Monday, July 15, 2013

Hijacked plane claim causes alarm at OR Tambo

A hijacking claim delayed an SAA plane on the tarmac at OR Tambo, while police tried to determine whether the captain was not in fact a hijacker.

“It seems that some of our stakeholders in aviation got information to the effect that our aircraft had been hijacked,” SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali told the Mail & Guardian on Monday.

“The matter is currently under investigation.”

One passenger tweeted from his account @sedisemoseneke: “Just landed at OR Tambo, only to be told by captain they suspect our plane is hijacked! He must confirm his identity first!!”

Another passenger, a Cape Town-based businessperson, further described the incident: "We were waiting on the plane runway and they weren’t explaining anything,” he said.

"We noticed police cars and a fire engine pulling up to the side of the plane. Then the captain gets on the speaker and says he’s been on the phone with police, Acsa [Airports Company South Africa], SAA and flight control and they were insisting on coming out to the plane so that the police could verify that he was the captain, and that the flight had not been hijacked – much to our bemusement and wonder.”

About 45 minutes later, following another announcement from the captain, the plane taxied to the designated gate, and after a few more minutes the passengers disembarked. "As we left I asked a flight attendance what had happened and he replied: 'We all good'." he said.

The flight, SAA346, had flown from Cape Town to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport. It landed at about 4:45pm, 25 minutes ahead of schedule, and passengers only got to their arrival gate after 5:30, according to the businessman, who chose to remain anonymous.

'There has been no hijacking'

Tlali would not further elaborate on the cause of the confusion. “You would know that for an aircraft to move from point to point there are a number of stakeholders involved: the airline, airline crew – both flight deck and cabin crew.

"It involves air-traffic control, and it involves a number of other role players. So we’re trying to find out where this particular message originated that the aircraft was hijacked, but we confirm there has been no hijacking incidents involving any of our aircraft today [Monday]," he said.


Investigators Probe Boeing 787 Emergency Transmitter: Locator Device Is Examined as Possible Cause or Contributor to Heathrow Fire

Investigators are examining an emergency transmitter as a possible cause or contributor to the fire that damaged a Boeing Co.  787 at London's Heathrow Airport, according to several people familiar with the inquiry.

It remained unclear what role the emergency-locator transmitter might have played in the fire that damaged the Ethiopian Airlines jet, the people said. The transmitter, made by Honeywell International Inc., is located in the upper rear part of the 787 Dreamliner, where the heaviest damage was visible in photos.

Investigators' interest in the device, which was largely destroyed in the incident, was one of few early clues to emerge in the probe into Friday's fire. Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which is leading the probe, hasn't commented publicly since a statement Saturday that said that there was no evidence that the Dreamliner's two lithium-ion batteries caused the Ethiopian Airlines fire.

Burning in those batteries on two other Dreamliners prompted global regulators in January to ground the jet for 3½ months. The order was lifted after Boeing made fixes to the battery system to protect against fires.

The emergency transmitter is designed to be activated in the event of a crash to help find the aircraft. It is powered by a small, internal lithium-manganese battery, a type that doesn't have the history of volatility of lithium-ion batteries.

The people familiar with the investigation said it was unclear whether the transmitter might have triggered the fire or simply provided additional fuel. Its manufacturer confirmed that investigators were looking into the device's possible role.

The transmitter, installed in the ceiling above the rear doors, links into the Dreamliner's computer systems, but it isn't part of the advanced electrical system that is one of Boeing's biggest innovations in the 787. Honeywell offers the transmitter as an off-the-shelf product that can be adapted to aircraft of all sizes, including commercial jetliners from major manufacturers around the world.

Honeywell said that the transmitters were certified in 2005 and "we've not seen nor experienced a single reported issue on this product line."

The company said it had been invited by British investigators to participate in the fire probe and had sent technical experts to Heathrow to assist. It said it would work closely with Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which are also assisting the British investigation.

Honeywell is awaiting "analysis and output of the investigation before drawing any conclusions," the company said. "At this time it is premature to speculate on the cause of the fire."

Officials from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch couldn't be reached for comment.

Boeing shares rose 3.7% on Monday to $105.66 on the New York Stock Exchange, recovering much of Friday's 4.7% decline after news of the fire.

No one was hurt during Friday's fire, which was discovered aboard the Ethiopian Airlines jet while it was parked at a remote stand for eight hours.

