Matthys Serfontein Rejoins SITA to Head Up the Americas

SITA announced the appointment of Matthys Serfontein as president, Americas. Serfontein returns to SITA after a two-year hiatus to drive SITA’s growth in the Americas, where travel has rebounded sharply in the wake of the pandemic. SITA says Serfontein will be key to bringing their vision of greater agility, efficiency and sustainability to the air transport industry through digitalization. 

Serfontein has many years of experience in the aviation sector addressing portfolio and business development, previously having served as president of Air Travel Solutions at SITA, where he oversaw the development of SITA’s airport and border solutions. Prior to that he served as regional vice president for Airport Solutions in Africa. Before joining SITA, he held several senior management positions at Airports Company South Africa, e.Airports Ltd, and OSI Airport Systems.

“I’m delighted to welcome Matthys back on board. SITA has invested in new solutions that help our customer airports and airlines optimize the passenger experience, maximize efficiency, and keep both environmental and financial sustainability at the heart of their operations. The Americas team, under Matthys’s stewardship, will help bring these exciting benefits to customers in the region,” David Lavorel CEO, SITA said.

“As travelers return to the skies, our customers are eyeing digitalization as the key to returning to growth while meeting the new expectations of today’s passenger,” Serfontein said. “With its innovative portfolio, SITA is uniquely positioned to support them. SITA has been, and continues to be, a trusted partner to the industry, and I look forward to this new opportunity to build on our exciting partnerships with customers in the Americas.”

Meanwhile Back on Earth…

Meanwhile Back on Earth…

Ice shelves in Antarctica produce icebergs regularly but experts say it’s less common for an ice shelf to completely disintegrate. But that’s exactly what happened in March. An ice shelf in East Antarctica collapsed and that has reshaped part of Antarctica that was once thought to be stable. Images of the occurrence were acquired with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

Whether you are on the science side of climate change or not, it is hard to refute such clear evidence that something is happening within our environment. I’m of the opinion that it is better to try and address it in every way possible now, if we can with transformational change.

On April 22, the world will hold its annual Earth Day event.

That organization, Earthday.org, says its mission is “to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earthday.org is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 150,000 partners in over 192 countries to drive positive action for our planet.”

The group says it is time for the world to take “bold, creative and innovative steps” toward solving the environmental crisis.

Although sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been around for 15 or more years and the first flight utilizing it happened in 2008, only now is it beginning to be widely embraced. The pandemic of course put a two-year pause on progress in this area and airline passenger traffic is still below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But now that travel is ticking up, more airlines are making promises to their customers to make strides in addressing their environmental impact.

For example, Delta says its goal of fueling 10% of its operation with sustainable aviation fuel by the end of 2030, is getting closer by the signing of an agreement with SAF maker Gevo that significantly expands the availability of the alternative fuel. Through the agreement, Delta expects to receive roughly 75 million gallons of SAF annually for seven years, anticipated to start mid-2026. Many airlines are making similar commitments.

With that in mind we present to you our cover story on sustainable aviation fuels written by Ian Harbison. Harbison looks at the driving forces and the challenges behind this movement towards the use of SAF. He says that finally, the aviation industry is taking environmental concerns seriously — thank goodness — and the story explores what leaders like Airbus, Pratt & Whitney, Delta, Air bp, Neste and others are doing to mitigate environmental impact using SAF. See his story on page 58.

In this jam-packed issue, we also take a look at the commercialization of space. This is an incredibly exciting time in the space realm. Companies like Axiom Space, Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX and many others are making tremendous headway in the area.

With the convergence of factors like NASA expanding public-private partnerships and a select group of companies stepping up to take advantage of the atmosphere (pun intended), some are succeeding at the enormous tasks of providing NASA with the services it used to tightly control. The governmental monopoly on space activity seems to be ending. The commercialization of space is underway.

In our story, learn about the importance of Axiom’s Ax-1, which launched April 8. It is the first of several planned missions the company will make to the International Space Station. The company says that launch is an important step toward their goal of constructing a private space station in low Earth orbit that can serve as a global academic and commercial hub. See that story by Jim McKenna on page 50.

Next please take a moment to read Aimée Turner’s detailed — and even spicy — report on CPDLC. Who knew this topic could be so intriguing? Controllers can now deliver clearances with a click of a mouse — no need to use voice frequencies. Are these advances paving the way for an aircraft’s FMS to receive the complex digital instructions needed to make TBO a reality?

As with all things complex, there are many layers to the implementation of highly technical avionics systems across multiple jurisdictions. Turner spoke to industry insiders who understand the history and explained the intricate details of where this process is right now. That story starts on page 24.

