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American Offers Integrated Purser Training Program Under “Going For Great” Campaign

By Benét J. Wilson / Published July 30, 2015

American Airlines' Stephen Howell. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines.

American Airlines’ Stephen Howell. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines.

American Airlines has created an integrated purser program to give the carrier’s 2700 leaders professional development training for the combined company.

The effort is part of the carrier’s $2 billion “Going For Great” campaign, which covers new aircraft, fleet upgrades, renovated Admirals Clubs and more check-in kiosks.

Stephen Howell is American’s managing director of flight service standards and training. He handles everything that encompasses policies, procedures, regulatory processes, flight attendant and purser recruitment and hiring, along with training.

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The purser training program was launched in May; it has been paused for the summer and classes will resume in September. “We’re looking to offer world-class customer service,” he said. “And we’re doing the training offsite at the Gaylord in Grapevine, not at our flight training center.”

American Airlines is making a significant investment in its hard product, said Howell. “So the timing was perfect for us to also take time to focus on the soft skills,” he said. “We brought the legacy American and US Airways pursers and brought them into one group.”

American will have pursers onboard its domestic three-class transcon flights between JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco, said Howell. “We felt we needed an onboard leader on those planes,” he said. “We also have pursuers onboard our long-haul international flights, including our two- and three-class service to Europe, Latin America and Asia. We will also have them on our new Sydney service.”

From a logistics perspective, there’s a lot of magic going on behind the scenes, said Howell. “We started offering 24 two-day sessions in May. They self-enroll, and by November, all 2700 will have attended the sessions,” he said.

Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

This is not training in the traditional sense, said Howell. “These are professional development leadership courses. We hold all sessions at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, so we have enough real estate available to run the two-day program and they stay on site,” he said.  “We wanted to pick the Gaylord, a high-end Marriott, because we wanted them to experience fine service at its best.”

The theme of the seminar is meant to build on the tagline Going for Great, said Howell. “We felt it was important to back that up to deliver the soft  skills that will offer customers a transformational rather than a transactional service,” he said. “In the past, the service was very transactional. You do the safety demonstration, deliver a beverage, deliver a tray and move to next service.”

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Transactional service is needed, but we also need to deliver transformational service that is personalized for each customer, said Howell. “We use benchmarks from companies like Nordstrom and the Ritz Carleton and share case studies on how they do transformational service,” he explained. “We want to be unique in what we offer. Those companies offer personal attention and make a connection and that’s what we want to do.”

The legacy US Airways always had onboard leadership, but they didn’t have a formal purser program until this year, said Howell. “The legacy American flight attendants went through initial training in the past two years, but hadn’t had a refresher program or ongoing training, so this is a new program,” he said.

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The program isn’t about service skills, procedures and filling out forms, said Howell. “But the soft skills are needed for leadership to help them get the best from their teams,” he said. “Everyone knows how to put down a cocktail napkin. This is more about engaging with a customer when putting that napkin down and created a memorable experience.”

When it comes down to service, in years past, it’s been about the functionality of the service, said Howell. “Now it’s about creating pleasure, delight and emotion, along with and connecting with our passengers. Our new hard product alone won’t help, so we have this training so we can focus on this moving forward.”

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Today’s customer has had a full day before getting on the flight, said Howell. “All they want to to do is get in their seat, put on headphones, watch inflight entertainment and get a personal experience. Our customers have changed and so must we,” he said.  “We all grew up with the Golden Rule — treat people how you want to be treated. We are now adapting the platinum rule — treat others the way they want to be treated.”

As the new American Airlines works toward greatness, it wants customers to realize that things are different, said Howell. “We want them to recognize the fact that our onboard leaders will work with their team to make emotional connections with them and instill in them a strong brand loyalty,” he said. “American is making the investment in the hard product, but you have to have the soft product that goes with it.”


 

IMG_5949-0Benét J. Wilson is an experienced freelance aviation / travel writer. She has been in the business for more than 20 years, having her works published in several printed and digital publications including USA Today,  Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and AIN. Wilson is the Air Travel Expert for About.com and is working on her private pilot’s certificate.


Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon. Click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Meeting New LAN Airlines’ 787-9 Dreamliner

By: Enrique Perrella / Published 28 July, 2015

From its modest origins in the late 1920s, the Linea Aerea Nacional de Chile (LAN) has pieced together a powerful mosaic across the South American continent through national investments in a handful of strategically positioned airlines, imparting in each a common philosophy of service excellence and financial discipline.

With their home base on a sliver of geographically inhospitable land (only a scant 2.6% of which is arable) sandwiched between 2,700 miles of southwestern Pacific Ocean coastline and the Andes mountain range, Chile’s Cueto family (led by brothers Enrique and Ignacio) created the LATAM Airlines Group, which in the first semester of 2015, transported almost 54 million passengers.

The airline counts with a large and diverse fleet of more than 295 aircraft, and employs over 53,000 workers with an on-line network stretching from Australia and New Zealand through the Americas to Europe. The high standards of service both LAN and TAM offer, were recently awarded among the top three best airlines in Latin America, according to Skytrax.

In early February, the Chilean carrier took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, intended to replace its aging Airbus A340-300 fleet, which were retired two months later after 15 years of reliable long-haul service.

LAN’s books, today, include an order for 32 Boeing 787s, while its Brazilian partner TAM include an order for 27 Airbus A350 XWBs, with deliveries set to start in the fourth quarter of 2015. According to Jim Proulx, who handles international media relations for Boeing, “The LATAM Group has long been a strong customer for Boeing airplanes in its wide-body fleet, including the 767 and 777. He also notes that, “As the first Latin American operator, LATAM is a key South American customer for the 787, having already taken delivery fifteen 787s in building to a fleet of 32.”

On the other hand, Raymond Kollau, founder of Trend Analysis—an European-based publication which follows trends and innovations in the airline industry—notes that product and service innovations have been less of a priority at LAN and TAM, as both airlines have been concentrating on integrating parts of their operations following the merger. “As one of the early airlines to receive the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, LAN has been able to offer some of its passengers the experience of flying its latest generation aircraft,” he said. “The IFE systems on LAN’s 787s are especially noteworthy. For example, passengers can read destination guides on their high definition screens and play a game of poker against other passengers on board.”

In a continued effort to improve its service and become the number-one airline in the Americas, LAN announced in December 2014, that on July 20, 2015, its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner would operate daily, nonstop service from New York (JFK) to Santiago (SCL), departing daily at 20:00 and arriving in Santiago at 06:20 the following day.

Pablo Chiozza, Senior VP, USA, Canada and the Caribbean at LATAM Airlines Group, said in a statement, “The Boeing 787-9 is one of the first aircraft to feature the new unified cabin design.” He then added, “Travelers will experience the vibrancy and warmth of the region the moment they step on board. The 787-9 Dreamliner is a testament to our dedication to minimizing our environmental footprint and providing the best experience for all our passengers.”

To showcase its newest wide-body aircraft and unified cabin, LAN invited Airways to experience its flagship service from JFK to SCL on its inaugural scheduled service with the Boeing 787-9 and test the new product which will be customary in all long-haul aircraft once both carriers are merged into one single image and corporate identity at the end of 2015.

Inaugural Flight: JFK

LAN’s flight 533 to SCL was scheduled to depart (SDT) at 20:00. Four hours before, we arrived at JFK’s Terminal 8, home to American Airlines (AA) and its Oneworld partners.

SQ_ - 1Check-in was easily accomplished thanks to the gentle TAM and LAN staff behind the counters, who greeted us for being part of the media group that would cover the event. Passing through TSA was also a quick task thanks to the priority access granted to all Oneworld premium cabin passengers. In less than 10 minutes, we reached AA’s Admirals Club, where we had to check-in handing a coupon given by our carrier.

Boarding

SQ_ - 2At 19:00, we approached gate 16 where pre-boarding started. We managed to make our way into the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner first, allowing us to picture the insides of the aircraft as the wonderful Chilean crew posed inside their brand-new jet. The aircraft’s interiors, beautifully colored in the airline’s blue, red and gray, craft an inviting ambiance that evokes a spacious feeling that’s second to none.

Making our way through the economy cabin, we noted a big difference between the 787-9 and its smaller version, the 787-8. Its stretched fuselage, high overhead bins, tall windows, and mood lightning come together as a comfortable hard product for long-haul flights.

The Cabin Interior

LAN’s Boeing 787-9 fleet is fitted to carry a total of 313 passengers in a two-class configuration. Developed by the international design/consulting firm PriestmanGoode, the elegant and modern design is noted as soon as one enters the aircraft through the L2 door. Stunning wooden floors and super ample galleys strike as a first excellent impression. Upon walking inside, the impressive mood lightning gives a futuristic sense that old generation airliners could never dream to emit.

Up front, the new LATAM Airlines Group unified Premium Business Class is configured in a 2-2-2 layout, totaling 30 comfortable seats. According to the airline, this Business Class will be standardized in both LAN and TAM long-haul products once both carriers are completely merged as one corporate image later this year. “Every element was carefully selected and designed to include the best elements of the countries in the region to create a world-class project,” claims Jerome Cadier, the Group’s Marketing Vice-President. “With these objectives in mind, the rich wood textures of the Amazon are present in several elements throughout the cabin, including part of the floor and details on the seats. The fabric, textures, colors, and patterns are reminiscent of the beautiful landscapes of our region. Even the iconic beaches of Ipanema were a source of inspiration for the cabins,” he notes. In fact, a nice combination of gray, red, white and the many colors that come off the mood lightning, create an ambiance that’s futuristic and elegant.

SQ_ - 7Each Business Class seat has 75 inches of leg pitch and 23 inches of width, capable of converting into full-flat beds. Passengers can enjoy movies, TV shows, a moving map, and many other entertainment features through a large 15.4-inch touch screen, also manageable with a remote control.

Moving down to Economy Class, 283 red and blue seats are configured in a 3-3-3 layout, boasting a 32-inch leg pitch, and a nine-inch individual touch screen on each seat, loaded with over 40 films, 120 channels, 20 games, USB ports and iPod eXport connections for passengers to enjoy their own media.

Pre-Flight

SQ_ - 19As passengers settle into their seats and we get situated in the Premium Business Class, Charles, our Flight Attendant (FA), introduced himself both in Spanish and perfect English. He immediately offered Champagne or the airline’s signature drink, Pisco Sour, as a pre-flight drink. After ordering the famous South American cocktail, Charles came back informing that JFK’s catering service forgot to load its main ingredients, for which Champagne ended up being our choice. Served at a perfect temperature, the French drink arrived along with a small plate of assorted nuts.

