Boeing 777X “exploding doors”: damage greater than expected

Forget the 737 MAX crisis – even the 777X program has not been without its challenges. In September 2019, it was widely reported that a cargo door on a Boeing 777X static test plane “blew out” during a ground stress test at the manufacturer’s Everett, Washington, plant. Keeping silent about the details of the incident, Boeing confirmed that the fuselage of the test aircraft suffered a high-pressure rupture just as it approached its ultimate load required to certify the jet.

It was certainly not the outcome that Boeing engineers expected when they put the new 777X airframe on a final structural strength test on September 5, 2019. First to report the news, The Seattle Times wrote at the time that a cargo door on a 777X test aircraft had failed during the high-pressure stress test, exploding outwards. Because of the incident, the manufacturer was forced to suspend load testing of the new model.

“During final load testing on the 777X static test airplane, the team encountered an issue that required suspension of the test,” the company’s spokesperson Paul Bergman said in a statement confirming the news back in September, as quoted by the newspaper.

Since then, Boeing has kept silent on the details of the failed test and what actually occurred at the facility. But a new report by The Seattle Times on November 27, 2019, revealed additional information on the incident, rectifying certain crucial details reported previously.

The final load trial of the 777X static test airplane (built for ground testing only) involved flexing the aircraft’s wings beyond the expected level during normal commercial flights. Just as the test approached its target stress level, a failure occurred.

“A testing issue occurred during the final minutes of the test, at approximately 99 percent of the final test loads, and involved a depressurization of the aft fuselage,” Boeing said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.

However, according to the The Seattle Times, the door that blew out and fell to the factory floor was, in fact, a passenger door (not cargo, as reported prior) and was a secondary impact of the initial rupture that tore through the fuselage, located far below the door.

Photos of the 777X test that the newspaper said it obtained show the fuselage skin of the test aircraft ripped apart just behind the wing, indicating that the extent of the damage to the test aircraft was greater than previously suggested.

Boeing has previously said that the incident will not cause delays in the 777X program schedule. In any case, the failure of the test comes at a time when the program is already experiencing delays due to problems in the development of the massive GE9X engine purpose-designed for the new jet.

The plane maker also said that it does not see any significant impact on the design of the jet or preparations for the first flight. Boeing currently targets first flight of the 777X in early 2020 and the first airplane to be delivered to an airline in 2021.

Earlier in November, several media reports indicated that GE Aviation has managed to fix the issue with its GE9X, involving the engine’s stator vanes, and is in the final stages of certification testing, which would pave the way for the 777X to eventually take to the skies for its first flight test.



Image: Dan Nevill

Air France retires its first Airbus A380

Air France retired its first Airbus A380, marking the beginning of the withdrawal process of its fleet of ten superjumbos. The aircraft should soon be returned to the lessor.

After carrying out a last flight between Johannesburg Airport (JNB) and its base of Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG), the A380, registered F-HPJB, was sent to Malta on November 23, 2019. It was the first A380 that entered service with the French national carrier in February 2010.

The company Aviation Cosmetics Malta is now going to paint the livery of the aircraft in white. The superjumbo will then be sent back to the German leasing company Dr Peters Group, whose first A380 was completely scrapped earlier this month.

The delivery to the lessor is expected in February 2020. The future of the aircraft is unknown. However, a new paint job would indicate that this A380 will not be scrapped yet and could soon fly with a new company.

One of the first measures of the newly appointed CEO of Air France-KLM Ben Smith was to reduce the A380 fleet by half. When presenting its financial results for the second quarter of 2019, Air France-KLM group sealed the fate of the aircraft by announcing that it would let go of all its superjumbos. “The current competitive environment limits the markets in which the A380 can profitably operate,” stated the group, adding that “keeping this aircraft in the fleet would involve significant costs, while the aircraft programme was suspended by Airbus earlier in 2019.” All ten aircraft should be retired by 2022. Their capacity should not be replaced completely.

Air France is the second airline in the world to retire its A380s, after Singapore Airlines, which has already let go five of the 24 superjumbos it was operating.



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LATAM to leave oneworld in October 2020?

LATAM, Chilean airline, is potentially leaving oneworld alliance from October 1, 2020, a message of current alliance partner suggests. While the exit was expected since LATAM formed partnership with Delta Airlines in September 2019, the date has not previously been revealed.

Delta Airlines acquired LATAM’s 20% stake for $2 billion in September 2019. Immediately after both airlines announced the deal, oneworld announced that LATAM would be leaving the alliance.

