The oryx’s new home.

Delays in the opening of Doha’s critically important new Hamad International Airport (HIA) are almost as farcical as those of Berlin’s new Brandenburg International Airport, but the transition to full operations is now in its home stretch and we have a great preview of the stunning new terminal below.

According to Qatar transport minister Jassim Seif Ahmed Al Sulaiti a soft opening trial will begin this month from the chic new terminal involving ten carriers - Air Arabia, Air India Express, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Flydubai, Iran Air, Nepal Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, RAK Airways, Syrian Air, and Yemen Airways.

Qatar Airways is now expected to transition its operations into its new home on April 1.

Doha International Airport is cripplingly overcapacity. Designed for an annual throughput of 12 million passengers a year, in 2013 the airport handled approximately 25 million people with 75% handled by Qatar Airways. After Dubai, it is now the second largest Middle East hub, and is now in the top 25 airports in the world measured by international passenger traffic.

Continue reading “The oryx’s new home.” »

What’s next for the 787?

The media loves fire on an aircraft. Fire scares people. Scaring sells news. Unfortunately, this comes to the detriment of Boeing and the 787 programme, which have faced intense scrutiny by media over a range of minor to hazardous issues, that question the safety of the aircraft.

The Boeing 787-8 suffered a series of incidents over the period, several of these a cracked windshield, minor fuel leak and brake issue are common operational issues. The FAA’s Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) issued today focuses on the electrical architecture of the aircraft, specifically the safety of the GS Yuasa lithium-ion polymer battery, which has led to several incidents consistently traced back to the same issue:

04DEC2012 – United Airlines UA1146 diverted enroute due to an electrical malfunction. Multiple error messages, with flight crew requesting firefighters be vigilant of fuselage aft of wing area upon touchdown.

13DEC2012 – Qatar Airways grounded one of its 787 fleet due to an electrical fault upon arrival in Doha. CEO Akbar Al Baker wasn’t happy, jumped up and down, and shook his fists at Boeing.

17DEC2012 – United Airlines identifies a second electrical issue in a separate 787 to 04DEC incident.

07JAN2013 – Japan Airlines 787 JA829J suffered an incident on the ground at Tokyo Narita, in which smoke filled the cabin, and aft cargo compartment as a result of the APU battery in the rear electrical bay catching fire.

16JAN2013 – All Nippon Airlines (ANA) 787  JA804A operated NH692 diverted to Takamatsu when the crew received battery problem indications, and detected an acrid, burning smell in the cockpit. The aircraft was evacuated on landing.

Aviation safety regulators in India, Japan, Poland, Qatar and Chile have suspended 787 operations for an indefinite period, with Ethiopia and Europe’s EASA likely to follow suit.

The location of the Lithium Ion batteries in the Boeing 787-8. Image: Boeing ARFF Data.

Following the commencement of the regulatory review earlier this week, the FAA has determined that “the battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke” there is sufficient enough risk of onboard fire, or other electrical issues, to cease the programme. An investigation already initiated by the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB), will now widened and led by the FAA, supported by Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) and Boeing.

Why in the first instance did the FAA allow the aircraft to continue to fly after announcing the safety review?  Why was the FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, so emphatic in saying the 787 was safe after he had announced a review, and before the NTSB had concluded an investigation?

NTSB photo of the aft Lithium Ion battery following the fire on the JAL 787 in Boston. Image: NTSB.

During its certification period and the aircraft’s first 15 months in service the 787 has suffered ongoing problems related to its electrical system. The first aircraft to support fully electric architecture, this replaces pneumatic bleed air systems used to drive cabin pressure and onboard systems, and operates at a significantly higher capacity 1.5MW than any other aircraft.

To support these systems the 787 requires a battery that can efficiently produce enough energy, and currently only less-stable Lithium Ion polymer batteries offer that capability. Overheating or overcharging the battery creates ignitable metallic lithium.

After years of testing the batteries were approved by the regulator with special conditions, and demonstrated assurances that the system would could isolate and shutdown the batteries in this instance, and inflight fire would be contained. Yet the system safeguards failed to prevent either incident incident in Japan.

Navigating in uncharted territory.

Is the 787 programme a disaster? Certainly not, the 787 like the A380 is technological leap in the way aircraft are designed, built and flown. And, every revolution has its problems, see Airbus A380, Boeing 747, Comet, Viscount.

These aircraft all suffered significant problems following their Entry Into Service (EIS). Who remembers the 747 having significant engine problems? All were eventually rectified. It is part of the natural development of aircraft that changes are made, and redesigns worked in, and changes made again. The number of Airworthiness Directives in worldwide circulation for all aircraft types demonstrates this.