But the extensive damage to the Dreamliner indicated that extreme heat was generated during the fire, appearing to melt through the carbon-fiber skin, exposing the jet's underlying skeleton. Investigators likely will examine energy contained in the transmitter's battery to determine if it alone could have caused the damage.

The 10-inch long transmitter weighs just under 7 pounds in its aluminum case, including the battery, according to a fact sheet on Honeywell's website. The lithium-ion batteries, which sit farther toward the front of the 787, weigh 63 pounds each.

Allied Air Cargo Plane Crash: Ghana to seek compensation

Ghana will seek compensation for the destruction caused by the Allied Air Cargo plane that overshot the runway of the Kotoka International Airport last year, officials say.

The Allied Air Boeing 727-200 (DHV 111) on June 2, 2012 landed at the Airport but overun into the Instrument Landing System Localiser Bars, destroying the airport's wall and crashing to death 10 persons - nine passengers of a 207 Benz bus and one motor rider.

The final report, which is expected to be presented to the Government of Nigeria, was made public on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at a meeting with journalists in Accra.

Addressing journalists, Captain Alex Grant Sam, the Chairman of a five-member committee commissioned to find out the cause, blamed the accident on human error.

He was categorical in explaining that the crew of the aircraft, carrying cosmetic products from Nigeria, failed to touch down at the stipulated 1,500 feet from the runway.

Initial reports had blamed the accident on bad weather as it was raining then.

The report recommended that the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) takes immediate steps to construct a barrier at the end of the runway.

Capt. Sam noted that Ghana is not in a position to take action against Allied Air though a copy will also be made available to them.

The report has been presented to government for further studies.

Mexican low-cost airline considers flights to Lima, Peru

Mexican airline Interjet, which just entered the Colombian market with direct flights between Mexico City and Bogotá, is looking into opportunities to increasing its presence in other countries around Latin American and the Carribbean, according to the company’s director, José Luis Garza Álvarez.

Interjet, which only operates direct flights, has a float of 39 Airbus A-320s and its international expansion depends on the range of this planes, Garza said.

“With the most recent plane we have acquired, we are looking at the possibility of going to Lima, but we cannot go further because the planes won’t reach,” he said.

Even though there are other markets in South America that are attractive, like Argentina, Chile and Brazil, the low-cost airline can’t reach those countries from Mexico because it doesn’t have long distance planes, according to Garza.

Interjet, which was created six years ago, flies to more than 30 destinations in Mexico and to nine destinations abroad, including Bogotá and a number of cities in the U.S.


Ambassadors axe Grand Bahama flights

The Bahamas Flying Ambassadors have axed all flights to Grand Bahama and other islands in the country due to the recent increase of Customs-related taxes.

Anthony Restaino, state president of Florida Aero Club and the Ambassadors, made the announcement yesterday and said pilots of both private aircraft clubs are "disgusted" with the increase.

The fees include a $75 charge for arrival and departure, totaling $150, and a Customs service charge for planes arriving after 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. on any given day.

It has also been reported that commercial aircraft with seating capacity of less than 30 will be charged $50 per hour; airliners with seating between 31-70 will face a $100 hourly charge and those with 71 seats or more will foot a charge of $200 an hour.

According to Restaino, the increase will greatly undermine any progress Tourism Minister Obediah Wilchcombe and his ministry have made in increasing airlift to The Bahamas.

Grand Bahama, which has desperately sought to climb out of an economic hole created by the worldwide recession, is expected to be significantly impacted by the Bahamas Flying Ambassadors decision, as club members have been frequent visitors to the island.

Restaino said, "It's like a person is asked to dine at a popular restaurant but is charged a fee to drive there. Apart from that, those dining are made to pay a cover charge to enter the establishment in addition to fees for service, and finally being charged to leave the restaurant, which is ridiculous!

"These fees are stopping the tourists from coming to The Bahamas and spending their money, and I see it as the government being greedy.

"This taxation has caused both commercial airlines and private aircraft owners to re-evaluate the decision to come to The Bahamas and that in itself should cause The Bahamas government to take a step back and look at how Budget's fees will impact the tourism industry and visitor arrivals to the country.

"Again, this is the most foolish decision the government has made," said Restaino.

