As I’ve covered previously, Rolls-Royce is pretty serious about electric aircraft. Now, it has announced plans to partner with Tecnam and Widerøe to deliver a working electric passenger aircraft in 2026.
“Electrification will help us deliver our ambition to enable the markets in which we operate to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050. This collaboration strengthens our existing relationships with Tecnam and Widerøe as we look to explore what is needed to deliver an all-electric passenger aircraft for the commuter market,” said Rob Watson, Director – Rolls-Royce Electrical. “It also demonstrates Rolls-Royce’s ambitions to be the leading supplier of all-electric and hybrid-electric propulsion and power systems across multiple aviation markets.”
Rolls-Royce has an extensive global business power aircraft. In fact, that’s what the company has actually been doing for decades. While many people think about the car that Marty McFly almost hit, they’ve actually been out of that business for quite a while (the Rolls-Royce passenger vehicles are now built by BMW).
Today’s Rolls-Royce is the world’s second biggest manufacturer of aircraft engines, and builds many other types of big, expensive engines for the marine and power plant sectors (including nuclear reactors for both power plants and submarines). Its jet engines have been in everything from fighters like the Eurofighter, Typhoon, and F-35 (for lift) to the the Airbus A380, the largest commercial passenger aircraft there is. The company is a big player, and isn’t about to let anyone outpace it into the future.
Earlier this month, Rolls-Royce announced that its project to build the fastest electric airplane hit a new milestone, with the propulsion system’s successful taxi test. A full flight should come soon. While building the fastest electric plane might seem like a genital-measuring contest or publicity stunt on the surface, the actual goal of the project is to test high-powered electronics that can power next-generation electric vertical takeoff and landing systems (VTOL), as hovering uses a lot more power than pulling an aircraft lifted by the wings.
“This system and the capabilities being developed will help position Rolls-Royce as a technology leader offering power systems to the Urban Air Mobility market.” said Rob Watson, Director, Rolls-Royce Electrical.
Rolls-Royce is partnering with airframe builder Tecnam to build the new electric passenger plane. Rolls-Royce has already been working with Widerøe, the largest regional airline in Scandinavia, to study sustainable aviation.
“Norway’s extensive network of short take-off and landing airports is ideal for zero-emissions technologies. This aircraft shows how quickly new technology can and will be developed, and that we are on track with our ambition of flying with zero emissions around 2025.” said Stein Nilsen, Chief Executive, Widerøe.
Rolls-Royce will bring its expertise in propulsion and power systems to the table, and Tecnam will provide aircraft design, manufacturing and certification capabilities. Widerøe’s role will be to make sure that all requirements of an airline operator are in place for the new plane’s entry into service in 2026.
The New Electric Aircraft
“It is incredible to see the interest around the P-Volt, not only coming from regional airlines, but also from smart mobility-based companies. This last year has demonstrated the importance of promoting capillary connections between small communities, while reducing the congestion of the main hubs.” said Fabio Russo, Chief Project R&D and Product Development, Tecnam. “The P-Volt, like the P2012 Traveller today, will perfectly fit the scope of this programme. We are honoured and pleased to see the level of enthusiasm Widerøe and our partner Rolls-Royce are dedicating to this project.”
The Rolls-Royce press release doesn’t give much detail on the aircraft’s systems, but the rendering does give us some clues. It will likely hold 10-15 passengers and is powered by two propeller engines. The battery pack(s) seem to be mounted low in an area below the main fuselage between the landing gear. The design might not be finalized, so this could change between now and flights in 2026.
The press release gives us some ideas of range: “Before the pandemic, Widerøe offered around 400 flights per day using a network of 44 airports, where 74% of the flights have distances less than 275 km. The shortest flight durations are between seven and fifteen minutes.”
Finally, the release reveals that it will be based on the 11-seat Tecnam P2012 aircraft. The Wikipedia article (linked a second ago) gives a lot of detail on that aircraft. It does appear from the images on Wikipedia that the area between the landing gear on the P-Volt render does not exist on the ICE version of the plane. That one has a simple two-row layout inside, with every passenger getting a window seat.
It appears that the new plane will have fairly limited range, but in places without much need for long flights, that’s just fine. This electric aircraft can reduce emissions on short-haul flights in countries that depend a lot on short flights, while we can get to replacing larger planes later.
