Aviation industry looks to reduced-crew long-haul flights for cost savings

Whilst not seeking to eradicate cockpit crew altogether, Project Connect and other systems could reduce numbers. (AFP/File Photo)
Whilst not seeking to eradicate cockpit crew altogether, Project Connect and other systems could reduce numbers. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 02 September 2021

Aviation industry looks to reduced-crew long-haul flights for cost savings

Whilst not seeking to eradicate cockpit crew altogether, Project Connect and other systems could reduce numbers. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Engineers push the limits of automation as pandemic-induced slump bites
  • Opinion is divided on the wisdom of having fewer pilots on long-haul flights

DUBAI: Machines have revolutionized the customer experience in banks and other financial businesses, supermarkets experiment with unmanned tills and stores, while computers and robots help surgeons perform delicate procedures in operating theaters around the world.

The question then arises: Could a computer fly hundreds of passengers in an aircraft at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet for hours on end, plus handle the landing and take-off?

Computers have long helped pilots through sophisticated auto-pilot and navigational technologies. But pilots actively fly the aircraft at critical points and are on standby throughout a flight.

Now, much as the focus may be on the implications and safety of the driverless car and lorry, studies are underway to determine whether machines can take the place of pilots in the skies.

To be precise, the studies are not looking at whether pilots can be phased out completely but at how many cockpit crew members are needed for a long-haul flight.




A flight crew from Cathay Pacific Airways, wearing protective masks, walk in the international terminal after arriving on a flight from Hong Kong at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 28, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Nadine Itani, an aviation strategy consultant and head of the Middle East Aviation Research Center, defines “a long-haul flight as one that goes beyond six hours,” adding:  “Usually, long-haul flights require a stop somewhere, so you are connecting two points, either directly or through a transit or a stop.”

Airbus and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific are examining a new system known as Project Connect, whereby a reduced cockpit crew of just two pilots fly a long-haul aircraft. Instead of the three or four pilots currently needed to be physically present on all long-haul commercial flights, only one pilot would be in the cockpit at a time with the two taking turns for rest breaks.

Cathay Pacific, in which Swire Group and Air China are the largest shareholders, confirmed that it was working on reduced-crew studies but said that it had no commitment or intention to be the first operator to launch such a program.

Lufthansa of Germany also said it had worked on the program but added that it currently had no plans to introduce it.

Itani pointed out that single-pilot operations were already the norm on small planes with up to nine passengers, private jets, and military aircraft. What was being tested was the ability to apply the same concept to large commercial aircraft and for flights lasting more than six or seven hours long. She added that the requisite computer technology was not currently available to guarantee the safety of aircraft.




Nearly 25,000 pilots were furloughed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but 75 percent of them had returned to their jobs as flight activity had picked up recent months. (AFP/File Photo)

She said: “When we speak of machines, machines have high margins of error and this might lead to accidents, which imposes a risk on safety.

“This is the main challenge that is putting this project back. Until today the research shows that there is no 100 percent secure and safe machine-led or machine-piloted aircraft.”

The reduced-crew concept also has to convince a rigorous array of regulators. Bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, and the EU Aviation Safety Agency would need to approve it, Itani added.

Other experts agreed that single-pilot operations were some way off.

Michael Wette, partner and head of transportation and services for India, the Middle East, and Africa at Oliver Wyman, a consultancy with offices in Dubai and other cities and clients in Riyadh and Jeddah, told Arab News: “Most of the pilots’ organizations and the airline managers we speak to are very skeptical about these independent flying computers.




Computers have long helped pilots through sophisticated auto-pilot and navigational technologies. But pilots actively fly the aircraft at critical points and are on standby throughout a flight. (AFP/File Photo)

“In this, the security aspect of it is the biggest hurdle and issue. The safety of passengers is until today ensured through the professional training and the experience of the pilots, especially when it comes to non-standard situations,” he said.

While there was currently a surplus of pilots, a shortage was expected again soon and Wette noted that technical studies such as Project Connect would likely continue as they had been conducted for some time.

He added that nearly 25,000 pilots were furloughed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but 75 percent of them had returned to their jobs as flight activity had picked up recent months. However, others were still on extended leave and almost 10,000 pilots had taken early retirement packages and left the job market due to the global health crisis.

