Tag Archives: A330

British Prime Minister to use new RAF tankers for future overseas visits after embarrassing trade trip with Boeing plane

The Royal Family and senior UK politicians may consider using one of the RAF’s “Voyager” Airbus A330 tanker aircraft for future foreign trips after a rather embarrassing trade trip to Indonesia caused a huge row.

David Cameron and his aides made the trip during the Easter period to drum up trade for European built Airbus planes (11 Airbus 330 aircraft for Garuda Indonesia airlines) using a “rented” Boeing 747. Insult was added to injury when it emerged that the lease was given to Atlas Air, a US based company, and the plane used for the journey was owned by Sonair, an Angolan carrier banned from European Union airspace over safety concerns.

David Cameron poses in front of a Garuda Indonesia Airlines Airbus during a visit to Jakarta Airport (Photo by Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Cameron’s advisors were quick to point out that they usually charter British Airways or Virgin Atlantic for foreign travel, but both airlines were busy Easter holiday and were unable to support the trip.

Since it is at least weird that a business delegation trying to support Airbus planes sales uses chartered Boeings, Britain’s aerospace lobby group said that proposals were being drawn up to let Britain’s VIP to use one of the modified A330 airliners.

According to Reuters, Robin Southwell, head of the UK aerospace industry’s lobbying association and also head of Airbus’ parent company in the UK said: “he would propose the alternative use of the Royal Air Force jets when not needed for refuelling missions.”

Southwell compared the use of the 747 to a luxury car salesman turning up in a tatty used Jaguar when he said: “If you are trying to sell an Aston Martin to someone and you turn up in a used Jaguar and say that the Aston Martin is the best thing since sliced bread and then drive off in the Jaguar, it isn’t as smart as turning up in the model you are trying to sell.”

The RAF’s fleet of 14 leased Voyager aircraft can be used to refuel other aircraft or carry troops or casualties, pretty much the same as the current VC-10 and Tristar tankers. Voyager takes this one step further in that the refuelling pods under the wings can be removed to make the plane a little less military looking jetliner in RAF colours.

It has to be said that a Voyager in RAF low-vis grey will not look as stunning at President Obama’s VC-25As Air Force One or other European leaders’ Airbus based aircraft.

Anyway, before using them to support diplomatic lobbying, maybe the UK should try to use them to refuel its Tornado strike planes that experienced worrying leakage problems during recent aerial refueling tests.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this article.


Image credit: Martin Hartland

State flights at Rome – Ciampino airport for the beatification of John Paul II

On May 1, 2011, I had the opportunity along with Giovanni Maduli to visit Ciampino airport that was the hub for the vast majority of State flights bringing to Rome authorities attending the beatification ceremony of John Paul II in Vatican City. The aircraft, military planes wearing national liveries and civilian registered ones used by the delegations, were parked in both the military apron in the “northern” part of the airport and, mainly, in the “southern” one, the civil one usually used for the General Aviation.
Among the most interesting visitors worth a mention the Mexican AF B737, the FAF A330, the Mexican Gulfstream G-V XA-CPQ, the Dassault 900EX VP-BEF used by the Angolan delegation, the Polish E-170, the Brazilian VC-99B and the Slovakia Government Tu-154M.

Kai Tak thrilling approach

Once the third busiest airport of the world, the Kai Tak International Airport was the international airport of Hong Kong from 1925 until Jul. 6, 1998 when it was replaced by the Chek Lap Kok. The airport was the homebase of the famous Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific and was served by many wide bodies belonging to regional, freight and large airlines whose plane landed on runway 13/31 overflying Kowloon skyscrapers and buildings and avoiding the surrounding mountains. Kai Tak was and still is one of the airports most loved by aircraft spotters because of the breathtaking approaches that had to be followed by the arriving aircraft that had to land on the only runway. The world famous approach to RWY 13 brought the aircraft in a descending path above Western Kowloon and the extremely densely populated building around the harbour. The airplanes flew the first part of the approach with the help of an Instrument Guidance System (IGS), a modified ILS. Then, upon reaching the middle marker of the IGS, the approach was no longer instrumental and the pilot with the visual reference provided by the small hill sporting the famous checkerboard in red and white, had to begin a right visual turn (“Hong Kong turn”) to establish. The turn began at a height of about 200 meters and ended at around 45 meters, even if as pictures show, some 747s or MD11s, began and ended the procedure at lower altitudes. Some aircraft did not have the time to line up and almost hit the runway still performing the 47° bank turn, especially when crosswinds required crabbing and decrabbing of the aircraft before touch down. As the prevailing wind direction in Hong Kong was more or less in the N-S direction, this thrilling approach was used most of time at Kai Tak.
The following youtube videos are just samples of what you can find on the Internet.

