Thursday, December 31, 2009

Japan Airlines 'may stop international flights'

AFP - Friday, January 1

The Japanese government is discussing an option to strip debt-ridden Japan Airlines (JAL) of its international operations to enable it to survive as a domestic carrier, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
TOKYO (AFP) - – Japan Airlines (JAL) may stop flying international routes under a plan being discussed by the government to try to keep the debt-ridden company in the air, a report said Thursday.

The plan calls for rival All Nippon Airways (ANA) to take over JAL's international flights as part of what would be a drastic downsizing scheme for Asia's biggest airline, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper said.

The scheme was apparently on the table when key cabinet officials, including Transport Minister Seiji Maehara, met on Wednesday to discuss JAL's rehabilitation programme.

The transport ministry has strongly opposed the plan to turn JAL into a domestic carrier despite growing calls for a drastic restructuring of its international operations where losses weigh heavily, the newspaper said.

"(JAL) will be a good company if it abandons international routes and concentrates on domestic flights," an unnamed JAL executive was quoted by Mainichi as saying.

Immediate confirmation of the report was not available.

In a related move, Maehara held talks with vice Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other officials Thursday and agreed that the state-run Development Bank of Japan will offer further loans to JAL.

The DBJ has already disbursed just over half of a 100 billion yen (1.08 billion dollar) credit line extended in November. "On top of the remaining 45 billion yen, (DBJ) is to expand the limit," Maehara told reporters.

Cabinet officials said they would discuss details of further loans to JAL on Sunday before making an official announcement, while local media reported that DBJ is likely to double its credit line to 200 billion yen in total.

JAL, battered by the global recession and swine flu pandemic, is scrambling to slash costs and is seeking its fourth government bailout since 2001 to keep flying in the face of mounting losses.

Shares plunged to a record low on Wednesday as media reports that bankruptcy is one option for the cash-strapped carrier spooked investors.

The Tokyo stock market was closed for a holiday on Thursday.

Local media have reported that the state-backed Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp., which is overseeing JAL's restructuring, is considering the possibility of the carrier filing for protection from creditors.

It has also been offered financial assistance by both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, who are competing to take a minority stake in the Japanese carrier, eyeing its coveted Asian landing slots.

JAL, which lost about 1.5 billion dollars in the six months to September, has said it plans thousands of job cuts and a drastic reduction in routes as part of its efforts to return to profitability.

The global economic downturn has dealt a heavy blow to JAL's efforts to recover from a long period of financial turbulence stretching back to its privatisation more than two decades ago.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Half of stranded Air Comet passengers rescued

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 12/26/2009
Special charter flights have rescued nearly half of the 7,000 passengers left stranded by the collapse of Air Comet, according to information released Saturday by Spain's airport authority.

Half of stranded Air Comet passengers rescued
Special charter flights have rescued nearly half of the 7,000 passengers left stranded by the collapse of Air Comet, according to information released Saturday by Spain's airport authority.

Spain suspended Air Comet's operating licence on Tuesday after the airline filed for protection from creditors and laid off all of its 666 employees.

Thousands of travellers were left stuck at airports in Spain and Latin America, and the Spanish government said Wednesday it had chartered four planes to take them to their destinations.

A 400-seat charter flight took off from Madrid's Barajas airport for Lima on Saturday, according to a spokesman for Aena, Spain's publicly-owned airport management company.

The Spanish infrastructure ministry, which is responsible for transport, said Friday the charter flights had already transported 2,905 passengers.

According to Spanish national radio, around 100 Air Comet passengers, mostly immigrant workers from Peru and Ecuador who had hoped to travel home for Christmas, were still protesting at Barajas to demand more rescue flights.

Air Comet said its troubles came to a head when a British court ordered nine of its aircraft to be impounded at the request of German bank Nordbank which said the airline had failed to make aircraft lease payments.

Saturday's edition of El Pais newspaper reported that Air Comet could have kept going temporarily through mediation between the Spanish government and Nordbank, but refused, choosing to "ditch 7,000 passengers".

Spain's Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco confirmed the report, saying the Air Comet management had preferred to shut down operations.

