Archive for David Slotnick

The Boeing 737 Max is likely just weeks away from being cleared to fly again. Here are the few steps remaining before the FAA lifts its 2019 grounding order.

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Karen Ducey
FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle
  • The Boeing 737 Max is likely mere weeks from returning to passenger service.
  • The plane moved another step closer to being recertified this week as a major international review was initiated.
  • However, there are few remaining administrative tasks for Boeing and the FAA — and logistical hurdles for airlines — before the plane fully returns to the skies.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Boeing's troubled 737 Max is likely just weeks away from returning to the skies.

Although a scathing report from House Democrats on the Transportation committee condemned the Boeing and FAA missteps that led to the crashes in the first place, the plane has undergone virtually unprecedented scrutiny since it was grounded.

With one of the final stages in recertification beginning earlier this week, there are only a few steps left before the plane can reenter service.

The big steps that are already behind Boeing

Boeing completed the plane's recertification flights with the FAA in late June and early July, among the biggest hurdles for the planemaker to overcome before the plane could be cleared to fly again. During the flights, Boeing and FAA engineers tested the various changes made to the jet.

On August 3, the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking outlining the changes it will require before the 737 Max can reenter service.

The proposal, one of the last big administrative hurdles, is subject to a 45-day public commentary.

Among the changes, 737 Max operators would be required to install a revamped software system on the plane's flight control computer, following a major redesign to the computer, and upload new software for the plane's display system. 737 Max operators would be required to use a revised flight manual, install new wiring for the plane's horizontal stabilizers, complete tests of each plane's angle-of-attack sensor system, and perform operational test flights.

In the preliminary summary, the FAA wrote that it found that Boeing's proposed changes to the Max design, along with flight crew and maintenance procedures, "effectively mitigate the airplane-related safety issues that contributed to the Flight 610 and Flight 302 accidents."

Now, as the 45-day public comment period nears an end, there are just a few steps remaining in the process.

Review by Regulators

The multinational Joint Operational Evaluation Board (JOEB) — made up of regulators and pilots from the US, Canada, Brazil, and the European Union — will meet for about nine days to review the new training that Boeing plans to recommend for 737 Max flight crews.

That meeting began at London's Gatwick Airport on Monday, September 14, and should wrap up next week, according to the FAA and reports from Reuters.

After that, the results will be incorporated into a draft by the FAA's own Flight Standardization Board (FSB), which sets the minimum required training for pilots. The result of that is published and open to public comment for 15 days, Reuters has previously reported.

The entire process — from the start of the JOEB meeting to the end of the FSB review — takes "roughly probably 30 days from beginning to end, FAA administrator Stephen Dickson has previously said.

Dickson has also said he plans to undergo the recommended training and fly the jet himself before approving anything to move forward.

Given the start date for the JOEB, that suggests the process should wrap up by early-to-mid October.

The FAA did not return a request for comment for this article.

Once the FAA approves Boeing's changes, the legwork begins

After the FSB review is finalized and the FAA reviews the final documentation, the FAA will issue an advisory of a coming safety change, known as a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC).

That would be followed shortly by an Airworthiness Directive (AD) formalizing the changes published in the earlier notice of proposed rulemaking. Within a few days, the FAA would lift the March 2019 order grounding the jet.

However, planes would not be able to return to service immediately. The FAA plans to inspect each individual airplane itself before certifying it to fly again, making sure that all the required changes and updates have been made. In the past, that was a job delegated to Boeing.

"A successful, complete, functional test flight of each aircraft will be required before it is individually re-certified as airworthy," airline consultant R.W. Mann told Business Insider. "It's literally a tail number by tail number approach, not a fleet-wide re-certification. More cumbersome and expensive than earlier imagined."

Airlines will be responsible for training their pilots according to the FSB standard. 

Meanwhile, international regulators can choose to lift their own grounding orders in line with the FAA, or to finalize their own reviews. Both European and Canadian officials have said they would certify the plane independently — both have carried out certification flights, so the decision would likely come quickly after the FAA lifts its grounding.

Finally, as airlines install updates and train their pilots, they'll need to work to pull planes out of storage and get them flight-worthy, inspecting and cleaning aircraft that have been sitting on the ground for more than 18 months.

