Air India returns home

Today, 27th January 2022 is a historic day for Indian aviation. Today is the day, India’s flag carrier Air India finally returns home!

69 years after it was nationalized, Air India has been formally taken over by the Tata Group today.

Air India was founded by J.R.D. Tata in 1932, and was originally called Tata Airlines. It was later converted to a public limited company and renamed as Air India. Back in the day, Air India was one of the world’s leading airlines both in terms of service and technology. It was the first Asian airline to enter the jet age when it inducted the first Boeing 707 in 1960.

A decade later, Air India inducted the first Boeing 747-200 into its fleet and introduced the Palace in the Sky branding and livery.

It was nationalized and taken over by the Government of India in 1953. Air India focused on international routes while a new airline company, Indian Airlines was formed to take over domestic routes.

The airline had a rocky history as a government owned entity, and its service standards dipped. Poor customer service, low on-time performance, worn out aircraft interiors tarnished the reputation of the Maharaja. Multiple efforts were made to improve the airline’s standing through the years, but none could turn its fortunes around.

As part of a consolidation exercise, Air India was merged with Indian Airlines in 2007 to create a mega carrier with a large, diverse aircraft fleet and an even larger workforce. It was invited to join Star Alliance in 2007 but with the airline merger proving to be a difficult undertaking, Air India could not meet the joining requirements.

After an excruciatingly long process of integration, Air India finally joined Star Alliance in July 2014, a full seven years after it was originally invited! It was and is the only airline from India to be part of a global airline alliance.

The Government of India had been making efforts to privatize the airline for decades, but none of those were successful. The airline kept posting losses year after year and had to be bailed out using taxpayer money. At the same time, the influx of lean privately operated airlines, especially low cost carriers kept eroding Air India’s market share.

Starting 2020, the privatization efforts gathered steam, and finally in October 2021, the Tata Group (through a Special Purpose Vehicle – Talace Private Limited) won the bid to acquire Air India from the Government of India, thus completing a full circle in the airline’s history.

The future of Air India looks bright in the hands of its original owners. The Tata Group is known for its high standards in customer service especially in the hospitality and travel industries. How they manage to tame the jumbo (no pun intended 🙂 ) remains to be seen. The decline in air travel due to the pandemic as well as other issues such as handling the bloated workforce and integrating Air India with other airlines in the portfolio such as Vistara are immediate challenges that will need to be addressed.

Here’s wishing the Tatas all the best, and hope they can restore the Maharaja to its former glory!

Emirates Airbus A380 returns to Kuala Lumpur in July 2022

After a long absence due to the ongoing pandemic, Emirates will re-introduce its flagship Airbus A380 superjumbo to Kuala Lumpur from July 2nd 2022.

Emirates A380 wearing the Expo 2020 Opportunity livery brings in EK 346 from DXB

Emirates used to operate its two class 615-seater A380s to Kuala Lumpur on the EK 346/EK 347 rotation before the pandemic hit in early 2020.

The flights are currently operated by a Boeing 777-300ER.

The proposed schedule of the A380 flights between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur looks like this:

EK 346 DXB D 0310. KUL A 1425. A380

EK 343. KUL D 0240 DXB A 0530. A380

The afternoon arrival is a great opportunity for plane spotters to catch the arrival of the superjumbo at KUL. With the MH A380s not likely to return to service in the future, this would be the only A380 operation at KUL for the time being.

Of course, all this is *IF* this upgrade actually materialises, subject to Malaysian border restrictions/reopening in the next few months.

Selangor Aviation Show 2021 – Overview

Selangor Aviation Show 2021 – Overview

Selangor Aviation Show 2021 is the first ever airshow brought together by the Malaysian State of Selangor through Invest Selangor Bhd. and its dedicated aerospace division, S-DAICO. It is being held at the Skypark Regional Aviation Centre, Subang between November 25th and 27th, 2021. The Selangor Aviation Show 2021 is an event dedicated to business aviation, general aviation and helicopters.

Malaysia’s premier aviation event – LIMA, held in Langkawi every two years was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Selangor Aviation Show was a much needed boost at least for the business/general aviation sector in Malaysia.

The main exhibitors during this edition are Embraer, Dassault Aviation, Bell Helicopters, Piaggio Aerospace, Turkish Aerospace & Robinson Helicopters.