Minutes later, a team of FAs passed through the aisle with the airline’s spectacular amenity kits, furnished by Ferragamo. Amenity kits are often the Achilles’ heels for many premium carriers. In fact, Singapore (SQ) and ANA (NH) don’t even offer one. LAN, however, does have one of incredible quality, almost good as Alitalia (AZ)—an airline known for its superb kits.

SQ_ - 20Five minutes behind scheduled departure, the Captain announced our flight would be slightly delayed because the jet bridge couldn’t detach from the Dreamliner due to a technical malfunction. About 15 minutes after the announcement, we finally pushed back and the two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines began spinning into life. A strong and pleasant roar was felt inside the cabin, and in less than five minutes, our 787-9 began taxiing to the runway. The cabin was dimmed into a spectacular deep blue color while the airline’s safety briefing video was shown on the screens.

At 20:42, we lined up with the runway and performed a spectacular takeoff, complemented by the thunderous roar of the two Trent 1000 engines and the Dreamliner’s noticeable wingflex.

Main Service

SQ_ - 22

After climbing through a stunning sunset, our crew began prepping the cabin for service. Warm towels were distributed as Charles jokingly observed that he’d better rush so that passengers don’t fall asleep before serving dinner.

The first components of the main service arrived: A small plate with two types of cheese and Jaramillo compote, accompanied with greens salad and olive oil vinaigrette. Our choice of a Dried Tomato Cream Soup was the main component. The quality of the cheese plate was indisputable, pairing greatly with the sweet compote. The greens salad, fresh and abundant, worked perfectly before tasting the flavorful soup.

As the main service continued, it took the crew over thirty minutes to clear our empty plates, and an additional fifteen to bring the main course (entrée). It seemed as if they were rushing, though our impression was that it was slightly disorganized.

SQ_ - 26

A round piece of beef, slightly overdone, arrived to our table. A side of overcooked veggies (asparagus and beans) unsuccessfully tried to pair with the dried beef, making it a somewhat disappointing dish. The meat was tough and dry, and the veggies overly cooked, gaining a gooey texture, which was quite unpleasant.

SQ_ - 27

As soon as the tray was cleared, our “Italian Cheesecake” quickly made its way to our table, lying on top of succulent fruit marmalade. I often do not care much for dessert, but I must say this was quite exceptional. We ordered a glass of Chilean dessert wine, though unfortunately wasn’t boarded either.

After main service ended, we were handed a Breakfast Menu, which had to be filled up before going to sleep. Before collecting them, Charles came by our seats, kindly handed our covers and pillows, and wished us a good night’s sleep.

Overnight on the Dreamliner

The full-flat bed configuration on the Boeing 787-9 is what the combined LAN and TAM carrier will offer once the merger is complete. The seat, albeit slightly narrow for long-haul flights, is very comfortable for resting and enjoying the airline’s excellent in-flight entertainment (IFE). The only flaw we were able to find, however, was that the bed’s length could be bothersome to tall passengers. At 5’10” (1.82m), my feet touched the wall of the seat when trying to sleep at full length. However, the comfort provided by the excellent pillow and cover, plus the low altitude cabin of the Boeing 787-9 allows for excellent resting.

Six hours after falling asleep, we were kindly awakened by Charles, who had our breakfast tray ready to be served. With 70 minutes left of flying time, we enjoyed a great pre-ordered breakfast of Special K Cereal with milk, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and sautéed mushrooms. Butter and Apricot jam, as well as a choice of warm bread and a hot cup of coffee with milk were also served.

Breakfast was light, refreshing, and just what was needed after a nine-hour flight on the same time zone. Thanks to the fact that Santiago is just one hour ahead of New York, jetlag was not something to worry about.

As we approached foggy Santiago, the Captain announced we’d be landing ten minutes ahead of schedule. At this time of the year (July), winter reins the southern hemisphere, with sunshine coming up as late as 08:30 and sunset at 18:40. As a result, we touched down in a pitch dark SCL with a cold temperature of 32 degrees (0°C).

A conclusion to a great flight

LAN’s newest Dreamliner proved to be more than a comfortable aircraft, capable of transporting its passengers in the utmost comfort, including a superb cabin atmosphere, which helps battle the associated stress of spending many hours inside a pressurized cabin.

This South American airline not only delivers a world-class product with its polite and punctual crewmembers on board the industry’s best airliners (soon to be improved with the arrival of the Airbus A350), but also continues to grow to become a leading carrier, which will practically own a majority stake of Latin America’s commercial aviation market share.

On this flight from JFK to SCL, all crew performed impeccably. A few flaws in service and small attention to detail could be the two imperfections we could notice; however, for an airline that is in constant growth in a region where countries are facing economic and social crises, LAN does exceed the expectations and nothing remains ahead but a successful future.


t_8_epawnEnrique Perrella is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of Airways Magazine. An Aviation Enthusiast, Commercial Pilot, Writer and Traveler with a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Aviation Business Administration. Enrique joined Airways in March 2014 as his group took over the reigns of the publication after 20 years under the tenure of John Wegg, founder and former Editor in Chief. Contact him at enrique@airwaysmag.com.


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!

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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ANALYSIS: Virgin America Enters the Hawaiian Vortex – Part 2

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 20, 2015

Virgin America will be facing a ton of competition to Hawaii, and because it doesn’t have a huge connecting complex at San Francisco, it cannot count on demand from across the United States to fill its flights. As I mentioned in Part 1, the passenger mix on Hawaii routes is primarily leisure, and that will be an asset to Hawaiian as it attempts to find its way in the market.

Virgin America’s product is a larger relative advantage

Virgin America has an unquestionably excellent on board product and a reasonably competitive cost base (at least relative to the legacies and Southwest), but on most domestic routes out of San Francisco and LA, these advantages mean little as much of the highest yielding traffic (business travelers) is locked away from them, leaving Virgin to compete for domestic traffic with JetBlue and the ULCCs to fill a significant portion of its planes. Hawaii is less constrained in this manner.

Because most travelers between the mainland and Hawaii are vacationers looking for the cheapest or most convenient flight, Virgin America’s strong product is a bigger competitive advantage. In this market customers consider fewer non-service variables in their purchase decision than in others, and that will be to Virgin America’s advantage. And the gap will be most pronounced in the premium cabin. While Virgin’s First Class seats are woefully uncompetitive on the transcontinental routes between New York and Los Angeles / San Francisco, they are undoubtedly competitive with most legacy carrier flights from the West Coast to Hawaii (the East Coast and Chicago/Dallas flights tend to have flat beds), which have standard First Class cabins. And because these are long flights (blocked at 5 hours +), Virgin should have a decent shot at filling its First Class cabin with relatively strong yields. And in the back, there’s more than enough demand to go around for everyone in the market, especially in a growing region like the Bay Area.

Virgin has limited scope for expansion

Despite a decent shot at making things work in Hawaii, Virgin doesn’t have a lot of avenues for expansion in the Hawaiian market. Lihue and Kona won’t work from San Francisco without connecting volume (which Virgin can’t yet build), though seasonal less-than-daily flights to each destination might *eventually* be on the cards (though its unclear if the expense of opening and operating the station would be worth it given the number of flights). Honolulu could handle another daily flight once Virgin establishes itself, and Kahului could maybe take another 3-4 weekly frequencies in the peak season. LA is simply too competitive, and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future until something substantial changes (United drawing down its “hub?”). So at peak, Virgin might end up with something like 20-30 weekly flights to Hawaii; not inconsequential but a pretty small presence nonetheless.

Southwest and Hawaiian’s narrow-body gambit are the next major shifts in the market

Virgin America’s entrance into the Hawaiian market broke a long period of relative stasis in the Hawaiian market, which has been pretty stable since Alaska’s major buildup in 2007-2011. Alaska’s success on p2p routes has signaled to competitors that there are profits to be found in bypassing LA and San Francisco on Hawaiian flights. And as domestic behemoth Southwest Airlines begins to stretch its overwater and international legs, cutting in on Alaska’s territory between Hawaii and the West Coast seems a natural extension of strategy. Alaska currently flies to Hawaii from Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle. Southwest is stronger than Alaska in Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose. And it has hubs at Phoenix, Las Vegas, and even Denver that would be natural bases for a Hawaiian gateway with more of a connections orientation. The major question for Southwest is aircraft. The four California cities (and LA) can be served with the 737-700s or 737-800s in Southwest’s fleet, but Phoenix, Vegas, and Denver would likely require the more capable 737 MAX 8 for range and performance reasons. And those three would be optimal cities to launch service from given Southwest’s local strength.

If Southwest dallies too long from entering the latter markets (or Hawaii entirely), Hawaiian Airlines is sure to swoop in and steal some of Southwest’s thunder using its yet to be delivered sub-fleet of Airbus A321neos. Hawaiian has 16 of the re-engined A321s on order (and 9 purchase options) and with an effective range of more than 3,200 nautical miles; Hawaiian can be expected to expand p2p operations and secondary destinations from Honolulu. Salt Lake City, Denver, and Phoenix are absolute no-brainers, as are secondary California cities from Kahului. With 3-4 more years of economic and population growth, Boise, Albuquerque, and even Tucson could make some sense on a less than daily basis, not to mention Canadian destinations like Vancouver, Calgary, or Edmonton. A more unrealistic, though technically feasible potential market for Hawaiian is Texas, particularly Dallas Fort Worth and Austin, which are both accessible with a weight penalty. Austin in particular is an affluent and fast growing technological hub with no nonstop access to Hawaii. Dallas has competition from American but is a large market in its own right with a huge population base to draw from. If Southwest dallies too long before entering Hawaii, it could conceivably have to deal with nonstop service from Hawaiian in its own backyard. But Southwest will unquestionably enter the market

Once Southwest enters the fray, the only US carriers not in the Mainland-Hawaii market will be JetBlue, the ULCCs (Allegiant will probably leave the market soon enough), and Sun Country (for as long as it survives). JetBlue could probably find some success flying to Hawaii from Long Beach since the Mexico beach markets work from the secondary LA airports, and there’s no reason to think that the Hawaiian market would be radically different. But JetBlue’s priorities are on the East Coast growing Boston and Fort Lauderdale right now, and it is still probably at least 4-5 years away from thinking seriously about Hawaii (it could very well fly trans-Atlantic from Boston before doing so). Hawaii is too competitive and reasonably priced of a market to be attractive for the ULCCs, who can still worm their way into hundreds of monopoly markets in the continental US. Regardless, even though Virgin is a new entrant to Hawaii, it’s twice daily flights from San Francisco are merely the calm before the storm (Southwest and Hawaiian network shift).