The 35-year visitor to The Bahamas said he is saddened by the fact that he will no longer be able to come to the country or encourage his friends and aero club members to explore the beauty of the island and experience the warmth of its people as a result of these "unnecessary," "astronomical" fees.

On June 21, Restaino brought a group of 32 persons and 11 airplanes to Grand Bahama, many of whom had never visited the island or flown their private aircraft over a body of water larger than Lake Okeechobee.

While here the group were given the royal treatment by the Ministry of Tourism along with the staff of the Wyndham Viva Fortuna Resort and revealed they could not wait to return and invite more friends, family and aero club members.

Concern has also been expressed by major commercial airlines such as JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines who have threatened to permanently suspend their airlift to The Bahamas, due in part to Customs' one percent administrative processing fee, which reportedly will be added to brakes, tires and other aircraft parts imported to the country for repairs.

The fee, which replaces the previous $10 Stamp Duty Levy will now cost a maximum $500 per import and this has resulted in an Internet petition on the website being created to urge Prime Minister Perry Christie and tourism officials to repeal the new processing fee for general aviation.

In a recent interview Mr. Wilchcombe said, "If they (commercial airlines/private aircraft owners) are informing us that the increase affects them negatively and could cause them to pull out of servicing The Bahamas, then certainly we would have to sit down and talk with them and see what their concerns are.

"Over the last two years, our airlift was down and we now have to work hard to bring the number up.

"While we did announce that there would be a processing fee I don't think that there was a real understanding by the operators.

"But with a threat as real as this one, we cannot afford it and we will have to consider what their concerns are on the matter."


Construction on helipad for STARS at Regina General Hospital: First heliport landing pad at hospital to be operational

Construction is well underway on the province’s first heliport landing pad on the roof of the Regina General Hospital.

A few months in to construction there is a steel frame erected on the roof. On the ground a cement truck is attached to another machine, with a tube-like device that runs to the roof, which is how the cement is transported to the top of the building.

STARS air ambulance will use $3.4 million helipad to serve southern Saskatchewan, which is being paid for by the province.

“It’s going to reduce road ambulance services from airport to the hospital and just improve the timeliness of patients getting to hospital,” said Rural and Remote Health Minister Randy Weekes.

STARS pilot Barry Tolmie said they’ll be able to save about 15 minutes by landing directly at the hospital.

“When you’re dealing with critically injured patients, minutes count sometimes seconds count,” he said.

Placement on the roof will create less noise and air turbulence than a ground-level pad would.

“For us landing up on the heliport, there’s very little obstacles up there. If you take a look down here, there’s a lot more obstacles.”

It is estimated that anywhere between 300 and 400 patients a year in the province are moved by STARS.

This pad should be operational by November 2013. A similar landing pad is also planned for the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, adjacent to Royal University Hospital. That heliport is expected to be finished in 2016.


'Operational issues' a factor in 8 Ornge deaths: coroner

Ontario's chief coroner says that operational issues at Ornge — the province's air ambulance service — contributed to the deaths of as many as eight patients.

A report released by the coroner's office on Monday includes 25 recommendations on ways to improve the not-for-profit air ambulance system.

A panel of experts who reviewed 40 cases found that operational problems at Ornge had a possible impact in five deaths, a probable impact in one, and a definite impact in two.

The panel reviewed cases from January 2006 to June 2012.

In one case, it the panel found it was probable that operational issues played a role in the death of the 50-year-old man who was critically ill and died of bilateral lobar pneumonia.

The man was initially driven by ambulance to a remote community centre where he was stabilized but required transfer to a major hospital for further treatment, the report said.

"There were difficulties on the transfer flight with compatibility between the aircraft and the paramedic equipment (namely the oxygen tubing for the transport ventilator) which required the patient to be manually ventilated," the report said.

"Additionally, there were communication and logistical issues in coordinating the land ambulance to meet the fixed-wing aircraft for transfer to hospital which added a delay of approximately 30 minutes."

The review was launched last August by then chief coroner Dr. Andrew McCallum after the release of cabinet documents that showed the government investigated 26 deaths involving its troubled air ambulance service since 2007.

The deaths related to 145 incidents involving Ornge that were investigated by the Ministry of Health.

McCallum left the position at the coroner's office in late January to become president and CEO of Ornge.

Ornge improves processes

Ornge responded to the report by saying "considerable progress" has been made in response processes and equipment have been made.

A number of the panel's recommendations have already been implemented or in the process of being put in place, said McCallum.

