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The largest plane ever assembled, Stratolaunch’s Roc aircraft has performed its second test flight

The giant aircraft took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in south-eastern California with the test flight lasting three hours and 14 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet (4,267 m) and a top speed of 199 mph (320 kph).

“We’re very pleased with how the Stratolaunch aircraft performed today, and we are equally excited about how much closer the aircraft is to launching its first hypersonic vehicle,” Stratolaunch chief operating officer Zachary Krevor said during a postflight news conference.

The twin-hulled plane aircraft features a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters) and is powered by Boeing 747 engines acquired from two retired 747-400 airliners and also features a borrowed hydraulic system, avionics, and landing gear. The  dual-hulled plane can travel more than 1,000 nautical miles and reach altitudes up to 35,000 feet and allows for a payload capacity of over 500,000 lbs (226,796 kg).

Its reinforced center wing provides lift, stability and pylons that can support multiple launch vehicles weighing over 500,000 lbs (226,796 kg), providing access to any inclination for multiple payloads.

 

The one-of-a-kind airplane made its first test-flight in April 2019 and was built as an airborne space launch platform, designed to lift a rocket into the thin atmosphere at 35,000 feet, where it would be drop-launched. The pilot flies from the right-hand cockpit, while the left contains the aircraft instrumentation.

The aircraft was designed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who established Stratolaunch in 2011 with the idea that Roc would be used to launch satellites in midair. Paul however died in 2018 before seeing his vision come to reality.

By Victor Shalton Odhiambo

EgyptAir one of Africa’s largest airlines with a network covering Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa is continuously looking for new opportunities in the market and for new ways to grow.

The National Airline has partnered with Oman Flag carrier Oman Air in signing a pioneering codeshare agreement on flights between Cairo, Egypt and Muscat, the capital of Oman, with the commitment geared towards the restart of air travel and the expansion of destinations offered to customers.

This new codeshare agreement opens a wide variety of new opportunities for both carriers focusing on connections between their hubs. Travellers from Muscat will now have easy access to EgyptAir’s domestic destinations including: Sharm El-Sheikh, Luxor, Aswan, and Hurghada, as well as Casablanca in Morocco among EgyptAir’s international network.

Similarly, travellers from Cairo will have easy access to popular Oman Air domestic destination of Salalah as well as international destinations Karachi (Pakistan), Colombo (Sri Lanka), and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).

Abdulaziz Al Raisi, chief executive officer Oman Air said: “Egypt has a remarkable, long-standing history in the MENA region and enjoys a strong international presence as a Star Alliance member. The codeshare agreement with Oman Air offers guests from Muscat more options for discovering Egypt, whether for business or leisure, and plays a vital role in the travel restart endeavours of both airlines.”

Amr Abu El-Enein, EgyptAir Holding chairman & CEO, said: “Signing this agreement between two partners with special attributes like EgyptAir and Oman Air will further add more benefits for both airlines’ customers. EgyptAir was the first airline in MENA to join IATA and our deep industry expertise has allowed us to successfully overcome many obstacles throughout our history.”

A codeshare agreement is a business arrangement in which two or more airlines publish and market the same flight under their own airline designator and flight number (the “airline flight code”) as part of their published timetable or schedule. Typically, a flight is operated by one airline (technically called an “administrating carrier”) while seats are sold for the flight by all cooperating airlines using their own designator and flight number.

By Victor Shalton Odhiambo

The government of Tanzania has announced that it has completed payment for 3 new aircraft as part of a fleet expansion plan for the national carrier, Air Tanzania

The new aircraft, expected to arrived in the 2021/2022 financial year will bring the airline’s fleet to a total of 12

According to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa while addressing the Parliament on the estimates and expenditure of the Office of the Prime Minister and its institutions for the financial year 2021/2022, the state owned airline’s fleet will grow to 14 by the end of 2022

The new  aircraft will include two Airbus A220-300s and a De-Havilland Dash8-400 and will add to a fleet that includes two Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners, two Airbus A220-300s, four DHC Dash 8-400 aircraft and one DHC Dash 8-300. The airline’s entire fleet has been acquired through lease agreements

This announcement comes after the country’s auditor general reported that the carrier made a cumulative loss of USD 150 Million over the past 5 years

Air Tanzania flies to 7 countries and serves 19 destinations

Over US$ 30bn has been pledged for air transport and tourism in Africa by International finance agencies and other institutions including the African Development Bank, African Export-Import Bank, African Union, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  However, most of this relief is yet to reach the airlines and wider industry in desperate need.