The following pictures were taken by Giovanni Maduli in November 1993.

The mysterious end of Air France flight 447 (AF447)

As everybody knows, on Jun 1, 2009, an Airbus 330 of the Air France, flying as AF447 from Rio de Janeiro (SBGL) to Paris (LFPG) was reported missing while overflying the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. Although the pilot did not radio any kind of alert message, since the news was reported by the mass media, the first speculations suggested that the plane may have flown into a thunderstorm and break up as a consequence of the severe turbulence it may have encountered or because it was hit by a lightning. Even if in-flight break up is not unprecedented, as I’ve explained many times in this blog (make a quick search using the word “turbulence” in the search box located on the upper right hand coloumn of the site), if not impossible, a catastrophic impact of turbulence on a civilian plane is at least extremely rare. Explosions caused by a lightning strike (search for “lightning”) are rare as well. So which was the root cause of the loss of the Air France 447 that cost the lives of 228 people on board? It is extremely hard to say for many reasons. Unlike the previous crashes I’ve analysed on this site, the AF447 is much more mysterious. There are just a few details available, there are no witnesses, there are no radar logs, there are no communications by the pilots reporting an emergency or a failure. And, most important, it will be very hard to find the FDR (Flight Data Recorder), as the few aircraft’s remains surfaced on the Atlantic Ocean, 650 chilometers from the Brasil’s coastline, in an area where the sea is some 9.000 feet deep. For sure, what can be said is that the pilots, most probably, did not have time to radio a “Mayday”. This can be caused by a quick event (an explosion, an airframe collapse, a sudden illness) or by a concurrent radio failure. In my opinion, the radio failure is unlikely, as the A330 has plenty of communication equipments (VHF and HF radios, INMARSAT, ACARS, etc.) and also because this would imply that there were two failures more or less at the same time: a catastrophic failure and a radio or electric failure (of both the 3 generators and the Ram Air Turbine?). A sudden loss of pressurization could have been a cause, if the pilots did not react quickly and did not wear the masks before loss of consciousness occurred. But, if this is what happened on AF447 the aircraft would have not exploded, but fly under autopilot until it had fuel in its tanks.
What could have caused a catastrophic collapse (bomb explosion aside) could have been something similar to what other two Airbus 330 of Qantas experienced in the last months. As I wrote on this site on Oct. 7, 2008:
On Oct. 7, an A330-330 “VH-QPA”, flying from Singapore to Perth as Qantas 72 with 303 passengers and 10 crew members on board, made an emergency landing in Learmonth Western Australia after it suffered a sudden change in altitude that caused 33 (still unconfirmed figure) injuries”. Then, on Oct. 20, 2008, I explained: “Even if it is too early to have a full explaination of the causes of the Qantas flight QF72 plunge that caused many injuries (see also: “Qantas flight forced to land: is turbulence dangerous?”) the preliminary review of the data recorded by the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) made by the ATSB indicated that the event developed in three steps:
the aircraft was levelled at FL370 when initiated an uncommanded climb of about 200 ft, before returning back (autonomously to 37.000 feet). About 1 minute later, the aircraft pitched nose-down, to a maximum pitch angle of about 8.4 degrees, and plunged about 650 feet in about 20 seconds, before returning again to FL370. Finally, about 70 seconds after returning to the cruising level, it pitched again nose-down, to a maximum angle of about 3.5 degrees, and descended about 400 feet in about 16 seconds, before returning once again to FL370. Such a “behaviour” seems to rule out the hypothesis of a CAT (Clear Air Turbulence) and the ATSB is in fact focusing on the faulty data in Air Data Intertial Reference Unit (ADIRU) 1 that “deceived” the aircraft’s flight control system. The ADIRU is an aircraft’s vital system. It feeds other on board key systems (autopilot, engine control system, flight control system, etc) with information about speed, altitude, position and attitude of the plane. On board the Qantas 72 flight, the ADIRU generated false warnings (stall, over-speed, etc) that the flight control’s computer faced with incorrect aircraft movements. The reason for the faulty data is still unclear. Someone pointed to the possible corruption caused by an electronic interference from an onboard portable device (laptop, PDA, tablet pc, etc.). Following the event, the ATSB initial report, Airbus issued recommendations to A330 and A340 operators that are equipped with the same ADIRU, including guidance and checklists for crew response in case of a similar inertial reference system failure
Another similar event, involving the Airbus 330 ADIRU, occurred a few weeks later when, on Dec. 27, 2008 a Qantas Airbus A330-300 cruising at FL360 (36,000 ft) enroute from Perth to Singapore, at about 1729 Local Time, experienced an autopilot disconnection followed by an ECAM (Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor) message (NAV IR 1 Fault) indicating a problem with ADIRU Number 1. The crew actioned the Airbus Operations Engineering Bulletin (OEB) procedure by selecting the IR 1 push-button to OFF and the ADR 1 push-button to OFF. Both OFF lights illuminated. The crew elected to return to Perth and an uneventful overweight landing was conducted. At the time that the autopilot disconnected, the aircraft was approximately 260 nautical miles (NM) North-West of Perth airport and approximately 350 NM South of Learmonth airport.

