Australian-Lebanese Ordered Released in UAE Airliner Bomb Plot

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Australian-Lebanese Ordered Released in UAE Airliner Bomb Plot

Saturday, 11 May, 2019 – 10:45
Police walk outside the international terminal as they patrol Sydney Airport. AFP file photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
The lawyer of an Australian-Lebanese dual citizen on trial for an alleged plot to bring down an Emirati passenger plane said Saturday that her client has been ordered released on bail by a Lebanese military court.

Joceline Adib al-Rai, lawyer of Amer Khayat, said the court’s decision was delivered a day earlier. Prosecutors can appeal.

Khayat has rejected the charges.

Lebanese authorities have held Khayat in detention since 2017. They have accused him of planning to blow up an Etihad airline flight that was supposed to travel from Sydney to the United Arab Emirates.

Khaled and Mahmoud, two of Khayyat’s brothers, are on trial in Australia for plotting to blow up the plane with bombs hidden inside a Barbie doll and meat grinder.

Australian authorities say Amer Khayyat had no knowledge of his brothers’ plot.

Khaled’s sentence hearing has been set for July 26. The charges carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. The jury is still deliberating a verdict for Mahmoud.

Another brother was unaware that he was carrying a bomb, disguised as a meat mincer, in his luggage, as he tried to check in at the airport, Australian police have said.

Age gap between pilots led to Air India Express plane ending up in open drain

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Age gap between pilots led to Air India Express plane ending up in open drain

A senior male pilot who was 30 years older to his female co-pilot and refused to heed her suggestions or warnings was one of the reasons for Air India Express flight IX 452 from Abu Dhabi to Kochi with 102 passengers ending up in an open drain following a landing in heavy rain on September 4, 2017

INDIA Updated: May 10, 2019 07:31 IST

Faizan Haidar
Faizan Haidar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Air India Express,India news,Crime
The incident left three passengers with injuries and serious damage to the aircraft, especially the front landing gear that collapsed.(File photo)

A senior male pilot who was 30 years older to his female co-pilot and refused to heed her suggestions or warnings was one of the reasons for Air India Express flight IX 452 from Abu Dhabi to Kochi with 102 passengers ending up in an open drain following a landing in heavy rain on September 4, 2017. The incident left three passengers with injuries and serious damage to the aircraft, especially the front landing gear that collapsed.

Now, to avoid a repeat of such an accident, aviation authorities have advised Air India Express to ensure pilots are not paired in a way that they have a wide age gap.

“There is not just one reason behind an accident. In the report, we tried to go to the exact details and found that probable cause of accident was incorrect judgement taken by PIC (pilot-in-command). Heavy rain and reduced visibility were contributory factors,” said a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official, who asked not to be named.

According to the report, which has been seen by HT, the co-pilot told her senior that she could not see runway markings and asked him to go extremely slow.

Moments later, she insisted that a “follow-me” vehicle — used to guide aircraft in cases of low visibility — be summoned.

“However, there was no response from PIC. At 2112 UTC, the aircraft took a 90m early turn before the Taxiway ‘F’… and entered into open rain water drain. PIC applied throttle three times for aircraft to come out of the drain, but aircraft stuck in the drain. Co-pilot requested PIC not to apply throttle,” said the report by DGCA.

In the report, the DGCA has highlighted that there was an age gap of over 30 years and a difference of 13,000 hours in the flight experience between the two pilots, and that runway markers were , as the co-pilot said, barely visible

“…The coordination was lacking from PIC’s side. PIC was found alcohol-positive twice and his licence was suspended by DGCA for 3 months from 09.01.2016. The pilot had operated previous flight a day before and as per his statement, he reached hotel around midnight and was not able to sleep. In cockpit voice recorder, there is noise of PIC yawning in the flight,” the report points out.

The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has now recommended that Air India Express issue a circular related to crew coordination, and mentioned in its analysis that both PIC and co-pilot were operating together for the first time.

Detailing the sequence of events, the report said the aircraft entered the open rainwater drain and the nose landing gear collapsed. The aircraft moved deeper into the drain and the main landing gears too were in the run-off. The plane eventually rested on its engines and the rear belly, with the main landing gears hovering in the air.

