Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson got dressed up as a female flight attendant after honouring a bet he lost to Air Asia chief executive Tony Fernandes.
An Ethiopian Airlines 787 Dreamliner is due to take off from Addis Ababa on Saturday morning, the first commercial flight by the Boeing aircraft since all 787s were grounded in January.
An Ethiopian Airlines 787 Dreamliner takes off from Addis Ababa, the first commercial flight by the Boeing aircraft since all 787s were grounded in January.
Here is the original post: Boeing Dreamliner takes off again
Investigators consider whether powerful ‘wind shear’ or ‘microburst’ caused Bali crash in which all 108 on board survived
The Lion Air pilot whose jet fell into the sea while trying to land in Bali has reportedly described how he felt it “dragged” out of its trajectory and into the water. Investigators are considering whether a powerful downdraft of wind caused the crash in which all 108 passengers and crew survived despite the Boeing 737 cracking in half on impact.
The newly built plane undershot the tourist island’s main airport runway in Denpasar and belly-flopped in water on Saturday. Authorities from Indonesia, the US and Boeing are investigating.
Initial debriefings, witness comments and weather reports have focused attention on the possibility of “wind shear” or a downdraft from storm clouds known as a “microburst”. Experts say such violent and unpredictable gusts are rare but can leave even the most modern jet helpless if they are stronger than the plane’s ability to fly out of trouble – with the critical moments before landing among the most vulnerable.
“If you have a downdraft which exceeds the performance of the plane, then even if you put on full thrust you will go downhill and you can’t climb out,” said Hugh Dibley, a former British Airways captain and expert on loss-of-control events.
The cause of the crash has potential implications for the reputation of one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, which is fighting to be removed from a European Union safety blacklist just as it buys record volumes of Airbus and Boeing jets.
According to initial pilot debriefings, details of which have been described to the Reuters news agency, flight JT-904 was on an eastwards approach to Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport at mid-afternoon on Saturday following a normal flight from Bandung, West Java.
The co-pilot, an Indian national with 2,000 hours of relevant flying experience, was in charge for the domestic trip, which was scheduled to last one hour and 40 minutes.
As the Lion Air plane was coming in to land, with an aircraft of national carrier Garuda following behind and another about to take off on the runway just ahead, the co-pilot lost sight of the runway as heavy rain drove across the windshield. The captain, an Indonesian citizen with about 15,000 hours’ experience and an instructor’s licence, took the controls.
Between 122 metres and 61 metres altitude (400-200ft) pilots described flying through a wall of water, according to the source. Bursts of heavy rainfall and lost visibility are not uncommon in the tropics but the aircraft’s low altitude meant the crew had little time to react.
With no sight of the runway lights or markings the captain decided to abort the landing and perform a “go around”, a routine manoeuvre for which all pilots are well trained. But the captain told officials afterwards that instead of climbing the 737 started to sink uncontrollably and their well-practised routines unravelled quickly.
“The captain says he intended to go around but that he felt the aircraft dragged down by the wind; that is why he hit the sea,” said the source, who was briefed on the crew’s testimony. “There was rain coming east to west; very heavy,” the source said, asking not to be named because no one is authorised to speak publicly about the investigation while it is under way.
A passenger on board the jet painted a similar picture of an aircraft getting into difficulty only at the last minute. “There was no sign at all it would fall but then suddenly it dropped into the water,” Tantri Widiastuti, 60, told Metro TV.
Lion Air declined to comment on the cause of the crash.
According to the Flight Safety Foundation, bulletins for pilots at around that time indicated a few storm clouds at 518 metres (1,700ft) and a wind blowing moderately but varying in its direction from east-south-east to the west.
The aircraft itself was delivered in February and there had been only one technical problem: a landing light that had to be replaced.
According to Boeing, the 737-800, its most popular current model, is equipped with a system that detects wind shear ahead and warns the pilot audibly to go around.
Boeing says that a test flight to check the 787 Dreamliner’s new battery system “went according to plan”.
What started as a runway delay became every air passenger’s nightmare – ending with an emergency landing. But are critics right to blame airline cost-cutting?
We were going to have “a perfectly normal landing”, assured the pilot of Lufthansa flight 499 from Mexico City to Frankfurt, as he prepared his wary passengers for an emergency landing in the Azores. It was anything but.
“We have smoke in the cabin,” he said. “We cannot find out the reason. We will be landing in Lajes.” We were seven hours into our 11-hour voyage across the Atlantic.
The crew went not into landing but panic mode: one, in tears, wrenched down the curtains between sections of the cabin, lest they impede an evacuation. Video screens went blank, lights out, air-conditioning off. The voice of the purser was shaking and breaking as she spluttered instructions: “Fasten your seat belts, ensure that your seats
Stewart Wingate has written to transport secretary in bid to avoid the chaos at UK’s biggest airport “due to small amounts of snow”
The boss of Gatwick airport has called for caps on the number of flights at Heathrow to avoid disruption to passengers in what he called “normal winter weather conditions” after hundreds of departures were cancelled at the UK’s major hub over the last four days.
