For Airbus especially it has been a remarkable week. The European manufacturer dispelled any notions that air shows might never return to their heyday of triple-digit orders, announcing within a 24-hour period deals with Indigo Partners airlines and Air Lease for 255 and 111 aircraft respectively. The latter included a launch order for the new A350 freighter, with the US lessor committing to buy seven of the type.
Boeing too has had a memorable show, flying in its flagship 777X for its first international outing. Seattle launched the latest, and largest, version of its Triple Seven at Dubai in 2013 with a raft of orders from the likes of Emirates, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways. Since then, ongoing delays to the programme and cancelled commitments have soured things, but Boeing has been insisting this week that the 777X will prove hugely popular as long-haul travel returns in earnest.
It has been a bittersweet few days for the US manufacturer, however. Late last week it formally accepted legal responsibility for the March 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 that resulted in a long, expensive grounding for the re-engined narrowbody. The manufacturer agreed to compensate families of those who died. The accident killed 157 people and Boeing was facing multiple suits in federal law courts, accusing it of negligence.
Meanwhile, the trial of a former Boeing 737 Max technical pilot, on charges relating to that crash, has been delayed from December until February. The US Department of Justice has accused Mark Forkner of fraud related to statements he made regarding the aircraft’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system. Despite the type’s return to the skies, it seems like Boeing’s Max nightmare will continue for some time to come.
Air shows are all about the future of flight, with manufacturers keen to promote some of the technologies of tomorrow they are working on. One of these is single-pilot commercial aircraft. At Dubai, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury gave a further indication that – if and when such a change comes – it is likely start with freighters. He said the new A350F, which has a mid-decade target for entry into service, would make an ideal platform to trial the concept.
Another trend is, of course, sustainability, and the push to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint was a big talking point at the show. Etihad has for several years been running a series of environmental initiatives in partnership with Boeing, with a 787 “Greenliner” as the testbed. At Dubai, the Abu Dhabi carrier said it would now also collaborate with Airbus, using A350-1000s, in areas including sustainable aviation fuel, waste and weight management and data-driven analysis.
The UK is becoming a centre for research into potential hydrogen-powered, zero-carbon flight. A university-affiliated organisation, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, is to work with a small shipping firm based in the Isles of Scilly to convert a 1994 Britten-Norman Islander to run on fuel cells powered by the gas. The Cranfield team had considered battery power, but now conclude that hydrogen is the way to go because of the weight penalty and charging time associated with on-board batteries.
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