"A number of the issues raised by the coroner had been brought to our attention by frontline staff, and we took steps to act upon these prior to the release of the coroner's report," said McCallum in a release in which he thanked the panel for their work.

"The recommendations from the expert panel will build upon this work," he said.


Sundance Resources facing lawsuit over Congo crash: Aero Service (Congo), Casa C-212-100 Aviocar, TN-AFA, Accident occurred June 19, 2010

Sundance Resources is now fighting legal action on three continents over a 2010 plane crash in west Africa which killed the company's entire board of directors.

Eleven people were killed when a plane the company had chartered crashed en route to the company's iron ore project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All six Sundance board members - chairman Geoff Wedlock, chief executive Don Lewis, company secretary John Carr-Gregg and non-executive directors Ken Talbot, John Jones and Craig Oliver - were among those killed.

The iron ore company on Monday said it was facing a STG6 million ($A10.06 million) lawsuit in the UK from the family of James Cassley, an investment banker killed in the crash.

Mr Cassley was an employee of investment company GMP Securities Limited, who is named as the first defendant in the lawsuit, with Sundance named as second defendant.

His family allege that both companies are liable for negligence in relation to the plane crash.

Meanwhile, Mr Cassley's family is involved in legal action against Sundance's 90 percent owned subsidiary Cam Iron SA in Cameroon.

The families of nine of the 11 killed in the crash, including those of Mr Lewis, Mr Carr-Gregg, Mr Wedlock and Mr Jones are involved in the lawsuit.

A separate legal action involving the same families has also been launched in the US.

Sundance is one of six respondents listed in that law suit.

The company says it will defend itself against each of the actions.

Its shares gained 0.4 cents to 8.1 cents on Monday.

Bombardier's new hub takes off

Planemaker Bombardier, which has a large operation in Belfast, has opened a new regional support office and parts depot in Johannesburg, South Africa.

More than 240 Bombardier business and commercial jets are based in Africa.

Bombardier Aerospace announced in June that Lagos-based Arik Air has signed a firm contract to acquire three CRJ1000 NextGen aircraft and four Q400 NextGen turboprop airliners.

Based on the list price of the CRJ1000 NextGen and Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft, the contract is valued at approximately £189m. Arik Air currently operates four CRJ900 aircraft and two Q400 NextGen aircraft.

Bombardier's Belfast plant is responsible for the design and manufacture of a range of parts for the planes, including fuselages, engine nacelles and other components.

Bombardier now has five regional support offices and 11 parts facilities across the world.

The agreement which is expected to take effect by late August, will see Ethiopian Airlines provide maintenance services for Bombardier's growing fleet of Q400 and Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft in Africa.

Earlier this year, Bombardier Aerospace began to transfer component work on its regional jets to a temporary plant in Morocco.

The employees will initially make flaps and ailerons, a part of the wing of the CRJ jet, work that was previously done in Northern Ireland.

The transfer of the package to Morocco was aimed at freeing up floor space for production of wings for the new CSeries craft in Belfast, which were designed, invented and are being built in the city. The first CSeries test flight is expected to take place at the end of the month.


Report finds serious safety, management problems with Australia's air traffic control system

An internal report into Australia's air traffic control system has found serious deficiencies with the operation, safety and management of the country's skies.

Documents released under Freedom of Information laws show Australia's monopoly air traffic control provider, Airservices Australia, has overseen a system where problems go unsolved amid an organizational culture which employees say is "dysfunctional".

The report, written by Australia's air safety regulator the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and obtained by the ABC, lays out hundreds of incidents, ranging from training shortcomings to mismanagement of staff.

Frustrated by an ever-growing number of serious incidents where the root cause was never properly identified, CASA considered withdrawing Airservices' approval to operate the network.

CASA however pulled Airservices' ongoing approval to operate the air traffic control system, and imposed a rolling three-year licence, which comes with regular audits and more oversight.

The air safety regulator also wants the current regulations strengthened, giving it the ability to issue fines or take other enforcement actions to force Airservices to improve its operations. 

Pilots and controllers alarmed

Air traffic controllers have expressed concern about the report, with one telling the ABC that he "couldn't believe that Airservices had failed to comply with so many things".  

The ABC has spoken to several current and former controllers, all of whom wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution and being blacklisted by the monopoly air traffic provider, which is the only real employer of air traffic controllers.

