Shame on you Airbus

On 16/12/2012, in Viewpoint, by cleo

I have never particularly liked Airbus. For decades, a political football parading as a real company, they were always just a tad too aggressive and self-important for my liking. Some of our airline colleagues related just how different it was to accept new aircraft in Seattle and in Toulouse. The Airbus personnel always acted like they were some kind of superior beings with the customers lost sheep needing direction. The initial debacle with the proposed A350 was a good example of what happens when a company thinks they know everything better and try to rape their customers with their ideas.

When they created the A380, there was a brief period when they were in the limelight, after all, that fat lady is huge, the biggest there is. But other than that, it is not a revolutionary aircraft in any way.

When Boeing, very wisely, decided to forego creating a similar behemoth and went instead for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, they also made a number of design decisions that did result in a trendsetting product. With the fuselage constructed of composite barrels and most of the hydraulics replaced by electrics, the 787 is like a beacon showing where the future is. Whatever Airbus does to the A350, it will be second fiddle, no doubt about that.

Of course the next big battle will be the replacements for the 737 and 320 family aircraft. Both manufacturers have decided to offer re-engined versions of their current bestsellers, resulting in the Boeing 737MAX and the Airbus A320NEO. Both are interim solutions with a shelf life of less than a decade, serving as the mainstay of the industry until engine and aerodynamic innovation matures enough to warrant the expense of completely new designs. But with fuel prices heading North, airlines are eager to get their hand on aircraft offering fuels savings and the MAX and NEO will both deliver that.

They are selling well and it is therefore difficult to understand why Airbus has felt it necessary to run a series of double page ads trying to throw mud on the 737MAX. Unless they are truly afraid that the MAX will put the NEO to shame…

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Cleaner, meaner and flies farther…

On 28/08/2012, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

A special American Airlines 737-800 left Seattle for flight testing as part of its participation in Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator program, which tests technologies focused on reducing fuel consumption, lowering noise and using sustainable materials.


United Airlines Gate Event to Celebrate New Service Between San Francisco and Washington Reagan

On 15/05/2012, in Airline corner, by steve

On 14 May United Airlines welcomed local business and community leaders to Gate 85 at San Francisco International Airport to celebrate the launch of the airline’s new daily service between San Francisco and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Guests included representatives from the California Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Travel Association and the Bay Area Council.

With the launch of the new service, United will become the first airline to connect the Bay Area with Washington’s downtown close-in airport.

San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce Director Mark Chandler and United Managing Director of Western Region Sales Anthony Toth  addressed the customers and other dignitaries, including special guests George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. United decorated the gate in red, white and blue bunting and provided entertainment and traditional American food, including baked apple pie and cherry cobbler.

“We are delighted today to celebrate our expanded service between San Francisco and Washington,” said Anthony Toth. “We provide travelers in San Francisco with more flights to more destinations than any other airline in the world.”

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Airbus, Sharklets and a Lawsuit

On 30/12/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

Perhaps you too have been wondering when you saw Boeing 737s and 757s sprouting winglets: why was the Airbus 320 family stuck with the old-fashioned wingtip fences? Winglets have been shown to bring substantial (up to 5 %) reduction in fuel burn and the Aviation Partners, Inc. (API) blended winglet design, patented in 1994, have been around for many years.

Why was Airbus resisting?

I have talked to airline people who have had experience with specifying aircraft they were going to buy from both Boeing and Airbus. If I say they had a very low opinion of the European manufacturer’s relationship with customers, I am not even coming close to what they said. Remember the story of the A350? Had it not been for a few very vocal customers practically beating Airbus on the head, the folks in Toulouse would have not deviated from their original, rather outdated, ideas.

One can only surmise but it is probably true to say that with the 320 selling like hot cakes, Airbus simply did not much care. Why spend money and effort on improving something when it was being bought as it was, without fancy new appendages like winglets? It is interesting that Airbus customers were not banging the door about this… may be they had but there was nobody home. In any case, when the API winglets were tried on a JetBlue Airways A320, the 5 % fuel saving was actually demonstrated. By not adopting winglets much earlier, Airbus caused its customers to lose a lot of money quite unnecessarily.

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A Classic with Winglets

On 02/12/2011, in The lighter side, by heading370

Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s main carrier operates an interesting mixed fleet out of Europe’s capital. It is one of the few European companies that fly a winglet version of the Boeing 737 Classic, the 300 series. Airliner World has been invited to see how they fly.