Conceivably, the plane could reenter passenger service with US airlines by the start of the holiday travel season.

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Southwest will leave its middle seats open through at least November, offering social distance to anxious Thanksgiving travelers

FILE PHOTO: A traveler checks her baggage at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A traveler checks her baggage at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles

Travelers worried about the coronavirus on packed flights during the Thanksgiving holiday have something to be thankful for: Southwest said it will block middle seats through the end of November.

The airline announced on Wednesday that it would extend capacity limits on its flights through November 30, part of an effort to reassure passengers that flying is safe as airlines look towards the busy holiday travel period. 

"Southwest has been operating flights with middle seats open throughout the summer and has added thousands of flights to in-demand destinations to provide extra seats for on-board physical distancing and added comfort," Southwest's chief marketing officer, Ryan Green, said in a statement.

Whether to fill middle seats on flights or leave them empty has been a topic of debate for airlines, with carriers taking two general approaches. Some, like Southwest, Delta, and JetBlue, have continued to block the seats and limit capacity on planes, gambling that even if the decision hurts revenue performance on flights, passengers may be more willing to fly with them.

Others, like American, United, and Spirit, have argued that there is no practical safety improvement from blocking the seats and that adequate social distancing on an airplane is impossible. One United executive described the blocked middle seats as "a PR strategy," not a safety move.

The limited research available, however, has suggested that blocking the middle seats could cut the risk of onboard COVID-19 transmission in half, although the overall risk is fairly low either way as long as everyone onboard wears masks.

Air travel demand is down about 70% compared to 2019 levels, with a full recovery not expected until at least 2024.

Airlines have implemented stringent new cleaning procedures during the pandemic, and air circulation patterns on airplanes are believed to largely limit on-board transmission. The blocked middle seat strategy appears to be largely a marketing move, even if there are some safety benefits — evidence suggests that it's a winning marketing strategy.

Delta has said it will continue to limit capacity through at least January 6. Alaska Airlines will block middle seats through at least October 31, and JetBlue will continue to block the seats through at least October 15.

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A blistering House report slams Boeing and the FAA over ‘serious flaws and missteps’ that led to two deadly 737 Max crashes

FILE PHOTO: Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, U.S. July 1, 2019.  REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked at Boeing Field in Seattle

The two 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people and led to a years-long grounding of the entire global fleet of the plane were the result of "a horrific culmination" of engineering missteps, poor management, and "grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA," the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure said in a new report on Wednesday.

The report, from House Democrats on the committee, soundly condemned Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration and questioned whether the two bodies have adequately addressed the systemic issues that led to the crashes.

No Republicans on the committee signed off on the report — a spokesperson for the committee minority did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

The report described Boeing as a changed company that has lost its way and "is in serious need of a safety reset. Boeing has gone from being a great engineering company to being a big business focused on financial success."

"Continuing on the same path it followed with the 737 MAX, where safety was sacrificed to production pressures, exposes the company to potentially repeating those mistakes and to additional reputational damage and financial losses," the report added.

The 218-page House committee report comes from an 18-month investigation that included dozens of interviews with Boeing and FAA employees and executives and about 600,000 pages of documents.

"Our report lays out disturbing revelations about how Boeing—under pressure to compete with Airbus and deliver profits for Wall Street—escaped scrutiny from the FAA, withheld critical information from pilots, and ultimately put planes into service that killed 346 innocent people," Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in a statement.

"What's particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes," he added.

In a statement, Boeing said that it was dedicated to implementing changes to address the issues that led to the crashes.

"We have learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and from the mistakes we have made," the company said. "As this report recognizes, we have made fundamental changes to our company as a result, and continue to look for ways to improve."

The report identified five broad problems throughout the plane's development that led to the crashes.

First, pressure to compete with rival Airbus' new A320neo aircraft led Boeing to prioritize deadlines and production rates over safety, the report argues.

Next, the company made "fundamentally faulty assumptions" about a new flight-control system on the Max, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

MCAS was designed to compensate for the 737 Max having larger engines than previous 737 generations. The larger engines could cause the plane's nose to tip upward, leading to a stall — in that situation, MCAS could automatically point the nose down to negate the effect of the engine size.