Chief executive Stewart Wingate wrote to the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, asking for a meeting to bring together London’s three main airports to work out how to avoid the chaos at Heathrow “due to small amounts of snow”.
Wingate said: “It just cannot be right that passengers are being asked to accept apologies for pre-emptive flight cancellations. Huge numbers of business meetings and holidays will have been impacted and misery caused to travellers. The over-scheduling of flights at Heathrow during the winter period should stop.
“I am proposing that for the key winter months of December, January and February Heathrow declares a level of capacity it can cope with in winter conditions. The additional flights then, for those three months, can move to Gatwick and Stansted.”
Thousands of passengers have seen their flights disrupted at Heathrow by the weather and there is some acknowledgement that flight cancellations came too late.
When winter bites at Heathrow it means one thing: a meeting of the damned. “They’re damned if they do, or damned if they don’t cancel hundreds of flights,” as one ex-airport insider put it.
Heathrow’s demand and capacity balancing group (Hadacab) decided last Thursday to press ahead without general cuts to flights which saw many passengers boarding planes on Friday that never took off, causing many hours of frustration. After that, a meeting on Saturday saw 20% of the following day’s flights cancelled, and about 120 of Monday’s flights were cancelled amid fears for visibility in forecast freezing fog.
At Monday’s midday meeting, with runways and taxiways clear, Hadacab decided against further cancellations for Tuesday.
Gatwick, with 5cm of snow, prides itself on not having cancelled any flights for its own operational reasons although airline troubles around Europe disrupted their schedules. London’s second airport puts this partly down to an £8m investment in snow-clearing machines that sweep the runway in 10 minutes, but mainly planning. A spokesperson said: “Snow is not an unexpected event. Everyone knows what their actions and responsibilities are and those plans went into place on Friday morning.”
Heathrow’s snow plans have been beefed up under an operations chief, Normand Boivin, headhunted in 2011 from Montreal airport, which sees over two metres of snowfall in an average winter. The airport also boasts £36m of new snow kit and claims to be the only one in the UK with a dedicated Met Office forecaster in residence.
But the overarching difference is that 10 minutes to sweep a runway is time that Heathrow does not have. Forced runway closures for clearance started the worst of Friday’s backlog: since, though, the runways and approaches have been clear. Visibility instead has been the bigger problem, with air traffic controllers requiring a bigger gap between planes landing or taking off. For an airport that operated last year at 99.2% capacity, a matter of seconds in each flight interval can cascade into long bottlenecks.
“Many airports have plenty of spare runway capacity so aircraft can be spaced out more during low visibility without causing delays and cancellations. Because Heathrow operates at almost full capacity, there is simply no room to reschedule the delayed flights,” a Heathrow spokesman said.
According to a boss of another UK airport, who once worked at the Heathrow coalface: “As soon as they say we’re clearing one runway, there is no resilience. You can close one of five runways at Amsterdam, but here, even for 20 minutes, it means they’ve gone bust. They’re in a very constrained environment, and to get these great big snow-clearing machines around the aircraft without hitting them or other units is a very tricky job. The de-icer will only last for half an hour or so and with gridlock on the taxiway, the whole thing becomes more and more complicated.”
Heathrow’s cancellation strategy is strongly dictated by British Airways, the largest carrier, which took much of the weekend flak. Early decisions to cancel have been compared favourably by some to the policy of London City airport, which only announced its decision to close altogether on Saturday in the afternoon.
Yet, most observers feel Heathrow has got its act together after its nadir in December 2010, when hundreds of thousands of passengers’ travel planes were disrupted by just one hour’s snowfall and more than 4,000 flights were cancelled over four days.But the fundamental problem is, as Heathrow admits, the sheer volume of planes. Given that snow is an annual winter event, has the airport taken on more than it can chew? The other airport boss sympathises: “Is it them being greedy or airlines wanting every ounce of capacity when they can? Either it turns away business every day, which would be crazy, or waits to deal with the problems that brings. It’s a tough call.”
Passenger video shows people on board an All Nippon Airways flight heading for the exits, down the emergency slides and away across the tarmac after the dramatic emergency landing of a Boeing Dreamliner in Japan
Richard Branson’s plan in the balance as Virgin Galactic argues with New Mexico over $200m spaceport
The future of Sir Richard Branson’s project to blast wealthy tourists and celebrities into space is set to become clear this week when it makes it first rent payment on the futuristic “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal.