The star of the show is the Embraer E-195 E2. This aircraft adorned in the “Profit Hunter” colours is an eye-catcher wherever it visits, and it was the same here.

Embraer E195-E2 | PR-ZIQ

Turkish Aerospace is displaying their T625 GÖKBEY multirole helicopter

Turkish Aerospace T625 GÖKBEY

Piaggio Aerospace is displaying their cute little P-180 Avanti EVO

Piaggio P-180 Avanti EVO

Also on display is the Robinson R66 Turbine aptly registered 9M-FLY

Robinson R66 Turbine

Airbus Helicopters AS350 Écureuil

Airbus Helicopters AS350 Écureuil

Diamond Aircraft displaying their DA-42 Twin Star

Diamond DA-42 Twin Star

Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin 2

Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin 2

Apart from the static aircraft display, the Selangor Aviation Show also has the exhibition area, showcasing the latest technologies, products and services in the business/general aviation and related sectors.

Exhibition Area at Selangor Aviation Show 2021
Aerodyne Agras T2 agricultural spraying system

As mentioned earlier, the Selangor Aviation Show 2021 was a great opportunity for the general aviation sector to network and display the latest on offer after nearly two years of disruption caused by the pandemic.

Akasa Air orders 72 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

Akasa Air orders 72 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

DUBAI, Nov 16 2021 – India’s Akasa Air has placed an order for 72 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at the Dubai Airshow 2021. The order, which was being rumored in aviation circles for the past few weeks has now finally been confirmed.

Akasa Air is a yet to be launched “Ultra Low Cost Airline” and is backed by billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. The airline expects to start domestic operations by the summer of 2022.

The order for 72 aircraft includes two variants – The 737 MAX 8 and the high density 737- 8-200, which can seat up to 200 passengers in a single class configuration. The order is valued at around 8 billion USD at list prices, although steep discounts are often offered to customers.

This order marks a major win for Boeing in the Indian aviation market which is dominated by Airbus A320 family narrowbody aircraft. The only other airlines currently flying that operate Boeing narrowbody aircraft are SpiceJet, Air India Express and a handful of aircraft by Vistara.

Boeing put out the following tweet and press release announcing the Akasa Air order.

Akasa Air’s order will also mark the debut of the high density Boeing 737- 8-200 in the Indian market. As previously mentioned, this variant can fit up to 200 passengers in a single class configuration. The increased number of seats is made possible by reducing galley space and using slimline seats. The higher passenger number also necessitates the provision of an additional pair of emergency exits aft of the wing. Irish low cost carrier Ryanair was the launch customer of this high density variant.

Post Lockdown Flying | KUL – LGK on AirAsia Airbus A321neo – Video Report

Post Lockdown Flying | KUL – LGK on AirAsia Airbus A321neo – Video Report

I recently flew from KUL to LGK on AirAsia’s Airbus A321neo. This was my first flight in nearly a year because of COVID-19 related lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Here is a video report on the flight:

Flight Details

Airline: AirAsia

Aircraft: Airbus A321neo

Rego: 9M-VAB

Flight No: AK 6304

Route: KUL – LGK

Flight Time: 1hr 10min

Video © 2021 Viman Photography

It certainly feels great to be back in the air once again. Hope everyone is able to take a flight to their favourite destination soon!

Now Boarding – The world’s shortest A380 flight!

The last year and a half has been extremely difficult for all of us, and particularly for the aviation industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen lockdowns being imposed all over the world, causing massive losses to airlines leading to layoffs and in some cases airlines going bankrupt.

As the world starts getting back on its feet, long haul international travel is well poised to making a comeback. Passenger air traffic has seen a steady increase in the past few months and the upcoming end of the year festive season promises to show encouraging numbers.

Singapore Airlines – one of the world’s premier long haul airlines is gearing up for resumption of long haul international passenger flights as well. The airline, which was the world’s first to fly the Airbus A380 had parked these massive birds in the Australian desert to prevent corrosion related damages in the humid tropical weather.

Singapore Airlines is now deploying its flagship Airbus A380 aircraft on a short 1 hour hop to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is to help the flight deck and cabin crew get back up to speed on operating the aircraft. In fact, the actual flying time on this route is just over 30 minutes, earning it the nickname of the world’s shortest scheduled A380 flight.