Brussels Airlines rose from the ashes of Sabena after its bankruptcy in 2001. The new company was first set up with the trading name SN Brussels Airlines (SNBA), based on the former Sabena subsidiary Delta Air Transport (DAT). SNBA later merged with Virgin Express and the name was changed to Brussels Airlines. Brussels Airlines is currently part owned by Lufthansa and a member of the Star Alliance. Today the airline operates 32 Avro Jets (a mix of BAe 146-s, AVRO RJ85-s and 100-s), 4 Airbus A319-s, 5 Airbus 330-300-s serving the African destinations and 5 Boeing 737-300-s and 4 400 series, inherited from Virgin Express.

Our contributor joined a flight from Brussels to Naples that was operated by OO-LTM one of the Aviation Partners winglet equipped Boeing 737-300. This interesting project started in 2005 when Virgin Express was contacted by Aviation Partners – Boeing to propose the winglets for the company’s B737-300 Classics. Virgin Express made a historical decision since up to then no other operators retrofitted the type, only New Generation B737-s were equipped. Time has proven that the decision was right as the winglets bring remarkable benefits in daily operations. Using winglets result in an average 5 % fuel saving but also enhance aircraft performance: because of the reduced drag, less thrust is needed for the same take-off performance. This is particularly useful at very noise-sensitive airports like Brussels. In practice this meant that the company could de-rate the CFM56 engines at 20 kN, making take-off-s much quieter and also extending the lifespan of the engines.

Today all but one of the B737-300-s are equipped. (The exception, OO-VEN is modified with 2° drooped flaps as are all the 400-s because the winglet modification was not possible on this 300 and not available yet for the 400 series.)

Our aircraft OO-LTM (c/n 25070) was delivered in 1991 to another Belgian company, TEA Trans European Airlines then it was taken over later by EuroBelgian Airlines. From 1996 it has been flying in Virgin Express colours and finally from 2007 – following the merger with SNBA – adopted Brussels Airlines’ logo.


I met the crew of the flight Captain Frank De Paepe and First Officer Gregory Claes at Zaventem National airport in Brussels. The cockpit crew was supplemented by three cabin crew, Ms Brigitte Favaretto, Ms Agnes Mier and Mr Constantinos Triantafyllos. On this Saturday, the aircraft which is able to carry 142 passengers was about half full.

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Are Brussels Airlines and Brussels Airport loosing it?

On 20/04/2011, in CDM, by steve

I have written in the past about the curious happenings that seem to affect Brussels Airlines’ flights from Vienna. You can read about them here and here. Last Friday however I got proof that flights TO Vienna can also be jinxed… Sadly, the event I am about to relate to you also shows that collaborative decision making (CDM) as practiced to-day in Brussels needs to be improved substantially.

SN runs a very convenient service to Vienna, leaving Brussels at 0705 and arriving in the Austrian capital shortly after 0830. With the new train connection at the airport you can reach most meeting locations for a comfortable 1000 start.

I was at Brussels airport early last Friday, 15 April because exceptionally I was planning to entrust my little trolley bag to the care of the “system”. As you will see, this was an exceptionally bad idea. Having checked in at home, baggage drop-off was a breeze and in no time at all I was through security and on my way up to the gate area.

Brussels Airport is one of those places where they use the totally idiotic and counter- productive idea of posting the gate numbers at the last possible moment believing that leaving passengers clueless about the gate would generate more revenue at the shops… In fact they are only “punishing” those who check in at home and who do not have bags to drop off since they will indeed not learn the gate number until the airport decides to disclose this closely guarded secret; all others get the gate number scribbled on their boarding pass by the helpful airlines (who probably hate this selfish attitude of the airports as much as I do).

This morning I was among those happy souls “in the know” and I walked straight to the gate, casting a sad eye at the group of imptient passengers milling around in front of (and NOT inside) the bar waiting for their gate to be posted. At the gate itself a sad sight greeted me. There was no aircraft at the other end of the air-bridge.

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737 successor is coming!

On 16/02/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

Although officially Boeing maintains that they are still only evaluating their options concerning the future of the 737 (re-engining versus an all new aircraft), CEO Jim McNerney, speaking at the Cowen and Company Aerospace and Defense Conference in New York, basically confirmed that they will build an all new narrowbody to counter Airbus’s A320NEO.

