Few International business sectors have shied away from globalisation during the 1990s. In fact, some industries have globalised so rapidly that it is difficult to imagine them operating in any other way. The airline industry is no exception.
Through a series of well-publicised operational and marketing alliances, it has tried to follow standard principals of creating global markets with a series of national, regional and international route network link-ups, but the airline industry remains subject to stricter rules.
International mergers and acquisitions are possible in the airline sector, but only through partial deals. This is because regulatory bells ring loudly when a carrier's ownership is threatened by majority foreign capital and the possibility of it losing its national identity. The main reason for this lies in the complex bilateral air transport agreements around the globe, which are defined inherently by a carrier's nationality.
Given the intense legal and political hurdles facing the advancement of global airline business, alliances with equity cross-ownership an optional extra seem the ideal solution for an industry intent on reaping the gains of consolidation. With most airlines seemingly already fully paid-up members of alliance groupings, individually covering almost every air transport market around the globe, it may be that another level of virtual consolidation has been cast. But are alliances really that stable and are airlines able to carry on present commitments well into the 21st century?
The Star Alliance, between United Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), Varig, Thai Airways International, and Air Canada, was perhaps the first airline alliance of its kind and its members will not hear a negative word about it. It has a head-start on any other alliance grouping. It has a multi-million dollar image, its operators reach into the many corners of each continent, and it was launched at what most industry players agree was the height of the industry cycle in terms of profitability stakes.
From a business perspective there is a lot to be said for joint sales forces, for example. So, if Varig can take control of Lufthansa's sales in Sao Paulo and generate more bookings for the German carrier, this can only be a balance sheet boost. And likewise for Varig, a codeshare flight with SAS from London to Rio de Janeiro generates benefits.
Because Star's co-operation exists on operational and marketing levels, analysts and investors are not taken in by pure image or marketing hype. What they want to see is increased passenger and cargo revenues, which would not have been possible without the power of the alliance. The one-off cost savings of streamlining business activities are a bonus, but are forgotten after the year-one gain.
Airline analysts are shrewd people and will not change their stock recommendations for an airline based on promises. Likewise, bankers will not lend more favourably to an airline based purely on alliance plans; they want better credit worthiness figures, not expectations.
The pressure on alliances will become more intense as the industry slips into its downcycle, in line with a slowdown, actual or expected, of world economies over the next two years. Although airlines can reduce capacity on certain routes and even reduce frequencies, in line with demand, this may cause infighting. This is especially likely if one economy falls into recession before another. The Asian downturn is already well documented and Latin American economies are particularly expected to face downturn before those of Europe or the USA. So do partners in an airline alliance agree to support a weaker carrier in such circumstances? If revenue streams are damaged for two consecutive financial years, some analysts believe this will generate a reassessment of the relationship.
Political influences also have an impact on air travel trends. The Gulf War in 1991 combined with a global economic recession led to a large-scale drop in US passengers travelling to Europe and beyond. It is unlikely that individual economic or political issues would be enough to scupper the future of a whole alliance like Star, but it would add considerable pressure to what is a complex organisational six-way relationship.
British Airways already experienced a similar pressure with its former alliance partner, US Airways (then USAir), when the UK carrier baulked at the possibility of the US carrier allowing employee representation on its board. Perhaps this situation was exacerbated by the equity stake British Airways had in the airline, but it is another example of a variable upsetting the balance of a relationship.
Airline management egos are large, and many carriers are operated according to the management style of a certain chief executive or mainline board. And, although airlines are not offering their businesses for wholesale assimilation into the alliance, some management concession is needed. If the concession is not forthcoming, tension will build.
In the major alliances many issues go to committee to decide on joint strategy. Aside from the increased bureaucracy generated, such committees, although democratic in principal, offer a forum for confrontation and a potential manifestation of different management styles. Star has already responded by appointing a dedicated management team to oversee the day-to-day running of the alliance to speed up decision making. What is not yet clear is the level of decision making freedom that member airlines will delegate to this body.
While the variable conditions within an alliance will be controllable to a degree and therefore manageable, some issues facing airline alliances are out of their control and in the domain of the politicians. British Airways again is only too aware of the might, albeit in slow motion, of the European Commission's role, influencing the carrier to decide against its proposed full-scale alliance with American Airlines. The decision almost destroys the concept of oneworld, the only real challenge in the pipeline to Star among airline alliances.
