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The Southernmost Graveyard

When you think of aircraft graveyards your first thought is probably Victorville, California – the Walmart of second hand aircraft – not Alice Springs, home to the only aircraft graveyard in the Southern Hemisphere.

Last month, the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage (APAS) facility – received its first resident an EMB-120 Brasilia. APAS is capable of holding 250 large aircraft up to Code E – A340-600 or B747 – size. Designed as a storage and aircraft on-sale facility, it also has the capability to break down aircraft that reach the end of their service life.

APAS markets itself as a local alternative to the graveyards on the US West Coast “offering significant fleet efficiencies and costs savings”. Even so, airlines were initially reluctant to park aircraft with three years passing before the first Brasilia arrived.

Alice Springs is seemingly perfect for a graveyard: an ATC tower that can offer 24 hour service if required, no curfew, no noise complaints, and it enjoys year round balmy 30+ degree, low humidity weather.

As a Free Trade Zone Victorville offers substantial commercial advantages – there’s no tariffs or quotas – and it is a 24/7 U.S. Customs port of entry. Alice Springs offers neither of these benefits. Pratt & Whitney, GE, Boeing and Federal Express all have large operations at SCLA, and the size of the operations drives economies of scale that makes parking, on-sale or aircraft recycling significantly cheaper. Managing these functions has supported a very lucrative diversification for maintenance/support contractors who kick the tyres and undertake an engine run or two on the stored aircraft. You can have your fleet stripped and painted. While there is a limitless supply of material to support the training colleges that certify ~200 new AME’s per annum.

Plenty of Asia-Pacific airlines, including Qantas, are looking for a storage solution closer to home. With enough aircraft parked, similar economies of scale may eventually allow APAS to offer the same. And growth will only be an opportunity for economic diversification in the red centre, which currently relies so heavily on tourism.

It’s important industry and the Federal Government realise the APAS facility delivers a new long-term strategic capability to Australia’s aerospace industry.

Qantas first B767-300ER VH-OGR to be retired at the facility. Image: APAS.

Qantas first B767-300ER VH-OGR to be retired at the facility. Image: APAS.


Rolling into a NEO era

The first A320neo MSN6101 fitted with Pratt & Whitney PW1100G geared turbofans has made its daylight debut in Toulouse.

Earlier in June the aircraft – registered F-WNEO – achieved test instrumentation power-on, with Airbus also conducting load calibration tests.

Airbus will undertake a virtual flight test campaign over the summer before the A320neo’s planned maiden sortie in September. The sharklet winglet campaign and introduction of a reinforced wing on the A320ceo has assisted in fast-tracking A320neo certification by some 250 hours of flight testing.

Once underway, four A320neo test aircraft will be involved in the campaign – two for each engine option. Both pairs will have one aircraft fitted with heavy instrumentation dedicated to conducting aeroelasticity (handling) tests and evaluating hot-and-high performance. The second aircraft in the pair will be customer facing used for autopilot, ETOPS and noise testing.

The campaign will also focus heavily on achieving the same takeoff and landing performance for every family member despite the re-engined aircraft being approximately 1.6t heavier.

All engine-specific testing required for certification will be carried out by the A320neos, the four derivative test aircraft – two each of the A319neo and A321neo – will undertake engine type certification only. Many of the A320neo’s test results are transferrable to the A319neo as the aircraft feature an identical wing, however the A321 will need to undertake separate water-ingestion and noise testing.

At the end of May, Airbus held 2,689 orders for all three variants of the neo family.

Feature image and video by Airbus SAS.

Air New Zealand A320 ZK-OXB

Putting a price on time

Revealed at last week’s investor day and launched into market today, Air New Zealand (ANZ) has reformed its Domestic grabaseat fare structure into a new system that could be the first of its kind for any airline, anywhere, anytime.

The choices, shown below, are available to all customers up until the time of departure – delivering an unprecedented level of choice and affordability through the removal of all unbundled options. Arguably counterintuitive, the initiative goes against the airline trend of unbundling that has allowed airlines to collect revenue to make up for the shortfall in fare yields as competition drives down fares.

