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2020: The year that changed aviation – Part 4

written by Hannah Dowling | December 24, 2020
British Airways Boeing 747, registration G-CIVW, arriving at Dunsfold Park in Surrey (SurreyLive/Grahame Larter).

2020 has without a doubt brought about the single biggest disruptor to the global aviation sector potentially ever seen: the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 31 December, 2019, Chinese authorities officially revealed they were treating a small number of citizens suffering from a mysterious illness in Wuhan. No one knew just what this would mean for the international community in the months to come.

Join us here at World of Aviation for our fourth and final instalment of reminiscing and recounting the year that the aviation industry will never forget.

In case you missed it, we have already discussed the earlier months of the year in Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here.

Let’s get into it.

OCTOBER

Sonic boom rattles Paris

On 1 October, World of Aviation reported that a French fighter jet broke the sound barrier above Paris, as it scrambled to assist two commercial airliners that had both lost contact with air traffic control.

The warplane had climbed to around 34,000 feet when it was permitted to break the sound barrier, with the noise amplified thanks to cloud cover.

The sonic boom created by the speedy Dassault Rafale jet briefly interrupted the proceedings at the French Open, and sparked mass panic around Paris, as civilians struggled to understand the source of the sound.

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End of an era: Airlines farewell 747s

Two major European carriers, British Airways and KLM, both waved goodbye to their final Boeing 747st this month.

On Thursday, 8 October, British Airways officially said farewell to its final Boeing 747s at London Heathrow, with poor weather conditions unfortunately impacting a planned rare double take-off.

The rare dual take-off of the two final 747s would have seen the planes barrel down parallel LHR runways simultaneously. 

Unfortunately, cloud cover and driving rain meant the dual take-off was impossible, and both aircraft ended up departing from runway 27R.

First to take-off was G-CIVB, which took flight for the final time at 8:40am local time, headed for Kemble Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire. It landed safely in Kemble at 10:11am local time.

G-CIVB was followed shortly by G-CIVY, which performed a circle-back and a low pass back towards the runway, as a final goodbye to the airport that it has called home for over two decades. 

G-CIVY then headed to St Athan in Wales, landing 51 minutes after departure at 9:31am local time.

Shortly after, it was announced that a seperate British Airways Boeing 747 had been saved from the scrap heap, and would instead be offered a new life as a film and TV set based at Dunsfold Park in Surrey, England.

Dunsfold Park is most famous for being the filming location of the BBC’s Top Gear, however has also been utilised by major film productions including Batman Begins, Mission Impossible and Casino Royale.

The aircraft, G-CIVW, departed Cardiff Airport in Wales shortly before 2:15pm on Wednesday, and arrived at the Dunsfold Aerodrome shortly after, at around 3pm.

Meanwhile, Sunday 25 October marked the final day for Dutch carrier KLM’s jumbo jets. 

Dutch airline KLM has joined the long list of airlines that have said their final farewells to their iconic jumbo jets, with the final 747 flying into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam for the last time..

The airline’s six remaining jumbo jets were initially due to be retired at the end of 2021, however like many airlines, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent drop in demand for international travel brought this intended date forward to March 2020. 

KLM then brought three 747s back out of retirement in order to meet the growing demand for freight service and medical equipment transportation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline has utilised its jumbo jets to conduct daily services between China and the Netherlands.

Sadly, as of Sunday, the last KLM 747-400M, registration PH-BFV, was finally returned to her retirement, after conducting her last flight between Shanghai and Schipol.

PH-BFV took off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport at 4:43pm local time, and landed at Schiphol just before 9:10pm.

KLM has enlisted a Boeing 777 to handle the rest of its future services between China and Amsterdam.

Another notable four-engine retirement this month includes that of Emirates first A380 retirement.

The retired plane, registration A6-EDG, was the second A380 to ever be delivered to the airline, which was received by Emirates in October 2008. It was the 13th A380 to ever be built.

The plane was retired on the exact 12th anniversary of its entrance into service, which took place on 27 October, 2008.

The airline has said that it already had intended to retire the plane prior to COVID-19, due to the upcoming requirement for heavy maintenance on the aircraft.

A6-EDG took off for the last time from Dubai International Airport on Tuesday at 3:33pm local time, bound for its final resting place at Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport in France. 

The plane touched down in France at 7:55pm local time.

Malaysia Airlines may not survive crisis, says CEO

Amid restructure negotiations, Malaysia Airlines group CEO Izham Ismail threatened that the airline will have “no choice” but to shut down entirely if its lessors decide not to support its latest restructuring plan.

