Boeing this week successfully completed the first ever flight of the world’s largest twin-engined plane, the 777X.
The flight took off near Seattle and lasted four hours. Two previous attempts were called off due to high winds. The US-based manufacturer has secured 309 orders so far, to airlines including British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways.
The first flight comes as Boeing continues to grapple with its largest crisis in recent history, centred around the Boeing 737 MAX jet — the short-haul plane that suffered two fatal crashes and has been grounded for almost one year ever since.
The 252-foot-long passenger plane had been due to launch this year but has been delayed by some technical difficulties. The 777X is slightly larger than the existing 777-300ER and debuts a new standout feature: folding wingtips. Its hinged wingtips alone measure 12 feet, with locking pins to prevent them from folding during flight. The wings give the jetliner extra lift, helping the aircraft to become more fuel efficient.
You might have seen something similar on military aircraft, such as the F/A-18 fighters which need to squeeze onto aircraft carriers, but when it comes to commercial airline jets, the Boeing 777X’s wingtips are a first. The US Federal Aviation Administration had to draft in new regulations specifically for the wingtips — which will be folded up while on the ground so that the aircraft is able to operate in the same space an ordinary 777 already uses.
Elsewhere in the aviation industry, Airbus this week announced it has agreed a settlement with French, British and US authorities for €3.6bn following lengthy investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption. The European plane maker, based in Toulouse in south-west France, said the deal was subject to approval by courts in the three countries. The allegations have centred on the use of ‘middlemen’ in plane sales.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, is reducing demand for flights to and from the country, causing airlines to suspend and issue refunds for previously scheduled service.
Here in Doha, the Ministry of Public Health recently started the procedure for the detection and examination of all passengers arriving on flights from China at Hamad International Airport (HIA). The Ministry of Public Health, in cooperation with HIA and Qatar Airways, examines travellers from China through thermal cameras that can record the traveller’s body temperature remotely.
In response to the worsening outbreak, British Airways, as well as American Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, SWISS, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air, Finnair, Jetstar among other airlines have all suspended flights to/from China.
Finnish flag carrier airline Finnair was the first airline to suspend service to China. The airline planned to suspend flights to Nanjing and Beijing’s Daxing airport, through the end of March. Virgin Atlantic said its flights to Shanghai would continue to operate as usual.
Markets fell sharply on Monday amid fears that the new virus could have an impact on global growth — it’s likely that load factors on flights to/from China will fall, which could leave some financially fragile airlines vulnerable.
The UK government now warns against “all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao)”.
The UK also warned that the Chinese government is imposing further restrictions on movement, adding: “It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so.”
British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines and Qantas are offering refunds for tickets to China.
Air India is likely to operate a flight service to Wuhan to evacuate Indians stuck in the city due to the outbreak. The airline is expected to operate a flight using Boeing 747 for a one-off rescue flight, following in the footsteps of the US, which has already evacuated Americans from Wuhan on a 747 charter flight earlier this week.
In addition to this, a charter flight from Tokyo landed in Wuhan, China to evacuate Japanese nationals from the epicentre of the outbreak.
The industry’s response to the outbreak is developing hour-by-hour, and while China remains a lucrative, important market for major airlines worldwide, the uncertainty surrounding the current situation is likely to hurt airline economics, especially those airlines with close links to China that have since been forced to withdraw.
Commercial aviation in China has expanded dramatically over the last several decades. Passengers travelling by air surged from 62mn in 2000 to 551mn in 2017. This totalled one-eighth of the world’s total passenger air traffic that year, placing China second in total number of passengers served, behind only the US at 849mn passengers.
China-bound jets that continue to operate flights are set to be quieter than usual, but the end of the Chinese New Year break will mean flights departing the country for overseas are set to be busy amid the ongoing health crisis.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2021