One of the Tu-214ON aircraft used for Open Skies observations carried out a different type of surveillance mission near Crimea at the beginning of this month.
The Tu-214ON (Otkrytoye Niebo – Open Skies) is a highly modified Tu-214 airliner equipped with advanced photo and electronic sensors to perform Open Skies Treaty surveillance missions.
The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force on Jan. 1, 2002, establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants with the aim to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them.
In November 2020, the U.S. announced the withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, on the basis of the alleged repeated Russian violations of the treaty, as the refusal to allow access to observation flights within a 10 km corridor along the country’s border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as restrictions placed on using airfields in Crimea.
The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in November 2020 “destroyed the balance of interests of the State-Parties reached when the Treaty was signed, inflicted a severe damage to its functioning, and undermined the role of the Open Skies Treaty as a confidence and security building measure,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Jan. 15, 2021. For this reason, Russia announced it also started the domestic procedure to withdraw from the treaty, although Moscow clarified it could reverse the decision if the United States returned to the agreement.
While such exit procedure should be completed by this summer, it looks like the two Tu-214ON with registrations RF-64519 (ex RA-64519) and RF-64525 (ex RA-64525) used for treaty observation missions, have already started flying a different kind of reconnaissance mission, to monitor the security of Russia’s military facilities.
According to the Russian State outlet RIA Novosti, at the beginning of the month, one of the Tu-214ON aircraft checked the camouflage of military facilities on the coasts of Crimea and Krasnodar, and also tested the capabilities of the air defense system of these regions.
Indeed, on Mar. 4, 2021, RF-64519, departed from Taganrog airfield, in southwest Russia (home to the Taganrog Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex) and flew a reconnaissance path along the coasts of Krasnodar and Crimea. Its mission was to check the camouflage and security of the military facilities and units located there, including the naval bases in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. It looks like the Tu-214ON was also used to test the ability of the regional air defense system to detect air targets in a passive location mode.
Based on the track recorded by Flightradar24.com, the mission lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes. The aircraft operated at 300kts and 9,800 feet.
The Tu-214ON was designed as an open architecture, meaning that it can accommodate different sensor packages. For instance, according to Russia’s Warplanes Vol. 1 by Piotr Butowski, the Tu-214ON can carry the M402N Ronsar side-looking radar with synthetic aperture with a range of 50 km over land and 200 km over water with a definition of 3m over land and 6-8m over water; dual-band Raduga IR scanner; a photo camera suite that includes a panoramic, a vertical and two oblique cameras; and a TV camera suite (one vertical and two oblique cameras). For the initial Open Skies missions, the aircraft carried the digital electro-optical sensor OSDCAM4060, the same as the An-30B and Tu-154M LK-1 (the previous types used for treaty sorties).
Therefore, unless the decision to leave the treaty is reversed, the Tu-214ON will probably be used to check the maskirovka (camouflage/masking) of military installations and units, so that they can train to hide from enemy surveillance assets. Sounds interesting. We will provide additional details as they become available.
Goodbye Kitty! EVA Air Set To Repaint Hello Kitty Boeing 777
EVA Air is officially saying goodbye to one of its unique ‘Hello Kitty Sanrio Family’ Boeing 777 liveries. The aircraft will return to the carrier’s standard green livery next month after over seven years. Let’s find out more about this livery and aircraft.
EVA Air announced yesterday that it is planning to say goodbye to one of its beloved Boeing 777 liveries. In specific, the airline is retiring the “Hello Kitty Sanrio Family” livery on one of its 777-300ERs. The plane will return to standard EVA Air colors on 16th May 2021, which means fans have three weeks to see the aircraft in the skies.
Currently, the plane is operating services between Taipei and San Francisco, so keep your eyes peeled if you find yourself in either city. According to data from RadarBox.com, the aircraft has also been seen in Los Angeles and Hanoi in recent weeks, so keep an eye out!
The aircraft carrying this livery is a 15-year-old Boeing 777-300ER, registered B-16703, according to Planespotters.net. This type is the most popular in EVA Air’s fleet and operates long-haul routes in Europe and the US in usual times. The plane was reconfigured in 2016 to have 38 seats in business class, 64 in premium economy, and 221 in economy.
As mentioned, the livery featured here is the Hello Kitty Sanrio Family one, known as “Hand In Hand.” This was painted in September 2013 and came with a new onboard experience to match. On the flight, passengers would be served in Hello Kitty-themed cutlery and could buy exclusive products, a lucrative business.
According to Paxex.aero, EVA Air reported that Hello Kitty flights saw 3% strong operations compared to other flights. This was despite charging slightly higher for the onboard experience, which passengers didn’t seem to mind. The special liveried 777s on long-haul routes were the most popular for the airline.