Izham said that there are a “sizeable” number of creditors who have agreed to the proposed restructuring plan however a number have outright rejected the plans, while some still remain undecided, or “50:50” in his words.

“I need to get the 50:50 ones (on board) with those who have agreed,” he said.

Should lessors not agree to the restructuring plan, Izham said the company is not afraid to execute “Plan B”, which would involve shifting Malaysia Airlines’ air operators certificate (AOC) over to a new airline under a different name, or using the certificates of sister airlines Firefly and MASwings.

Later, lone MAG shareholder and state fund Khazanah Nasional said that low-cost carrier Firefly could take over as Malaysia’s national carrier, should creditors not get behind Malaysia’s plan.

In what was already a turbulent month for Malaysia Airlines, October also saw interesting reports regarding the missing airliner MH370.

More than six years after Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 mysteriously vanished, independent experts investigating the matter said they believe to have found where the plane crashed.

Victor Iannello, an engineer and entrepreneur spent the last few years investigating the mysterious circumstances behind the disappearance of MH370. Despite a number of previous failed searches for the aircraft, Iannello believes that previous crews may have just barely missed the wreckage of the plane.

According to Iannello’s estimates, the plane was tracking about 2,700 miles south of Indonesia when it crashed into the South Indian Ocean, somewhere around the co-ordinates of S34.2342 and E93.7875.

According to Iannello’s predictions, the odds are “better than even” that the missing Boeing 777 could be found somewhere within 100 nautical miles of this probable impact site.

The projected impact site sits around 1,000 miles off the south-west Australian coast.

Cathay cuts jobs, remains at odds with staff

Also in October, Cathay Pacific announced it will cut 5,900 jobs and axe its regional offshoot, Cathay Dragon, in an attempt to reduce costs amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel crisis.

The restructuring is set to cost the airline US$283.8 million and may also involve changes to contracts and working conditions for pilots and cabin crew, to match “more closely to productivity” and retain market competitiveness.

This came to fruition in October too, with the airline reportedly taking aim at its pilots contracts in an effort to cut costs, offering flight crew an ultimatum to either accept major cuts to their pay and benefits (up to 60 per cent for some), or leave the company.

LAX jetpack man resurfaces

For our non-COVID news this month, we saw the mysterious jetpack man resurface again at LAX.

Once again, an unidentified man was spotted flying a jet pack past passenger airliners above Los Angeles International Airport, puzzling pilots and investigators.

This time, our Iron Man impersonator was spotted by flight crew aboard a China Airlines aircraft at around 1:45pm last Wednesday, and was said to be flying at around 6,000 feet. The sighting occurred around 11 kilometres north-west of LAX.

Elsewhere, Boeing officially announced that it will move the rest of its 787 Dreamliner production from its Seattle-based Everett plant to its factory in South Carolina by mid-2021.

The cost-cutting move casts doubt on the future of Boeing’s iconic Everett plant, which was built in 1967 to house the 747 program. Since then, the factory has become Boeing’s wide-body hub, producing 747, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft.

The US planemaker had touted the idea of consolidating its 787 Dreamliner production for a number of months, as the COVID-19 crisis had seen the maintenance of two Dreamliner production plants made impossible, as demand for jets nosedives.

Across the pond, International Airlines Group (IAG) announced a major reshuffle of its top-level management, including the news that Alex Cruz will step down as chairman and chief executive of British Airways.

Cruz had been both CEO and chairman of British Airways since April 2016, when he was moved from his former position as chief executive of IAG’s Barcelona-based low-cost airline Vueling.

Sean Doyle, then-CEO of Irish carrier Aer Lingus – also owned by IAG – was announced as the new chief executive for British Airways with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, Saturday 31 October saw Berlin’s newest airport, Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), open its doors for the first time, almost a decade after its first scheduled opening date.

Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport, which shares a location with the Brandeburg site, was officially renamed to BER Terminal 5, in anticipation of the new airport’s opening. 

The welcome addition of BER will also see the city close the small, antiquated Berlin Tegel Airport that sits in the heart of the city.

Built within just three months in 1948, Berlin Tegel was designed to handle just 2.5 million passengers per year, nowhere near the necessary facilities to serve as the main airport of Germany’s capital. 

The airport saw 24 million passengers through its terminals in 2019.

In sadder news, an investigation into the Ukrarnian military plane crash that killed 26 people found a combination of human error and engine problems as the root cause of the incident.

