A South Korean airline has been forced to operate empty super-jumbo jet flights during the coronavirus pandemic.
Asiana Airlines flew around 26 Airbus A380 journeys in May, with no one onboard but the pilots and crew.
The aircraft, which can seat up to 853 passengers, was seen flying in a loop from Seoul Incheon Airport before returning 20 minutes later.
The flights were necessary to keep the airline’s pilots fully certified to operate its fleet of six A380s.
Aviation regulations stipulate that commercial pilots must prove their proficiency for particular aircraft every 90 days, and Asiana wanted to ensure pilots were ready to start flying again as soon as global travel restrictions eased.
Under normal circumstances, the pilots could have kept their certified status by flying a simulator of the world’s largest passenger jet, instead of the real thing.
However, the nearest A380 simulator to South Korea is located in Thailand.
With border closures and travel restrictions in place, Asiana pilots could only complete the required flights using the carrier’s actual planes.
To remain certified, pilots must complete not just one flight per aircraft model per 90 days, but a minimum of three take-offs, approaches and landings, including flying under “Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)”, which is necessary at night or when visibility is restricted.
In some countries, regulators have relaxed the 90-day rule in light of the large-scale grounding of flights caused by the pandemic.
For example, the US’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said the normal time-frame for proficiency checks, medical checks, flight review and instrument currency requirements has been extended by three months.
Those whose checks expired between March and June 2020 have another 90 days to complete them.
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Norwegian’s New Airbus A321LR Fleet – What To Expect
Back in 2016, European budget airline Norwegian placed an order for 30 Airbus A321LRs. The move followed a commitment signed in June 2012 for 100 A320neo aircraft. The switch from 30 A320neo aircraft to 30 A321LRs was a move to grow and modernize the carrier, enabling it to operate long-range low-capacity services. Where is this order now? What can we expect from the carrier?
“I am very excited about this new order of the Airbus A321LR…the newest narrow body long-haul aircraft on the market and with this order we will have a significant cost advantage and increased competitiveness, which means that we can offer our customers low prices on board brand new aircraft to a wide range of new destinations,ʺ -Bjorn Kjos, CEO, Norwegian (2016)
Transatlantic service has been a huge market for Norwegian. With the disappearance of WOW Air, Norwegian has a good chance to thrive as the only true low-cost transatlantic airline – once the market recovers, of course.
“The A321LR, the latest member of the market leading A320neo Family, will be able to fly longer routes of up to 4,000 nm. The A321LR will provide additional flexibility as it will have the longest range of any single aisle airliner, making it ideally suited to transatlantic routes and enable airlines to tap into new long haul markets which were not previously accessible with current single aisle aircraft.” -Airbus
Unfortunately, the airline has yet to disclose where it will specifically deploy its new long-range single-aisle jets. However, with Airbus’ 2016 press release titled “Norwegian selects 30 A321LR for first transatlantic routes,” we at least know which part of the world to find the A321LRs flying.
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Other parts of the world?
Meanwhile, Norwegian’s own press release in 2016 added the blurb: “The A321LR is suitable for many more routes, i.e. between the U.S. East Coast and Europe, between Scandinavia and parts of Asia, as well as South America and Europe.” Of course, Norwegian’s own statement makes things much more vague than the Airbus headline…
We think Boston and Philadelphia might be good candidates for A321LR service from Europe – perhaps out of bases such as London Gatwick and Copenhagen.
Europe to South America might be too much of a stretch, as even London to Caracas (Venezuela) is just beyond the range of the jet. Scandinavia to East Asia also seems like wishful thinking as the distance is also beyond the A321LR’s range.
South Asia and the surrounding area is more likely for service from Scandinavia. Stockholm to Kathmandu could work, as could Copenhagen to Delhi.
A single class cabin layout
While the aircraft can fly longer routes, don’t expect too many frills associated with long-distance operations such as lie-flat seating in a business class.
According to the Airbus press release, the new aircraft will feature a single-class cabin layout, seating approximately 220 passengers. That mean’s we won’t even see a recliner-equipped premium cabin like the one installed on the carrier’s 787s.
While airlines like ZIPAIR will offer a budget lie-flat product, it doesn’t seem like an option for Norwegian. But perhaps it’s something the airline should consider, especially judging by the positive reaction many of our readers have had to the idea of a basic lie-flat product and airfare.
Norwegian was to take delivery of the first of these jets in 2019. However, this was deferred, and the situation was made worse by current events.
A great resource to track Airbus aircraft production and deliveries, AIB Family Flights doesn’t even have Norwegian on record yet, meaning it could be quite a while longer before we see the aircraft join the fleet.
What would you like to see with Norwegian’s A321LR fleet? Let us know in the comments.
Remember The Interjet-Aeromar Codeshare? Its Over
On 5 August 2020, Interjet and Aeromar signed a codeshare agreement. Two months later, it is over. Both Mexican airlines decided to end the deal because “it suits our needs better,” as Aeromar said in a statement. Let’s investigate further.
A troubled beginning
It is no surprise to hear that Interjet has had a very difficult 2020. It lost 100% of its Airbus A320 family fleet due to leasing companies’ repossessions. The Mexican airline also faced a change in management and ownership.
In the meantime, Interjet reduced its route map drastically. It went from having more than 80 destinations across several countries in America to flying only ten domestic routes. Interjet’s crisis did, however, give a second stint to its Sukhoi Superjet fleet, which was previously parked.
