UNMANNED VEHICLES The UK Royal Air Force has begun operations with its first of three General Atomics Predator B - or Reaper - unmanned air vehicles from Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. In use with the RAF's 39 Sqn since early October, the UAV has so far been used by the UK to provide all-weather surveillance, although the Ministry of Defence says it is "investigating arming options" for the aircraft. Personnel from the RAF's Air Warfare Centre meanwhile operated a BAE Systems Herti autonomous UAV from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand province earlier this year under its Project Morrigan deal with the manufacturer, successfully "demonstrating its capability in an operational environment", the service has revealed.



APPOINTMENT Baroness Taylor has been appointed as UK minister for defence equipment and support, with Lord Drayson having announced his surprise decision to leave politics and pursue a career in motorsport in the USA. The driving force behind the UK's Defence Industrial Strategy and Defence Technology Strategy publications, and the establishment of strategic partnering agreements with UK-based companies including AgustaWestland and BAE Systems, Drayson was also involved in the Ministry of Defence's ongoing logistics transformation process. Taylor's appointment comes as the Labour government has faced calls to hold a new Strategic Defence Review and increase spending on the UK armed forces.



MEDICAL EVACUATION Israel Aerospace Industries' Malat division is to convert a BO105 helicopter for unmanned flight tests from late 2008, after research conducted following last year's war with Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon concluded that a reliable unmanned medical evacuation system is needed to extract wounded soldiers within the so-called "golden hour". An unmanned platform "will change the statistics", even if it only reaches the combat zone carrying critical medical supplies, believes Dr Eran Schenker, head of the national aerospace medicine centre at Israel's Fisher Institute for air and space strategic studies.


Bisignani calls for airline consolidation in Latin America

AIRLINES Governments in Latin America must loosen their grip on the airline industry and open up opportunities for consolidation to allow for the creation of a big international carrier along the lines of Air France-KLM, according to International Air Transport Association director general Giovanni Bisignani. Addressing delegates at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Cancun, the IATA chief said it "makes absolutely no sense" that Latin America represents 5% of global traffic, but is divided into 39 markets: "Bilateral agreements cannot keep pace with market developments and they prevent the consolidation needed to build strong global competitors. [Latin America needs to] throw into the game a big international player".


ST Aero secures $160 MILLION of work from Delta

OVERHAUL Singapore Technologies Aerospace has secured contracts worth $160 million from Delta Air Lines to work on an unspecified number of Boeing 757s and 767s. Work starts in San Antonio this month to modify the business class cabins of some Delta 757-200s, with the last aircraft to be done by next June. And starting in January the firm will do heavy maintenance checks in San Antonio on Delta 757-200s over a two-year period Delta has an option to extend the contract for another three years. ST Aero's other US business, Mobile Aerospace, will modify Delta 767 in-flight systems.


TAG to pay $10 Million to US FAA

SETTLEMENT The US Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to accept an "unprecedented" $10 million settlement with Geneva, Switzerland-based business aviation group TAG Aviation Holding. The settlement, in which TAG acknowledges no wrongdoing, stems from TAG's management relationship with AMI Jet Charter, a US subsidiary. TAG has since signed an agreement in principle to sell AMI to Sentient Flight Group. The FAA had revoked AMI's operations licence, a US Part 135 charter company in which TAG Aviation USA owned 49% of the stock. The agency's action came on the grounds that effective operational control was being exercised by TAG's foreign owners rather than AMI, which is prohibited. TAG chief executive Robert Wells says in a statement: "We are disappointed in the unprecedented settlement amount demanded by the FAA, but felt it was in TAG USA's and their clients' best interests to put this matter to rest."

Source: Flight International