshing breeze blew in our faces.

The highlight of the trip was rolling out the big red and blue banners that proudly said, “Celebration of United Airlines’ Xi’an to San Francisco Inaugural Flight,” as well as, “HNA Aviation Technic Welcome United Airlines First Flight to Xi’an, China.”

It was a journey of a lifetime. You felt part of a team, on both sides of the ocean, from two completely separate worlds. Knowing that the final delivery on United’s inaugural flight to Xi’an was met with that level of energy and positivism, I have no doubt that United’s mission to expand its strategic footprint in China will be a resounding success.

Special thanks to Mary Clark, United Airlines Media Relations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article, as well as any of Rohan’s published articles on Airways, are strictly his and do not reflect opinions of his employer in any capacity.


0a2a71aRohan believes there is fate behind his #AvGeek fervor: on the day he was born, his grandmother had to fly on the supersonic Concorde from London to New York in order to arrive in time for his birth. The rest is all history. He has been blogging since 2010, and his content covers a broad spectrum of topics related to the global airline and air transport industry, including travel tools and technology, evaluations of airline mergers, acquisitions and restructurings, network and commercial strategies, loyalty programs and in-flight product reviews.


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Air Canada Expands To Sun Destinations

By: Nicolas Bernier / Published: April 20, 2016

Air Canada announced today that it would start four new winter seasonal routes to sun destinations. From November, the Montreal-based carrier will launch flights from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. A month later, San José, Costa Rica, Palm Springs and Port of Spain will follow suit.

Tickets are available for purchase as of today. The new routes are listed below from the airline’s press release:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.21.15All the flights will be operated by the air carrier’s wholly owned subsidiary leisure airline, Air Canada Rouge. Flights from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta and to San José, as well as from Toronto to Port of Spain will be operated by 282-seat Boeing 767-300ERs, while the service to Palm Springs will be operated by 136-seat Airbus A319s. These two types of aircraft offer Business Class and Economy Class products.

“Air Canada is solidifying its position in the Canadian leisure market by offering more flights to more sun destinations during the 2016-2017 winter season. Flights are timed to optimize connectivity for travelers from all across Quebec and Eastern Canada looking to escape the Canadian winter,” said Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada.

According to the airline, Rouge flies to near 70 leisure destinations to Canada, Mexico, the United States, and the Caribbean, and long-haul to Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.


1475805_10202224574510743_2017186540_nNicolas Bernier is an AirwaysNews.com contributor that has been an aviation passionate since he was young. Nicolas likes travelling, plane spotting, and writing. He lives in Montreal, Canada and studies in Aviation Business Administration at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @nickbernier7, or email him at    nicolasbernier7@gmail.com


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Southwest Launches First International Service from Los Angeles

By: Alex McIntyre / Published: April 13, 2016

On Tuesday, April 12, Southwest officially launched its first international service from Los Angeles (LAX) when flight WN6920 to Liberia, Costa Rica departed on its inaugural journey at 14:36, four minutes ahead of schedule.

The daily flight will use 143-seat Boeing 737-700s. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

The daily flight will use 143-seat Boeing 737-700s. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

The new route clocks in as the longest in Southwest’s route network. The travel time southbound is approximately five hours and thirty minutes, and a slightly longer six hours northbound on the return leg.

At an early afternoon news conference, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis talked about the value that the company’s new service will offer to the region: “Connecting Los Angeles to Costa Rica’s growing resort and ecotourism region brings to the market a value only Southwest can offer” he said.

Paul Cullen, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Paul Cullen, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Cullen’s statement reflects that of Andrew Watterson, Senior Vice President of Network & Revenue Management, who likewise championed the value Southwest adds to the market with the distinctive low-cost service offered by the carrier, when the route was announced last December.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti also warmly welcomed the new route, which he sees as an opportunity to strengthen “the exchange of cultures and commerce that makes [Los Angeles] such a diverse, and dynamic, global city.” Garcetti previously estimated that the new route specifically injects approximately $600 million to Los Angeles local economy and supports “thousands of jobs for Angelenos.”

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Mayor. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Mayor. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

In addition to serving the local L.A. market, Southwest’s Liberia route facilitates easy connections to many other cities within its network. A press release issued by Southwest mentions that this new Liberia service offers connection opportunities to Oakland, Phoenix and Las Vegas, all western focus cities for the airline.

Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines also offer non-stop Liberia – Los Angeles service. Southwest’s entrance into the market will provide fliers with a low-cost connection to Southern California and other nearby destinations.

Los Angeles represents the third city from which Southwest flies to Liberia, with Houston-Hobby and Baltimore/Washington already offering service. Southwest launched the flight from Houston in November 2014, shortly after it unveiled its new international terminal at the airport.

Southwest is also currently progressing on Terminal 1 renovations at LAX. The construction is designed to freshen an aging facility, providing a better experience for customers as well as improve operations at the airport. The project recently wrapped up Phase 1, with full completion expected in 2018.

RELATED: Southwest Invests in Los Angeles, Modernizes Terminal

Los Angeles signifies just the latest step in Southwest’s broader international expansion. Traditionally a domestic-focused airline, international flying has come into greater focus for Southwest over the past several years. New service abroad currently accounts for most of the airline’s overall growth, a trend which is expected to continue for the next several years. At an industry conference in 2015, CFO Tammy Romo stated that she sees “opportunities to grow” for the airline in international markets.

The Los Angeles area will also pick up more Southwest flights in June, with the airline recently announcing plans to serve Long Beach Airport (LGB). Southwest will kick off four daily flights to Oakland (OAK), connecting customers with another destination within the state of California. The new international service, the LAX renovations, and the LGB announcement all represent big investments in the broader region for Southwest.

RELATED: Southwest to Fly Non-stop Between Long Beach and Oakland

More international service may be on the horizon from LAX as well. “Our list of opportunities is long and Liberia, Costa Rica is just the beginning of the international destinations we plan to offer from LAX,” said Watterson in December. Cullen made similar comments at the Tuesday news conference, saying that the Liberia flight “marks the beginning of our international story here at LAX, as we continue to explore more destinations for our L.A. Basin Customers.”

Southwest Airlines is spreading its wings internationally, and Liberia, Costa Rica is just the latest city to receive more LUV. With its new service from Los Angeles to Liberia, Southwest is going from Coast to Costa.


Photo May 25, 0 53 04Alex McIntyre joined AirwaysNews.com to more heavily pursue his relentless passion for the airline industry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, growing up in the shadows of two major airlines’ headquarters and in a vibrant aviation-minded city. Alex studies accounting at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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India’s IndiGo Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

By: Roberto Leiro / Published: March 11, 2016

IndiGo became today the world’s second Airbus A320neo operator after German carrier Lufthansa. The delivery comes after a delay which according to Airbus was due to “industrial reasons.”

RELATED: Airbus to Delay IndiGo’s A320neo Delivery

RELATED: Lufthansa Takes Ceremonial Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

RELATED: Airbus A320neo: Delivered!

The Indian low-cost carrier, established in 2006, is an all-Airbus operator with 102 Airbus A320ceo in service, and it happens to be the A320neo’s biggest customer with 430 aircraft from two orders placed in 2011 (180 A320neo) and 2015 (250 A320neo).CdRlGnTW8AEMKc0.jpg large

RELATED: IndiGo Signs off Airbus Record Order

RELATED: Airbus Signs MoU with IndiGo for 250 A320neos

According to Aditya Ghosh, President of IndiGo, the A320neo “will be part of a new phase of our growth and will enable us to offer more regional and international destinations at the best price.”

