India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation Backtracks, Cancels Proposed Policy Change Regarding Ground Handling at Metro Airports

Reading through the headlines of The Pioneer this morning, one grabbed my eye. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is backtracking on their decision to restrict the ground handling industry.

Back in 2007, a proposal was put forward to only allow 3 companies can handle for airlines at metro airports (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata). Singapore Air Terminal Services (AI-SATS), a company chosen by the airport operator, and a company chosen by competitive bidding. All airlines, including international carriers, would have been forced to contract out their ground handling to one of these 3 companies.

This policy was set to take effect in December. The Ministry of Civil Aviation justified this proposal using a vague “security purposes” argument. It still isn’t quite clear what the security advantages of this proposed policy is.

As you can imagine, the airlines didn’t like this proposed policy at all. Reducing competition would only drive up costs and reduce quality of services, something which India’s financially troubled carriers can’t really afford right now. They went to court to try to get the implementation of the proposal stopped, and the court decision was expected early next month.

I’m happy to hear that airlines didn’t have to waste money on that court appearance. The Ministry’s decision seems almost shockingly rational, considering their track record recently. I guess Ajit Singh is in a good mood these days…

Thai Airways Decides Against Using Narrowbodies to HYD

Thai Airways had planned to downgauge and increase frequency to Hyderabad – from 16 September, Thai was expecting to have its subsidary THAI Smile operate A320s daily on the Hyderabad-Bangkok sector instead of the current four-weekly A330.

However, this plan has been scrapped according to TTR Weekly. Due to insufficient cargo space on the smaller A320, Thai has decided to revert to the four-weekly A330 schedule.

A330s can carry over 10 tons of cargo each flight to/from Hyderabad, while the A320 would only be able to carry 3 tons or so.

Lufthansa Offers Change Fee Waiver For Pax Affected By Tomorrow’s Strike

Tomorrow, September 4th, Lufthansa is expecting a strike from its flight attendants represented by the UFO union.

Lufthansa has issued a change fee/cancellation waiver, which can be availed of by calling your local Lufthansa call center:

As a sign of courtesy, all passengers with Lufthansa tickets issued before 3 September 2012 for Lufthansa operated flights (even if not cancelled) departing before Tuesday, 4 September 2012, 11:59 p.m. are entitled to one rebooking onto alternate flights by Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines or Swiss free of charge. New travel must occur before 30 November 2012. Origin and destination cannot be changed.

I suggest everyone booked on Lufthansa tomorrow get rebooked as soon as possible. The situation at Frankfurt wasn’t pretty last week with all the cancellations and delays:

Ethiopian Airlines 787 Drops By in BOM

Today, Ethiopian Airlines’ 787 (registered ET-AOQ) dropped by in Mumbai as part of its “world tour.”

ET-AOQ is given the watercannon salute in front of the Air India hangars.

Other destinations which it will touch on the “world tour” include Dubai, Frankfurt, London, and Rome.

Lufthansa’s Next 747-8i Destination: Bangalore

This isn’t new news, but a firm date is finally available for this service.

From September 13 2012, service between Bangalore and Frankfurt will be on Lufthansa’s brand new 747-8i aircraft, sporting Lufthansa’s newest product.

This is just one of the many steps Lufthansa has taken to improve its product on Indian routes. Lufthansa has also:

  • Launched service to Delhi on 747-8i (August 6)
  • Opened a new lounge at Delhi Terminal 3 (August 13)
  • Announced retrofit A330 (with new Business Class) on Munich-Mumbai route (September 2)
  • Continued adding PTVs in Economy Class to 747-400s serving India (continuous)

Looks like Lufthansa is really buckling down and trying to capture more of the Indian market.

The Social Dutchman

This is a guest post by Vishal Mehra, a digital marketer with a passion for aviation, who kindly agreed to write for my while I’m away on vacation.

The genesis of this post, my first ever, was a tweet to me by Rohit Rao, known as @TheAeroBlogger on my favorite Social Networking site, Twitter. I would talk about Twitter on another post, but this one is all about my passion, my passion for airplanes, travel & social media, & my recent experience of all of that converging into one wholesome package.

I was traveling on Business to the US recently, and on that trip, @KLM became my 31st airline. KLM was not my primary choice – in fact, I wanted to fly its Corporate (and SkyTeam) partner, Air France. However, by the end, I was very glad it turned out the way it did!

I had read a lot about the “truly” social seating features that KLM had introduced, for the first time ever in the world of commercial aviation through its initiative known as Meet and Seat. When I realized that my flights would have those features while checking in, the social media guy in me took the front seat (not literally, premium economy requires you to pay more).