The Prime Minister noted a number of systemic violations on behalf of the pilots and military organisation, including consistent gross violations of fatigue policy. 

The flight was found to be the sixth consecutive take-off for the flight crew, just one of a number of regulatory violations made by the crew.

The investigation also found that the flight crew in command of the aircraft had insufficient professional training, according to Deputy PM Urusky.

However, it was these factors, in combination with a failed engine control system and subsequent emergency situation onboard, that ultimately caused the crash.

NOVEMBER

November was another bad month for four-engined aircraft, with a number of airlines pushing pause on the superjumbo fleets.

Early in the month, Portuguese airline Hi Fly announced it will phase out its only Airbus A380 after just three years in operation.

According to the business, the decision not to extend the initial agreed lease period was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which it said has “drastically reduced the demand for very large aircraft”.

Additionally, Etihad officially moved one of its Airbus A380s into long-term storage in Tarbes, France.

The six-year-old aircraft, registration A6-APA msn 166, was the first A380 to have been delivered to Etihad, back in 2014.

Now, it has been transported to the infamous aircraft storage facility and boneyard at Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport, indefinitely.

Meanwhile, British Airways sent a number of its A380s to Madrid to be stored, as the UK entered its second total lockdown and placed a ban on all non-essential overseas travel.

While the decision to place superjumbos into longer-term storage caused concern for an early retirement, a BA spokesperson said that there were still currently “no plans” to do so.

The UK’s lockdown at the time was set until 2 December, with the potential for an extension should COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations not relent.

As such, it is unlikely that British Airways’ A380s will take to the skies again until at least early-to-mid 2021.

All 12 of the British flag-carrier’s superjumbos had essentially been grounded since March 2020, when demand for long-haul international plummeted to unprecedented lows.

Since then, most of its A380s have been ferried between France’s Chateauroux Centre Marcel Dassault Airport for storage, and London Heathrow for ongoing maintenance.

Off the back of a record $1.74 billion quarterly loss, Singapore Airlines Group announced that it would retire 26 aircraft from its fleet, including seven A380s, four Boeing 777-200/200ERs, and four Boeing 777-300s.

SIA claimed the chosen 26 aircraft to be retired were “deemed surplus to requirements”, and do not include the additional seven Boeing 777s being retired amid the liquidation of Scoot joint venture, NokScoot.

Meanwhile, nine Airbus A320s and two Airbus A319s were retired from the group’s SilkAir fleet.

Delta retired 777 fleet

After just two decades of service, Delta Air Lines officially retired the entirety of its Boeing 777 fleet, as it continued to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The retirement of Delta’s 777 fleet was the highest-profile retirement accelerated by the pandemic, with the airline recently announcing its intentions to retire more than 380 aircraft over the next five years, 200 of which to take place within the next 12 months.

Delta chief customer experience officer Bill Lentsch said that the retiring of the 777 fleet, in addition to other measures to simplify the airline’s fleet, would both cut costs and improve the overall customer experience.

He noted that simplifying the fleet would not only cut costs in crew training, but also when acquiring spare parts and ongoing maintenance.

The decision to retire its once long-haul workhorse was clearly not previously anticipated, with Delta recently injecting $100 million into retrofitting its 18 Boeing 777s with new and improved first-class cabins, which included lay-flat seating, additional personal storage, and a new 1-2-1 configuration.

Aviation’s recovery has ‘hit a wall’: IATA

The news of premature retirement and storage of aircraft came as data revealed international passenger traffic had flatlined in light of second wave COVID infections globally.

Director-general of the IATA Alexandre de Juniac said progress towards recovery in the aviation sector had “hit a wall” in light of a resurgence of COVID outbreaks, namely in the US and Europe, and again blamed subdued demand on government quarantine requirements.

Later in the month, the IATA downgraded its industry loss outlook, stating the world’s airlines are on track to lose a total of $157 billion throughout 2020 and 2021 as global COVID cases continue to surge.

This is down a further $57 billion from June, when it had forecast $100 billion in losses across the two-year period.

The current forecasts are based on the assumption of significant re-opening of borders by the middle of next year, helped by some combination of COVID-19 testing and vaccine deployment.

The IATA also warned that we could see more airlines facing bankruptcy in the future, as carriers continue to rack up debt.

Norwegian Air became the latest casualty on 18 November when it filed for bankruptcy protection in Ireland.