India ranks among the fastest growing air travel markets in the world. IATA estimates that the market will average an annual growth of 6.4% during the next two decades, and by 2034 it is expected to hit the 256 million passenger/year mark. Despite the current infrastructure constraints, the size and potential of the market has drawn a myriad of new players, including IndiGo.

“It fills us with pride that IndiGo, India’s largest airline and the biggest customer for our A320neo, has taken delivery of its first aircraft. On top of best in class operational efficiencies and environmental benefits, the A320neo will offer IndiGo’s passengers unmatched comfort,” said Dr. Kiran Rao, Airbus EVP Strategy and Marketing.

To date, Airbus has received over 4,500 orders from nearly 80 operators since the launch of the program in 2010. According to the company, the A320neo family aircraft currently holds some 60 percent share of the single aisle market in the range of 140 – 240 seats. Plans are to ramp up the production to 60 aircraft a month before the end of a decade, in a move supported by record numbers in firm orders amid a strong global demand for the type.

RELATED: Airbus to Ramp Up A320 production to 60 a Month Before 2020

RELATED: Airbus prepares “SHort AiRfield Package” modification for A320neo


5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at AirwaysNews.com. An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization svzm.aero. Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com.


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JetBlue says ¡Hola, Ecuador!

By: Roberto Leiro / Published: February 25, 2016

As previously announced, JetBlue is starting today its service from Fort Lauderdale to Quito, Ecuador. The South American country becomes the 22nd country served by the airline. The service comes to compete with Ecuadorean carrier Tame, which already offers flights between both cities.

RELATED: JetBlue to Take Off to Quito, Ecuador

RELATED: JetBlue Announces Mexico City and Quito Service

“Quito is one of the fastest growing destinations in Latin America and a world-class tourism destination. We are thrilled to bring our award-winning service and low fares to this underserved market,” said Dave Clark, vice president network planning at JetBlue.

B6FLLFlights from Ft. Lauderdale will depart at 19:00 local, with arrival to Quito at 22:30. Departures from Quito will be at midnight and an early arrival to Ft. Lauderdale at 05:17, all local times. Although the flight will primarily serve an ever growing O&D traffic between South America and Florida, the schedule is flexible enough to allow connection to JetBlue’s network. JetBlue will operate the route using its 150-seat Airbus A320s.

“JetBlue will soon offer more than 100 daily flights to destinations across our network. Whether travelers are coming from South Florida, the northeast or the west coast, it’s never been easier to visit Ecuador’s historic capital city” Clark said.

From Fort Lauderdale, JetBlue also offers direct services to Bogotá, Cartagena and Medellin in Colombia, and to Lima in Peru. Last year, JetBlue added Mexico City as well. Quito is the fifth Latin American destination of the New-York based low-cost carrier.

“The arrival of JetBlue will have a positive impact on the development of tourism from and to the United States and it will offer Ecuadorian passengers greater connectivity from Fort Lauderdale” said said Andrew O’Brian, president and CEO of Corporación Quiport, the concessionaire of Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport. Since its inauguration in 2013, the new Quito International Airport serves more than five million passengers per year.


5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at AirwaysNews.com. An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization svzm.aero. Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com.


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Lufthansa Takes Ceremonial Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

By: Jan Richter in Hamburg / Published: February 12, 2016

Lufthansa, together with Airbus and Pratt & Whitney, celebrated Friday the delayed official ceremonial delivery of the world’s first A320neo. Carsten Spohr, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Lufthansa Group, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier and the President of Pratt & Whitney Robert Leduc invited 700 guests and media staff to the official delivery at Hamburg-Finkenwerder.

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From left to right: Fabrice Brégier (Airbus), Carsten Spohr (Lufthansa) and Robert Leduc (PW) in the handover ceremony.

Following the handover, the first two aircraft were presented to the attendees. The first A320neo, registered D-AINA (MSN 6801) has already flown scheduled service since January. The second neo is expected to join the fleet soon. According to Spohr, the initial experiences with the A320neo have been positive, confirming that the 15 percent lower fuel consumption mark was not only achieved but also slightly exceeded, despite of existing technical glitches. “We are very grateful to Airbus and PW, and will be even more so once teething problems are fixed!” Spohr joked.

RELATED: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A320neo Low-Key Lufthansa Launch

RELATED: Airbus A320neo: Delivered!

P1820569The CEO of Lufthansa was not the only one to talk about the PW 1000G issues. Fabrice Brégier, Airbus President and CEO, announced that the company will ramp up the deliveries once the problem is solved.

At the present time, the permanent solution proposed by PW implies a hardware fix that has already been implemented. However, a required software update will be completed in April. The technical issue is known to cause engines to run in idle during three minutes before taxi. Last December, Qatar Airways, which was supposed to be the launch operator, declined to take delivery of the aircraft under such technical constraints.

REPORT: Airbus to Swap A320neo Deliveries, Lufthansa Becomes Launch Operator

Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo would now become the second operator to receive the A320neo. Last December, the carrier was notified of delays in the delivery due to “industrial reasons.” According to Brégier, the delivery is subject to “customer confirmation.”

RELATED: Airbus to Delay IndiGo’s A320neo Delivery

“We are opening a new chapter in commercial aviation, and I am confident that the A320neo will support Lufthansa’s objective to raise its environmental performance. The A320neo not only cuts emissions at every operational stage but also halves its noise footprint compared to previous generation aircraft,” The CEO also announced that the 15% mark achieved to date will be taken to 20% by 2020 as the program matures.

This week, the first CFM-powered A321neo flew for the first time. Brégier announced that the PW variant is due to fly in March.

RELATED: First A321neo Successfully Completes First Flight

After the presentation, the A320neo took off from Hamburg- Finkenwerder in a special flight with flight number LH9917 with guests and media staff bound to Frankfurt, with a short stopover at Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel. The aircraft was adorned with a special logo. “First to fly A320neo – Less noise. Less fuel. Less CO2” placed at the rear fuselage.

Currently, Lufthansa has ordered a total of 116 A320neo family aircraft to be delivered in the next years. The airline is also getting ready to take delivery of its first A350 at the end of this year. According to Spohr, the German carrier is expected to receive 52 new aircrafts during 2016.


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Image Gallery and Personal Reflections From Boeing 737-8 MAX First Flight

The new Boeing 737-8 MAX fights a crosswind approach into Boeing Field to complete its first flight.

The new Boeing 737-8 MAX fights a crosswind approach into Boeing Field to complete its first flight.

Photos and Story By: Brandon Farris / Published: January 31, 2016

On Friday the Boeing 737-8 MAX took to the skies for the very first time beginning a year long flight test campaign that is expected to wrap up in the first quarter of 2017.

The MAX is Boeing’s response to Airbus and its NEO which just had its first delivery to Lufthansa earlier this month in the form of the A320. Boeing was able to get MAX off the ground ahead of schedule by three days as it wasn’t expected to actually fly until Monday February 1st which is a good sign as the manufacturer actually gets a head start on its test campaign.

N8701Q is the first of four Boeing 737-8 MAX test airplanes and will eventually be delivered to the launch customer Southwest Airlines in November of 2017. This photo review displays all angles from the departure from Renton, a couple of inflight photos from Boeing and then on to the arrival and post flight press conference at Boeing Field.

Renton Departure

The morning begins at 5:45am to my buzzing alarm, an excitement begins to settle in as my brain quickly clicks to realize the fact that the Boeing 737-8 MAX is about to take to the skies on its first flight While it was not scheduled until 10am, media had to meet at 7:45am and Seattle traffic on a Friday morning soggy commute is not a reason you want to miss your date with history.