Having received LATAM’s notification about its intention to partner with an airline outside the alliance, Delta, the decision to leave the alliance was to come into effect in “due course” according to “formal contractual requirements”, a statement by oneworld read at the time.

Oneworld expressed the disappointment of losing the member, but claimed they “respected” the decision and would continue to deliver customer benefits until the exit date. “Our priority at this time is to our customers and while LATAM remains a member of oneworld, the full customer benefits will continue to be delivered,” according to the statement.

Now, Australian airline Qantas, which is also a member of oneworld, has issued a notification for customers, providing insight on the date when the “due course” might actually fall on: October 1, 2020. From that date on, new bookings on LATAM flight numbers would no longer receive Status Credits, Qantas warns passengers in its website.

LATAM and Delta Air Lines are both associated with different airline alliances. While the Chilean airline has been a member of oneworld since 2000, Delta is a founding member of SkyTeam (formed in 2000).

However, LATAM’s change of alliance does not stop all alliance-related complications that arose from its partnership with the U.S. legacy carrier. One of the most prominent members of oneworld is Qatar Airways. Coincidently, the Gulf airline owns a 10% stake in LATAM since 2016.

Following the partnership announcement, Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar al-Baker, revealed that the Middle Eastern carrier was in the dark regarding the deal – despite having a representative on LATAM’s executive board. However, al-Baker also expressed interest to up Qatar’s stake in LATAM, if given the opportunity, Reuters reported in September 2019.



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Boeing 737 MAX 10 to make maiden flight in 2020

Boeing 737 MAX 10 has officially debuted in the company’s Renton, Washington, factory on November 22, 2019. The version is the last variation of the Boeing 737 MAX family, which will eventually consist of four aircraft types. The maiden flight of the MAX 10 is scheduled in 2020.

Before it makes its first flight in 2020, the airliner will now undergo system checks and engine runs. “I’m honored to take this airplane on its first flight and show the world what you’ve put your heart and soul into,” 737 Chief Pilot Jennifer Henderson is cited in the company’s statement as saying.

The 737 MAX 10 is the largest plane in the MAX aircraft family and can seat up to 230 passengers. The plane also offers “the lowest seat-mile cost of any single-aisle airplane ever produced,” according to the company itself.

The 737 MAX 10 debuted in a ceremony attended by “thousands” of employees, praised by management for their focus on safety and quality, according to the company’s statement. “Today is not just about a new airplane. It’s about the people who design, build and support it,” said Mark Jenks, vice president and general manager of the 737 program, as cited in the statement. “This team’s relentless focus on safety and quality shows the commitment we have to our airline customers and every person who flies on a Boeing airplane.”

Two variants of the Boeing MAX family, the MAX 8 and MAX 9, are already in service, while MAX 7, the smallest of the model series, completed the maiden flight in March 2018 and was expected for first delivery in 2019, but these plans have been tainted.

Lion Air flight 610, operated on a Boeing 737 MAX 8, crashed into the Java sea on October 29, 2019. In less than six months, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, also operated on a 737 MAX 8, downed shortly after takeoff, killing all people onboard. In the following few days aviation authorities around the world grounded the MAX family.

Now, Boeing is working to get grounding lifted and the airliner re-certified. The manufacturer is introducing software changes for the MAX, as well as new pilot training, among other updates.



Image: Boeing, NRL photo

First commercial Airbus A380 turned to dust

TARMAC Aerosave, an aircraft maintenance, recycling and storage company based in Tarbes, France and in Teruel, Spain, announced that it has completed the first dismantling project of an ex-Singapore Airlines Airbus A380, with the second one still in process. TARMAC began breaking up the superjumbos in January 2019 after the lessor of the two aircraft, Dr. Peters Group, failed to find a buyer or an interested party for the A380.

The scrapped aircraft, serial number (MSN) 003, formerly registered as 9V-SKA, was the first superjumbo delivered to a commercial airline on October 15, 2007. Singapore Airlines used the A380 frame for ten years, before returning it to the aforementioned Dr. Peters Group in November 2017, according to data.

On June 5, 2018, the group decided the fate of MSN 003 and MSN 005, which is currently also being scrapped, after lengthy discussions with several parties, including British Airways, Hi Fly and Iran Air. Unfortunately, no airline was interested in taking up the used aircraft via sale or lease. The investment fund intends to sell the components of the A380, in hopes of generating an estimated $45 million. In addition, Dr. Peters Group has leased out the engines from the two scrapped aircraft, generating an additional $480,000 per month per one aircraft, according to a press release issued by the company. The sale of the engines by the end of 2020 is expected. All in all, the investment fund expects returns on the two A380 frames to be between 145% and 155%.

