Cracks in the Wings of the A380 – What Next?

On 08/01/2012, in Safety is no accident, by steve

Poor A380.

She had a difficult birth caused in no small measure by the rather peculiar corporate structure of Airbus and the consequent mismatch of the design software used in different parts of the company… Wire harnesses turned out to be too short, then the redesigned version did not fit either. After long delays she finally took to the air only to have an engine explode mid-flight. Now come the news that Qantas and Singapore airlines have reassured their passengers that there was no risk to safety from the cracks found on the wings of several A380s.

Well, what else did you expect them to say?

Airbus calls the cracks “minor” and confirmed that they were not a cause for concern. They also published a recommended way to repair them.

The cracking, about one centimeter long and almost invisible to the naked eye, was found while the Qantas aircraft on which the engine blew up was being repaired. The investigators say that the cracking was unrelated to the engine incident.

Singapore airlines have announced that they have also found cracks on the wings of two of their 380s.

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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practically beating Airbus on the head, the folks in Toulouse would have not deviated from their original, rather outdated, ideas.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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The Boeing 787, more than just a new aircraft in the sky

On 07/12/2011, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

With the long awaited new 787 finally in the hands of launch customer All Nippon Airways, an 89 month run for the manufacturer has come to the end but it does not mean that they are looking to slow down in Chicago and Seattle. Two stretched versions, the 787-9 and the 787-10 are on the horizon and ramping up the production of the current model -8 is a challenge unto itself.

821 net orders for the type speaks for itself. Curiously, Airbus continues to hold that composite materials are suitable for wings and secondary structures but not for fuselage sections. They will build the A350XWB with this in mind… Well, time will tell but I do not think Boeing is a company that would get something like this wrong.

In any case, the 787 is an innovator in more ways than just its composite fuselage.


It has an interesting heritage, a kind of virtual family that never flew yet had a huge impact on what the 787 has become and what its competitors will look like (Airbus comments notwithstanding).

Back in the times when the Boeing 747-400 was still the undisputed Queen of the skies, Airbus came with the idea of building something even bigger. As the A380 slowly took shape, Boeing was faced with a dilemma. Should they compete with the new large transport head on or come with something not quite so big but so innovative that it took at least part of the limelight off from Airbus’ new baby?

The answer was not easy for two reasons: Boeing did honestly believe that there was no market for two aircraft types the size of the A380 and hence little chance of a competing line ever breaking even; if however they opted for a smaller product, they would need to avoid competing with their own best selling aircraft, the 777.

For a time, they felt that airlines might be attracted to a new aircraft that would beat everyone else by flying faster than anyone else. Not supersonic but coming close… The result of this thinking was the Sonic Cruiser, a concept that arrived at the worst possible time in terms of shifting airline preferences. It was the beginning of the times when fuel efficiency rose to the top of everybody’s agenda leaving higher speed off the wish-list (if indeed it had ever been there).

Boeing quickly dropped the Sonic Cruiser and redefined its offering, this time focusing on fuel efficiency. The 7 Efficient 7 was sketched out by engineers and soon renamed the 787 by the marketing folks.

It was clear from the start that the 787 must be something special.

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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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Airbus to support FAA Greener Skies Initiative with ATM expertise

On 25/11/2011, in Environment - Without hot air, by steve

Airbus has been selected to provide Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) expertise for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Greener Skies Initiative. As part of Boeing’s FAA System Engineering 2020 (SE-2020) team, Airbus will identify procedures which fully utilize aircraft precision navigation capabilities to reduce fuel burn, lower emissions and decrease noise.

The Greener Skies initiative seeks to improve ATM efficiency and to minimize the environmental impact on the ground and in the air through the expanded use of PBN including Required Navigation Performance (RNP), area navigation (RNAV), and Optimized Profile Descents (OPD).

The industry consortium includes Adacel, Airbus, Boeing, Cessna and Honeywell, and is tasked with establishing methods for the full implementation of PBN by utilizing advanced flight deck and Air Traffic Control (ATC) capabilities while analyzing new policies and procedures. Airbus subsidiary Quovadis will provide PBN consultancy and implementation expertise for the initiative. Seattle will be used as a key site to enable these initial advanced operational capabilities to be introduced into the US National Airspace System (NAS). Click here to read the full article


Island hopping with Travel Service

On 18/11/2011, in The lighter side, by heading370

Summer months are of crucial importance for all airlines but they are even more so for those in the charter business. Airliner World was happy to accept the invitation of one of those charter companies, Travel Service Hungary – an affiliate of its owner Travel Service A.S. – to check how their operations are conducted from their Budapest base.