According to experts, crew management trainings that are mandated for airlines include how to tackle problems that can arise from wide differences of age and experience between flight crew. “The airline is suppose to minimise the age gap between pilot and co-pilot and if pilot is not listening to the co-pilot, irrespective of the age gap, then it shows lack of training and also inefficiency of DGCA which must conduct an audit to find these loopholes,” said Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety expert.

An Air India Express spokesperson said the recommendations will be implemented. “Our top management has taken note of the recommendations made by AAIB regarding the incident involving aircraft VT-AYB at Cochin International Airport on 04.09.2017. AAIB has made safety recommendations which are to be implemented by various agencies including DGCA, Cochin International Airport Limited, AAI and Air India Express. Out of the 10 safety recommendations, two relate to Air India Express and these shall be duly implemented,” said PG Prageesh, chief of corporate communications, Air India Express.

First Published: May 10, 2019 06:56 IST

41 People confirmed dead in plane fire in Moscow’s airport

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S SHINE NEWS NETWORK)

 

41 people confirmed dead in plane fire in Moscow’s airport

Xinhua

Video from AFP.

Russia’s Investigative Committee confirmed Monday that 41 people were killed after an SSJ-100 passenger plane en route to the northwestern Russian city of Murmansk caught fire before an emergency landing Sunday at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.

“41 people died,” Elena Markovskaya, representative of the committee’s Moscow Interregional Investigation Department for Transport, was quoted by Tass news agency as saying.

The committee reported 37 survivors from the 78 people aboard the airliner in an earlier statement.

The plane reportedly took off from the Sheremetyevo Airport at 6pm local time (1500 GMT) and made an emergency landing after circling over the Moscow region for about 40 minutes.

It was “engulfed in flames” before the emergency landing, Tass news agency quoted a source as saying.

It was previously reported that the fire could be caused by lightening strike.

The committee has opened a criminal case on violation of safety regulations for air transport and started further investigation of the accident, according to the statement.

Investigators began to interview the victims, eyewitnesses, airport staff and the airline carrier, as well as others responsible for the operation of the aircraft, it said.

The causes and circumstances are being verified and an explicit conclusion will be made after a comprehensive study of the data and documentation is completed, the committee said.

Xinhua

An SSJ-100 passenger plane catches fire at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow on May 5.

Saudi Arabia Nominated For ICAO Membership

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Arabia Nominated for ICAO Membership

Friday, 3 May, 2019 – 10:00
Arab Civil Aviation Organization extraordinary general assembly in Rabat. Asharq Al-Awsat
Riyadh – Asharq Al-Awsat
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia said on Thursday that the Kingdom is among Arab states nominated for membership of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The voting results of the extraordinary general assembly of the Arab Civil Aviation Organization in Rabat showed that Saudi Arabia remained on the list of states seeking ICAO’s membership, GACA said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The Kingdom’s delegation in Rabat was chaired by Transport Minister Assistant Abdulhadi bin Ahmed al-Mansouri who delivered a speech expressing Saudi Arabia’s pride in its vital role in the air transport industry.

Mansouri noted that the voting results assert the Kingdom’s remarkable and influential position in the region and the world, saying the Saudi political and economic role has made it among the top 20 influential countries in the global economy.

The statement said that during the Rabat meeting, it was agreed that the Kingdom would be among the nominees for ICAO’s membership given its huge contribution to international civil aviation, and technical and financial support to ICAO in order to achieve the organization’s strategic goals.

The importance of Arab cooperation in air transport lies in joint action to unify procedures and keep ongoing communication to meet the highest safety standards for this vital sector that is a key driver for the economy in the region, read the statement.

Further, this sector plays a significant role in the economies of states and has a direct impact on progress that governments seek to achieve.

Engine of India’s Boeing 777 shuts down at Delhi Airport, ‘black fumes’ seen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Engine of Air India’s Boeing plane shuts down at Delhi airport, ‘black fumes’ seen

Airport fire personnel then observed that black fumes were coming out of the engine’s exhaust, following which they sprayed foam on it, Air India said in a statement on Thursday.