In essence, Boeing assumed that pilots would be able to handle any potential malfunction by addressing the effects of it, despite not knowing specifically about MCAS.

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX sits outside the hangar during a media tour of the Boeing 737 MAX at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Matt Mills McKnight/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX sits outside the hangar during a media tour of the Boeing 737 MAX at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington

Third, Boeing withheld certain crucial information from the FAA, airline customers, and pilots, the report claims, part of a "culture of concealment." For instance, Boeing did not flag "internal test data that revealed it took a Boeing test pilot more than 10 seconds to diagnose and respond to uncommanded MCAS activation in a flight simulator, a condition the pilot described as 'catastrophic.'" Federal guidelines assume that pilots will be able to react within four seconds.

Fourth, the FAA's practice of delegating oversight of certain tasks to Boeing created "inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public," the report claimed. The Democrats said that there were multiple instances in which Boeing workers, who were tasked with performing oversight on behalf of the FAA, had failed to notify the agency of potential issues.

Finally, the report found cases in which FAA officials were deferential to Boeing, accepting Boeing's data and information even when it was contradicted by the agency's own technical experts.

What the findings mean as Boeing works to get the plane back in the air.

The findings are largely consistent with the information that has been revealed by whistleblowers, hearing testimonies, and interim reports. 

The report also comes as the FAA moves nearer to recertifying the 737 Max to fly. The agency began test flights in June, and published its proposed changes to the plane in August — among the final steps before the plane can return to service. 

Other nation's aviation safety agencies have also conducted their own test flights.

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 Max aircraft sits on the tarmac at Boeing's 737 Max production facility in Renton, Washington, U.S. December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
Boeing 737 Max aircraft at Boeing's 737 Max production facility in Renton

In the preliminary summary issued with the FAA's proposed changes, the agency wrote that it found that Boeing's proposed changes to the Max design, along with flight crew and maintenance procedures, "effectively mitigate the airplane-related safety issues that contributed to the Flight 610 and Flight 302 accidents."

Legislation that would make significant changes to the FAA's aircraft certification process, addressing numerous issues raised in the report, is expected to be advanced in the House and Senate as soon as this week, according to Politico.

The FAA, in a statement provided to Business Insider, said it was also implementing its own changes based on the saga.

"We are already undertaking important initiatives based on what we have learned from our own internal reviews as well as independent reviews of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents," an agency spokesperson wrote in the statement. "These initiatives are focused on advancing overall aviation safety by improving our organization, processes, and culture."

Family members of crash victims, however, disagree with Boeing and the FAA.

Boeing 737 Max
Family members of those who died aboard Ethiopian Airlines plane sit with pictures of their loved ones during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in October 2019 as then-Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg testified about the crashes.

"While Boeing proclaims to be a changed company, in court they continue to hide documents, deny that they put profits over safety and refuse to be held accountable," Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband Antoine Lewis died in the crash of Ethiopian Flight 302, said in a statement. "The truth is that 346 people are dead because Boeing cut corners, lied to regulators, and simply considers this the cost of doing business."

The 737 Max has been grounded since March 2019.

The first 737 Max deadly crash, Lion Air Flight 610, plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia in October 2018 12 minutes after takeoff, during which the pilots struggled to control the plane. The crash killed 189 people.

Although questions immediately emerged about a new flight-control system on the 737 Max — the latest iteration of Boeing's 55-year-old workhorse — the plane largely remained in service, with an emergency Airworthiness Directive issued by Boeing and the FAA warning pilots about possible control issues.

The second crash occurred in March 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 on board. Within days, the plane type was grounded worldwide. On March 13, 2019, the US became one of the last countries to ground the jet.

Investigators quickly found that both crashes were linked to MCAS.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
File photo: Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu.

The system could be activated by a faulty reading from a single angle-of-attack sensor, without any redundancies or backups. In both crashes the sensors are thought to have failed, sending erroneous data to the flight computer and, without a redundant check in place, triggering the automated system.

Although the grounding was initially expected to last a few weeks, Boeing and the FAA found additional safety hazards — eventually requiring Boeing to redesign the jet's entire flight computer rather than just the MCAS software.