The Czech company was founded in 1997 and became one of the fastest growing Central European charter operators. In 2008 the company transported 2.8 million passengers using a fleet of 18 aircraft. The company has 2 Boeing B737-500, 12 B737-800 (of which OK-TVJ and OK-TVK were delivered brand new), 2 Airbus A320 and two B737-800 on wet lease. They have been present in Hungary since 2001 and operate about 32 medium and long haul flights a week from Hungary while employing 21 full time pilots at that base.

On a beautiful Sunday morning in July at Budapest-Ferihegy (ICAO:LHBP, IATA: BUD) Terminal 2B I met one of the airline’s young captains Peter Buliczka and his crew getting ready for an interesting trip. The flight’s first stop will be at Heraklion, Nikos Kazantzakis airport (ICAO: LGIR, IATA: HER) Crete then we will fly on to Rhodes (Rodos) Diagoras (ICAO: LGRP IATA: RHO) before heading back to Budapest. Some time ago the airline would have operated two separate flights to these two destinations, but because of the falling demand this summer travel agencies struggled to fill these flights every week.

Captain Buliczka introduced me to the entire crew: the captain will be assisted by First Officer Attila Lanc in the cockpit, while in the cabin the usual crew of four will be supplemented by two young trainee flight assistant colleagues under the supervision of Purser Zoltan Koltai.

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Technologists vs. Economists

On 21/10/2011, in Managers' corner, by steve

It is not a secret that some people considered Boeing’s decision to forego the New Small Aircraft and follow Airbus’ lead in re-engining their existing product a poor one and something that will delay the appearance of a really novel aircraft by a decade if not more. I must confess that I am one of those who would have loved to see the two airframers rush to bring the single-aisle of the future to market.

Commenting on the same subject in a recent issue of Aviation Week, Richard Aboulafia , VP for analysis at the Teal Group, while approving the Boeing decision, divided the world in two groups of people. There are the Technologists and the Economists.

For Technologists, “aviation is a technology driven business, with new equipment stimulating demand and therefore creating its own market”. Economists on the other hand “view technology as a means to an end: profit”. He also points out that most airlines and aircraft companies are run by Economists.

Reading this very interesting article, I stopped to do some soul searching. Which camp did I really belong to?

Some years ago, still as an assistant director infrastructure at IATA, I was called to hold afternoon-length sessions for ATC supervisors at EUROCONTROL’s school in Luxemburg with the aim of outlining to them what the airline industry wanted from air traffic management in the future. I usually started out shocking them by the statement: airlines were just a business and air traffic management must behave in a way that facilitates that business. By proxy, ATC was just a part of a complicated business environment.

I have also often argued for having a business case for just about everything… New channel spacing? Business case. Air/ground digital link services? Business case. Mode S Enhanced Surveillance? No, I did not want that even if there was a business case (there never has been, not a credible one anyway).

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Another Good Day at Budapest Ferihegy Airport

On 17/10/2011, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

October the second, 2011. This was an interesting day in the history of Ferihegy Airport. We were privileged to witness the first visit by Airbus’ “jumbo”, the A380.

The expectations? Beyond belief. We were expecting her already during the summer months but she failed to put in an appearance. Probably this only increased the expectations to an even higher level. When about a month ago I heard that she was definitely coming I quickly checked my calendar… I was going to be on day shift! The icing on the cake? I was going to be the tower deputy supervisor (DSV) that day! Knowing this made the preparations all that more special. Whichever way we look at it, this was going to be a special day. Not only because of the actual coming of this giant but also because I could be part of the huge interplay necessary for the reception of such an aircraft. It occurred to me in passing that it was such a pity that real cooperation at the airport only ever happened these days on such special occasions while the rest of the time people are busy tearing each other up… but I am diverging.

The morning of this special day we looked at each other in the parking lot with wondering eyes. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. This was done in part on the request of management but I guess we would have worn a shirt anyway in recognition of the day’s significance. It was amusing to ponder that our management had asked for proper dress in order to maintain our company’s “image”… Does it have an image? This fact has somehow failed to reach us, at least in the form of a blue shirt with the result that we were now sporting shirts in every conceivable shade of blue. But never mind… head for the tower.

We had received all relevant documents and instructions the week before and we were preparing for the big day accordingly. We checked everything from the official approvals to the applicable procedures and armed with knowledge my little lady boss and yours truly went to Terminal 2 for a final briefing. I was surprised (yes surprised however unusual this may sound these days…) to see how many people attended the briefing. A lot of strangers were sitting around the big table, I saw almost no familiar faces. But we knew the main coordinator (he also knew us). He started by explaining the 380’s reception plan. It was strange seeing him start the coordination with us and I could see on the faces of the others that for them, we were the “unknown aliens”… Anyway, in the end everyone had a final rundown of their tasks and we were ready to return to the tower.

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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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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.

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