With proven operational experience no customer is yet to cancel their orders over this incident, and none are likely too. Airlines awaiting imminent deliver of aircraft will be temporarily inconvenienced, Akbar Al Baker may jump up and down, and Boeing’s reputation will take another hit, but that doesn’t mean they lack faith in the aircraft’s future. The more resources pushed into engineering the 787 now, the better it will become.

As with the DC-10 and the A380 after QF32, it’s no surprise travellers will book away from the 787 for a period of time, concerned about reliability. But they will come back, they have loved the 787 to date. With this level of regulatory and developmental scrutiny we’re going to end up with an exceptionally safe next generation aircraft. It’s a matter of when, not if that happens.

The full statement from the FAA. Boeing’s full statement on 787 action.

This paper is excellent background reading on the FAA’s only other commercial grounding of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.



Airline Statements on suspension of 787 ops

Qatar Airways has now issued the following statement on suspension of 787 services:

In compliance with the recommendation of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA) and in coordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority (DGAC), LAN announces that it will temporarily suspend the operation of its three Boeing 787 aircraft.

Flights that were scheduled to be operated by the 787 will be temporarily replaced with other aircraft in our fleet to mitigate any potential impacts that this situation could cause to its passengers and cargo clients. The safety of the operation and its passengers is LAN’s top priority and the company regrets any inconvenience that this may cause.

Chile’s LAN Airlines part of the LATAM group, has also issued its own statement:

In compliance with the recommendation of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA) and in coordination with the Chilean Aeronautical Authority (DGAC), LAN announces that it will temporarily suspend the operation of its three Boeing 787 aircraft.

Flights that were scheduled to be operated by the 787 will be temporarily replaced with other aircraft in our fleet to mitigate any potential impacts that this situation could cause to its passengers and cargo clients. The safety of the operation and its passengers is LAN’s top priority and the company regrets any inconvenience that this may cause.

Ethiopian Airlines issued in the following statement:

Ethiopian Dreamliners have not encountered the type of problems such as those experienced by the other operators. However, as an extra precautionary safety measure and in line with its commitment of putting safety above all else, Ethiopian has decided to pull out its four Dreamliners from operation and perform the special inspection requirements mandated by FAA.

Qantas previously expressed its continued support for the 787 programme on 16DEC:

“Boeing has kept the Qantas Group fully informed about the performance of the 787 since it entered commercial service in 2011. We are confident that the current issues will be resolved before Jetstar receives its first aircraft as scheduled in the second half of this year.”

Click here for more coverage on the 787 EAD action.

The full statement from the FAA.

British Airways: “Down under’s not over”

There’s a great modernity about British Airways’ simple but stylish Australian newspaper advertisement. Taking a subtle, cheeky swipe at Qantas following the ending of the Joint-Service Agreement in favour of Emirates, British Airways is keeping calm and carrying on.

BA will upgrade all its Australian services to new B777-300ER aircraft from March 30, 2012. Timed to match the commencement of the Qantas Emirates partnership, the introduction of the aircraft with upgraded long-haul product, and BA’s shift of Australian services from London Heathrow’s T3 to its T5 hub marks another competitive upgrade in the fierce Australian international market.

The move is part of BA’s renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region. BA will commence five weekly services to Seoul from next month, and three weekly services to Chengdu from September 2013. In addition, BA is likely to recommence schedules to Kuala Lumpur and Taipei, markets the carrier exited in 2001, as well as new services to additional cities in mainland China.

British Airways served Taipei from London and Hong Kong as British Asia Airways (英亚航空) until 2001. British Asia Airways was incorporated to overcome a now overturned Chinese Central Government policy prohibiting national carriers serving mainland China from serving Taiwan. Image: Daryl Chapman.

There is also nothing delicate about British Airways’ new oneworld push. For many years oneworld has been quiescent, foundering without a meticulous leader as Star Alliance has in Lufthansa. But the signs are this has changed, limited by expansion options at London Heathrow, British Airways and its parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) are making an active effort to engage and mold oneworld into an entity that supports BA’s sustainable growth and underlying business goals.

British Airways has already formed a comprehensive JV partnership with oneworld member and long-time Qantas partner Japan Airlines, and invited Qatar Airways to join oneworld in 2013/14. Could BA’s Asian focus see the airline engage Malaysia Airlines in place of Qantas to expand in South-East Asia?

A British Airways led quadruple entente would secure a network between Australia and Asia to Europe covering all major traffic paths via Northern and South-East Asia and through the Middle East. Image: GCMapper and Carry-ON.

Malaysia Airlines has much to offer BA, with a South-East Asian network, services to every major Australian city, and code sharing agreements with Japan Airlines, as well as oneworld members-to-be Qatar Airways and SriLankan Airlines already in place. To leverage this through an alliance or a comprehensive JV between the three carriers opens up incredible network and traffic flow options as the map shows. The grouping would be well placed to gain a formidable position in the growing high yield markets driven by Asia’s growing middle class, and provide substantial traffic feed into BA’s long haul network in Asia, and connections to BA short haul services across Europe.

oneworld is on the brink of change, and British Airways is now firmly at the helm. Tally ho.