Boeing previously said it expected the jet to return to service in the second half of this year. Although airlines have eagerly awaited the jet's return, the collapse of travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic has dulled the need for the added capacity.

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Delta will avoid involuntary furloughs for most frontline workers when federal aid expires, but pilot layoffs remain likely

FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 25, 2020.  REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes parked in Birmingham
  • Delta Air Lines will avoid involuntary furloughs for flight attendants and frontline ground workers on October 1, when CARES Act provisions expire, the airline said Tuesday.
  • However, the airline still plans to furlough pilots. As of late August, the plan was to furlough nearly 2,000 of them.
  • The airline industry has been among the most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Delta Air Lines said Tuesday that it expects to avoid involuntary furloughs for flight attendants and frontline ground workers when Cares Act provisions expire on October 1, even as the coronavirus continues to keep travel demand near record lows.

But one key group of workers are an exception: Delta's pilots.

In a memo to employees, CEO Ed Bastian said the furloughs for flight attendants and frontline ground workers could be avoided because a large number of Delta employees have taken voluntary buyouts or unpaid leaves. Weekly work hours have also been reduced for some groups.

Bastian said 20% of Delta's pre-pandemic workforce took early exits, reducing the airline's payroll by about 17,000. Another 40,000 employees had taken a short- or long-term unpaid leave of absence.

"Avoiding involuntary furloughs in this unprecedented environment is entirely due to the innovation, hard work and shared sacrifice of our people," Bastian wrote.

However, the airline still plans to furlough pilots, Bastian said. As of late August, the plans were to furlough 1,941 of them on October 1.

Pilots are the only unionized workers at Delta. The airline has previously said that it has offered different buyout and leave deals to pilots due to the terms of their collective-bargaining agreement.

The airline and the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing Delta's pilots, are still in talks seeking an 11th-hour deal, Bastian said.

The association said in a statement to Business Insider that it was continuing to negotiate with the airline.

"Pilots are career-long stakeholders in Delta Air Lines, and as such, we are motivated to help the Company while still upholding our core value of protecting pilot jobs," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We are in ongoing talks with management to mitigate pilot furloughs with the goal of finding win/win solutions."

In late August, Delta had about 11,200 pilots but expected to need just 9,450 by summer 2021, senior vice president of flight operations John Laughter wrote in a memo to pilots that was seen by Business Insider.

"We are simply overstaffed, and we are faced with an incredibly difficult decision," Laughter wrote in that August memo. A total of 1,806 pilots took early retirement packages, the airline told Business Insider.

Airlines have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with travel demand collapsing early in the pandemic and making only modest recoveries since, hampered by summer spikes across the US. The industry does not expect to recover to 2019 levels of demand until 2024. Bastian wrote that Delta is seeing just 30% of last year's demand levels.

Delta received more than $5.4 billion in payroll support through the CARES Act. The airline agreed not to furlough or cut pay for workers until October 1 in exchange for the aid.

The airline has raised about $16.5 billion in liquidity during the pandemic, but continues to burn about $27 million in cash each day. Delta said on Monday that it would raise an additional $6.5 billion — 240 days of cash at current rates — by mortgaging its SkyMiles frequent-flyer program.

Delta and other airlines have also voiced support for an extension of the CARES Act. However, such a deal has so far failed to materialize.

Are you a pilot or employee at Delta or another airline? Contact this reporter with tips, thoughts, or other feedback at [email protected].

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Emirates, the glitzy Middle Eastern mega-airline, is offering a credit card in the US for the first time as it scrabbles for revenue during the pandemic

FILE PHOTO: An Emirates passenger plane comes in to land at Heathrow airport during the coronavirus pandemic, London, Britain, May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
FILE PHOTO: An Emirates passenger plane comes in to land at London's Heathrow airport
  • Emirates, the glitzy Gulf airline that flies passengers all over the globe, announced its first co-branded credit cards in the US.
  • The cards earn Emirates Skywards miles on purchases, and offer a variety of perks to US-based travelers.
  • As travel demand remains near historic lows during the pandemic, the credit cards also offer Emirates a novel way to earn cash as it waits for ticket sales to pick back up.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

International travel is largely on hold right now, but Emirates hopes that travelers will use the downtime to pad their frequent flyer mile accounts — and help the airline make it through the pandemic.

