General News

Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.

 

Airbus and Rolls-Royce have ended a joint venture to produce a hybrid-electric airliner test model

It seems the plans for a (pie-in-the-sky) electric plane before too long are even more remote than they were before ... Airbus and Rolls-Royce have ended a joint venture to produce a hybrid-electric airliner testbed that could have paved the way for electric aircraft of the future.  [A testbed aircraft is an aeroplane, helicopter or other kind of aircraft intended for flight research or testing the aircraft concepts or on-board equipment. These could be specially designed or modified from serial production aircraft.]  The aim was to replace or or two of four jet engines with an electric engine. There is an unrealistic hope in the industry, and by some politicians, that aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers on their holiday etc trips will, in the not too distant future, be able to fly just on electricity. The reality is that, at best, there might be planes that can carry rather few passengers for rather short distances.  Electric planes will NOT be able to substitute for planes like A320s now, travelling over 1,000 miles.  The joint venture presumably was not sufficiently successful that the companies felt the need to continue with it. They did manage to produce a keg-sized 2.5MW generator, smaller than produced before.

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British Airways lays off up to 12,000 staff, due to likely air travel decline for years

Madrid-based IAG, the owner of British Airways, says 12,000 of BA's total staff of 45,000, now face redundancy.  The airline is trying to conserve cash to keep going. Passenger numbers are expected to halve compared to 2019.  BA had already furloughed more than half (22,626) of its 45,000 workers. In a statement after the close of the Stock Exchange, IAG said:  'In light of the impact of Covid-19 on current operations and the expectation that the recovery of passenger demand to 2019 levels will take several years, British Airways is formally notifying its trade unions about a proposed restructuring and redundancy programme. The proposals remain subject to consultation but it is likely that they will affect most of British Airways' employees and may result in the redundancy of up to 12,000 of them." ..."There is no Government bailout standing by for BA and we cannot expect the taxpayer to offset salaries indefinitely." News that thousands of people will lose their jobs comes weeks after the airline company's Spanish owners axed a controversial £300million payout to shareholders earlier this month. 

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Airlines say Covid 2-week quarantine plan ‘will kill’ international travel – deterring travellers (though necessary in efforts to end the pandemic)

Trade body Airlines UK is saying "the airline industry and wider economy will suffer immeasurable damage" if ministers press ahead with plans to quarantine travellers for 14 days after they arrive at British airports. Currently people are arriving in the UK with no requirement, other than advice, to keep themselves in isolation for two weeks - in case they develop Coronavirus. So it is possible those arriving in the UK could be bringing in Covid with them, and setting up new infection spots. But the airlines say passengers having to remain at home, or in a hotel room, for 14 days would wreck international travel, further cut air travel demand, and damage their attempts to get flying profitably again (they do not appear bothered about the spread of Covid). Airlines are saying quarantine measures should be "co-ordinated" and the same between countries. They say, rightly, “Nobody is going to go on holiday if they’re not able to resume normal life for 14 days, and business travel would be severely restricted." They like to claim aviation is vital to the UK economy ... in reality most UK air travel is for leisure trips.

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US flight attendants warn: the airlines need to stop flying now

The airlines were a main contributor to the rapid spread of Covid-19 around the world. Rapid air travel is a major risk in the quick dissemination of any virus disease, enabling one to become a pandemic. But as well as moving the passengers around the globe, aiding the spread of infection, the airline staff are themselves at huge risk of catching the virus from the  passengers they are transporting. American flight attendants are very concerned about their own health risks, as they are very exposed to potentially catching virus disease. They often have to travel to and from work on public transport; they have to pass through many parts of an airport, coming into contact with many people; they have to come into close contact with passengers during a flight, and they then risk infecting their families when they return home. Even quarantining passengers in their destination country will not reduce the risk to airline staff. If every airline passenger, and all airline staff, wear masks, the risk would be slightly reduced. However, the effectiveness of a mask, worn for many hours and becoming damp, is unknown.

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Norwegian Air says most of fleet will stay grounded until 2021, and shareholders will be seriously hit

Norwegian Air says virtually all of its fleet of aircraft will remain grounded until 2021 as it seeks to persuade shareholders (meeting on 4th May) to accept a government-backed rescue plan that will wipe out most of their investments. Bondholders, aircraft lessors and shareholders will have to take a huge cut in profits in order for the airline to get a 3bn kroner (£230m) state bailout. Even that may not be enough, it warned, in its “base scenario”, where operations only restart in earnest next summer. Currently just seven of a fleet of 147 planes are not grounded as they are being used for state-subsidised domestic flights in Norway, mainly for essential cargo.  Its future plans may mean only keeping key profitable routes, ending long-haul routes to secondary airports, with a fleet up to 30% smaller than previously planned. Bondholders will later this week decide whether to accept the strategy and allow the debt to be converted into equity, a necessary move if Norwegian is to gain access to state funds.  Norwegian’s aircraft lessors will also be asked to take equity in the company, rather than pursue debts. The airline is looking to reduce its obligations on leasing planes by £403m. 

