“Troubled” Tiger set for early retirement, new light helicopter for Special Forces on the way

An Australian Regular Army ARH Tiger Helicopter conducts Close Air Support during Exercise BLACK DAGGER in Townsville.

 

The Defence White Paper and its accompanying Integrated Investment Program foreshadows significant new investments in Army Aviation, ranging from the early retirement and replacement of the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) to the acquisition of a new armed light helicopter for Special Forces support and additional Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.

The early retirement of the Tiger ARH follows on-going issues with the European-developed helicopter’s sustainment and serviceability rates and issues connecting its Eurogrid datalink to other ADF assets and networks that have limited its operational utility. Finally, the Tiger has yet to operate off the Navy’s new LHD amphibious assault ships.

“The Tiger has had a troubled history – essential upgrades are programmed to maintain the capability’s effectiveness,” the Integrated Investment Program document, which was released on Thursday, states.

“Defence will invest in a future armed reconnaissance capability to replace the Tiger, which could include manned or unmanned systems or a combination of both, to be introduced from the mid-2020s.”

The IIP further notes in what looks to be a reference to the issues with integrating Tiger’s Eurogrid datalink: “Armed reconnaissance helicopter operations will rely increasingly on intelligence and mission data and access to the common operating picture and other real-time data for effective integration with joint forces.”

The Army operates 22 Tigers, which entered service from December 2004, but the type has yet to achieve Final Operational Capability, a milestone that was originally planned for June 2009 and had been rescheduled to January 2016.

Instead, rather than persisting with a planned $1-2 billion mid-life upgrade project for the Tiger – listed under the old Defence Capability Plan as AIR 87 Phase 3 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Capability Assurance Program (ARH CAP) – the Tigers now look set to be retired early, albeit around 20 years after entering service.

A table in the Integrated Investment Program lists the ‘Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Replacement’ as having a program timeframe of 2021-2030 at a total acquisition cost of $5-6 billion. (Importantly, the Integrated Investment Program lists “approximate investment values” for capabilities, which includes “enablers” such as base upgrades and infrastructure costs, rather than just acquisition budget costs for hardware alone.)

A new capability for Army Aviation listed in the Integrated Investment Program, meanwhile, are “deployable light helicopters”, which see “a new fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters … acquired from around 2025 to provide air mobility support optimised for special operations missions.”

The Integrated Investment Program lists a program timeframe for the Special Forces helicopter as 2019-2028 with a budget range of $2-3 billion.

“The new helicopters will likely feature some light armament and modern intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications capabilities for integration with the joint force,” the Integrated Investment Program reads. “They will be able to be deployed rapidly as a small force element of three to four aircraft and personnel by the [C-17] Globemaster.”

That suggests a capability such as the US Army’s AH-6/MH-6 Little Bird series or the Airbus Helicopters H135M (which would also bring commonality benefits with the H135s currently being acquired for Defence helicopter pilot training).

At the other end of the rotorcraft scale the Integrated Investment Program confirmed the acquisition of three additional CH-47F Chinooks, a decision pre-empted by a US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcement late last year.

What is news is the Integrated Investment Program’s foreshadowing of the acquisition of “new aero-medical evacuation equipment for the additional Chinook helicopters in the decade to FY 2025-26”.

Finally, the MRH 90 troop lift helicopter “will continue to be introduced into service, with Army operating 39 to 41 aircraft and Navy operating 6 to 8 aircraft,” the Integrated Investment Program notes.

“Current plans also include a requirement for role-specific upgrades to the MRH 90 troop lift helicopter to replace the S-70A Black Hawk in support of domestic counter-terrorism operations.”

 

Australian Aviation

First Embraer E2 jet emerges

The Embraer E2 jet rolls out of the company's São José dos Campos, Brazil on February 25 2016. (Embraer)

 

Embraer says its new E2 family of jets is on track to make its maiden flight in the second half of 2016 after the first E190-E2 rolled out of the company’s Sao Jose dos Campos facility in Brazil overnight (Australian time).

The rollout ceremony was attended by thousands of invited guests, media, suppliers and company employees.

Powered by two Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower geared turbofan engines, the E190-E2 also features new aerodynamically advanced, high-aspect ratio, distinctively shaped wings, improved systems and avionics, including fourth generation full fly-by-wire flight controls.

The raft of improvements were expected to result in double-digit reductions in fuel and maintenance costs compared with the current E-jet family. From an environmental perspective, the new aircraft will also produce less emissions and less noise.

