a woman standing in front of a plane

Aviation Weekly: News and Highlights 12-19 December

Top News and Stories this week:

  • Airbus A321XLR Operates 13+ Hour Test Flight
  • Air India Begins Mumbai-SFO Flights Using Former Delta 777-200LRs
  • Virgin Australia Adds Boeing 737 MAX Flights To Tokyo
  • SWISS To Replace Airbus A340s With A350s By 2025
  • Cathay Pacific Gradually Reintroducing First Class
  • Iberia Introduce new A350 Business Class Cabin
  • TUI Launches Fully Funded Pilot Training Scheme In The UK
  • NASA’s SOFIA Boeing 747 Takes Off For The Final Time

Airbus A321XLR Operates 13+ Hour Test Flight

Earlier last week, on the 13th of December, Airbus took its prototype A321XLR on a 13-hour test flight intended to test out the additional fuel system, covering nine separate countries and drawing a large XLR in the sky over the Bay of Biscay.

The aircraft with registration F-WXLR departed Airbus facilities at Toulouse-Blagnac, heading north to demonstrate its long-haul capabilities. After drawing a large XLR in the sky off the Atlantic coast, the aircraft headed north flying towards Ireland, over the UK, then toward Norway, Denmark, Germany, Czechia, Austria, Croatia, and Italy, before eventually returning to France.

a map of europe with red lines

After about 13hr15min of the test flight as part of its certification campaign, the re-engined single-aisle aircraft landed back in Toulouse probably verifying the maturity of the fuel systems (especially the rear center fuel tank).

“The flight is part of the usual testing campaign and has genuine technical objectives for the fuel systems testing and maturity.”


Air India Begins Mumbai-SFO Flights Using Former Delta 777-200LRs

Air India has launched yet another Ultra-Long-Haul flight to the United States between Mumbai and San Francisco which is the first-ever non-stop service between the two cities. This thrice-weekly service was launched on 15th December and it closely follows the launch of Air India’s three times a-week flight between Bengaluru and San Francisco at the beginning of this month.

Moreover, the inaugural Mumbai to San Francisco flight was operated by an ex-Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200LR which entered service with Air India last week. The 777-200LR with registration VT-AEF is one of the five of its type being leased by the Indian Flag Carrier to expand its footmarks in North American destinations. These 777LRs were retired by Delta Airlines at the start of the pandemic.

Currently, Air India operates non-stop flights from Mumbai to Newark, from Delhi to New York, Newark, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Chicago, and from Bengaluru to San Francisco. Mumbai became the third Indian city after Delhi and Bengaluru to have a direct flight to San Francisco.

Virgin Australia Adds Boeing 737 MAX Flights To Tokyo

Virgin Australia has announced a new international route with a daily return of Cairns – Tokyo Haneda service starting on 28th June next year. What makes this route exciting is that it will be operated by a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, making it one of the world’s longest Boeing 737 routes.

With a flight time of over 7 hours and 30 minutes, this 3,638 miles (5,855km) route will be the world’s fourth-longest by MAX aircraft when it eventually takes off. Starting in June 2023, flights VA77/78 will be operated as follows:

  • Cairns-Tokyo Haneda: VA77, 1:15PM-8:00PM (7h 45min block time)
  • Tokyo Haneda-Cairns: VA78, 9:45PM-06:15AM+1 day (7h 30min block time)

Virgin Australia will deploy the 737 MAX jet on this route as it has retired all of its Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, shortly after the start of the pandemic, therefore terminating all long-haul routes.

SWISS To Replace Airbus A340s With A350s By 2025

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) is taking a further step forward in the modernization of its long-haul aircraft fleet by introducing the Airbus A350-900s from 2025 onwards. SWISS’s upcoming five A350s will gradually replace the airline’s remaining four-engined Airbus A340-300s. The five widebodies heading towards SWISS are part of a total order for twenty-five A350-900s which was placed by the Lufthansa Group in 2019.

“We are now in a position to reinvest in the future of our company, in our people, and in the quality that we offer our travelling guests. With this planned substantial modernization of our long-haul aircraft fleet, we are setting a vital course to sustainably maintain our competitive edge over the longer term,” SWISS’ Chief Executive Officer Dieter Vranckx noted.