INDIA Updated: Apr 25, 2019 12:44 IST

Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
New Delhi
When an engineer was doing a routine technical examination of the empty aircraft (777) at the Delhi airport on Wednesday night, auto shutdown of the auxiliary power unit (APU) took place, the airline said.(Reuters FILE)

An engine of an empty Boeing 777 aircraft of Air India shut down at the Delhi airport on Wednesday night during a technical inspection, the airline said.

Airport fire personnel then observed that black fumes were coming out of the engine’s exhaust, following which they sprayed foam on it, Air India said in a statement on Thursday.

When an engineer was doing a routine technical examination of the empty aircraft (777) at the Delhi airport on Wednesday night, auto shutdown of the auxiliary power unit (APU) took place, the airline said. The APU is the smallest engine on an aircraft and situated at the tail of it. It provides the necessary power to start the main engines.

Watch | Air India’s Boeing 777 catches fire during AC repair at Delhi airport

Air India’s Boeing 777 catches fire during AC repair at Delhi airport
Air India Delhi to San Francisco flight caught fire at Delhi airport. The Boeing 777 caught fire in Auxiliary Power Unit during AC repair. The Plane was empty at the time of repair work & fire was doused immediately.
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Airport personnel observed black fumes from the APU exhaust and, believing it to be a fire hazard, sprayed APU and part of the fuselage with foam spray, the national carrier said.

The APU was examined by opening its cowlings (cover). After opening the cover, “there was no traces of any burn or external damage noticed except for the minor oil leaks traces, which was normal,” it said.

Detailed inspection is going on, it added.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 11:20 IST

Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

More than 30 people set sail on fishing vessel Jhonnaly Jose that capsized in heavy seas

Looking westwards off the shore of Trinidad across the Gulf of Paria towards Venezuela
 Looking west from Trinidad across the Gulf of Paria towards Venezuela. The captain of the Jhonnaly Jose was found clinging to oil drums. Photograph: Josh Surtees/The Guardian

More than 30 Venezuelans are missing, feared drowned, after their boat sank attempting to reach Trinidad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The fishing vessel, Jhonnaly Jose, had left the port city of Guiria but capsized in rough seas near the uninhabited Patos Island, 3 miles (5km) from the Venezuelan coast.

The boat’s official manifest recorded 25 passengers, but sources say additional passengers boarded unlogged. Most of the passengers were women.

Nine survivors have been found by the Venezuelan and Trinidadian Coast Guards. Two, including the captain, Francisco Martinez, were found clinging to floating oil drums as daylight broke over the Gulf of Paria. The stretch of water that separates the Caribbean island from the South American mainland is just 7 km at its narrowest point.

Venezuelan authorities released the names of 23 people confirmed as travelling on the boat, all aged between 17 and 28. Most are likely to have been fleeing the ongoing social and economic crisis. The accident happened at night on a popular route for refugees and migrants who pay traffickers to reach Trinidad. Passage costs $250 (£194), paid to boatmen who sail under cover of darkness, docking in quiet coves or jetties.

Passenger ferries travel between the two countries about once a week, but many Venezuelans are forced to cross illegally on fishing boats because they don’t have passports to enter through official ports and are often refused entry. Getting passports and official documents issued in Venezuela is almost impossible because of the collapsing civil administration. Some claim the regime of President Nicolas Maduro deliberately withholds passports and blame the bureaucratic delays on corruption or attempts to stop Venezuelan citizens fleeing the country.

According to government figures, 3 million Venezuelans have left since the crisis began. Per capita, there are more Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago than any country in the region, except the microstates of Aruba and Curacao. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and the Trinidadian government estimate that 40,000 Venezuelans are living in Trinidad, of whom 10,000 have registered as asylum-seekers with the UN refugee agency.

Refugees in Trinidad currently have no employment rights, which forces them to work illegally. Many are exploited, paid shockingly low wages and some resort to sex work to supplement their incomes. Sex trafficking rings have been uncovered by the Trinidadian police.

However, the Trinidadian government recently announced an amnesty on all Venezuelans living in the country – including those who entered illegally – that will allow them temporary work permits. The scheme, like those in other Latin American countries hosting Venezuelans, will require registration with the government within a two-week timeframe.

Trinidad’s minister of national security, Stuart Young, has said that after one year refugees will be expected to return to Venezuela. Concerns have been expressed about how the government will handle the data and whether it will be shared with the Maduro regime.