The airline on Monday announced its first co-branded credit cards in the US market, allowing US-based members of its Skywards frequent flyer program to earn miles on purchases.

There are two versions of the credit card, both of which are issued by Barclays: the Emirates Skywards Rewards card, and the Emirates Skywards Premium card. Both cards earn three miles per dollar spent with Emirates, two miles per dollar spent on other travel expenses, and one mile per dollar on everything else.

The cards come with a variety of other perks, including signup bonuses of up to 40,000 points after meeting spending requirements, elite status with the airline, lounge access, and more.

Emirates' Skywards program has 2.5 million US-based members, senior vice president Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher said in a press release, and 27 million globally.

Emirates and Barclays had first teased the card in February, when the airline and Barclays announced their nascent partnership.

Since then, the global airline industry has seen travel demand collapse. Carriers like Emirates, which fly all or mostly international routes, have been struck particularly hard as travel restrictions, border closures, and quarantine requirements have put the kibosh on all non-essential travel.

Emirates has survived the travel collapse largely by focusing on an increased demand for air freight, airline president Tim Clark told Business Insider in a July interview.

The credit card offers the Dubai-based carrier an additional lifeline.

Airlines can make additional revenue by selling frequent-flyer miles to their credit-card partners. In turn, the credit card companies issue them to cardholders as spending rewards. 

For example, American Express, which issues co-branded credit cards with Delta, purchases the airline's miles and issues them to customers as a reward for spending.

American Express paid Delta $4.1 billion for miles in 2019, according to a Delta filing with the Securities and Exchanges Commission. The airline earned a grossed $6.1 billion last year from mileage sales.

While it seems unlikely that Emirates will generate the same level of revenue, given its smaller membership — Delta says SkyMiles has more than 100 million members — the new credit card could still offer a nice chunk of cash to Emirates as it waits for travel to resume.

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Delta spins off its cash-cow frequent flyer program to serve as collateral for a $6.5 billion loan amidst the airline industry bloodbath

Delta Air Lines Boeing 777
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-200.
  • Delta Air Lines said it will raise $6.5 billion by mortgaging its SkyMiles frequent flyer program.
  • The airline will spin the program off into a separate holding company for the deal, something United pioneered with a similar deal in July.
  • Airlines, including Delta, continue to hemmorhage cash during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Delta Air Lines will become the latest airline to raise cash by using the billions it earns from its frequent flyer program as collateral.

The airline said on Monday that it would raise $6.5 billion in loans backed by its SkyMiles program in a private notes offering.

Airlines have raised cash through the pandemic largely by offering physical assets like aircraft as collateral, as well as airline business assets such as slots, routes, and airport gates.

For US airlines, however, frequent flyer programs, with valuations in the tens of billions of dollars, offer another lifeline. While airlines frame their frequent flyer programs — fairly, in many cases — as being valuable for passengers, the rewards programs earn significantly more for airlines than they cost them.

Airlines make billions per year by selling frequent-flyer miles to their credit-card partners. In turn, the credit card companies issue them to cardholders as spending rewards. 

For example, American Express, which issues co-branded credit cards with Delta, purchases the airline's miles and issues them to customers as a reward for spending, typically at a rate of 1-2 miles per dollar spent on the relevant credit card.

American Express paid Delta $4.1 billion for miles in 2019, according to a Delta filing with the Securities and Exchanges Commission. The airline earned a grossed $6.1 billion last year from mileage sales.

The loan offer required Delta to spin the SkyMiles program off into a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary: SkyMiles IP Ltd. The move should have no impact on customers.

Airlines have seen revenue plummet during the coronavirus pandemic, with demand falling as much as 97% during the peak of the crisis in April.

Although there has been a slight recovery, travel demand remains stagnant at about 30% of 2019 levels, and airlines say they do not expect a complete recovery until 2024. 

Delta is still burning $27 million per day as the demand recovery stalls. The $6.5 billion loan would give it an additional 240 days of runway at current burn rates, but the airline has told shareholders it will get its daily cash losses down to zero by the end of the year through staff leaves, reduced work schedules, and other cost-cutting measures such as grounding or retiring some of its older planes.. It also has $16.5 billion in liquidity on hand in addition to this loan.

