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A San Francisco Bay Area-based autonomous aviation company start-up, XWing, says its flagship aircraft, a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B has completed its first “fully automated gate-to-gate demonstration of a commercial cargo aircraft,” at a time when self-flying planes are edging closer to becoming a reality.

The specially outfitted Cessna Grand Caravan 208B – often used for short-haul cargo deliveries and passenger flights seating up to 14 passengers – conducted a flight that had it leave the gate, taxi, take-off, land and return to the gate entirely on its own, with the pilot sitting back and monitoring the systems and possibly taking over the automated system if need arises.

The flight took place in February 2021 at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord, California, just outside San Francisco, the company announced on April 15th.

Over the past year, our team has made significant advancements in extending and refining our Auto Flight system to seamlessly integrate ground taxiing, take-offs, landings and flight operations, all supervised from our mission control centre via redundant data links,” said Xwing chief executive Marc Piette.

As we work to bring our technology to market, I’m particularly looking forward to building out our commercialization strategy to bring consumers and logistics companies the most effective air cargo solutions available,” Jesse Kallman, Xwing’s vice president of commercialization and strategy, said in a statement.

Led by Blackhorn Ventures, with participation from ACME Capital, Loup Ventures, R7 Partners, Eniac Ventures, Alven Capital and Array Ventures, the new round brings the company’s total capital raised to $55 million, and will be used to scale its innovation and team,” said the company after its most recent funding round, which is now valued at $400 million.

XWing was founded in 2016 and operated in “stealth” mode until May 2020 when it acquired a Part 135 Air Carrier certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), giving it permission to operate on-demand unscheduled charter services for air cargo transport.

The firm’s flagship aircraft is a model powered turboprop Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A engine that offers 675 shaft horsepower with a ranging capability of around 1,000 nautical miles. The aircraft is well known for its safety and reliability record and was FAA certified in 1984.

With regulation being the biggest impediment to self-flying planes, using the Cessna 208B – due to its safety and reliability record – was the only way to convince the regulatory agency FAA  to certify the company’s software and safety plans, not the airframe and engines, as regulators have been wary of certificating such a system, and the general public also has yet to be convinced that pilotless travel is a good thing.

The firm is targeting the cargo feeder market and anticipates operating in a 434nm (805km) range.

Xwing is among numerous aviation technology firms, including aerospace heavyweights Boeing and Airbus, in the running to build autonomous flight systems for aircraft of all sizes. Airbus has also been seen leading the charge towards self-flying planes, having demonstrated successful autonomous taxi, takeoff, and landing maneuvers with its Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

By Victor Shalton Odhiambo

Aerion has released the first glimpse of its next aircraft – the AS3™, a Mach 4+ commercial airliner targeted to take to the skies before the end of the decade.

With this technology, Aerion is intent on advancing  sustainable supersonic flight and creating a world where distance is no longer a barrier.

The AS3 will build upon the AS2® supersonic business jet. With conceptualization and design work underway and built around input from potential customers, Aerion plans for the AS3™ to incorporate revolutionary advances in technology to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of supersonic flight, with the capability to transport up to 50 passengers at a range of 7,000 nm.

 

Earlier this year Aerion expanded its ongoing partnership with NASA’s Langley Research Center, with the intention of accelerating the realization of commercial high-speed flight and faster point-to-point travel, specifically studying commercial flight in the Mach 3-5 range.

At Aerion, our vision is to build a future where humanity can travel between any two points on our planet within three hours. Supersonic flight is the starting point, but it is just that – the beginning. To truly revolutionize global mobility as we know it today, we must push the boundaries of what is possible” said Aerion’s Chairman, President & CEO, Tom Vice. “The AS3™ forms the next step in our long-term technology roadmap and will bring Aerion’s high Mach flight capability to a broader audience

Aerion’s pursuit of faster point-to-point travel will begin with the launch of the AS2® supersonic business jet which will commence production in 2023.

-Aerion

SE Aeronautics has announced the launch of what they refer to as the next generation of aircraft, a new widebody airliner concept that is 100% monocoque molded.  The new design will herald a new era of travel with an unprecedented level of efficiency, sustainability, safety, comfort and operating cost.

According to SE aeronautics, Aircraft manufacturers have been using the same aircraft design for the past 60 years, with few exceptions.

 “Our innovative technology and new aircraft design will lower fuel consumption by 70% and lower CO2 emissions by 80% as measured by per seat kilometer. The innovative design is a more efficient, light-tri wing configuration that greatly improves lift over drag, resulting in short take-off and landing (STOL) capabilities and extremely long flights. The construction is all composite, molded in one tough, safer piece. We also incorporated super thin, long wings and complete streamlining from the nose to the tail. We did it all,” says Lloyd Weaver, Chief Engineer, SE Aeronautics.