The governments of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have close ties, largely because of commercial deals over the offshore oil reserves that bolster both countries’ economies. The diplomatic situation has coloured Trinidad’s approach to the refugee crisis, with the prime minister, Keith Rowley, thus far refusing to recognise Venezuelans living in Trinidad as refugees.

Early unconfirmed reports from local news agencies stated that at least two children were on board the Jhonnaly Jose when it set off.

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Post-Balakot, Pakistan Scrambled Jets From 8 Bases. Ws 10 Minutes Late: IAF Report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Post-Balakot, Pakistan scrambled jets from 8 bases. Was 10 minutes late: IAF report

The assessment has revealed several positives, but because “no battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, there were also deviations from the plan, and some outright negatives too.

INDIA Updated: Apr 25, 2019 09:33 IST

Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Balakot airstrikes,Balakot,IAF
The report, a detailed assessment of the positives and negatives of the operation, to be used as a reference for future operations, was discussed at a high-level meeting of IAF recently(PTI/ Representative Image)

 “The strategic-surprise” of the Balakot airstrikes by the Indian Air Force in the Khyber Phaktunwa region of Pakistan on February 26 was “complete and total” despite Pakistan being on high alert, according to a report on “the lessons learnt” from the operation, which also mentions that five of the six designated targets were hit, the first official acknowledgement of the number of targets.

The report, a detailed assessment of the positives and negatives of the operation, to be used as a reference for future operations, was discussed at a high-level meeting of IAF recently.

On February 26, in response to a suicide bombing attack by a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, that killed 40 troopers, and to pre-empt more such attacks, IAF struck a training camp of the Pakistan-based JeM in Balakot. There’s been a lot of discussion and debate on the attack, including on the damage inflicted, but the report marks the first time IAF discussed the operation’s effectiveness.

Also Watch | ‘They want to be Pak’s heroes’: Modi’s jibe at Balakot air strike ‘doubters’

‘They want to be Pak’s heroes’: Modi’s jibe at Balakot air strike ‘doubters’
Amid his re-election campaign ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the air strikes against terrorists in Pakistan’s Balakot and criticised those who sought proof.
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The assessment has revealed several positives, but because “no battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy”, there were also deviations from the plan, and some outright negatives too.

The mission “was accomplished” because of “redundancies” built into the plan, the report, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT, says.

The Positives

The “strategic surprise” was so complete that only after IAF’s Mirage-2000s delivered the weapons package and turned back did Pakistan scramble jets from “as many as eight fighter bases”. These included the Pakistan Air Force base Mushaf in Sargoda, Rafiqui in Shorkot, Minhas in Kamra Attock, and Murid in Chakwal. “But the distance between PAF and IAF fighters was at least 10 minutes,” a senior officer in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity.

“Pakistan was expecting a response, but from the PAF response it appears it did not expect us to take the aerial route,” the officer added.

The “accuracy” of intelligence and the subsequent target selection is one of the positives the report talks about. “With this quality of intelligence, we can hit any target inside Pakistan within three hours,” a second senior security establishment official said, asking not to be named.

Among the other positives, the report lists the proficiency and skills of pilots who flew the mission, and describes them as “top class”. Keeping in the tradition of IAF, the Commanding Officers (CO) of the respective squadrons flew the mission. All pilots who flew the mission are likely to be awarded for their skill and ability.

Importantly, although nearly 6,000 men and officers of IAF were involved in the execution – aircraft flew from different airbases spread across India – there were “no leakages”.

Deception at the strategic and tactical level deceived Pakistan, the report says. While Chief of Air Staff BS Dhanoa and the top echelon of IAF went about normal duties — including attending conferences, banquets, and addressing Defence Attaché’s, so-called Combat Air Patrols along the border areas — before the strike lulled Pakistan to some extent.

Importantly, during the attack, a strike-element of Russian made Su-30s flying towards Bahawalpur, Pakistan, where the JeM is based, forced the neighbouring country to divert its energies and air defence capabilities in a separate sector.

Finally, the accuracy of the weapons have also come in for praise in the report. IAF used Spice 2000 precision guided munitions (PGM) to hit the target, among others. “Five of the six designated targets” inside the Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM) training camp in Balakot were hit directly, the assessment report has concluded.