VinayVinay Bhaskara covers finance, operations and regulatory matters surrounding the U.S. and international airline industry. Bhaskara has been quoted in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and South China Morning Post, The LA Times, and his work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider and Skift. You can contact him at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com.


Editor’s note: Our 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!

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com


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ANALYSIS: Virgin America Enters the Hawaiian Vortex – Part 1

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 13, 2015

Virgin America announced that it would be entering the Hawaiian market earlier this year, and the entrance of the aggressive boutique carrier into the competitive market between the West Coast and major Hawaiian destinations further shifts the balance of a market once dominated by trunk carriers flying widebody aircraft.

Virgin America will fly daily roundtrip flights from its home base at San Francisco to Honolulu and Kahului, Maui beginning this winter, and will become the seventh airline in the mainland-Hawaii market after American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Allegiant Air. Virgin America will instantly have  a larger footprint than Allegiant Air, and will become the first airline to fly the Airbus A320 to Hawaii (American Airlines is set to fly its larger cousin, the Airbus A321, twice daily between Honolulu and Los Angeles this winter).

The move marks an attempt by Virgin America to capture passengers by applying its well-regarded leisure product in a market that is overwhelmingly powered by tourist traffic. At the very least, Virgin America should be credited with self-awareness; it has realized that its brand equity amongst younger, “hipper” consumers is mostly applicable to leisure travel. When it comes time to take that five-day business trip, even to cities that Virgin America serves like Chicago O’Hare or Austin, it can’t hold a candle to the legacies, Southwest, or even JetBlue.

Virgin America simply can’t offer the requisite frequency and network connectivity to compete for business travel in most of these markets, and rather than attempt to do so, it has instead redeployed capacity to markets where its product matches the consumer mix. And along with fuel prices, this strategic shift has helped pave the path to a decent standard of profitability. Between Virgin America’s network adjustment (the Austin – Dallas Love sideshow notwithstanding) and Virgin Atlantic’s Delta tie-up and recent fleet moves, the best descriptor for the tone and mood around Richard Branson affiliated carriers today is sobering, which should be viewed as the surest sign of the coming of the apocalypse.

So Virgin America’s entry into Hawaii makes some sense. But the airline will unquestionably be at a disadvantage relative to established players.

Assessing the Mainland-Hawaii marketplace

To get a better idea of Virgin America’s positioning within the market, we performed an in-depth analysis of the market between the continental United States and Hawaii for the IATA Winter 2015-16 season, the peak period for Hawaii travel. This analysis was conducted using schedule data from the week of December 14-20, 2015. Seat capacity for certain aircraft types is approximate and taken as the blended average of the frames in the airline’s fleet. However, these approximations tended to be small (usually 3-5 seats difference) and as such, the capacity data can be treated as largely accurate

First and foremost, the market is massive, with 904 weekly departures from the mainland to Hawaii, representing weekly capacity of 187,665 seats. This averages out to roughly 130 flights per day and represents annualized one-way capacity of 9.8 million seats. This capacity is spread across 57 distinct nonstop routes between 21 cities in the Continental US and 5 in Hawaii.

The following chart gives a better idea of the scope of Mainland-Hawaii operations.

Mainland to Hawaii Market

As the chart show, the Mainland-Hawaii market is dominated by narrowbodies, mainly the 737-800 and 757-200 with 291 and 218 weekly departures respectively. Still, there are 292 widebody departures per week (367 including the widebody-sized Boeing 767-300), more than half (157) from home carrier Hawaiian Airlines. As expected, Honolulu is the most important Hawaiian hub, with just under half of the weekly departures. Kahului is about half the size of Honolulu, and Lihue/Kona half the size of Kahului (Maui). Hilo is a nonentity.

On the mainland, the most notable factor is the staggering dominance of Los Angeles, which sees nearly more than 40 daily departures to Hawaii on aircraft that are 757 sized or larger. Seattle’s figure is largely driven by the twin competition of Alaska and Delta, and while San Francisco has much more capacity, its frequency is not much higher as it is mostly monopoly markets for United. Still, by weekly frequency and capacity, Virgin is entering into the second most competitive market between the mainland and the US.

Meanwhile, the following chart takes a look at the competitive position of various airlines in the market.

Hawaii Airline Competition

As the chart illustrates, Virgin America is very much still a bit player in the Hawaii marketplace; less than 4% of the size of the largest carrier in the market by capacity (United). As a whole the market is reasonably competitive, with five airlines each holding between 16 and 26% capacity share and two bit players. But within this broader evenness, there are several key differences in the respective airlines. Alaska is largely (outside of Seattle and Portland) flying point to point (p2p) routes to Hawaii from cities up and down the West Coast. American and United are split between two key Hawaii gateways apiece: Los Angeles and Phoenix for the former, Los Angeles and San Francisco for the latter. Delta’s Hawaii operations are concentrated at Los Angeles, and Hawaiian has a primary gateway at Honolulu, a secondary operation at Kahului, and a few p2p flights from Kona and Lihue.

In Part 2 of this analysis, I will assess how Virgin America’s Hawaiian foray will play out and assess other dynamics of the market

Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!

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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Photos: A Boeing 747 Factory Tour & Program Update

Story and Photos By: Chris Sloan / Published July 10, 2015

During Boeing’s Media Days, Airways News had the opportunity to take a tour of the Boeing 747 Factory. The leader of the tour was Bruce Dickinson who is the Vice President and General Manager of the Boeing 747-8 program.

Inside the huge factory, there were three aircraft in production; all three were 747 freighters. Boeing points that the last 10 aircraft completed were the Intercontinental passenger version. At the last position awaiting delivery was the 101st Boeing 747-8 aircraft produced – experience that the company is leveraging to improve production flow and reduce unit cost.

There are six production bays where the Queen of the Skies is assembled, and it takes about 112 flow days for production currently; this is about two-thirds of the time it use to take. When assembly takes place, the fuselages are put together, the wing and body are joined, and the landing gear is installed, before it leaves the assembly line. The 747 remains exponentially Boeing’s most complex aircraft with 6 million parts – twice as many as the 777 runner-up.

EXTRA: A Look At The Remaining 747-8 Orders

Though very few 747-8 orders have come in the last few years, the program received a much needed shot in the arm at the Paris Air Show, when Russian cargo carrier Volga-Dnepr placed an order for 20 freighters. Beginning this September, the 747 Factory will only produce 16 aircraft per year or 1.3 per month. By March 2016, production will slow to one aircraft per month –compared to 8.3 aircraft per month currently for the 777.

After some seating manufacturer delays, Korean Air will get its first of six 747-8i Jumbos in August. Air China still has one left for delivery from its order of ten. In regards to the first Transaero’s four 747-8 Intercontinentals, it has been assembled (CN: 42416 / LN: 1519)

EXTRA: Volga-Dnepr Orders 20 Boeing 747-8F’s at Air Show

Despite the 747-8I offering a reduced weight by 9,000 pounds via optimization design and having its fuel efficiency improved by 3.5% since it first went into operation in 2011, orders for the 747 have been quite slow as airlines have looked towards two engine aircraft to replace larger less-fuel efficient aircraft. As of the end of the end of May, there are fifty-one orders for the passenger carrying 747-8 Intercontinental with thirty-three delivered and eighteen in the backlog. The more popular freighter variant has had seventy-one orders with fifty-seven deliveries and fourteen unfulfilled.

While it does seem that the end of the 747 program may be near, workers are quite happy as Air Force One will likely be assembled here in the future. Plus, workers are excited to boast a 99% dispatch reliability rate.

Also, who would not love to eat in the cafeteria in the 747 Factory called Queen of the Skies Cafe?!

EXTRA: Boeing Celebrates 1,500th 747-8 Delivery as Future Remains Uncertain

EXTRA: Boeing’s 747 Celebrates 1,500th Delivery as Future Remains Uncertain

EXTRA: Boeing Delivers 50th Boeing 747-8

EXTRA: On-Board the Inaugural Boeing 747-8I Flight

PHOTOS: Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental Inaugural

PHOTOS: Lufthansa Reveals Retro Livery on Boeing 747-8I

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Swiss Aims to Impress with New 777 Seats and Cabins

By: John Walton / Published July 9, 2015

Swiss International Air Lines is going all out with its cabins on the Boeing 777-300ER, which it calls “the new Swiss flagship”. Brand new first class suites and a new implementation of the popular Thompson Vantage business class seat are both positives, and although a ten-abreast economy class is a downside, there is at least a state-of-the-art entertainment system and inflight wifi.

First class passengers will experience a suite for the first time on Swiss, and the product looks excellent.

First class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012609I

The suite itself is reminiscent of ANA’s new first class suites, though with a paler and more European sensibility, and speaking the same design language as Swiss’ current offerings.

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Compared with the narrower Airbus A340-300 aircraft the 777-300ER will be replacing, the big Boeing is wider, which means more space for each of the passengers in the first class layout, since it remains at 1-2-1.

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It’s notable that Swiss has retained its first class product, the only one of the three Lufthansa Group boutique carriers (Austrian, Swiss and Brussels Airlines) to do so alongside the Lufthansa brand.

First class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012613I

Swiss promises “a personal at-seat wardrobe, which can be used as an additional privacy divider during rest, electro-mechanical window shades (servicing all three windows of the seat area at the same time),“ and passengers can enjoy a massive 32-inch entertainment screen that Swiss says is the largest in the industry.

Business class consists of 64 Thompson Vantage staggered fully flat beds, which are what Swiss already has on its A330 and A340 fleet, and which are also common to the Lufthansa Group’s three boutique airlines.

Thompson Vantage Business class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012615I

Consistency of product and the clear expectations that consistency can generate help to create a positive passenger experience, and Swiss is very good at consistency.

The newer Vantage seats are more squared and seem taller, featuring a privacy divider on top of each of the footwell / console units.

Thompson Vantage Business class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012614I

Every center section passenger has direct aisle access, though, and the popular “throne” solo seats remain, with the addition of an extra storage unit on the window side console. This is a smart use of previously wasted space.

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Cleverly, the table has been moved from its previous position popping out from the side of the side console to the divider between seats (or between the “throne” seat and the aisle).