This Will Be Useful Elsewhere
When working on previous articles about charging infrastructure in Alaska, I found out just how different things can be in places that are in the upper latitudes. When permafrost, inhospitable land, low populations, and a harsh winter keep roads from being built, it falls to air and water transport to make up the difference. People need to go to hospitals, see doctors, and even do shopping in places that are far removed from where they live and work.
Electrifying transport into these far-flung northern places has seemed impossible in the past. Battery densities were enough for EVs, but not enough for people to build electric aircraft years ago. It’s clear that this is changing as battery technology improves and renewable energy becomes more available in rural areas.
Even in places that don’t have harsh winters, regional airports serving small towns could also eventually benefit from this and other upcoming developments going forward. Lower fuel and maintenance costs may even make it more profitable to operate air service at all in small towns and cities globally. Today, many small airports only offer service for those who can afford to pay for a private jet charter or those who own their own planes. This could eventually change all of that.
Featured image provided by Rolls-Royce.
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Canada’s airports respond to the release of details on federal airport aid
While these measures, announced five months ago and detailed today are welcome, the government must be prepared to take further action to preserve the integrity of Canada’s airports.
OTTAWA, ON May 11, 2021, The Canadian Airports Council, representing over 100 airports and 90 percent of aviation traffic in Canada, welcomed today’s details on federal government aid for airports announced in the November 2020 Fall Economic Statement, but warned that the government must be prepared to take further action, given the severity of the third wave and the continued impact of protracted air travel restrictions and increased health and safety measures on airports’ operations and revenues.
From the start of the pandemic, Canada’s airports have worked to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, repatriate Canadians, and deliver medical equipment, professionals and vaccines to fight this disease.
Today’s announcements included details on three previously announced measures: the Airport Critical Infrastructure Program (ACIP) which will provide $490 million over five years to financially assist Canada’s larger airports with investments in critical infrastructure-related to safety, security or connectivity; the Airport Relief Fund (ARF) which provides $65 million in financial relief to targeted Canadian airports to help maintain operations, as well as a one-time funding top-up of $186 million over two years for the Airports Capital Assistance Program (ACAP).
“It is good to see federal government commitments made in the Fall Economic Statement being fulfilled, with funds flowing to airports soon. Unfortunately, the situation is worse than it was when these measures were announced five months ago, with our entire aviation network – from the largest to smallest commercial airports in Canada – compromised by the protracted suppression of passenger traffic to just about 10% of pre-pandemic levels,” said CAC President Daniel-Robert Gooch.
“As our airports await engagement with the federal government on a restart plan, the situation for Canada’s air transport sector will deteriorate even further, and more engagement by the federal government on the long term viability and competitiveness of our sector will be needed for Canada’s air sector to fully support recovery in our tourism sector and economy.”
To support airports of all sizes, the Canadian Airports Council has also asked government to waive – not defer – for the period of recovery, airport rent remitted to government by 22 of Canada’s airports and to provide financial support or interest free loans when necessary. In 2020 and 2021 alone, Canada’s airports anticipate a revenue loss of $5.5 billion which is required to be funded by additional debt of $2.8 billion.
The Canadian Airports Council has, and will continue, to engage government and industry partners to plan for a safe restart of air travel that ensures Canada emerges from the pandemic ready to support demand and economic recovery when the time is right.
Government to fund 100 more Qantas 787 repatriations
The government has committed to funding another 100 Qantas repatriation flights over the next year.
The flag carrier has been using its 787 Dreamliners for the missions, which have a capacity to carry around 170 passengers each, meaning 17,000 more stranded Australians can return.
Tuesday night’s federal budget revealed the new flights will form part of a $119.9 million boost to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s consular program, which will include money for 46 additional staff.
The expansion, set to roll out over “the coming months”, coincides with the Howard Springs quarantine facility planning to double its capacity, from 850 to 2,000 per fortnight.
Howard Springs first took in large numbers of international travellers in October 2020 when it initially expanded its capacity.
The budget also revealed 18,800 Australians have flown home on 127 government-sponsored flights, out of a total of 45,400 returnees, most of whom would have flown with commercial airlines such as Qatar.
The news comes after Australia’s arrival caps in February returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney. It meant NSW returned to its weekly cap of 3,000 and Queensland to 1,000.
The January temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and also included a provision for passengers to wear masks on all domestic and international flights; for hotel staff to be tested daily and for ex-pats to require a negative result before boarding a repatriation flight.