Despite the IATA’s pessimism, it appears Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary saw things in a different light, as he scoffed at current industry predictions that it will take three or more years to see a post-COVID recovery in demand for air travel.

Speaking at the World Travel Market Conference, the Irish billionaire and budget airline chief executive instead said he predicted an “enormous” bounce-back in demand and called more conservative estimates of recovery “rubbish”.

Vaccine trials finalised, ready for approval

Perhaps one of the biggest stories not just in the aviation sector, but around the world, this month was the news of COVID-19 vaccine trials being finalised, with results reported of over 90 per cent efficacy.

The first to hit headlines was global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, with its vaccine that it claimed is at least “90 per cent effective”. At the time, manufacturing of the Pfizer vaccine was already underway and the business said it could supply up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021.

Days later, US drug manufacturer Moderna announced its own COVID-19 vaccine testing results, with a reported effectiveness of 95 per cent, far exceeding expectations.

Results were reportedly based on a trial involving 30,000 people in the US, and company president Stephen Hoge told the BBC he “grinned from ear-to-ear for a minute” when the results came in.

The trial saw just five cases of COVID-19 occur in participants who received the vaccine, versus 90 that occurred in the group that was given the placebo.

It’s official: Boeing 737 MAX to resume US operations

On 18 November, 2020, the 20-month flight ban imposed on the Boeing 737 MAX was finally lifted in the US, following the introduction of safety upgrades, new training protocols, and extensive safety testing.

US Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson officially signed the order, lifting the longest flight ban imposed on a passenger jet in commercial aviation history.

The agency also revealed the final details of the MAX’s updated software, system and training requirements, which Boeing and airlines must complete before carrying any passengers.

Included in these requirements were mandatory simulator training sessions for MAX pilots, as well as new software upgrades, both of which addressed the stall-prevention system, the MCAS, which was at the heart of the two fatal MAX crashes that grounded the planes.

The FAA is requiring new pilot training and software upgrades to deal with a stall-prevention system called MCAS, which in both crashes repeatedly shoved down the jet’s nose as pilots struggled to regain control.

“This airplane is the most scrutinised airplane in aviation history,” Dickson told the media, following the announcement.

“The design changes that are being put in place completely eliminate the possibility of an accident occurring that is similar to the two accidents.”

“I feel 100% confident,” he added. “We have run this thing top to bottom … We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure.”

Brazillian regulators followed the FAA’s decision within days, however other civil aviation regulators around the world continue to deliberate.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) previously stated it intended to lift its grounding order on the jet in November, shortly after the FAA announced its decision, however has since pushed back its decision until January.

Canadian authorities made similar announcements, while Chinese regulators (one of the largest markets for the MAX) have made no announcements on their intentions to recertify the aircraft.

DECEMBER

In December, we saw a fairly clear theme emerge in the aviation sector: the vaccine rollout challenge.

By early December, the first COVID-19 vaccines had received regulatory approval in both the US and UK as COVID cases continued to surge.

Airlines had been preparing for months for the vaccine distribution effort, and now, it was finally D-Day.

Early in the month, Singapore Airlines said it had prepared seven of its Boeing 747-400 freighters for the task of transporting coronavirus vaccines around the world.

The airline also stated it was prepared to reassign its passenger planes for the purpose of vaccine transportation and distribution if more capacity is needed.

Earlier in the year, SIA created a task force to ensure all aspects of its cargo operations are available for the transportation of time- and temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical shipments upon the release of suitable COVID-19 vaccines.

SIA also said it had signed leasing deals with several cold chain container providers, as thermal protection systems are required to make sure the vaccines are stored according to their temperature requirements.

By mid-month, carriers around the US had already begun efforts to transport the recently approved Pfizer vaccine around the country.

The US Food and Drug Administration provided the necessary regulatory approval for use of the vaccine on Friday, 11 December, providing the ultimate test for the aviation industry, which has spent months preparing to distribute the temperature-sensitive vaccines.

Following the FDA’s announcement, express freight carriers FedEx and UPS had reportedly already made their first deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine to 425 medical centres and drop locations by the following Tuesday.

These carriers transported the bulk of the immediate first-phase of vaccine distribution, however as distribution ramps up, major airline players will be required. Around 6.4 million Pfizer vaccine doses are scheduled to be delivered by the end of the year.

American Airlines announced that it too has begun shipping COVID-19 vaccines within days of the FDA’s approval.