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Swiss already operates a high-density version of these seats (1-2-1 and 2-2-1 on alternating rows in its Airbus widebodies). It has maintained this density on the 777-300ER, which will add a seat in every other row for an 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 configuration.

And that’s the downside to the larger cabin width of the 777-300ER in business class: more window passengers will have to climb over an aisle neighbor in order to reach the aisle.

Economy class, in common with sister airline Austrian’s 777 aircraft, is the 3-4-3 high-density layout that is as unpopular with passengers as it is popular with airlines.

Swiss economy class 777-300ER

It is admittedly difficult for an airline’s management to turn down adding 11 percent more seats to the 777’s original nine-abreast seating configuration, but it moves Swiss from an airline of choice in economy to an airline to avoid.

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The rumored Swiss premium economy has not materialized, however, which is a disappointment for passengers who don’t have the means to pay four times the economy fare for a business class seat, but who might well be able to pay the 1.5-2x multiplier for premium economy.

Wifi will be available throughout the aircraft, although Swiss’ CGI mockups don’t include a radome so give no clues as to provider or system.

In terms of timing, Swiss will replace its aging Airbus A340-300 aircraft with the 777-300ER, with the airline stating “from the 2016 summer schedules onwards, the new aircraft will be deployed primarily on services to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Los Angeles. And San Francisco, São Paulo and Tel Aviv will also receive Boeing 777 service several times a week. The first six SWISS Airbus A340s to be withdrawn with the arrival of the new Boeing 777-300ERs will be returned to their lessors. Three further A340s will be replaced by new Boeing 777-300ERs between 2017 and 2018. These aircraft will be transferred to SWISS’s sister carrier Edelweiss.”

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China Orders up to 75 Airbus A330 Aircraft

By: Roberto Leiro / Published July 2, 2015

In a ceremony held yesterday in Paris, China Aviation Supplies Holding Company (CAS) has signed with Airbus a General Terms Agreement (GTA) for 45 A330 family aircraft, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for additional 30 aircraft of the same type.

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The GTA and MoU were signed today in Paris by Fabrice Brégier, Airbus President and CEO and Li Hai, President and CEO of CAS, (Photo Credits: Airbus)

“The package order is a new vote of confidence in our A330 Family aircraft, which is already the most popular wide-body aircraft in China,” said Fabrice Brégier. “China is today the most important market for aviation in the world, we can be confident that air transport in China will continue to undergo rapid growth. We are honored to contribute to this development.”

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Saudi Arabian Airlines secured an order for 20 A330 regional aircraft. (Photo Credits: Airbus)

Although there were no details on the selected wide-body variants or motorization choices, Reuters assures that Airbus has been pitching to China its A330 Regional, an optimized version to seat up to 400 passengers as a solution to deal with Chinese domestic congestion. Since its launch in February 2014 during the Aviation Expo China, this wide-body variant has not attracted a vast interest from customers until last June, when Saudi Arabian Airlines became its launch customer during the 51st Paris Air Show.

ANALYSIS: Airbus Launches Lower Weight A330 for Regional Operations

A Bright Future Ahead

Despite the recent economy slowdown in China, Airbus assures that the country will be leading passenger air traffic as its growth stills above the world average. According to Airbus Global Market Forecast, there will be a demand for more than 5,300 new commercial passenger aircraft sized over 100 seats and freighters in the 20-year period between 2014 and 2033. As of last May, the Airbus A330 program reached its 1500th order with over 1,100 aircraft delivered to about 110 operators worldwide. Chinese operators count with about the 15% of Airbus A330 world fleet, equivalent to over 150 jetliners.

RELATED: Airbus A330 Program Reaches its 1500th Order

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: The History of the Airbus A330 Program

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Black Swan Event: Interview with Captain Richard de Crespigny—Part 2

By Eric Auxier / Published June 30, 2015

(Editor’s note: Today, Airways Magazine August 2015 issue hits stands worldwide. Inside, don’t miss the amazing interview with Captain Richard De Crespigny, the Qantas A380 pilot who experienced an inflight engine explosion. In Part 1 of our three-part series we learned what the early phases of that emergency were for Captain Crespigny. Following is the introduction to Part 2, as well as a companion video produced by interview author and Airbus Captain Eric Auxier, on behalf of the Airways team.)

“I think the Australian culture contributes greatly to the piloting community. Australians have descended from convicts that were dispatched from England. So there is a bit of convict blood in most Australians. We have a bit of a rascally attitude, and we have a healthy disrespect for authority just by itself. To be respected, you have to be respectable. And leaders need to build respect to be respected. So, Australians will always challenge authority, and have that great rascal attitude. And what that means is that Australians are happy to say Stop.” –Qantas A380 Captain Richard Champion de Crespigny.

Captain de Crespigny flies the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, for Qantas Airways. On November 4, 2010, on Flight QF32 from Singapore to Sydney, he and his crew suffered what is called a “Black Swan event.”

A “black swan” is an event so rare as to be unpredictable, but one that comes with major consequences. For example, 9/11, or the Black Monday financial market meltdown.

The lessons of QF32 apply to anyone who is working in a high-risk environment that needs leadership and teamwork to survive. Actually, everyone who works in a place where failure is not an option.

In an amazing demonstration of airmanship, CRM and determination, Captain de Crespigny and crew saved the ship and its passengers, who all walked safely away, with not a single injury.

Best-selling author of the award-winning book, QF32, Captain de Crespigny is now a worldwide sought-after speaker.

This is the second part of his story.

About the author:

Eric Auxier is an A320 Captain for a major U.S. airline with over 21,000 hours of flying in a career spanning 35 years. He has flown the A320-class Airbus (A321-A319) for the past 20 years, and has over 14,000 hours in type. He is also type rated in the Boeing 737 and DHC-8. His flying career has taken him from the Alaska bush to the Caribbean Islands and everywhere in between. A popular aviation blogger at “Adventures of Cap’n Aux” and author of four books, in 2013 he captured the coveted Amazon Top 100 Breakthrough Novels Award for “The Last Bush Pilots.”

Editor‘s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!

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Inflight Connectivity Delays on the Horizon as Falcon 9 Fails to Soar

By: John Walton / Published June 29, 2015

At first glance, the failure of an automated resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) might not be immediately relevant to better inflight wifi for your travels.

Yet, much as with the late May failure of a Khrunichev-International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket from the Russian cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Sunday’s failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida will have a knock-on effect on future launches — and those include several key satellites to boost speeds, bandwidth and coverage in the US and worldwide.

RELATED: Faster inflight Internet Delayed Due to Russia Launch Failure

“There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk stated soon after the explosion, although he did note that the “data suggests [a] counter-intuitive cause.” The actual cause is still under investigation.

Let’s be clear: the failure of any launch system (even if unmanned) is regrettable, and AirwaysNews’ sympathy is certainly with the SpaceX team currently working to determine the cause.

Yet the impacts remain. Until the issue can be identified, the timing of future launches of the SpaceX program is in doubt, and with the Proton launch system already under a cloud that leaves the European ten-nation Arianespace alone as the major international satellite launch provider.

The failure at this stage of the Falcon program is especially significant given that the larger Falcon Heavy system is (or perhaps was) due to be launched with a mission containing the ViaSat-2 satellite in a “late summer 2016 launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida”. ViaSat provides the fastest currently available inflight Internet to jetBlue’s A320 family aircraft and United’s Boeing 737 jets.

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ViaSat-2 and its Ka-band beams will offer 2.5 times the capacity of the already-speedy ViaSat-1, and has evolved past the current generation of spot-beam technology. ViaSat-2 is a key part of the Ka-band constellation for the near future, offering redundancy for the continental US market, extending coverage over the US, Canada, north Atlantic routes as far as Ireland and the western UK, the Caribbean, and much of northern Latin America.

SpaceX is also key to the ambitions of ViaSat partner Eutelsat, which intends to “serve Latin American customers in the video, telecommunications and government sectors” with its 117 West B satellite, which also includes Ku-band provision for the region plus redundancy and additional coverage for a significant part of North America.

ABS will also be affected, particularly with its ABS-2A Ku-band satellite that “will serve India,
South East Asia, Russia, Sub-Sahara Africa, and GCC/Afghanistan region.”

Moreover, the recent series of launch failures across providers after a string of successes mean losses of satellites, which must be rebuilt, and a likely increase in insurance costs for launches as well. Demand for inflight connectivity is higher than ever, yet providing the satellites that meet that demand continues to be difficult.

“Space is hard,” noted ISS commander Scott Kelly after the SpaceX incident, with former commander Chris Hadfield adding that there are “serious ramifications for Space Station resupply. Good thing it’s international”. With more options available for ISS resupply than currently provisioning satellite launches, the impact may be felt more strongly a few hundred miles closer to home aboard the flight this year or next that you were hoping might have connectivity on board.

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Virgin Atlantic Goes For Gold In Economy and With Dreamliners

By Ramsey Qubein / Published June 30, 2015

Virgin Atlantic has built a reputation for a re-imagined, surely sexy, flying experience. Nevertheless, much of its marketing relies on its premium business class product. And, what with its inflight bar, flat-bed seating, pajamas on overnight flights, attractive uniforms, and an image that hinges on its fly boy founder Richard Branson, it is certainly well deserved.

However, the majority of the airline’s passengers do not enjoy many of those features, although there is no doubt their interest in choosing Virgin can be traced to this dependable, hip image. What is unique, however, is the lengths that the carrier is going to improve its economy class cabin.

New to Virgin Atlantic is its intense joint venture partnership with Delta Air Lines across the Atlantic which gives the airline shared access to the U.S. carrier’s revenue opportunity and route network. Cross fleeting was quick to follow the announcement with Delta taking over routes from Virgin Atlantic on flights from LAX and Philadelphia. Virgin has reciprocated with its operation of flights from Atlanta and Detroit.

RELATED: Virgin Atlantic Welcomes the 787-9 in Atlanta

RELATED: With Delta, Is Virgin Atlantic Getting its Mojo Back?

We have seen both United and Delta proudly announce investments in their economy class meals on international flights. Delta has even reintroduced amenity kits, and all three legacy U.S. carriers have reverted to offering free wine and beer in economy class to stay in line with their respective joint venture partners. Coinciding with the launch of the carrier’s new fleet of Dreamliners, Virgin Atlantic has undertaken a revamp of its inflight offering in the economy cabin. The change is timely given the joint venture with Delta.