We also have a look at blockchain. Blockchain seems to have a lot of mystery surrounding it. Blockchain for aviation, especially for maintenance, can provide improved solutions for tracking aircraft parts. But the industry seems hesitant to proceed. Read our look at how this technology could be a trustworthy, robust solution to parts tracking, if only the industry will embrace it. This article, by James Careless, starts on page 36.

Next, we explore telemetry testing. In flight test development the need for data is constant and telemetry, the process of recording and transmitting date, is critical for the aviation industry to deliver new products. Wireless transmission and reception of flight test data are de rigueur but flight test instrumentation has changed dramatically over the last decade.

In this story Jeff Guzzetti explains how the makers of telemetry testing equipment have adapted to keep pace with the technological advances happening at ever-increasing speed. See it on page 44.

Tomorrow.io Announces Former JetBlue COO As Speaker At Third Annual Weather and Climate Security Event

Tomorrow.io announced Jeff Martin, CEO of Aero Design Labs and a former executive at JetBlue, WestJet, and Southwest will speak at the third annual ClimaCon event.

Martin will provide in-depth knowledge and insight into the aviation industry’s path to carbon-neutral, the importance of adopting new, innovative technologies, and what airlines can expect to face this upcoming year in regard to weather concerns.

As president and CEO of Aero Design Labs, Martin has over 30 years of executive leadership in the airline/MRO sector, having served as the chief operating officer for Westjet Airlines, the executive vice president of operations for JetBlue Airways, and the vice president of OCC Operations at Southwest Airlines. Martin is also a United States Air Force veteran who served as an officer/military pilot.

In addition to his executive responsibilities, Martin is captain qualified on the DC-10-30, Boeing- 737, and Airbus 320/321 fleet of aircraft. He served on the Congressional NextGen Advisory Board, MITRE Advisory Group, and led the audit committee for Lasalle Hotels as an independent board member. He is also a past recipient of the Williams Trophy Innovation in aviation award for his efforts in airspace modernization and airline carbon reduction.

“Jeff and his team bring a critical perspective on the importance of airlines adopting new technologies while also driving sustainable operations,” said Scott Gilmore, general manager of aviation with Tomorrow.io. “His extensive knowledge in the aviation industry makes his insight invaluable for any aviation professional.”

Martin will join Dan Slagen, Tomorrow.io’s chief marketing officer at ClimaCon 2022 on May 11. The virtual conference is a two-day event that brings together the brightest minds and most notable voices across all industries to discuss topics like global weather impact, weather intelligence, ESG, sustainability, and climate adaptation and security.

JetBlue Submits Proposal to Acquire Spirit

JetBlue has submitted a proposal to the Board of Directors of Spirit to acquire Spirit for $33 per share in cash, implying a fully diluted equity value of $3.6 billion and providing full and certain value to Spirit shareholders. The proposal represents a premium of 52% to Spirit’s undisturbed share price on February 4, 2022, and a premium of 50% to Spirit’s closing share price on April 4, 2022. JetBlue says it firmly believes its proposal constitutes a “superior proposal” under Spirit’s merger agreement with Frontier and represents the most attractive opportunity for Spirit’s shareholders.

The combination of the two airlines would position JetBlue as the most compelling national low-fare challenger to the four large dominant U.S. carriers by accelerating JetBlue’s growth and expanding the reach of the “JetBlue Effect,” which occurs when legacy carriers react to JetBlue’s unique combination of low fares and award-winning customer service with lower fares. JetBlue triggers significantly greater fare decreases from legacy airlines when it enters a new market than when ultra-low-cost carriers enter a market.

“Customers shouldn’t have to choose between a low fare and a great experience, and JetBlue has shown it’s possible to have both,” said Robin Hayes, JetBlue CEO. “When we grow and introduce our unique value proposition onto new routes, legacy carriers lower their fares and customers win with more choice. The combination of JetBlue and Spirit – coupled with the incredible benefits of our Northeast Alliance with American Airlines – would be a game changer in our ability to deliver superior value on a national scale to customers, crewmembers, communities, and shareholders. The transaction would accelerate our strategic growth and create sustained, long-term value for the stakeholders in both companies.”

Boeing Announces Senior Leadership Updates

Boeing announced Ted Colbert as president and chief executive officer of its Defense, Space and Security business. Colbert succeeds Leanne Caret who is retiring following nearly 35 years of exceptional service with The Boeing Company. Stephanie Pope has been appointed as president and CEO of Boeing Global Services (BGS), succeeding Colbert.