Inspired by the covid-19 pandemic, the company has incorporated safety into the design process, and has developed a new “once-through” air feed ventilation system that never recirculates air in the cabin, dramatically reducing the risk of exposure from other infected passengers. This, coupled with their new “tilting” seat design, creates a comfort experience that economy passengers have yet to experience.

This disruptive new design is also expected to double the lifespan of an aircraft, while reducing overall block hour cost by half when compared to other aircraft its size. With an emphasis on safety, the design is made of one solid-molded piece of fuselage that is many times stronger than existing aircraft. The fuel is not stored in the wings but in self sealing bladders on top of the fuselage and in the event of emergency landing over water, the aircraft floats.

SE Aeronautics’ patent-pending technology has culminated into the SE200, a mid-market widebody aircraft that will carry up to 264 passengers, function as a light-weight regional or long range airliner with a non-stop range of 10,560 miles.

“This aircraft will be the most practical, profitable and permanent solution to the grossly underperforming airliner technology of today. Our manufacturing efficiency will allow us to produce our aircraft in significantly less time than the current traditional method. But the jewel in the crown is really our ability to get that fuel consumption rate down by 70%. We are going to revolutionize the industry,” says Tyler Mathews, CEO, SE Aeronautics.

Uganda Airlines has moved to establish full control of ground handling services at its hub, Entebbe international airport. The national airline has reportedly spent USD 5 Million on equipment in preparation for ground handling operations

According to state owned media, a team led by the country’s minister of transport Katumba Wamala along with Airline representatives have told the parliament’s physical infrastructure committee that an additional sum of USD 13 Million will be required for the Airline’s full take-over of ground handling operations at the Entebbe hub

The Uganda government views its ground-handling plans as both a cost cutting measure and another way for the airline to make money. It is expected that taking control of this key part of the airline’s value chain will help drive efficiencies in the Airline’s operations after a year in which global airlines made record losses due to the pandemic and an industry recovery still looks uncertain

Entebbe international airport received 1.9 million passengers in 2019 after close to a decade of consistent growth and had reached its 2 million passenger capacity before the corona crisis set back global travel

The airport’s ground handling services are currently operated by DAS Handling limited, Fresh handling limited and NAS(National Aviation Services)

Azman Air will undergo training with the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in a bid to re-certify their Boeing 737 aircraft to fly again. This follows grounding orders put in place on March, 15th, after a series of safety incidents involving Azman Air’s 737 variants

According to the Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, the Azman Air management’s response [to the safety audit] has been “impressive” and Nigerians should expect a revamped airline to emerge from the safety troubles, adding that the grounding of operations of the airline was not a punitive measure but to guide it to operate successfully and in compliance with international standards.

Well, as a regulatory body, we take the issue of safety utmost. That is our number one priority including safe operation of our airlines, or any operator…when we reached a point that we were not happy, we called a Zoom meeting. I could have taken the decision on my own, but I am a human being and I know I have my shortcomings.

So, I called my entire team. We had a Zoom meeting for about 4 to 5 hours before we came to that decision to suspend their operations. I want to say here clearly that it is not a punitive measure. It is our responsibility and duty to guide and work with the operators and assist them to ensure that they are in compliance with our regulations.”

We are not here to kill anybody or to ruin any airline, but to guide them to operate safely, efficiently and to provide the necessary services to the travelling public. I just received a very impressive response from them concerning what they have done. We are going to start serious training for their people next week.”

Where we find gaps, they have already started employing people and they are really working and cooperating. Honestly, I am very happy and feel very relieved at their response to us.”

by Victor Shalton Odhiambo

South African Airways has appointed Thomas Kgokolo as new interim CEO as the airline begins a transition from business rescue to full operation.

The appointment was made by SAA’s interim board and comes alongside 3 other key interim executive appointments in the human resources, financial and operations departments

The flag carrier has been in business rescue since December 2019. Both parliament and the department of public enterprises have been calling for an end to the process and for the rescue practitioners to hand the airline back to an interim board

According to news 24, the rescue practitioners are currently initiating an exit process with plans to hand the airline back to the interim board as soon as possible and that a receivership has been put in place to finalise the last payments stipulated in the rescue plan over the next 3 years

According to his personal linkedin page, new CEO “ Thomas Kgokolo is a Chartered Accountant and holds an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). On the academic programmes, he is lecturer on the MBA and PDBA in areas of corporate finance, financial and management accounting.

In his other roles, he serves as the Board Chairperson at the Mineworkers Provident Fund (MWPF), a position that requires him to oversee R28 billion assets under management. Privileged to be a Non-Executive Director at both Air Traffic Navigation Services and Sizwe Medical Fund.

He is a member of the audit committee at the Financial Intelligence Centre and National Consumer Tribunal.

Prior to joining GIBS, Mr Kgokolo had acquired experience in the strategy, governance and financial roles. In the past he was the Chief Financial Officer at the Competition Commission of South Africa and more recently Chief Executive Officer at the Air Traffic Navigation Services.”

