Thursday, May 17, 2012

ETS: Europe against the world

AFTER a lot of noisy cross-fire, on May 15th the smoke cleared from the battleground that is the European Union’s policy on airlines and climate change. Twenty-six countries have fiercely opposed a move by the EU to charge airlines using its airports for their carbon emissions. Yet it turns out that only those of China and India, ten carriers in all, are failing to comply with the scheme.

That is ten more than the EU’s climate policy wallahs recently claimed. Downplaying the recent protests, in which America and Russia are also prominent, they insisted that all airlines were abiding by the EU’s new rules. For now, these cost them nothing: under the terms of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)—which the airlines were included in at the beginning of the year—they are supposed merely to provide data on their 2011 emissions. In April 2013 they will then have to obtain tradable ETS permits to cover their 2012 emissions, 85% of which they will have for free. That the Chinese and Indian airlines have nonetheless stopped providing data on their emissions is a clear effort to escalate the conflict.

It will not have much impact on the ETS carbon price. The recalcitrant airlines, of which eight are Chinese and two Indian, are responsible for less than 3% of the aviation emissions addressed by the scheme. With some justification, given the vigorousness of the opposition to it, the EU’s climate chief Connie Hedegaard therefore hailed the initiative an early success. Yet it could quickly unravel if the Chinese and Indian carriers continue to defy it.

Fighting fire with fire, Britain, Germany, France and other European countries, which play host to the Indian and Chinese airlines, have written to them requesting the missing 2011 data. If they fail to provide it, they are liable to face fines from some of those European countries.

Yet there is still time for a negotiated way out of the mess. By far the best solution would be for the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to institute a global emissions-busting scheme, under which all airlines would be forced to pay for their pollution. Emissions from aviation represent a modest 3% of the world’s total; yet they are growing fast. It was indeed ICAO’s longstanding failure to introduce such a measure that spurred the exasperated EU to bring its cap-and trade scheme to bear on the problem. If ICAO is now jolted into taking action—as it is promising, a mite more convincingly than before—the EU would gladly absolve the airlines from having to comply with the ETS.

An alternative would be for the dissenting countries to take their own steps to make their airlines pay for their emissions. In this case the EU would, again, absolve them of any burden under the ETS. In China’s case, this is at least imaginable: there has been some discussion in China of levying a carbon tax on aviation emissions. In India, it is less likely. The country’s airlines are both influential and bleeding money, due to the high operating costs they face in an overcrowded domestic market. India’s current government, beset by multiple economic and other problems, is unlikely to put them under any obligation the EU could consider “equivalent” to that they face under the ETS.

Uncertain permits

A bigger question hangs over the ETS more broadly. Last year, according to data also released on May 15th, emissions from the 12,000 power plants and factories covered by the scheme fell by 2% compared to the previous year. This was largely due to the bad economy and has left the market hopelessly oversupplied with permits.

It has therefore tanked. The ETS carbon price is currently less than €7 a tonne; down from nearly €30 in 2008. And the situation is about to get worse. The EU is in the process of selling millions of extra permits for green energy projects; and also introducing measures to promote greater energy efficiency, which will further reduce demand for permits.

The ETS, by far the world’s biggest carbon market, is supposed to nudge companies into investing in green technology. But this will not happen in any significant way unless the carbon price at least doubles. Alarmed by the uncertainty the state of the market is causing, a number of big investors in the ETS, including E.On, an energy firm, have urged the EU to fix it.

It is now planning to do so—probably by staggering the release of its next big tranche of permits, early next year, in order to limit their supply and so force the carbon price to rise. This would be generally welcomed. But with the details still hazy, and probably undecided, companies remain deeply uncertain about the market’s future.

“How many permits will be withheld and over what period?” asks Abyd Karmali, head of carbon markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Companies need to see more evidence that the scheme is going to provide them with long-term incentives to invest in clean technology.”


Monday, May 14, 2012

Where are the world's busiest airline routes?