After filling in all relevant details, I was surprised to find only 2 gentlemen using the service on the Delhi-Amsterdam leg. One through Facebook, and the other through LinkedIn. Unfortunately for me, none of the hot chicks on the flight decided to bother themselves with it (like this un-official video would have you believe). Surprisingly, for the rest of the legs (Amsterdam-Washington, New York-Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Delhi), I was the only user of this program!

Although, its an exciting development, the concept of Social Seating has been discussed for a while now. You can look at the coverage of the Meet & Seat launch by @SimpliFlying as an example of this. Other specialized players in the space like Satisfly have more detailed features, allowing better matching & flexibility to travelers.

Being a marketer, my left brain & my right brain both tell me KLM’s (lack of) marketing of Meet and Seat is stupid. There is no special promotion on KLM’s homepage for the feature (unlike airBaltic promoting its satisfly features). Even the check-in page had little mention. I first sighted a RHS dynamic banner while filling in my API (Advance Passenger Information). Some might say that’s appropriate given meet & seat is an optional additional feature, I would highly disagree.

KLM has an exclusive service, which is available on only 1 other airline out of the hundreds of other airlines around the world. Why would they not want to talk about it???

KLM has one of the best social media response teams in the industry. Spread across regions, on Facebook and Twitter, interacting and delighting travelers every minute, KLM knows how to use the social media. KLM’s marketing team was behind the fantastic Surprise campaign, and they have a gamut of helpful and entertaining mobile apps out there too. I find it astounding that when it comes to Meet and Seat, there is very little noise generated by them.

In this era of increased social connectivity and interaction, Meet and Seat could have easily become the talking point among travelers, some of whom might have even paid a premium to fly KLM because of it.

The only logical explanation I can think of for underpromoting the service is that it is still in beta, and KLM is in the process of adding more features and capabilities.

To that, I have only 3 words: look at Google.

My experience on KLM was fantastic. The cabin crew was most friendly & helpful in all four legs of the trip, and I would fly with them again for those Big MD-11 windows (although the IFE was crappy, and the MD-11 fleet is sadly being phased out), for the wonderful hub at Schiphol, for the amazing roof at Schiphol, making you see aircraft fly in and out, and for its wonderful, courteous staff. If Meet and Seat had been promoted well, it could have definitely been another solid reason.

PS: This post was coined “The Social Dutchman” by me after realizing KLM is more than just a “Flying Dutchman” & I hope they live up to this recognition.

Trip Report: Chasing Classic Airplanes To North Korea.

This is a trip report by Martijn Hoebee, who has kindly agreed to share with us his recent trip to the DPRK.

A trip to elusive North-Korea, and the opportunity to fly on a variety of classic Russian aircraft? That sounded too good to be true! I wasn’t dreaming though, it was an actual aviation tour of North-Korea organized by Juche Travel Services. As an airplane enthusiast, I love few things more then to fly on as many different airplane types as possible. Naturally I wasn’t going to let this rare opportunity pass, and I quickly decided to book myself on the July North-Korea Aviation Tour.

What would be on the agenda? First off, an extensive tour of the fascinating country, visiting several cities, landmarks and other places of interest. The added bonus, a total of 9 flights on a variety of airplane types operated by North-Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo! Air Koryo’s fleet is extremely interesting, consisting of mostly classic Russian airplanes. Most of these airplane types aren’t operated in commercial service anymore with any other airline, apart from government operators and cargo airlines. The following plane types were offered; Antonov 24, Ilyushin 18, Ilyushin 62, Ilyushin 76 (!), Mil 8, Tupolev 134 and Tupolev 154 or Tupolev 204 (depending on whether you opted to fly to Shenyang on the -154, or to Beijing on the -204).

The trip would start in Beijing, from where our tour group would take a scheduled Air Koryo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang. After spending a few days of sightseeing in Beijing, it was time for me to head to Beijing Capital airport to board my flight towards Pyongyang (FNJ). After meeting the other tour group members, consisting mainly of other airplane fanatics, we headed towards our gate where the distinct shape of the Ilyushin 62 (IL-62M) tail was already visible. Our flight today would be operated by P-881, which rolled off the Kazan-based assembly line in 1986.

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Most of us plane spotters were seated in the very aft of the cabin, close to the action of the 4 Soloviev engines. The remainder of the seats were filled by other passengers making their way to Pyongyang. The aircraft featured a great retro-interior, and had condensation coming from the air-conditioning outlets, filling the cabin with a thin mist. After everyone had boarded, we pushed back on time and the engines were fired up. The sound of these engines is absolutely gorgeous, and not like anything you’ll hear on other airplane types. On take-off the 4 massive Soloviev D-30-KU’s produced a fantastic howl which made conversation almost impossible in the cabin.

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As soon as we reached a safe altitude, the flight attendants came into action and offered newspapers, as well as a cold lunch and drinks to all the passengers. The flight was over way too soon however, and after about an hour in cruise we started to descend into Pyongyang. The gear was lowered at an unusually high altitude apparently for air-brake purposes. After a smooth touchdown the two outboard engines went into maximum reverse-thrust creating an ear deafening thundering noise. After landing there was the opportunity to visit the flight deck and to make pictures on the ramp.