The Star Alliance may not be shining so brightly this year, if Karel van Miert, European Commissioner for Competition, orders United, Lufthansa and SAS to shed slots in Europe. Again, the business issues may look good on paper but nothing is halfway certain until the regulators give the green light. Perhaps Lufthansa boss Jurgen Weber can convince the European Commission that a negative decision would mean European job losses, but the lobbying machine is never predictable.
Taking advantage of a dominant market position may be fair game for the big players, but smaller carriers will not stand for it. Airlines like Virgin Atlantic and a group of US carriers in the transatlantic market add to regulatory slow motion each time they ask institutions like the Commission to investigate their complaints. Airlines should not really be surprised by how long these investigations take, given past experiences, resource constraints at public bodies and the inevitable political influences. As much as the airline industry may not like it, virtual consolidation takes a long time.
With so many possibilities on the horizon, the shape of alliances could be reversed by this time next year. This could mean some interesting developments for airlines so far uncommitted to alliance groupings. Air France remains perhaps the most important example of an unaligned airline. But, when the carrier announces its partners, this could have sizeable implications for airlines around the world.
Following years of large-scale loss-making, labour union disputes and Europe-wide conflict over Air France's European Commission-approved capital injections, any strong alliance possibilities have been beyond the realm of the flag carrier. With intense investigations by Patrick Bianquis, the airline's head of alliances, and the mid-December announcement by the French Government that Air France's partial privatisation will get underway in the first quarter of this year, however, the industry could see another large piece of the alliance jigsaw puzzle being put in place.
Air France's network and strong hub at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris make the French airline an attractive option to US and Asian carriers. And, if the airline can reduce costs, maintain workable labour relations and continue to post net profits, many analysts believe Air France could be the pick of the alliance crop in 1999. Although the airline already has marketing agreements in place with carriers such as Continental and Delta, a larger, more imposing, agreement is expected.
Continental is now part-owned by Northwest, which itself has a deep and long-established tie-up with Dutch flag carrier KLM. The latter has added a further twist by announcing a "virtual merger" with Alitalia. How these airlines will formalise what is effectively a series of bilateral tie-ups, and the possible role of Air France, should become clearer in 1999.
Airline frustration may even reach fever pitch this year as airlines endeavour to further their moves towards virtual consolidation. Although Swissair, for example, is facing valuation disputes over its planned equity stake in TAP of Portugal, the carrier's aspirations to build up a European mega-carrier will be barred as long as Switzerland remains outside the EU.
Ownership laws elsewhere in the world look set to cause as many problems for companies intent on reaping the benefits of economic integration. As economies fall and rise, airlines, for their very role in global passenger and cargo travel, will feel the effects of this cyclicality. But, for airlines keen on speeding up consolidation, there is little hope for speedy results when they are caught in a time trap of bureaucracy and government control. Unless 1999 brings some remarkable regulatory changes, the concept of global open skies and a real chance at going for complete consolidation looks set to remain a pipe dream into the next millennium.
Western Europe's aerospace and defence industry appears set this year to play the familiar "one step forward, two steps back" tune so well rehearsed by its political leaders on their long march towards full economic and political integration.
At the close of 1998, the momentum to press ahead and create a pan-European aerospace and defence competitor to the US giants was eclipsed once more by political infighting, opening up the way for the disillusioned to exploit new opportunities presented by the USA. The grand European plan could now be stillborn if US policymakers find a way to make two-way transatlantic deals, instead of complicated multinational European mergers, more attractive to both politicians and investors alike.
For the USA is preparing to declare its borders open for transatlantic deals to create global players and open the way for foreign companies to acquire US firms. With these tactics and the prospect of an ever-aggressive lobby by some of the USA's major aerospace and defence players at a national and international level, the formation of a European industrial powerhouse to challenge them globally could be regarded politically and perhaps commercially less and less advantageous. All of which risks turning current thinking to create a European super-company in advance of forging a merger of equals with US groups on its head.
Divisiveness over whether to abandon ambitious Euro-merger plans in favour of apparently more straightforward transatlantic ones appears then set to stifle the momentum to create the so-called European Aeropace and Defence Company (EADC), hailed during 1998 as the ultimate goal for 1999.