Even if someone speculated the area around Perth was a sort of “Perth Triangle” interested by strong radio signals (by some sort of secret naval station), the above two Qantas safety events show that there were some problems with the ADIRU of the Airbus 330 in the recent past. What if the AF447 experienced an uncommanded flight controls input at high speed, high altitude (in severe turbulence/thunderstorm conditions) like Qantas 72?

A new era in Italy's civil aviation

On Jan 13, AP 2853, an Air One A320 from Palermo Punta Raisi to Rome Fiumicino and AZ676, a B777 from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to San Paolo in Brasil, both taking off at 06.10 were the first revenue flights of the “new” Alitalia owned by CAI (Compagnia Aerea Italiana), that integrates both the obsolete state-run airline and Air One. The old company ended in bankruptcy on Jan 12, after 63 years of operations: the last flights were the two shuttle flights between Rome and Milan while the last landing in Fiumicino was AZ329 from Paris. The last flight of the old Air One was the AP2956 from Milan Linate to Fiumicino taking off at 21.50LT. The new company (newco), that has received Air Operator Certificate numbered 130 as the previous one, AOC 1, was revoked since the previous company disappeared) is owned by a group of 25 Italian investors that bought the company in a deal worth around 1 billion Euro.The new privatized airline that has in Air France-KLM a “minority” partner with a 25% share in the “newco” (worth 322 million Euro) will have its main operating base in Rome Fiumicino airport, that will become one of the hubs of the AF/KLM group. Fiumicino should take the routes to the Mediterranean, the Far East and South America while Malpensa, should a sort of multi-hub approach in Italy will be applied, should become a major hub for intercontinental North bound routes. Actually, the future of Malpensa is not clear now as it is tied to that of Milan Linate airport. The newco has hired 12.500 employees out of the 23.500 of the combined of the two airlines. 70 destinations will be served, 13 of which will be intercontinental.
So far, the entire fleet has been operating with the previous liveries, meaning that the aircraft previously belonging to Air One, at least for the moment, will keep their current colour scheme and markings. The logo is the same, flights use the old radio callsigns, the crew uniforms will not change: there main differences between the old and the new era concern the personnel (12.628 instead of about 23.500) and the fleet that, according to the released figures, is made of 148 aircraft from both airlines: 25 less than the old one. The new company
The following pictures show the last night of the old Alitalia (comprising leafleats of a mock funeral held by the personnel) and the dawn of the new one at Fiumicino airport of Jan 13, with the flights arriving into Rome using the old airline codes. Interestingly, the first flights of the new Alitalia were postal flights and not revenue ones.