On 01/05/2013, in Viewpoint, by steve
Unless I am very much mistaken, the grounding of the Boeing 787 has been the longest in aviation history and only the DC-10 comes close, but that was in another time and age. Just a coincidence, of course, but still a telling story and a sign of this age the FAA’s enforced decision last month to furlough air traffic controllers due to a shortage of money caused by the federal budget restrictions implemented by politicians with little understanding of what this would cause in specialized areas like aviation.
Boeing screwed up big time with the 787 battery system as did Washington with its lawn-mower approach to straightening the federal budget.
Of course this was not the first major issue with the design of the 787. The center wing-box is now much heavier that was originally foreseen due to additional bits that had to be bolted on when it was discovered that the first load calculations were incorrect. Not that Airbus did any better with the 380. Incompatible software at different fabrication locations resulted in wire harnesses being too short, probably another first for the industry. Then cracks found on the rib-feet of the wings were discovered accidentally… while engineers were looking at the wing of the Qantas 380 that had one of its engines go boom. While the cracks did not pause an immediate safety problem, had they not been discovered like this, it is anybody’s guess what might have happened later on.
The way air traffic management should be financed has been a matter of debate for a long time now. In Europe, full cost recovery means that basically the airspace users pay everything and there is no danger of the money running out. Except of course if the airspace users themselves go belly up as had happened, well, more or less, after 9/11.
On 21/10/2012, in Bookshelf, by steve
We have brought you reviews of several books over the years and in each case we were talking about flesh and blood, sorry, paper and printing ink volumes, that is to say, traditional books. When I started searching for QF32, Capt. Richard De Crespigny’s account of the A380 engine failure incident, I found an interesting situation. Amazon was selling the paper book but for UK customers only. Amazon in Germany also had it in stock… but only in electronic format for the Kindle reader!
Since I have been carrying my ICAO and other documents as well as some books on a 7 inch Samsung tablet for some time now, I decided to give this a try. Since Samsung was kind enough to provide a Kindle reader in software as part of the tablet’s basic complement of applications, the only expense involved was the price of the book itself, which, at 11.99 Euros appeared to be very reasonable. Not to mention the fact that you can have the electronic book delivered practically instantaneously free of charge!
The transaction went through without a hitch…
Of course it was no surprise that this book would get written. After the all engines-out landing on the Hudson river, the story of how an Airbus A380 was saved by its Australian crew when one of its engines had an uncontained failure was a natural.
I for one enjoyed reading this book and I guess you will too. The description is not limited to the actual event itself. The years before that fateful day are covered through the life history of Capt. De Crespigny and this helps to understand why, when the plane was mortally wounded, the crew could still decide the best course of action in the circumstances and eventually lend the 380 safely.
Airmanship is not a word these days we necessarily and readily associate with terms like cockpit automation, envelope protection and so on. Yet, it was supreme airmanship that saved the lives of passengers and crew on QF32. This is the main message of Capt. De Crespigny also: automation is no substitute for superior airmanship.
On 09/07/2012, in Airline corner, by steve
United Airlines, the North American launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, is today announcing details about its induction of the aircraft into the company’s fleet and revealing a specially-designed livery for the revolutionary aircraft.
United is scheduled to take delivery of its first Dreamliner in late September. The aircraft cabin is being installed on the first aircraft, and will be configured with 36 seats in United BusinessFirst, 72 seats in United Economy Plus and 111 seats in United Economy. Cabin color selections use a palette of blue and grey and are consistent with other modern United aircraft. Customers will experience greater comfort with improved lighting, bigger windows, larger overhead bins, lower cabin altitude and enhanced ventilation systems, among other passenger-friendly features. The 787’s inflight entertainment system features an all-new design that offers more intuitive browsing and more filtering options, giving customers the option of searching for programs by language.
The airline’s 787 fleet will feature a customized livery that is exclusive to the fleet: the gold line that wraps the fuselage will swoop from nose to tail. The swoop is inspired by the trademark swoop painted on each of Boeing’s aircraft and is being adopted for the United 787 in a tribute to the two companies’ long history of working together.
United has been the launch customer for more than a dozen Boeing aircraft models, and was the first airline to operate the 767 and 777 aircraft. This tradition continues with United being the North America launch customer of the 787.
On 29/06/2012, in The aircraft we fly, by steve
The best kept secret in the State of Alabama these days is the Airbus announcement expected to come on Monday, 2 July at 10a local time, that they will open their first aircraft manufacturing plant in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile already hosts the Airbus North America engineering center.