Project Connect was not new. Itani said the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration started researching the possibility of single pilots flying commercial aircraft in 2012. The pressure to reduce costs had, however, intensified over recent years.

At the best of times, the aviation industry worked on very low-profit margins. It was continually trying to come up with ideas to minimize the cost of operating aircraft by limiting crew salaries and accommodation, training, and recruitment expenses.




Nadine Itani (L), an aviation strategy consultant and head of the Middle East Aviation Research Center and Michael Wette (R), partner and head of transportation and services for India, the Middle East, and Africa at Oliver Wyman. (Supplied)

Crew costs were estimated to be around 25 percent of running an aircraft and were the biggest expense after fuel, Itani added.

The reduced-crew concept had gained new urgency since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The aviation industry had been badly affected. Entire fleets of passenger planes have been grounded, dozens of airlines have filed for bankruptcy, and thousands of pilots are believed to have been laid off.

And travel has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Today’s global average of flight hours supplied was approximately at 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and that included the Gulf region, said Wette. Most travel at present was for leisure or family emergency, not business.

Airbus pointed out that its studies were based on a minimum of two operating crew per flight, and that tests were being conducted in conjunction with regulatory authorities and airline partners.

An Airbus spokesperson told Arab News that safety was a top priority for the giant European aircraft manufacturer and that the new technologies were “not fully mature” and “based on technology availability and maturity, the first potential application of autonomous technologies might be single-pilot operations and only during the cruise phase.”




Cathay Pacific, in which Swire Group and Air China are the largest shareholders, confirmed that it was working on reduced-crew studies but said that it had no commitment or intention to be the first operator to launch such a program. (AFP/File Photo)

The spokesperson said: “With safety and social acceptance being top priorities, Airbus’ mission is not to move ahead with autonomy but to explore autonomous technologies alongside technologies in materials, electrification, connectivity, and more.”

There was also the question of infrastructure. Single pilots in cockpits needed to communicate with the ground in case of emergencies and safety hazards and airports needed to upgrade their radio communications and ground operations, said Itani.

Usually, decisions were taken by collaboration among pilots in cockpits, but when there was just one pilot in control, the pilot required another party to communicate with, apart from a machine.

No Arab airline or Middle East carrier has joined Project Connect but, as sizeable international operators, they are likely to be watching closely. At the current stage, the single-pilot operations system is being tested on Airbus A350 jets.




No Arab airline or Middle East carrier has joined Project Connect but, as sizeable international operators, airlines like Emirates are likely to be watching closely. (AFP/File Photo)

Qatar Airways was the launch customer of the Airbus A350 and has major expansion plans. It is also a part of the Oneworld Alliance of which Cathay Pacific is a member. However, Singapore Airlines is now the biggest customer of A350 planes in terms of its fleet.

Itani said: “Middle Eastern carriers and Middle East airports play a significant role in connecting the east and the west through airports such as Doha, Dubai, and very soon, Madinah and Jeddah.”

If and when the single-pilot operations system wins approval, and the green light is given by the various authorities concerned, airports in the Middle East region as well as Middle Eastern carriers will have a “considerable and important role to play,” she added.

--------------------

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Argentinian exchange gets $50m in latest funding round: Market wrap 

Argentinian exchange gets $50m in latest funding round: Market wrap 
Updated 22 September 2021

Argentinian exchange gets $50m in latest funding round: Market wrap 

Argentinian exchange gets $50m in latest funding round: Market wrap 

Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded lower on Wednesday, falling by 1.185 percent to $42,270.82 at 4:26 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,939.71, down by 3.05 percent, according to data from CoinDesk.

Funding

Argentina-based Latin American exchange Ripio has successfully raised $50 million in its latest Series B funding round.

The exchange, which has a strong position in its home country and Brazil, will use these new funds to expand into other areas of South America, such as Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay later this year.

These funds will also help Ripio continue to grow its Latam brand, after it acquired Bitcointrade, one of the most popular exchanges in Brazil

"For us, this announcement is a natural step that allows us to continue expanding and consolidating our products in the region, with the mission of expanding access to the crypto world, building simple tools and offering quality information and resources to facilitate the path to the new digital economy,” Sebastian Serrano, CEO of Ripio said.