As expected the traffic was in full force and we arrives into Renton on a raining morning at about 7:15am to wait for the bus to the Renton Airport. As we wait with other members of the media, Boeing sent out an email alert that the first flight had been moved up to 9:30am to depart ahead of the winds and squally weather that could prevent the first MAX to take to begin its first mission. We arrived airside at about 8:20am. Between the rain, slight wind we were still able to feel a palpable buzz in the air.

As thousands of employees make their way to designated viewing areas along the runway, even in the pouring rain, nearly every single one of them is walking with a smile on their face as they understand what an important step this is for the carrier in the narrowbody market. To your everyday average traveler, the Boeing 737-8 MAX looks just like any other 737 that has been gracing the skies for the past 49 years seen around the globe as nearly 9000 in total have been delivered to hundreds of airlines.

CEO Ray Conner awaits in the rain.

CEO Ray Conner awaits in the rain.

As the rain continued to pour a “Thank You Team” with a 737 tail banner lifted above the crowd to a cheer as the clock continues to get closer to showtime. Finally, at 9:40am. Boeing MAX 1, IA001, N8701Q, dubbed the “Spirit of Renton” began to taxi out of the East Side stall four and takes a left turn down taxiway Bravo for the end of runway 34.

Thank You Team banner

Thank You Team banner

At 9:45, Boeing MAX 1 lined up on 34 as it waits for the T33 chase plane to set up for the departure. Aas the T33 made its run down the west side of the field, the Spirit of Renton released the brakes and began its roll down 34 for a max power take off. Using about 2/3rds of the runway, the first Boeing 737-8 MAX rotated gracefully into the Seattle sunshine and lifted off at 9:46am to begin its two and a half hour first flight to monstrous applause and roars from the crowd that was even louder then the departure as the new CFM Leap-1B engines quietly propelled the aircraft skyward. Those who have helped build the 737 into the workhorse that the aircraft has turned into for some airlines as they watch the latest edition of it take to the skies after nearly 50 years of sweat and blood that have been sacrificed for the type.

Following the take off, all the media hopped back onto the bus to head back for our cars. From there it was a mad rush down to Boeing Field as you had to get there quickly just in case the aircraft has an issue and needs to return early.

As luck would have it the flight would continue to go to plan and we arrive to the latest news that it was still about an hour and a half out. In the interim, we were given a quick look at the new Seattle Delivery Center where most 737s are handed off to customers.

Senior VP Pat Shanahan gives the camera a smile after the MAX lifts off for the first time.

Boeing Senior VP Pat Shanahan gives the camera a smile after the MAX lifts off for the first time.

While we were driving over Boeing shared these two great images with the media from inflight and showed the Boeing 737-8 MAX with its gear up at a cruising altitude between FL 150 and 250 above the inclement weather below.

Seattle Arrival

Most of the media were tracking the flight on many different resources from Flightaware to Flightradar24 and watched what the airplane was doing. After much anticipation, at about 12:15pm we received word that it’s time to head back out to the runway to capture the first landing of the Boeing 737-8 MAX. Everyone kept an eye to the skies and their viewfinders as The Spirit of Renton edged ever to so close to Boeing Field in an attempt to be the first to spot in and alert everyone to where it was in the approach process.

Around 12:45pm she broke into view on top of the Port of Seattle cranes and began her final approach path down for 13R, crabbing most of the way down as Captain Ed Wilson (pilot-in-command) and Captain Craig Bomben fight a strong crosswind on the approach. As they shoot the top of the runway numbers one final strong tap on the rudder straightened the MAX out for the center line. They gracefully floated down about 1500 feet down the runway before finally making contact back with the ground and threw the CFM Leap-1B engines into reverse thrust and bring the aircraft to a quick halt.

After exiting the runway, the Spirit of Renton taxied down taxiway Bravo to the Boeing Seattle South Gate where it was marshalled to a stop, the Leaps were shutdown, and MAX was towed into the Boeing ramp to the awaiting journalist, VIPs, staff, and executives.

After N8701Q blocked in, where the press conference was going to be held, ground agents pull up the staircase and opened the main cabin door. Captain Wilson and Captain Bomben emerged from the cabin with a triumphant but understated thumbs up as they deplane. Greeting them is Boeing CEO Ray Conner and their families with copious smiles to go around.

 

From there the press conference is held with the two pilots and one of the 737 bosses who take questions from the media about the flight and program, then the time comes for pictures with members of the 737 team and the pilots infront the MAX before the pilots are dragged away to a post flight briefing to discuss with the engineers how the flight went and bring up anything significant that happened.

Overall the Boeing 737-8 MAX is one sharp looking aircraft in comparison to the NG 737s now being delivered. While the Split-Scimitar was a visual and more importantly fuel burn upgrade to the current 737s in comparison, the new winglet on the MAX become the centerpiece. The chevrons on the back of the CFM Leap-1B engines, echoing  the 787 and 747-8, are very eye appealing. The 737 MAX overall will surely be a welcome addition to the skies.

RELATED: The First Boeing 737 MAX Takes to the Skies

016_5172

 


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EXCLUSIVE GALLERY: Boeing 737 MAX Taxi Tests Complete

016_3856All Photos By: Brandon Farris / Published: January 29, 2016

The Boeing 737 MAX completed its last major hurdle as it prepares for its first flight today. Our photographer Brandon Farris was on hand to capture this gallery of the historic first taxi ever for the 737 MAX, N8701Q, that will eventually be delivered to Southwest Airlines.

RELATED: The Boeing 737 MAX Makes First Flight

 


Editor’s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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Contact the photographer at brandon.farris12@gmail.com

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Third Time’s the Charm? Qantas Resumes Nonstop Service to San Francisco

By: Kendrick Dlima / Published: December 31, 2015

The morning of December 18th marked a special day for travel between the United States and Australia. Qantas resumed non-stop service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Sydney (SYD). Service begins five times per week, and then increases to six times per week in February 2016. The flight is operated by the rare Boeing 747-400ER, seating 353 passengers with 14 in First Class, 52 in Business Class, 32 in Premium Economy, and 255 in Economy. SFO currently has flights to SYD on United Airlines, but this new service will allow passengers to have a large number of destinations within Australia to which they can connect with, from SYD. SFO also has flights to Auckland (AKL) on Air New Zealand. United Airlines will launch new service to AKL and Fiji Airways will start service to Nadi (NAN), both in the summer of 2016.

Airways2

In June 2015, Qantas and American Airlines announced a joint venture for their flights across the Pacific. They will shift to a “route revenue share agreement”. In the agreement, American Airlines will begin flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and SYD. Qantas will cut 5 flights per week from LAX, 4 to SYD and one to Brisbane (BNE), giving them an extra plane, which will be sent to SFO instead. In total, this will increase the amount of seats in the US-Australia market by 9 % (Qantas Newsroom, 2015). “We expect to see the strong growth in U.S. visitors coming to Australia continue, because of the strengthening U.S. economy but also because of the investment AA will make in promoting their new route. The world’s largest airline will be talking a lot more about Australia in their home market, and that’s great news for tourism,” said Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce.

The announcement of new trans-Pacific service via American Airlines and Qantas. Image: Courtesy of Roberto Leiro

RELATED: American, Qantas to Expand Trans Pacific Operations

RELATED: American Airlines Flies Down Under

Qantas has a rich history in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sir Kingsford Smith, famous Australian World War I aviator began the first ever trans-Pacific flight to Australia in nearby Oakland (OAK). The flight was operated by the “Southern Cross”, a Fokker F.VII on loan to Smith from American businessman and aviator, Allan Hancock. A scale model of the “Southern Cross” hangs from the ceiling of the Louis A. Turpin Aviation Museum in the International Terminal of SFO. In 1954, Qantas began service to SFO with the Lockheed Constellation, stopping in NAN and Honolulu (HNL).  In 1959, Qantas switched service to the Boeing 707-138, a smaller version of the 707-120, used for the long segments in the route.