JEJU, on the South Korean island of the same name, is not one of the country's 20 biggest cities. Yet the island's allure as a domestic tourist destination resulted in 9.9m passengers flying between Seoul and Jeju (in either direction) in 2011. This makes it the busiest airline route in the world, according to Amadeus, a company that provides technology to the travel industry. It measures the cities where passengers start and finish their journeys, so while the busiest actual flight corridor in America is New York-Chicago, it only counts as the third-busiest American route because many of the passengers are connecting to other destinations. It comes just behind New York-Fort Lauderdale (3.1m) and New York-Los Angeles (3m). The number of people travelling between Asia and North America, and between Asia and Europe grew by 9% from 2010 to 2011, but as the chart shows the busiest routes are still domestic. The most popular international route is Hong Kong-Taipei, followed by Seoul-Tokyo (3.1m) and Jakarta-Singapore (3m).


Bidding Miles for United Airlines Flight Simulator Session

Talk about authentic and unique travel experiences?

United Airlines was running a flash sale today for loyalty program members, enabling them to bid their miles toward winning a roundtrip flight, a one-night hotel stay and then a training session in a United Flight Training Simulator.

Limited-time-only auctions of these types for MileagePlus members are part of MileagePlus Headliners, a holdover from a Continental Airlines program before the merger.

As of this writing — and there was more than a day to go before the auction ended — there were 75 bids, with the highest being 205,000 awards miles, for the United Flight Simulator Experience. There would be only one winning bid for the package.

Here’s how United described the experience, scheduled for June 1-2, 2012:
For those who have ever dreamed of being in the cockpit and having the incredible experience of flying a United airplane, this is your dream come true. You and your guest will fly to Denver on June 1st, the day before your training session. (Flight, hotel and ground transportation included). On the day of simulator training session, you’ll meet with professional instructors and learn what it takes to safely fly some of the most incredible aircrafts ever. You’ll choose your simulated airport and even the weather. Plus, you’ll have an opportunity to talk to emergency training personnel, try out the evacuation slide and slide raft. The control tower has cleared you for takeoff. Begin bidding now.

Now this is some creative, travel inspiration.


Behind the scenes tours: Delta and Air France

In an effort to connect with their communities of customers, Airline companies are offering behind the scenes tours  of their businesses.

Delta Airlines published a video about the journey of a bag from check in to arrival. It is a a promotional video for their new mobile tracking of luggage app.

The company is very good at marketing for the 21st century and it's sponsorship of TED talks was a very smart move in terms of brand positioning.

On 26 and 27 April, Air France welcomed around forty members of FlyerTalk, the biggest community of online air travelers.

This meeting was an opportunity to give its most connected passengers an insight into Air France behind the scenes.

Satellite Inflight Internet: Jetblue and Viasat

JetBlue is on track to revolutionize inflight connectivity.

In partnership with ViaSat, the company is creating its own broadband connectivity solution. Using ViaSat's innovative satellite technology, it will bring customers high-capacity broadband functionality that can deliver real-time two-way communications aboard their fleet of Airbus 320 and Embraer 190.

In fall 2011, the company introduced the technology with the launch of the ViaSat-1 satellite. This satellite will bring JetBlue customers exponentially more bandwidth than any other product in commercial aviation today.

The next phase is securing FAA certification for the system and installing it on aircrafts. They expect the first aircraft with Wi-Fi to be flying by mid-2012.


Air to Ground 3G Inflight Internet: Gogo Inflight (America)

Gogo provides in-flight broadband Internet service, streaming video and other connectivity services for commercial and business aircraft. In June 2011, the company formally changed its name from Aircell to Gogo as part of a rebranding effort. Prior to the rebrand, Gogo's commercial air service was known as "Gogo Inflight Internet." Aircell remains the name of the company's business aviation division.

Gogo allows airline passengers to connect to the Internet through a system of cell towers on the ground. Their Air to Ground (ATG) system is a 3G wireless technology that utilizes EV-DO Rev. A.

Gogo owns more than 100 towers, which together form a network over the continental U.S. and parts of Alaska. The towers are cellphone towers that have been outfitted to point their signals at the sky rather than along the ground. The aircraft picks up the signal through a receiver installed on its underside. When it reaches the aircraft, the data signal is distributed throughout the cabin via a Wi-Fi system. Customers are required to enter their e-mail address and complete a CAPTCHA before using the service.