The E2 family of jets features three models – the E175-E2 which seats 80-90 passengers, the E190-E2 (97-114 seats) and the E195-E2 (120-144 seats). The aircraft will also have a new interior with larger overhead bins and a new first class concept, among other interior improvements.

The first E190-E2 will be one of four aircraft used in the certification program, with flight tests expected to start by August and entry into service expected in 2018. Two more flight test aircraft will be added for the E195-E2 (entry into service 2019) and a further three frames for the E175-E2 (entry into service 2020).

“The rollout held today marks the completion of the assembly of the first E190-E2 and paves the way for the start of the tests that will lead to the first flight,” Embraer Commercial Aviation senior vice president for operations Luís Carlos Affonso said in a statement.

“We are delighted to reach this phase of the program, considering all of the technical and economic objectives set out at its inception.”

Since it was launched at the Paris Airshow in 2013, the E2 has secured 267 firm orders and 373 options and purchase rights, Embraer said. The current E-jets are flown by about 70 customers in 50 countries, including Airnorth, Cobham, Jetgo and Virgin Australia in this part of the world.

A full scale mockup of the cabin interior was recently on display at the Singapore Airshow, and also visited Australia in April 2015.

 

Australian Aviation

More P-8s, new unmanned aircraft and early Tiger replacement in “fully costed” Defence White Paper

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File image of an Army Tiger ARH. (Paul Sadler)

The long-awaited 2016 Defence White Paper has committed the Turnbull federal government to a “fully costed” Integrated Investment Program for Defence that will see $195 billion spent over the next 10 years on defence capabilities including additional P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft and new armed and ship-based unmanned aircraft.

Headlining the capability acquisitions is the government’s reaffirmation of a 12 boat Future Submarine Program via a “rolling acquisition” program, plus a continuous build program for nine Future Frigates and 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels.

Defence capability expenditure through to 2025-26 on “maritime operations and anti-submarine warfare” will also see the acquisition of 15 P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft (up from eight currently approved) and new ship-based tactical unmanned aircraft.

“Land combat and amphibious warfare” capabilities will see the early replacement of the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter in the mid-2020s, new armed unmanned aircraft, and a “fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters” for Special Forces support. Meanwhile the MRH 90 helicopters will gain “role-specific” upgrades for the domestic counter-terrorism role.

Spending on “strike and air combat” capabilities includes the 72 previously-approved F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and 12 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, plus new air-to-air, air-to-ground, “long-range strike” and anti-ship missiles.

“Air and sea lift” capabilities will see the “longer-term” consideration of another two KC-30A tanker transports (which would take the total fleet to nine) as well as the consideration of “further additional heavy air lift capacity at a later stage”, on top of the eight already acquired C-17A transports.

There is also a focus on ISR, space, EW and cyber capabilities, including seven MQ-4C Triton unmanned surveillance aircraft and a “new long-range electronic warfare support capability” using up to five modified Gulfstream G550 aircraft.

Finally, around 25 per cent of defence capability expenditure will be spent on “key enablers” such as upgrades for infrastructure like bases, weapons and training ranges, IT, simulation, science and technology, and health services.

The 10 year timeframe of the White Paper will see defence spending increase from $32.2 billion in 2016-17 rising to a projected $58.7 billion in 2025-26, on the way passing the government’s two per cent of GDP target in financial year 2020-21.

 

Source : Australian Aviation

ACCC authorises American-Qantas alliance for five years

American Airlines and Qantas have expanded their trans-Pacific alliance. (American)

Australia’s competition watchdog has given final approval to Qantas’s partnership with American Airlines on trans-Pacific routes.

The green light from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) leaves the two oneworld alliance members waiting for the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to hand down its decision on the tie-up.

The ACCC said in a statement on Thursday it had approved the American-Qantas partnership for five years, allowing the carriers to coordinate marketing, sales, freight, pricing, scheduling, distribution strategies including agency arrangements, yield and inventory management, frequent flyer programs, lounges, joint procurement, product and service standards with immunity from prosecution.

ACCC commissioner Roger Featherston said the alliance was likely to result in public benefits for passengers.

“The alliance is also likely to promote competition between other airlines that provide services on trans-Pacific routes,” Featherston said in a statement.

“The ACCC considers that the alliance is unlikely to result in any significant public detriment, largely because the ACCC accepts that American Airlines would have been unlikely to introduce its own trans-Pacific services in the absence of its alliance with Qantas.”

The ACCC issued a draft decision granting authorisation in November 2015.