In 2020, African airlines secured US$ 2.04 billion in government aid.  Most of this was distributed through direct government loans, equity financing, and cash injections. Despite this, 8 airlines in Africa filed for bankruptcy or entered business administration over the past 12 months

In addition to this, $ 601 million in airline funds remain blocked in Africa across 17countries (Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, and Zimbabwe) putting further pressure on airlines as they struggle for survival.“

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has outlined the main priorities for African governments to ensure that the airline, travel, and transport industry survives the COVID-19 crisis and can play a role in the economic recovery of the continent

Continued financial relief and the release of committed aid and blocked funds

African airlines posted a combined US$2bn loss in 2020. This year, only a slight improvement to a US$1.7bn loss is expected as the struggle with COVID-19 continues.  Looking ahead it’s unlikely that traffic will return to post COVID-19 levels until 2023.  Financial relief measures are still desperately needed, particularly those that do not increase the industry’s debt burden.” Additional relief measures and activating existing pledges are essential,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA Regional Vice President Africa, and the Middle East.

Government relief comes in many forms. Cost reductions in terms of taxes and charges will help. And the release of the $ 601 million of airline revenues that are currently blocked from repatriation in certain governments would be an immediate boost in some markets. Governments will need a financially viable air transport sector to energize economic recovery from COVID-19. Many of Africa’s airlines were weak even before the crisis. Reducing costs and freeing blocked cash have long been a priority for African aviation. If ever there was a time for decisive government action on these issues, it is now,” said Al Awadhi.

Safe reopening of borders

The African Union has taken leadership in preparing for the safe restart of aviation in Africa through its “Saving Lives, Economies, and Livelihoods” campaign. This promotes collaboration between different sectors of governments involved in the crisis including Ministries of Health, Transport, and IT.  IATA supports the AU’s efforts and urges governments in Africa to take the following actions:

  • Replace quarantine measures with testing

Today 20 countries in Africa have quarantine measures in place. Quarantine essentially means borders are closed.  It is critical that those African governments implement effective alternatives to quarantine measures such as pre-departure testing for international travel, especially from countries with a similar risk profile.

Accept a reasonable validity period of five (5) days for COVID-19 testing for travel

Taking into account the waiting period for COVID-19 testing, the turnaround time of the results, and the accessibility of testing facilities on the continent, we urge governments in Africa to consider accepting the AU recommended validity period of five (5) days for COVID-19 testing for travel across the continent.

  • Avoid COVID-19 vaccination as a mandatory pre-entry and exit criteria

In line with the WHO, the airline industry does not support mandatory vaccination as a precondition to fly. Many potential travelers, particularly in Africa, cannot be vaccinated or will not have access to vaccines. Along with testing and track & trace capabilities, vaccination can be a tool to support the safe re-opening of borders without quarantine.

Planning for a safe Restart

Preparing the industry to safely restart after a year or more of disruption will take careful planning and advanced preparation. Governments need to develop the benchmarks and plans that would enable a safe, orderly and timely restart. That means working with governments in at least two areas:

Establishing operational restart plans

Safety remains the industry’s main priority and is a critical pre-condition for restarting operations and for the build-up of traffic thereafter. Restarting an airline is not like flipping a switch; as such it is important to understand government plans. Airlines need to ready their crew, technical personnel and aircraft. After a year of lockdowns, this requires refresher training, checks and coordination. On top of that airlines will need time to market their services so that there are fare-paying passengers when operations resume.

Putting tools in place to manage new COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements

Testing and vaccinations will play a role as the pandemic comes under control and economies ramp up, including the travel sector. Efficient digital management of health credentials is vital to restart. Manual processes will not be able to cope with volumes once the recovery begins. Digital solutions must be secure, work with existing systems, align with global standards and respect data privacy.

IATA has developed IATA Travel Pass to manage health credentials, protect against fraud and enable a convenient travel process.  It is being trialled by a number of airlines and airports around the world, including Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir in Africa.  Another major African carrier is expected to come on board soon.

IATA Travel Pass compliments the work being done by the AU to safely manage travel.Currently, IATA Travel Pass manages COVID-19 test requirements.  Once global standards to record digital vaccine credentials have been developed, the app can also be used by travelers to manage their proof of immunization. The WHO is currently developing these global standards and we urge African governments to adopt these for those people who have been vaccinated and plan to retrospectively record those who have already been vaccinated.