One controller called the company he works for "dysfunctional", saying he was worried about an entrenched culture of mismanagement and bureaucracy.

"If you've got a monopoly and you're making money, and if no-one really cares what you're doing, then why would you improve?" he said.

Australian and International Pilots Association vice president Captain Richard Woodward said the report was concerning.

"I think the system has shown some fairly severe cracks, and the report identifies that," he said.

"It was a concerning report because it's not nice to see the Australian system has that many faults.

"When you read it closely you clearly find there's been a bunch of management issues that have brought this about, and also a lack of trained controllers."

Air traffic controllers are paid well - senior, experienced employees can receive about $200,000 per year.

But many controllers are frustrated at the inadequate levels of training provided for new staff.

"Airspace closes if Airservices can't find enough staff," one of the controllers said.

"Management tries to get around it by moving shifts forward and leaving airspace vacant and uncontrolled."

The ABC has been told controllers have to ask for annual leave up to four years in advance.

One controller said he had worked more than a month of extra shifts over a year, backfilling for other controllers who were sick or were not qualified to operate certain parts of Australian airspace.

He said Airservices relied on people to agree to extra shifts, rather than finding and training new people.

"All of us have huge amounts of leave, we're all carrying leave credits," he said.

"Airservices is pretty dysfunctional. They're not planning for what's going to happen, but why would they when they're making the money?"

More planes in the air, ever-increasing workload

There are more planes in Australia's skies than ever before.

The mining boom has seen a huge increase in air traffic in areas that have not traditionally experienced large numbers of flights.

Perth has seen a 57 percent jump, Brisbane a 34 percent increase, and overall traffic is expected to grow around 3 to 4 percent per year.

But the number of air traffic controllers has remained the same, all while the Airservices bureaucracy has ballooned.

The report found that over the last decade Airservices increased its employee numbers by about one third.

Air traffic controllers have told the ABC the growth has been mostly in the area of middle-management.

Overworked and stressed conditions have led to a growing number of mistakes.

The 2012 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) audit detailed 10 "serious incidents" involving air transport in so-called separation events.

Separation refers to the minimum distance between planes required to remove the risk of a collision.

Four of the ten incidents involved air traffic services.

"Near misses are unacceptable in a modern air traffic environment so those items should definitely be fixed and that's directly related to the quality and standard and training and availability of the air traffic system," Mr Woodward said.

"Controllers are working very hard, long hours, long shift hours. It would be good to see them recruit a new breed of controllers and fill all those gaps that they've clearly got."

Despite repeated requests, the union which represents air traffic controllers, CivilAir, declined an interview with the ABC, but did provide a letter.

Photo of flight attendants praying for on-time departure goes viral

A photo of two flight attendants praying for their plane to take off on time has gone viral online, after recently published reports revealed the extent of China’s notorious flight delays.

In a photo widely circulated online, two flight attendants were seen in an airplane cabin kneeling in front of a food trolley that appeared to be arranged as an makeshift altar. A poster with the words “be on time” written on it was placed on the trolley, surrounded by food and fruit.

It is traditional in Chinese culture to pray for good fortune to gods or ancestors in front of altars, with food and lit incense sticks as offerings, at home or in temples.

The post came after a recent survey by a US-based airport statistics tracker found that Beijing and Shanghai airports had the worst records for on-time departures and arrivals among dozens of major international airports. Last Tuesday alone, 233 flights were cancelled at Beijing Capital International Airport and 1,126 flights were delayed by more than four hours, according to the tracker.

The photo of the praying flight attendants hit a chord with Chinese internet users with many expressing sympathy.

“Even flight attendants want to get off from work earlier,” one internet user commented on microblog, Sina Weibo.

“Understandable, flight delays are truly annoying,” said another blogger.

The two flight attendants in the picture appear to be wearing uniforms of Xiamen Airlines, a regional carrier partially owned by China Southern Arilines. Officials at Xiamen Airlines declined to comment on the authenticity of the picture, but said it was not a violation of company regulation for flight attendants to pray in flights, reported Haixi Morning News, a newspaper based in Xiamen.

The paper also said that Xiamen flight attendants are not alone in seeking help from a higher power to improve their on-time records. Smartly-dressed crew members from several other carriers, including China Eastern Airlines, have also been photographed in recent years bowing in front of makeshift "on-time" altars, sometimes made of juice or food boxes.