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After getting familiarized with Pyongyang, as well as visiting the demilitarized zone on the border with South-Korea, it was time for 3 pleasure flights. These would be operated by the Ilyushin 76 (IL-76TD) freighter, the Antonov 24 and Mil 8 helicopter. The -76 did not have your average passenger seats as it is a cargo airplane. Instead it had folding jumpseats lined along the fuselage. All of us sat in the cargo hold during the flight which made for a fantastic experience! This 1990 Tashkent-built airplane was registered P-914.

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After little under half an hour in the air, the -76 touched down hard and taxied back to the stand. The next airplane, the Antonov 24 (AN-24RV), was already waiting for us on the adjacent stand.

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This classic turboprop was manufactured at the Aviant factory in Kiev in 1975. Her entire flying career has been with Air Koryo, as P-532. As all Air Koryo planes she was in immaculate condition. A normal passenger cabin on this airplane, however with the classic open-overhead bins, or hat-racks as they were called back in the day! The cabin was once again filled with mist as seems common on these classic airplanes. The noisy turboprop powered by two Ivchenko AI-24 turboprops took us to the sky for another 30 minute flight around the Pyongyang area.

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After arriving on the stand, the group was split in two 10-person parties, and the first boarded a bus which took us to our next pleasure flight, on the Mil 8 (MI-8T) helicopter. This example which is registed 108 (Note that there is no P- prefix as she never leaves the country) is quite a mystery chopper and there is no available data about it’s building year. She was however manufactured by Kazan Helicopters in Russia.

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108 features a 10-seat VIP cabin, complete with a couch and 4-seat booth with a table in between the seats. The noise-isolation was fantastic and the sound-level inside was the lowest of all the airplanes we flew on. The steady hand of the pilot maneuvered us over the platform to a take-off position, and took us for a quick ride circling Pyongyang airport. After landing the engines and rotor were kept running in order to board group two as fast as possible. Not before a quick cockpit visit though!

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After a great day with 3 fantastic flights, and some more sightseeing around the city, we went back to the hotel. The following 2 days we visited the very North part of the country, near the Chinese border where the sacred Mt. Paektu is located. Our airplane of choice for the 2 flights to and from Samjiyon (YJS) was P-814, a 1984 built Tupolev 134 (TU-134B3) which was manufactured in Kharkov.

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The flights were very smooth and the -134 is a joy to fly on. The cabin noise-level is rather low, and the cabin itself is spacious and comfortable. Cockpit visits as well as a walk-around on the ramp for picture opportunities were no problem in Samjiyon!

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The second to last flight of this already once in a lifetime trip, was a specially charted Ilyushin 18 (IL-18D) flight to Sondok (DSO) on the east coast. The airplane for today was P-835, a 1969 built example manufactured in Moscow. For it’s age, the airplane was in absolutely fantastic condition! The heavy turboprop wasn’t as noisy as expected and rotated quite fast on take-off.

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Again after landing in Sondok, cockpit visits as well as a walk-around were made possible by Air Koryo and the local authorities. One of the doors were opened which allowed for some great views of the massive Ivchenko AI-20 engines.

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The next day the 7-day tour was already coming to an end, and the group was divided into two parties once more. One party would board the flight back to Beijing, operated by the Tupolev 204, and the others would fly to Shenyang (SHE) on the Ilyushin 62 (IL-62M). Unfortunately for us, the Shenyang flight was very full today and the planned Tupolev 154 was “upgraded” to an Ilyushin 62. It didn’t ruin much of the fun however, as today’s flight was operated by P-885, the second -62 in Air Koryo’s fleet. P-885 is older then her sister P-881, and was constructed in Kazan in 1979.

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This short flight to Shenyang was indeed completely full, with only a few open seats available. The flight time was around 45 minutes. Take-off was once again spectacular as the cabin was filled with the howl of the engines. During the short cruise the crew served sandwiches and drinks. Again the landing gear was lowered at a high altitude while on approach to smoggy Shenyang airport. The airplane took up the entire runway for the landing roll!

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After thanking the crew we disembarked onto buses and were driven to the terminal. It was here that the remainder of the group split up and continued to their respective onward destinations. I think I can speak for everyone on the tour when I say that it was an immense success! Air Koryo and Juche Travel Services have been very accommodating to our (sometimes weird) requests, and did everything in their power to make sure that we had a good time. I can highly recommend visiting North-Korea. It is a fascinating country which is well worth a visit, even without the airplanes.

I hope you liked-reading this short trip report, and I will be happy to address any of your questions or remarks.


