Tuesday, September 14, 2010

84 F-15 fighter jets and 72 Black Hawk Heli for Saudi Arabia

Got oil, got new jets and helicopters.

The Obama administration will soon notify Congress of an arms package for Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion, U.S. officials said on Monday, a potentially record-breaking deal that may help counter Iran's growing regional muscle.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expected the Saudis to initially commit to $30 billion in purchases, but that could double.

The package would include 84 new Boeing Co F-15 fighter jets and upgrades to another 70 of them. It also involved 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

"It's massive," said Andrew Exum, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, calling the long-anticipated deal a "shot-in-the-arm" for the U.S. defense industry.

"What the United States is trying to do here is pretty clear. (It is) basically trying to work by, with, and through our partners in the region to balance against Iran," he said.

The regional buildup comes amid deepening international concern about Iran's moves to bolter its military muscle, including advances in its nuclear program the West believes is aimed at developing atomic bombs -- accusations Iran denies.

The United States has also flagged concern about Iran's growing missile capabilities, and has been quietly helping Arab states boost their missile defenses.

The Saudi package, Exum said, had to be viewed in the context of other deals in the region. He cited the expected sale of a missile defense system manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp to the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said he expected Congress would receive official notification of the long-anticipated Saudi deal within the next week or so.

Lapan declined to comment on details, however, saying Congress needed to be notified first.


The senior defense official said the U.S.-Saudi arms deal also included 70 of Boeing's Apache helicopters and 36 Little Birds.

If approved, the Saudi deal would provide a huge boost to Boeing Co's defense unit, which had several key programs axed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates last year.

"This transaction shows that there may still be a lot of life in the F-15 fighter and other Boeing legacy aircraft programs," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.

"The Saudi sale by itself will make a big difference to the company's revenues for at least the next five years," Thompson said.

Boeing share were up 36 cents at $64.20 in mid-afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Upon congressional notification, lawmakers get 30 days to object to the deal. But notifications are usually not sent unless lawmakers have already broadly agreed to the sale.

Saudi Arabia was the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons during a four-year span of 2005 through 2008, with $11.2 billion in deals, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Conviasa Airlines plane crash in Puerto Ordaz

A plane owned by Venezuela's state-run airline Conviasa crashed on Monday during a domestic flight with about 50 people on board, but at least 23 survived, witnesses and authorities said.

The ATR-42 plane was en route between the Caribbean island of Margarita and the southern industrial city Puerto Ordaz when it came down.

"We still don't know the exact cause," local governor Francisco Rangel Gomez told state TV, adding that the pilot had radioed warning the plane was in difficulty.

A Reuters witness at a nearby Puerto Ordaz hospital said 30 survivors -- and two corpses -- had been brought in from the crash site where wreckage was still smoldering after the mid-morning accident, hampering rescue efforts.

Gomez put the number of survivors at least 23. He said 51 people were on the Conviasa flight, while Transport Minister Francisco Garces earlier had said 47 were on board.

ATR, which makes 40-70 seat twin-engined turboprops, is a joint venture between Airbus parent company EADS and Italian aerospace group Finmeccanica.

Officials said the plane crashed on land belonging to Sidor, which has a large mill near Ciudad Guayana, but without causing any injuries or damage to installations.

"The plane fell on a waste area where they put barrels of unused steel materials," governor Gomez said.

In the last major crash in Venezuela in 2008, a plane belonging to private local airline Santa Barbara with 46 passengers on board crashed into mountains, with no survivors.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Alrosa Mirny Air jet crash landing

A Russian passenger plane carrying 81 people has made a "miracle" crash landing at a deserted air strip in Siberia after a complete mid-flight power failure, officials says.

The Tupolev (TU-154) airliner en route to Moscow on Tuesday was forced to glide down from its cruising altitude with no working navigation gear and at a high speed after its wing flaps failed, the general prosecutor's office said yesterday.

The 72 passengers, including three children, and nine crew members were in shock but unhurt after the pilot guided his plane down onto the defunct runway, overgrown with weeds, television images showed.

"After its electrical equipment failed, the crew was forced to land the plane. The landing was manual, without radio contact," the prosecutors' office said in a statement.

Forced down at the tiny air strip built for helicopter use, the passenger liner overshot the tarmac, tearing through 200 metres of forest brush before coming to rest, it said.

The plane, operated by Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise, which belongs to diamond monopoly Alrosa, now lies sunk in a bog beyond the disused air field, near the village of Izhma in Russia's far northern Komi region, 1500 kilometres from Moscow.

Local blogs and twitter pages buzzed with calls for Russia to award the airliner's pilot a medal for his "miraculous" and "heroic" landing.

Meanwhile, the ITAR-TASS news agency said all of the stranded passengers had Wednesday safely made it to Moscow on another flight -- except for one couple who preferred to travel by train after their ordeal.

Friday, September 3, 2010

UPS cargo plane crashes in Dubai

A Boeing 747-400 cargo plane operated by United Parcel Service Inc crashed shortly after takeoff into a military compound near Dubai's airport on Friday, killing two crew members, authorities said.

U.S. parcel delivery company UPS confirmed the crash of the plane, which was en route to Cologne, Germany.

"I saw the plane suddenly dive down into the base and heard a huge explosion," said a nearby resident.

A government source familiar with the initial crash report said the plane had taken off from Dubai International Airport at 6:40 p.m. (1440 GMT) and was diverted to a military compound after reporting trouble.

The aircraft caught fire, hit a covered parking lot, then bounced and crashed, the source said, adding that there were no injuries on the ground. Smoke was billowing from the base, a Reuters witness reported.

The United Arab Emirates civil aviation authority said the bodies of the two crew members were recovered.

Saif al-Suwaidi, general manager of civil aviation, told Dubai TV that flights had not been affected at Dubai's airport, the busiest in the Middle East.

"The pilot reported fire and smoke in the cockpit and was instructed to return to Dubai. After failing to land at the airport, the plane disappeared from radar screens and was found later (at the crash site)," Suwaidi said.

Boeing said on its website it would send a team to provide technical support to the investigation upon invitation from the authorities.

GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said plane was running GE CF6-80C2 engines. GE Aviation, a unit of General Electric Co said it is sending investigators to the scene.

"It is unusual to lose an aircraft on take-off, particularly once airborne. Crashes in this phase of flight are not common. Without more information it is difficult to speculate what happened," said Paul Hayes, director of air safety at UK-based aviation consultancy Ascend.

Both UPS and the Boeing 747-400 have relatively good safety records, he added.

Initially, Al Arabiya television had reported the plane had hit a busy highway, but later reports indicated it did not hit the road.