Boeing Making Additional Software Changes to Grounded 737 MAX

Boeing officials announced Tuesday it would be making two additional software updates to its fleet of grounded 737 MAX airplanes as the company works to gain regulatory approval to resume flights.

According to Reuters.com, Boeing said the issues involved possible faults in the flight control computer microprocessor and the potential disengagement of the autopilot feature during final approach.

The airplane manufacturer said the software update would remedy both issues, neither of which had been observed in flight. Company officials said they changes shouldn’t interfere with the forecasted mid-year return of the grounded MAX fleet to service.

While Boeing remains optimistic about getting the 737 back in the air, the Federal Aviation Administration revealed Tuesday it is still working with the company and that it “must demonstrate compliance with all certification standards.”

Sources told Reuters a critical certification test flight scheduled for April could be pushed back to May or later.

Boeing announced Sunday it would indefinitely shut down its Seattle-area airplane production due to the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The federal government also asked Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to accept federal assistance after he previously denied the possibility of government equity stakes in exchange for the aid.

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American Airlines Updates Travel Waiver Policies

As the aviation industry continues to feel the impact of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, American Airlines announced changes to its travel waiver policies to provide customers with additional flexibility.

Officials from American revealed they had extended the carrier’s offer to waive change fees for customers who booked summer travel through September 30, which is available for any of the airline’s fares.

Customers taking advantage of the expanded travel waivers will have until December 31, 2021, to complete their rescheduled travel. The carrier said fare rules may still apply, depending on the ticket.

As for travelers who booked on or before April 7 for flights through September 30, they will not be forced to pay change fees, but must pay any fare difference at time of ticketing, if applicable.

In addition, American customers will be allowed to change their origin and destination cities as part of this expanded offer and all AAdvantage award tickets have been included in the policy changes.

The airline also announced customers who purchase new travel through May 31 would have their change fees waived, with the offer being made available for any of the carrier’s published nonrefundable fares.

American officials said any ticket purchased between March 1 and May 31 would not incur change fees before travel.

Last week, the United States Transportation Department issued an order to airlines to refund tickets for canceled or significantly altered flights.

Officials said the “longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control.”

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United Faces Class-Action Lawsuit

A Minnesota police officer has filed a class-action lawsuit against United Airlines, saying he was denied a refund for three tickets even though it was the airline – not him – who canceled an April 4 flight due to the carrier reducing flights over the coronavirus.

Jacob Rudolph had purchased three tickets in January totaling $1,521 for a flight from Minneapolis to Hilton Head, S.C. When United canceled the flight, the airline told Rudolph he could either rebook his flight for another time or receive credit in that exact amount for future travel.

Rudolph wanted his money back in payment. When the carrier balked, he filed suit in Chicago federal court this week.

“United has engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct through its policy to refuse refunds, limiting and forcing customers into a rebooked flight or travel voucher instead of returning their money,” part of the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed as class-action, meaning other passengers who were denied cash refunds could join in. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages from United and coverage of legal fees.

United, which like virtually every other airline has cut back service almost 80 percent due to the low demand for travel right now, declined to comment on the lawsuit other than to issue a statement noting that “Eligible travelers on domestic flights – and customers with international tickets – can request a refund on United.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.”

That’s a new policy likely triggered by last week’s government intervention. The United States Transportation Department announced Friday it has issued an order to airlines to refund tickets for canceled or significantly altered flights.

This came after hundreds, if not thousands, of frustrated customers and travel agents demanded action.

Whether Rudolph’s lawsuit proceeds forward now or the airline makes good on a cash refund remains to be seen, but the problem of vouchers or credits isn’t just aviation exclusive. Last week, a New York City school filed a lawsuit against the famed Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, saying the resort refused to refund a $2.3 million down payment for a 10-day Passover trip for 1,200 students, parents and staff. The school said it had to cancel due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, as well as shelter-in-place orders in both New York and Florida.

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Delta Air Lines Updates Travel Waiver Policies

Delta Air Lines announced Friday it has updated its travel waiver policies to make it easier for customers to cancel, change or rebook flights as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

To give travelers reassurance about upcoming flights and to help impacted customers, Delta is extending the ability to plan and rebook for up to two years, secure the value of the tickets and ensure they’re redeemable for a longer period.

While the airline’s tickets typically expire one year after purchase, Delta officials are providing waived change fees and greater flexibility to travel through May 31, 2022.

To be eligible, customers must have upcoming travel already booked in April or May as of April 3 or have existing eCredits or canceled travel from flights in March, April or May. New tickets bought between March 1 and May 31 can be changed without a change fee for up to a year from the date of purchase.

Delta also announced it would work with customers on a case-by-case basis to figure out the best way to address their concerns. Changes can be made through the airline’s Fly Delta app, online or through the company’s customer service department.