Back in the days when Airbus and Boeing were competing in the US Air Force’s race to build the new tankers, Mobile had already been earmarked by Airbus as the site for their US manufacturing operation. When Airbus lost to Boeing, for a time it seemed that Mobile’s dreams of becoming the South’s Seattle were dead in the water…
Airbus has been pondering a US manufacturing plant for some time and there are several good reasons for setting up shop in the States. For one, making costs in building planes in euros and then selling them for dollars is not always a good idea. With the euro down against the dollar this issue is less acute but even at the current rate of exchange, it makes sense to operate completely in a dollar environment. The economics will further improve on account of being free of high European labor costs. Last but not least, an Airbus A320 stamped “Proudly Made in the USA” will probably add just enough additional attraction to swing a few more airlines to buy Airbus rather than Boeing.
Airbus aircraft are popular with US based airlines and seeing a new Airbus plant growing up in their backyard will certainly make the Boeing folks in Chicago think hard on how to counter the new threat.
Competition is good…
On 31/05/2012, in Buzzwords explained, by steve
The problem with traditional systems
In the traditional scheme of things, an aircraft will file a flight plan, containing a rather rudimentary description of its intentions. Air traffic management and air traffic control organizations then decipher the plan and create a trajectory for the flight as best they can… Very often this is but a poor image of what the airline concerned had in mind and then even this version is further distorted due to the need to limit sector loads or to provide separation.
We tend to think of the trajectory as being three dimensional but in fact the fourth dimension, time, is as important as the three spatial dimensions. This means that a delay on the ground is in fact a distortion of the trajectory which affects “only” the time dimension, but which can have serious consequences for the flight concerned.
Aircraft operators do develop the trajectories they want to fly taking many considerations into account and in the end, the trajectory represents their business intentions, the path on the ground and in the air they want to proceed along to ensure the most cost-effective conduct of their flight.
Traditional air traffic control is based on managing aircraft rather than trajectories. They do of course use the trajectory created in their systems from the flight plan to check ahead of the aircraft to see whether there is a conflict with another flight but this look-ahead is very short (in the order of 20 minutes or so) and tactical interventions rarely take into account their effect on the trajectory as a whole. Multi-sector planners are starting to appear but even these tend to have a limited scope and ability to keep the integrity of the trajectories intact.
Aircraft with sophisticated Flight Management Systems (FMS) can fly a trajectory with phenomenal accuracy but the prediction capability of the FMS is not always what it should be, especially because of shortcomings in the weather-modeling capability built into them.
On 20/04/2012, in Bookshelf, by steve
You may be wondering why I am recommending a book first published in 1996… The Boeing 777 is now known the world over as an efficient, safe and rather loveable aircraft that is in high demand by airlines.
Karl Sabbagh’’s book is a masterpiece and he tells the story of the 777 gestation in a clear and entertaining manner. While Boeing had put the future of the company on the line when they decided to build the 747, the decision to build the 777 and the effort expended was no less epic.
The original designers of the 777 are doubtless watching with a warm feeling in their hearts as Boeing is preparing to tweak the triple-seven to make it even more competitive with Airbus’ upcoming A350. From what is known about Boeing’s plans, it is clear that the 777 is an excellent design and a great platform on to which you can graft new technologies that will keep it a competitor to be reckoned with for many years to come.
In other words, we will be hearing a lot about the 777 in the coming years.
If you have not yet read Sabbagh’s book, this is an excellent time to get up to date on the story of the 777 and so be in a better position to understand and appreciate Boeing’s work to keep the twenty-first century jet right at the cutting edge in the coming decades.
On 08/04/2012, in Buzzwords explained, by steve
If you utter the words ”free flight” these days, a number of interesting reactions are likely. These can range from blank stares via violent reactions to sad headshaking. On one occasion somebody actually asked me.…”But you still have to pay airport taxes…?”
But jokes apart, there are plenty of experts who will remember how much discussion there was when the concept of free flight was first proposed. In its purest form this meant an air traffic management paradigm where, in most circumstances, separation is provided from the cockpit with controllers on the ground retaining a mainly strategic role. The original discussions, and to a certain extent the debate, focused on where the line should be drawn: to what extent should the responsibility for separation be transferred to the pilot, where is the limit of safe and cost effective transfer that brings real benefits?
Related work also quickly highlighted the fact that while free flight in its purest form was probably realistic only at very high altitudes with low density traffic, or in remote areas, variations on the theme were possible and some of these held real promise. Indeed, the term free flight itself was found to be too offensive for some and was replaced by terms like Airborne Traffic Situational Awareness (ATSAW) and Airborne Separation Assistance System (ASAS).