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Stop Stansted Expansion ask MAG not to challenge Uttlesford DC’s decision to oppose expansion, saving public money to help with Covid recovery

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) refused the Stansted Airport planning application on 24 January this year. But the airport’s owners, Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said an appeal was being considered. Legally, 6 months is allowed for a planning appeal and 3 months of that have now passed. An appeal would trigger a Public Inquiry which would mean that the final outcome might not be known for possibly another 18 months.  Meanwhile UDC has felt it had to set aside £1.7 million to cover the potential costs of a Public Inquiry, and the risk of UDC being forced to pay MAG’s costs if MAG wins. Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has asked MAG  to show magnanimity in the current circumstances of the Covid pandemic, by announcing that it will respect the decision made by UDC in January, and not appeal. SSE say "it’s time to end the uncertainty ... Now more than ever, MAG should respect the UDC decision.” SSE want the airport to withdraw its application for expansion to from 35mppa to 43 mppa. The £1.7million would be far better spent, by UDC, "to assist local businesses and local residents, including airport employees who have been laid off, during the virus crisis.”

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Coronavirus: Airlines lobby Sunak over prolonged ‘cash crisis’ wanting help well past June

Britain's airline industry is urging ministers to further extend government emergency wage subsidies beyond the end of June, warning that it will face a continuing "cash crisis" as demand for air travel takes months to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Airlines UK has written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to ask the Treasury to provide certainty for airlines about the ongoing operation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Airlines UK says if the scheme is "withdrawn prematurely, carriers experiencing only a tentative revenue recovery will face a renewed cash crisis". They also want a 'tapering' of the scheme or a review on a sectoral basis - to avoid aviation facing a cliff-edge post-June, whilst services start slowly being scaled up. Airlines have already had assistance with air traffic control charges for the lockdown period. Mr Sunak has said that the government will only consider bailing out individual carriers "as a last resort". Airlines want the furlough scheme to last as long as possible, as if there is a second wave of infection, it will delay the return of air travel demand. 

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Lufthansa says it will be a smaller airline post-Covid with perhaps 10,000 fewer jobs

Lufthansa has said that it will be left with 10,000 excess staff, when the Covid crisis ends, as it may become a permanently smaller airline. It is unlikely to experience pre-crisis levels of demand until 2023. Demand may not recover unless and until there is a vaccine that is available worldwide.  And it says it will have to spend more the €1bn a year to repay loans after the crisis. It can no longer borrow the money it needs commercially. Almost 90,000 of its 135,000 employees are furloughed, and many staff would be lost, though every effort will be made to preserve jobs. Also the load factor may be 10% lower in future. It may also get rid of about 100 planes, keeping larger models. The CEO, Carsten Spohr, said “We were the first industry to be affected by this global crisis and aviation will be one of the last to leave it.”  [And they helped the rapid spread of the virus round the world]. IATA is predicting a 48% fall in air passengers in 2020, compared to 2019, taking global numbers back to those of around 2013. Lufthansa may axe Germanwings and shrink its Eurowings division.

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Air France must cut CO2 emissions, and domestic flights as condition of state aid: says France’s Finance Minister

France's Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has told Air France that it will have to cut its carbon emissions and domestic flights, as conditions for government financial support.  The French government has offered the airline a €7 billion package of state-guaranteed bank loans, and loans directly from the state. This is on condition that the airline map out a path to profitability and set the goal of "becoming the most environmentally friendly carrier in the world." [Whatever that means]. Air France will have to halve its CO2 emissions per passenger, and per kilometre - compared to their 2005 level - by 2030.  The CO2 emissions from domestic flights in France will have to be halved, and that means cutting the numbers drastically.  Another condition is that 2% of the fuel used by its planes would have to be derived from alternative, sustainable sources by 2025. [Problem is there are almost no properly environmentally "sustainable" fuels, and pushing for them is likely to increase deforestation and loss of land for food growing, and for wildlife]. Air France also have to buy new planes, with lower CO2 emissions, from Airbus.  

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Heathrow’s Holland-Kaye wants internationally agreed infection screening measures at airports

Matt Hancock, wanting an internationally agreed standard of measures to check passengers for Covid infection.  Holland-Kaye has asked Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, for mass screening at airports to combat Covid. He wants an internationally agreed standard of measures, including antibody tests and a requirement that all passengers carry health passports proving they are medically fit - so he can get the  airport working and making money again soon.  At present, about 10,000 people are arriving per day through Heathrow. Some are from countries with a lot of Covid and  might be carrying the virus. The UK has a far more lax attitude to people arriving by air than many other countries. All there is for passengers arriving at UK airports is they are handed information leaflets and told to self-isolate for 14 days after landing – although officials admit they have no way of enforcing this. Passengers may leave the airport on public transport. The failure to insist on proper quarantine threatens the health of the nation and makes a mockery of the lockdown conditions imposed on the rest of Britain. The UK is an outlier in its open borders, no quarantine policy.

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