The Negatives

Cloud cover and weather conditions did create problems for the fighter fleet, the report says. Importantly, the entire weapons package — apart from the Spice 2000 — carried by the IAF fleet wasn’t delivered, leading to questions about to weapon to target matching. Changes in the software made to integrate new weapon systems with vintage Mirage aircraft didn’t completely work.

IAF use indigenous skills to integrate the new weapons systems. “The Balakot experience underlines integration of new weapons with platforms should be done by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) despite the cost involved,” said a senior official aware of the assessment, who did not want to be named.

The other “negative” listed in the report is in the politico-strategic domain. IAF, when planning the attack, gave priority to eliminating the maximum number of terrorists at the JeM facility. It chose Spice 2000 – a penetration smart bomb – over a fragmentation weapon. The former penetrates structures killing everyone inside whereas the latter flattens and demolishes structures.

“When questions were raised about the strike, especially internationally, IAF didn’t have much by way of pictures to show as evidence making it easy for Pakistan to deny the attack itself,” a third senior officer in the security establishment said, asking not to be identified.

Recommendations

Looking ahead and taking the lessons from the Balakot strike, IAF wants more “technological asymmetry” to be able to “penetrate the enemy airspace at will”, according to the report. It will be looking at better air defence capabilities. The induction of new platforms such as the Russian made S-400 surface to air anti-aircraft missile systems will fill part of the gap.

According to a former senior air force official, India should concentrate on absorbing more defence technology. “Technological asymmetry will always give you an edge over the enemy. However, if the OEM [original equipment manufacturer, or the supplier] is the same on either, it could create difficulties,” said former Air Vice Marshal Sunil Jayant Nanodkar.

“We achieved complete surprise and the mission was successful. It highlights the need to give forces the freedom to execute a political decision. The execution of a political decision should be at choosing of the forces,” he added.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 07:29 IST

Iran: IRGC Threatens to close Hormuz Strait

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

IRGC Threatens to Close Hormuz Strait

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 – 11:00
An Iranian warship and speed boats take part in a naval war game in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, April 22, 2010. REUTERS/Fars News
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has hinted that it would close the Strait of Hormuz if Iran is prevented from using it, in what appeared to be the first response to the US plan to end waivers on Iranian oil exports.

“If Iran’s benefits in the Strait of Hormuz, which according to international rules is an international waterway, are denied, we will close it,” IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said after the Trump administration revealed Monday that it will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has previously threatened to close the strait.

“Don’t play with fire, or you will regret,”  Iranian President Rouhani cautioned Trump last July. Rouhani said that the Americans should come to realize that establishing peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and waging war with the country is the mother of all wars.

At the same time, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei agreed that Rouhani’s threats to close the international waterway expressed the regime’s policy.

Khamenei replaced chief commander of IRGC Mohammad Ali Jafari with Brigadier General Hossein Salami, seven days after the US designated the group a foreign terrorist organization.

Tangsiri added that replacing the IRGC commander-in-chief had nothing to do with Washington’s recent decision.

However, Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier-General Abu al-Fadl Shakarji said Monday that Salami’s appointment is a blow to the US.

The Iranian foreign ministry said Iran was in “constant talks with its international partners including the Europeans” on Washington’s ending of the exemptions. It added that an “important decision” will be announced later, without elaborating.

China, India, North Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and Greece will face US sanctions starting May in case they continue to purchase Iranian oil. In November, Washington reimposed strict economic sanctions against Tehran and all states that don’t abide by them, after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

China:Navy Chief Says ‘it’s’ Vital To Promote Trust, Peace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWSPAPER ‘SHINE’)

 

Navy chief says vital to promote trust, peace

Xinhua

Reuters

Chinese navy personnel perform at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao yesterday.

China’ss navy wants maritime “tranquillity and good order,” its chief said yesterday, ahead of a parade today to mark its 70th anniversary.

Speaking at a reception in Qingdao, navy chief Shen Jinlong said China was looking to promote trust and cooperation this week in its interactions with foreign navies and delegations.