American began flights between Sydney and Los Angeles in December 2015 with Boeing 777-300ERs, while Qantas returned to San Francisco for the first time in five years in the same month. Also, the US flag carrier is scheduled to fly to Auckland from June with Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The New Zealand government approved the partnership in November 2015, while the US DOT said in February it had completed its investigation and was nearing a decision.

Qantas said it welcomed the ACCC decision, adding that the alliance gave passengers more choice for travel between Australia, New Zealand and the US.

“We’ve had a great response to Qantas’ new Sydney-San Francisco service and American’s new Sydney-Los Angeles service, and we’re looking forward to the launch of American’s LA- Auckland flights later this year,” a Qantas spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Qantas said it was “hopeful that the DOT will move quickly in approving our application”.

 

Source : Australian Aviation

Christopher Luxon says tourism boom supporting Air New Zealand growth

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon at the unveiling of the new Auckland lounge. (Nicholas Young)

 

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says the airline’s recent capacity growth is being absorbed by a booming tourism market.

The Star Alliance member commenced two new long routes to Buenos Aires and Houston in December as part of a 24 per cent increase in available seat kilometres (ASK) on its international network in the half.

Closer to home, ASKs across the Tasman and to the Pacific Islands were seven per cent in part through the use of more widebody aircraft.

And figures from Air NZ’s first half results presentation showed that additional capacity was meeting demand in the market, with load factors on Tasman and Pacific island services up 0.6 percentage points to 83.8 per cent in the half, while they rose 0.7 percentage points to 86.1 per cent on its international network.

And there is more capacity to be added in the current half, with a seasonal service to Ho Chi Minh starting in June as part of an overall seven per cent boost to ASKs for the six months to June 30 2016.

Luxon said Houston and Buenos Aires had made a positive contribution to the Air NZ network “from day one”, while inbound tourism to NZ had growth 10 per cent in the year to December. The Air NZ chief executive added the airline brought in four in every 10 visitors to the country.

“Tourism clearly is booming in this country and Air NZ is participating in that tourism growth,” Luxon told reporters during Air NZ’s first half results presentation on Thursday.

“We are digesting this growth really well.”

The rise in NZ tourism has also brought with it competition in the form of new entrants into the market, such Emirates’ planned Dubai-Auckland service to kick off in March and American’s entry onto the Los Angeles-Auckland route, currently only served by Air NZ, from June.

There have also been new operators into NZ from China, while the likes of AirAsia X, Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines (from September) have joined a crowded field of fifth freedom operators between Australia and NZ.

Luxon said the Air NZ, with its simplified fleet of fuel efficient aircraft, “ruthless” focus on maximising revenue and reducing costs, was well placed to meet the challenge from other carriers.

“We are handling competition well. Air NZ has a great strategy that serves it well,” Luxon said.

“Air NZ is a fantastic street fighter.”

In terms of the Tasman, which Air NZ serves as part of an alliance with Virgin Australia, Luxon said tourist arrivals from Australia to NZ were growing  by 6-7 per cent and Air NZ had the capacity to meet that demand.

“Australia remains a very big tourism market for New Zealand,” Luxon said.

“It’s important that we’ve got that capacity there that links in with that tourism growth.

“I’m very comfortable with where we sit with yields in general across the business and certainly across the Tasman as well.”

Yields, an industry measure of average airfares per passenger, across the network were down 1.1 per cent in the half.

Luxon said fifth freedom operators posed little threat, given the depth of Air NZ’s superior schedule, network and product both on the ground and in the air.

“We don’t feel particularly threatened by the fifth freedom guys in part because they really struggle with schedule,” Luxon said.

“We are doing and competing incredibly well on the Tasman.

“We expect the fifth freedom guys to keep coming and that is just a consequence of the capacity that has been pouring into Australia from international carriers and all they are trying to do is recover some cost.”

On the domestic front, Jetstar commenced Q300 turboprop operations in December 2015 serving regional centres, bringing competition to routes previously only served by Air NZ.

Although Luxon acknowledged it was still only early days, he said Air NZ was in “good shape” in the regional market.

“It hasn’t impacted us as much as we had anticipated to be honest. Maybe it is just a bit too early to see,” Luxon said.

“The bottom line is our competitors got off to a pretty poor start. I just look at last week I think on time performance and reliability was 20 points lower than what Air NZ was doing in regional New Zealand.

“We just have to keep the regional piece in a bit of perspective. From a domestic point of view it is four aircraft versus Air NZ’s 50 turboprops in regional NZ and we obviously have a superior lower cost aircraft as well.”

 

Source : Australian Aviation