737MAX, Boeing’s answer to the A320NEO

On 30/09/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

There is a real feeding frenzy around the future Airbus 320NEO (New Engine Option) with some 1200 orders and commitments having been booked by the manufacturer, almost double of what they expected. Boeing’s answer is the 737MAX and this old/new aircraft is also selling like hot cakes.

So how did we get from the NSA and 737NE to the 737MAX?

Airlines have been urging Airbus and Boeing for some time to come up with a replacement for the 320 and 737 families. The airlines had pretty clear ideas about what they wanted and this focused mainly on fuel efficiency and environmental sustainability. For the manufacturers however the task was anything but simple.

Quite apart from the fact that both the legacy 320 and the 737 new generation are selling very well (and hence there not being much of a motivation for the airframers to spend money on a replacement), there was the very clear engineering question: how could such a new aircraft be built so that it would be technologically future proof for the next 30-40 years? A shorter life-span would simply not make economic sense. Keep in mind that Boeing is introducing the 737MAX almost 50 years after the original 737 was launched.

Although a lot of innovation has gone into types like the 787 and A350, they are still traditional design that fall short of what we could call aircraft of the future.

Providing the quantum leap in fuel efficiency desired by the airlines would require even better new materials, aerodynamics and engines, very little of which was mature enough to go on a real aircraft.

Boeing was talking about the NSA, the New Small Aircraft as the follow up to the 737 even while Airbus was looking into re-engining the 320, a kind of half-way house that would bring efficiencies without the huge cost of developing a completely new aircraft.

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Make Ideas Happen

On 28/09/2011, in Bookshelf, by steve

By Scott Belsky
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
ISBN-10: 159184312X
ISBN-13: 978-1591843122

Most of us have been in situations where either ourselves or somebody else had a really brilliant idea, it was put forward and the next year was spent by discussing with our peers, boss or the public at large why it would be impossible to realize. No discussion on how things could be made better so that the brilliant idea became possible… instead obfuscation until the idea went away. No doubt for many people this is the more comfortable option. They do not need to do anything, they do not rock the boat or upset the applecart, they will not be criticized if things do not work out (see how crazy the system really is: you seldom get criticized for not doing something) and peace and quiet is restored… at least until another bozo comes along with a brilliant idea.

If you are one of these people, do not read Scott’s book “Making Ideas Happen”. It will only make you nervous.

If however you are the one with the brilliant ideas and keen for a handle to eliminate the nay-sayers, this book is for you. Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about it:

“Though creation always begins with an idea, ideas don’t always lead to creation; examining why that’s so, online entrepreneur Belsky finds that, no matter how unique or radically different ideas may be, the individuals and teams who carry those ideas to fruition share a number of common traits, such as engaging peers and leveraging communal forces. In this guide to realizing ideas, Belsky examines those traits in detail. Chapters like “The Chemistry of the Creative Team” set forth an action-based plan that forgoes time-wasting meetings and other corporate culture standbys, citing studies, progressive thinkers and case studies of companies like Best Buy, IBM and Sun Microsystems. Modern-day successes, Belsky contends, have traded “the traditional butts-in-chairs mindset” for a “Results Only Work Environment,” where employees are compensated based on achievement of specified goals, rather than work hours. Ultimately, Belsky insists, creative success is a matter of rethinking methods and increasing focus, while emphasizing and rewarding old-fashioned passion and perspiration.”

Highly recommended!


NEWO Workshop on Innovative Operational Approaches – 25 October 2011, Madrind, Spain

On 27/09/2011, in Events, by steve

The objective of the 1st NEWO project Workshop is to identify new operational approaches for the queue management of departures in the air transport network. The approach is to explore complex networks solutions for solving capacity problems at nodes/edges implying the application of prioritisation criteria for the distribution of elements in the network. Isdefe’s team will raise the problem and experts from ATM but also from other domains related to the management of complex networks such as logistic, energy and telecommunication will discuss about any potential solution that is applied in their domain and which could be mirrored in the air transport world. Innovative ideas will be captured by means of Expert Groups, questionnaires and brainstorming sessions.

The contribution and knowledge of the experts from different domains (logistics, energy, ICT, air transport…) is appreciated. The event will:

  • Provide an occasion for cross-fertilisation and for the attendees to be acquainted with researchers in diverse domains dealing with complex networks (logistics, transport, energy networks, ICT, etc.)
  • Explore the applicability of past and on-going research in complex networks to the particular case of Air Transport and,
  • Exchange views on management approaches for prioritization of elements in complex networks.

The workshop is open to participation and interests are gathered by the workshop point of contact. Funding for attendance is also available on a “first-come first-served” basis. Contributions other than attendance to the workshop are welcomed through downloading and filling the questionnaire you can find under the “Documentation” heading on the NEWO webpage and sending it to the NEWO WS point of contact.