RELATED: Maturity and Growth in the Delta-Virgin Atlantic Partnership

With the Dreamliner, Virgin Atlantic is already seeing many of its customers specifically book their travel on flights operated by the new aircraft. Airways joined the airline for the launch of its JFK Dreamliner flight. Numerous passengers planned their travel to fly on the 787 instead of the numerous 747-400 flights also operating that day.

Back-of-the-bus catering gets an upgrade

Stock pictures of Virgin Atlantic 787-9 aircraft Birthday Girl.Virgin is going one step further to put the fun back into flying for economy passengers. This revamp is not only for passengers on board the airline’s new Dreamliner, but also all passengers in its economy cabin. The joint venture with Delta is sure to have played a role in the harmonizing of products between the two carriers, and passengers are the immediate beneficiaries of small, but notable upgrades on board.

Upon boarding, all passengers (like on partner Delta and competitor Swiss International) receive a full-sized bottle of water. “Following extensive surveys of passengers, it became clear that flyers wanted more control about staying hydrated at their own pace,” says Head of Customer Experience Debbie Hulme.

Complimentary cocktails, beer and wine are now offered in a pre-lunch or dinner cocktail service, and again during and after the meal service. In a more customer friendly move (thanks to those passenger surveys), the airline is switching from pouring glasses of wine or mixing cocktails on the cart to offering splits of wine and minis of cocktails to passengers. New features of the economy class dining service include hot towels prior to the meal and a cheese and cracker course served as part of the main tray service.

“The simple and inexpensive act of offering a hot towel before a meal in economy class goes a long way in making passengers feel special and cared for,” says Chris McGinnis, founder of TravelSkills.com. “I’m surprised more airlines don’t do this.”

After-dinner chocolates will accompany the coffee and tea service following dinner. Pre-arrival meals on daytime flights will include a new selection of gourmet wraps. These little extras are part of what add to the Virgin experience.

Premium Economy gets a boost too. The Dreamliner aircraft are the first to be equipped with the new Wonder Wall concept featuring a small refrigerator and full buffet of snacks and drinks. It is located in the front cabin and is designed as a compact social space, similar to the concept of the Upper Class Bar (albeit with a bartender) for guests to commune or snack at their leisure.

Bring your selfie stick

To take advantage of the selfie craze, Virgin is launching a new campaign dubbed the ultimate #SkyhighSelfie on its new Dreamliner 787 aircraft, offering customers the opportunity to check in on Facebook and share their photos from 35,000 feet.

Developed in conjunction with Jiffybots, its app will allow customers to check in free of charge on Facebook and share their location and photos with their friends and followers during the flight via the aircraft’s Wi-Fi connection.

Designated #SkyhighSelfie spots in the cabin will offer passengers the chance to take the perfect selfie onboard and share their experience. Each of the airline’s Dreamliners will have a unique backdrop with the aircraft’s name so that passengers can “collect” various aircraft selfies. Virgin has 21 of the aircraft on order with routes to Boston, Newark, New York JFK, and Washington Dulles already featuring the new plane.

The first selfie spot went live on Birthday Girl April 1 allowing customers to take their picture with the iconic Virgin Atlantic Flying Lady carrying her celebratory champagne coupe. Also, a discussion forum will allow travelers to connect to other passengers on board and share their experiences. Both access to the discussion forum and selfie upload will be accessible via the wifi signal.

 

Surprise and delight

In an effort to move beyond the staid experience, the airline has also launched several surprise and delight events including one over Christmas that certainly had passengers talking. Travelers aboard flight 11 from London to Boston were treated to a special visit and gift from Santa Claus himself as the plane flew over the Arctic.

“We wanted to offer something extra special for the families flying with us this Christmas and who better to spread the Christmas cheer than Santa himself?,” says Hulme.

Santa dropped into the aircraft while passing by during one of his “reindeer training flights.” The experience began at boarding when all 264 customers were gifted an early Christmas present from Microsoft of a Windows tablet so they could log on to NORAD Track Santa and enjoy a live chat as he took his sleigh for a spin over the Atlantic

“Passengers tracked his movements from their Windows tablets and were able to live chat with him before sharing their Santa selfies using the on board Wi-Fi,” Hulme adds.

When the aircraft was over Greenland, Santa radioed the Virgin Atlantic pilots flying the aircraft asking permission to land on the plane for some refreshments and to give his reindeers a rest.

Passengers were then amazed to watch the sleigh land on the aircraft through glass panels in the roof before he accessed the plane through a special Santa hatch.

Santa then walked down the aisles of the plane, delighting children and taking selfies with surprised passengers.

Christmas continued for those on the plane with Microsoft prizes of Xboxes and Windows devices from Dell, Lenovo & Microsoft being won in competitions during the flight.

This type of creativity is reserved typically for premium cabin customers, and to see an airline exhibit such an effort for economy shows creative push that moves in the right direction for the industry as a whole. Certainly, other carriers will be hard pressed to match such an offer, but to see Virgin kick start a movement in the “back of the bus” is a refreshing start in the aviation industry.

“It will be interesting to see if Virgin can recreate part of the allure it has brought to the front of the plane in Upper Class,” adds McGinnis. “Virgin has a tremendously strong brand, and the investments that some airlines are making in economy these days are definitely a step in the right direction.”

Editor’s Note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Subscribe today!

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Qatar Airways Fleet Display Dominates Paris Air Show

By John Walton / Published June 24, 2015

Qatar Airways is returning home to Doha with many of the stories of the Paris Air Show under its belt. After enjoying being one of Boeing’s showpiece orders for the 777F and the 777-8, Qatar’s whopping five aircraft on static display — more than all other airlines combined — made a key political point to the aviation industry and Western governments.

Qatar is here to stay, it has an enviable onboard product, and it isn’t afraid to ground a veritable fleet of aircraft for a week to make its point, say the Airbus A380, Boeing 787, Airbus A350, all-business class Airbus A319, and mid-haul Airbus A320 aircraft at Le Bourget.

These weren’t pre-delivery aircraft that were still the responsibility of the airframer, in the way that Boeing brought a China Airlines 777-300ER so new that anyone going on board had to don protective booties, parts of all three cabins were roped off, and nobody was allowed to sit on the seats.

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No, these were actual flying Qatar Airways aircraft that had been taken out of service for the best part of a week to allow industry execs, partners, professionals and of course the world’s assembled media to crawl all over them from nose (flight deck doors were open) to tail (so were the crew rests, and so busy that a decent picture was impossible).

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Photographs galore and welcomed by smiling helpful flight attendants arranging immaculately plumped pillows and luxury washbags on the very latest seats — it was like dying and going to air show heaven.

Qatar Airways’ A380 shows remarkable interior restraint

The pride of the fleet is Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380, with its remarkably understated and elegant first class cabin.

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The signature Qatar rose gold blends relatively unobtrusively with the deep burgundies and warm woods, and the decision to go for an open first class cabin rather than a closed suites-based environment is a refreshing change.

Qatar Airways Airbus A380 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8786

Business class is Qatar’s widebody standard, a very respectable implementation of the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond outward-facing herringbone, where centre seats point together and window seats point towards the window.

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If anything, business feels more private than first class, given that you’re pointing away from the aisle.

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Qatar’s A380 economy, too, is impressive — just 31 inches of pitch, but in a spacious 2-4-2 minicabin upstairs and the standard 3-4-3 throughout the lower deck.

Qatar Airways Airbus A380 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8801

The all-new A350 is spectacular

On the A350, business class is the front cabin, and you’re welcomed with an eyecatching rose gold dome at the doors.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8959

The seat is the same as the A380, although the significantly wider A350 cabin and a large break in the middle of the business class section for the door and open entryway gives it an even more spacious feeling.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8958

However, the unbroken length of the cabin also has a downside: with the increasingly quiet cabin of the A350, will there be too little noise to mask a couple of chatty passengers and a few snorers?

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Oddly enough, the most impressive part of the A350’s construction for this journalist is the overhead bin structure, which is the same in business and economy.

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The sharp sweep of the bins’ curve hides roomy storage areas while making the cabin immensely more open and airy.

Speaking of airy: a newly built widebody aircraft with individual air nozzles is remarkable enough to mention. More airlines need to choose this option when outfitting their newest aircraft.

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The A350’s economy seats are pleasantly wide, with an articulating seat pan that tilts passengers into a more relaxed position.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9523

The generous recline, however, means that when the passenger in front pushes back, they are so close that you feel like you should be giving them a neck rub. (Please don’t unless they are in your travelling group.)

One final niggle: the adjustable headrests on the A350 don’t go high enough to clear this 6’3” journalist’s shoulders.

Qatar’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner is tight in economy

Qatar’s 787-8 feels, appropriately enough, a little smaller than the A350. Business is the top offering here too, and the seats are the same B/E Super Diamond outward-facing herringbones.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8895

Economy, though, is not a great experience. Qatar opted for a nine-abreast 3-3-3 seating, but chose standard width aisles rather than the cut-down version other airlines use in this configuration. The aisle is noticeably wider than on other similarly laid out 787s.

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The tradeoff with choosing the wider aisle — like the problem with the old Northwest A320 family aircraft — is that seat width has to be reduced to accommodate it. Qatar’s 787 seats are the narrowest this journalist has ever experienced, and it’s really quite noticeable for a frequent traveller.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8884

Swish all-business A319 is a great ride

No such problems on the all-business class Airbus A319 narrowbody, which holds forty passengers in leather-clad exclusivity on premium routes or charters.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A319 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8938

Interestingly, the seats are less spacious in the all-biz A319 than in regular business class on larger aircraft, with a 2-2 layout of B/E Diamond fully flat beds that lack the direct aisle access for all passengers of the Super Diamond seen on the widebodies.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A319 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8942

The kicker, though, is travelling with just thirty-nine other people. Time the arrivals right and you just breeze through the airport without a full aircraft of people behind you.

Even Qatar’s A320s are pleasant inside

Qatar also brought one of its mid-haul A320 aircraft to Le Bourget, which is outfitted with the same seats as the A319, but just twelve of them, and in a cloth moquette rather than leather.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A320 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8925

Economy is a very standard 31” in pitch, but that’s towards the higher end of standard these days, and these birds do have full inflight entertainment.

Interestingly, Qatar refitted this mid-haul aircraft with sharklet wingtips after it was delivered. The benefits of sharklets are greatest for longer flights, where the aerodynamic improvements offset the extra weight more efficiently.