“We are grateful for Leanne’s dedicated service and I’d like to thank her for her outstanding contributions to our industry, our customers, our company and our employees over her extraordinary career at Boeing,” said Dave Calhoun, Boeing president and CEO.

As president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security (BDS), Colbert will oversee all aspects of the company’s business unit that provides technology, products and solutions for defense, government, space, intelligence, and security customers worldwide. BDS had 2021 revenue of $26 billion.

“Throughout his career, Ted Colbert has consistently brought technical excellence and strong and innovative leadership to every position he has held,” said Calhoun. “Under his leadership, BGS has assembled an excellent leadership team focused on delivering safe and high-quality services for our defense and commercial customers. His leadership track record and current experience supporting the defense services portfolio ideally position Ted to lead BDS.” 

As president and CEO of Boeing Global Services, Pope, who is currently Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief financial officer, will lead the company’s business unit that provides aerospace services for commercial, government and aviation industry customers worldwide, focused on global supply chain and parts distribution, aircraft modifications and maintenance, digital solutions, aftermarket engineering, analytics and training. BGS had 2021 revenue of $16 billion. Prior to her assignment as BCA CFO, Pope was chief financial officer of BGS and was part of the business when it was established in 2017.

“Stephanie brings decades of wide-ranging business and financial leadership to her new role,” said Calhoun. “Given her significant experience in all aspects of BGS, Stephanie’s deep understanding of the global services portfolio since its inception and the needs of BGS customers will help accelerate this meaningful business.”

Colbert and Pope’s new assignments will be effective April 1. Until her retirement later this year, Caret will serve as executive vice president and senior advisor to the CEO, reporting to Calhoun, to support the leadership transition, business continuity and critical talent acquisition efforts.

FAA Administrator Dickson Announces He is Leaving Agency

Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson announced he will be leaving the agency at the end of March. A former Delta Air Lines captain and operations vice president of that airline, Dickson came to FAA after taking retirement from his position at the Atlanta-based airline. Although Dickson faced a tough couple of years coming in amidst the Boeing 737 Max tragedies, the COVID pandemic and the worst spate of unruly passengers in aviation history, he handled all with aplomb. He is only a little over two years into a five year term. Dickson released the following statement:

“By now, most of you have heard that I will be stepping down as FAA Administrator as of March 31. As I expressed to FAA employees in an email sharing my decision, it’s time for me to go back to Atlanta, where my wife, Janice, and my family have been keeping a light on for me. It started as a porch light, but it’s become a search light, calling me home. 

As I also told the nearly 45,000 FAA employees, I am tremendously proud of the work we’ve accomplished over a very short time. We put this agency on firm footing to excel and prosper in the 21st century and beyond. We made, and we continue to make, our global aviation system safer from the hard lessons learned from the 737 MAX; we kept the skies open and safe despite tremendous odds when COVID-19 shut down the global transportation network, and we continue to make sure the safety of the aviation industry and the insatiable desire for connectivity can coexist.

And despite all of the crises, this dedicated workforce shared my vision for modernizing our approach to safety and revitalizing and reinvigorating our workforce, in part through our Flight Plan 21 initiative, which is now well underway. We’re safely integrating exciting new forms of transportation—drones, flying taxies, automated aircraft and spacecraft, to name a few. I’m not exaggerating when I call this the most exciting time in aerospace since the advent of the jet engine, and maybe even the Wright Brothers.

I said hello to many intelligent and diverse new people in our workforce, and said goodbye to too many wonderful souls, taken from us much too early by COVID-19. 

I’m particularly grateful for the time I’ve spent with the next generation, who will lead us into the future. You can’t help but feel hope for humanity when you see their unbridled optimism for what’s possible in an equitable world, and where we might travel together as a nation in the future. Ad astra—to the stars!

Please know that although I will leave the FAA at the end of next month, I will always be an advocate for the agency’s work and our shared commitment to aviation safety.”

The Biden Administration will begin a search for his replacement.

Raytheon Technologies Appoints Calio as COO and Names Eddy as President of Pratt & Whitney

Raytheon Technologies Corporation announced the appointment of Christopher T. Calio as chief operating officer and named Shane G. Eddy to succeed Calio as president of its Pratt & Whitney business unit, effective March 1, 2022.

Christopher T. Calio

As COO, Calio will oversee the company’s four business units as well as its technology and engineering; enterprise services and digital; and operations, quality, environmental, health and safety and supply chain functions. Calio will continue to report directly to chairman and CEO Greg Hayes.