But Aeromar wasn’t having the best of years either. According to data provided by the Mexican Government, Aeromar had a 67.5% decrease in passengers transported during August. It was flying seven out of its 10 ATR aircraft. Aeromar also reduced 16.7% of its routes and was operating 54.6% fewer flights. It was in this context that both carriers decided to sign a codeshare agreement.
“We expect to increase the reach of the agreement in the short term, to cover the whole route map of both carriers,” said Aeromar in a statement. Initially, both airlines were selling seven routes out of Mexico City International Airport. A few weeks later, both companies signed a wet lease agreement, which allowed Aeromar to operate a few flights for Interjet. That is also over, due to lack of payment by Interjet, according to Aeromar pilots’ union.
Aeromar also has arrears
Aeromar is a small regional carrier. It has a fleet of ATR aircraft which uses to connect underserved city pairs. Nevertheless, it has had a troubled past.
Last year, the news was that Aeromar might have gone bankrupt and that Avianca could have been interested in acquiring it. There was even a name: Avianca Mexico. Alas, that never happened, Avianca changed management, and the possible deal disappeared from the radar. Last year, Anko van der Werff, Avianca’s CEO, said to A21,
“I never thought investing in Aeromar was a good idea because there wasn’t any value. We have a codeshare agreement with Aeromexico, which is bigger and has more frequencies. Investing only to acquire a company or a brand doesn’t have value.”
Now, with the Interjet-Aeromar codeshare agreement, there was a renewed interest in the future of Aeromar’s brand. According to some Mexican journalists, Interjet’s new management was planning on acquiring Aeromar. But the deal fell off after the businessmen found out that Aeromar had a larger debt than it initially declared.
Both companies are following their own paths from now on. Interjet is still waiting for its US$150 million investment and a possible new Airbus order. Aeromar recently signed an alliance with a tour operator and will launch flights to its second international destination, Cuba.
Aeromar’s future is in the balance. Mexico has three larger airlines, Volaris, Aeromexico, and Viva Aerobus, and five regional players, Interjet, Aeromar, Magnicharters, TAR, and Aéreo Calafia. The small regional airlines will have to adapt to a shrunk market, but their futures are uncertain.
Interjet’s future is also in the balance. The company still has a ton of debt, and its reputation is taking a toll on customers and employees.
What do you think of the latest development of Interjet’s 2020? Let us know in the comments.
One Of The World’s Busiest International Routes Is Less Than 300km Long
With a flight distance of just 296km or 184mi, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route is one of the busiest international services in the world. Or at least it was in 2019, before the devastating events of 2020. Let’s look at this route and find out what makes it so busy and lucrative for airlines.
2019 data: Not indicative of current events
It should be made clear that the data we are reporting on comes from 2019 – which truly seems a world away from where we are now. The list(s) of busiest routes (both international and domestic) is published annually by OAG and is even separated by region. It’s an interesting report – and one that Simple Flying has done some significant analysis on.
A look at the numbers
According to OAG, Kuala Lumpur to Singapore was the 2nd busiest international route in the world next to Hong Kong-Taipei. The report shows that 5,560,894 ‘seats’ were offered on this route for 2019, 2.4 million fewer than Hong Kong-Taipei, and just 80,000 more than the 3rd busiest service, Jakarta-Singapore.
It may hold 2nd spot for the ‘busiest’ international route, but it takes the top spot for the ‘toughest’ international route. That’s because a total of nine carriers compete with one another, offering a total of 29,993 flights last year.
What stands out the most is the incredibly short distance between the two cities, less than 300km.
The airlines competing on this service, at least in 2019, included:
- Singapore Airlines
- Silkair (soon to be absorbed into Singapore Airlines)
- Malaysia Airlines
- Ethiopian Airlines
- AirAsia X
- Malindo Air
Why is this short route so popular?
For starters, Malaysia and Singapore have significant economic and cultural ties with one another, stemming from close historical ties. Economic migration is fairly common, especially for Malaysian nationals seeking higher-paying work in Singapore.
So with a distance of less than 300km, why are so many airlines competing against other forms of travel? Here are just a few factors:
- Singapore is not automobile friendly. It’s certainly possible to drive between the two countries with a drive time of around four hours. However, with Singapore essentially existing as a city-state, its small geographical footprint and stringent traffic-management policies heavily discourage automobiles. Those traveling to Singapore can avoid expensive parking and congestion charges by leaving the car at home in Malaysia and instead benefit from the country’s extensive public transportation network.
- Flights connect the rest of Malaysia to Singapore. Travelers would have lengthy drive or train times coming from other parts of Malaysia. For example, driving from Penang to Singapore would be over eight hours. While there is the occasional direct service between these two cities, travelers will find their preferred flight time by connecting through KL and the many frequencies available.
- Other modes of transport take longer. While traveling ‘internationally’ in much of continental Europe is borderless thanks to the Schengen Zone, a hard border exists between Malaysia and Singapore. Thus, taking the train, bus, or personal car will add the same amount of time queuing for customs as you might encounter going through airport security and customs when flying. The flight between the two cities is just 40 minutes and transportation time to and from the airports would be about 40 minutes each, for a total of two hours. Add to this the requisite time for check-in, security, customs, and boarding, and you’re still going to get to your destination sooner.
- It’s very affordable. Even though bus and train prices are affordable as well, the factors above combined with great pricing from budget airlines mean that flying is made practical and affordable.
Have you ever flown between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore? Would you add any other reasons to the list to explain the route’s busy-ness? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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