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But the true value of Air New Zealand’s new product is the value it allows a traveller to put on time. Its flexitime fare gives corporate travellers the choice of changing on to any flight the day of departure as long as there is a seat available. It’s a smart move. I’m sure you’ve travelled for work knowing you were travelling back that evening, but not when, and then being forced to wait because your fare class wasn’t available on an earlier flight.

“We asked Kiwi’s what they wanted…the same answers came up again and again – flexibility, affordability and choice.” – Air New Zealand CEO, Christopher Luxon

Last year American flirted with rebundling some fees into its base flexible fares aimed purely at corporate travellers, but has resisted moving further. In a market with little room for capacity growth, Air New Zealand’s product seeks a new competitive edge over struggling Jetstar. It makes a well-placed bet on who stands to benefit from lower fares, and who will pay more.

As companies reign in corporate travel spend, its new fares put it in a position drive not only revenue in the corporate space, but also volume, something that has been long reliant on leisure travel. Price reductions across the board also trade off the risk of corporate travellers buying cheap and diluting yield.

In an industry reliant on ancillary revenue to deliver a profit, ANZ is bucking the trend in its move to rebundle. It’s only a matter of time before others realise the value of time.

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Chasing the wind

After a year long flight test campaign involving five aircraft flying over 1,500 hours of flight testing, the US FAA and EASA certified the Boeing 787-9 for commercial service this week. Take look at the crosswind testing that formed part of the 787-9’s certification process.

karachi kala chapra

Kala Chapra & the airship era

At 260 metres long, 50 metres wide and tall, Kala Chapra (the Black Hangar) was the largest structure in the British Empire. Designed and built in 1927 as part of the British Government’s Imperial Airship Scheme, it was one of a number of airship stations that would connect the empire from Montreal in the west, to Karachi and eventually Australia in the east.

Airship Routes

Airship Routes discussed at the Imperial conference on the Future of Aerial Communications, 1926.


The British Government commissioned six R-100 airships to be built by the Air-Ministry and Vickers subsidiary the Airship Guarantee Company to operate the services, providing an alternative to the noisy, cramped aircraft of the time. The airships remain the largest man-made flying machines in history second only to Germany’s LZ129 Hindenburg.

Airship services never made it to Karachi. On its maiden voyage to India R-102 struck ground in France at 02:09 am on October 5, 1930, only hours after departing the UK. The crash killed 48 of the 54 people onboard, and brought British airship services to a premature end.


The man who put Helvetica on American Airlines, and your subway map

Every so often I like to explore outside the world of aviation. Flying and good design share many attributes: they’re visually powerful, require precision and need to be pragmatically understandable.

I came across news that the incredible Italian graphic designer Massimo Vignelli is ill and spending his last days at home. In his long career, Vignelli’s design influenced and touched millions, even billions, of people around the world across multiple industries, and probably added a touch of elegance to your own life.

In the aviation world, Vignelli’s presence was in the form of American Airlines’ former logo which adorned the tails of its aircraft for 45 years. AA’s decision to move from its timeless logo to a new motif in 2013 caused significant consternation. He is also well known for his fondness of the simple Helvetica type face, forming the basis of the brand designs he created for American, as well as the NYC and Washington subways, and other public transport systems around the world.

Vignelli’s biggest fantasy is to able to attend his own funeral. The family has requested anyone whom Vignelli influenced or touched to write a card, so he may be surrounded by huge mail bags full of letters – the next best thing.

Before writing, watch this interview with Vignelli filmed a couple of years ago. His loquacity and vision are clear as he discusses his life work, and the importance of semantically accurate design in developing countries.

You may send a card or note to Vignelli here:
Massimo Vignelli
130 East 67 Street
New York, New York 10021


Victoria’s Victorian era of aviation innovation

The once poster child of Australian aerospace, Victoria, is dying an uninspired death. The aerospace mantle passed to Queensland.

In 2010 Victoria’s aerospace industry including aircraft, systems and components had an annual export value of $300 million. The sector employed 20,000 people generating nearly $600 million in economic activity. Today it’s influence has waned as sector employment has dropped to circa 18,000 with export values dropping.

Continue reading “Victoria’s Victorian era of aviation innovation” »

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