“Chris is a tested leader who has successfully steered Pratt & Whitney through one of the most dynamic and challenging periods in aerospace history,” said Raytheon Technologies chairman and CEO Greg Hayes. “He has guided strategic investments and delivered industry-leading innovation across commercial and military programs. As we execute on our strategy, including our commitment to develop talent across the organization, Chris’ experience and leadership will help advance the company’s growth and transformation initiatives.”

Shane G. Eddy

With over 20 years of executive leadership experience, Calio has spent the past decade in aerospace and defense. In his most recent position as President of Pratt & Whitney, he oversaw the significant ramp and introduction of numerous product enhancements, including the recent introduction of the GTF Advantage engine as well as the F135 program.

Shane Eddy, currently SVP and chief operations officer at Pratt & Whitney, replaces Calio as president of Pratt & Whitney.

“Shane’s significant aerospace industry leadership experience and in-depth understanding of Pratt & Whitney’s products and culture makes him the ideal leader to take the business through its next phase of growth,” said Hayes. “Building on his proficiency running global operations, Shane’s management and operational expertise will help drive continued optimization of the business.”

Eddy joined Pratt & Whitney in 2016, with prior experience at GE Aviation, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Bell Textron. 

Low-Cost Carriers Spirit and Frontier to Merge

Spirit and Frontier Airlines announced a plan to merge which will spawn the fifth largest airline in the U. S.  The deal is valued at $6.6 billion and the two companies have yet to say if they will take one brand or the other as the end livery under which they will operate.

With the merger, the new company would operate more than 1,000 flight a day and would fall behind American, Delta, United and Southwest becoming larger than JetBlue and Alaska Air.

 “The stronger financial profile of the combined company will empower it to accelerate investment in innovation and growth and compete even more aggressively, especially against the dominant ‘Big Four’ airlines, among others,” said a press release sent out the morning of the announcement.

William A. Franke, the Chair of Frontier’s Board of Directors and the managing partner of Indigo Partners, Frontier’s majority shareholder, noted that Indigo has a long history with both Spirit and Frontier, and is proud to partner with them in creating a disruptive airline. “We worked jointly with the Board of Directors and senior management team across both carriers to arrive at a combination of two complementary businesses that together will create America’s most competitive ultra-low fare airline for the benefit of consumers.”

“We are thrilled to join forces with Frontier to further democratize air travel,” said Ted Christie, President and CEO of Spirit. “This transaction is centered around creating an aggressive ultra-low fare competitor to serve our Guests even better, expand career opportunities for our Team Members and increase competitive pressure, resulting in more consumer-friendly fares for the flying public. We look forward to uniting our talented teams to shake up the airline industry while also continuing our commitment to excellent Guest service.”

“This combination is all about growth, opportunities and creating value for everyone – from our Guests to our Team Members to the flying public at large,” said Mac Gardner, Chairman of the Board of Spirit. “We’re a perfect fit – our businesses share similar values, including our longstanding commitment to affordable travel. At the same time, we have complementary footprints and fleets, including one of the youngest and greenest fleets worldwide. Together, we will be even more competitive for our Guests and our Team Members, and we are confident we can deliver on the benefits of this combination to consumers.”

“Together, Frontier and Spirit will be America’s Greenest Airline and deliver more ultra-low fares to more people in more places,”said Barry Biffle, President and CEO of Frontier. “I couldn’t be more excited for our team members, customers, partners, the communities we serve and our shareholders.”

Spirit and Frontier reported losses during pandemic, as has most of the U. S. airline industry. There may be some regulatory hurdles to jump through before the merger will be approved by federal antitrust regulators. The Biden administration recently blocked an agreement between American and JetBlue that was not a full merger.

5G Fiasco

5G Fiasco

Some major U. S. airlines warned of potentially devastating disruptions, and other international airlines canceled flights into the U. S. due to the recent rollout of 5G service in the United States. But, only minor disruptions were reported on the first day of the rollout of new 5G networks in cities across the United States. Some regional airlines will have to wait for clearance to fly into certain airports where interference was predicted to affect them during bad weather.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said 5G deployment involves a new combination of power levels, frequencies, proximity to flight operations, and other factors, and therefore the agency “must impose restrictions on flight operations using certain types of radio altimeter equipment close to antennas in 5G networks.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a statement saying this: “Nearly two years ago, the FCC — the expert agency charged by Congress with regulating wireless carriers’ transmissions — authorized C-Band operations pursuant to a detailed, 258-page regulatory decision. The FCC’s order adopted comprehensive rules that safeguard aeronautical services from any harmful interference. It was a decision based on sound engineering, good process, and real-world experience, including the fact that C-Band operations are live in nearly 40 countries today without any negative impacts on aviation. And it was part of a broader set of smart policies that positioned the United States to lead the world in 5G.”