Spinning the frequent flyer program off allows the airline to issue the program as collateral without exposing the rest of its business to creditors, while still maintaining full control over the program. United raised $6.8 billion in July using a similar maneuver. 

American similarly offered its frequent flyer program as collateral for a $4.8 billion government loan through the CARES Act. Delta is also eligible for a loan under that program, but is seeking credit through private lenders instead.

In past downturns, airlines have sold large amounts of miles to credit card partners in advance. However, airlines typically have to offer a discount rate for such a sale, which would hurt potential future revenue.

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Delta pitches itself as the safe choice for pandemic travel by tackling coronavirus risks in the plane, at the security line, and on the jet bridge

Delta Air Lines fogging
Delta's moving beyond cleaning planes, with new programs to tackle COVID-19 in the airport.

 

Like just about every airline, Delta is working to convince passengers that it's safe to fly during the coronavirus pandemic. It started off with the plane itself, blocking middle seats and spraying disinfectant on a regular basis.

Now, Delta is tackling the next part of the travel experience: the airport.

The Atlanta-based airline announced two new safety and sanitization initiatives at airports this week as airlines prepare for a stall in demand recovery between the summer and holiday travel seasons.

Delta said it would replace the air filtering systems on the jet bridges that passengers use to walk from the gate onto their planes, and announced new anti-microbial bins at security checkpoints at five of its hubs. The moves come as travel demand remains severely depressed over the same period in 2019. Airlines are desperate for demand to grow as they continue to bleed cash.

Although airplanes recirculate some cabin air, almost all aircraft are outfitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air, or "HEPA" filters, which are highly effective at removing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other microbes from the air.

On the jet bridge, however, and on parked planes, air typically isn't filtered. Delta said that it would add MERV-14 filters to those air systems at 31 airports by mid-September, and at more airports in the coming months.

Although MERV-14 filters are not as effective as HEPA filters — they reduce air particles by 40%, according to Delta, instead of the 99.7% filtration that HEPA filters provide — it's still a significant improvement over having no filters at all. It was not immediately clear why Delta did not use HEPA filters, although those more effective products are in high demand as schools and universities reopen.

The airline also said it would offer the anti-microbial security bins at five airports: Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, and New York JFK. It has several hubs and focus cities (think mini-hubs) that did not make the list, and said that it "will evaluate opportunities for expansion to other markets following the launch in these cities."

The new bins, according to the airline, come with antimicrobial technology that "prevent[s] the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria." While COVID-19 is a virus, not bacteria, the new bin design also "continuously minimizes the presence of microbes throughout the bin's lifecycle."

On its aircraft, Delta will continue to block middle seats on board flights and limit capacity — something shown to reduce COVID-19 infection risk by half — until at least January 2021. It has also introduced new cleaning procedures between flights. Other airlines, including Southwest and JetBlue, are also blocking middle seats, while United and American have introduced robust new cleaning procedures.

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The Boom Overture jet is vying to become the first supersonic Air Force One — here’s an early look

Boom Supersonic
With new funding from the Air Force, Boom plans to explore ways to customize the Overture — both inside and out — for government work.
  • Aerospace startup Boom Supersonic just won a US Air Force contract to develop jets that can carry high-ranking government officials at faster than the speed of sound.
  • The supersonic jet — which could potentially even serve as Air Force One — could cut trans-oceanic travel times in half, and would be ready in about nine years.
  • Boom will launch a demonstrator aircraft later this year. Once it proves that its concept works, it will begin building a full-size supersonic jetliner.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Faster-than-sound travel is the way of the future for the US government.

Aerospace company Boom Supersonic this week announced a contract with the US Air Force to develop a supersonic plane for transporting diplomats and high-ranking government officials.

The contract will fund research into building new, mission-appropriate configurations of its conceptual supersonic passenger plane, called Overture.

Boom has designed the Overture, which is still in development, as a single-aisle business class plane, with seats laid out in a 1-1 configuration. With the new funding from the Air Force, Boom plans to explore ways to customize the plane — both inside and out — for government work.