Qatar Airways Airbus A320 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9247

 

Paris Air Show Stories:

A “Quiet” Paris Air Show: Great for Attendees and Observers

Paris Air Show 2015 (Day 0): Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Debuts at Le Bourget

Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Paris Air Show 2015: SWISS Confirms CS-300 Order

Paris Air Show 2015: Honeywell Radar Improves Airport, Aircraft Efficiency

Paris Air Show: ATR Pushes High-density, High-efficiency Turboprops

Paris Air Show: Indonesia Takes Action on Aviation Safety Concerns

Paris Air Show: Boeing’s Little Orders Are Big Wins

Paris Air Show: Ethiopian Takes `Terrible Teens’ 787s from Boeing

Paris Air Show: Volga-Dnepr Places Major Boeing 747-8F Order

Paris Air Show: Leasing Companies Order Big at Airbus

Paris Air Show: Airlines Go Shopping in the Airbus Catalog

Paris Air Show: 2015 a Slow Year for Orders

Editor’s note: Our 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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Airbus’ A400M Airlifter Rises Again at Paris Air Show

By John Walton from Paris / Published June 22, 2015

Airbus’ troubled A400M airlifter, the proposed replacement for a generation of Hercules type military logistics and transport aircraft, made a triumphant return to the world’s skies last week at the Paris Air show, following a deadly crash in May. Airbus-owned MSN006 performed an impressive flying display at Le Bourget last week, and a French Armée de l’Air aircraft on static display was the subject of much interest.

AirwaysNews captured a timelapse of the five-plus minute aerobatic demonstration, both during the week…

…and on Friday, the first public day of the air show.

The Grizzly (or, as it’s now officially called, Atlas) shook a defiant paw at its critics, with the ill-starred program showing that it’s not counted out yet. The latest strike against the A400M was the crash of MSN023 on May 9th this year on a test flight killing four Airbus crew on board and seriously injuring two others near Seville in Spain, where the aircraft is manufactured.

After the Seville accident, there had been significant concerns about whether the A400M would be cleared for a return to flight in time for Le Bourget, but fortunately — for attendees and for the program — the (air) show went on as preliminary investigations were continuing.

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The Airbus A400M Atlas on static display at Paris Air Show.

“CITAAM [the Commission for Technical Research of Military Aircraft Accidents of Spain’s defence ministry] confirmed that engines 1, 2 and 3 experienced power frozen after lift-off and did not respond to the crew’s attempts to control the power setting in the normal way, whilst engine 4 responded to throttle demands. When the power levers were set to “flight idle” in an attempt to reduce power, the power reduced but then remained at “flight idle” on the three affected engines for the remainder of the flight despite attempts by the crew to regain power,” Airbus said in a statement on 6 June as the final arrangements for the Paris Air Show were being made. However, “preliminary analyses have shown that all other aircraft systems performed normally and did not identify any other abnormalities throughout the flight.”

The A400M is technically a tactical airlifter with a 37-tonne payload, but as the RAF says, it’s a dual role aircraft: “tactical air lift and strategic oversize lift capacity”. The RAF has 22 aircraft on order, Germany 53, France 50, Spain 27, Turkey 10, Belgium 7, Malaysia 4 and Luxembourg 1.

Twelve aircraft have so far been delivered, with France receiving six A400Ms, Germany one, Malaysia one, Turkey two and the UK two. The total order book stands at 174 aircraft.

Images and videos by John Walton

Our Paris Air Show Stories:

A “Quiet” Paris Air Show: Great for Attendees and Observers

Paris Air Show 2015 (Day 0): Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Debuts at Le Bourget

Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Paris Air Show 2015: SWISS Confirms CS-300 Order

Paris Air Show 2015: Honeywell Radar Improves Airport, Aircraft Efficiency

Paris Air Show: ATR Pushes High-density, High-efficiency Turboprops

Paris Air Show: Indonesia Takes Action on Aviation Safety Concerns

Paris Air Show: Boeing’s Little Orders Are Big Wins

Paris Air Show: Ethiopian Takes `Terrible Teens’ 787s from Boeing

Paris Air Show: Volga-Dnepr Places Major Boeing 747-8F Order

Paris Air Show: Leasing Companies Order Big at Airbus

Paris Air Show: Airlines Go Shopping in the Airbus Catalog

Paris Air Show: 2015 a Slow Year for Orders

Editor’s note: Our 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 editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Minding the Gap: Boeing Readies the Transition into the 777X Program with an Enhanced 777-300ER

By: Chris Sloan in Everett and Roberto Leiro / Photos by Chris Sloan unless otherwise noted / Published: June 8, 2015

As Boeing celebrates 20 years since the 777 entered service, the Boeing 777 program has been one of the most successful in the history of the company. During the last ten years, it has been the best-selling widebody with over 1,866 orders, 12,996 aircraft in service —including 25 units sold this year—and almost 1300 deliveries to 68 carriers worldwide.  The company, keen to keep sales and production of this wide-body cash flow at strength,  has made the existing 777 Classic a key sales priority for Boeing Commercial Aircraft.  The transition to the type’s next generation version, the 777X is already underway, but new performance and passenger appeal features and assembly improvements are being adopted for an enhanced version of the current 777-300ER model. Boeing clearly is pushing for a smoother production ramp up than the difficult gestation of the 787 and is adopting some learnings, best practices, and features from that program.

RELATED: Inside Boeing’s Everett 777 Plant

777-X Industry Leader Slide

RELATED: The 777X Launches: Gulf Big Three Break Out Checkbook

Elizabeth Lund, Vice President and General Manager, 777 Program and Everett Site extols the virtues of the Triple 7 program during a Boeing media briefing on June 1, 2015.

Elizabeth Lund, Vice President and General Manager, 777 Program and Everett Site extols the virtues of the Triple 7 program during a Boeing media briefing on June 1, 2015.

According to Elizabeth Lund, Vice President and General Manager 777 Program and Everett Site, the 777X production line is being “de-risked” as the company still refines the current 777-300ER in production, so that “this will be a great bridge aircraft. We continue investing in the current 777, not just waiting on the X,” she commented in a recent press briefing at Boeing Media days. Despite improvements in production and design, many in the industry are skeptical that Boeing’s campaigns will allow the current 777 to retain its current rate before the ‘X’ arrives. Airbus has already reduced its production rate for the current A330 in advance of the neo. The 777-X isn’t due to enter production until 2017, with a first flight scheduled in 2018 and EIS in 2020.

Lund assures that the 777 aircraft currently in service “flies repeatedly. It does what it says it´s going to do. It’s something we are really proud of.” Furthermore, she asserted that after 20 years in service  “it is not only the best twin aisle in the industry, but also has proven to be a very reliable aircraft with a 99.5% of dispatch reliability”

EXTRA: Boeing Celebrates 20 Years of the 777 Entering Service

Boeing is committed to cut fuel burn reduction by 2%, driven by an increase in seat count to 10 – 14 seats.  This could translate into obtaining an aggregate savings of 5% per seat fuel burn. In order to achieve these goals, Doug Ackerman, 777 Airplane Level Integration Team Chief Engineer disclosed some of the improvements to be applied in the current 777 all of which by the 3rd quarter of next year include:

-       Weight improvements

-       Removal of the tail skid

-       Elevator trim bias

-       Divergent trailing edge

-      Engine improvements on the GE90 power plants resulting in a .5% improvement in fuel burn.

-       L2 boarding door featuring 787 enhanced “arch-entryway” design

-       Reduced cabin noise

-       Business-jet like motorized window shades as in the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental and Airbus A350

-       New lighter weight galleys made out of composites to take weight out of the airplane

-       Space-saving lavatories

-       Straight aft tracks to add more seats

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Boeing is also planning to apply some of the lessons learn during the initial EIS of the 787 Dreamliner.  “We are pulling 777X production benefits earlier into current 777 to work the bugs out early, de-risking the program.” Lessons learned from 787 program where we institute new technology but not new production techniques” said Lund.

Although there were initial concerns on how the re-engineered version of the triple 7 would cannibalize the existing logbook of the current production models, Lund dismissed these fears. “The 777-300ER is an excellent bridge airplane. The enhanced ER version before the 777X featuring better fuel burn and an improved passenger cabin makes the version a valuable airplane during the bridge. We believe that this is a great competitor to the (Airbus) A350-1000.” Boeing confirms these bridge features were key to reaching a deal with United Airlines for ten 777-300ERs.

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Slide courtesy: Boeing

ANALYSIS: United Fleet Philosophy Shifts With Recent Fleet Changes

A Futuristic Production Line

777 Factory Aerial SlideBoeing reports steadily improved production flow. During a tour of the 777 production line, Director of Manufacturing of 777 operations disclosed that production flow has “improved by 2 days this year. Production of the 777 in the factory moving Final Assembly Line takes 46 days, followed by approximately 30 days on the field before delivery”. There are no plans to increase the current rate. This is a marked increase even since the introduction of the 1.6 inch per hour moving production line, back in 2006. Impressively, the entire wing and fuselage join on the U-shaped line now takes just twenty-four hours.

For an aircraft made from 3 million parts, Boeing is relying on a novel production system focused on the optimizing productivity and mobility, plus the integration of the composite wing fabrication and assembly by applying automated automotive-like manufacturing techniques. According to Jason Clark, Boeing 777/777X Vice President of Operations, “These advanced facilities will be in use by the end of the year will benefit both current 777 and 777X production lines.” The new facilities will have an extension of 325,000 sq.ft. to house the new FAUB—Fuselage Assembly Center, taking the 777 programs into a sophisticated 21st century production line. Boeing says it will be building 100% robotic fuselages with the 773 before the 777-X begins production.

The transition between the 777 and 777X will take between two and three years. Lund said that the goal of the company “is to keep at the 8.3/month (approximately 100 jets per year) current production rate during the production changes, and keep it consistent to the 777X.” Boeing can ‘fire blanks’ in to the system, giving the line buffer room as production line moves. “Our goal in the 777X comes over to existing production line around 2020 from a temporary surge line. This is called the 777X LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production Line). The LRIP is currently occupied by the 787 surge line, but this is being vacated in September for the 777X. Ultimately there will still only be a single final 777-X assembly line as the surge line won’t be permanent. Boeing expects a 5 year overlap with the 777 Classic and 777-X, particularly with the 777 Freighter.

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Though the focus of the program was clearly on the 777 Classic, Boeing officials also disclosed a few new features of the 777X including slightly larger windows and extended flight hours and cycles before D checks are required. Later in the week, we will have a look at Boeing’s expansive new Composite Wing Center in Everett.

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Some of this story is adapted from our Boeing 777: 20th Anniversary of Flight story.