Currently, SWISS has a widebody fleet comprising 14 Airbus A330-300s, with an average age of 12.3 years, five Airbus A340-300s averaging 19.2 years, and 12 Boeing 777-300ERs, averaging 5.6 years.

Cathay Pacific Gradually Reintroducing First Class

Cathay Pacific is bringing back its first-class service on a handful of routes after a three-year-long hiatus. Cathay relaunched first class on its daily Hong Kong – London flights last week. Furthermore, it will be reintroducing its high-end offerings on flights to Paris from 18th January and flights to Tokyo Haneda starting 1st February, as air travel recovers.

“We are extremely excited to be bringing back our first-class service after an extended absence as the world’s appetite for travel comes roaring back,” stated Vivian Lo, General Manager of Customer Experience and Design at Cathay Pacific.

Cathay Pacific First Class Review
Cathay Pacific First Class

Cathay Pacific only has first-class cabins on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, the majority of which were grounded throughout the pandemic with the airline primarily focusing on flying the Airbus A350s. As Hong Kong gradually lifts its travel restrictions, Cathay Pacific is keen to relaunch first-class service on routes that are popular with premium service.

Iberia Introduce New A350 Business Class Cabin

Initially planned to introduce a new business class suite with doors by December next year, Iberia has already started flying the new business class cabin, around one year ahead of schedule. Iberia partnered with Recaro and chose the CL6720 seat for its new business-class cabin featuring an optional door. The Spanish flag carrier has already been flying the new cabin since 10th December.

Currently, Iberia’s latest Airbus A350 with registration EC-NXE features the new cabin and it has been flying from Madrid to Barcelona, Boston, Düsseldorf, London, and Paris CDG with the new installation.

a room with a computer and desks
New Iberia A350 Business Class
an airplane with seats and a table
New Iberia A350 Business Class

Furthermore, Air China was the launch customer for the evolved CL6720 seat product, an evolution of the CL6710 seat. Besides Air China’s A350s, El Al’s Boeing 787-9s, TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A330-900neos, and Azul’s Airbus A330-900neos also feature the CL6720 seats.

TUI Launches Fully Funded Pilot Training Scheme In The UK

TUI Airways has announced a new TUI Airline Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) Cadet Programme which will commence in September 2023 and see cadet pilots land a job with zero upfront financial commitment. Starting next year, a total of 30 cadet pilots are expected to participate in a 19-month-long program.

The British leisure airline will fully fund the scheme and the training costs will be reclaimed from the pilot’s salary during the first four years of their employment as a Boeing 737 cadet pilot. For this scheme, applicants must pass a five-stage selection process which includes a CV check, online assessments, a one-way digital interview, an in-person assessment day and, finally, a flying test in a light aircraft.

a plane flying over a hill

“The best indicators of future star aviators are aptitude to learn the skills required and professional determination – not access to six-figure sums of money or gender, religion or cultural heritage.”

BALPA General Secretary, Martin Chalk

TUI Airways also confirmed that the post-deduction salary for the first four years would be £32,867 ($40,862) per year.

NASA’s SOFIA Boeing 747 Takes Off For The Final Time

SOFIA – the ambitious project launched in 2010, jointly operated by NASA and Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center) has come to an end with the modified NASA Boeing 747SP completing its final flight last week.

The modified 747SP was widely used for overnight missions from a high altitude of around 45,000 feet, avoiding most of the atmosphere’s water vapour, which provides more precise observations. The former Pan Am and United Airlines Boeing 747 was equipped with a 100-inch telescope.

SOFIA completed its mission and took off for the very last time from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California to its new home at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Before heading towards Arizona, SOFIA performed one last flyby of the area, complete with a wing tilt, to acknowledge everyone in the community who has supported and worked on SOFIA.

“The SOFIA mission may have ended, but the future is bright. SOFIA has made numerous and significant contributions to astrophysics and will continue to do so as our scientific community finds new and creative ways to analyze SOFIA data in the archive.”

Dr Naseem Rangwala, the SOFIA Project Scientist

What was your favourite aviation news and story this week? Let us know in the comment below.