6364

August 1962 Qantas Map Route.

In 1968, San Francisco and Sydney became sister cities, emphasizing the exchange of commerce and culture between the two waterfront cities. As the 747 was introduced to the route, the stop in NAN was eliminated, leaving HNL as the only fuel stop. However, in 1995, Qantas decided to leave SFO to focus on their American operations in LAX.

In 2006, marking eleven years without the “Flying Kangaroo”, Qantas resumed service to SFO from SYD. This time, the service was nonstop. In addition, they operated a 5th freedom flight from SFO to Vancouver (YVR) using the B747-400ER which would have normally spent the entire day on the ground in SFO. The continuing flight to YVR ended in 2008, but the flight to SYD lived on. In 2011, Qantas decided to terminate their service to SFO. Although the loads were decent, they recognized that there would be a greater demand if they moved the flight to Dallas (DFW). There are far more opportunities for connections in North America on their Oneworld partner, American Airlines.

Qantas is the fourth new airline to begin service to SFO this year after Turkish Airways, Copa Airlines, and Air India. To commemorate that event, December 18th was named “Qantas Day” in the city of San Francisco by Mayor Edwin Lee. Australia, a country to visit that is on the bucket lists of many Americans, is now very easily reachable with this new non-stop service. Hopefully, the third time’s a charm and Qantas will be here for the long run.


KendrickKendrick Dlima is an AirwaysNews.com contributor who has always been passionate about aviation. He is from San Jose, CA, and grew up spending most of his weekends visiting the three major airports in the Bay Area. He is currently majoring in Aerospace Engineering at California Polytechnic State University. He enjoys photography, traveling, and of course, flying. You can email him at kendrick.dlima@gmail.com.


 

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TAM Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350 XWB

By: Roberto Leiro / Published December 18, 2015

Following a ceremony held in Toulouse yesterday, LATAM Airlines Group, made up by LAN and TAM Airlines, took delivery of its first A350 XWB, thus becoming the first airline in the Americas to operate the aircraft and the fourth worldwide.

csm_A350_XWB_DELIVERY_TO_TAM_AIRLINES-tarmac_84194d13bb

TAM’s A350 fleet will be configured in a premium two-class layout with 348 seats; 30 Premium Business Class seats and 318 in Economy. The carrier will receive in total 27 A350 XWBs in the coming years. Beginning with the 4th delivery, the A350 fleet will wear the new but yet to be revealed LATAM Airlines corporate identity scheme, as announced last August.

A350 (2)

RELATED: The First Airbus A350 for TAM Takes to the Skies

RELATED: LATAM is Born: The New Brand for LAN, TAM Airlines and Affiliates Announced Today

RELATED: LAN, TAM Airlines Announce Passenger Experience Upgrades

“Adding this aircraft into our fleet not only proves our commitment to maintaining one of the youngest and most modern fleets in the world, but it also strengthens our relationship with Airbus, a true partner with whom we have grown in the last decades,” said Roberto Alvo, CEO of International & Alliances, LATAM Airlines Group.

TAM will start operating the A350 XWB in January 2016 between Sao Paulo and Manaus as part of continued training and crew familiarization. Then, the carrier has selected the routes Sao Paulo – Miami and Sao Paulo – Madrid in April as the first international destinations of the aircraft.

“The A350 XWB brings us the best of both worlds, complementing our existing eco-efficient fleet and the best in aviation technology to ensure even greater levels of comfort for our passengers,” said Claudia Sender, CEO of TAM S.A.

TAM and Airbus have a close commercial relationship since 1998, when the carrier took delivery of its first A330-200. Since then, the airline relies on the A320 family aircraft for its short-to-medium haul operations, and on the A330-200 for its long-range routes. Together, LAN and TAM operate 250 Airbus airliners, making the LATAM Group the largest Airbus operator in South America, ranking among the top-10 Airbus customers worldwide.

Airbus has delivered 13 A350 XWBs in 2015 to Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Finnair and TAM. The airframer has recorded a total of 775 firm orders of the A350 XWB to date, mostly from its -900 variant.


5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at AirwaysNews.com. An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization svzm.aero. Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com.


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COMAC Delivers First ARJ21 to Chengdu Airlines

By: Staff / Published November 30, 2015 

China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) has delivered yesterday the first 90-seat regional jet, the ARJ21 to its launch customer, Chengdu Airlines, in a flight from Comac’s Shanghai factory to Chengdu Shuangliu Airport.

After the two hour and 48 minute flight, the aircraft was welcomed by a traditional water cannon salute amid a nationalistic event in which the stages of designing, construction, testing and delivery of the aircraft were highlighted.

Chengdu Airlines, a budget carrier in which COMAC has a 48 per cent stake, now faces the task of its maker’s claims, and proving to the world that China has arrived as a plane maker. The country is keen to develop a successful commercial airliner to rival Boeing and Airbus, but so far, its commercial programs have been plagued with delays, partly attributed to the inexperience and shortage of its local aerospace design and engineering sourced, as well as a lack of a sound aerospace industry from which could base to drive its projects.

The ARJ21 is China’s first locally-built regional jet, designed to compete against Embraer and Bombardier, and will serve as a test case for the C919, COMAC’s answer to Boeing and Airbus in the 150-seat category, and which rolled off the assembly line early this month.

ANALYSIS: China Is Still a Step Behind the West Despite C919 Rollout

Chengdu Airlines will receive four more ARJs next year –the first of 30 aircraft ordered. Nevertheless, the airline has slowed down its plans to introduce the type in its fleet, as the licenses are type-specific and currently, just 10 pilots are licensed to fly the aircraft in China. The carrier expects to deploy the aircraft in three months approximately, on its main routes between Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen first, before being deployed in southwest China.

COMAC has still to obtain the ARJ21 type certification from the FAA and EASA, required to market the airliner in Western markets. Nevertheless, the manufacturer has received to date over 340 orders from customers in China, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Republic of the Congo.

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Virgin America Celebrates First Flight to Hawaii

By: Staff / Photos by Ben Wang / Published October 2, 2015

Virgin America celebrated today the launch of its new service from San Francisco to Honolulu with a Hawaiian-style send-off for the airline’s inaugural flight to paradise.

File Nov 02, 8 58 33 AMThe inaugural flight included Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America President and CEO David Cush, who said “This is a destination we’ve been interested in for quite a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right airplane in terms of capabilities to do it, and we do now.” The new flight was served by a brand-new Airbus A320 aircraft, appropriately named Pineapple Express, by the airline’s teammates.

“We are very excited about Hawaii. It’s a route that our Elevate members have been asking for” Cush added, who also thanked the authorities of San Francisco International Airport. “We thank you guys for getting us where we are.”

Sir Richard Branson also recalled that “I’ve never been able to afford to go to Hawaii by boat, never been able to swim to Hawaii, I’ve been to Hawaii once. We were trying to get around the world on a balloon, and we were almost there. As we got to America, there was this blanket of bad weather that we couldn’t get through and crashed 100 miles off Hawaii. Thank goodness a wonderful helicopter service was there to pick us up and took us back. We arrived at Hawaii on Christmas Day and had a wonderful Hawaiian welcome and we kissed the soil of America. It is the most wonderful place in the whole wide world. I am looking forward to going back.”