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Kyiv Zhuliany airport reopens

UPDATE:  Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport has reopened after an incident involving a Russian UTair Boeing-737-500, the airport has reported on Facebook. 

A UTair Boeing 737-500 arriving from Moscow (Vnukovo Airport) overshot the runway on landing at Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport at 1215 on Monday.

"None of the 77 passengers and crewmembers was injured as a result of the incident. All of the passengers were taken to the airport. The airport is closed until the circumstances are clarified," Zhuliany Airport said in a statement.

The airport's press service told Interfax-Ukraine that it might reopen at around 1415. Otherwise three flights will be delayed.

UTair is among Russia's biggest air-carriers. It flew 9.3 million passengers last year.  Surgutneftegas owns 60.67% of its stock. UTair's fleet currently includes upwards of 250 fixed-wing aircraft and more than 350 helicopters of various types and classes.

Kyiv Zhuliany International Airport is one of the five largest Ukrainian airports in terms of passenger traffic.

In January-June 2013 it increased passenger flows by 2.7 times year-over-year, to 816,757 passengers. 

Emirates A380 to serve Barcelona: Service operational from February 2014

Following its successful launch in July 2012, Emirates on Monday announced it will commence a daily A380 service to Barcelona from February 1, 2014.

Increasing overall capacity by almost 44 per cent, Emirates’ new 517 seat A380 service will be the first permanent A380 service to fly to Barcelona’s El Prat Airport, replacing the route’s existing Boeing 777-300ER service and offering 2,198 additional seats per week between the two cities.

“Barcelona has been one of the most successful new destinations of 2012,” said Hubert Frach, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President Commercial Operations West. “In line with this steady growth we feel that the time is ripe to announce the launch of our A380 service, which will continue to connect customers in Spain with Dubai as well as key destinations in Australasia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East.”

The new upgraded capacity will also offer strengthened support for popular markets from Barcelona, with the Emirates A380 servicing 12 destinations in Australia and the Far and Middle East.

In February this year Emirates’ A380 aircraft was welcomed into Barcelona El Prat Airport by hundreds of onlookers as the airline operated two ad-hoc A380 services to meet the destination’s burgeoning demand.

“The A380 has been a part of our fleet for almost five years and continues to peak customer interest wherever it flies. Introducing the A380 to Barcelona permanently will not only increase our capacity but will also further highlight our commitment to the city,” added Frach.

Since launching its inaugural flight to Barcelona last year Emirates has further committed to this destination with the five year sponsorship of the Barcelona Open Tennis Tournament earlier this year.

The 517-seat Emirates A380 offers 14 Private First Class Suites, 76 lie-flat beds in Business Class and 427 spacious seats in Economy Class.

First Class passengers have access to two Onboard Shower Spas, while all premium passengers on the upper deck can socialize in the Onboard Lounge. Passengers in all classes of service experience Emirates renowned hospitality, receive a generous baggage allowance and inflight Wi-Fi, as well as access to the industry-leading ice entertainment system which boasts up to 1,500 channels of films, TV programmes, games and music.

The Emirates A380 currently serves a total of 21 destinations with a further four destinations to launch in the next six months including Brisbane on October 1,  Los Angeles on  December 2, Mauritius on  December 16 and Zurich on January 1, 2014.

Emirates boasts the world's largest order of Airbus A380s with 35 in its fleet and a further 55 to be delivered.


The Indian Air force and its troubled relationship with the MiG-21

The crash of a MiG-21 Bison and the death of a pilot is yet another chapter in the troubled history of an aircraft that has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent times.

In today’s crash, the aircraft involved was the modified MiG 21 Bison which crashed while landing at the Uttarlai Airbase in western Rajasthan, killing the pilot.

By the Defence Minister’s own admission in March this year, there have been 29 fighter aircraft crashes over the last three years, of which 12 have been MiG 21s.

The MiG 21 Bison is an upgraded  version of the MiG 21, which was dubbed the ‘flying coffin’ after a spate of crashes that killed its pilots. However it forms a major part of the Indian Air Force’s fighter jet squadron.

A Times of India article documenting the history of the MiG-21 in the Indian Air Force speaks of how a price advantage coupled with the fighter aircraft’s agility was what prompted the entry of the MiG-21 into the Indian Air Force. There are now over 1,200 such craft in the Air force fleet.