Arrival caps were introduced in July and sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated that repatriation flights from India will continue after the temporary ban expires on 15 May.
PM Morrison was able to confirm the plans after a meeting with state premiers, indicating that as many as six flights could take place this month.
Last week, the federal government paused all flights from India, halting eight repatriations, and then made it a formal crime for anyone to attempt the trip, punishable with a $66,000 fine. It’s led to one 73-year-old Australian man in India launching a legal challenge to the decision.
LATAM Agrees Boeing 787 Dreamliner Order Reduction
LATAM Airlines Group continues its fleet consolidation program and recently announced that it had canceled an order for four Boeing 787 and one B777F aircraft. Plus, since the start of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, LATAM has rejected the leasing contracts of up to 42 planes. Let’s investigate further.
How’s LATAM’s current order with Boeing?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, LATAM had an unfilled order for seven Boeing units, according to Boeing’s website. This order has been reduced by 72% now, following LATAM’s announcement. The airline said,
“On April 29, LATAM and Boeing came to an agreement regarding the acquisition of some B787 and B777 aircraft”.
The agreement effectively ends the order for four B787 and one B777F. Now LATAM only has an unfilled order for two B787-9 which should be delivered by December 2021, said the airline.
The Bankruptcy court still has to approve this latest agreement between Boeing and LATAM.
What about the A350s?
Last month, LATAM Airlines announced the immediate lease rejection of the remaining 11 Airbus A350XWB in its fleet.
The decision to reduce its long-haul fleet by rejecting the leasing contracts of the highly effective A350s was interesting, although not surprising. LATAM is looking for airplane commonality on its long-haul fleet, and the A350 was the odd man out.
The airline said,
“LATAM recently announced the retirement of the A350 aircraft, in an effort to simplify its widebody fleet, composed of the Boeing types 767, 777, and 787.”
Now, LATAM will be able to obtain better results due to having a single OEM long-haul fleet. It will reduce costs in many aspects, like maintenance.
What else has LATAM done, fleet-wise?
The South American company has strongly reduced its fleet in the last year. In fact, it has rejected more leasing contracts than any other of the two Latin American carriers under Chapter 11.
On December 31, 2019, LATAM had a total fleet of 342 aircraft. Now, this has been reduced to 297, according to its latest financial report.
Looking closely, LATAM’s passenger fleet was 320 aircraft in 2019 and now is composed of 283 units. The cargo fleet is unchanged between both years, 11 Boeing 767-300F (though it may increase in the next two years).
Along its Chapter 11 process, LATAM has rejected the leasing contracts of 31 aircraft. LATAM doesn’t specify how the remaining 14 airplanes exited its fleet; they were likely sold or scrapped. Moreover, we have to clarify that LATAM is still not accounting for the exit of the A350 fleet in this tally. So, in total, LATAM has rejected the leasings for 42 planes.
Most likely than not, LATAM will continue reducing its fleet. Last week, LATAM’s CEO Roberto Alvo said that the current plan is to renovate the short-haul fleet during the next decade. The airline is currently at 25% to 30% of this phase, he added. LATAM is receiving A320neo airplanes while phasing out A320-200s and A321-200s.
A quick look at LATAM’s financial performance
During 2021’s first quarter, LATAM had an income of US$913.2 million. That’s a 61.2% decrease compared to last year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, LATAM had a net loss of US$430.9 million. The airline ended with total liquidity of US$2.6 billion in cash.
Also, LATAM recently launched its sustainability program for the next three decades. Among the objectives, LATAM aims to ditch single-use plastic by 2023 and landfill waste by 2027.
Did you expect LATAM to reduce its Boeing order? Let us know in the comments.
How Alaska Air Came to Focus on a Boomer Hype House for Its Latest Marketing Flair
As Alaska Airlines was looking for its next big thing with a fresh and fun feeling following its viral “Safety Dance” campaign, the airline’s advertising agency suggested a focus on boomers.
For Natalie Bowman, managing director of marketing for Alaska Airlines, who throughout the pandemic has been spending countless hours on Tik Tok where her 9-year-old has thousands of followers, this seemed like a good idea, she said. Off the cuff, she suggested having a boomer house, similar to Hype House, the Tik Tok collective that is getting its Netflix show. The idea took off.
