This Week in Air Transport (W/C Nov. 23)

Credit: Heathrow Airport Limited

Dominating this week’s top air transport stories include London Heathrow Airport’s largest shareholder Ferrovial is selling its 25% stake in the airport and two airlines conducted flights on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

London Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) largest shareholder, Spanish infrastructure specialist Ferrovial, is selling its entire 25% stake to two investors for £2.4 billion ($3 billion). French private equity house Ardian had agreed to buy 15% of FGP Topco, Heathrow’s parent company. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) is also buying 10% of FGP Topco, divesting the Madrid-based firm of its holding in the airport.

In sustainability news, UK-based Virgin Atlantic operated the world’s first transatlantic flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from London to New York. Virgin Atlantic flight VS100 was a Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines.  The 7-hr. 16-min. flight used a blend of SAF made up of 88% hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) made from waste fats supplied by Air bp.

Dubai-based Emirates Airline has flown an Airbus A380 with one of the aircraft’s four engines powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) marking the first time such a demonstration has been conducted on the Airbus double-decker by an operator rather than an airframe or engine manufacturer.

U.S. power-to-liquid (PtL) sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) startup Infinium secured a $75 million investment commitment from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and signed a fuel offtake agreement with American Airlines. Expected to be the largest power-to-liquid e-fuels project in North America, Roadrunner is planned to be operational in 2026.

The UK government announced $69 million in support for nine SAF production projects.

In airline news, Lufthansa Group abandoned plans to sell a minority stake in Lufthansa Technik.

Vietnam Airlines and Turkish Airlines announced their intention to cooperate more closely on cargo operations, and the pair have also hinted at stronger links in other areas. Leaders of both carriers signed a cooperation agreement in Ankara, Turkey, on Nov. 30. One of the main goals of this deal is to “conduct research to enable a potential launch of an air cargo joint venture.”

Building on an existing codeshare agreement, Canadian carriers Air Transat and Porter Airlines will launch a joint venture in 2024, an enhanced partnership Porter’s top executive describes as having “the potential to transform the competitive landscape in Canada.”

International Airlines Group (IAG) plans to revamp LEVEL, after the Barcelona-based airline reduced its operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to develop the air operator’s certificate (AOC) to operate long-haul flights.

U.S. bankruptcy court approved Scandinavian Airlines’ (SAS) entry into an investment agreement with a consortium including Air France-KLM, marking a step forward in the airline’s efforts to exit the financing solicitation process.

In regulatory news, FAA has finalized new, related instructions designed to strengthen its aircraft certification processes, including policy on design-change classifications and identifying safety-critical information during certification projects.

In aircraft news, New York-based Atlas Air Worldwide ordered two new Boeing 777Fs, citing strong demand for dedicated large widebody airfreight capacity. Both freighters are expected to be delivered in the second half of 2024.

Virgin Australia will add another six aircraft to its Boeing 737-8 scheduled deliveries next year, which will address fleet upgrade and growth goals in the medium term. The six additional 737-8s will boost its outstanding orders for the model to 11 aircraft. Virgin has already taken delivery of three 737-8s, so it will end up with a total of 14. All of the 737-8s are scheduled to arrive in 2024.

British leisure carrier exercised options with Airbus for 12 more A320neo-family aircraft over the past six months as the airline continues to increase its fleet in line with its growing vacation business. The options take its firm-order commitments for the European narrowbody to 110.

In manufacturer news, Chinese commercial aircraft manufacturer COMAC for the first time displayed a model of a 19-seat all-electric regional aircraft, the CE-25A, at an exhibition in Shanghai. The aircraft has a range of 400-500 km (250-310 mi.) and maximum cruise speed of 400 kph (250 mph) according to data displayed.

China’s COMAC unveiled stretched and shortened variants of its C919 narrowbody aircraft, which the OEM said are aimed at catering for the various operational requirements in and around China. Named as the C919 Stretched Variant and C919 Shortened/Plateau Variant, the two concepts were revealed at the Shanghai International Commercial Aviation & Aerospace Industry Exhibition.

Rolls-Royce plans to sell its electric propulsion unit and seek partners to re-enter the single-aisle market with a smaller variant of the UltraFan as part of a sweeping reorganization outlined by CEO Tufan Erginbilgic. Unveiling the company’s new strategic plan Nov 28., Erginbilgic says the broad initiative targets a four-fold increase in annual operating profits to $3.5 billion by 2027 and comes after an almost year-long review of Rolls-Royce’s portfolio. 

Linda Blachly

Linda Blachly is Senior Associate Editor for Air Transport World and Aviation Week. She joined the company in July 2010 and is responsible for producing features for Air Transport World’s monthly magazine and engaging content for the She is based in the Washington DC office.