Saturday, April 5, 2014

Malaysian MH370

Malaysian MH370 disappeard on March 7, 2014 and the search continues and no one is the wiser. This will not be the first aircraft crash whose wreckage may not be found. In the meantime the relatives of the passengers suffer the uncertainty and lack of closure. Our prayers and thoughts are with them.

The Media and CNN in particular has made this into a 24 hours a day drama, with experts upon experts speculating on what may have been; not that other networks were any less guilty.

The aircraft made a turn and headed back and then it was lost from the radar and satellites. The whole incident/accident questions what a lot of us in aviation took for granted:
  • if an aircraft does not report to the next ATM center or disappears from the radar someone will raise an alarm; or
  • if an unidentified aircraft shows up on a radar screen, someone would try to raise the flight or scramble an aircraft to have a look see. But for someone to assume and do nothing on the premise that if an airliner turns back it must have an ATC clearance is ridiculous.
However, some of the theories brought forward to explain the disappearance of MH370 are literally out of this world. The sad part was, they were seriously discussed on TV and social media, and these include:
  • a black hole type disturbance in the atmosphere sucked the aircraft into space or another dimension;
  • the flight was hijacked by US and Israeli agents because it carried some ultra secret technology on its way to the Taliban or North Korea; 
  • there was mention of a cyber attack on the aircraft systems;
  • the plane was destroyed by a Texas company because it had four Chinese engineers holding semi conductor patents worth billions of dollars. The patents will revert to the company in case of their death; and/or
  • the pilot has gone suicidal because he had a failed love affair or was an Islamic zealot.
One good thing came out of this accident; countries were ready to cooperate to locate the aircraft, contributing resources from maritime surveillance aircraft, ships, satellites and underwater equipment capable of locating the pulses of the CVR and DFDR locators in a search effort that moved from one area to the other as investigators refined the flight path of the missing aircraft.   

When AF447 was lost in June 1, 2009 over the South Atlantic, it took two years to recover the DFDR and CVR and sadly we are facing the same problem. The calls to extend the battery lives of the DFDR/CVR came to nothing. There were even suggestions of floatable black boxes.

However, the solution must be a better aircraft tracking regime utilizing the available technology in               e-Enabling and connectivity in addition to the extended locators batteries operational life. A solution to switching off the ATC Transponders and ACARS in flight must be found.

As of today April 5, the Chinese news agency reported that one of its ships have detected a pulse at 37.5KHz which is the DFDR/CVR locator frequency and their pilots have photographed a debris field. 

We remain hopeful that this may be the successful end of the search.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

RAK Airways, Full Circle.

On January 1, 2014 RAK Airways suspended operations for the second time, citing rising costs, the conditions of the aviation industry and geopolitics. The airline indicated that the board will review the state of the airline and decide whether the airline will resume operations.

As usual things move fast in MENA. On February 2, 2014 Ras Al Khaimah Directorate of Civil Aviation signed an agreement with Air Arabia, designating it the National Carrier of Ras Al Khaimah. This morning February 4, 2014 Adel Ali, Air Arabia Group CEO confirmed to Dubai Eye that Ras Al Khaimah will be the airline's fourth hub and will be basing its aircraft there to operate to destinations in the Middle East and the Indian Sub Continent.

RAK Airways was founded in 2006 as the fifth UAE national carrier based in Ras Al Khaimah. It started operating in 2007. By 2009 the airline suspended operations. It announced the resumption of operations in 2010 but actually restarted in 2011. The second time around the airline was more organized and operated to ten (10) cities  (Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Jeddah, Doha, Amman, Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad, Calicut and Katmandhu) using two A320s in two (2) class configuration 8 Business and 160 in Economy.  RAK Airways operated to Abu Dhabi and had a code share with Etihad to London Heathrow, Manchester, Dublin, Geneva and Bangkok.

RAK Airways never had a defined business plan, other than the usual rhetoric of development of tourism and aviation in Ras Al Khaimah, and if it did it was never published. The airline had 7 CEOs in as many years.

Ras Al Khaimah is emerging as a tourist destination with 1.2 million visitors last year and global hotel chains like Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Crowne Plaza, Rotana and others opening hotels and resorts in the emirate. These tourists preferred to fly to Dubai, since the majority of them came from destinations not served by RAK Airways.

Ras Al Khaimah government realized that going it alone in the Northern Emirates with their 800,000 inhabitants is not going to work out. Developing tourism using limited regional destinations does not work when most of the tourists hail from Europe and North America.

The question that raises itself now is how would Fujairah react to all of this, if at all? The emirate is developing into an important oil terminal with oil related industrial activities after the inauguration of the pipeline from Abu Dhabi to Fujaira. It boasts tourist areas like Khor Kalba, Massafi and the proximity to Khor Fakkan, the Sharjah resort on the Gulf of Oman. It is linked by a modern super highway to the major cities of the UAE, reducing travel times.

Another interesting issue will be the Ajman International Airport (under construction) which is in close proximity to Sharjah International Airport and Dubai International Airport and is raising ATM concerns within the UAE.

We wait and see

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Saga of Abu Dhabi's CBP Pre-Clearance Facility

Finally on Friday, 24 January 2014 the US Customs and Border Protection Pre-Clearance facility opened in Abu Dhabi International Airport. A4A, Pilots' Associations and of course the ever present Delta spearheaded the opposition to open the facility. So the UAE government, more likely the Abu Dhabi Government, paid up 85% of the cost includingy the salaries of US CBP officials. There were a lot of reasons cited opposing the facility; the investment could have been used to alleviate congestion in US international gateways and unfair competition to US carriers, who by the way do not serve Abu Dhabi.