The major airline began flying vaccines out of Chicago on its Boeing 777-200 aircraft on Sunday night, bound for an unidentified US territory in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, United Airlines said it too has begun the transport of COVID vaccines around the US, doing so via the cargo hold bellies of passenger aircraft.

Earlier, the Chicago-based airline became the country’s first passenger airline to transport the vaccine into the US, from the drugmaker’s manufacturing hub in Brussels.

The airline also utilised its own Boeing 777 freighter aircraft for the mission to transport an unidentified number of vaccines, however did note that the plane is capable of carrying more than 1 million vaccine doses.

Overseas, Cathay Pacific expanded its cold storage facilities at its cargo terminal to allow it to temporarily house more than 8.6 million vaccine doses per day, as the global vaccine distribution challenge began to ramp up.

The terminal’s current capacity was around 7.1 million doses, and a new cold storage room was added to allow for a further 1.5 million doses to be stored, according to Cathay director cargo Tom Owen.

Towards the end of the month, airports and airlines around the world were warned to stay on high alert and increase security efforts to protect COVID-19 vaccine shipments, as reports suggested vaccines were being targeted by criminal enterprises.

Within days of the first COVID-19 vaccines being approved and delivered in the UK and US, reports surfaced of criminal networks attempting to sell on the inoculations on the dark web, with aim to profit off the global demand for vaccines.

As such, Interpol warned those working within the vaccine supply chain to be prepared for the fact that organised criminal networks could be targeting their operations in order to steal vaccines, possibly through the infiltration or disruption of said supply chains.

US aircrew approved for COVID vaccines

Speaking of vaccines, the US FAA gave pilots and air traffic controllers the green light to receive both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, following union cries to make the call.

The US aviation regulator specified that pilots and controllers must not fly or conduct safety-related duties for at least 48 hours after receiving their doses.

The FAA noted that it “will monitor the patient response to each vaccine dose and may adjust this policy as necessary to ensure aviation safety.”

In the weeks prior, unions and industry groups wrote to US lawmakers, asking them to “prioritise aviation frontline workers for allocation of the vaccine in your upcoming implementation plan.”

The groups stated that “aviation workers are frontline workers who either encounter the traveling public frequently or are required to perform our work in close proximity to our colleagues and perform our jobs onsite.”

In the past, the FAA has not moved to approve the use of vaccines or medications on pilots for at least one year following regulatory approval by the FDA.

“However, given the nature of the current public health emergency, the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine will expedite its review of the emergency-use authorisations for the vaccines,” the FAA said earlier in the month.

The Great Debate: mandatory pre-flight COVD vaccines

The debate surrounding the requirement of mandatory pre-flight COVID-19 vaccinations in the near future intensified this month, as the UK approved the first vaccine for distribution.

Global airport industry body Airports Council International joined with a number of airlines in stating that a blanket rule requiring pre-flight vaccination could be as disruptive to the industry as current quarantine measures.

The debate was sparked earlier in the month when CEO of Australia’s Qantas Airways Alan Joyce stated that a COVID-19 vaccination would be necessary for passengers on its international flights, which remain largely subdued due to Australia’s strict border controls.

However other global airlines, and now airports, have vocalised their concerns that waiting for a full rollout of vaccines would take quite some time, and could significantly hinder the industry’s recovery.

Industry warned over future risks

Following weeks of positive news, and the potential lifeline for the industry that was COVID vaccines, many began to ponder the risks involved in a rapidly recovering aviation sector.

Industry regulators, insurers and analysts thus warned airlines of the potential risks when reactivating aircraft and staff following months of subdued demand that left workforces and fleets both grounded.

Specifically, concerns were raised regarding errors in aircraft due to an extended period of time without use, unperformed maintenance, or even insect nests built within a plane’s mechanisms, potentially even blocking sensors.

A Bloomberg report suggested that stood-down and furloughed pilots who are not currently flying regularly could also pose a threat to the industry moving forward, following recent reports of out-of-practice pilots making critical errors.

On 15 September, a Lion Air flight carrying 307 passengers and 11 crew veered off the runway shortly after landing in Medan, sparking investigation by Indonesia’s transport safety regulator.

The investigation found that the pilot had flow less than three hours in total within the previous 90 days, and the first officer had not flown at all since 1 February. Luckily, no one was injured in the runway incident.

MAX gains traction

A number of airlines came out in public support of Boeing and its newly recertified 737 MAX jet by taking delivery of delayed orders and placing new ones, a win for the embattled US planemaker.