You can download the workshop brochure here.


May be the Wright brothers were not the first after all…

On 26/09/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

We all grew up with the certain knowledge that the first powered flight was performed by two bicycle mechanics from Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright in the year 1903. This picture of the Wright Flyer, made by the attendant of the lighthouse several miles away who was invited towatch, is something we all know and revere as the definitive starting point of the machines that made our industry possible.

The Wrigth Flyer


Now it seems that we may have to accept the fact: we have been venerating the second successful attempt rather than the first one. How is that possible?

There appears to be mounting evidence that two years before the Wright’s historic flight, a resident of Bridgeport by the name of Gustave Whitehead had actually taken to the air in an aircraft of his own design. He was a simple mechanic holding various factory jobs but otherwise obsessed with building flying machines.

The August 14, 1901 event was reported in the local press but also in Boston and New York.

There seem to be several witnesses who said that Whitehead was visited by the Wrights and at least one of them remembered Whitehead saying that he had freely discussed his solutions with the visitors.
No account of the Wrights’ life seems to mention this visit… However, there appears to be a contract between the Wright estate and the Smithsonian, custodian of the Wright Flyer, stipulating that the Flyer would have to be returned to the estate if the Smithsonian ever suggested or admitted that another aircraft was the first that performed a controlled, powered flight.

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Paper or plastic?

On 22/09/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

Shopping in grocery stores across the US you are likely to hear this question at check out from the guy whose task it is to place your purchases in your preferred kind of bag (plastic or paper..?). In a way, airframe manufacturers are asking a similar question: plastic or aluminum? The implications are tremendous.

Composite materials have been used in aircraft for several years now, mainly in secondary structures of relatively limited size. Composites are best known for their strength, light weight, resistance to corrosion and difficulty to repair. When Boeing decided to build the 787, they set out to create something truly revolutionary not so much in terms of aerodynamics but in terms of systems and materials. A new, largely electric architecture (replacing bulky hydraulics) was combined with a fuselage built almost entirely of composite materials.

Not to be outdone, Airbus redesigned its A350 project, also giving composites a greater role. There are however fundamental differences in the structures being used by the two manufacturers. While Boeing is building the fuselage from composite barrel sections, Airbus has opted for a more conservative solution, placing composite panels on a frame made of aluminum alloy.

While the A350 is still to see the light of day, the 787 is approaching first delivery to ANA in Japan… after a delay of several years. Only a small part of this delay is directly attributable to the composite construction but there are some important lessons to be learned nevertheless.

Click here to read the full article


Alternate Position, Navigation and Timing (APNT) – What is this?

On 19/09/2011, in Buzzwords explained, by steve

In any conversation about satellite navigation and the use of enablers like GPS, talk inevitably shifts to the risks and the ease with which GPS for instance can be jammed. It is easy to sketch doomsday scenarios with a full-scale GPS outage once NextGen and SESAR are operational, making the industry essentially dependent on signals from space. The response is alternating between brushing away the risk or suggestions that satellite navigation is perhaps not the best path for the future of air traffic management.

The fact of the matter is, there have been cases where the GPS signal was effectively unusable in certain parts of the US, with the duration of the incidents varying between 1 hour and 72 hours. The incidents were all traceable to temporary adverse conditions but it is only a matter of time before malicious intent will join the list of causes. There is certainly no shortage of cheap but effective jammer devices, some of which fit inside a cigarette box.

Adverse conditions may arise for example as a result of meteorological or space-based phenomena or trucks passing near the location of an antenna situated in a crammed environment. Portable jammers may be activated anywhere…

One of the main attractions of the move to a space based ATM paradigm is the potential cost saving offered by the chance to eliminate the ground navigation infrastructure. The vulnerabilities of the space based system at the same time require that measures be introduced that cost-effectively mitigate the risks posed by those vulnerabilities.

Air navigation service providers the world over are obliged to set up a system that enables them to continue providing the services required even in the case of various contingencies. No-break power supplies, robust, redundant communications lines, contingency control rooms and the ability to transfer control to neighboring centers in case of a full scale failure or natural catastrophe are just a few examples of routine measures in place to soften the impact of contingencies.

In the past, the failure of a VOR/DME serving a busy intersection, failure of an ILS serving a busy runway or total equipment failure on board a single aircraft were serious events and made both controllers and pilots sweat but it was hardly the end of the world.

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My Third Mistake as an Air Traffic Controller

On 15/09/2011, in ATC world, by jim

December 1953, Taegu Air Route Traffic Control Center, on the hill by the Children’s School in downtown Taegu, Korea. The war, I mean the ‘Police Action‘, has been over since last June. Both sides are still at the ready and wary of each other. About the same as it is now in 2011 (58 years later?)

