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Aiming to reduce costs and speed decision making, Airbus Group will merge with Airbus Commercial Aircraft, the companies announced last week. Both companies are headquartered in Toulouse, France. The merger “paves the way for an overhaul of our corporate set-up, simplifies our company’s governance, eliminates redundancies and supports further efficiencies,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders. One way to reduce costs will be the elimination of redundant positions, but Airbus offered no details on job cuts. According to Bloomberg News, Enders told employees in a memo that the impact of the merger on the workforce would be “not negligible,” but the cuts will be fewer than in a previous restructuring, when 8,000 jobs were lost.

“We aren’t just trying to get leaner at the shop-floor level, we are really starting at the top of the company,” Enders told The Wall Street Journal. The goal is to ensure that the changes to management ranks are made “as thorough and substantial as possible,” he said. The changes will yield financial benefits starting next year, Enders said. The Journal noted that Airbus faces many challenges, including high costs to build its new A350 long-range jet, technical problems and delays with the A400M military transport plane, and declining sales of the A380 superjumbo. Enders said he is working to make the company “faster and leaner” and aims to fight off competition not only from Boeing but from fast-moving startups like SpaceX.

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Pilots in Canada can meet their requirements to stay current without ever getting into an actual airplane, under a rule exemption that was enacted by Transport Canada in August. The change will make pilot training more “cost effective and efficient,” officials at Transport Canada told The Globe in a statement. The agency also said the rules would not put public safety at risk. “Simulators offer pilots a realistic environment that accurately replicates the cockpit and electronic equipment and provides flight and ground-handling capabilities identical to those in an aircraft,” the statement said. The Canadian Federal Pilots Association, which represents federal aviation inspectors, called the rule change “reckless” in a statement posted online on Monday.

“It affects all pilots and assures all pilots can maintain pilot currency and never fly an airplane or helicopter again,” Greg McConnell, CFPA national chair, told the Globe. “There are real safety concerns here.” McConnell said TC enacted the rule mainly to save money, so its own inspectors could stay current without the expense of flying in actual aircraft. Under previous rules, a pilot in Canada could not legally fly an aircraft unless they had acted as a captain or copilot within the previous five years, or completed a flight review with an instructor and met other standards. The new exemption permits all pilots in Canada who have not been a captain or copilot during the past five years, from private pilots to airline pilots, to satisfy the “recency” requirement by way of flight simulator time only.

However, the TC rule does require that the recency requirements are met in a Level C or D simulator, which are full-motion platforms with sophisticated capabilities.  

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Viking Air, of British Columbia, is now the owner of the type-design certificates for the line of amphibious aircraft formerly produced by Bombardier, the two companies announced today. The deal, which has been in the works since June, will also make Viking the main supporter for the 170 water bombers now flying, based in 11 countries around the world. “Aerial firefighting capability is becoming increasingly important,” said David Curtis, CEO of Viking. “We look forward to working with operators to ensure these vital aircraft remain ready to perform to their full potential protecting communities and critical infrastructure.”

The deal includes the CL-215, which was first launched in 1969 by Canadair; and the CL-215T, first introduced in 1992, which had a more efficient wing and more powerful Pratt & Whitney engines. It also includes the CL-415 Superscooper variant, first introduced in 1994, which can fly faster and carry more payload. The aircraft are mainly used for firefighting efforts, and also in a variety of roles including maritime patrol and search and rescue. Viking said it will add 40 new positions to manage the new fleet, and will provide service from a newly acquired and specially repurposed 50,000-square-foot facility in Calgary.

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The first flight of the restored B-29 “Doc” in July was a huge achievement for the hundreds of volunteers who worked on the project, but the second flight, which took place last week, is also special — it’s proof that the first flight, despite a glitch in the fuel system that cut it short, was just the start, and there’s a lot more to come. The first flight lasted only 15 minutes, but this one stretched 51 minutes, giving the crew time to continue testing the airplane’s systems. “This flight was successful and it gave us another opportunity to put some time on the airplane as we continue to make our way through the flight-test campaign and meeting FAA requirements,” said Jim Murphy, project manager for Doc’s Friends. “The airplane’s engines and control surfaces performed as expected.”

“Each time we fly, we learn more about this historic warbird,” Murphy said. “We found a few minor issues that we will need to continue to fine-tune and maintain as we work through the flight-test schedule. Today we found a small issue on a landing-gear motor, but it was nothing major. Finding these types of fine-tuning necessities is what the flight-test campaign is all about. The flight-test crew as well as our volunteer restoration and maintenance crews have done an amazing job on this project. Thanks to this team, we are getting closer to being able to fly Doc farther, and eventually, make Doc’s mission of being a flying museum to honor our nation’s heroes a reality.” The B-29 took off from McConnell Air Force Base, in Wichita, Kansas. A third flight is expected later this month.