Boeing P-8I Testing For Indian Navy

Boeing’s second P-8I maritime patrol aircraft for the Indian Navy performed its initial flight on July 12th, a step forward in the testing program for the aircraft.

The aircraft, a derivative of the Boeing 737-800, is expected to be delivered in mid-2013.

The Indian government ordered eight P-8I aircraft in 2009 in an order valued at $2.1 billion. The aircraft is specially customized for the Indian Navy, and will greatly boost the anti-submarine and anti-surface capabilities of the Navy.

The P-8I will replace the ageing Tupolev TU-142Ms which the Indian Navy currently operates. Ilyushin IL-38SDs and Dornier aircraft are also used for surveillance operations by the Navy.

2 Boeing P-8Is facing each other. Source: Boeing

The JFK iPad Experiment – 1.5 Years Later

iPad Setup At JFK Delta Terminal - Photo Credit: David Abbey

In late 2010, Delta made waves in the technology and airline industries by announcing it would be installing hundreds of iPads in its JFK terminal. The move was applauded as innovative and different during a time when airlines were cutting back left and right. So, nearly two years later, how has this project been maintained, and has it evolved at all?

When first announced as the joint project with OTG Management, the Delta promised that passengers would be able to order food via the ipad and have it delivered to your seat, check your email, flight status, and a whole host of other activities such as games.

The set up of the iPad areas is actually quite nice. The iPads are installed in a theft-deterrent box on the side or middle of tables with seats attached. Just under or next to each iPad is a host of power outlets and USB charging ports, which is actually one of the most used features. The set up is a nice change from the usual endless rows of seats you find so common at airports. This gives passengers a place to sit, put their personal items such as a laptop down in front of them, and charge their electronics before a flight.

The iPads main function is to act as an electronic ordering system for nearby restaurants within the terminal. The iPad displays a nicely formatted menu, with descriptions of each item and its cost. The passenger then sends out the order, and it will be delivered right to their seat. However, when I tried this, things did not go as planned.

About 10 minutes after I ordered a small snack and a beer, an employee walked over to my seat and informed me that both items I had selected were unavailable. I was rather surprised, as I had figured that any electronic menu system would account for such issues dynamically, and not display unavailable items. Not a terrible ordeal, as I simply requested different items from the employee. Problem solved.

Beyond the minor menu glitch, the iPads have some more major issues. One such issue is simply the nature of consumer grade electronics; They are not built for continuous, around the clock use. In the many times I have approached the iPad seating area, it was not uncommon to find unresponsive iPads that cannot be used. Because the issue is one that cannot be spotted just by looking at the screen, the issue goes unnoticed for long periods before being reset. Thankfully, the number of working iPads is always greater than non-working.

Photo Credit- David Abbey

On the iPads that are working, there is always one common issue: Network speed. A major choke point in the user experience seems to be the network connectivity and speed. The main screen shows a Delta icon, but it attempts to load their full website; not the mobile website nor the Fly Delta application. This often leads to usability issues, and more often than not, the page will not load at all. A stripped down version of the Fly Delta app would be wonderful on these iPads, as getting important flight information to the passenger as quickly as possible should be a top priority.

Network Speeds Prevents iPads From Loading The Full Photo Credit- David Abbey

While this iPad experiment was greeted touted by the airline and technology industries, both seem to have forgotten about it. Delta and OTG have not improved the service since it has launched, but that has not stopped passengers from using it every day. With a few minor modifications, such as a faster connection and easier access to flight information, passengers may be asking for this at every airport.

Phot Credit- David Abbey

Fraport Ponders Pullout From India

Germany’s Fraport AG, the second largest airport operator in the world, is considering selling its 10% stake in Indira Gandhi International Airport and pulling out of the Indian market. The operator already decided to shut down its Business Development Office this month, with its presence now limited to only a consultant role.

This pullout comes due to a loss of confidence in the government’s infrastructure development plans and execution. Fraport India’s Managing Director was quoted by the Economic Times as saying “…the government doesn’t have any spine or drive. So I personally doubt anything will happen in the lifetime of UPA-II.” This comes just after the prime minister announced major infrastructure development plans last week

Fraport India’s MD continued on to say, “Things will happen, but after the next elections in 2014 – when a new government comes in and finds its feet. So you are in 2015. I couldn’t justify sitting here till 2015 with no concrete opportunities to show.” Instead of the Indian market, Fraport plans to focus on other emerging markets like Brazil and China.

Fraport’s seven year agreement to operated DIAL expires next year. Fraport has signaled that they are strongly considering completely pulling out of India after that.

Fraport considering pulling out is a clear indicator of the lack of confidence in government that has caused growth to slow and FDI to drop rapidly. Hopefully this, along with the other bad news about the state of the economy (possible bond rating downgrade, far lower growth than expected, etc.) will help jolt the government out of its stupor so that infrastructure projects finally get moving, but I am not optimistic.