Contact the editor at: roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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FLASHBACK: Boeing 777 Celebrates 20 Years of Connecting the World

By Airways News Staff / Published June 5, 2015

Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Darren Booth and his family. Mr. Booth was a Boarding Area blogger, and back when he worked for United, he had the opportunity to fly on the world’s first 777 passenger flight. If you have just a few minutes, we highly recommend you check out his first hand account here

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Photo by jdl multimedia

Sunday marks 20 years since United Airlines became the world’s first airline to introduce the Boeing 777 into commercial service. Since United’s maiden flight, more than 1,200 777s have been delivered to customers worldwide, and roughly fifty airlines have operated some version or another of the 777 since it was debuted in ’95, many of which still fly the type today. Among the largest operators include ANA, American, Emirates, and United.

United was the launch customer for the Boeing 777, placing an order in October of 1990 for 34 aircraft and 34 options. United now operates 74 777-200s and is the -200s largest operator. United just became the 2nd US based carrier to order the Boeing 777-300ER with 10 on order for delivery beginning in 2016. British Airways became the second operator of the type, when the 777 entered service with the UK flag carrier later in 1995. BA was the first to operate the longer-ranged B Model.

The airplane celebrated its 1000th delivery on March 3rd, 2012 when a 777-300ER was turned over to Dubai-based Emirates airlines, and just last year, Boeing delivered its 500th 777-300ER.

First delivery of the Boeing 777 to United in 1995 as 777 flies by in the background.  Image courtesy: Boeing

First delivery of the Boeing 777 to United in 1995 as the fist 777 flies by in the background.
Image courtesy: Boeing

It’s safe to say that the 777 has carried more than a billion people from point A to point B, and 24/7/365, the aircraft plays a significant role in helping connect the world by getting people to their destinations whether it be for a family vacation or a wedding or a business meeting.

To mark the occasion this week, Boeing invited current and former people involved with the aircraft to a celebration in Everett, even going so far as to create a “pop up museum” detailing the Triple Seven’s history.

EXTRA: Boeing 777: 20th Anniversary of Flight

The First Commercial Flight

On June 7, 1995, United Airlines flew its inaugural Boeing 777 flight from Denver to Chicago O’Hare. United flight 910 made history over the U.S. as it flew approximately 292 people between the two big U.S. cities. London Heathrow to Washington Dulles had the honors to receive the first international flight. The delivery took place less then 3 weeks before on  May 15, 1995. 

In a press release from 1995, Gerald Greenwald, chairman and chief executive officer, said, “On behalf of our 76,000 employees, our 74 million customers, our travel agents and our associates at Boeing and Pratt & Whitney and their suppliers, United Airlines is tremendously excited about introducing the Boeing 777 into the world’s first revenue service. This aircraft represents the best combination of comfort and technology ever offered to commercial aviation passengers. We are more than confident that the traveling public will quickly come to appreciate the numerous features incorporated into this magnificent aircraft that will make flying a greater joy than ever before.”

Slide courtesy: Boeing

Slide courtesy: Boeing

At the time of the maiden flight, the aircraft was truly state-of-the-art. Customers on United’s 777s now had access to up to six channels of video feature films and short subjects as well as 19 channels of CD-quality audio (120 minutes per channel) in English as well as multiple languages.

According to an early brochure, “The aircraft will also equipped with a fully integrated digital telephone system that provided global telecommunications capability for voice, fax and data. Passengers will be able to keep in touch from anywhere in the world whether they are flying over land or water.”

Other 777 Variants

Three major subtypes of the original -200 have since been manufactured. The 777-200ER was released in 1997, followed by the 777-200 Long Range in 2006. The LR version was particularly impressive, capable of flying up to 9,380 nautical miles nonstop. A freight version hit the market in 2006, though orders have been few.

The -200 has since been largely replaced, however, by the larger -300 derivative. The first 777-300 was unveiled in Seattle in 1998. Designed to replace classic 747s, the airplane was given an impressive 6,015 nautical mile range and capacity for over 500 passengers. It was stretched thirty-three feet beyond the -200, making it the longest aircraft of its time. Cathay Pacific took the first, and continues to operate one of the largest -300 classic fleets in the world, recently taking its 50th 777.

777′s Safety Record

Over the lat 20 years, the 777 has enjoyed a stellar safety record. Only five of the more than 1,200 aircraft produced have suffered verified hull losses. The first came in 2008, almost thirteens years into service,when a British Airways -200 jet crashed short of the runway in London. The accident was blamed on ice crystals clogging part of the fuel system. The second occurred in 2011, when an EgyptAir 777-200 flight deck caught fire at the gate in Cairo due to an electrical fault, and the aircraft was latter written off. Neither incident resulted in any fatalities.

Photo courtesy NTSB

The only verified fatalities came from Asiana Airlines flight 214, which crash landed in San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. Three died when the airplane sank too fast in its approach, hit a perimeter seawall, lost its tail, and skidded violently down the runway before coming to a stop.

Of course the big elephant in the room is the presumed loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. The -200 jet left Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, on March 9th, 2014. It disappeared from civilian radar only one hour into the flight and appears to have inexplicably tacked west, and then south, according to military radar and satellite data information. Though no trace of the plane has been found, it is believed to be located in the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia. Once confirmed, it will be the second official fatal incident for the airplane, with 239 lost.

Just a few months after Malaysia flight 370 disappeared, Malaysia flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine while flying to Kuala Lumpur, after departing Amsterdam, on July 17, 2014. All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board were killed; the Russian government blames Ukraine while Ukranians blame the Russians. The Dutch Safety Board is currently leading the investigation, and it is expected that they will release their final accident report sometime this Fall.

777 Moving Onwards and Upwards

When most airplanes celebrate their twentieth anniversary, talk begins to orient more towards retirement than renewal. Indeed Boeing’s own 757 program wrapped up production in just over twenty years. The Airbus A340, and DC-10 were produced for eighteen years, and the MD-11 for only twelve.

CGI image courtesy of Boeing.

Yet the 777 is set to live on. The possibility of a rebuilt, next generation 777X first popped up in 2011. The new base model, the -9X, will stretch the fuselage to over 250 feet, seven feet beyond the current -300ER. The wingspan will increase nearly twenty feet, necessitating folding wingtips. It is expected to have a range of 8,200 nautical miles (NM) and a seating capacity of 400 passengers. A shorter -8X will be able to fly 350 passengers up to 9,300NM.

Lufthansa wasted no time, and it ordered 34 -9X airplanes in September, a few months before its intended launch in Dubai. Meanwhile at the 2013 Dubai air show, the Gulf Big Three placed firm orders and options for up to 225 airplanes. Since, ANA and Cathay Pacific have ordered the jet as well.

By the time the airplane is delivered to carriers in 2020, the 777 will have been gracing blue skies around the world for twenty-five years. And thanks to the 777X, we can likely look forward to twenty-five more.

EXTRA: Boeing Launches The 777-X as the Gulf Three Take Out Their Checkbooks.

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Editor’s note: We want you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Why? Every Saturday morning, subscribers receive a summary of our best stories of the week, along with exclusive content. from our massive archives. Subscribe today by clicking here!

Some of this story is adapted from our Boeing 777: 20th Anniversary of Flight story.

Contact the editor at: roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Alaska Announces Two New Routes

By Airways News Staff / Published June 4, 2015

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Photo courtesy of JDL Multimedia

Alaska Airlines will begin flying between Portland and Austin as well as Eugene and San Jose on November 5.

“San Jose and Austin are two of our most requested cities from our customers in the Willamette Valley,” said John Kirby, Alaska’s vice president of capacity planning. “We’re excited to add the Live Music Capital of the World to our growing list of destinations from the Rose City, and our new flight to San Jose is our first-ever nonstop from Eugene to the Bay Area. These routes will also connect key tech markets in three states.”

Summary of Portland-Austin flying

Start Date City Pair Departs Arrives Frequency
Nov.5 Portland-Austin 9:50 a.m. 3:50 p.m. Daily
Nov. 5 Austin-Portland 4:35 p.m. 6:55 p.m. Daily

Summary of Eugene-San Jose flying

Start Date City Pair Departs Arrives Frequency
Nov. 5 Eugene-San Jose 4:20 p.m. 5:50 p.m. Daily
Nov. 5 San Jose-Eugene 5:50 p.m. 7:20 p.m. Daily
All times based on local time zones

The new Portland-Austin flights will be operated with a brand new E175, operated by SkyWest, which will start flying Alaska’s customers later this summer. The new aircraft boast 12 seats in first and 64 in economy. “Year-round nonstop service to Portland is a prized route for Central Texas,” said Jim Smith, Executive Director, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. “Whether for business or fun, the Portland-Austin connection is popular with our customers.”

Alaska currently serves Austin daily from Seattle. The airline has attempted to connect San Jose and Austin in the past, but Southwest proved to be too strong of competition. Although, Alaska will have to go head to head with Southwest on the new route out of Portland, but Southwest only operates the route nonstop seasonally in the summer.

The Eugene-San Jose flight will be operated by Horizon Air with a 76-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft. “Nonstop service to San Jose is a critical piece of the puzzle in supporting the exciting growth of start-ups and technology companies we are experiencing here in the Willamette Valley,” said Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser. “We’re pleased to support this exciting announcement.” Many were surprised with Alaska’s announcement to start flights between Eugene and San Jose.

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With Delta & New 787s, is Virgin Atlantic’s Mojo Back?

By: John Walton / Published June 4, 2015

Editor’s note: This story is part two of three in our Virgin Atlantic series. You can read Part 1: Analysis: Virgin Atlantic’s Turnaround 

Virgin Atlantic is one of those airlines that inspires either great passion or total nonchalance in its passengers. Some travellers really resonate with the glammed-up look and feel, while others don’t find the bells and whistles make that much of a difference to them.

In recent history, the turn of the decade and the arrival of the 2010s weren’t the best time for the iconoclastic Virgin. It pioneered both angled lie-flat business class seating in 2000 and the fully flat business class bed in 2003, but just as Virgin launched its brand new Clubhouse and Upper Class Wing fast-track in 2007 for its business class passengers and frequent flyers, BA’s “Fortress Heathrow” home moved to the brand-new Terminal 5, “gifted” to it according to Virgin figurehead Richard Branson.

Virgin Atlantic London Clubhouse

Despite well-publicised operational difficulties when T5 opened, and the need to keep some flights in other terminals as BA outgrew its new home, consolidation of British Airways into Terminal 5 has given it a number of advantages over its smaller rival.