RELATED: Virgin America says “Aloha” to Hawaii

File Nov 02, 8 58 45 AMTo commemorate this first flight, the San Francisco-based airline transformed Gate 54 at Terminal 2 into an exotic tropical oasis, complete with hula dancers, Mai Tais, and island-inspired music as part of a pre-boarding island experience for travelers, who also received themed giveaways.

Hawaii is the number one tourism destination from the US West Coast. According to information from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the islands received over 3.3 million visitors in 2014, which “is a significant source of inbound visitors to the Hawaiian Islands and we look forward to welcoming Virgin America passengers from the Bay Area and across the airline’s U.S. network,” said George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA).

“We are pleased to see Virgin America giving our guests the broadest service options possible between the West Coast and Hawai‘i, boosting airline competition, adding seats, increasing accessibility to the islands and adding new jobs to our tourism industry” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates Virgin America’s new flights will generate $138.6 million in visitor spending and $14.8 million in tax revenue for the Aloha State each year.

Despite the optimism the market is considered to be very entrenched for legacy carriers. When questioned on how Virgin America is planning to attract high-level customers from these competitors, Cush believes that “It will be the same things we’ve done on other big Legacy entrenched routes. Our first routes were New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco. You don’t get more Legacy than those routes. So, we go in, we provide good service, we have a lot of fun. We’ve got a better hard product than they do. We operate a great airline, on time, with good baggage performance… so, that’s the same thing we’re gonna do to Hawaii and it is how we beat these guys, in New York, also.”

“These are our best and most successful routes, we fly six times a day, from Los Angeles to New York, and five times a day San Francisco to JFK, and we’re quite optimistic in terms of how Hawaii will go for us, too” Cush added.

ANALYSIS: Virgin America Enters the Hawaiian Vortex – Part 1 / Part 2

Virgin America will expand its Hawaii service further on Dec. 3 when it begins flying between San Francisco and Kahului. “We are thrilled to be bringing our unique service to Honolulu and next month Maui, and we look forward to building lasting community ties with the state and people of Hawaii.”  Cush concluded.


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First in Europe and First to Fly to North America: Finnair Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350

By Cody Diamond in Toulouse / Published October 7, 2015

Today, Finnair took delivery of its first Airbus A350-900 XWB, making it the first European and the world’s third operator of the type. In a ceremony at Toulouse, the aircraft was handed over at the Airbus Delivery Center.

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FIRST IN EUROPE. FIRST TO FLY TO NORTH AMERICA

IMG_5815The first airplane, registered OH-LWA, is the first of nineteen A350-941’s that Finnair is to receive through 2019, and it is the 18th A350 built. Finnair will receive the second aircraft in November and five additional A350s in 2016, four in 2017, four in 2018, and the final four in 2019, all of them powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines. OH-LWA rolled out of the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse in June of this year, with test registration F-WZFM applied. The airliner made its first flight on September 16, 2015, and has undergone flight testing and pre-delivery checks since that date.

The Airbus A350 fleet will replace the existing seven fuel thirsty A340-300s, which are due to be retired between 2016 and 2017. The A350s will serve alongside eight A330-300s, all delivered to Finnair in the last few years.

As the A340s retire, the A350 will be considered for the leisure market Finnair serves. Pukka Vauamo, CEO of Finnair stated that “it will be our main airplane”.

IMG_5618“The A350 is a new and exciting chapter in Finnair’s 92 year history and will give our passengers a new and modern experience. It is truly a proud moment for all Finnair employees who have worked on this airplane. We are extremely proud to be the first European carrier to receive the Airbus A350.” Vauamo added “This aircraft takes customer service to a new level. Finnair’s A350 has already won awards for its design. We are a service company and this is what we do. The A350 will provide every passenger with a unique Nordic experience and wireless connectivity should they desire,”

Finnair relies on the A350 to expand into Asia, and intends to twofold its Asian traffic by 2020. launching service to Guangzhou and Fukuoka next year. Its European destinations are optimally timed for connections to the Far East.

The Chief Pilot of the A350 at Finnair is Captain Marko Valtonen. Captain Valtonen has flown the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, DC-10, and Airbus A320 and A330. “The airplane is a joy to hand fly, it is even more precise than the A330, which already has excellent flying characteristics,” he remarked.

The A330 and A350 share a common EASA type rating, and will be one pilot group at Finnair. Every A350 at Finnair will be delivered with 180 minute ETOPS certification, and the type itself is capable of 370 minute ETOPS.

Beginning on October 9 through October 18th, Finnair will fly the A350 to Amsterdam, Oslo, Barcelona, Malaga, Hamburg, Brussels, Berlin, Gothenburg, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Munich, London-Heathrow, and Copenhagen. Not all destinations will be served daily by the A350. Long haul flights to Shanghai will begin on November 21. The A350 will eventually be used for flights to Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore in the near future.

“We intend to be the first to fly the A350 to North America by December. JFK is a premium destination for us, and we certainly want to fly the A350 there, seasonally at first,” Juha Järvinen Finnair’s Chief Commercial Office explained. He went on to say that the future at Finnair is one with Airbus aircraft. Finnair is also the launch customer of the Airbus A321 sharklet variation.

At the Airbus Delivery Center, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Brégier recalled that Finnair’s history with Airbus goes back to the Caravelle and the A300. “The A350 is an exchange of culture between Airbus and Finnair, and we are so grateful for Finnair’s input I’m developing the airplane for all of our customers. We are proud that Finnair is the first European operator and the third A350 operator in the world,” he added.

Finnair is a first-time operator of this new generation of Rolls-Royce engines (the airline’s Caravelle were equipped with Avon engines). Rolls-Royce President Eric Schulz is proud that the operator has chosen the XWB and will provide a total care package to Finnair.

The first passenger flight will be to Amsterdam-Schiphol on October 9, and will be under the command of A350 Chief Pilot Captain Marko Valtonen.

MEETING FINNAIR’S AIRBUS A350

Finnair’s A350s boast a 1-2-1 business class cabin, featuring 46 Zodiac Cirrus fully lie-flat seats with touchscreen In Flight Entertainment (IFE) and power outlets. The airplane is also equipped with 43 economy comfort class seats (35 inch pitch), and 208 economy class seats (31 inch pitch), for a total of 297 passengers, making it the highest capacity airplane in Finnair’s fleet.

Following delivery, Finnair will use the airplane on its European network, flying to several destinations for special one-time flights, serving a dual role of sharing the passenger experience and crew familiarization.

For crew familiarization, each flight must be a minimum of one hour of block time. Juha Jarvinen explained that the flights within Europe are a great opportunity to share the uniquely Nordic experience and accomplish landing requirements for the crews. Finnair has three qualified A350 captains presently and all initial flights will be flown with two Captains.

While the first eight A350s will have the same initial configuration, the last eleven may have variations. The A350 will be the first airplane in the Finnair fleet to have a purser instead of an in flight leader, which will enable the airline to deliver a more personalized service. Finnair’s A350s will also have a dedicated ladies’ restroom,

WELCOME ABOARD THE DELIVERY FLIGHT!

IMG_5590Today’s delivery flight, symbolically Finnair Flight 1350, featured approximately 200 invited guests to celebrate the arrival to Finland of the new flagship aircraft. Boarding was complete at approximately 1:35 pm and just before pushback from Spot Z130 at the Airbus Delivery Center, Captain Jari Paajanen announced “let’s go home”.