European budget airline and major customer Ryanair ordered an additional 75 MAX jets, a deal worth over $9 billion, bringing its total MAX order as high as 210 aircraft.

The order is the largest Boeing has seen on the aircraft since 2018, following the first of two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people, and saw the jet grounded around the world for nearly two years.

“I’ve always had faith that the order book would begin to fill with the return of the industry,” Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said at a signing ceremony in Washington.

As regulators move to clear the aircraft for flight after revisions to cockpit software and pilot training, Boeing is hoping for more eye-catching MAX orders, sources have said.

Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary called the 737 MAX order “the deal of the new century”.

While Ryanair did not disclose what it paid for the jets, at a list price of $125 million per jet, the total order is worth over $9 billion.

Across the pond in the US, airlines publicly welcomed the deliveries of delayed 737 MAX orders, with United Airlines claiming its impending delivery of eight jets will be the “first” since the grounding.

Both United Airlines and American Airlines were expecting to take delivery of new 737 MAX jets within the week.

American Airlines also doubled down on its intentions to return the plane to commercial service as soon as possible, with its first passenger service between Miami and New York booked for 29 December.

Meanwhile, Brazilian airline GOL became the first airline in the world to fly passengers on the Boeing 737 MAX in almost two years.

Brazil’s largest domestic airline, GOL said it will begin using the MAX on routes to and from its hub in São Paulo, the nation’s largest city, although it did not disclose the exact route that will be taken on its first flights.

Flybe to return, Malaysia on the rocks

This month’s non-COVID news included that of Flybe’s potential upcoming return from the dead, as its hedge fund owner re-applied for its UK operating license.

Thyme Opco, a holding company owned by Cyrus Capital, applied for an operating license with the UK Civil Aviation Authority for the regional carrier.

New-York based Cyrus Capital was Flybe’s biggest shareholder, prior to the airline filing for bankruptcy in March, right as the global pandemic hit.

Cyrus set up shell company Thyme Opco last month in order to resuscitate Flybe as a pared-back version of its old self.

On the other end of the spectrum, the fate of Malaysia Airlines is expected to be set by 31 December, when the airline’s parent company is due to finalise its restructuring, according to Malaysia’s deputy finance minister.

Deputy minister Abdul Rahim Bakri informed the Malaysian parliament that the troubled airline is approaching the end of its lengthy restructure, the outcome of which will determine whether or not Malaysian Airlines will continue its operations.

Later in the month, Pakistan International Airlines announced it had officially cleared 110 of its 141 pilots whose license to fly were suspended, following a licensing scandal that suggested pilots had been able to secure their qualifications under false pretences.

Senior advocate Salman Akram Raja informed the Pakistani Supreme Court that the nation’s flag carrier had officially cleared 110 of its pilots of wrong-doing, following its ongoing government inquiry into the legitimacy of its pilots’ licences.

Meanwhile, 15 pilots had their licences cancelled, and a further 14 were declared unfit to fly.

Some cases are still outstanding.

In-flight issues

Another, more unfortunate, theme of the month appeared to be aircraft experiencing some in-flight issues.

A Japan Airlines Boeing 777 heading from Naha Airport in Okinawa to Haneda Airport in Tokyo suffered engine damage and failure shortly after take-off, forcing it to return back to its origin airport.

The failure was reportedly caused by significant damage to the engine, caused when parts of the engine, including its cover, broke up mid-flight.

According to reports, the left engine of the wide-bodied aircraft began to experience difficulties five minutes after departure from Naha, at an altitude of around 18,000 feet.

Passengers onboard Japan Airlines flight 904 reported hearing a loud “boom” at this time, which caused fear throughout the cabin.

The pilots then turned around and made an emergency landing back at Naha Airport.

The plane landed safely, however upon landing it was found that the external cover of the left engine had completely fallen off during the flight, exposing the metallic insides of the engine.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic was forced to cut short a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane after its rocket motor’s ignition sequence failed to complete.

Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company was conducting the third crewed test of its VSS Unity spaceplane into suborbital space when the test was abandoned partway through.

The suborbital spaceplane was carried to an altitude of roughly 44,000 feet by its twin-fuselage mothership, dubbed White Knight 2.

It then detached from the carrier plane around 9:15am local time, but a live video stream appeared to show the engines firing only for a brief moment.

“The ignition sequence for the rocket motor did not complete,” Virgin Galactic said on Twitter.

“Vehicle and crew are in great shape. We have several motors ready at Spaceport America. We will check the vehicle and be back to flight soon.”

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