As a result, predicting an outcome for Europe's aerospace industry risks the same harsh realities of retrospective vision at the end of 1999 as it has in 1998. Last year's forecast - that the European restructuring effort would lead to the creation of an Airbus Single Corporate Entity (SCE) - was clearly too optimistic. Such was the turmoil attending the industry's struggle to create an integrated commercial aircraft manufacturing entity able to stand up to the US challenge posed by Boeing, that even the most qualified prediction could, at best, be only a stab in the dark.
Most of the restructuring centred around France during 1998, which responded with increasing energy to pressure from the UK and Germany to put its own house in order before joining the widely touted EADC, a super-merger of Europe's leading civil and combat aircraft, missile and space manufacturers. The year opened with the French Government having already decided to regroup its defence electronics industry around Thomson-CSF, Alcatel, Dassault Industries and the space division of Aerospatiale. By year-end, the process had moved forward significantly, with the end-of-summer creation of a major aerospace group comprising Aerospatiale and Matra Hautes Technologies, later incorporating the Government's 46% stake in Dassault Aviation. The move allowed Paris to claim that it was on the path to privatising Aerospatiale, long demanded by Germany and the UK as a condition of entry to the EADC.
As the year ended, however, major discord between Aerospatiale and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa)/British Aerospace became apparent when, at a meeting of the four partners, France refused to hand over the all-important dossier containing its valuation of Airbus assets. It therefore seems highly unlikely that the end-of-1999 date set by Airbus president Noel Forgeard for the creation of the SCE will be met. Forgeard himself has said that the process must go forward with minimum delay if Boeing is to be kept at bay, and yet it now seems that the earliest date for the SCE will be in 2000. This is certain to put progress towards the EADC on the backburner. With this in prospect, some companies are already reviewing their options, including BAe. UK electronics group GEC moved last month to reopen merger talks with BAe or muscle into the prospective BAe/Dasa merger.
In the USA, meanwhile, with large-scale consolidation of the aerospace and defence industry having ground to a halt following the US Government's successful move to block the merger of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, industry leaders there now say that no major take-over deals will be struck until there are clear and firm Government guidelines on what is acceptable. The federal authorities, meanwhile, are striving to come to grips with the fact that aerospace is a global industry and is trying to establish guidelines for transatlantic mergers, with industry leaders believing that a European company will move to take over a major US player sooner rather than later, and probably before the year is out. Tempting European companies into bilateral transatlantic mergers is set to be a major preoccupation for US industry in 1999.
The year 1999 promises to provide answers to some of the major questions prompted by events in 1998. Can Airbus Industrie shore up enough customer confidence to launch the A3XX? Will Boeing resolve its production headaches? And will a shake-out among regional manufacturers ensure that the airlines get the regional jets that they want early in the next decade?
The two large jet aircraft producers, Airbus and Boeing, achieved record production levels in 1998, and more records will follow in 1999. Boeing hit an all-time jet production high of 550 aircraft, while Airbus delivered well over 200 aircraft for the first time in its 28-year history. The year will see Airbus produce a little short of 300 units, while the output from Boeing's three plants should exceed 600.
The ramp-up effort has been a far more painful exercise for the US manufacturer, however, as it sought market share at any cost. Costs spiralled and delivery promises were broken as it undertook a 140% production increase in the space of just 30 months . Boeing has also been distracted by the task of integrating McDonnell Douglas (MDC). The problems were big enough to push the company into the red for the first time in 1997, and profits for the next two years are expected to be relatively small.
In 2000, things could start to get more interesting. Drastic production cuts recently announced by Boeing, combined with the running down of the former MDC lines at Long Beach, will see its tally drop to just under 500 units. Although this represents a 20% fall on 1999, it is still the third highest annual output in the company's history and further reductions are likely if the much anticipated global economic slowdown hampers orders, at least in the short term. Airbus production is likely to increase further in 2000, into the "low 300s", driven primarily by a further boost in output of the narrowbody A320 family.