Earlier this week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian reached out to customers with an emailed letter outlining what the airline has done and what it intends to do going forward, including free flights for medical personnel and an enhanced cleaning process.

Bastian also said last week that while the early $60 billion in aid from the government’s $2 trillion stimulus package would be a huge help, he knows it is “not a cure for the unprecedented challenges we face.”

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Southwest Renews Nationwide Sale With Flights From $39 One-Way

Southwest Airlines is bringing back discounted flights from as low as $39 one-way and $78 roundtrip this spring.

The latest nationwide sale runs now through Thursday, April 2 at 11:59 p.m. CT.

Sale fares are valid on continental U.S. travel from April 21 through June 6 and between August 18 and October 30; interisland Hawaii travel from April 21 through May 20; travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico between April 21 and May 14 and from September 8 through October 30 and international travel from August 18 through October 30.

The flight deals require a 21-day advance purchase and continental U.S. travel is blacked out May 21-22, May 25, September 4 and September 7 during Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

Travelers will find the cheapest fares starting from $39 one-way on interisland Hawaii routes such as Honolulu to Kona as well as select continental U.S. routes like Atlanta-Orlando. Customers who act fast can even fly nonstop roundtrip between Fort Lauderdale and Cancun for $200.

Contact your travel advisor or visit Southwest.com to filter flight deals by your departure city.

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Coronavirus will lead to influx of private jets for sale, says industry chief

The executive chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association said some members won’t survive the crisis

The economic impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak could see some business jet companies go out of business and will likely lead to an increase in second-hand private jets coming on to the market, industry experts said.

Ali Ahmed Alnaqbi, founding and executive chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), told Arabian Business in an interview that business for corporate jet companies had initially been up, due to people flying back to their home bases, but now almost all private jets in the region are grounded.

As a result, he believes it is likely some of his members would not be able to survive the economic impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

“Honestly speaking, sadly yes, you will not be able to continue support without income. It all depends where you are geographically. A lot of governments have created a supportive budget for the private sector and the government sector. This is going to help,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t want to see that, but we have seen companies let employees go on leave and some of them have been let go.”

The UAE has rolled out a $34 billion stimulus package to fend off the impact of the coronavirus. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) on Monday confirmed 41 new cases of the Covid-19 virus in the UAE, bringing the country’s total to 611.

Mohammed Al Husary, executive president and owner of UAS International Trip Support, a Dubai-based company which offers global support for heads of state, VVIPs and business jet operators when they fly, agreed that the industry had seen an impact, but said the worst was not yet over.

“To be honest with you, up until the beginning of March the situation has been really normal, seemed like last year, because the shut down and ban on travel had not taken wide effect,” he said.

“But, as of the 15th of March we [noticed] a bit of a decline in the commercial and the VIP operations. The decline we’re talking about is not as huge as people might expect, because up until this moment, there are still some evacuation flights happening…I think the biggest impact is yet to materialise. I think this will materialise probably towards the beginning of April.”

When asked by Arabian Business if the companies going under would lead to an influx of private jets coming on to the second-hand market in the Middle East, Alnaqbi agreed.

“Yes, I think that’s going to happen,” he said, “but the secondary market means going back to the banks [as] most of [private jets] are financed”.

In December, before the full impact of Covid-19 was felt, Alnaqbi was buoyant about the future of the industry.

“The air traffic in Dubai is currently around 15,000 movements, and this is expected to double to at least 30,000 due to the event,” he told Arabian Aerospace, adding that the UAE accounted for a quarter of the almost 600 aircraft registered in the Middle East.

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Qatar Airways Cargo returns to China destinations

Not much, but a small glimmer of hope, as Qatar Airways Cargo announces it will resume scheduled belly-hold cargo operations to China with the utilisation of wide-body and passenger-configurated aircraft.

The additional cargo capacity is being added to the carrier’s existing freighter service amid increased demand for the shipment of immediate goods in and out of the region.

The decision to reinstate belly-hold service to six of its passenger destinations in the country is in line with airline’s initiative to continue supporting worldwide connectivity, re-establishing the global supply chain.

This includes the transportation of urgent medical relief aid that is pivotal to the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Qatar Airways Group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said: “We are pleased to resume belly-hold cargo operations to China where the Covid-19 pandemic has been significantly contained and industrial production is restoring nationwide.

“In addition to our dedicated freighter service, the extra belly-hold availability leveraging the flexibility and reliability of our fleet will greatly enhance our cargo handling capacity in China to support market’s soaring demand for imports and exports, including the urgent outbound shipment of essential commodities, fresh produce, food products, and large proportion of medical supplies to other parts of the world that are currently facing the public health crisis.”

The belly-hold cargo flights will be operated on a turnaround basis assuming the routes’ previously assigned flight numbers and frequencies, without any cabin crew members or passengers on-board.