The only superjumbo that found a lifeline after its initial release was MSN 006, currently operated by Hi Fly on an ACMI basis. TARMAC noted that over 90% of the aircraft is recycled, making an abundance of spare parts available in the secondary market.



Image: Carlos Yudica

Not afraid of the 737 MAX: Boeing logs first scalable orders

The order book for the Boeing 737 MAX, stagnant since the global grounding of the jet in March 2019, has seen a major boost at the Dubai Airshow. Airlines have given the MAX their seal of approval with a total of 50 orders placed within just two days of the event. It comes at a crucial time for Boeing, as the manufacturer aims to shore up support for the 737 MAX before its return to the skies currently expected in early 2020.

A day after securing the first firm order for the 737 MAX from Turkish carrier SunExpress, Boeing and Air Astana announced on November 19, 2019, an order for 30 737 MAX 8 jets destined for the airline’s brand-new low-cost subsidiary FlyArystan. Signed as a letter of intent (LoI), the order is valued $3.6 billion at list prices.

Back in November 2018, the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, Air Astana, announced that it will be launching a budget airline (the first LCC in the country) in hopes to better compete in the growing low-cost segment. The new Almaty-based carrier called FlyArystan commenced operations on May 1, 2019, and has so far seen strong ticket sales, “exceeding all expectations”, according to the parent company.

Boeing states that Air Astana’s new 737 MAX 8s will serve as the “backbone” of the new low-cost carrier. FlyArystan currently flies three Airbus A320-200s and has previously revealed plans to expand its fleet to 15 aircraft by 2022. Its parent company, Air Astana, which began operations in May 2002, operates a fleet of 35 aircraft, consisting of Boeing 757s and 767s, Airbus A320 family planes (A320s and A321s in both ceo and neo versions), as well as Embraer 190 and E190-E2 jets.

President and CEO of Air Astana Peter Foster has expressed confidence in the 737 MAX: “Air Astana has had a strong relationship with Boeing ever since the airline started flying in 2002 with a pair of 737NGs. Today we operate both 757s and 767s and we believe that the MAX will provide a solid platform for the growth of FlyArystan throughout our region, once the aircraft has successfully returned to service.”

Air Astana’s order follows SunExpress’ deal announced the day before, on November 18, 2019. The Turkish leisure carrier – a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa – stated it is exercising options for an extra 10 737 MAX 8 jets, in addition to a previous order for 32 MAX aircraft. The agreement is valued at $1.2 billion at list prices and, together with Air Astana’s order, brings the total sum for the 737 MAXs to $4.8 billion.

“We have full confidence that Boeing will deliver us a safe, reliable, and efficient aircraft. However, it goes without saying that this requires the undisputed airworthiness of the model, granted by all relevant authorities,” – said CEO of SunExpress Jens Bischof

SunExpress initially ordered 15 737 MAX 8 jets, including options for another 10 MAX 8s, back in 2014. It was part of a major purchase agreement for up to 50 Boeing aircraft, including 25 737-800NG airliners. Over the years, the Turkish carrier has proven to be a loyal customer for Boeing, steadily expanding its fleet of mostly Boeing 737s. The airline currently operates 65 737-800s as well as seven Airbus A330-200s.

Echoing Air Astana chief’s words, the CEO of SunExpress Jens Bischof stated: “We have a long standing, strong and trustful relationship with Boeing and thus we decided to turn our option into an order. We stand behind our strategic decision to phase the 737 MAX into our fleet for all of its economic and ecological advantages, mid- and long-term.” According to Bischof, the company has “full confidence” in Boeing’s ability to resolve issues with the MAX and “deliver us a safe, reliable, and efficient aircraft”.



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Qatar turns to LEAP engines, places $4B order for Airbus A321neos

Qatar Airways has chosen CFM International LEAP-1A engines to power its new fleet of 50 Airbus A321neo family aircraft in a deal valued at 4$ billion including service contracts. The airline has placed the largest A321neo order in the Middle East.

Together with the order for the new LEAP-1A engines, Qatar Airways also announced on November 13, 2019, a deal with CFM a Rate-Per-Flight-Hour (RPFH) support agreement to cover its entire fleet of LEAP-1A engines, including spares. The agreement is valued at $4 billion at list prices.

“We chose the LEAP engine based on its proven efficiency in commercial operation,” commented Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker. “This engine addresses our strategy to operate a state-of-the-art fleet with the most advanced technologies in the industry, while expanding our network and maintaining the best flexibility for our customers”.