From a product development perspective, the two rivals could not have had more contrasting fortunes in 1998. Airbus' major effort has been the certification and delivery of the longer-range -200 derivative of the A330 twinjet. Boeing, on the other hand, has had to handle the completion of flight testing/ certification of its Next Generation 737 - including European approval of the -700 and introduction of the -800 and -600 - as well as the stretched 777 derivative, the -300. The company has also begun flight testing the new 757-300, which should be concluded early in 1999, and the 717 twinjet.
Flight testing of this sole surviving remnant of the MDC product line should be wrapped up in May, allowing deliveries to begin in "mid-summer". More importantly, Boeing needs to convince the market that it is fully committed to this 100-seat programme, and to secure additional orders. The company has still to set an official production rate for the type.
While 1998 was relatively quiet for Airbus, much has been happening behind the scenes, making 1999 the most important year yet for the consortium. A launch decision on its 100-seat A318 project is expected soon, but this is small fry compared with other items on the agenda: the launch of the 480/660-seat A3XX and the single corporate entity (SCE). The latter is not now expected until the end of 1999, and is vital for the future of the consortium if it is to continue to challenge Boeing.
Airbus continues to be upbeat about the prospects for the A3XX entering service in 2004, despite contrasting views from other quarters on the size and timing of the market. This $10-12 billion programme has already slipped once, and Airbus will be determined to meet its promise of a launch decision towards the end of 1999. With 747 output set to plummet and short-term growth forecasts being pessimistic, some potential customers may be reluctant to make such a huge commitment.
With the market for its existing large widebodies suffering at the hands of Asia's downturn, Boeing is vacillating on its product development strategy for 747 and 777 derivatives. All the signs indicate that Boeing's agonising over future widebody derivatives will continue unresolved throughout 1999, hampered by the continuing woes of the main target market, Asia.
Perhaps the biggest single effort for Boeing in 1999 will be focused on building and flying the stretched 767-400, scheduled for flight testing in early October 1999. Delivery to launch customer Delta Air Lines is scheduled for May 2000.
Last year saw the entry of Airbus and Boeing into the 100-seat arena, with their 717 and A318, respectively, sitting on the cusp between the "grown-up" narrowbodies such as the A320 and 737, and the new generation of sub-100-seater jets. This sector will remain in the news in 1999 as the turbofan-powered airliner continues its march through traditional propeller-driven markets.
In May 1998, Fairchild Aerospace Iaunched a new family of 60/100-seat regional jets, which should begin flight testing during 2000. Fairchild has since been joined by ATR's revived Airjet, Bombardier's BRJ-X and the proposed resurrection of the Fokker 70/100. Embraer is also surveying the market, as British Aerospace plans an updated Avro RJ.
Clearly, the market will not sustain such a large number of players in a sector where margins are already wafer-thin. Consolidation among the contenders is likely to see a weeding out during in 1999.
This year is an important one for the world's biggest regional manufacturer, Bombardier, which has three major airliner programmes on its plate: the 70-seat Dash 8-400 turboprop (which enters service in 1999), the 70-seat Canadair Regional Jet Series 700 (to be flown in 1999) and the proposed 80/100-seat BRJ-X (which could get its go ahead in 1999).
Last year, when the regional jet order tally was triple that of turboprops, the West's first 30/40-seat jet airliners began flight testing - the Fairchild Dornier 328JET and Embraer RJ-135. These will enter service in 1999, heralding a new era in regional flying as some operators, such as Continental Express, move to all-jet fleets early in the next decade.
The general aviation industry is experiencing one of the most protracted growth spurts in its long and and chequered history. During the first nine months of 1998, aircraft sales stood at $3.86 billion, compared with $3.19 billion for the same period last year, according to the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). It reveals that deliveries of piston aircraft have risen by 85%, business jet deliveries increased by 20% and turboprop deliveries by almost 3%. Furthermore, helicopter sales are also rising, spurred by deliveries of new light single and twin turbine aircraft, and the forecast is for continued growth.
General aviation is riding high and the trend looks set to continue. "The fourth quarter of 1998 is likely to reveal the strongest growth for the year and we don't foresee a downturn for 1999," says Washington DC-based GAMA, citing the manufacturers' extensive order backlogs and buoyant Western economies as reasons for sustained growth.