Supplementing the already-robust cargo payload offered on Qatar Airways’ existing four freighter routes to China, the recommencement of belly-hold service will add significant cargo capacity to six cities that include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing and Hangzhou, with an additional 600 tonnes of weekly capacity added, bringing the combined weekly capacity out of the country to more than 1,300 tonnes.

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Delta CEO Issues Another Update on How Airline is Handling Coronavirus

Transparency has always been a big thing for Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, and his commitment to keeping customers updated through the coronavirus outbreak has shown it.

For at least the fourth time since the virus became a global pandemic, Bastian reached out to Delta flyers with an emailed letter outlining what the airline has done and what it intends to do going forward.

“Three months ago, I would have never dreamt our world would be facing such volatile times, but I remain confident we will prevail because of you and the people of Delta,” Bastian wrote. “To support you and our communities, we are carrying medical supplies globally via cargo flights and operating repatriation flights to get you and your loved ones home. If you are a medical volunteer, we are offering free flights to certain U.S. regions.”

Indeed, Delta is offering free flights to Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan, and may expand that to other hard-hit areas such as New York.

Bastian outlined several commitments Delta is making, including expanding its new cleaning process to all flights and making it permanent.

“This means you will have fogging on domestic aircraft overnight as we have done internationally and sanitization of high-touch areas like tray tables, entertainment screens, armrests and seat-back pockets via our extensive cleaning checklist on all trips,” he wrote. “And if a plane doesn’t pass our spot check before you board, our teams are empowered to hold the flight and call back the cleaning crew.”

Delta is also minimizing touchpoints between travelers and others by temporarily moving to essential food and beverage service onboard all U.S. domestic and short-haul international flights and at Delta Sky Clubs, as well as evaluating adjustments to long-haul international flying.

Bastian also noted that 21,000 employees have volunteered to take short-term, unpaid leaves of absence.

You can read the full text of the letter here.

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Vietjet to insure passengers against Covid-19

Vietjet is offering passengers insurance against Covid-19 infection as the carrier battles to restore confidence in its service.

Under the banner Sky Covid Care, the airline is offering coverage valued at US$857-8,570 to all passengers flying on its domestic flights from before June 30th.

With the insurance, passengers are eligible for insurance coverage and benefits from Vietjet within 30 days starting from their flight date, regardless of contagion sources.

Vietjet will pay up to tens of billions of Vietnamese dong worth of insurance premiums to ensure passengers’ safety while flying on its modern and comfortable aircraft served by young and professional cabin crew.

“The safety of passengers and cabin crews are protected at the highest level against all risks of the Covid-19,” the carrier said in a statement.

To be eligible for insurance coverage, passengers need to provide all information in accordance with Vietjet’s terms and conditions when purchasing tickets and using aviation services.

They must also comply with all regulations on Covid-19 prevention and control of Vietjet, the ministry of health and local authorities.

More Information

Vietjet has not only revolutionised the aviation industry in Vietnam but also been a pioneering airline across the region and around the world.

With a focus on cost management ability, effective operations and performance, the airline offers flying opportunities with cost-saving and flexible fares as well as diversified services to meet customers’ demands.

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Airlines Say Stimulus Not A Cure-All For Waning Demand

While appreciative of the nearly $60 billion in aid from the government’s $2 trillion stimulus package for economic relief, the airline industry says it’s not a cure-all for the waning demand in travel due to the coronavirus.

“While this assistance is welcome, it’s important to remember that the relief package is not a cure for the unprecedented challenges we face,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo, according to CNBC.

Both Delta and United Airlines said going forward they are likely to become smaller airlines with fewer employees, although part of the government aid package, or some $25 billion in grants, requires the airlines to continue to pay employees through the end of September. The remainder of the bailout comes in the form of loans.

But given the spread of the virus, airline executives expect the new normal – drastic cuts in service, flights barely a quarter full – to last for quite a while.

“Based on how doctors expect the virus to spread and how economists expect the global economy to react, we expect demand to remain suppressed for months after that, possibly into next year,” United CEO Oscar Munoz and United president Scott Kirby, who’s scheduled to take the helm in May, wrote in a message to employees. “That means being honest, fair and upfront with you: if the recovery is as slow as we fear, it means our airline and our workforce will have to be smaller than it is today.”

Most airlines have asked employees to take voluntary unpaid leaves of absence or early retirement.

Mandatory stay-at-home measures implemented by more than a dozen states, inhibiting more than 80 million Americans from leaving their homes except to go to work or essential places of business such as grocery stores and banks, have contributed to the drastically falling numbers in airline travel and hotel stays.

But Kirby and Munoz remain optimistic.

“So when travel demand returns — and it will return — we will bounce back and be ready to accelerate towards our goal of becoming the best airline in the history of aviation,” they wrote in their memo.

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