Will there ever be a new Malev?

On 27/03/2012, in Airline corner, by steve

It is well known now that experts and enthusiasts alike started thinking about a new Hungarian airline almost the day after the sad collapse of the 66 years old icon, Malev. Not much has happened so far, obviously, investing in a new airline is not a high priority for anyone and investing in a new Hungarian airline, with the image of the current government anything but business friendly, is even more of a questionable proposition.

Of course it is not impossible to start a new airline, the Spanish have just done it with a low-fare company that will operate mainly out of Venice in Italy… New airline on the horizon, existing companies struggling… What are the chances for the Hungarians?

For starters, let me quote here the plea of Lufthansa Group member Brussels Airlines made recently to the Belgian government. Brussels Airlines claims that Ryanair has an unfair advantage since they are paying their social contributions according to the Irish rules… even while Ryanair is flying out of Charleroi which is of course on Belgian soil. The jury is still out on this but the situation shows clearly the kind of complications anyone wanting to start a profitable airline will have to face. Why should Ryanair pay the tower-high Belgian rates when they are only flying from here? If Brussels Airlines is unhappy about it, move the company to Ireland… As long as nobody goes against the European Union rules, it is competition, pure and simple.

So, how does one start a new airline in this cut-throat environment and is it worthwhile to try in the first place?

Let’s discuss the second question first.

Having an airline in a given country has advantages way beyond the traditional considerations of tax revenue and traveling convenience. A giant like KLM had spawned aviation related training at Dutch universities, aviation research at the National Aerospace Laboratory and to some extent was the driver for Fokker, the now defunct aircraft builder. It is not an exaggeration to say that there was a whole national aviation culture anchored firmly in the needs of KLM. Even to-day, with KLM owned by Air France, some of the culture remains. Of course not all airlines are like KLM but even a much smaller company can potentially jump-start the aviation culture of a country like Hungary. This culture thing is far more important in the long run than any short term tax revenue! This has to be kept in mind when we consider the how and where of setting up a new airline.

All right, so having an airline is a good thing. But is it financially feasible and sustainable?

Personally I think it is a long shot but not impossible, assuming a number of questions are answered and a number of misconceptions are dispelled.

Government participation

Government ownership in an airline, even if it is a minority one, is a bad thing. Why? We know that both governments and the airline industry work on a boom and bust cycle. Although airlines have learned to smooth their cycles somewhat, they are still subject to the influence of the economic cycles and there is little they can do about that. Governments come and go as dictated by the elections and their priorities are rarely aligned with those of the airline industry.

A good example is Air France which is still 17 % or so owned by the French government. AF is currently in desperate need to slim down and save money but the layoffs this requires are not politically acceptable while France is preparing for its presidential elections. Once that is over, AF will be free to act. In the meantime, Air France-KLM is bleeding red ink.

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It is not easy to work with the airlines – Why the SJU should be careful

On 07/09/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Having airspace users on board in SESAR is an important development by anyone’s measure. Thinking that having individual airlines involved is the same as having the industry involved is a grave mistake that can cost dearly to all concerned.

The signs of trouble are already there. What do you think about there being a hard-won agreement from the airspace users at one or two pretty high level meetings and then the same users withdrawing their agreement just a few weeks later? The result is frustration on the part of the other partners (ANSPs in this case), confusion about where things were going and, worst of all, loss of credibility of the airlines.

It would be easy to wave this away by just saying that the airline people in the meeting were not up to speed with the subjects being discussed and so they agreed to something they did not fully understand. This would be a rather unfortunate situation and no excuse at all but the actual reality is even worse.

The problem is not new and it is called the industry voice, or rather, the lack of it.

Until about a decade ago, IATA had been recognized by its members as the industry voice on all technical aspects of air traffic management. One of the most important, and difficult, tasks of IATA’s experts had been to forge this common voice, bringing together the widely differing interests and business models of the member airlines so that to the outside world only consolidated, well defined requirements were communicated. This was vital because otherwise the ATM and avionics industries would have been totally confused and at a loss as to what they should develop to meet the airlines’ diverse requirements.