“China’s navy is willing to, together with other navies, tackle maritime security challenges and maintain maritime peace, tranquillity and good order, stay committed to maritime security and development and actively provide more public goods for world maritime security,” Shen said.

“The PLA Navy is willing to be your close, friendly and equal partner for mutual support, development and win-win cooperation and remain united and act resolutely with all of you to safeguard world peace and stability,” he added.

“Let us contribute more to an ocean of lasting peace, common security and prosperity, an ocean that is open and inclusive.”

“A maritime parade is a form of military diplomacy,” said Yin Zhuo, head of the information technology commission of the PLA Navy.

“The PLA Navy will showcase the idea of peace to international delegates and the world.”

Organizing multinational naval events is an established practice for the PLA Navy, he added, noting that the events can boost exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and foreign navies, who will work together to safeguard maritime security and stability.

Today’s parade will feature 32 vessels and 39 aircraft, some of which have not been seen before, as well as warships from 13 foreign countries including India, Australia and Vietnam.

Stratolaunch’s gigantic twin-bodied plane takes its first flight

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Stratolaunch’s gigantic twin-bodied plane takes its first flight

Stratolaunch’s gigantic twin-bodied plane takes its first flight
The twin-hulled, six-engine Stratolaunch airplane took off Saturday from the Mojave Air and Space Port and spent more than two hours in the sky. (Stratolaunch Systems)

The Stratolaunch twin-hulled airplane, its wings stretching wider than a football field, took its first flight Saturday morning and spent more than two hours soaring above California’s Mojave Desert.

In taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port, the plane brought closer to reality the dream of launching satellites from the air. The idea is that the aircraft — which has conjoined-twin fuselages and is powered by six Boeing 747 engines — would eventually hoist a rocket carrying a satellite to a higher altitude before releasing it to blast into space.

“For a first flight, it was spot on,” test pilot Evan Thomas told reporters on a conference call not long after the plane landed back in Mojave. “For the most part, the airplane flew as predicted …. Systems on the airplane ran like a watch.”

Thomas said “a few little things” cropped up, but he did not specify what they were.

D. Stamos/Helodriver@SpacecoastPix

She is big but lean! A shape for the ages. @NASASpaceflight

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The plane took off at 6:58 a.m. and flew for 2½ hours, reaching a top speed of 189 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 17,000 feet, Stratolaunch Systems Corp. said.

When Stratolaunch founder Paul Allen died last October, that led to speculation about the company’s future.

“It’s never been a market-driven company,” Chad Anderson, chief executive of Space Angels, a global network for early-stage space industry investors, said this year. “It’s been a passion project of a really wealthy individual. And now that individual is gone.”

Allen, a Microsoft Corp. co-founder, was not the only one pursuing this approach to commercial spaceflight.

In November, Richard Branson’s small-satellite launch firm Virgin Orbit flew its modified Boeing 747 with a rocket attached beneath one of its wings for the first time, marking a step toward its first test launch. The Long Beach company’s goal is to send small satellites into orbit via rockets released from the plane’s wing mid flight.

Seattle-based Stratolaunch has pared back its plans since Allen’s death. In January it said it would cease development of a rocket engine and two planned satellite-launching rockets as well as a rocket-powered plane that could take a crew to space.

Stratolaunch described that retrenchment, which reportedly included dozens of layoffs, as “streamlining operations.” It said that would enable it to focus on conducting a first test flight of its massive satellite-launching plane — a goal it achieved Saturday — and on conducting a test launch of a Pegasus XL rocket from the plane.

At 385 feet wide, the Stratolaunch plane’s wingspan is bigger than that of any other aircraft. The plane’s twin fuselages — which make the craft sort of the airplane equivalent of a catamaran — are 238 feet long.

The previous wingspan leader was Howard Hughes’ World War II-era eight-engine H-4 Hercules flying boat, nicknamed the Spruce Goose. Surviving in an aviation museum in Oregon, it has an approximately 320-foot wingspan. Its fuselage is just under 219 feet long.

Although Stratolaunch calls its aircraft the world’s largest, other airplanes exceed it in length from nose to tail. They include the six-engine Antonov AN 225 cargo plane, which is 275.5 feet long, and the Boeing 747-8, which is just over 250 feet long.

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.