In terms of size, Virgin is a tiny force of sappers at Fortress Heathrow: just 13 percent of the BA fleet of nearly 300 aircraft, compared with Virgin Atlantic’s 40. British Airways has more Boeing 777-200ER aircraft alone than Virgin has in its entire fleet.

As a result of the 2012 takeover of its UK and European feed partner bmi (the former British Midland) by British Airways, a significant proportion of Virgin’s London-connection traffic filtered away, not just to British Airways, but to other European airlines as they increased feeder services to the UK’s regional airports.

Production delays also hit Virgin Atlantic, in both its Boeing 787 Dreamliner program (intended to replace its oldest and fuel-hungriest aircraft) and its internally produced Dream Suite, constructed by the threesixty design house that was later sold to Contour.

virgin-atlantic-upper-class-dream-suite

Competition regulators required BA to give up some former bmi slots for domestic feed, and Virgin tried its own branded Little Red services to northern UK destinations with a capital-light wetleased operation to Aer Lingus.

After the 2012 deal where Delta Air Lines took a 49 percent stake formerly owned by Singapore Airlines, Little Red was determined to be a no-go and is in the last throes of being shut down, though surprisingly before its “remedy slots”, which are route-specific, could be transferred to general use Heathrow slots. The combined Virgin-Delta decisionmakers clearly felt that a further period of losses wouldn’t make up for the sale of the slots.

virgin-atlantic-airbus-a320-uk--pr

With 2014 cuts to long-standing long-haul legacy routes Sydney, Tokyo, Vancouver, Mumbai and Cape Town, the Delta-era Virgin Atlantic’s role appears to have clarified: to be Delta’s second immunised transatlantic joint venture partnership.

The fallout from the US3 vs ME3 Open Skies debate will determine whether that role changes to provide a semi-internal, immunised, English-speaking natural connection at LHR for Delta flights to the Middle East and South Asia, in which case look for Virgin to try to provide some kind of fast-track option for the notoriously dreadful UK transfer experience.

Delta has transferred operations on the key JV routes of New York, Boston and Los Angeles to Virgin’s facilities in Terminal 3, which offer a significant advantage over the SkyTeam alliance’s Terminal 4 hub for business class passengers and frequent flyers in particular.

In onboard passenger experience terms, the Virgin hard product is fairly standard in economy: 31” throughout, with 3-4-3 on the 747, 2-4-2 on the A330/A340, and 3-3-3 on the 787 Dreamliner. In premium economy, Virgin — the airline that introduced the category in the 1990s with Mid Class — the seat is also standard: the usual recliner.

Upper Class varies by aircraft, with the most room on the Upper Class Suites on the 747 and 787 fleets, followed by a tossup between the high-density A330 interwoven herringbone Dream Suites and the narrower A340 version of the original Suites. Interestingly, Virgin abandoned its Dream Suites, announced with much fanfare in 2012, to return to its original Upper Class Suite on the 787.

virgin-atlantic-upper-class-airbus-a340-600-best-seats

Yet with a new top-notch English sparkling wine replacing its long-standing Lanson Champagne in Upper Class on the newly arrived Dreamliners, the retirement of its oldest A340 aircraft (one of which still had looping, unpausable video), and a new transatlantic strategic direction, is this the time when Virgin Atlantic gets its mojo back?

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Boeing Starts Building the First 737 MAX

By Roberto Leiro and Chris Sloan from Renton / Published June 2, 2015.

Boeing has started the building of its first 737 MAX on schedule at its Renton factory. Last Friday, employees started the assembly of the wings for the flight test airplane. Wing assembly is considered the official first step in building any aircraft.  The wing load began in Boeing’s  new Panel Assembly Line (PAL) which began operation in February of this year. 4 of these 50 ton, 22 feet tall structures are in operation with a total of 9 in operation by 2016. Boeing bills the system as “a highly automated wing skin panel production system that consolidates assembly into an in-line flow using a pulsing line.” The new PAL replaces the current system dating back to the 737′s program launch in the 1960s.

IMG_3288

First 737 Max front wing spar. The automated machine drills 30,000 spars per day.

According to Keith Leverkuhn, vice president and general manager of the 737 MAX Program “Employees in Renton are the best in the world at building single-aisle airplanes, and now this world-class team is building the future with the first 737 MAX.” Machine operators loaded last week the 737 MAX wing components—panels and stringers—into the new automated wing panel and spar assembly machines. With a assembly daily rate of 8 panels—currently at 75% of automation—each upper and lower wing skin panel will require 2,500 fasteners to be completed. 4 wings are produced each day with 84 per month.

The wings will be attached to the first MAX fuselage on the also new Central line in Final Assembly in Renton in September. The new production line will allow the team to isolate the first 737 MAX build from the rest of the production in order to master the building process, while keeping the current monthly production rate of 42 airplanes, which increases to 47 per month in 2017 and eventually 52 per month. “Achieving this milestone on schedule is a testament to the success of the 737, and our integrated design and build team” added Leverkuhn.

The 737 Max is due to roll out at the end of this year with first flight scheduled in 2016. into Launch customer Southwest, with 200 on order, will be the launch customer when the 737 Max is scheduled for first delivery in 3rd quarter 2017. As of the end of April, the 737 Max has achieved 2,724 orders from 57 customers. The Max’s competitor, The Airbus A320neo has accumulated 3,794 orders and is due for its first delivery late this year to launch customer, Qatar Airways.

RELATED: Inside Boeing’s 737 Renton Factory as They Take it to “The MAX”: Parts One and Two

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Aer Lingus Acquisition Offers New US-Europe Opportunities

By John Walton / Published May 29, 2015

Over the years, Aer Lingus has developed its own uniquely Irish passenger experience, even as it has flirted with becoming a low-cost carrier in the context of national stablemate Ryanair. Its recent acquisition by British Airways’ and Iberia’s IAG holding group provides a real chance for a renaissance by the Irish carrier.

Aer Lingus' European menu - photo by @AirlineFlyer, Jason Rabinowitz

With its connectivity over Dublin to Europe, Aer Lingus is a popular choice for US flyers heading eastbound, and certain aspects of its passenger experience have become must-dos: the famous Irish Breakfast (don’t forget to pre-order!) and a pint of peaty Guinness during transit, no matter what time of day.

Aer Lingus' renowned Irish Breakfast - photo by @AirlineFlyer, Jason Rabinowitz

Aer Lingus is fortunate in that its connections via Dublin Airport are significantly more pleasant than many other, larger European hubs. New owner IAG’s British Airways often-nightmarish multi-terminal hub at London Heathrow is one to avoid in particular, as is Iberia’s expansive yet somewhat inefficient Madrid Barajas terminal.

On the westbound transatlantic leg, US immigration and customs pre-clearance is a significant advantage, enabling Aer Lingus to arrive like a regular US domestic flight. Even the actual processing is easier — not least because, let’s face it, an ICE agent on a plum assignment in Ireland is generally going to be in a much better mood than one working at JFK.

Towards Europe, Aer Lingus offers dozens of European destinations that might lighten the load on Heathrow with extra connecting traffic over Dublin. Major European destinations are already in the EI network, and the airline has significant UK operations: Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Inverness, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Leeds, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Southend, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, and Southampton. British Airways doesn’t offer flights to or from a number of those airports, with a significant proportion of connecting flights going over Amsterdam, Paris or other European hubs, so bringing them back into the IAG fold is a win for the group.

Just days before the takeover was accepted, Aer Lingus announced plans to resume daily flights to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport and add Washington Dulles to its network. Additional frequencies to Amsterdam, Birmingham, Geneva, Manchester, Paris and Zurich were also announced.

A UK expansion could also roll out to previous EI destinations within the British Isles: Belfast International, Derry, Durham/Tees Valley, Liverpool, London City, and London Stansted.

Air Contractors 757s operating for Aer Lingus on east coast flights - photo via Air Contractors

Flying west, Aer Lingus currently serves Boston, Chicago, New York JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, Washington DC and Toronto in Canada. But it has in the past served Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York Newark and Montreal. With recent fleet additions via a set of Air Contractors Boeing 757-200 aircraft operating New York, Boston and Toronto flights, and the development of Airbus’ A321neoLR 757 replacement that would be a common type rating with its European Airbus A320 family fleet, Aer Lingus has several options in terms of fleet type and sizing to develop new transatlantic markets.

If Aer Lingus is to prove a reasonable alternative to British Airways within Europe, the variance in its European fleet — particularly in economy class — might need some attention. Its A319 fleet, previously operated by Iberia, is significantly less comfortable than the rest of its narrowbody fleet. And it will certainly need to actually offer a business class within Europe, even if that is just a middle-seat-free Eurobusiness product.

Integration into the IAG Avios frequent flyer program will make Aer Lingus more attractive to business travellers as well, particularly since Aer Lingus transatlantic business class will be familiar to Avios users thanks to the period of time where BOS-DUB in business was a serious redemption sweet spot in the Avios programme.

Interestingly, Aer Lingus actually offers a better transatlantic business class (the Thompson Vantage product) than British Airways’ custom B/E Aerospace Club World seat — EI’s is a fully flat bed in a staggered layout that offers direct aisle access for most passengers, rather than the more dense BA yin-yang configuration.

Aer Lingus new business class Thompson Vantage

Arguably, Aer Lingus needs to have the better product, since eastbound redeye flights are around an hour shorter, so getting right off to sleep and not being disturbed is even more vital. Google flights lists EI108, the JFK-Dublin flight, as scheduled for 6 hours 20 minutes, yet durations recently have been as short as 5 hours 25 minutes and faster flights (usually in the winter) brush the five hour mark. You need a decent bed to get a good night’s sleep on that short a flight, where the first hour is going to bed and the last hour is waking up, leaving under three and a half hours for actually sleeping.

Look for the airline to follow the lead of Australian carrier Qantas, which certified its own Vantage XL seats to take off on similarly short Aussie transcontinental redeyes with mattress pad already fitted and seat slightly reclined, ready to go straight to bed. At some US airports, colocation of Aer Lingus flights with IAG and other oneworld carriers could also expand the existing JFK and Boston supper service in the lounge prior to boarding, making straight-to-sleep even more of an option.

It’s an exciting time for the airline, with turnaround CEO Christoph Mueller off to fix Malaysia Airlines and a new role as the third full-service airline in the IAG stable. The next few months will be a significant bellwether pointing in the direction of Aer Lingus’ future — watch this space to see which way it decides to point.

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