Qantas and Emirates conjecture. Why has Qatar Airways slipped off the radar?

Everyone loves a little will they, won’t they situation, and a ripper is brewing in Australia right now with talk of a Qantas-Emirates partnership. But why has Qatar Airways slipped off the radar?

In Perth in early July, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker confirmed the carrier was in talks with Qantas. Though as focus shifted to the fruits of an Emirates partnership, forgotten were the benefits a relationship with Qatar could bring.

Buoyed by the Emirates speculation Qantas’ dismally low share price gained 10%, and the rhetoric regarding all the potential benefits flowed.  But, as Ben Sandilands noted “Emirates doesn’t actually need Qantas for anything it can’t do in its own right, including set up its own domestic entity in Australia if it ever felt so inclined”.

Qantas operates 28 services to Europe, assuming the unlikely event they cut Frankfurt (or move it to Berlin), 48 to Singapore, and only 7 to Bangkok, and 3 to Jakarta.

By March next year, Emirates will operate 84 weekly services to 5 Australian cities, most direct, and 28 via Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, and onward connections to 32 cities in Europe and almost the same in Africa. Emirates has better connections, an arguably better on-board product, and excellent lounges in Australian cities they service, so why would a passenger choose Qantas product over Emirates internationally?

Qatar Airways currently operates a comparatively small number of services to Australia – 10 a week, increasing to 14 in March 2013, and likely to increase further. Qatar also offers services to 32 destinations in Europe, and more than Emirates in Africa. Qatar’s currently serves Melbourne and Perth, not Sydney – originally not being granted permission to fly there.

What could a Q-Q relationship deliver?

1 – Connections.
An alliance with Qatar would offer significant advantages in terms of code shared network connections.

Qatar offers 14 weekly services to both Singapore and Bangkok, 11 to Hong Kong, and 10 weekly services to both Jakarta and Denpasar, neither of which Emirates serves – but which Qantas does. Although the airline doesn’t service Kuala Lumpur with it’s own metal, Malaysia Airlines’s expected post-Oneworld entry code sharing with Qantas could cover that.

2 – A boutique airline.
A boutique product and brand positioning exudes glamour and sophistication, Qatar’s focus is on building a boutique airline, consistently number 1 in the world, rather than a capacity dumping conglomerate. It does not offer passengers multiple service options that detract from Qantas’ limited services.

Anyone that has flown Qatar, knows that even in economy class, service is exquisite, and a step above what Emirates now provides. The airline does not offer lounges in Australia, and could use Qantas lounges in all major cities – another way to keep passengers engaged with Qantas product.

3 – Avoiding Sydney-centric pain
Qatar services avoid Qantas’ Sydney-centric operation. Passengers hate it, but Qantas continues to consolidate on Sydney. People in the Qantas ivory tower seem unwilling to acknowledge that forcing passengers through an airport they do their best to avoid does not keep them coming back.

Qatar’s offer of services to non-curfew airport cities of Melbourne, Perth and potentially Brisbane, which Qantas has neglected for years, could deliver Qantas passengers connections they have been screaming out for, while providing the flexibility to schedule complementary connections.

Yes, Emirates also services these cities with multiple daily services, but with relatively few services a week, there is little chance of Qatar cannibalising the Qantas passenger base. Ideally, Qantas would complement these services with their own daily service from Sydney to Doha.

4 – Oneworld
Qatar already codeshares with Malaysian Airlines, which will join Oneworld in 2012, sponsored by Qantas. It is known Qatar is in discussions with British Airways and IAG about developing a comprehensive relationship; the carrier recently abruptly cancelled its code sharing arrangements with United, and it is strongly believed Qatar will choose to join Oneworld when it announces a choice of alliance grouping later in 2012.

Qatar potentially possesses relationships that Emirates can not offer, has shown no interest in developing, and which would avoid setting in motion a potentially destructive breakup of Oneworld, should Qantas partner with Emirates.

5 – Equity
Qatar has never directly stated it is against equity partnerships, similar to those in which Etihad has engaged. Qantas is known to be lukewarm on the equity partnership front, and Emirates has consistently stated publicly that it has no interest in equity.

Qantas is in desperate need of innovation, starting with a viable network strategy that complements its shrinking international operation. There is no guarantee that with Emirates’ already dominant presence, Qantas won’t continue to haemorrhage once-loyal passengers it could carry itself to Emirates. But in Qatar, Qantas could find a glamorous partner that might just keep the loyal passengers that remain interested for the few years it would take to innovate its own product.

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