The Ecuadorian government and several Spanish consumer groups are planning legal action against Air Comet for fraud.

Blanco said Saturday the airline would be "punished according to the law and the case against it".

Madrid said it expected to spend 6.3 million euros (9.0 million dollars) to transport passengers affected by the collapse of the debt-ridden airline, which focused on flights from Spain to South America.

Air Comet has a fleet of 13 planes and carried 1,500 passengers a day on flights from Madrid to South American cities including Bogota, Buenos Aires, Havana, Lima and Quito.

At the beginning of December, the airline's workers staged partial strikes before the company agreed to cover unpaid wages, which in some case went back eight months.

Air Comet is controlled by Spanish travel group Marsans, whose president Gerardo Diaz Ferran is the head of Spain's employers federation CEOE.

Ferran blamed the closure of the airline on the British court's decision -- which he called "disproportionate" -- as well as a drop in bookings due to the global economic downturn.

Friday, December 25, 2009

US plane incident was 'attempted act of terrorism'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - – A passenger aboard a trans-Atlantic flight attempted to ignite an explosive as the plane was landing in Detroit in an incident US officials called an attempted terrorist attack.

President Barack Obama was informed of the incident and ordered increased security for air travel, the White House said.

The incident was "an attempted act of terrorism," a senior US official told AFP.

The incident unfolded around noon local time (1700 GMT) on Friday aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, enroute from Amsterdam to the US city of Detroit.

The passenger "was immediately subdued and Delta is cooperating with authorities," a spokeswoman for Northwest's parent company Delta, Susan Elliott, told AFP.

The passenger was a 23-year-old Nigerian who "definitely has terror connections," US Representative Peter King told Fox News.

King said the man attempted to light a "fairly sophisticated device" aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which was carrying 278 passengers and arriving from Amsterdam.

"This could have been catastrophic," said King, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

Obama discussed the incident in a secure conference call with his Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor John Brennan, and National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough, the White House said.

Obama "instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel," the White House said.

"The president is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates," the statement read.

Sandra Berchtold, an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit, told AFP the incident was under investigation and US media reported that the passenger had told investigators he was affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

CNN and other broadcast outlets, citing a federal bulletin, said the man told investigators he had acquired the explosive device in Yemen, along with instructions as to when it should be used.

The incident drew comparisons with the case of the "shoebomber" Richard Reid, who attempted to bomb a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 by igniting explosives he smuggled aboard in his shoes.

In the Netherlands, anti-terrorism officials said the suspect US agents detained in Detroit was not a Dutch national or resident.

The man arrived at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport on a connecting flight, said Judith Sluiter, the spokeswoman for the Netherlands' anti-terrorism coordinator.

Sluiter however was unable to specify from which country the man had arrived to the airport but King told Fox News the man "boarded the plane in Nigeria and then connected on in Amsterdam to Detroit."

The US Transportation Security Administration said they were rescreening the plane after it landed in Detroit.

"All passengers deplaned and out of an abundance of caution the plane was moved to a remote area where the plane and all the baggage are currently being rescreened," the agency said in a statement.

"A passenger is in custody and passengers are currently being interviewed," the statement added.

Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, has not changed his schedule. "The president is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates," the White House said.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Bernama - Saturday, December 19
MELBOURNE, Dec 18 (Bernama) – A Qantas jumbo jet was forced to return to Singapore when one of its engines surged, but the airline has denied reports of a fire.

Flight QF10 was less than two hours into a journey from Singapore to Melbourne when the engine surged and had to be shut down about 9.20pm (local time) Thursday, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported.

Passengers reportedly described seeing "tongues of fire" shooting from the engine and feeling the plane convulse and lose power.

But a Qantas spokeswoman said there was no fire and passengers were never at risk.

"At approximately 31,000 feet, the engine surged and the flight crew followed procedures and shut down the engine and then they returned back to Singapore. The safety of the passengers was not threatened in any way," the spokeswoman told AAP.



"According to official reports there was no fire and there was no smoke. "What they could have seen might have been a flare from the engine but definitely no fire."