9V-SKM touching down on Runway 32L at KUL with SQ 106 from SIN | Nov 2021

Even though the flying time is barely enough for a glass of juice or a pack of peanuts to be served, it provides valuable real-world experience to the crew on the nuances of operating this aircraft in preparation for long haul flights.

For passengers as well as aviation enthusiasts, this is a great opportunity to experience the world class Singapore Airlines long haul products on the A380. One would normally have to take a long haul flight with the airline in order to fly on these superjumbos.

Singapore Airlines is operating the A380 on the following flight numbers from 4th November to 3rd December 2021.

SQ 106 SIN D 0830 KUL A 0930 Mon, Tue, Thu

SQ 105 KUL D 1100 SIN A 1210 Mon, Tue, Thu

SQ 126 SIN D 1825 KUL A 1930 Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun

SQ 125 KUL D 2100 SIN A 2200 Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun

Although border restrictions and international travel has not completely opened up yet, if you are one of those that plan to travel between SIN and KUL, this is an option definitely worth considering!

End of the road for the Airbus A380!

Gosh! I never imagined I would be writing an article with this title so soon!

I mean, it just seems like it was yesterday when the Airbus A380 “Superjumbo” took to the skies! It’s been less than 14 years since the A380 first flew and it has been in service for just over 12 years!!!

But it *IS* true. Airbus today (February 14th 2019) announced that it will deliver the last of its largest passenger aircraft in 2021, thus effectively pulling the plug on the iconic double-decker A380. The fact that the Boeing 747 – the original Jumbo jet that first flew in February 1969 is expected to remain in production (as of now), and that the Airbus announcement comes barely 5 days after the Boeing 747 celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight just makes the whole thing quite ironic.

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If the Boeing 747 revolutionised and up-sized long haul air travel, the A380 made it grander! The aircraft’s size was unprecedented, with a wingspan that is wider than the length of Airbus’s massively popular narrow-body A320 and a full length twin-aisle upper deck. It also was much quieter and more fuel efficient and flew farther than the Boeing 747. This meant that the Superjumbo often drew comparison to the Jumbo, which it was originally poised to replace.

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However, the sheer size of the aircraft meant that airports needed to invest tons of money to upgrade err… up-size their infrastructure. The cost of maintaining as well as operating these behemoths is colossal too. The development of large wide-body twin engined jets that are capable of flying passengers cheaper, faster and farther was the final nail in the coffin for the A380.

The Airbus announcement came along with the news that Emirates – the largest operator of the A380 has ordered a total of 70 brand new twin-engined Airbus aircraft. The Dubai based carrier announced an order of 40 Airbus A330-900neo and 30 Airbus A350-900 wide-body aircraft. Emirates trimmed its original order of 162 A380s to 123 jets. Even though the airline will still take delivery of 14 more A380s (more than the size of the total A380 fleet in most airlines) between 2019 and 2021, the intent was clear. That Airbus announced its decision to pull the plug on the Superjumbo on the same day should come as no surprise.

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Make no mistake – the A380 will be around for more than a decade at least. Most A380 airframes are less than 10 years old and still have a lot of life left in them. If you’re one of those that have never set foot inside one of these gigantic aircraft, there is more than enough time to fly on them.

Will we ever see an aircraft larger than the A380, or at least as large as it being built in the future? Highly unlikely, but who knows? Only time will tell…

 

 

 

Russian Helicopters conclude South Asian Heli Tour in Malaysia

Russian Helicopters holding company (part of Rostec State Corporation) recently concluded their South Asian Heli Tour with the last stop in Malaysia. The company showcased their latest offerings – the Mi-171A2 medium lift multi-purpose helicopter and the Ansat light multi-purpose helicopter. The South Asian Heli Tour began with participation in the Zhuhai airshow in China, followed by demonstrations of the two helicopters in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia was the final pit-stop in a long tour of South East Asian countries. Russian Helicopters held a demo event showcasing the two above mentioned helicopters at the Sepang Formula One circuit located near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)

The day began with a a session introducing the Russian helicopters company along with an introduction to the Mi-171A2 and the Ansat helicopters.

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A short address by different stakeholders followed, after which the action moved outdoors. It was now time to see the birds in action. As the participants moved to the helipad area, the two helicopters were spooling up for their demo flights.

Mi171A2-Ansat

The Ansat helicopter (manufactured at the Kazan Helicopter Plant) was the first off the chocks, showing how nimble and agile it was. The Ansat is a light utility helicopter, powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PW207K engines, with a power output of 630hp each.