"By cutting travel times we make it possible for US diplomats and executive leaders to connect more frequently in person, meeting challenges and defusing potential crises with a personal touch," Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl said in a press release.

"We are extremely excited to team with [Boom] as we work to shrink the world and transform the future of executive airlift," Brigadier General Ryan Britton, who directs the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate, added.

Boom plans to introduce a demonstrator airplane, XB-1, later this year, with flight tests beginning in 2021. Once the technology and engineering is proven safe and efficient, the company said it will begin test flights with the larger Overture airliner. Those flights are expected to begin in 2025, with final certification of the plane targeted for 2029.

Boom Supersonic Overture
Boom says that the plane is designed to seat passengers in a 1-1 layout with a single aisle.

According to Boom, the plane can succeed in a space where the only previous commercial option, the famed Concorde failed, thanks to improved economics achieved through newer, more efficient technology. Boom says the plane should be able to operate more safely, quietly, and cost-effectively than the Concorde, while cutting trans-oceanic travel times in half compared to today's passenger jets. 

Boom also says that passenger fares on the Overture can be lower than on the Concorde, due to the lower operating cost — tickets are expected to cost about on par with today's long-haul business class tickets.

Boom is not the only company that the Air Force has tapped to develop faster-than-sound travel. Last month, the Defense department awarded a contract to another startup, Hermeus, to develop a new Air Force One that can travel at hypersonic speeds, or Mach 5.

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Airbus redesigned a key part of the A350 jet cockpit after spilled drinks caused two midair engine shutdowns

Airbus A350 cockpit
After spilled drinks caused a pair of midair engine shutdowns, Airbus has redesigned a crucial cockpit system in its flagship A350 wide-body jet.

 

After spilled drinks caused a pair of midair engine shutdowns, Airbus has redesigned a crucial cockpit system in its flagship A350 wide-body jet: It has made the center control panel, which sits below a console that pilots often use as a makeshift table, liquid-resistant. 

The redesign came after two incidents in which an engine unexpectedly shut down in the middle of a flight, after drinks were spilled onto that control panel.

The cupholders in the Airbus A350 are smaller than those found in other planes, and pilots have tended to use the center console as a makeshift table for their drinks. And as anyone who's nursed a hot beverage while flying must know, putting a cup on a flat surface in midair is a good way to prompt a spill.  

An Airbus spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider that a new, liquid-resistant panel was certified by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in July, and that it was being introduced to customers now. World of Aviation first reported the redesign. New planes will be delivered with the new panel in place, while planes currently in service can have the panel installed during routine maintenance. Airbus has introduced a removable, spill-proof cover for the center console in the interim. 

The Airbus spokesperson did not say why the company focused on mitigating the effects of a spill rather than reducing the odds of one — with, say, bigger cupholders. But in the world of aviation, when what may seem an easy change can be a major undertaking. First, there's not exactly a lot of space to work with. Just about every square inch of a cockpit is already occupied by something more important than a cupholder. Second, every single thing in a plane must be approved by regulators, and it's entirely possible a simple replacement cover for a panel is easier to get certified than new cupholders would be. 

One of the shutdowns was on a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Seoul, South Korea, on January 21. The plane was above northern Canada when the engine turned off. The flight diverted to Fairbanks, Alaska and was eventually canceled, according to data from FlightRadar24.

According to reports at the time, someone in the cockpit spilled a drink about 15 minutes before the engine shut itself down. The liquid ended up on the center pedestal between the two pilots, near a panel which is used to start and control engine functions.

After the right-hand engine shut down, pilots tried, unsuccessfully, to restart it. That was when they decided to divert to Alaska.

Aviation publication FlightGlobal reported that an analysis of the flight-data recorder, or black box, showed "the electronic engine control had commanded closure of a high-pressure shut-off valve after inconsistent output from the integrated control panel."

The other incident occurred on November 9, 2019, about an hour after a cup of tea spilled on the same pedestal of an A350-900. The operating airline was not identified, but appears to have been Asiana, a South Korean airline. Similarly to the Delta mishap, the right-side engine shutdown and the crew could not restart it. The flight data recorder showed a similar high-pressure shut off valve closure.

It is likely that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency will issue an airworthiness directive mandating A350 operators to install the new panel. (The agency did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.)

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