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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why airlines can no longer afford to insult their pilots


Why airlines can no longer afford to insult their pilots

HAS Lufthansa made a fundamental error in its treatment of its pilots? Does that question mark apply to the entire airline industry?
Flight-deck employees of the leading German airline, including its cargo arm, plan to go on strike for the 14th time since 2014, after pay talks between its pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) and management broke down again, writes Thelma Etim.
The unimpressed union is reportedly seeking an average annual pay rise of 3.66 per cent – in line with Lufthansa’s profits of US$5.4bn over that period.
It all sounds familiar. Just like legacy cargo carriers Cargolux and Air France-KLM, Lufthansa is struggling to competeagainst the powerful new wave of carriers fashioning a new economic and business model, whilst experiencing extraordinary growth, innovation and profitability.
They include Qatar Airways, AirBridgeCargo, Volga-Dnepr, Turkish Airlines, Etihad and Emirates – plus a raft of regional low-cost passenger carriers.

Acute shortage of pilots

Forced to downsize, Lufthansa’s approach to its pilots’ demands does not appear to be any better than counterparts Cargolux and Air France-KLM. Lufthansa’s only achievement in the negotiations thus far appears to have been the successful curtailment of the ‘negative’ press coverage of its surreptitious discussions with VC. In the face of dwindling profits, surely avoiding embarrassment (by hiding from the media) is the least of its problems.
Whether they like it or not, pilots remain the nucleus of any airline. Put simply, until the advent of pilotless commercial aircraft, no pilots, no airline.
Some airlines are already suffering from acute pilot shortages. Cargolux, for example, is currently struggling to find pilots, having revised its terms and conditions for flight-deck contracts, sources say. The Luxembourg all-cargo carrier is so short of co-pilots that flights are being delayed for several hours “or even possibly cancelled,” insiders reveal.
Former Cargolux chief executive Dirk Reich was apparently advised that the new contracts will become a major barrier to recruiting the same numbers of quality pilots as in the past. Unsurprisingly, the mood among Cargolux’s pilots is now “at an all-time low,” according to close observers.
Why else has Southwest Airlines of the USA acquiesced to a new contract which will see its pilots’ pay rise by almost 30 per cent over four years? And pilots working for Delta Air Lines are also in the process of voting on a contract offering 30 per cent pay increases. If Delta pilots approve the deal, United Airlines’ pilots will also see an augmentation in their salaries, under a clause that ties their pay rates to Delta’s, reports say.

Global, political, economic and market challenges

Pilot pay is not the only concern casting a pall over the operations of Lufthansa and other legacy carriers engaged in crucial restructuring processes to weather the constant onslaught of global, political, economic and market challenges. In July, Boeing released its seventh pilot and technician report, which forecasts that between 2016 and 2035, the world’s commercial aviation industry will require approximately 617,000 new commercial airline pilots.
Asia-Pacific is the region expected to require the greatest number of pilots (248,000) over this period due mainly to expected growth in the single-aisle low-cost carrier market, while North America’s increased pilots demand (112,000) will be the result of new markets opening up in Cuba and Mexico. Demand in Europe has increased responding to a strong intra-European Union market, the Boeing study also reveals.
RegionNew Pilots
North America112,000
Latin America51,000
Middle East58,000
Russia / CIS22,000
The projections indicate that airline pilots will find themselves in a very strong position in the very near future – even sparking bidding wars for their services. Sources suggest this is already happening, with some pilots switching from one airline to another, lured by more attractive packages and prospects.
It is a situation that will become a major stumbling block for all-cargo airline Cargolux as it comes under pressure to recruit talented new people for its proposed Henan-based offshoot Cargolux China whose launch date has already been put back. How many pilots are there who would happily uproot their family lives to live in the middle of China? How would such a change work for schooling, language, social life etc?

“..growing lack of suitable candidates”

The critical shortage of pilots amidst growing demand across the entire aviation industry is the next major headache for some carriers, especially amongst those desperately looking to cut costs. Another report warns they should be doing the opposite.
“Due to the increasing demand for pilots and a growing lack of suitable candidates, airlines need to develop strategies to ensure they attract and retain, the right crew,” asserts global risk management company Marsh, which has suggested a number of vital alternative strategies for carriers. These include conducting regular pay reviews.
“Given that the cost of flight training is considered to be a deterrent for young talented [people], they are more likely to be attracted to airlines who offer generous packages covering these costs,” the company explains. “Having then borne the pilot training costs, the airline must seek to protect its investment by taking proactive care to retain its staff.”
The Marsh report cites improving work conditions as a significant factor that carriers should consider by “taking steps to ensure their corporate culture promotes a better work/life balance” for employees.
“For example, longer rest periods, more regular schedules and revisions in the number of hours they are required to fly annually could all have positive effects,” it suggests. The truth is that most pilots try to maximise the number of hours they fly to earn lucrative bonuses worth as much as 30 to 40 per cent of their salaries.
But there remains a big gap in expectations between airline managements and their pilots. From the airlines’ current management perspective – and even though there is a shortage of pilots – airlines are unlikely to want to encourage their pilots to spend less time in the air, the report insists.
Offering enhanced employee benefits is another tactic carriers can employ to distinguish themselves from the competition. “Given the unique challenges faced by pilots, most airlines recognise they need to provide specialised aviation employee benefits coverage, as opposed to some of the more generic employee benefit packages available,” the report says.
Such niche insurance coverage typically falls into four key areas: personal accident, term-life, emergency medical expense, and loss of licence.
The report concludes that as this race for the best flight-deck talent intensifies, airlines will be forced into re-thinking their people strategies. “Given [carriers] operate within an often harsh and volatile economic environment, airlines will need to explore a variety of creative approaches to attract and retain crew, beyond simply raising salaries – certainly one approach is to put in place an aviation employee benefits programme that distinguishes one airline from its competitors.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

