For a while, it looked as if Boeing’s problems could not get worse. After the 737 Max grounding in 2019 came further delays to the service entry of the 777X, and a halt to production of the 787 over manufacturing quality issues. To add to the ignominy, the world’s once largest aerospace company has been subject to increased scrutiny by the US Federal Aviation Administration after the agency itself came under fire for its inspectors’ perceived soft touch original certification of the Max.
However, executives seem keen to give the impression the company is turning a corner. This week, CEO David Calhoun suggested the 787 is on the “verge” of returning to service – he did not give a date. The airframer also flew its 777-9 at this month’s Farnborough airshow to stress that the programme is still very much alive, and plans to increase 737 production after clearing the surplus of whitetails that accumulated at its Seattle factory during the grounding and the pandemic.
After the 9/11 attacks 21 years ago, when terrorists seized control of four airliners to use as missiles, flight deck doors that can only be unlocked from inside became a requirement. An unintended outcome of that decision was the Germanwings 9525 tragedy, when the captain, who had left the flight deck to visit the washroom, was unable to prevent his suicidal first officer from deliberately crashing the aircraft.
However, the FAA is intent on making unauthorised access to the flight deck even harder by requiring all US aircraft to be fitted with a second physical cockpit barrier. It would mean, for instance, that a hijacker could not storm the single door when pilots were leaving the cockpit or cabin crew were bringing them meals. The largest pilots’ union, ALPA, backs the proposals, which are out for public consultation.
The FAA’s European counterpart, EASA, has also been getting involved in airline operations this week, advising carriers to take into account airport disruption when planning crew rosters. A captain should only use discretion to continue flying beyond duty hours in exceptional circumstances, says the agency. Instead, operators should be building contingencies into their crew scheduling when they know that delays are likely, especially at bases and hubs where reserve crews are to hand.
The intervention comes after a flurry of stories in the media about tired crews having to bend the rules to continue working, because the alternative would be passengers stranded at an airport where there are few options for accommodating them overnight. It is sure to put further pressure on the entire industry to resolve what continues to be a summer of chaos at many of Europe’s overstretched and seemingly dysfunctional airports.
Of course, part of the reason airports are under such pressure is the continued revival in demand after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. Airline results from three continents this week reflect that. Leading US leisure carrier Southwest reported record second quarter revenue and profit, describing the summer season as “the busiest we have seen in several years”, and admitting that it had not expected passenger levels to be so high in the April to June period.
In Brazil, Gol also had a strong second quarter, tripling revenues from a year ago, and attributing the rise largely to business travelers returning to the skies. In Singapore, whose government’s cautious approach to Covid-19 saw strict travel conditions apply well into this year, national carrier Singapore Airlines said it had finally returned to profit in the three months to end-June and foresees strong ticket sales for the rest of 2022.
The question of who would end up buying US leisure carrier Spirit was settled this week when its board of directors gave the nod to a takeover bid from JetBlue Airways, rejecting a previous plan for a merger with Frontier Airlines. If approved by shareholders and anti-trust regulators, it will be the first major US airline consolidation since before the pandemic. The two believe their combined strength will allow them to challenge the domestic dominance of the big four US airline groups.
Finally, if you are piloting an airliner in southern Europe this weekend you might want to keep an eye on space. EASA warned carriers that the uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere of a Chinese space launch vehicle was due to take place around 30 or 31 July. Scientists have plotted several potential trajectories for the ensuing debris, including one over a region that takes in parts of Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.