However, since last year, the Hello Kitty experience has been suspended due to the COVID-19 fears. This likely meant that the licensing costs no longer made much sense for the airline since passengers could not buy merchandise or enjoy the experience. However, the Hello Kitty liveries lives on with EVA Air.
Not the only one
While we might be saying goodbye to the earliest Hello Kitty livery in the fleet, EVA Air still has more available! In fact, the airline currently has three more specially painted jets, two A330-300s (B-16332 and -33) and one more 777-300ER (B-16722). All three of these aircraft feature different Sanrio characters for passengers and onlookers to enjoy.
What do you think about the Hello Kitty liveries? Are you sad to see them go? Let us know in the comments!
India Joins England Red List Meaning Direct Flights Banned
India has officially joined the UK’s red list as of 04:00 AM BST, heavily restricting travel between the two countries. The ban comes as several other nations also restrict travel from India amid a surge of cases and possible new variants. Let’s find out more about the impact of these restrictions.
As of this morning, no travelers except British or Irish citizens or those with residence rights in the country can enter the UK. Those who can still travel must submit to a 10-day, £1,750 ($2,425) hotel quarantine. The ban extends to anyone who has been in India in the 10 days before arriving in the UK.
The decision to add India to the red list was made on 19th April, giving travelers just over three days to reach the UK before the ban on 23rd April. However, thousands were unable to reach in time due to Heathrow and the government denying extra repatriation flights from India due to various issues.
Data from Public Health England, according to BBC, showed that 3,345 passengers arrived in the UK between 25th March to 7th April. Of these travelers, 4.8% of them (161) later tested positive, raising fears of a new variant spreading in the UK.
Not the only one
Yesterday, two major popular destinations for India found themselves banned. The UAE imposed a 10-day ban on all travelers from India entering the country, with some exceptions. The decision will have a huge impact on UAE aviation, given India is the single largest market for airlines there, and on Indian airlines.
Routes between the UAE and India had become some of the busiest international ones in the world last winter. There are 62 direct routes between India and the UAE offered by carriers in both countries, putting much at stake for airlines. However, given the current situation in India, flights are unlikely to resume in 10 days.
Canada also announced a ban on travelers from India for 30 days last night, in another blow to long-haul airlines. The ban went into effect from 11:30 PM local time yesterday, which means no more passengers can enter for now.
New Zealand had already canceled flights from India at the start of April due to rising cases. Australia has also decided to cut flights from India by a third due to rising cases in its hotel quarantine system. Oman also banned the entry of travelers from India from 24th April onwards, according to Hindustan Times.
The decision to issue travel bans comes as India tackles the largest COVID-19 wave in the world. The country saw 332,530 cases on Thursday, the highest daily toll for any country in the world ever. Moreover, fears of a new variant that is more dangerous has also pushed countries to ban travel. For now, don’t expect restrictions to be eased any time soon.
What do you think about the decision to ban travel from India? Let us know in the comments!
Boeing Is Working On A Solution For Grounded 737 MAX Jets
United States aircraft manufacturer Boeing continues to work on a solution for an electrical power system issue causing the grounding of 106 MAX planes. The grounding has seen three big US airlines, United, American, and Southwest, keep more than 60 jets out of the skies.
106 Boeing 737 MAXs grounded
Earlier this month, Boeing “recommended” 16 MAX operators look at a potential electrical issue before sending some specific 737 MAX planes back into the air. Boeing was unsure if a sufficient ground path existed for a component of the electrical power system.
Specifically, Boeing was concerned about the electrical grounding inside a backup power control system. Boeing said in a statement at the time;
“We are also informing our customers of specific tail numbers affected, and we will provide direction on appropriate corrective actions.”
In addition to the three impacted US airlines, Cayman Airways, Copa Airlines, GOL Linhas Aereas, Icelandair, Minsheng Leasing, Neos Air, Shandong Airlines, SilkAir, SpiceJet, Sunwing Airlines, TUI, Turkish Airlines, Valla Jets Limited, WestJet Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines have all grounded planes. All up, the problem affects 106 Boeing 737 MAXs. The majority, 71 planes, are aircraft registered in the United States.
FAA says Boeing continues to work on a solution
On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Boeing continued to work on a solution to the problem. The safety regulator also said “subsequent analysis and testing” showed the issue could involve additional systems. Systems flagged include the standby power control unit, a circuit breaker panel, and the main instrument panel.
In a formal notice to international air regulators, the FAA said it expected to soon issue an airworthiness directive outlining corrective action for relevant US-registered 737 MAXs. In a statement issued on Thursday, Boeing said;
“We concur with the FAA notice and continue to work closely with the regulator and our customers to address the issue.”
Reports suggest the big US carriers, while inconvenienced, are not overly concerned. The airlines say they know what the problem is. They know what needs to be done about it, and how swiftly it can get fixed. They expect to have their grounded MAXs back in the air reasonably quickly.