Virgin Galactic has threatened to pull its support from the publicly financed $209m (£130m) “spaceport” in southern New Mexico, in the US, unless lawmakers extend the company’s waiver of liability to manufacturers and parts suppliers in the event of an accident. In the rush to capitalise on the private space industry, several US states, including Virginia, Wyoming and California, and destinations such as Abu Dhabi, are competing to win Virgin’s business. But none is as heavily invested as New Mexico, an impoverished US state that issued bonds and raised taxes to build the Norman Foster-designed Spaceport America. Nor have any potential rivals built a spaceport from scratch.
Anger has been rising after Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides indicated last year that failure to pass new legislation would force his company to rethink its plans. “We allowed our politicians to build something that was geared toward one player in the purely speculative field of space travel in the private sector that may never materialise,” said Paul Gessing, of the conservative-leaning Rio Grande Foundation. “Virgin has all the power in this arrangement. We don’t see it as a wise investment.” But, Gessing added: “We’re going to make the most of it.”
The development has had a troubled history, with critics saying former state governor Bill Richardson entered the spaceport deal without sufficient safeguards to taxpayers’ investment.
Richardson’s successor, governor Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican party, was initially cool on the project and cut funding to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. She is now voicing support.
Last week Christine Anderson, executive director of the spaceport, which is 150 miles south of Albuquerque, 25 miles from Chief Geronimo’s birthplace near Truth or Consequences, and within yards of the Journada del Muerto, or road of death, a 90-mile, waterless stretch of the Camino Real that Spanish conquistadors rode from Mexico City to reach the regional capital of Santa Fe, said: “The phones are in, the internet is in. It’s just the mission control consoles and the security they’re still working on,” adding she was “cautiously optimistic” Virgin would receive the guarantees. “We certainly understand the pressures on operators and we understand there’s competition from other spaceports. But we think we have a very competitive and unique operation.We want people to have fun when they come out here.”
A spokeswoman for Virgin Galactic said: “Without the legislation in place, New Mexico will be perceived as a place that is less friendly to space business. This law costs taxpayers nothing and yet it will help keep the state at the top of the list for commercial space operations.”
Jim Taylor, a rancher, recently called it “a terrible rip-off”. “Some people are concerned that Virgin might leave; conversely some wish it would just go away,” he said. “Maybe they could convert the ‘hangar’ into a concert hall for ‘Woodstock West’ or something that would generate money.”
Virgin signed a 20-year lease in 2009 but is only now activating the agreement and will make its first $84,000 monthly rent payment on the 10,000ft runway and futuristic “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal this week. The company says it has sold more than 400 seats on SpaceShipTwo at $200,000 apiece. Last week it offered to blast newly married Kate Winslet into space for four minutes of microgravity when flights begin, as soon as next year.
But New Mexico legislators, who meet this week to discuss the liability issue, are divided over passing immunising legislation. Experts say the dangers of commercial suborbital flight are still unknown and the legal liabilities untested.
The US federal government is allowing human space flight as long as passengers are fully informed of the risks. In effect, the government has shifted the risk from the operator to the passenger, or “space flight participant”, and now operators want that to extend to the makers of the spaceship.
“New Mexico has already made a significant investment and now the operator is saying we can’t do it unless you protect everybody else,” said Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, director of the space law programme at the University of Mississippi. “If people want to fly, that’s one thing, but should we limit the lawsuits if there’s an accident?”
Many of the emerging issues are, in fact, rocket science, said Gabrynowicz: “They’re not going to be able to pull punches. The operator has to tell the participant what the hazards are for launch and re-entry, the unknown hazards, exactly what the safety record is of the vehicle, and they have to be told they could die or suffer total or partial loss of mental and physical function, and that the government has not certified any of these vehicles.”
But the risks are not a deterrent to Branson or technology billionaires such as Microsoft’s Paul Allen and PayPal’s Elon Musk, who are leading the push into space-launch businesses.
At an event in Huntsville, Alabama, to celebrate the birthday of the late German rocket engineer Wernher von Braun, Allen, who bankrolled development of the Virgin vehicle, spoke of his company Dynetics Inc (slogan: “Any orbit, anytime”) as “the next great step” in space.
Huntsville, with its long history of rocket development, is seeing new activity with Rocket-Dyne resuming production of the massive engines that launched the Saturn V moon rocket, and the certification of military-use rockets to blast a new generation of astronauts aloft.
New Mexico, with its history in nuclear and military development, is understandably unwilling to lose its lead in the private space field. But, says Gabrynowicz, it’s unlikely that Branson could simply shift his business to another state or the Middle East, despite the millions of dollars Abu Dhabi has put into the project.
“You have to look at what’s downrange from the launch areas. In the case of Abu Dhabi you see Iraq and Iran. So if you have failed launches, you’re going to have a whole new set of issues.”