The article also documents why despite glowing praises from pilots who have operated them, the aircraft is a subject of controversy. Since 1971-72, as many as 380 of the 872 MiG 21s inducted in the IAF have crashed – a number constituting 43 percent of the fleet.

However, despite the controversy surrounding the aircraft, the delay in the purchase of 126 Rafale fighters and the development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft has meant that the upgraded version of the MiG 21 including the Bison, will remain operational till 2019, the Hindu had reported.

Air Chief Marshal  NAK Browne was quoted as saying that of the 874 MiG-21s bought since 1964, 264 are still operational and with a new radar system and aiming-navigation system the aircraft was good enought for use till 2019.

The Bison variant of the MiG 21 will continue to form a major element of the Indian Air Force’s fighting force and despite the controversies will continue to play a major role in the years to come, until its replacements arrive.


Rans S-6ES Coyote II, G-BYMV: Accident occurred July 14, 2013 on Fenn Lane, Fenny Drayton, Hinckley, Leicestershire - United Kingdom

Tributes have been paid to the elderly couple who were killed when their single engine aircraft crashed into a field.

It is believed the couple were flying to Stoke Golding Airfield, near Hinckley, when their Rans S6-ES crashed a few hundred yards short of the grass airstrip on Sunday evening.

The Air Safety Network website, which monitors air accidents worldwide, said the 13-year-old plane had taken off from an airstrip in Twycross and was heading for Stoke Golding before the accident.
Yesterday, Stoke Golding Airfield co-owner Tim Jinks paid tribute to the couple.

He said: “Everyone at Stoke Golding Airfield was deeply saddened about the tragic accident involving our fellow aviators and friends from another Leicestershire airfield on Sunday evening and our thoughts go out to their family.”

It is understood the victims’ relatives have urged the club to go-ahead with an annual event this weekend, when scores of aviation enthusiasts are expected to fly in for the 10th Stoke Golding Stakeout.

Mr Jinks said: “Our annual event is unaffected by this tragic accident. 

Unfortunately, cars and planes do occasionally come to grief with sad results and if every event was curtailed as a result the world would be an even sadder place.”

It is understood the couple’s aircraft may have suffered engine trouble before it crashed at 6.45pm.

The plane flipped over on impact and the pair were declared dead at the scene.

An eyewitness said he heard a bang as the plane flew overhead at about 2,000 to 3,000ft.

The aircraft then began to lose height about six miles before it hit the ground.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has launched an inquiry into the deaths of the couple.

Police have produced a file on the incident for the coroner.

A spokesman for the coroner said the couple were yet to be formally identified.

He said an inquest into their deaths should be opened before the end of the week.

Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the accident to call them on 101.


Woman nearly choked to death after scarf gets caught in hot air balloon's fan: Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

A tourist is fighting for life after an accident with a hot air balloon in Alice Springs.

Pilot Jason Livingston purchased Outback Ballooning two days ago and said he was "gutted" that a customer had been critically injured.

"Ultimately it was a freak accident and everyone is upset about what happened," he said.

Alice Springs Watch Commander Drew Slape said the woman's scarf got caught in the balloon's inflating fan and "sudden force" was applied to her neck, leaving her with serious injuries.

The New South Wales woman, 35, was taken to Alice Springs Hospital in a critical condition. She remained there late last night but it was believed she would eventually be flown interstate.

Police have since set up a crime scene at the ballooning site, about 5km south of the desert town, and will investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau and NT Worksafe will also investigate the incident.

Mr Livingston said he couldn't comment any further about the accident due to ongoing investigations.

But former owner John Wallington said the company had an "immaculate" safety record and had been in operation for almost 30 years without any major incident.

"It's a bizarre set of circumstances - a scarf getting caught in a fan," he said.

Mr Wallington said the only accidents during the company's history involved the balloon basket coming down on customer's feet, but nothing this serious.

"Outback Ballooning has a fantastic safety record. It wasn't anything to do with bad balloon flying, the accident happened while everyone was on the ground," he said.

Mr Livingston's parents Andrew and Sally Livingston owned Early Morning Balloons in New Zealand when a hot air balloon crashed into power lines, killing 11 people last year.

The fatal flight was contracted out to New Zealand Ballooning. An interim report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission found pilot Lance Hopping had cannabis in his system at the time of the crash.