Personally, I would have preferred the facility in Dubai, where there are more flights to the USA including Delta and United.

To put things in perspective approximately 180 million international passengers pass through US International Airports of which 58% are carried by US carriers and 42% by international carriers. Of these passengers 6 million come from the Middle East of which 41% (2.4 million) are carried by US carriers and 59% (3.6 million) by international carriers. At this time Etihad operate to JFK, IAD and ORD. 2014 will see a double daily to JFK and operation into LAX and DFW. All things considered Etihad will probably carry around 750 thousand passengers who will go through the pre-clearance facility, out of a total of more than 90 million passengers, less than 1%. The investment in the facility is minimal and will hardly dent the congestion problem.

Delta and others screamed about unfair competitive advantage, well they do not operate to Abu Dhabi, and it is unlikely that anyone will travel from Europe or Israel to fly Etihad just to avoid congestion. If anything Emirates, Qatar Airways and maybe Royal Jordanian, Saudia and Kuwait Airways should have lobbied against the facility. They are more affected by it than any US carrier.

The CEO of Norwegian lately said US carriers are afraid of competition, I tend to agree, but then this is another story.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 In Prespective

2013 has been an interesting year for aviation and the airline industry, in some ways a year of firsts. The following are some of the exciting events that will continue to shape the industry in 2014 and beyond. 

On board connectivity
Finally, the FCC and the FAA have paved the way to the use of mobile devices on board aircraft from departure to arrival, with inflight WI-FI available after 10,000 feet. The use of mobiles have triggered the debate of whether voice calls should be allowed; BA and Delta have decided not to allow mobile calls inflight, but the debate continues and most airlines awaiting passenger feedback. The prospect has raised the issue of cyber security with some airlines planning to have two (2) WI-FI networks on board; one for the cockpit and another for the cabin. 

The largest airline in the world 
The merger of American Airlines and US Airways is finalized creating the world's largest airline. Of course the road ahead is very difficult and how successful the new AA remains to be seen. Personally, I liked the old in bankruptcy AA the level of service improved and fleet renewal is underway.

The rise of the GULF Global carriers
The three Gulf carriers continued their double digit growth in different ways
- They launched the B777X along with Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific;
- Emirates ordered fifty (50) A380s and stabilized Airbus's production plans for the short term;
- Etihad equity stake in Jet Airways was finally approved. Etihad did not lose anytime in announcing its 
  plans for the Indian market;
- Etihad acquired 33% of Darwin Airlines, a Swiss regionals and will rebrand it as Etihad Regional.    
  Furthermore, they are in discussion with Alitalia for an equity stake; and
- Qatar Airways joined One World.
This prompted Star Alliance to invite Air India to join the alliance in an attempt by Lufthansa to preserve its share of the Indian international market. More interesting is US carriers, lead by Delta, request for protection from the government to limit access of the Gulf carriers and other international carriers and access to EXIM Bank financing.

These are by no means the only events facing the industry in 2014 but probably will have a large impact. Barring major geopolitical and natural disasters the industry is expected to continue its growth, hopefully at a better rate than this year.

Wishing you all a Happy and Prosperous 2014

Thursday, December 19, 2013

RJ at Fifty, Still Going Strong

This post appeared in RJ's in house employees magazine 

Amidst all the geopolitical turmoil of the last few years, Royal Jordanian has been able to maintain its pioneering spirit. It is not the oldest airline of the region nor the largest or richest. However, Royal Jordanian has always been at the forefront of the industry in the MENA region.

RJ has an innovative and can do spirit that meets challenges head on. I cannot recall a time when the MENA region did not have challenges from wars, invasions, blockades to uprisings. Issues that affect the stability, security, economy, tourism and the ability of people to travel.       

In spite of all this the airline managed to develop into a center of excellence.
The 1970s and 1980s, where times of rapid fleet expansion, with an increase in the B727/B747 fleets and the introduction of the L1011-500 and A310s followed by the A320s in 1990. The move to QAIA allowed the airline to rise to the challenge and was capable to efficiently operate and maintain the advanced new aircraft. The larger facilities allowed the airline to develop its heavy maintenance, engine overhaul, training and catering capabilities. The airline was always at the leading edge of technology, in 1983 it started operation of the L1011-500, the most advanced digital aircraft of its time. It was among the first to operate the A320, the first fly by wire aircraft and to introduce the large regional jets the Embraer ERJ175/195 to the MENA region.

In 2007 the airline was privatized, the first government airline of the region, a long and arduous process. The airline had to sell off almost all of its ancillary services, this drew criticism but in the final analysis it helped to broaden the aviation base in Jordan. New capabilities were introduced that otherwise would not have been. In the same year RJ joined One World The first MENA carrier to join a global alliance. The airline had to meet the alliance service delivery standards.

In the last few years the airline rolled over its fleet. The A310 passenger aircraft were retired and the A320 fleet was replaced by new A321/A320/A319 aircraft. The A340s were refurbished and the A330s were introduced to fill the gap until the delivery of the B787s, in the last quarter of 2014. The e-enabled B787 encompasses challenging leading edge technologies.

Royal Jordanian is a trend setter and has a can do spirit that rises to meet all challenges. This is achieved through a dedicated and well trained workforce. A workforce that is ready to go the extra mile to achieve its goals. The airline developed and thrived in spite of internal and regional challenges and in the process helped other airlines especially those in the Gulf region to develop. As the airline celebrates its 50th anniversary, the same pioneering, innovative and can do spirit still prevails. Aviation is an industry that is about people; those who travel and those who make their travel possible in a safe, secure and comfortable manner.                          
No Airline exemplifies this as Royal Jordanian does.


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