Despite the inevitable effects that the Asia Pacific economic downturn may have on the international economies, particularly in North America, the market is expected to remain buoyant. AlliedSignal Aerospace's Business Aviation Market Outlook, for example, suggests that demand for business aircraft (under 45,000kg [100,000lb] maximum take-off weight) in the next 10 years will result in deliveries of up to 6,500 new aircraft, worth nearly $78 billion. In the first six months of 1998, business aircraft deliveries increased by 24%, compared with the same period in 1997.
The market outlook predicts that aircraft deliveries will peak at 580 aircraft in 1999 (up from 530 in 1998) and then remain high until reaching another record peak around the end of the decade. AlliedSignal also projects demand for 170 corporate-configured airliners, worth $7.6 billion, between 1999 and 2009. "The relative strength and stability of the North American economy and the ongoing development and introduction of new aircraft are among the most important factors driving the business jet market," says AlliedSignal.
Although 1998 saw the first delivery of key business aircraft, including the Bombardier Global Express, Boeing Business Jet, Cessna and Citation Excel, 1999 will not be uneventful. Galaxy Aerospace plans to deliver the first Galaxy "super-mid-size" jet in the second quarter, while Airbus Industrie is on target to ship the first A319 CJ in November. Raytheon is expected to deliver its first entry-level Premier I, while an announcement of a Premier II variant is also anticipated. Cessna, which plans to deliver its 3,000th Citation in 1999, is working towards type certification for its Ultra Encore by year-end.
The single-engined business jet market is unlikely to cause any ripples in 1999. Alberta Aerospace is planning to certificate and deliver its single-engine Phoenix Fan Jet by the end of the year, while Visionaire has pushed back certification and first deliveries of its Vantage until 2000. New Piper Aircraft has been evaluating the market for some time and may decide to add a single-engine jet (and a twin) to its piston and turboprop aircraft line-up.
Piston aircraft sales, once again, are predicted to grow. Cessna announced its 1,000th delivery in 1998 since restarting production of its 172, 182 and 206 ranges, and anticipates growth of around 2,000 aircraft a year during 1999. New Piper is also planning a 10% increase in aircraft production, while newcomers Lancair and Cirrus Design plan to begin deliveries of their respective Columbia and SR20 light singles in February.
The helicopter market is becoming revitalised, buoyed by the growing emergency medical services, corporate and news gathering markets. 1999 will mark the first deliveries of Bell's Model 427 light twin and Agusta's A119 Koala single, while Eurocopter is predicted to unveil its EC145, an upgraded version of the BK117 twin turbine. The new owner of the former McDonnell Douglas civil helicopter line-up will also be announced in early 1999, with Belgium's Heli Fly, and helicopter manufacturers Enstrom and Schweizer believed to be the key bidders for the MD500/600 and Explorer range. Sikorsky's S-92 Helibus and EH Industries' EH101 are scheduled for maiden flight and first deliveries respectively in early January.
As the positive image of business aircraft as business tools continues to spread, the knock-on effect is being felt across the industry, not least within the fractional ownership market.
1999 will mark the further expansion of this vital sector, accounting for nearly 25% of total sales. Executive Jet, the market leader with an expanding orderbook of 340 aircraft valued at $7.3 billion, is planning to start up its NetJets Middle East programme during the year. The company also plans to add the first Raytheon Hawker 800XPs to its European programme, while Bombardier is expected to launch its Business Jet Solutions operation in the region in early 1999.
Fighters will be in the forefront of news over the coming year. In the USA, funding will be sought to begin production of the USAir Force's Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22, while procurement of the USNavy's Boeing F/A-18E/F is ramped up.
At the same time, the US Government could come under pressure to order additional Lockheed Martin F-16Cs and F/A-18C/Ds to fill gaps in both services' frontline fleets and the manufacturers' assembly lines - the latter worsened by delays in export orders caused by the economic recession in Asia and Latin America.
In Europe, the first multiyear production contract for the Dassault Rafale is expected to be signed in January. Meanwhile, Eurofighter is hoping to secure its first export customer for its Typhoon when Norway makes its future fighter decision during the year. Production of both the Rafale and Typhoon will get under way in earnest as the companies involved in these competing programmes - British Aerospace, DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) and Dassault (as part of Aerospatiale) - manoeuvre towards a merger and the creation of a single European aerospace giant.