The company announced that in 2012 they will launch a next generation Air to Ground service called ATG-4. Gogo claims its ATG-4 service will significantly enhance the existing ATG network and improve per aircraft capacity by approximately four times current performance through the addition of Directional Antenna, Dual Modem and EV-DO Rev.B technologies.

Gogo service began on American Airlines in July 2008. The first routes served were JFK to San Francisco, JFK to LAX, and JFK to Miami. They are currently expanding to include Gogo service on the full American Airlines domestic fleet.

On August 5, 2008, Delta Air Lines announced it would install Gogo on all its domestic aircraft, which has since been completed. Recently, Delta announced that Gogo service would be expanded to include its full fleet of Delta regional jets. but a 2009 merger with Northwest Airlines added to the fleet. By early April 2010, 437 of 540 aircraft in the combined domestic fleet offered Wi-Fi, with remaining installations expected by summer 2010.

Virgin America became the first airline with fleetwide in-flight Internet access, in March 2009.
On July 14, 2009, AirTran Airways completed installation of Gogo on 136 of its aircraft.

October 2, 2009 saw the launch of Gogo on United Airlines' p.s. flight 23 from New York to Los Angeles. The company plans to have Gogo installed on its entire p.s. fleet by November 6, 2009.

On November 20, 2009 Gogo announced that Air Canada has begun trials of the Gogo system on select Toronto-Los Angeles and Montreal-Los Angeles flights which occur in large part over the continental US.
On February 24, 2010, Alaska Airlines announced that it will offer Gogo on its full fleet. The full fleet installation was completed in the fall of 2011.

On March 29, 2010, US Airways announced that all its Airbus A321 fleet would offer Gogo by June 1, 2011. The full fleet installation was completed in the fall of 2011.

On February 5, 2012 Frontier Airlines announced that it had equipped all of its Embraer E190 aircraft with Gogo to begin service on February 6, 2012.


Air To Ground LTE 4G Inflight Internet: Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel Lucent and Airbus (Europe)

  • Three successful testing of the world’s first broadband connection between an airborne passenger plane and a ground-based LTE network
  • Early step toward future commercial implementation of wireless offerings to help travellers stay connected

The fourth generation mobile broadband access technology LTE (Long Term Evolution) provides high-speed mobile Internet connections for people on the road and, in the future, it will provide that connection for air passengers when in flight. Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel-Lucent and Airbus have successfully tested direct data communication - using LTE technology, a commercial wireless radio solution - between an aircraft and a wireless network on the ground. When commercial, this solution will be able to provide in-flight mobile voice and broadband data communications services cost-effectively.

These tests represent the first steps on the road toward future commercial implementation of in-flight wireless services for passengers over continental Europe leveraged by a terrestrial cellular LTE network. Current solutions target international routes and are based on satellite systems. These can now be supplemented with a number of improvements. When made available in the future, LTE technology can provide a more efficient, cost-effective alternative to satellite, offering high-speed connections for passengers via onboard Wi-Fi and onboard cellular services. This approach offers an attractive way to give traveller’s access to the Internet along with the huge range of services that are now available via home and office broadband networks.

“We’re very pleased with the successful outcome of the test flight,” explained Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, CTO at Deutsche Telekom. “Based on our inflight experience, we know that in-flight surfing at broadband speeds is very popular. Expanding the service to cover flights within Europe would therefore be a natural extension and is being requested by the airline passengers. The anticipated lower costs can be an important factor for establishing the offering, and I’m looking forward to the evaluation of the results.”

“Airbus has been heavily involved in the development of onboard connectivity (GSM/GPRS + Internet) systems since years” - said Dr. Jörg Schuler - Head of Cabin & Cargo at Airbus. “Airbus policy is to offer aircraft-centric solutions, optimizing resources, weight and drag. Today, our solutions are essentially based on Satellite technology and this R&D project represents a key demonstrator of what could shape airline passenger experience in the near future, in particular the low integration efforts for the airborne part of the system could be very attractive for our customers.”