The statement from that agency goes on to blame the Biden Administration for a lack of leadership on the issue adding, “This is a setback for U.S. leadership in 5G. Indeed, the negative consequences that flow from this type of dysfunctional process are not limited to the facts of this case. It is going to make it even harder for the U.S. to reach and stick with sound spectrum decisions going forward.”

Meanwhile, as concerns grew and the rollout neared, FAA, FCC and service providers AT&T and Verizon tried to patch up hard feelings and struck a deal with the help of the White House to limit the rollout at certain airports to preempt problems that might be caused by the C-band frequencies being used.

Other providers like TMobile jumped to disavow their networks’ use of the frequencies in question. A statement from TMobile said this: “5G and aviation safety have been in the headlines lately, and it’s causing some confusion that we want to help clear up. First, I want to be clear that T-Mobile’s 5G network, already covering over 1.7 million square miles and 310 million people nationwide, and our customers are not affected by this. While headlines talk about ‘5G,’ this issue is really with one specific frequency of spectrum called C-band, which T-Mobile 5G does not use today.”

To be clear, the C-band frequencies are very near to the frequencies used by radar altimeters, leading to the concerns about interference. And the aviation community rightly raised concerns about the potential for interference, as did the FCC. But, 40 countries in Europe, Asia and many other parts of the world had already implemented their 5G service with no negative impacts to flight operations.

And to give credit where due, the FCC did also raise the concern much earlier on in this process.

Yes, the airspace around airports in the U. S. is some of the most complex in the world. And other countries used lower power levels (the U. S. 5G is 2.5 times stronger than that used in France, for example), have adjusted antennas, used different placements of those antennas to reduce interference and used frequencies that were farther from the aviation equipment that could be affected.

So where do things stand now?

Nearly 90% of the rollout of 5G took place. Some areas near some airports will have delays for 5G service. The FAA said it is working with airlines and the telecommunications industry to ensure that radio signals from the newly activated wireless systems can coexist safely with flight operations in the U. S.

5G service near the airports of concern will be tested and the service implemented as it is determined safe or solutions found for any issues. As of late January, 78% of the U.S. commercial fleet, which includes some regional jets, was cleared to be able to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band, and the percentage was increasing.

However, the FAA said they “do anticipate some altimeters will be too susceptible to 5G interference. To preserve safety, aircraft with those altimeters will be prohibited from performing low-visibility landings where 5G is deployed because the altimeter could provide inaccurate information.”

The FAA was quick to deflect blame for the confusion and delays, saying, “The FAA, the aviation industry, telecommunications companies, and their regulators, have been discussing and weighing these interference concerns for years, in the U.S. and internationally. Recent dialogue has helped to establish information sharing between aviation and telecommunications sectors and newly agreed measures to reduce the risk of disruption, but these issues are ongoing and will not be resolved overnight.”

As we went to press, the FAA issued this statement: “Through continued technical collaboration, the FAA, Verizon, and AT&T have agreed on steps that will enable more aircraft to safely use key airports while also enabling more towers to deploy 5G service. The FAA appreciates the strong communication and collaborative approach with wireless companies, which have provided more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments. The FAA used this data to determine that it is possible to safely and more precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are mitigated, shrinking the areas where wireless operators are deferring their antenna activations. This will enable the wireless providers to safely turn on more towers as they deploy new 5G service in major markets across the United States.”

Boom to Build Proposed SST in Greensboro, North Carolina

Supersonic airliner developer Boom Aerospace will receive more than $12 million in aid from North Carolina authorities to build a factory on a 1,000-acre site at Piedmont Triad International Airport for manufacturing its proposed Mach 1.7, 65-88-passenger Overture.

Guilford County, home to the Greensboro, N.C. airport, today approved $12 million in tax incentives for the Centennial, Colorado-based company, according to local news reports, and Greensboro’s city council followed with approval of a $1,500-per-job tax credit for Boom. If that company hires all of the employees that N.C. officials envision, the city tax credit could be worth more than $2.5 million.

North Carolina’s state legislation in December appropriated $106.75 million for the airport to prepare up to 1,000 acres for a manufacturing plant. Of that amount, $56.75 million must be used to construct one or more hangars; $15 million is for site work and $35 million for roadwork improvements by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The North Carolina aid requires Boom invest up to $500 million in the facility and employ up to 1,700 workers at the site.

Boom earlier this month began ground testing its single-seat, 73-foot-long XB-1 demonstrator at Colorado’s Centennial Airport. That include the first of about 10 runs of its three GE 4,300-pound-thrust J85-15 turbojets.

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