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Air France and Hungarian water-melons

On 13/07/2011, in Viewpoint, by steve

While Hungarians are being urged by their Minister of Agriculture to buy a few extra pieces of water-melons, thereby helping local growers, French politicians under the leadership of right-wing MP Bernard Carayon are proclaiming: “Air France is Airbus, not Boeing”. Excuse me?

Of course this incredible folly is a direct retaliation for the US Air Force’s decision to source their tanker aircraft from Boeing and not Airbus. At stake now is Air France-KLM’s fleet renewal involving the purchase or leasing of scores of long and medium range aircraft, a multi-billion euro investment decision.

I very much doubt that either Air France-KLM or Airbus is pleased by this ham-handed and totally uncalled-for political interference which, like all such interferences whether they concern water-melons or aircraft, ultimately will only hurt those it was supposed to help.

One can only hope that the French initiative will stop at being grand-standing and will not in any way influence the airline group’s purchasing decisions. Should this not be the case, the French MPs will have given an extra trump card into the hands of those who had opposed sourcing such a strategic asset as the US Air Force tanker fleet from a company under the thumb of a country known to have its own peculiar way of doing things.

In a post back in February this year, we commented: “I tend to agree with those who have said right from the start that a strategic asset like the tankers for the US Air Force should not come from anywhere else but the US. While from a commercial or even operational point of view an Airbus product may have its merits, having such a strategic asset being dependent on a foreign government (however friendly… ) is not a good idea.”

If (and I stress this is still a big if) Air France-KLM is “encouraged” by the French to buy Airbus rather than Boeing it would be easy to picture what might have happened if the US Air Force equipped with Airbus tankers and then found itself in a conflict somewhere in the world not to the taste of some French parliamentarians…

The French MPs should take the example of the Hungarians and if they feelt this urge to meddle, stay with water-melons.


KLM Fokker 100 lands safely on Schiphol Airport’s panorama terrace

On 03/06/2011, in Just to let you know..., by steve

No, this was not an ATC error or a botched landing. The Fokker 100 is leaving the KLM fleet for good and one of them got a truly special destination for its days in pension.

This Fokker 100 is there not only as a static specimen you can look at from the outside. She continues to welcome people also in her cabin even though she will no longer ply Europe’s airways.

Here is a video of how she was hauled onto the panorama terrace and other interesting details of this nice initiative. Although the clip is in Dutch, the pictures speak for themselves.

By the way, in one corner of the Schiphol shopping mall you will run into parts of a KLM 737’s fuselage… I wonder where the 747s will go once they are withdrawn from service?

Anyway, congratulations Schiphol and KLM, wonderful initiative and a worthy resting place for any airplane!


Getting Knighted for merits in navigation -Theo van de Ven

On 25/11/2010, in Interesting people, by steve

Those who have met Theo van de Ven of KLM will remember him as a gentle guy who nevertheless knows full well what he is about. Always ready to help and to explain things he is the ultimate teacher who is always remembered by his pupils and colleagues alike.

He is currently working at KLM’s ATM Strategy and Charges department which is a part of Flight Ops in Amsterdam.

18 November Theo was giving a presentation to the CROS (Schiphol Regional Coordination Commission) and when he finished, to his huge surprised, the Mayor of Haarlemmermeer, acting on behalf of the Queen, elevated him to the title of Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau. He was awarded this honor for his extraordinary contribution to the progress of aeronautical navigation.

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A kid in the tower, a pilot without license and other things

On 08/03/2010, in Viewpoint, by steve

The unprecedented success of the air transport industry is due mainly to the spectacular improvements in safety booked overt the years. True, the convenience of being able to travel to the other end of Europe for a meeting and back the same day count for a lot, but without the safety factor, few passengers would accept the hassle of endless security queues and legroom appropriate for the shortest 10 % of the population only.

