By Alex Macheras
Here’s a roundup of the latest aviation news from around the world, as the industry continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Airbus has suspended all production at its A220/A320 manufacturing site in Alabama, United States. Airbus production and assembly activities in Bremen, Germany, will pause, and its Stade, Germany, site will also pause production and assembly from 5-11 April inclusive — with additional pause days in the weeks that follow in selected production departments.
This week Airbus told staff “With supply chains no longer fully operational, declining number of orders being taken & the ability of customers to take deliveries dropping to devastating levels, the result is full operations are no longer feasible in the short term.”
An Airbus spokesman confirmed the company has reached agreement with worker representatives to implement a two-week holiday in France, and said a similar accord is being finalised in Germany.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s 737 MAX is still as broken as ever, with new software flaws discovered this week. Boeing has identified two new software problems with the grounded 737 MAX that must be fixed before the jetliner can carry passengers again.
The issues involve the flight-control computer and don’t affect the plane’s estimated return to service in mid-2020, Boeing said in an email on Tuesday. The Max’s software has been undergoing a redesign after being linked to two fatal crashes that prompted a worldwide flying ban more than a year ago.
Elsewhere at Boeing, and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Boeing announced on Monday that it will temporarily suspend all 787 Dreamliner operations at its North Charleston, South Carolina, facility until further notice. The temporary shutdown started yesterday (Wednesday). Several divisions of the North Charleston plant will be shuttered as a result of the decision to halt production, Boeing officials said. They include the Airport Campus, Emergent Operations, the Interiors Responsibility Centre and Propulsion. Approximately 7,500 people work at Boeing’s South Carolina operation. “It is our commitment to focus on the health and safety of our teammates while assessing the spread of the virus across the state, its impact on the reliability of our global supply chain and that ripple effect on the 787 programme,” said Brad Zaback, vice president and general manager of the 787 Program and BSC site leader. “We are working in alignment with state and local government officials and public health officials to take actions that best protect our people.”
easyJet has secured a £600mn loan from UK government. In addition the airline has drawn down £407mn from its Revolving Credit Facility — raising easyJet’s cash reserves to around £2.3bn. However, the airlines’ founder is continuing to threaten legal action against directors over A320neo order: “If a penny of easyJet’s monies goes to Airbus whilst easyJet defaults on other future financial obligations, I will personally make sure those responsible will go to jail.”
In Germany — Lufthansa permanently cut fleet size, amid Covid-19 — the airline will remove 6 x Airbus A380; 7 x Airbus A340-600; 5 x Boeing 747-400; 11 x A320s at Lufthansa; and 10 x A320 at Eurowings.
Austrian Airlines have told staff that once aviation eventually overcomes this Covid-19 crisis; “the world we fly into will be a different one.”
Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 expert advisory panel stated that ‘quarantine exemptions’ for airline crew ‘do not make sense.’
“For cabin crew it makes no logical sense to give crew a (quarantine/isolation) exemption when they are having close contact with passengers.”
Lebanon’s national airline, Middle East Airlines CEO has said he can’t help with flying back all residents without risking airline collapse. “We are not able to financially support expats’ returns because our priority now is the sustainability of this company” he explained.
Meanwhile, there are real questions over the future of the A380 superjumbo as more airlines announce a permanent grounding of the jet, amid this pandemic. It’s certainly true that, for some airlines, the current crisis will push A380 into an early retirement (given for many airlines, retirement was on the cards already). But for many operators, the superjumbo will return to service once air travel demand resumes.
Engine-maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, a supplier to Airbus wide-body planes, scrapped its outlook for 2020 on Monday. Last month it said it would significantly reduce all but essential activities at its UK civil aerospace facilities because of the coronavirus outbreak.
While Covid-19 is first priority for most countries right now — this week Ukraine wanted to make clear that, despite the pandemic, “Ukraine will in no way allow Iran to escape responsibility for flight PS752 crash.” On January 11, Iran admitted it had accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800.
Finally, EASA has certified the A330-800 for “beyond 180 minutes” ETOPS — demonstrating the aircraft’s design & systems maturity and maximising its transpacific range capability.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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