The fighter export market has looked increasingly bleak over the past year, the Saab/BAe Gripen's success in South Africa being among the few highlights. Whether any of the many stalled fighter competitions in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe come alive in 1999 will depend on the global economy. Thailand's cancelled order for F/A-18s and Indonesia's for Sukhoi Su-27s are unlikely to be revived, and the Philippines' modernisation plans appear to be stalled for the foreseeable future. Technical, rather than funding, issues have delayed completion of development of Japan's Mitsubishi F-2, from 1999 to 2000. Industry is still hoping, however, for release during this year of the delayed request for proposals for South Korea's F-X fighter requirement.
In the region, only China's fighter ambitions appear to be unaffected by the global economic malaise. China is set to begin licence production of 200 Su-27SKs in 1999, while pursuing development of the Chengdu F-10, designed locally with Israeli assistance. Beijing's goal is to field a fighter force capable of beating Taiwan's 150 F-16s and 60 Dassault Mirage 2000-5s, deliveries of which will be completed in October.
Economy permitting, 1999 also promises to be a busy year for combat helicopter manufacturers. Competitions are nearing fruition in Singapore and Turkey, another is under way in Australia, and South Korea could dust off its stalled attack helicopter request for proposals during the year. Japan is due to wrap up development of its Kawasaki OH-1 scout helicopter by year-end, and is now turning attention to its follow-on AH-X attack helicopter.
In Europe, one key event in the coming year is the expected signing, at the Paris air show in June, of the four-nation production agreement for the NH90 tactical/naval helicopter. An initial order should be signed for 151 of the 642 aircraft planned. This will be a major boost for the European helicopter industry following last year's production agreement for an initial 160 Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters.
Another critical event for industry will be the decision - expected early in the year - on competing proposals for a European transport aircraft. The prime contender is the seven-nation Future Large Aircraft, which is being evaluated against competing proposals from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The Antonov An-70 continues to be considered a contender, at least by the German Government, despite Dasa labelling it too risky.
Development of the Ukrainian-Russian An-70 should be completed in 1999 and the aircraft could yet emerge as the only serious competitor to Lockheed Martin's improved C-130J. Both aircraft have had difficult births, and the US company is hoping to see its C-130J enter operational service during the year.
In the USA, 1999 is likely to be a year of intense focus on ballistic missile defence. Flight testing of the troubled Lockheed Martin Theatre High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) system is expected to resume early in the year but further failures are unlikely to be tolerated. International interest in systems to protect against rogue states with ballistic missile capability is likely to intensify.
It has taken 53 years to get there, but many landmark decisions taken during 1998 suggest that the world's air transport industry is finally beginning to apply rigorously the concept of universal industry standards as embodied in the 1945 Chicago Convention. This is a sign of the times and an indicator of the future.
In October, an agreement was ratified mandating the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to conduct compulsory audits of national safety oversight organisations. Meanwhile, commercial imperatives, rising customer expectations and a growing realisation that there is no longer anywhere to hide have been forcing decisions at national and international level to upgrade operating standards.
ICAO president Dr Assad Kotaite describes the organisation's 32nd Assembly in October as "rare", adding: "It showed real co-operation and understanding of the importance of safety. We did not have any votes; all resolutions were carried by consensus."
After years of inactivity, there are signs that Africa is bowing to pressures to sharpen up its air traffic services. At present there is no continent-wide forum for safety discussion and to promote greater ATS co-operation, but this may come about in 1999. In the same way, the South East Asia and Asia Pacific region - the only other world sector not to have its own safety forum - is likely to be spurred by ICAO pressure and a poor accident record over the last two years, to set up the necessary local organisation.
Now that ICAO has been given the power to audit safety, Kotaite predicts that its next major enforcement role will be environmental standards. He expects it will be some years before ICAO itself is given that task, and here he has highlighted perhaps the most difficult challenge now facing all branches of aviation. One example is the fact that Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, to the horror of the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA), now chooses its runway in use not according to wind direction (unless it is out of limits), but according to local noise footprint considerations.
Across the North Sea from Amsterdam, the longest inquiry in the history of UK law or politics - and still unfinished - has been hearing representations for and against the building of a new passenger terminal at London Heathrow, even though it is within the airport's existing boundaries. Local noise and pollution are seen as the first areas in which pressure for improvements will mount, but there are other concerns.