The round had the participation of bitcoin investor Tim Draper, Amplo (investors of Robinhood), Marcos Galperin (CEO of Mercado Libre), and Martin Migoya (CEO of Globant), led by Digital Currency Group (DCG).

 

Bye-bye Binance

Meanwhile, amid worldwide regulatory scrutiny, global crypto exchange Binance has announced that it will stop offering futures contracts, options and leveraged tokens to Australian users within 90 days.

"Effective from 24 September, 9 a.m. (UTC), existing Australian users will have 90 days to reduce and close their positions for these products," Binance explained.

 

Iran urged to change policy 

In Iran, some parliamentarians have set out to change the government’s regulatory stance toward cryptocurrencies, citing opportunities to use them to improve the country’s economy.

They also expressed concerns about Tehran’s restrictive policies toward innovations. 

After the release of a study that recommended a new approach to the crypto industry, lawmakers have called for the adoption of friendlier regulations.

“Taking a restrictive approach only pushes innovative solutions underground,” a spokesman for the council's economic committee, Gholamreza Marhaba, told Iranian media.

He also said: “Our studies show that 50 percent of crypto activities are in the informal market. This is while supportive regulations can help enhance contribution of the digital currency to the economy.”


Al-Falih invites Greek investors to explore opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Al-Falih invites Greek investors to explore opportunities in Saudi Arabia
Updated 22 September 2021

Al-Falih invites Greek investors to explore opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Al-Falih invites Greek investors to explore opportunities in Saudi Arabia
  • An agreement was signed to establish the Saudi-Greek Business Council

RIYADH: Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih on Wednesday said the Kingdom seeks to benefit from Greece’s vast experience in the logistics, tourism and hospitality sectors.

Al-Falih, who is visiting Greece, held a meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Maximos Mansion in Athens.

During the meeting, they discussed bilateral ties and explored ways of expanding growing cooperation between the two countries in various areas.

“The Kingdom’s economy is opening up to the world at an unprecedented pace and volume, and it offers promising investment opportunities for investors from all over the world,” Al-Falih said in a statement.

He invited Greek investors and companies to explore the opportunities in the Kingdom and further strengthen bilateral ties.

“This visit is to confirm that together we can take our current relationship to even greater heights, and I look forward to welcoming more Greek investors to the Kingdom,” he said.

An agreement was signed to establish the Saudi-Greek Business Council, which will work to facilitate bilateral trade and exchange information on investment opportunities.

 


PIF first sovereign wealth fund to issue green bonds, Al-Rumayyan says

PIF first sovereign wealth fund to issue green bonds, Al-Rumayyan says
Updated 22 September 2021

PIF first sovereign wealth fund to issue green bonds, Al-Rumayyan says

PIF first sovereign wealth fund to issue green bonds, Al-Rumayyan says
  • The PIF has been given the mandate to develop nearly 70 percent of renewable projects in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will be the first sovereign wealth fund to issue green bonds, PIF Gov. Yasir Al-Rumayyan said at an event organized by the Future Investment Initiative Institute on Tuesday.

The issuance is part of the fund’s plan of shifting toward green investments.

“The Kingdom aims to deploy 50 percent of its investments in renewable and sustainable power sources,” Al-Rumayyan said.

The PIF has been given the mandate to develop nearly 70 percent of renewable projects in Saudi Arabia through its portfolio companies, the organization’s chief said.

Utilities and renewables are among the 13 sectors identified by the fund as part of its Vision 2030 strategy.

Saudi Arabia has seen a surge of interest in initiatives related to environmental, social, and governance amid growing awareness among global investors about ESG risks.

Al-Rumayyan said PIF was working with BlackRock on the ESG framework.

“We’re working with many partners from all over the world, domestically and internationally, to have better ESG compliance (in) all the things that we do,” Al-Rumayyan said.

One of the companies PIF owns, the Red Sea Development Co. which is building a new beach resort in the kingdom, secured a $3.8 billion green loan earlier this year for new hotels powered by renewable energy.