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The helicopter has an internal cargo capacity of 1272kg, with a MTOW of 3600kg. Its maximum flight range is 520km, with a service ceiling of 4600m (or around 15000ft) In passenger configuration, the Ansat can carry up to 8 pax.

As soon as the Ansat returned, the mighty Mi-171A2 lifted off for its demo flight. The Mi-171A2 is a medium utility helicopter derived from the Mi-8/Mi-17 family. The fuselage shape may seem to be familiar to people, but the helicopter is completely modernised.

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One of its most distinctive features is an X-shaped tail rotor that provides better stability.

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Both the main and tail rotors are made up of composites that reduce the overall weight while increasing reliability and durability. The Mi-171A2 features a full glass cockpit and is powered by two Klimov VK-2500PS-03 engines with a power output of 2000hp each.

It has an internal cargo carrying capacity of 4000kg, and can also carry payload on external slings. The maximum flight range with internal fuel tanks is 800km, with a service ceiling of 6000m (or over 19500ft) It is highly customisable in terms of internal configuration. In pure passenger configuration, the Mi-171A2 can carry up to 24 pax.

After the demo, participants got a chance to get up close with both the helicopters.

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People could be seen interacting with the helicopter crew.

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The Mi-171A with its rear cargo door open

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The interiors of the Mi-171A2. Pretty spacious!

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Post the demo session, it was time to head indoors for some lunch, followed by a press conference addressed by the Russian Helicopters CEO, Andrei Boginsky.

Mr Boginsky began by giving an overview of the successful South Asian Heli tour across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. The tour resulted in soft and hard contracts totalling up to 70 helicopters.

According to Mr. Boginsky, demand for civilian helicopters in Southeast Asian countries may amount to 420 helicopters in the next ten years. “We are counting on a substantial share of this market, and the results of the demo tour suggest that we have every reason for this,” he said.

Mr. Boginsky gave a positive outlook for the company over the next 3-4 years, with multiple products on offer. The press conference ended with Mr. Boginsky inviting the participants to the MAKS airshow in Russia next year.

Mi171A2-Ansat

 

British Airways retires the Boeing 767

British Airways retired its fleet of Boeing 767-300s from commercial service on November 25, 2018 after operating the type for 28 long years!

G-BZHC-VM

The final 767-300 in service, registered G-BZHA completed its last passenger carrying flight on Nov 25, completing a round trip from London Heathrow to Larnaca, Cyprus.

The Boeing 767 was introduced into commercial service with British Airways in February 1990 with a special short flight from London Heathrow to Paris. Over the years, the 767 operated routes to Europe, Middle East, North America and even to India! The type was BA’s medium capacity, long haul workhorse till the induction of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

Although initially configured for long haul routes, the 767 was later re-configured to operate short haul routes. The aircraft were also retrofitted with winglets to improve their efficiency.

The Boeing 767 heralded the era of long haul twin engined jets that were more fuel efficient as compared to previous generation quad engined aircraft. However, as compared to newer more fuel-efficient jets like the Boeing 777s and especially the Boeing 787s, the 767s were noisy, more expensive to run and lacked the latest passenger friendly features.

They will however continue to be operated around the world for at least the next 5 years if not more. However, for British Airways, it is the end of an era!

Flying on a classic – NAM Air Boeing 737-500

BACKGROUND

The Boeing 737-500 was produced by Boeing as a direct replacement of the Boeing 737-200. It first flew in 1989, and Southwest Airlines was the launch customer. The 737-500 is one of the rarer versions of the Boeing 737 family as only 389 of this variant were produced. It is also hard to get on one of these as only a handful of airlines fly this type today. Southwest Airlines retired their 737-500s in 2016, and so did Lufthansa in the same year.

There are a couple of airlines in Indonesia that still operate this type currently. So, when a trip to Indonesia materialised recently, I felt that this would be a good opportunity to tick this off my bucket list, before they’re gone for good. I booked myself on NAM Air flights from CGK to JOG and back, both operated with the 737-500s.