Wilhelm Dresselhaus, Chairman of the Board of Alcatel-Lucent Deutschland AG said: “With this successful test flight we have set the course for an innovative telecommunications service for European airline passengers. Our joint R&D project has proven that there is a technical alternative for satellite links to bring high-speed Internet access to planes at lower cost: LTE technology could be this alternative on domestic and continental flights. The solution offers flight passengers a way to improve productivity by working online or interacting with their social network”.

The first flight test took place in November 2011 over the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It is a part of the joint R&D project between Airbus, Alcatel-Lucent and the Innovation Laboratories of Deutsche Telekom. Airbus provided an A320 test aircraft equipped with test equipment and Alcatel-Lucent was responsible for the overall technical solution. This included an “onboard unit” installed in the test aircraft to send and receive mobile data signals, for which Alcatel-Lucent developed special algorithms. On the ground, Alcatel-Lucent provided its end-to-end LTE solution including radio access and core network. Deutsche Telekom prepared a ground network of two base stations positioned about 100 kilometres apart. The base stations were connected to Alcatel-Lucent’s LTE test center in Stuttgart via Deutsche Telekom’s data transport network.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Airlines Strategy Focus: Icelandair

Icelandair's business strategy is based on the geographical position of Iceland, midway between North Europe and the eastern coast of the USA.

By uniting  on one aircraft, passengers traveling to and from Iceland, with passengers crossing the Atlantic via Iceland, Icelandair has expanded and reinforced its network continuously over the last decades. Icelandair connects 15-20 cities in Europe with 5-8 cities in North America, through Iceland as a hub.

The network is based on 24-hour rotation, with connecting flights leaving Iceland in the mornings and afternoons.

The fleet is exclusively made of B757 aircrafts with a capacity of 200 to 289 passengers.


787: Taking a trip on the new Dreamliner

It's roomy for passengers, a delight for pilots, but on a promotional flight, some of the more-hyped features of the 787 were hard to detect. And my, how those wings can flex.

Looking out the unusually large windows of a 787 Dreamliner in flight Friday, the distinctive upward flexing of the slender carbon-fiber plastic composite wings that's visible from the ground was too gradual to see. Yet when we hit turbulence in flight, those sleek-as-scimitar wings moved dramatically, almost alarmingly.

The pilots, though, were not perturbed.

In the exceptionally quiet cockpit, they raved about how the new jet makes their jobs easier.

They demonstrated that even with one engine shut off, the plane virtually flies itself, hands-free.

Meanwhile, in the back of the plane, passengers enjoyed lots of overhead space, more light, and, with the latest seat designs, more knee room — all combining to give the cabin a much-less claustrophobic feel than on other airplanes.

On a three-hour domestic flight, other cabin improvements much touted by Boeing were hard to detect.

The engines were still noisy and the air still dry. Ears still popped just a little on takeoff. And when we hit that turbulence, a storm front out of Texas, the ride briefly got so bumpy it was difficult to stand.

The Friday flight from Washington, D.C., to Dallas, the latest leg of a Boeing promotional tour to market its newest jet, still resembled a workaday airplane flight more than some dreamy new experience.

The most subtle passenger-comfort improvements, specifically higher humidity and greater cabin air pressure, cannot really be felt on a short flight.

The Dreamliner's charms should be more apparent on the long flights of 10 hours and more it is designed to fly; no U.S. airlines plan to fly it on domestic routes. And even on long-haul routes, said John Wojick, Boeing's jet sales chief for North America, passengers may just feel better without really knowing why.

Heather Ross, however, does know why.

The Boeing test pilot who flew the jet Friday, Ross has more than 1,000 hours of 787 flying time behind her. She enthusiastically affirms the benefits of that higher cabin pressure and higher humidity when she pilots, say, a 14-hour flight to India.

"You don't feel like you've been beaten up," said Ross. "You're not dry and thirsty all the time."

Feeling the pressure

When the plane was cruising at 38,000 feet, Ross showed the cabin-pressure reading on the instrument panel set initially to the equivalent of 5,400 feet, just over a mile high. That's just about the same as the air you breathe in Denver.