Saudi Arabia will announce its “Green Initiative” next month, followed by the “Middle East Initiative,” which includes planting 50 billion trees, Al-Rumayyan said.

“We have long-term views. We don’t want to exploit all of our resources overnight,” he said.

The PIF governor said Saudi oil has the lowest emission in the world. “Our oil is the best when it comes to emission,” Al-Rumayyan added.

Saudi Arabia is now more interested to invest in lower impacting energies toward the environment.

“We are one of the most efficient when it comes to sustainability and renewable energy. So today, as I said, our solar power production is costing us only 1.2 cents per kWh versus some other pretty restrictions, it’s over $0.15,” Al-Rumayyan said.


Stocks rebound as Evergrande jitters ease: Reuters

Stocks rebound as Evergrande jitters ease: Reuters
Updated 22 September 2021

Stocks rebound as Evergrande jitters ease: Reuters

Stocks rebound as Evergrande jitters ease: Reuters

U.S. and European stocks churned higher on Wednesday as market jitters around property developer China Evergrande eased, while the dollar index edged lower ahead of a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting, Reuters has reported.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.62 percent, bouncing back for a second day after it logged its biggest one-day percentage drop in two months on Monday.

Wall Street's main indexes moved higher in early Wednesday trade following solid gains for markets in Europe.

China Evergrande agreed to settle interest payments on a domestic bond, while the Chinese central bank injected cash into the banking system, soothing investors' fears of imminent contagion from the debt-laden property developer that had pressured equities and other riskier assets at the start of the week.

"Right or wrong, people I think are starting to show signs that they think maybe this pullback has reached its worst point," said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas. "It wasn't entirely the Evergrande situation, but it seems like that was one of the biggest pieces of it."

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 361.36 points, or 1.07 percent, to 34,281.2, the S&P 500 gained 37.02 points, or 0.85 percent, to 4,391.21 and the Nasdaq Composite added 88.66 points, or 0.6 percent, to 14,835.06.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.93 percent, with bank stocks surging.

With a number of central banks around the world meeting this week, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) offered a bleaker view on exports and output as Asian factory shutdowns caused supply bottlenecks, but maintained its optimism that robust global growth would keep the economic recovery on track. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda also brushed aside fears that the debt problems of Evergrande could disrupt the global financial system.

Investors were closely watching the Fed, with the U.S. central bank expected to clear the way on Wednesday for reductions to its monthly asset purchases later this year.

The dollar index fell 0.102 percent, with the euro up 0.16 percent to $1.1742. The Japanese yen weakened 0.32 percent versus the greenback at 109.56 per dollar.

Benchmark U.S. 10-year notes last rose 1/32 in price to yield 1.3209 percent, from 1.324 percent late on Tuesday.

Oil prices climbed after industry data showed U.S. crude stocks fell more than expected last week after two hurricanes, highlighting tight supply as demand improves.

U.S. crude rose 1.93 percent to $71.85 per barrel and Brent was at $75.77, up 1.9 perncet on the day.

Spot gold dropped 0.1 percent to $1,773.31 an ounce, after three sessions of gains.

 


Burgerizzr pays $2.1m in cash dividends in H1

Burgerizzr pays $2.1m in cash dividends in H1
Updated 22 September 2021

Burgerizzr pays $2.1m in cash dividends in H1

Burgerizzr pays $2.1m in cash dividends in H1

Burgerizzr board of directors have signed off on SR8 million ($2.1 million) in cash dividends for the first half of 2021, according to a filing.

The pay-out — worth SR 3.2 per share - come as the restaurant chain’s profits increased by 16 percent to SR6.49 million ($1.73 million) during the first half of this year.

Burgerizzr, run by Shatirah House Restaurant Company, saw its net profits rise thanks to the opening of 13 new branches in the period to the end of June 2021.

Financing costs and losses on the disposal of property and equipment also decreased, according to Tadawul.

The total income of the company amounted to SR24.4 million in the first half of this year, up 28 percent compared to SR19 million during the same period in 2020.

The operating profit amounted to SR7 million, up 5 percent, compared to SR6.8 million for H1 last year.

Earnings per share during the period amounted to SR2.6, compared to SR2.25 during the first six months of last year.