Whatever you call it, the question of transferring some or all separation responsibility to the cockpit is a complicated one, as is the work currently under way to assess the possibilities and chart out the most promising directions.
In this article Capt. Phil Hogge, one of the most consistent supporters of the free flight concept, outlines the subject and shares his views on it with Roger Wilco’s readers.
On 14/02/2012, in Airline corner, by steve
When Malev Hungarian Airlines ceased operations two weeks ago, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and tens of thousands ticket holders uncertain about the value of their reservations, people in Hungarian aviation were stunned. Emotions ran high and the political parties, typically, were blaming each other for the demise of the 66 years old national carrier.
From the reactions one would have thought that Malev was the first airline ever to fail… But then for its people, most of whom have never worked for another airline, this was indeed a tragedy of biblical proportions.
Quite apart from the personal tragedies such a failure entails, the economic impact is also substantial. This is all the more serious because of the shaky situation Hungary is currently in.
Budapest Ferihegy Airport lost 40 % of its traffic, the loss of incoming and outgoing tourists is a serious blow to the industry and connecting passengers coming from further East and South will no longer pass via Budapest reducing the regional importance of the airport. Malev was operating several thin routes to localities in neighboring countries which attracted businesses to Budapest with a view to serving them from the Hungarian capital with its great air connections. This attraction is also gone now.
Malev’s failure was not totally unexpected. The company has been losing money for many years and it went through several owners, coming out of each status change in a poorer state. The last owner, with more than 90 % of the shares in its hands, was the Hungarian government which, in the end, let the carrier sink.
Ryanair was the first airline to react and came with well defined plans to at least partially fill the void left by the national airline. Others, among them Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines and British Airways have announced that they will have additional flights and also use bigger aircraft, to pick up the slack. At the same time, American Airlines, Delta and Hainan Airlines announced that they were cutting back service in response to Malev’s disappearance.
In other words, the aviation industry was reacting to an event the likes of which we have seen many times before when great names like Sabena, Swissair, Pan Am, Spanair and so on flew west, out of existence.
Only a few weeks ago Airbus said that the cracks discovered on the wing-rib feet of some A380s were not a threat to safety and they would be repaired as part of the four-yearly maintenance regime.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) does not agree. Carriers with A380s that have accumulated more than 1,300 takeoffs and landings must make the inspections immediately, and any aircraft that have made more than 1,800 trips need to be checked within four days. This translates to the grounding of some 20 aircraft or one third of the fleet within the next six weeks.
The inspection is done visually and takes just a few hours. In practical terms this means that each affected aircraft will be on the ground for a full day.
Although Airbus keeps stressing that while the cracking is “embarrassing”, it poses no danger to the passengers flying on the 380. The EASA Airworthiness Directive paints a slightly more ominous picture: “This condition, if not detected and corrected, could potentially affect the structural integrity of the aeroplane.”
On 20/01/2012, in The future is now, by steve
I was talking to an old time, well respected colleague the other day discussing his view that instead of forcing the industry to implement yet another expensive capability, full use should be made of what was already there… Once the benefits start to accrue, airspace users would be much more inclined to take the extra steps and accept the costs associated with the extra functionality (assuming of course that there was a business case for it). This discussion was in the context of basic PBN and the addition or not of things like Constant Radius Turns in en-route airspace.
Although I have always preferred a more all-out approach, his pragmatic views make perfect sense and is also something airline bean-counters are likely to accept more readily. Investing in speculative functionality when the existing stuff sits idle most of the time is difficult to justify. Of course focusing mainly on use-what-is-already-there-first will not speed up progress but will make the simpler things happen with a higher degree of probability. Aim for too much, and nothing happens. I hate to admit it, but he is right…
Having given credit where credit is due, my incorrigible drive for wanting the whole thing kept chewing my soul. There was something here that we could turn to our advantage. But what was it exactly?
Then I remembered… The thousands of A320NEOs and Boeing 737MAXs. Airlines have ordered these more fuel efficient versions of the old favorites to basically replace a large part of their fleets almost overnight. Now if only those new babies could come with all kinds of goodies fitted right from the start…
What are we talking about? From an air traffic management perspective, there are three items that I would have on my wish list: air/ground digital link and CPDLC, ADS-B in and out and a full set of PBN capabilities.
I can almost hear opponents shouting: with those new versions not due for another three years or so, what technology should the manufacturers use for ADS-B for instance? Stay with Mode S Extended Squitter or go for something else? But what? Would it not be better to wait until the technology debate settles? We have of course heard this in the past. Waiting is equivalent to doing nothing and missing the boat. We have also seen that in the past… and suffer the consequences in the present day.
No Sire, this time we should be smarter.