Taegu to-day...

In the middle of a midnight to seven A.M. shift I was the only controller “on the boards”. Didn’t need any more. Taegu Air Route Traffic Control Center was a manual control facility, e.g., no radar and the air traffic at night was not more than a couple of aircraft.

There was another controller operating the radios in another room and a supervisor, T/Sgt Aaron Willeford, at the desk also operating as the Air Defense liaison controller. Three of us in all plus a radio technician available on call.

Special 304 a C-54 had landed some time ago at Seoul (K-14). He would be calling for clearance at any moment to proceed from Seoul to Taegu (K-2). A proposal was on the board for a C-119 from Kunsan (K-8) to Taegu. Special 304 was a courier flight that flew every night from Tokyo to various bases in Japan and Korea. Same flight, same call-sign, same route and about the same time every night. Kept us all awake no matter the weather or lack of other operations.

Well, both the C-54 and the C-119 called for clearance about the same time. My dilemma was that both aircraft were going to the same destination and I was estimating them to be there at about the same time so I needed to have them stacked at the appropriate altitude when I handed them off to the Tower at K-2(Taegu). I made a guess that the C-54 would depart on time because of the scheduled nature of his operation and the C-119 would be a bit late because, well, it was a C-119.

The C-54...

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Air Traffic Control – Your Safety in the Air? Or something more…

On 13/09/2011, in ATC world, by steve

Back in the early 70s I was the vice-president of the Hungarian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (HATCA) and we were busy searching for a good slogan for the association. In the end, we decided to use an adapted version of the slogan put out by the Canadians: “Air Traffic Control means you will have a safe flight”. The HATCA version became: “Air Traffic Control – Your safety in the air”.

Many many years later, when I was working in the airline Project Coordination Platform supporting the SESAR definition phase I introduced the idea of the “business trajectory”. This term referred to the trajectory defined by an airline, the one they wanted to fly and which best expressed their business intentions in relation to the flight concerned.

While the airlines really liked the idea, there was an immediate outcry from the controllers involved in the definition phase. How could I mention the term “business” in the same sentence with trajectory and air traffic control! ATC was there to ensure safety and business had nothing to do with it.

Recalling my time as HATCA president, I did not blame them. After all, when we were looking for the logo, we too highlighted safety as the aim of ATC and the word “business” did not cross our minds. We did this in spite of the fact that ICAO has been saying right from the start that the aim of air traffic services was to maintain a safe and efficient flow of air traffic.

Of course a lot has changed since then and while the importance of safety has not diminished, the relative importance of efficiency has grown tremendously. It is not an exaggeration to say that safety and efficiency are equally important if this industry is to survive. Concentrating mainly on safety is not enough by far… Our thinking must change so that the terms “safety” and “business” may coexist peacefully in our minds.

While the awareness to maintain safety is generally high in the ATM world, the business aspect still tends to be considered a necessary evil, even an affront to people anointed, after all, to uphold safety.

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Multiple Line-ups on the Same Runway

On 09/09/2011, in SKYbrary News, by steve

News from EUROCONTROL’s aviation safety knowledge base SKYbrary.

Multiple line-ups is a technique employed at some busy airports to expedite the departure of aircraft from the runway. It concerns departing aircraft being instructed to line-up on the same runway at different positions using different access taxiways and is a significant capacity enabler when implemented in line with ICAO recommendations and phraseology.

Learn more about Multiple Line-ups on the Same Runway on SKYbrary.


It is not easy to work with the airlines – Why the SJU should be careful

On 07/09/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Having airspace users on board in SESAR is an important development by anyone’s measure. Thinking that having individual airlines involved is the same as having the industry involved is a grave mistake that can cost dearly to all concerned.

The signs of trouble are already there. What do you think about there being a hard-won agreement from the airspace users at one or two pretty high level meetings and then the same users withdrawing their agreement just a few weeks later? The result is frustration on the part of the other partners (ANSPs in this case), confusion about where things were going and, worst of all, loss of credibility of the airlines.

It would be easy to wave this away by just saying that the airline people in the meeting were not up to speed with the subjects being discussed and so they agreed to something they did not fully understand. This would be a rather unfortunate situation and no excuse at all but the actual reality is even worse.

The problem is not new and it is called the industry voice, or rather, the lack of it.

Until about a decade ago, IATA had been recognized by its members as the industry voice on all technical aspects of air traffic management. One of the most important, and difficult, tasks of IATA’s experts had been to forge this common voice, bringing together the widely differing interests and business models of the member airlines so that to the outside world only consolidated, well defined requirements were communicated. This was vital because otherwise the ATM and avionics industries would have been totally confused and at a loss as to what they should develop to meet the airlines’ diverse requirements.

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