Well, what did you expect? Boeing thinks that their loyal customers will wait for the new plane to come out around 2020, shunning the Airbus offering which will automatically become obsolete the moment Airbus decides to build an A320 replacement some time after the NEO has been put on the market.

CEOs are not given to proclaiming things without a basis and Mr. McNerney’s words that “it is not a done deal yet but they have a strong bias towards a new design” do mean more than just a tentative plan. Bet they will do it?

Airbus and Boeing have been facing down each other for some time now over this issue, with the likes of Bombardier and Embrear watching anxiously. Their future in the non-regional aircraft market will be affected in a big way depending on what the big boys decide.

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Airfield Engineering Asset Maintenance – A sector report

On 17/01/2011, in Life around runways, by steve

This article was compiled by Bryan Camoens and Ed Haines for the Airfield Engineering and Asset Maintenance 2011 Conference. You can contact Bryan here. To visit the conference web-site, click here.

Airport engineers, operational and maintenance heads are working under extremely challenging operational scheduling and cost constraints. In addition new, larger aircraft types and higher traffic levels require these personnel to plan significant extension and refurbishment of their airfield assets to ensure their airport is not left behind.

The need for runway expansions, upgrades and refurbishments is increasing the demands made on your airfield maintenance plans and strategies. At the same time, the windows of opportunity for carrying out this work whilst maintaining operational efficiency are becoming more limited.

This research paper will touch on the issues, challenges and probable outcomes we may begin to see on the Airfield Engineering landscape.

Click here to read the full article


Brussels – CDM airport daylight hours only??

On 13/12/2010, in CDM, by steve

Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) is a vital element of the new air traffic management paradigm (you can read more about CDM in Roger-Wilco’s CDM category). Some airports in Europe are leading CDM implementation, among them Brussels. One would expect that operations at a CDM airport do not have to contend any more with such basic problems as waiting at a gate with no operator for the airbridge… Arrive late in the evening at Brussels and CDM airport or not, you will be treated to this kind of legacy problem.

Last Friday though they have given us a taste of the good old times, before CDM…

SN 2908 from Vienna was not only on time for its 23.10 arrival but it was actually some 15 minutes early. Landing on 25L the plane taxied to a remote position beyond the satellite terminal (see sketch below) where Brussels Airlines parks their aircraft for their week-end rest. Passengers were happy. 15 minutes may not be such a big gain in time but getting home 15 minutes earlier on a Friday night is a nice thing for everyone.

The plane came to a halt, engines fell silent and the doors… remained closed. Five minutes later the captain announced that we were a bit early and the stairs and bus were not yet available. It was then that some passengers started to ask the age old question, the one that started CDM as a concept more than two decades ago: do they not know it when a plane arrives early?????

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Screwing up the boarding process the Brussels Airlines way

On 11/12/2010, in On the go..., by steve

It is so much fun flying these days! Getting to the airport, struggling through security, navigating the intricate web of shops and eateries while waiting for the gate to be posted are just the small pleasures you get for the exorbitant service fees you are charged over and above the “cheap” airline ticket.

But fly Brussels Airlines from their home base in Brussels and you are treated to some extra fun. And not one either. On every trip if you are lucky (read more about this here and here).

On the morning of 7 December 2010 the scene at the gate allocated to SN flight 2901 was quite normal. Passengers to Vienna were gathering and the two gate agents (one male one female) were busy getting ready for the boarding process.

Of course one hidden mine was already there, firmly embedded in SN operations. In case you are not aware of this, Brussels Airlines flies a collection of Avro RJ (85 and 100)/Bae 146-200 and Boeing 737s on their European network. Flights to Vienna see both the 737s and the others and of course the boarding process of the 737 is (or should be) different from that of the much smaller RJs. SN seems to use the same procedure for both and in particular, they have the famous priority entry, reserved for business class and B Flex Economy+ passengers who are boarded first… The only problem is, business and the B Flex sections are in the first part of the cabin and the priority boarders create a mighty traffic jam in the aisle while they stow their gear. When the rest of the herd arrives, they are blocked from reaching the back of the plane, a situation that results in a messy scene and creates a totally unnecessary delay in completing the process. If only they would first call the last few rows like so many other airlines do…

But this morning they did one better, earning one of the employees (of SN???) the less than endearing title “asshole” from most of the English-speaking passengers on the flight. Here is what happened.

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