SR-71 Blackbird Pilot Trolls Arrogant Fighter Pilot with Ground Speed Check

This may be the single greatest aviation story ever told, it’s about the iconic SR-71 Blackbird whose full operating specs are still classified to this day. The story, from the now out-of-print book Sled Driver by former SR-71 jockey Brian Shul (available used on Amazon for just $700). Here’s the ultimate aviation troll:
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There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.
It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn’t match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury.
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Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.
We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: “November Charlie 175, I’m showing you at ninety knots on the ground.”
Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the ” Houston Center voice.” I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country’s space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn’t matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.
Just moments after the Cessna’s inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. “I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed.” Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. “Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check”. Before Center could reply, I’m thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol’ Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He’s the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: “Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground.”
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And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done – in mere seconds we’ll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn.
Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet. Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: “Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?” There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. “Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.”
I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: “Ah, Center, much thanks, we’re showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money.”
For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, “Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.”
It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day’s work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.
For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Navigation blunder sees AirAsia plane landing in Melbourne instead of KL

An AirAsia flight bound for Kuala Lumpur from Sydney flew to Melbourne instead because the pilot had entered the wrong coordinates into the internal navigation system, said a news report based on the findings of an air safety investigation.
According to The Guardian, "a combination of data entry errors, crew ignoring unexplained chimes from the computer system, and bad weather in Sydney" led to the Airbus A330 landing in Melbourne just after 2pm, some three hours after take off on March 10 last year.
The publication also noted that while the Melbourne airport is 722km southwest of Sydney, Kuala Lumpur is 6,611km northwest.
Citing the findings of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) published today,Guardian said the problem occurred when faulty earmuffs prompted the captain and first officer to swap their usual pre-flight checks.
"Ordinarily, the (ATSB) report said, the captain would conduct an external inspection of the plane while the first officer stayed in the cockpit and, among other tasks, completed the position initialisation and alignment procedures.
"On this day, however, the captain's ear protection was not available so he took over the cockpit tasks, which included entering their current coordinates, usually given as the coordinates of the departure gate, into the plane's internal navigation system."
The ATSB found that the captain manually copied the coordinates from a sign outside the cockpit window into the system, and that later analysis showed a "data entry error".
Instead of entering the longitude as 151̊ 9.8’ east, or 15109.8 in the system, the pilot incorrectly entered it as 15̊ 19.8’ east, or 01519.8.
"This resulted in a positional error in excess of 11,000km, which adversely affected the aircraft's navigation systems and some alerting systems," Guardian quoted the ATSB.
However, the ATSB also noted that the crew had "a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error" but did not notice it until they had become airborne and started to track in the wrong direction.
"Those opportunities included a flag or message that flashed up on the captain's screen during crosscheck of the cockpit preparations, which the first officer later told ATSB investigators he had seen but not mentioned because it was 'too quick to interpret'; and three separate chimes which, because they were not accompanied by a message from the computer, were ignored.
"A fifth sign that something was wrong came in the form of an alert blaring: "TERRAIN! TERRAIN!" This was not ignored – both pilots said it had 'startled' them. But, as that alert meant they were about to hit something and they could see the way ahead was clear, and as the busy runways at Sydney airport made the full response to such an alert 'undesirable', they pressed on," said Guardian.
However, when the autopilot was engaged at 410 feet, it tracked the plane moving left, toward the flight path of another runway.
According to the ATSB, when the captain and first officer tried to fix the system, it "resulted in further degradation of the navigation system, as well as to the aircraft's flight guidance and flight control systems".
Following this, the pilot requested to return to Sydney and informed the air traffic control that only a visual approach was possible, which is to land the aircraft without the assistance of the navigation system.
As the weather conditions had worsened in Sydney, air traffic control had advised the pilot to head to Melbourne.
In Melbourne, three hours was spent on fixing the problem and the plane arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 10.20pm, six hours behind schedule.
Advising AirAsia to upgrade its flight systems in order to prevent or detect such problems in future, the ATSB also said that even experienced flight crew are not immune from data entry errors.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mueller to leave Malaysia Airlines in September

Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which is the sole shareholder of the airline, said on Tuesday it was informed by the MAB board of directors about Mueller's intention to leave.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines Bhd CEO and managing director Christoph Mueller will leave his executive position in September 2016. 

Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which is the sole shareholder of the airline, said on Tuesday it was informed by the MAB board of directors about Mueller's intention to leave. 

“The matter has also been discussed and recorded at the Khazanah board of directors meeting earlier today. 

“While we would have wanted Mueller to continue as planned, we also respect and ultimately agree to his decision to leave ahead of the end of his three-year contract, due to a change in his personal circumstances,” it said.

To recap, German-born Mueller is the first non-Malaysian at the helm of the national carrier. 

MAB took off on Sept 1 last year by taking over Malaysian Airline System Bhd operations, including assets and liabilities. 

In an interview with AP early April, Mueller said MAB posted a profit in February - its maiden positive monthly result - and it was on track to return to profitability by 2018.

“For a company that lost RM2bil just last year, if you are able to break even for a month or so, it means the financial gap between revenue and cost has significantly closed, and that is good news that tells us that we are on the right trajectory,” he said in an interview. 

Below is the statement issued by Khazanah:

Khazanah Nasional Berhad (“Khazanah”) has been informed by the Malaysia Airlines Berhad (“MAB”) Board of Directors that CEO and Managing Director Christoph Mueller will leave his executive position in September 2016. The matter has also been discussed and recorded at the Khazanah Board of Directors meeting earlier today. 

While we would have wanted Mr. Mueller to continue as planned, we also respect and ultimately agree to his decision to leave ahead of the end of his three-year contract, due to a change in his personal circumstances. 

Khazanah would like to thank Mr. Mueller for his instrumental contribution in the restructuring efforts, all the while demonstrating strong performance as the person tasked with implementing the turnaround of the national carrier and developing talent for eventual local succession. 

We note that Mr. Mueller has laid the groundwork, put in place a strong management team, and undertaken the necessary measures and initiatives that have produced encouraging signs of progress on Malaysia Airline’s path to recovery, as called for under the five-year 12-point MAS Recovery Plan (“MRP”). 

We also record our appreciation for Mr. Mueller’s commitment to facilitate an orderly transition by serving the full six-month notice period as CEO to September 2016, and beyond that, for his commitment to remain on the MAB Board as Non-Executive Director to see through the leadership transition and continue contributing to the implementation of MRP. 

Khazanah as the sole shareholder of MAB will, in consultation with the MAB Board and the Government, through the Minister of Finance, undertake the succession planning for the new CEO of MAB. 

In accordance with the provisions of and conditions contained in the MRP, the final decision on the new CEO of MAB will be undertaken through all necessary consultation and approvals before the end of Mr. Mueller’s term in September 2016. 

Khazanah notes the implementation of the MRP is on track and on schedule over the 20-month period since its announcement in August 2014. 

Much has been achieved over this period and Mr. Mueller has contributed significantly to its progress to date. 

He has also helped to lay the foundations for a sustained turnaround and in that regard, Khazanah will continue to support and drive the recovery further in the remaining 40 months of the MRP.

Garuda signs $5.75 billion deal with Airbus, Rolls-Royce

Indonesian airline Garuda has signed a 4 billion pound ($5.75 billion) deal with planemaker Airbus and engine-maker Rolls-Royce to upgrade 14 A330 aircraft to the newer A330neo version of the jet, the British government said.
The deal was signed on Tuesday in London on the first day of Indonesian President Joko Widodo's visit to Britain, and announced by Downing Street in a statement which said it would boost Britain's economy .
The wings for Airbus planes are made in Britain and UK firm Rolls-Royce will make and service the engines for the jets.
The A330neo is a more fuel-efficient version of the Airbus A330 long-distance jet with new Trent 7000 engines from Rolls-Royce launched in 2014.

Airbus targets 700 commercial airplane orders

Airbus has told aircraft industry experts that it expects to win 700 orders this year.  According to sources, Airbus executives mentioned the target at a meeting of aircraft value appraisers in Toulouse last week.
In its latest official guidance, parent Airbus Group says it expected orders to exceed deliveries of more than 650 aircraft in 2016.
Airbus sold a gross total of 32 aircraft and delivered 125 in the first quarter, down 74 percent and 7 percent respectively from the same period last year. After adjusting for cancellations, it posted 10 net orders in the quarter, its slowest start to the year since 2011.

Saudia announces new low cost airline, Flyadeel

According to the media reports, the airline is expected to be cost effective.
Aiming to provide low cost air transport, Saudi Arabian Airlines ( Saudia) has announced the establishment of a new airline company, named Flyadeel. According to the media reports, the airline is expected to be cost effective.
Earlier in December, Director General of Saudia Saleh Al-Jasser had said that despite the SR30 increase in the airfares, the airliner's ticket prices are lowest. With the total catalogue value of$ 8.0million, 50 passenger planes from Airbus were ordered by Saudia during the 2015 Paris Air Show.

Malaysia's RayaniAir temporarily suspends operations

RayaniAir has suspended its operations temporarily in order to restructure the airline's management. The airline, in a Facebook posting said: “Hello, RayaniAir Operations has temporarily been suspended in order to restructure its management. We apologise for the inconvenience..”
Rayani Air pilots had reportedly gone on strike on Thursday causing the cancellation of several flights.