Helicopter operators in tailspin: Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town - Helicopter tour operators at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town have their blades in a twist over lost income as a result of airspace restrictions during the recent visit by US President Barack Obama.

During the South African leg of their African tour, the Obama family visited Robben Island, which prompted the air force to impose restrictions on the airspace over the waterfront.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Koos Marais said operators had been assured by the air force that there would be no restrictions.

But, he said, two tour operators, one of them Sport Helicopters, had to cancel planned tours for the day and refund customers.

The restrictions had lasted until late in the afternoon, when the Obamas, accompanied by five helicopters, left the island.

Sport Helicopters operates tours from the waterfront.

Marais said he had phoned Brigadier-General Les Lombard of the air force to ask “if there would be any funny nonsense like that”.

“Lombard had said there would be no restrictions,”  said Marais.

“We were surprised about what happened. We are most disgusted at the way this was done. They deprived those people of business.”

He said if they had been notified earlier about the restrictions, operators would have made a plan.

Asked what action the operators now planned to take, Marais said: “How do you take action against a whole government and the air force?”

Die Burger reported that two days before Obama’s visit to Robben Island, the Civil Aviation Authority had issued a notice to pilots to fly no closer than 1.8km from any of the US aircraft, otherwise they would be considered a security risk.

South African Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said there was nothing strange about airspace being restricted for heads of state. She said the restrictions had been imposed by the air force.

The Star’s sister paper, the Cape Times, was unable to get comment from the air force.

According to the report in Die Burger, Sport Helicopters had lost about R100 000 when it refunded 76 tourists for a tour of the Peninsula.

Owner Robert Macdonald did not want to comment. – The Star 

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Emirates, Qatar may ask for more flying rights

NEW DELHI: The recent grant of additional flying rights to Abu Dhabi may lead to similar demand being raised by other Gulf carriers like Emirates and Qatar. Top aviation ministry sources said being one country, individual demands of the UAE's seven emirates or principalities for more bilateral for their airlines are difficult to be considered favorably.

"Abu Dhabi and Dubai are barely 100 km apart. Some years back, substantial flying rights were given to Emirates of Dubai. Now 36,670 more weekly seats over three years have been allowed to Abu Dhabi's Etihad. Demand for more capacity from one region has to be measured and seen in context what Indian carriers and India gets in return," said a top ministry source. While Emirates is learnt to be seeking about 24,000 more weekly seats, Qatar wants double of that.

"All these Emirates are part of UAE and individual demands for more bilateral will be difficult to accede to. Southeast Asia is emerging as the hotbed of economic growth. There is need for more connectivity between India and Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and even Australia. So, the focus of bilateral will be on this region. Also, Gulf is mainly a transit point for traffic between India and the West and point to point demand has been taken care of by the recent agreement with Abu Dhabi," said the source. However, the aviation ministry says that a final call on deciding bilateral with any place is decided by several geopolitical factors.

Bilaterals are signed to have equal rights for airlines of both countries. But in India's case, the desi carriers' reach is very limited. Only Air India and Jet fly to some points in Europe and North America. These two airlines and low cost carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet fly to some points in the Gulf and Southeast Asia.

"So the problem in dealing with demand for bilateral is what do our carriers get in return? For instance, Turkish Airlines wants a five-fold increase in flying rights to India but no Indian carrier flies to Turkey. We have often asked our airlines if they will go there but so far no one has shown any real interest," said a ministry official.

Most Indian carriers, on the other hand, allege that the aviation ministry has been a bit too liberal in giving flying rights to foreign carriers and this has happened at their cost.

Meanwhile, the ministry has formed a new panel to improve ties with UAE in the aviation space. The four-member panel has aviation secretary K N Shrivastava, aviation ministry joint secretary Prabhat Kumar, Air India chief Rohit Nandan and Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal as members. The inclusion of the Jet supremo comes at a time when many MPs have alleged that the aviation ministry gave extra 37,000 weekly seats to Abu Dhabi to ensure that Etihad buys a 24% stake in Jet for $379 million.

The competition commission of India has sought more information on the Rs 2,058-crore Jet-Etihad deal to take a call on it. CCI chief Ashok Chawla, who is examining this deal, said on Friday: "Our people have asked them for some information. We are awaiting information from Jet and Etihad. There were some issues that they have been asked to (come up with details). When it comes we will take a call."