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The first of a planned fleet of 15 Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft for the RAAF was officially welcomed in Canberra on Wednesday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies.
P-8A serial A47-001 touched down in Canberra shortly before 1pm after making the short hop from Avalon, near Melbourne, where Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton had boarded the aircraft. The jet had arrived in Australia at Avalon on Monday after being ferried across the Pacific by its 11 Squadron crew from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida via Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Hawaii and Auckland.
“P-8 is certainly the future, it is the generational leap that we are going to make in the maritime domain. It has greater range, it certainly has greater connectivity, it has advanced acoustics and it has a radar system that is world class,” Air Marshal Davies told media after the aircraft’s arrival.
“When we integrate this with Triton in the early 2020s, with the Air Warfare Destroyer, Future Frigate and both our submarine classes we’ll have a fifth generation maritime force.”
Australia has contracted to acquire 12 P-8As to be delivered by March 2020, with the likely approval of a further three planned to take the total fleet to 15.
Acquisition of an initial eight P-8As was first approved in 2014, while February’s Defence White Paper’s accompanying Integrated Investment Program revealed that, “seven additional aircraft [will] be acquired in two tranches to bring the total to 15 aircraft by the late 2020s.”
Approval of the first additional tranche of four P-8s was subsequently announced by Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne at the RAAF’s Air Power Conference in Canberra in March.
The aircraft will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and will replace the RAAF’s ageing AP-3C Orion aircraft, to be complemented by the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system.
A47-001 was due to depart Canberra for Edinburgh on Thursday morning.
Qantas has completed the installation of internet wifi equipment on board a Boeing 737-800 ahead of customers being able to use the service “early next year”.
The 737-800, VH-XZB, was fitted with a satellite antenna, multiple wireless access points in the cabin and other hardware at Qantas’s Brisbane engineering base. The airline said it took 10 engineers about 900 man hours, or 12 working days, to complete the task, with flight tracking websites showing the aircraft was on the ground between October 16 and November 9.
During that time, it was understood VH-XZB also had an extra row of economy class seats added as part of a reconfiguration of Qantas’s 737 fleet.
While the aircraft has returned to service, it will fly with the wifi turned off for passengers “for a few months”, as it conducts further ground and inflight tests with its technology parter ViaSat.
The wifi system was expected to be turned on for customers “early next year”, Qantas said on Tuesday.
“Putting wifi on board the aircraft has been an extraordinary task for the team,” Qantas head of customer experience Phil Capps said in a statement.
“It requires a significant amount of testing to ensure that, first and foremost, the safety of the installation meets Qantas’ stringent standards, as well as ensuring the system will deliver the level of performance we expect at this stage of the trial.
“While we know that customers will want to connect to the wifi, we really do appreciate their patience while we go through our final testing process. We’re just as excited as them to roll this out.”
Qantas announced in February plans to equip its domestic fleet of Boeing 737-800s and Airbus A330s with internet wifi, with connectivity to be provided by ViaSat’s global satellite network and the National Broadband Network’s Sky Muster satellites.
The oneworld alliance member planned to offer the service free for all passengers.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said previously the satellites, which use the high capacity Ka-band, would deliver internet speeds 10 times faster than conventional on-board wifi.
The airline was also considering offering wifi on regional and international aircraft.
Capps said the hardware installation moved the airline a step closer to the introduction of the technology, with the hardware fitout of the domestic fleet of 737s and Airbus A330 widebodies planned to begin in mid-2017 and be completed some time in 2018.
“Customers with a keen eye will be able to spot the satellite antenna, which is housed in a streamlined fibreglass radome on top of the fuselage, towards the rear of the aircraft,” Capps said.
Separately, Air New Zealand announced its October international and domestic jet fleet would be progressively equipped with wifi from 2017 utilising the Inmarsat new global GX satellite constellation.
And Virgin Australia said in July it would offer internet connectivity on its 737, 777-300ER and A330 fleet from mid-2017. However, the carrier was yet to announce details about the technology it would use, the pricing model and any potential partners for the service.
In related news, the NBN’s Sky Muster II satellite was successfully launched into space in October.
Launched 36,000km into space by Arianespace at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, South America, Sky Muster II joins Sky Muster I in providing high-speed internet to the Australian continent as well as Norfolk, Christmas, Macquarie and Cocos islands. The satellites were also earmarked for delivering on-board wifi for Qantas.
Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti says the airline group is making good progress in efforts to cut costs and position the business for sustainable growth and profitability amid challenging market conditions.
Borghetti told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Brisbane on Wednesday there had been little change in market conditions since Virgin reported a statutory loss after tax of $34.6 million for the three months to September 30 2016.
“As evidenced by our recent trading update for the first quarter of FY2017, industry trading conditions continue to be challenging,” Borghetti said in prepared remarks.
“In this environment, we are actively managing capacity in our domestic and international network, with total sectors flown in the first quarter of FY2017 defining 2.3 per cent on the prior corresponding period.
“We will continue to look at ways of growing our revenue in smart, sustainable ways.”
As part of efforts to improve its balance sheet and reduce costs, Virgin is withdrawing all 18 Embraer E190 jets and between four and six ATR 72 turboprops over the next three years.
The airline group’s low-cost unit Tigerair Australia will also transition from an all-Airbus A320 fleet to the Boeing 737 during that time.
Moreover, the company was targeting improving operating efficiencies in crew and ground operations, as well as in maintenance, engineering, procurement and its supply chain in what it has labelled its Better Business program.
Borghetti told shareholders Virgin has sold four Embraers E190, with the sale of a fifth aircraft due to be completed by the end of November.
Further, the request for proposal process for the ATRs and the remainder of the E190 fleet was “well underway”.
“On operating efficiencies, we have made significant progress in organisational rightsizing from the top down,” Borghetti said.
“For example we have created a single point of accountability for each of our operating business segments and reduced management positions.”
The Better Business program was targeting $300 million in net free cash flow savings per year by the end of 2018/19.
Virgin chairman Elizabeth Bryan said the airline group would be “tenacious in implementing the Better Business program”.
“In doing so, we will become more resilient, which will put us in good stead amidst continued uncertainty in both the domestic and global aviation environments,” Bryan told shareholders in prepared remarks.
“We are an industry challenger to a much larger and iconic Australian institution; always a precarious journey.
“And although we have weathered the last three years when we had to fight for our right to exist, this has of course taken its toll and we are now in the process of strengthening the company and improving our financial foundation.”
Shareholders voted to approve the appointment of new directors from Virgin’s two new Chinese shareholders – Nang Qi from HNA and Dr Chien-tsung Lu from Nanshan.
“I look forward to working closely with all of our new directors over the coming year and I believe they will each bring enormous value to the board,” Bryan said.
“It is important that board remain independent and are refreshed periodically in line with the principles of good corporate governance.
“Going forward, you will continue to see evolution in the board’s membership to support independence, good governance and the future of the Virgin Australia group.”
Bryan welcomed its two new Chinese shareholders and thanked “longstanding major shareholders” UK-based Virgin Group, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways for their support in the 2016/17 equity raising, as well as all other shareholders that participated in the capital raising.
The chairman also had a word of reassurance for the company’s smaller shareholders.
“While you are relatively small in number compared to other listed companies, I want to reaffirm you are top of mind in the board’s work and decision-making process,” Bryan said.
Also, Singapore Airlines’ nominee Marvin Tan and Virgin Group’s nominee David Baxby, as well as independent non-executive director Samantha Moystyn, were re-elected to the board.
Separately, Virgin has appointed Ken Dean, who currently sits on the Energy Australia and BlueScope Steel board, as a new independent, non-executive director.
Ange Postecoglou gives instructions to Nathan Burns during Australia’s 2-2 draw with Thailand.
Australia needed two Mile Jedinak penalties to cancel out Teerasil Dangda’s brace in a hard-fought and entertaining clash at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Ange’s men may have drawn the last three games in Group B to slip into third place and out of the top two spots that guarantee automatic progression.
But Postecoglou is looking towards the second half of this stage of qualification.
“We are not satisfied as we we want to get maximum points from every game and we have not done that,” Postecoglou said.
“From our perspective, we have had three tough away trips.”
2017 should be a little easier on the AFC Asian Cup holders, in terms of travel if nothing else.
“Next year we will have three games at home as we also play Iraq in neutral territory.
“The back half of our program is still looking very good. We can finish strongly and that is what we will try and do.”
Australia’s next game comes against on March 23 against Iraq away from home with the venue yet to be confirmed.
It is followed by home games against United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The final away trip is in Japan in August with the group ending with a home tie with Thailand in the following month.
“We have to reflect on the football tonight, which wasn’t up to our usual standard and we will try to rectify that but overall, we are still quite comfortable.”
Football Federation Australia