The plane, carrying 354 passengers and 19 crew, returned to Singapore's Changi Airport powered by three of its four engines.

Emergency services were waiting but the plane landed without incident.

Passengers were given accommodation for the night and were expected to experience a 23-hour delay before departing for Melbourne.

The Qantas spokeswoman said the jumbo would be grounded while the engine was replaced.

The incident is being investigated.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Boeing's Dreamliner in maiden flight

Wednesday, December 16
EVERETT, Washington (AFP) - – Boeing's cutting-edge 787 Dreamliner has taken its milestone first flight that the US aerospace giant hopes will prove a "gamechanger" for the global aviation industry.

The Dreamliner's first flight, more than two years behind schedule, marked the beginning of a world-spanning flight test program expected to deliver the first airplane to Japanese launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) in the fourth quarter of next year, the company said.

"Today is a great day for the Boeing Company," Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, said at a news conference following the flight Tuesday.

"I assure you the 787 will be the gamechanger that it was meant to be," he said.

The mid-size, twin-aisle Dreamliner is Boeing's first new model in more than a decade. The company has based its revolutionary design on lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum to improve fuel efficiency and reduce maintenance costs. Facts: Boeing 787 Dreamliner

About half the Dreamliner is made of composite materials, such as carbon fiber-reinforced resin, compared with 12 percent for its predecessor, the Boeing 777, which made its first flight in 1994.

The Dreamliner will use 20 percent less fuel than today's airplanes of comparable size and provide airlines with up to 45 percent more cargo revenue capacity, the company said.

For passengers, the 787 means larger windows, better lighting, more storage space and cleaner, more humidified air than current airplanes, it said.

Boeing sees the 787 as the future for the industry, as well as for its commercial strategy. The 787 "will set the bar for years to come," Fancher said.

"We build things that fly so airlines can put people on board," Russ Young, a Boeing spokesman, told AFP.

The Dreamliner is an opportunity "to provide a superior flying experience at lower cost to them, which is good for their industry."

Boeing thinks the use of composites "will only grow," Young said . "It's a bold step on our part" but Boeing has done its homework and "we realize composites are ready for these kinds of applications."

Clad in Boeing test-flight blue livery, 787 emblazoned on its tail, the Dreamliner took off under overcast skies at 10:27 am (1827 GMT) at Paine Field near Boeing's Everett plant in Washington state and landed at 1:33 pm at Seattle's Boeing Field.

Chief Pilot Mike Carriker and Captain Randy Neville said they tested some of the airplane's systems and structures in the nearly three-hour flight, as on-board equipment recorded and transmitted real-time data to a flight-test team at Boeing Field.

"We smoked it," Carriker said at the news conference, calling the 787 "a great jet."

"It felt like I flew into the future of the Boeing Company."

Neville said the 787 had delivered "no surprises" and brought "back the joy of flying."

The pilots took the airplane to an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and an air speed of 180 knots, or about 207 miles (333 kilometers) per hour, "customary on a first flight," the company said.

The first Boeing 787 will be joined in the flight test program in the coming weeks and months by five other 787s, the company said.

Chicago-based Boeing is vying with European rival Airbus for commercial supremacy. Airbus, a unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, is developing a new long-haul A350 plane aimed at competing with the Dreamliner which is expected to fly in mid-2013.

Boeing launched the Dreamliner program in April 2004 and initially had planned to deliver the first airplane to ANA in the first half of 2008, a delivery now set for fourth-quarter 2010 as production problems forced the company to announce a series of delays.

The delays contributed to a 1.6-billion-dollar loss in the third quarter and Boeing has slashed this year's earnings guidance by more than a third.

Boeing says it has 840 orders on its books from 55 customers for the cutting-edge plane, which it claims is the "fastest-selling all-new jetliner in aviation history."

United Airlines announced last week it would buy 25 Dreamliners, as well as 25 A350s, with the option to buy 50 more of each aircraft.

Asked if Boeing expects phones to ring off the hook with orders after the Dreamliner's first flight, a beaming Fancher said: "Everybody's going to want to have one."