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I arrived into CGK Terminal 3 on KLM, and after almost an hour long (!) wait for my luggage, I made my way to Terminal 2. I went to the NAM Air check-in counter, where the lady at the desk quickly issued me a boarding pass. As I took the boarding pass in my hand, I casually asked her if the flight was on time. She checked her screen and sheepishly told me that the flight was delayed – this is after I asked her! I then asked her how much was the delay, and she replied coolly – “three hours, sir”  WHAT??? I thought I heard wrong, so I asked her again. Unfortunately her response was the same – three hour delay. For a one hour flight! Incredible!!!

I asked her to put me on an earlier flight if possible, and she asked me to head to the customer service counter. As i approached the customer service counter, I was greeted by this…

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I had to wait for another ten minutes before the agent showed up. I explained my situation to him, and he agreed to put me on to an earlier Sriwijaya Air flight, which incidentally was delayed too! Worse, the flight was on a 737-800!

Opportunity missed! Oh well, I still had the return leg, which I hoped would work out as planned. And, as I landed in JOG, I received an email from NAM Air informing me that my return flight to CGK was rescheduled to 50 minutes earlier!

CHECK-IN

On the day of my return flight, I was nervous as I made my way to the airport. There was no way of tracking the incoming flight, as the 737-500s do not show up on Flightradar24. I reached the airport well within time, and made my way to the NAM Air check-in counter. I asked the check-in agent if the flight was on time, and he replied with, “so far, yes!”. I had more than two hours till departure, which meant that the incoming aircraft had not even departed CGK. There was nothing else to do but wait.

Security check was a breeze and I reached the departure gate area, where I saw this!

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Of course it was not my flight, but the sight of a NAM Air Boeing 737-500 was pleasing to the eyes. Would this be a harbinger or something? Only time would tell!

There’s nothing much to do at the tiny terminal of the Adisutjipto International Airport, except a few cafes and restaurants and a bunch of shops. I wasn’t too hungry but I was lured by the smell of freshly baked bread. I picked up a couple of fresh coffee buns at the “Roti O” outlet along with coffee.

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If you haven’t had coffee buns yet, I highly recommend trying them at “Roti O” in Indonesia or “Rotiboy” in Malaysia.

Our scheduled boarding time of 1935 came and went, but there was no sign of our aircraft. The FIDS screens still showed that the departure was on time, but obviously that would not happen now. Finally at around 2000, I heard the sound of reversers and saw a NAM Air 737-500 slowing down on the sole runway at JOG. Five minutes later, the aircraft arrived at the gate, and I heaved a sigh of relief. Finally!!!

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BOARDING

Boarding was announced within 20 minutes, which I felt was truly remarkable. As I walked towards the aircraft, I couldn’t help but admire her beauty.

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I felt a mix of joy and relief at finally being able to fly on this exotic little aircraft. Its a feeling only aviation enthusiasts will understand!

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The aircraft was registered PK-NAQ and named “Lomasasta”. It was a 23 year old bird, originally delivered to Continental Airlines in June 1995. The winglets were added much later.

The interiors were of 1990s vintage as expected, but were well maintained. The red & blue seat covers, in line with the company colours added a nice bright touch to the cabin.

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As I sat down, I noticed that the legroom was kinda tight.

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The flight was around 80% full, but the boarding was completed quickly.

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THE FLIGHT

We pushed back at 2025, 20 minutes past our STD of 2005. Not bad considering the three hour delay last time!

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After a quick taxi to the runway, we were airborne and on our way to CGK. As soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off, the crew started the snack service. The snack consisted of some cookies and water.

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The square windows on this 737-500

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Safety card on board NAM Air 737-500

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The cabin as seen from the last row. The crew can be seen concluding the snack service.

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The last couple of rows of the NAM Air 737-500. Notice the tight leg room!

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The lavs too were the old fashioned “blue juice” type 😀 Note the old style buttons on the wash basin.

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The sign on the top seems to be a remnant from the Continental/United days.

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ARRIVAL

We landed at around 2145, around 30 minutes behind schedule.

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As soon as we docked, everyone lined up in the aisle waiting to deplane. I was in no hurry of course, as I savoured the final moments on board this classic baby Boeing.

Clicked one last photo of the Business Class seats as I finally made my way to the exit.

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As I bid farewell to the crew, I was smiling, happy to have finally managed to fly on the now rare Boeing 737-500.

So if you haven’t flown on this type yet, get on board a NAM Air 737-500 the next time you visit this part of the world. Do plan with a lot of time in hand though, as delays could mess up your travel plans!