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Aviation experts are everywhere, especially when we're not needed. But exhibiting a thin grasp of disparate subjects is what makes for good presidential politics and great hangar chatter, all skills one masters when acing this quiz.

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While those of us in the cheap seats uniformly cheer for low oil prices because, well, we can buy more gas and fly more, what if the reverse were true? What if anemic oil prices are the cause of declining aircraft sales? Writing this week in Aviation Week, the Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia made this very argument, albeit one that applies to high-end business aircraft.

Transposing the curves of global oil prices over those of business aircraft sales, Teal finds a fit. When oil is high, or at least higher than the under-$50 average price now extant, sales of high-end aircraft boom; low oil prices have tended to diminish demand. Indeed, for virtually all aircraft, production has yet to recover to pre-2007 levels and since the last oil peak in 2011 ($119), prices have retreated steadily and sometimes dramatically.

Quoting Bank of America/Merrill Lynch analysis, Aboulafia says there’s a correlation between high-end business jet demand and oil prices. Demand rose after the 2008 economic crash just as oil prices did; now as oil prices retreat, so does luxury jet demand. The underlying support for the argument is that resource-rich countries like Russia Middle Eastern states are prime buyers of large, cabin-class jets and when oil prices tank, so do sales.

The correlation is interesting, but I’m not sure I’m convinced. In any case, it’s marginal to the industry as a whole. According to GAMA figures, overall business jet demand has been essentially flat since 2011, but was slightly higher in 2015 than in 2011. The more bracing eye opener for me is the global volume in billing numbers. In 2008, general aviation delivered 3970 aircraft for $24.7 billion in orders. In 2015, it billed $24.2 billion, almost as much, but for 2331 airplanes, ergo, fewer airplanes for just as much money. That’s the perverse world of aviation supply and demand. When demand goes down, prices go up.

Piston sales have clawed back from a low of 889 in 2010 to 1056 in 2015, but they were higher (1129) in 2014. I couldn’t even venture a guess if oil prices have affected sales. New piston airplanes have become primarily a training market so with oil prices soft, do enough more people buy airline trips to spike demand for more pilot training? Maybe, but that’s a claim too tenuous for even a Sunday evening blog.

In the shorter term, lower avgas prices should, theoretically, increase flight activity which, in turn, should boost avgas demand. If this is true, I’d have a hard time proving it. I had a look at the Energy Information Administration’s graph on avgas deliveries and it was flat through 2015, after a sharp decline since 2012. Not that I’m sure how reliable this data is, anyway. Digging into the source tables, you could once find the underlying data supporting these reports. But for the past couple of years, much of it is being withheld, probably to protect proprietary reporting in a continually declining avgas production ecosystem.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that oil prices, such that they can be reliably forecast, seem unlikely to rise sharply for the short term. Lower gasoline prices have spurred driving demand in the U.S., but overall oil demand remains tepid and supply is fat. OPEC, once the fearsome overload of oil production, recently announced a half-hearted plan to cap production in support of price buttressing. This will cause dancing in the streets in Eagle Ford and Bakken but, I suspect, not much change in overall price.

If I were betting, I’d say avgas prices will remain stable for quite some time. That’s not to say low oil prices are an overwhelming benefit for the world economy, but if I don’t focus on my selfish little self-interest here, I’ll never get rid of this splitting headache.

Night at the Movies

Clinging to the oil topic here, I’ll veer toward the shoulder for a few sentences in noting that Deepwater Horizon, the movie, opened over the weekend. When I was lad growing up in the Texas oil patch, I once witnessed a well blowout. The sight of 30-foot sections of drill pipe arcing through the arid sky tends to stay with you.

In depicting the physics of such a calamity, the filmmakers and script writers deserve a nod for not dumbing it down too much for the audience. I have more than passing knowledge of this technology and I had to pay close attention to keep up with the detail. Even with the inevitable artistic license, it was gripping. It’s worth seeing.

One of the world's last surviving Battle of Britain vets, John Hart, of Naramata, British Columbia, Canada, went flying to celebrate his 100th birthday. Dave Watson, of Yellow Thunder Formation Aerobatics, took him up in his Harvard, the Canadian version of the T-6.

 

They say aviation regulations are written in blood, and Alaska pilot Ross Nixon tells a story that makes that clear -- when a family was lost in a California crash in 1957, it was ultimately determined they might have survived if only they'd been found in time. Thanks to that somber event, says Nixon, general aviation aircraft now carry ELTs.
 

 

DC One-X from David Clark

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