Boeing’s current electrical power system issue is unconnected to problems that saw the MAX grounded worldwide across most of 2019 and 2020. The FAA says the current grounding “is not related to recertification of the flight control system on the 737 MAX, ungrounding of the aircraft, or its return to service.”
US Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General to audit FAA – again
That has not stopped the US Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General earlier this week confirming it would audit the FAA’s decision to inground the 737 MAX last year. The Inspector General’s office has previously cast its eye over the FAA’s management and certification of the 737 MAX program. Now, the accountability and integrity watchdog is going back for another look.
This audit will examine FAA’s actions following each of the two Boeing 737 MAX
accidents, including the grounding of the aircraft and its recertification. Matthew Hampton, Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, says in a heads-up memo to the FAA on Tuesday.
“Our audit objective is to evaluate FAA’s processes and procedures for grounding
aircraft and implementing corrective actions.”
In response, the FAA said it would co-operate with the Inspector General’s audit, as it has done on previous occasions.
Meanwhile, the relative nonchalance among the big US airlines impacted by the current grounding provides the best timeline regarding a resolution of the electrical power system problems. Unlike the last mass grounding, this smaller aircraft-specific grounding may be for a matter of weeks.
Delta Air Lines Orders 25 More Airbus A321neos
Delta Air Lines has ordered a further 25 Airbus A321neo aircraft. The deal, confirmed on Thursday, adds to the 100 A321neo planes Delta ordered in 2017. Delta expects to take delivery of its first A321neo in the first half of 2022.
125 Airbus A321neos now coming to Delta, with options for 100 more
With this week’s order, Delta’s total purchase commitment for the A321neo is now 125 firm aircraft, with 100 purchase rights. A Senior Vice President at Delta, Mahendra Nair, said in a statement;
“This agreement positions Delta for growth while accounting for the planned retirements of older narrowbody aircraft in our fleet, addresses our carbon footprint, increases efficiency, and elevates the customer experience.”
In addition to ordering the A321neos, Delta negotiated with Airbus to bring forward the delivery of two A350-900s and one A330-900neo. These three planes will now come to Delta in the second half of 2022.
Airbus Chief Commercial Officer, Christian Scherer, said it was “gratifying” to be back doing purchase deals with airlines and watch the industry regroup.
“We have managed the challenges of the last year together with our customers,” says the Airbus executive.
New A321neos destined to work across Delta’s domestic network
Complementing Delta’s Airbus A321ceo fleet of more than 100 aircraft, the A321neos will see service across Delta’s domestic United States network. The A321neos will seat 194 customers, with 20 seats in first class, 42 seats in Delta Comfort Plus, and 132 seats in the main economy cabin.
The A321neo will replace older Boeing 757s and Airbus A320s in Delta’s fleet. The average age of Delta’s Boeing 757s is nearly 24 years. The average age of Delta’s 55 A320s is just over 25 years.
This week’s order builds on an existing solid relationship between Delta Air Lines and the big European planemaker. It also underscores an uneasy existing relationship between Delta and its local plane manufacturer, Boeing. In the lead-up to Delta’s first 2017 A3210neo order, Boeing’s 737 MAX was reportedly in the race.
Airbus gains ground on Boeing at Delta
While never an exclusively Boeing airline, Delta Air Lines traditionally had a long-running preference for Boeing planes. Understandable, perhaps, for a United States-based airline to favor a United States-based aircraft manufacturer. But in the last decade, Airbus had made significant inroads at Delta Air Lines.
That can be traced back to 2014. In that year, Delta rebooted its commercial relationship with Airbus and, over a series of deals, ordered 10 A330-300s, 25 A330-900neos, 30 A321ceos, and 25 A350-900s. Since then, they’ve beefed up their A321ceo order significantly. In 2017, Delta dove in again and ordered the first 100 A321neos.
In contrast, since 2014, Delta has ordered just 30 Boeing 737-900ER aircraft. That built on a significant 2011 order for 100 737-900ER planes.
In the latter half of the last decade, Boeing and Delta became embroiled in a nasty trade dispute after a 300% tariff was slapped on the C Series jets Delta was importing. Boeing and Delta took opposite sides in the dispute. Boeing suggested Delta’s deal to buy the C Series planes was underhand and Delta obtained the aircraft at below cost price.
The bad blood from that very public spat may still be proving beneficial for Airbus. The European plane manufacturer now calls Delta a long-standing partner.
Delta says their new Airbus A321neos will be powered by next-generation Pratt & Whitney PW1100G turbofan engines. The new planes will see 12% better fuel efficiency measured against the current A321 current engine (ceo) aircraft. Delta also notes this week’s deal aligns nicely with its sustainability goals and commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral airline.
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