The South African national airline is still grounded and a new SAA is expected to emerge much smaller, down to about 1000 of its previous 4700 workforce and having returned 40 of its previous aircraft fleet of 49 to lessors

With the cost of aircraft maintenance for Nigerian airlines overseas increasingly becoming more expensive, Nigeria’s Air Peace has plans to set up its own Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility in the long run in the face of inadequacy, reports CH-Aviation.

Nigerian industry experts estimate that air operators would have saved 35 percent of the cost of aircraft maintenance if the facility were located in the country, as Air Peace undergoes heavy maintenance for its aircraft in Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

“This is something we are considering in long-haul but not in the immediate,” says Air Peace spokesperson, Stanley Olisa. He also pointed out that the main challenges impeding local MRO operations include high operating costs and inadequate technical manpower.

According to aviation investment expert and Managing Partner, TMSS Logistics, Alhaji Nuhu Adam, says that the need to have free zone for such facilities at the Lagos airport is crucial if domestic airlines must grow and if Nigeria must benefit from the air transport sector, reports THISDAY.

The plethora of pressures and emerging risks is pushing and beginning to convince African Airlines that it may be time to get into the game, even as there are fewer MRO providers in the continent that is hampered with emerging new airline technologies.

The African continent MRO providers include South African Airways Technical (SAAT), Ethiopian Airlines Maintenance and Engineering, Kenya Airways Technical, Air Algerie Technics and Tunisair Technics.

by Victor Shalton Odhiambo

The Egyptian Air Force, the largest C295 fleet operator worldwide, has recently signed a five-year services contract with Airbus for the performance-based support of its fleet, composed of a total of 24 aircraft.

The Egyptian Air Force joins now the community of C295 operators that benefit from the provision of integrated and performance based services which ensure that all elements of support are in place where and when required, in order to optimize fleet availability and mission readiness.

The contract includes the provision of material services, on-site technical support as well as on-wing maintenance.

Since the delivery of the first aircraft in 2011, Airbus has been providing support through a wide service portfolio with the highest quality standards including both technical and personnel resources. In signing this contract, Egypt goes further by reaffirming and extending their trust in Airbus by implementing the first integrated support contract.

Stephan Miegel, Head of Military Aircraft Services at Airbus Defence and Space, said: “This agreement is a significant step forward in the integrated service support that we offer our customers in the region. Our goal and commitment to our customers is to maximize their fleet availability, ensure their mission readiness, all while saving maintenance costs.

– AIRBUS

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Airports Council International (ACI) World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira, while speaking at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit has reiterated the industry’s need to work together to safeguard and rebuild the millions of aviation jobs threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He re-affirmed that air transport remains a vital part of the economy which, in pre-COVID-19 times, supports 88 million jobs and contributes $3.5 trillion to global Gross Domestic Product.

To ensure that aviation can continue to provide the economic and social benefits, it is crucial that we work together across the industry and hand in hand with ICAO and international health organisations to ensure a coordinated recovery while providing crucial reassurance to travellers and staff,” he said. “Around 60% of aviation jobs are at airports and local economies have been heavily affected by the reduction of activity and job losses due to the impact and effects of the pandemic.

“Governments have a key role to play to support airport jobs and incomes as the aviation industry is very important to the social and economic welfare of millions of people across the planet.

“Governments should provide targeted and direct financial support which should benefit the entire aviation ecosystem—airports, airlines, and their commercial partners—to ensure that the multiplier effect is felt across economies.”

Luis Felipe de Oliveira also discussed the prospects for a sustained, long term recovery.

To bring jobs back, we need a sustainable recovery of traffic and revenues and vaccines, coupled with testing and the current health measures in place, present our best way out of this pandemic,” he said.

“Gains continue to be made across the world in vaccination campaigns and domestic markets in the United States and China continue to show positive signs, bringing renewed optimism for a more comprehensive return of air travel this year.

“Recovery, however, will happen in phases and will likely be uneven across the world. Markets with significant domestic traffic are not expected to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels before 2023 and markets with a significant share of international traffic will recover much more slowly in 2024 and 2025.

Air transport has always been an industry based on the interdependence of all its parts. Tourism and air transport have a strong reciprocal and symbiotic relationship – we are going to need collaborative action on a scale not seen before. 

“The recovery of air travel and tourism is crucial in the wider global economic recovery but, to succeed, it will need passengers to have confidence in the industry’s focus on their health and welfare so globally harmonised measures are crucial for a safe, secure, and sustainable restart and recovery of the aviation sector.

“Digital health passes will play a very important role in the restart of global travel.

We need to establish an interoperable health data trust framework for safe border reopening and cross-border travel.”

  • Information supplied by ACI, the trade association of the world’s airports