On the world stage, 1998's Kyoto forum on climate change made its priorities the industrial and surface transport production of greenhouse gases, but ICAO was identified as the agency to police the creation of greenhouse gases at high altitude. It is only a matter of time before a high-profile industry like aviation becomes a major target for the environmental lobby, sparked by public and press perceptions about aviation's effect on the ozone layer.
In December, US Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey announced the successful completion of an operational trial of the FAA's flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programme, and declared its formal launch. FOQA, a system for keeping track of operational standards by using data from digital flight data recorders (DFDRs), has long been resisted by the US airlines because they fear the data would be used against them by litigants - and by the FAA itself for enforcement. The airlines involved in the trial - Alaska, Continental, United and US Airways - have been convinced of its benefits, however.
The FAA's step forward into FOQA is a symptom of global change, as well as having a significant impact on the rest of the world, as everything that the USA adopts tends to do. Hundreds of non-US airlines worldwide had already voluntarily equipped themselves to run their own operations quality assurance programmes, but the fact that the USA is taking up FOQA will raise the programme's profile for airlines that have not heard of it until now, and economies of scale will make the equipment and software more accessible and user friendly.
Independently of any FOQA programme, the air transport industry has recently become more studiously data-oriented in its approach to flight safety analysis. This is a reflection of the modus operandi in all sectors of commerce and industry following the arrival of high-powered desktop information technology.
Usable safety data can come from many sources, including textual reports filed by pilots or engineers, but the most accurate is that yielded by DFDRs and quick-access recorders. Analysis of engine performance, airframe stresses and flight profiles carried out by smart software will be an important method of preventive maintenance and the detection of operational anomalies, allowing early corrective action to be taken.
So the industry does not have to wait for accidents to happen to learn lessons. Post-accident litigation in the USA will soon be aimed at organisations that do not have a flight operations quality assurance system, on the grounds that this is a form of negligence.
Alongside China's busy satellite launch schedule in 1999, the year could also see the country's first manned space launch - timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic.
Preparations were under way last year for an unmanned test flight of the new vehicle, known as Project 921, from Jiuquan launch base. However, the test launch has yet to take place, arousing fears that the schedule is slipping.
The spacecraft is understood to be based on the Russian Soyuz vehicle, but with two pairs of solar panels to generate on-board power, and a cylindrical forward module rather than the Soyuz's spherical one. It is believed to have a mass of 8.4t, and could accommodate up to four astronauts.
The launch vehicle is an uprated Long March (LM) 2E booster, designated LM2EA. It has larger strap-on liquid boosters, increasing the rocket's lifting capacity into low-earth orbit from 9,200kg to 12,000kg. Chinese astronauts Wu Tse and Li Tsinlung are understood to be in training for the mission.
Regardless of what happens with Project 921, China will perform seven domestic satellite launches during the year, as well as one eagerly anticipated communications satellite launch in Russia.
The Asiasat-3S is scheduled to be launched on a Proton rocket from Russia's Baikonur space centre on 21 February, in an attempt to make up for the loss of the original Asiasat-3 in a failed launch last year. The project is being funded by insurance money claimed after the first launch.
Two of the planned launches from Taiyuan will involve the first uses of the Long March 4B vehicle, which is a development of the 4A variant with additional solid rocket boosters and an uprated third stage.
Taiwan will place its first wholly owned satellite, the Rocsat-1, into orbit on 27 January. The launch of the $60 million, 410kg research satellite, which was designed by the US TRW Space and Electronics Group, will take place from Cape Canaveral.
The Rocsat's solar panel was made by Taiwan's Shihlin Electric and Engineering, and Acer Shertek built its on-board computer. Some of the satellite's other components are also Taiwanese-built.
Japan is planning a single launch this year, when it will place in orbit the Space Systems Loral-built MT-Sat. This is a technology demonstrator, fitted with navigation systems to control air traffic.
October promises to be a highlight of the year, with the arrival in Martian orbit of the Japanese Nozomi space probe.
Apart from these scheduled events, development work is continuing on a number of other projects, including that of the H-IIA launcher, due for its first flight in 2000, as well as the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station, which is scheduled to be launched, in stages, between 2001 and 2002.
Source: Flight International