Out of more than 250 aircraft in its fleet, as the Gulf carrier states, 121 are Airbus airplanes. According to the European manufacturer’s latest orders and deliveries figures, Qatar Airways is awaiting delivery of another 82 jets, including the 50 A320neos and another 32 A350-1000s (the airline was the launch operator of both the A350-900 and the larger -1000 model).

Qatar Airways already operates a fleet of 38 A320ceo family aircraft (32 A320ceo and five A321ceo jets), of which eight are powered by CFM56-5B engines. The first LEAP-1 powered A321neo is scheduled to be delivered in 2020.

CFM International is a 50/50 joint company between GE and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. According to the company, the fastest-selling engine family in history, LEAP, has more than 18,600 orders and commitments, including spare engines, booked through August 2019.

Among the recent deals, CFM announced on October 17, 2019, it finalized an order for 26 LEAP-1A engines to power Air Vistara’s 13 new A320neos, in addition to the 37 leased airplanes from the A320neo family ordered in July 2018 and the 10 leased aircraft already in service.

Alongside the engine order, the Indian carrier also inked a long-term RPFH agreement for the maintenance of the 120 LEAP-1A engines that power 60 A320neo and A321neo jets in service or in order. The total value of the service agreement and the engine order is more than $2.4 billion at list prices.



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Azul moves forward with fleet modernization

Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras, a Brazilian airline, reports that its fleet modernization program is moving forward. The carrier added five new aircraft in the third quarter of 2019, and expects 12 aircraft to be delivered by the end of the year. It has also reported a step forward in previously announced plan to remarket its entire Embraer E190/195 fleet.

Azul received three Airbus A320neo, one A330 and a brand new Embraer E195-E2 in Q3, 2019. Additional 12 planes, including its first Airbus A321 neo, are expected to arrive the following quarter. Azul expects its capacity to grow by approximately 20% in 2019.

Azul is also transitioning to newer models of Embraer aircraft. Back in July 2018, the Brazilian carrier announced a letter of intent to obtain 21 Embraer 195-E2 aircraft, increasing its total firm order of E2s to 51. In September 2019, the Brazilian airline received its first Embraer E2 family jet ‒ E195-E2. The biggest of three E2 variants, the type was certified in April 2019. Another E195-E2 reached the fleet in November, leaving four jets to be delivered by the end of 2019.

Simultaneously to adding new E2 jets, Azul’s plan to remarket the older Embraer jets is also moving forward. The airline announced the intention in September 2018, revealing an ambition to replace its entire Embraer E190/E195 fleet, in hopes it would accelerate the transition from E1 to E2 fleet and significantly reduce operating costs.

Now, the airline has already signed a memorandum of understanding to sublease up to 32 of its Embraer E190/E195s. The carrier 57 of these jets in its fleet: 51 Embraer ERJ-195 and six Embraer ERJ-190.



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Rolls Royce postpones Trent 1000TEN HTP issue fix to 2021

Rolls Royce reports progress solving technical issues affecting three variants of its Trent 1000 engine. The company states it is making good progress with eight out of nine fixes needed. However, as more issues were found with the proposed Trent 1000TEN blade fix solution, the improved blade is now expected a year later than previously ‒ in the first half of 2021.

Three variants of Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines have been affected by corrosion issues. The problem, which results in early wear and cracking of blades, was first detected in 2016 on Package C engines, followed by detection on Package B in 2018 and early wear of the high-pressure turbine (HPT) blade of Trent 1000 TEN in January 2019.

Rolls Royce estimates that nine fixes are required for Package B, Package C and TEN engines. So far, the manufacturer has designed eight and got certified seven modifications, that are now being incorporated into the fleet.

The company has reiterated its previous estimation that the number of grounded aircraft will go down to a “single digit levels” by the end of the second quarter of 2020.

However, the ninth, final, solution remains a challenge. Rolls Royce has found that its proposed redesign of high-pressure turbine (HPT) blade for Trent 1000 TEN engine would not “deliver a sufficient level” of durability. Consequently, the company is now expecting the upgraded blade not to be ready before the first half of 2021. It means over a year of delay, as it previously expected to start incorporating improved blade into the fleet in early 2020.

“We have completed a detailed technical evaluation of our work on an improved high pressure turbine blade for Trent 1000 TEN, the last major redesign activity required for the issues which we have identified with the engine,” Warren East, CEO, Rolls-Royce is cited in a press release. “Although we regret that the blade will not be ready when we had originally planned, our understanding of the technical issues has significantly improved. As a result we are now able to reset our financial and operational expectations for the engine based on a blade design with a prudent durability estimate that we are confident we can deliver [..]”.



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