Later in the flight, with the approaching storm that brought torrential rain to the central U.S., the pilots climbed to 43,000 feet to try to fly over the weather. The cabin air thinned to the equivalent of 6,000 feet — the lowest pressure it will likely reach in a 787.

When the turbulence grew worse, Ross switched tactics and decided to dive to 30,000 feet to look for a smoother ride under the weather. The cabin pressure dropped to just a 3,700-foot equivalent.

We did escape the turbulence, but none of the cabin-pressure shifts were readily perceptible in the coach seats.

(Boeing did not allow The Seattle Times to measure sound, humidity and cabin pressure on board independently with its own meters. A spokesman said engineers were concerned that "the instruments would not provide an accurate portrayal of the cabin environment.")

Blake Emery, the Boeing director who drove the 787 cabin improvements, said the company's research showed passenger discomfort on today's regular flights — where the air pressure at high altitude is typically set to the equivalent of about 8,000 feet — shows up in the form of headaches, muscle cramps, and feelings of fatigue after three to five hours.

Boeing is able to pressurize the cabin more because the composite plastic fuselage can better withstand the constant up-down cycle of pressure changes.

Under control

Also aboard the flight Friday was Randy Neville, 787 chief test pilot, who was previously Boeing's chief test pilot for the F-22 — a Lockheed Martin jet fighter for which Boeing built the wings and aft fuselage.

Neville said the 787 provides the smoothest ride of all Boeing airplanes because its complex flight-control computers constantly work to counter any disturbance to the path set by the pilots.

That's the regular 787 flight-control system. An additional technology designed to damp the effect of wind gusts and smooth the ride further is not yet in place, awaiting a software upgrade sometime in the next year.

But the regular system is still way ahead of the flight controls on previous Boeing jets. Ross demonstrated how by pulling one engine throttle lever all the way back and the other all the way forward, simulating one engine going out and while the other runs with full thrust.

Ross and her co-pilot Mike Bryan deliberately did nothing, keeping their feet off the pedals and their hands off the steering column, yet the airplane did not move perceptibly.

The jet's flight-control systems kept it on the course the pilots had commanded, compensating automatically for the sudden asymmetric thrust.

An engine going out is normally a stressful event for a pilot.

But Neville said the 787's flight-control system turns "a dynamic event into something very benign."

"It won't let it roll, even if your hands aren't on the wheel, because you haven't commanded a roll," he said. "It takes the work away for the pilot."

Tough and flexible

The autopilot also handled and flew through the turbulence.

Paul Clement, test director on Dreamliner No. 3, the test plane flown Friday, said that while the movement of the wingtips during the turbulence might seem wild to a passenger viewing it for the first time, it's the way the wings are designed to respond.

Aluminum wings are much stiffer than the 787's carbon-fiber wings and would move much less. But Clement said the carbon-composite material is tougher as well as more flexible.

He compared the way the wings moved with the turbulence to the shock absorbers on a car, which you want to be springy so that you don't feel every bump in the road.

"The flex absorbs some of the turbulent energy," Clement said.

The plane landed at Dallas-Fort Worth to a water-cannon salute and a welcoming crowd of about 600 American Airlines employees.

Capt. Jim Dees, who is designated as the airline's 787 fleet captain, said American will take its first 787 in late 2014 and will begin retiring half its 767 fleet as it takes the 42 787-9s it has on order, with options to buy 58 more.

American CEO Tom Horton, speaking at the Dallas ceremony, pronounced the 787 "a glimpse of the future" for his airline.

Despite his optimism, that future still hangs in the balance. American Airlines is in bankruptcy and creditors are weighing Horton's recovery plan against a merger with US Airways, an option favored by the airline's unions.

American's 787 order, placed in 2008, was never finalized, awaiting agreement with its pilots' union. The pilot contract is expected to be voided soon in bankruptcy court and American is then expected to make the order firm.

The post-bankruptcy profitability of American will then rest squarely on those tough, flexible Dreamliner wings.


Plane Crash Doesn’t Spell Disaster for Superjet Project

The crash site of the Sukhoi Superjet-100 (SSJ-100) that disappeared in Indonesia on May 9 has been found. It had crashed into a mountain. However, the tragic end of the demo flight does not spell the end of this Russian civil aviation project.