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A flight time of just over three hours was announced, and at exactly 2 pm local time, Finnair 1350 departed Toulouse-Blagnac’s Runway 32R into partly cloudy afternoon skies. Right after takeoff, in accordance with Airbus delivery tradition, Captain Paajanen rocked the wings, saying goodbye to Toulouse. After a brisk climb, OH-LWA leveled off at FL430 (43,000 feet). Once leveled off, lunch and champagne were served. The airplane was amazingly quiet, and there was no turbulence throughout the entire flight. We cruised high above the overcast covering much of Central Europe. Inside the cabin, the mood lighting simulated both blue sky and sunset, as our flight encountered both.

Finnair-A350Shortly before 5:45 pm, we commenced our descent for Helsinki-Vantaa, and we landed on Runway 04R at 6:08 pm. A water cannon salute was received and we blocked into the gate at 6:16 pm after being towed in, as Gate 31 was not fit for powered on A350 arrival..yet.


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American’s 787 Dream Takes Flight With Passengers

By Chris Sloan / Photos by author unless otherwise stated  / Published May 7, 2015IMG_1996

CHICAGO, IL – At 9:23 AM local, American’s inaugural Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flight, AA 2320 operated by the second of five 787s delivered so far to AA, gracefully touched down at Chicago O’Hare to a large round of applause. Although short, the 1 hour and 52 minute  flight aboard N801AN was filled with lots of fun with many enthusiasts and frequent American Airlines fliers on-board. With that, American became the sixth carrier in the Americas to operate the 787. To say the absolute least, AA2320 was nowhere near a normal flight, but who would expect a normal flight with so many enthusiasts on-board American’s newest family member?

The Order and First Delivery

American Airlines placed an order for 42 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and options for 58 in October 2008. At the time, it became the second U.S. airline to place an order for the Dreamliner, following Continental (now United). The first airplane was expected to join the fleet in about four years, but unfortunately, the delivery would be pushed back several years as the Dreamliner suffered major design and production delays.

After American placed its order, Boeing made some changes; the airline originally only ordered the 787-9 variant, but for unknown reasons, Boeing opted to make some of American’s initial deliveries be the 787-8 Dreamliner which is the smallest 787 variant. Once this was firmed up, American would have 21 787-8s and 21 787-9s on order, but the All Things 787 Blog reports that American has 16 787-8s and 26 787-9s on order. AA is not replacing the 767 with the 787s on a 1:1 basis, but will retire thirteen 767s this year.

Photo by JDL Multimedia

Photo by JDL Multimedia

American’s first Boeing 787 made its first appearance when it rolled out of the paint shop in late October, and it was supposed to be delivered in mid to late November. However, the delivery date would be pushed back again and again until the first quarter of 2015. The delivery delays were due to a delay with delivery of the airline’s all-new business class seats designed by Zodiac Aerospace.

EXTRA: American’s 787 Makes First Appearance

EXTRA: Boeing, Airbus Show the Whip to Laggardly Seatmaker Zodiac

The first American 787 took to the skies on January 6, 2015, and it conducted several flight tests, before being delivered to American.

Photo by Brandon Farris

Photo by Brandon Farris

EXTRA: American’s First 787 Takes Flght

On January 23, 2015, Boeing handed over the keys to American’s first 787, and it was flown down to its main maintenance base and hub, Dallas/Ft. Worth. Once it arrived, American quickly began work on getting the aircraft ready for its first flight which would occur in May. Since the Dreamliner was a brand new aircraft to the fleet, the airline wanted to ensure that it could catch any issues and familiarize many employees with the new type to hopefully prevent any issues once it enters into service.

So far, American has taken delivery of five 787s with a total of 13 planned for this year, and it plans for eight to be delivered in 2016. Five were deferred to 2017-18 as American seeks to control capacity in international long-haul markets due to macro-economic conditions. 

Proving Flights

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Since taking delivery of its first Dreamliner on January 23, 2015, American has been flying its new Dreamliners on proving and training flights to help familiarize flight crews and airport ground staff with the new type before entering into revenue service.

The proving and training activities have occurred as close as Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco, Texas to as far as London Heathrow and Tokyo Narita. Whenever an airline introduces a brand new aircraft, there is always a lot of work to be done, and American wanted to ensure that it did a thorough job, especially when other airlines such as United had issues when it started flying their brand new 787s.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

About the time that tickets for the first 787 flights went on sale, American started flying the Dreamliner around south and west Texas for a few weeks. Many local media outlets in Texas reported on the training flights as large aircraft are usually a rare sight in these parts of Texas. Although these training flights were primarily for pilot training, American flew its 787 to other cities around Texas such as Houston to help prepare staff incase the aircraft ever needs to divert. Case in point, Waco received nearly 50 touch and go’s in one single morning.

Later on into the proving program, American deployed its 787s to Chicago and London to simulate real flights to help both the flight crews and airport ground staff. The airline also completed a proving run to Narita for polar validation. The fleet also completed 50 hours of validation flights for the FAA proving compliant operation to the FAA such as ETOPS.IMG_1993

Since January 23, American pilots have flown over 2,000 hours of training flights and completed over 1,000 landings. Now, the pilots do not just jump into the cockpit; a typical 777 pilot went through 15 hours of distance training, four days of ground school, six days of sim time, and 15-25 hours in the airplane. Many of the 200 qualified 787 pilots have had the added benefit of flying the training flights with real metal but no passengers before the type entered service. Once AA pilots transfer their type ratings over to the 787, they only fly on that particular type.

The First Flights

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, American announced that it would fly its 787s out of its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub to Chicago O’Hare, along with Beijing and Buenos Aires. American would only fly domestic flights from May 7, until it started flying the aircraft to Beijing on June 2, which launched the same day of the 787 using a 777-200, and Buenos Aires on June 4.

At the time of the route announcements, American revealed what the 787 cabin would look like, but it only released a handful of images and kept the doors to its 787s shut tight.

In late-April, American announced that it would also fly the 787 internationally out of Chicago to Tokyo Narita beginning in August, setting the stage for a possible 787 crew base at ORD.

Official Unveiling and The Interior

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Photo by Mike Slattery

About a week before the inaugural flight, American held a small launch event where it invited a handful of people from the media and its employees out to one of its hangars at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport to officially unveiled its brand new aircraft.

At the launch event, American explained that its 787 will bring customers a “state-of-the-art international travel” experience in both Business Class and the Main Cabin. From international Wi-Fi to American’s signature Business Suites, there is definitely something that will impress everyone who boards the newest addition to the fleet. Unlike many carriers, American chose to do something special in introducing a new Business cabin product to their 787 which differs somewhat from that on the 777-300s and newly configured 777-200s and 767-300s.

American’s 787s have 28 Zodiac manufactured seats in 2 business class cabins; the seats are in a 1-2-1 seat configuration to allow every seat to have aisle access. Each of the 28 seats transform into a fully lie-flat 77-inch bed that provides customers with infinite adjustability, and the seat also offers what American says is “a unique ‘z-shaped’ lounge position for increased comfort.”  The J cabin seats are arranged in a front and rear facing configuration, not unlike British Airways Club World cabin. Every seat boasts a 16-inch touchscreen monitor with up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections. The IFE is the Panasonic eX2 platform while connectivity is powered by the Panasonic eX2 Connect Ku-band system. Plus, every seat will have dual universal power outlets and USB ports. Customers will be able to enjoy the entertainment with Bose noise canceling headsets. If passengers get hungry during the flight, there is a walk-up bar that will be stocked with a selection of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. American introduced a walk-up bar originally when it took delivery of the American 777-300ER in January 2013.