The exemplary safety record is the result of constant vigilance, safety management systems and the responsible attitudes of those working with or around aircraft.

Any disturbance that could negatively affect safety or even the perception of safety would be a disaster to the industry on a scale that would dwarf the effects of the recent financial meltdown in the world.

In a well running system complacency is one of the biggest dangers while it is also one of the most basic treats of the human character. Fighting complacency must be one of the most important items in any safety manager’s kit.

Recently however we seem to be seeing signs of a disturbing trend.

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KLM and Aeroflot take-off from taxi-ways

On 02/03/2010, in View from the left seat, by phil

Strange as it may seem one of the more difficult things that pilots have to deal with is finding their way around airports. Despite ICAO standardisation many obvious things like airport signage are not always the same at every airport, and even if they were, airport layouts will always differ. Surprisingly, navigating the aircraft down through the descent and arrival routes, then flying the approach and landing can often be easier than trying to navigate around the taxiways after vacating the runway. Equally, after all the hassle of getting the passengers on board, completing the checklists, pushing back on time, starting engines and leaving the ramp, finding ones’ way to the runway is not always as easy as it may seem. It really is extraordinary how difficult a seemingly simple task can be!

On the aircraft I used to fly, we had no map displays – only the basic fight instruments and paper charts. We followed our progress around the taxiways as carefully as we could following the charts. But even in good conditions it was surprisingly easy to become confused or to make a mistake. Usually this was resolved very quickly by reference to the marker boards and by checking compass headings, or by asking the tower for help. But sometimes one made a wrong turning, especially in poor visibility, or when everything was covered with snow, or at an unfamiliar airport.

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A taxiway will do… KLM 737 takes-off from Taxiway B in Amsterdam

On 16/02/2010, in Life around runways, by steve

PH-BDP in Warsaw

I do have a trip scheduled to Warsaw… what I pity I was not on KL1369 two days ago! As I said in another article, I am one of the few air travelers who does check the life west (under your seat you know), follows the safety briefing and confirms the nearest exit (may be behind you). I also follow the taxi operation, trying to figure out which runway we would be using…

What a wonderful discovery it would have been to see the 737 line up on a taxiway and take off from there without further ado!

That is exactly what PH-BDP did two days ago around half past eight in the evening in what appears to have been darkness but otherwise good visibility.

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Anniversary – Boeing 747 first revenue flight

On 09/12/2009, in Anniversaries, by steve

40 year anniversary on 22 January 2010



Pan American World Airways is long gone but the 747, into its fifth generation, still strives. Forty years ago on 22 January 1970 it was a Pan Am clipper that introduced this undisputed king of large aircraft to revenue service. N736PA, a 747-100 flew from New York to London and became famous on account of the originally scheduled 747 having had to turn back from the runway due to engine trouble. This rather ominous start of revenue services was quickly forgotten, helped in no small degree by the now legendary reliability of all 747 variants.

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When blue means green

On 27/11/2009, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

The KLM 747 shown below circled The Netherlands for an hour on 23 November with one of its four engines running on a 50 % mix of biokerosene. The new fuel aptly tagged “sustainable kerosene” was manufactured from the camelina plant by a biotechnology company in Seattle, USA.

KLM said that this was the first ever flight in Europe powered partly by sustainable kerosene.

Some 40 people, including politicians, airline officials and journalists, were on board.

KLM stressed that its interest in sustainable kerosene is conditional on the availability of solutions that do not jeopardize the food supply, forests or water resources.

This flight was definitely an important first step towards cleaner and sustainable air transport. The general availability of sustainable kerosene is one aspect that will determine how quickly companies adopt the new fuel.

I have only one nagging question… what color will the contrail be behind a fully bio aero engine? (SMILE)



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