Steep slope
The Russian Superjet 100 airliner, serial number 95004, disappeared from radar screens while performing a demonstration flight in Indonesia, south of Jakarta. The aircraft was returning to the airfield when contact with it was lost.

The plane’s emergency beacons were dead. Therefore, several versions of the incident were investigated, including hijacking. This was the only hope left when the aircraft ran out of fuel.

All hope was lost on the morning of May 10 when search and rescue helicopter spotted scattered debris on the steep wooded slope of the Salak volcano. The plane seemed to have been pulverized.

According to latest reports, there were 45 people onboard the aircraft, of whom eight were Russians, including crew members and Sukhoi employees. No survivors have been reported.

Russian airliner with regional ambitions
The RRJ (Russian Regional Jet) project to develop the Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner (available in two models: regular and extended range, both with 75 or 95 passenger seats), was launched in the early 2000s.
A dedicated company, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft was established for this project, which contracted many foreign companies. Mikhail Pogosyan, then head of the Sukhoi company and now president of the United Aircraft Building Corporation, was the man behind this project.

The project was on and off until the first flight took place in May 2008, and deliveries to customers began in 2011. The airliner is manufactured at the main Sukhoi factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and is positioned as a new Russian design.

The level of the innovations that went into the aircraft and the commercial viability of the project are debatable. Opinions differ, and it is difficult for Sukhoi to be up to par with established competitors manufacturing regional aircraft like Brazilian Embraer and Canadian Bombardier.

China tried its hand at making regional aircraft recently, which isn’t making things easier for Sukhoi. Chinese aircraft may not be of better quality than the one made by key players, but it is definitely cheaper.

The Russian origin of the aircraft, however, is questionable. In fact, construction materials, fuselage elements, and a set of auxiliary equipment is all there is Russian in it. French SaM-146 engines also were designed jointly with the Saturn research-and-production association. Almost everything else is foreign-made including avionics, electrical system, control systems and even the auxiliary power unit.

The Superjet has acquired a bad reputation, embodied by its nickname PopilJet, which implies lots of kickbacks and other fraudulent financial activities. It’s easy to understand the skeptics: The national high-tech industry has had too few successes since 1991, especially in the aviation industry.

The civil aviation industry was particularly hard hit, which was further compounded by lack of funding. There were many aircraft designs, but not many survived. In fact, there are just two of them: The Sukhoi Superjet that had just rolled off the assembly line and the promising MS-21 made by Irkut Corporation, which has not made a single flight yet. It’s very unlikely that anything else will come up in the near future.
The disbursement of allocated funds turned into a bitter fight.

The crash and the future
There is an “aberration of proximity” effect when what you see on a regular basis day in and day out becomes very important and fateful. Any failure appears to be an irreparable tragedy.

Here is a recent example: the word “Bulava” has become synonymous with failure, and yet there is nothing supernatural about unsuccessful missile tests. There have been even worse tests, but such stories never made it on the news, let alone had crowds of witnesses as in December 2009 when people in northern Norway witnessed a spiralling phenomenon of inexplicable nature in the dark of the night.

Things are similar with aircraft. The Superjet is going into mass production. It is being frantically finalized but there are still plenty of crudely designed parts and unresolved problems. However, one crash (remember, it is still unclear why it occurred, quite possibly because of pilot error) doesn’t mean a lot. Clearly, we are in for an avalanche of reporting, which, in one way or another, will try to bury the Superjet project.

A relatively recent story comes to mind. On June 26, 1988, a European airliner just out of the design bureau brushed treetops and crashed during a demonstration flight. This also caused a flurry of gossip and skepticism regarding its fate. Twenty-four years later there are almost 2,800 A320 airliners available in all its models; 2,700 more have been ordered, not including related A318, A319 and A321 models.

So, the crash in Indonesia, while tragic, can to a certain extent be considered a routine occurrence. There’s no doubt that the Superjet has a bright future.

However, its future depends on the powers-that-be in the domestic aviation industry, including those that report to Mikhail Pogosyan and those that he is accountable to.


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