The 787 boasts 198 seats in the Main Cabin in a very tight 3-3-3 configuration, as has become commonplace in the 787. 56 of the seats in the Main Cabin are Main Cabin Extra seats which offer up to five more inches of legroom when compared to the regular Main Cabin seats. Although, the economy seats are a bit tight as in nine abreast configured 787s; the standard seats have a seat pitch of approximately 31 inches, and all Main Cabin seats are approximately 17-18 inches in width. Main Cabin Extra adds another 4 inches of pitch. Each seat in the Main Cabin is equipped with a power outlet, USB port, and personal in-seat entertainment system which boasts up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections.

EXTRA: Photos from American’s 787 Launch Event

On-Board the Inaugural Flight

Boarding started just before 7AM local, and it was a big congested as the gate area was filled with inaugural passengers and employees who came out to send off the 787 on its maiden passenger voyage. Fern Fernandez, EVP of AA’s worldwide marketing said “We are excited to be the first airline to bring the 787 to DFW….Later today we will launch the first route this aircraft is optimized for, DFW-Beijing.”IMG_1989

At 7:30 AM local, the Dreamliner lined up with runway 17 and began a whisper quiet, 40 second take off roll. However, the quietness was quickly broken up by cheers and applause as AA2320 soared into the sky. The flight took off with a weight of 356,000 pounds–46,000 pounds of those pounds was the fuel on-board, and we reached V1 at a quick 146 miles per hour.

The aircraft quickly climbed to 39,000 feet, and the pilots, Captain Charlie Savage (the Lead Air Check Airman with 150 type rates), Captain Bill Elder (the manager for American’s 787 Flight Training Program) had their work cut out for them as they had to deviate around quite a bit of weather.

However, the flight deck crew did an exceptional job keeping the ride smooth which allowed them to keep the seatbelt sign off for most of the flight so the passengers in the back were able to explore the aircraft. The crew were miraculously able to pull off a full service with the aisles in virtual party gridlock.

Captains Savage and Elder, greeting the assembled passengers, explained how ecstatic they were to be crew members to fly the inaugural flight, and throughout the flight. It was obvious that all of the flight crew members were excited to be part of the historic flight. In fact, the crew came together and pitched in to give every passenger a special commemorative coin.

Once we reached our cruising altitude, I started checking out my Business Class seat. I was in one of the forward facing seats which has a unique three point seat belt. The mini suite was nice and intimate with the seat being very firm. There is a visor that separated me from my seatmate, but it was locked into position.

The USB and power outlets are quite helpful and nice, and they are located right at shoulder level which is helpful as it does not require reaching around like on United’s 787 BusinessFirst seats.

The seat controls are on a small digital display which is conveniently located at eye level as well. An ergonomic feature of the seat controls is that you can adjust lighting and privacy indicators. The only obvious glitches in the flight were the connectivity and business class seats. The maddeningly slow T-Mobile KU satellite based system made modem dial up seem sprightly. The visors separating business class passengers were locked and able to retract. All in all, small minor issues on a very short flight designed precisely for working out the bugs.


IMG_1987The standup bar was not stocked on a short flight, but it will sure be a welcome when the airline puts the 787 on the DFW-Asia routes next month. The bar is not the showstopper that exists on AA’s 773 and reconfigured 772 fleets but is functional nevertheless.

All to quick, we began a quick descent into Chicago and gracefully touched down at 9:23 AM local to the mandatory applause.

After we landed, we did a quick victory lap around O’Hare so the media could take a few photos of the aircraft before we arrived into the gate.

Many employees greeted us when as we disembarked, and ground employees sprung into action to get the aircraft ready to head back to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

AA’s 787 launch was an upbeat experience that gives further credence to the carrier’s “NewAmerican” claim of service upgrades and fleet renewal. Beyond the obvious well known benefits of the 787, this inaugural flight stood out for the unbridled enthusiasm of the passengers and crew.

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American Airlines provided roundtrip accommodations on-board the inaugural 787 flight. However, our opinions remain our own.

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First Southwest Airlines International Flight Lands in Houston

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Flight 2207 on the gate screen at Aruba Airport.

By Jack Harty / Published March 9, 2015

HOUSTON, Texas – On Saturday, Southwest Airlines Flight 2207 did not just mark Southwest’s first flight between Aruba and Houston; it also marked the carrier’s first international arrival into Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport. Now Houston is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. to have two international airports.

Back in 1971, Southwest Airlines started flying between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio with three Boeing 737s, and over the years, the airline rapidly expanded its reach from coast to coast. Up until it acquired AirTran Airways in September 2010, Southwest only flew within the continental U.S., but since AirTran flew to a dozen cities outside the U.S., this meant that Southwest would too.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Perry Miller of Houston Hobby Airport

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

Now that Southwest would have international access thanks to its AirTran acquisition, Southwest started looking into starting international flights in and out of Houston, but the airline would have to win over the city’s approval to build an international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport where has build up a large presence.

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The entrance into William P. Hobby Airport.

To try to get the city of Houston on-board, Southwest launched the “Free Hobby” campaign in 2012, which almost sparked a war in Houston. Many in northern Houston were concerned that this would cause significant changes to United’s presence at Intercontinental Airport, but for those in south Huston, they would be able to fly out of an airport closer to their home.

Over the next few months, the city council, along with city leaders, held many debates about building an international terminal at Hobby Airport before it would go the city would make a final decision. Plus, United was very vocal about preventing Hobby from becoming an international airport.IMG_6478

Ultimately, Southwest won approval from the city of Houston to build the international terminal. The new $156 million, five-gate international concourse is still under construction. The new facility will increase capacity for all airport functions and add a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.

An airport spokesperson says that opening day is expected sometime mid-October. He also explained that Southwest will get preferred treatment at four of the five gates, and the airport is actively looking to add another international airline at Hobby once the new terminal opens.IMG_6335

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U.S. Customers and Border Protection Pre-clearance area at Aruba Airport.

Southwest has big plans for international expansion in Houston, and back in December, the carrier announced it filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to start flights to six international destinations this fall once the new international concourse opens.

Pending government approval, Southwest plans to launch new international flights from Houston to Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico. Plus, Southwest also plans to launch flights to Belize City, Belize and San Jose, Costa Rica from Houston.

“This is an exciting first step in achieving our goal of establishing regional international air service at Hobby Airport,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz.  “We are making dramatic progress on the new international concourse building and have a definitive route map now available from the team at Southwest Airlines. The importance of strong connectivity with Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be overstated in Houston and these flights will undoubtedly strengthen those business and cultural ties.”

Now Taking Off: Aruba-Houston

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I Heart Aruba is a popular sign near The Renaissance Hotel in Aruba that many enjoy taking pictures with.

Although the new five gate international terminal at Hobby is expected to open in Fall 2015, U.S. CBP pre-clearance–which provide U.S. border inspection in certain foreign countries including Aruba–helps make it possible for Southwest to start Saturday-only international flights in and out of Houston sooner to Aruba. With pre-clearance, customers are able to deplane in Houston without further CBP inspections into the domestic terminal, quickly claim baggage and depart the airport, or make seamless connections to more than 40 destinations Southwest serves from Hobby.IMG_6457

“CBP’s Pre-clearance program allows us to deliver early on the promise we made Houstonians to couple our low fares and high-value Customer Service with Heart to places outside the U.S.,” said Teresa Laraba, Southwest’s senior vice president of customers. “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.”

The First Flight

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The gate area was all decorated at Aruba Airport.

Many passengers were expecting 2207 to be an ordinary Southwest flight, but upon arriving at the gate, they would soon find out that they were about to join Southwest on a special occasion.