“Just based on the insight that that was an audience that have money to spend, they’ve been cooped up, they were the first ones getting vaccinated, and it just felt like this is the audience that’s going to have a great time,” said Bowman.
Over the next few months, Alaska envisions seeing more boomers celebrating in resorts and having their own spring break moment, a holiday usually reserved for young folks, Bowman said.
The idea is to have boomer influencers live together in a California mansion or hotel in Napa, Sonoma, or Palm Springs for two days in August while making content for their and Alaska’s social media sites, Bowman said.
And while the idea was born from watching 20-year-olds sharing a living space, Bowman is cognizant in her search for the perfect place, that this may not work as well for boomers who value their privacy. She’s looking for a mansion or small hotel with 12 to 14 rooms allowing for private space and visually appealing open spaces to congregate and produce great content, she said.
Boomers, children of the so-called greatest generation born between 1946 and 1964, are the second largest U.S. population by generation, according to a recent study by Statistica, at 70 million people in 2019. The same study showed millennials slightly outpaced boomers in growth by 2 million.
So why boomers, and why now?
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines tends to have an older customer base, said Bowman.
“It’s an audience that we’ve always taken really great care of. And I think they are maybe just ignored [by the industry] in a way that’s undeserving,” said Bowman. “This felt like our opportunity to shine light on it a little bit. We wanted it to be more playful and not using boomers as a derogatory term, but as a term of endearment, and it’s a special group.”
She has been asked why not Gen X multiple times, and said Alaska Airlines isn’t doing it to exclude any other target audiences, Bowman added.
Bowman believes this is a perfect balance of a playful marketing stunt with genuine value because there’s a great connection with boomers and the airline known for caring. And that natural fit, becomes even more important as travelers get older and their needs as flyers change, she said.
Contrary to what has been reported, Bowman insists while it’s more money than Alaska Airlines would normally spend during this time of year, the airline isn’t investing the majority of its marketing allocation in this concept.
“Overall this is a low-budget effort and we expect the return to be five times the size of our investment,” she said.
Already the campaign with the hashtag #akboomerhouse is generating a buzz on social media and while the influencers haven’t been selected yet, a call for open auditions is going out Tuesday morning at 10 EST on the airline’s Instagram stories and Tik Tok accounts. Meanwhile, anyone considering participating can post a video on social with the hashtag and tag the airline to let Alaska know they’re interested, Bowman said.
Surprisingly, the buzz so far has generated more interests from celebrities than content creators and those celebrities want to take part in the AK Boomer House, she said. While Bowman coyly refused to drop names, she said the airline is in talks with them.
For choreography, she’s also in talks with DanceOn, an online dance content website with an audience of over 100 million and original programming co-founded by the material girl herself, Madonna.
The choreography is important because boomers with and without name recognition, but with big personalities, have to be willing to learn dances in order to be selected, Bowman said. And they will need to be vaccinated as well, for consideration.
As airlines continue prepping for pandemic recovery, Alaska Airlines sees this campaign as a playful way of encouraging people to start making new travel plans and hopes it introduces the airline to a new audience of flyers, Bowman said.
“I think activities like this help people step away from their every day, they remember what it is they love about travel, they start to plan and think about the future, which we haven’t been able to do for a really long time. And so to me, this just helps open people up to planning, even if they’re not ready to travel,” said Bowman.
Alaska believes that if it can make people smile before they book, they can make them smile even more once they’re flying Alaska Airlines. So the airline sees this as just starting the relationship early, she said.
And for those who are skeptical about spending money on a creative campaign that may or may not produce a return on investment, Bowman has some advice.
“This is a low cost campaign for us, it’s an idea versus a fully blown advertising campaign, and I’m being interviewed by a Skift reporter right now, off of an idea, and I think that speaks to the power of it, versus you know huge investment in a seven figure television campaign that doesn’t always get you this type of energy and excitement,” she said.
And what’s next for the airline? Don’t discount the possibility of other generational houses if this really takes off the way Bowman hopes it does.
“Our goal is to have a conversation-worthy campaign like this every quarter. We have several innovative projects in the works: a Oneworld campaign, the launch of our sponsorship of the (NHL team) Seattle Kraken and a new program called the Upgrade Initiative, aimed at high school students as part of our continued rollout of our DEI livery, Our Commitment, created in partnership with United Negro College Fund,” said Bowman.
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