Several members of the media and Southwest employees arrived at the airport several hours early in order to attend a small ceremony with airline, airport, and city officials before the inaugural flight to Houston. Airport employees started decorating the gate area with hundreds of balloons the night before, and a catering company set up a table offering complimentary drinks and snacks. Near the podium, there was a cake in the shape of the island and had a Southwest plane (in cake form) on top of it.

IMG_6386As passengers started arriving at the gate, many were curious to know why there were reporters and balloons at their gate. They soon learned that they would be on the first international flight into Houston Hobby.

About two hours before departure, a small ceremony was held at the departure gate. Both Southwest, the Aruba Tourism group, and the airport exchanged gifts. The CEO of Aruba Tourism explained that she was very happy that Aruba has played an important role in Southwest’s international expansion (it was the first first international city a Southwest plane departed to on July 1 as well as the first international destinations for Houston). All parities made it clear that this new link with Houston (even though it is seasonal), will help reach deeper into the United States.

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Original Houston-based flight attendants who have more than 90 years combined of flying for Southwest Airlines.

About 40 minutes before departure, boarding began, and within 20 minutes, everybody was seated and ready to go. Before the door was closed, the Houston-based flight attendants—who have more than 90 years of experience combined —posed in the jetway with Aruba’s flag right before departure, and we were off.

At 1:30 p.m. local, we began a quick take off roll and started our trek to Houston. The flight was pretty uneventful. There were some special announcements—including free drinks—throughout the flight, but most were enjoying their last nap while still being on vacation.

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Off in the distance, downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center can be seen.

Prior to initial descent, Dan Landson, a senior communications specialist at Southwest, asked a few trivia questions about Southwest Airlines and handed out a few prizes to the inaugural passengers.

After a quick descent, Southwest Flight 2207 became the first commercial international flight to land at Houston Hobby in 41 years and Southwest’s first international flight. As the aircraft approached the gate, a traditional water cannon salute was provided by the Houston Hobby fire department.

Dozens of Southwest employees greeted and cheered as passengers disembarked from the flight, and there was even another cake waiting. Minutes later, Southwest employees were back hard at work turning the aircraft from Aruba around to head to north Texas.IMG_6528

Related: Southwest Has Left The Country

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Contact the author at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Disclosure: Southwest Airlines and the Aruba Tourism Group provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover this story.  Our opinions remain our own.

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Bombardier CSeries CS300 Achieves First Flight

By Seth Miller / Published February 27, 2014 / Photos by author

IMG_9708-001The Bombardier CS300, the newest commercial aircraft on the market, made its maiden flight just after 11:00 a.m. today at Montreal’s Mirabel airport. The larger CSeries variant follows the smaller CS100, which took to the skies 17 months ago.

EXTRA: Bombardier CSeries Completes First Flight

For Bombardier, this is a significant step forward for a project which has seen its share of challenges. As a clean-sheet” aircraft design, such challenges are not unexpected; Boeing and Airbus experienced similar delays with the 787 and A350, respectively. Bombardier’s new CEO, Alain M. Bellemare, described the event as “an inflection point” in the CSeries project “where we’re finally reaching momentum and we can go to market with a solid product for our customers.”

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The test flight came on the second day of the three-day window Bombardier allotted for the event. Initial plans to run the test flight on Thursday were hampered by cold weather, wind and snow earlier in the week in Mirabel; that weather prevented final pre-flight testing from happening. It is colder today than earlier in the week – probably the coldest first flight ever – but the low temperatures did not prevent the first flight.

EXTRA: Bombardier Announces Executive Shake-up; Posts 4Q, 2014 Losses

With both the CS100 and CS300 now flying, the company is able to aggressively push
towards the completion of the flight test regimen and move towards
entry in service. It is also worth noting that the CSeries plan is somewhat unusual in having both types flying test flights concurrently rather than a sequential process of EIS on the first followed by testing of the second. Delays in the CS100 test program can be blamed in part for these circumstances.

bombardier-cs300-first-flight (2)

The CSeries aircraft promise a more comfortable passenger cabin combined with lower costs for the airlines and quieter operations for the passengers and those who live near the airports. And, while the interior of the CS300 is not yet on display to media, the noise aspect
was demonstrated during the first flight departure; the CRJ900 – a quiet plane in its own right – was notably louder than the CS300 flying just ahead of it during the first flight departure.

EXTRA: ANALYSIS: CSeries Flies; Further EIS Delay to 2016 Likely

Bombardier is targeting the 100-150 passenger market with the CSeries jets, a space which has been mostly abandoned by Boeing and Airbus and one which Embraer has indicated it will not enter. In that regard Bombardier has tremendous potential for the CSeries.

 

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The company has 243 firm orders today and Mike Arcamone, president of commercial
aircraft, suggests that additional orders are yet to come, “We have been in commercial discussions with a number of customers. Many of them have visited us in Mirabel. …We are tracking to our plan of 20 customers and 300 firm orders by EIS and are very confident in the status of our orders.”

EXTRA: Report: Where Are the Sales for Bombardier’s CSeries Jet?

In addition to confidence in the order book, Bombardier is expressing confidence in the flight test plan and progress towards EIS. With the CS300 in the air this morning, Bombardier had four CSeries test aircraft flying, working through the check-list.

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Rob Dewar, vice president of the CSeries program, notes that the test plan is running (mostly) on schedule and that the most challenging tasks have already been completed, “The majority of the risks are behind us. It is now about executing the plan and we’re making good progress on that.”

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Bombardier’s Rob Dewar

Arcamone sees potential now only for one result, “There is no turning back, only moving forward. And we will do this with much confidence.” Below is a slideshow of photos from the event.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Seth Miller

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Etihad Launches Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flights

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 2, 2015

Etihad Airways - B787 Inaugural Photo

Etihad leaders cut the ribbon at the inaugural Boeing 787 flight. Image: Courtesy of Etihad

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways launched its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner into commercial service on February 1. The first flight marks the seventh carrier with orders for the Dreamliner in the Middle East region, joining Gulf Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian and Saudi Arabian Airlines. Etihad has 30 787-10s and 40 787-9s on order.

Etihad welcomed its first Boeing 787, adorned in the company’s freshly unveiled livery, in September 2014 in Seattle. during an elaborate display. On board, early -9 models will seat 235 in a three-class configuration. The aircraft will have eight first-class suites, 28 business class seats and 199 economy seats.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Unveils First Boeing 787

The carrier’s first 787 originally took flight on December 8, 2014. It was originally set to already be in service between the carrier’s Abu Dhabi hub and nearby Doha, but that schedule was shifted to yesterday’s start. Flights to Washington, D.C., and Mumbai are expected to begin on February 15, 2015.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways First 787 Takes Flight

The first flight, between Abu Dhabi and Düsseldorf, Germany, lasted for seven hours and 25 minutes.  The carrier held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the departure gate to mark the occasion. Etihad leaders in attendance included COO Peter Baumgartner and CCO Khaled Al Mehairbi. Passengers aboard the first flight were presented with special gifts, including luggage tags, passport holders and commemorative B787 certificates.

The first flight of Etihad's Boeing 787, in December 2014. Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

The first flight of Etihad’s Boeing 787, in December 2014. Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

As of December 2014, Boeing has 473 orders for the 787-9, 459 deliveries of the 787-8 and 139 orders for the 787-10. The top three customers of the type are: Japan’s All Nippon Airways with 80 orders (36 -8s and 44 -9s); aircraft lessor AerCap (an aircraft leasing company), with 74 orders (25 -8s and 49 -9s); and Etihad Airways with 71 orders (41 -9s and 30 -10s).

Cover image: Courtesy of Etihad

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