Pisquali - Modern Airliners

Aerial Firefighting with Fire Fighting Airplanes

Fire Fighting Airplanes like this converted DC-9 are a big part of our fire fighting effort.

It seems to be the new normal now that each year brings devastating fires that are getting harder and harder to fight. Like anything, bigger problems need bigger solutions. To support the brave men and women who risk their lives to fight these fires, often coming in from other countries to support their brothers and sisters in need, we have seen in recent years new tools come into play. A few years ago smaller planes, like the twin-engine high wing Canadair CL-215 would skim across lakes or other bodies of water, scooping up that water to then dump it on inaccessible fires. We also had helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-64, an example of which was owned by Erickson Air-Crane called Elvis which was loaned to Australia in the early 2000s. Aerial Firefighting is now moving to the next level with fire fighting airplanes.

With bush fires becoming more ferocious and harder to fight from the ground, organisations are turning more and more towards larger fire fighting airplanes. Fire fighting airplanes are not purpose-built, however, with so many airliners now being retired, there is a ready source of large aircraft that can be converted. Unlike the current trend in air travel where large jets are becoming all but obsolete, for fire fighting airplanes bigger is better. So now we are seeing those older airliners that we used to travel in getting a new lease on life.

..for fire fighting airplanes bigger is better..

The biggest is the Boeing 747, “Queen of the Skies”. Yes, the airliner that was the world’s largest for most of its life is now finding a second life as the air defence to back up our on the ground firefighters. Like ground troops in a war, when the going gets tough you call in air support, and you want to be sure that they can bomb the hell out of the enemy. Well, this is the biggest, no doubt.

Global Supertanker Boeing 747-400
Global Supertanker Boeing 747-400.

The Global Supertanker, Spirit of John Muir, is the worlds largest VLAT or Very Large Air Tanker, holding almost twice as much water or fire retardant as its next closest rival. This Boeing 747-400 started its life as an airliner flying for Japan Airlines before retiring to its next role as a freight carrying aircraft for the now defunct Evergreen International. The seats already long having been stripped out, the fuselage now accommodates two large identical tank systems giving the aircraft an effective payload of 20,000 gallons of water, retardant or gel. The tanks are pressurised and can deliver in one burst or in 8 segmented releases. The delivery can take the form of a blanket or drizzle out like rain which comes out through four outlets under the fuselage.

Spirit of John Muir can reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland within four hours and with a load time of 30-35 minutes can be deployed very quickly where needed. The aircraft was a great asset in South America during the recent Amazon jungle fires, really living up to the John Muir legacy.

Flying the Global Supertanker takes very special skills. Normally you would see the likes of a 747 taking off from a big city airport, climbing to cruise and then descend to some other big city airport at the other end of the journey. The skill required to fly the VLATs is more in line with that of an air-force bomber pilot skill set. Each sortie is critical and the retardant or water must be delivered to a precise location to be effective. This means that delivery runs are often at a very low level, around 200 feet above ground in difficult terrain and smoky conditions. Not for the faint of heart. Having said this, accidents have happened to other fire fighting aircraft and in some cases, airmen gave their lives in service of others.

10 Tanker Air Carrier DC10
Since 2006, converted McDonnell Douglas DC10s have been used in aerial firefighting.

10 Tanker Air Carrier operates a fleet of 5 converted DC-10 aircraft. These converted airliners can hold around 12,000 gallons of water or retardant and have been deployed all around the world as required.

BAe 146 aerial fire airplane
This BAe 146 aerial firefighting aircraft is ideal for its slow speed abilities. Here we can see the tail air-brake is deployed to allow it maximum time over the target.

So we can see that the toolbox at our firefighter’s disposal is taking on whole new proportions as we try to stay ahead of our changing weather patterns. It is heartening to see some of our old favourite airliners getting a new lease on life and returning them to the usefulness they once enjoyed. It is, however, even more, heartening to see serious force being brought to bear in the fight to save lives and our precious environment. Never underestimate the bravery of those on the ground and in the air that fight for our benefit.

Boeing 737 MAX Name Change

Boeing 737-8 MAX

What’s in a name?

Plenty it seems, and if you’re in marketing you’ll know full well the power of words and names. Ask anyone in the street, well ok, I know it’s hard to find people in the street in some cities at the moment, but ask anyone, what comes to mind when you say 737 MAX. I’m sure warm fuzzy feelings will not be an answer you can expect to hear. Time perhaps for a 737 MAX name change?

Knowing this full well, what would you do if you were Boeing? The MAX name is certainly a poison chalice for them. After two tragic accidents which have led to the grounding of this latest iteration of the very successful 737 model for around 2 years now.

Boeing 737 Max-7
The Boeing 737 Max-7 is the smallest of the four variants offered under the 737 MAX banner.

The 737 MAX has been very closely scrutinised since the type was grounded along with the extensive examination of processes that led to various flaws being allowed to survive the certification process. Both Boeing and the F.A.A. have been found at fault and one can only hope that this will ensure this kind of situation will now be avoided in the future. We also hope that corrections in design and training will ensure that the 737 MAX will end up being the safe aircraft we have come to expect from the likes of Boeing. In short, this needs to be right and also seen to be right.

If you design a bad aircraft, it tends to bite….

The question remains, however, will passengers be willing to get on board a 737 MAX, even after the corrections have been made. If you design a bad car, for example, and it breaks down on the side of the road, you can kick the wheel, call someone and things will be fixed, usually. If you design a bad aircraft, it tends to bite and lots of people hear about it and get gun shy. So this is what Boeing has to contend with to regain the customer confidence.

So what will the Boeing 737 name change entail? Well, it’s not so much as a name change so much as an earlier move to the normal naming convention. If you think about the Boeing 787, which was introduced not that many years ago, it started life as the 7E7 and then the Dreamliner. Since then the aircraft has been referred to as both the 787 and the Dreamliner. The naming convention that Boeing now applies to its aircraft such as the 787, which comes in the 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10, will also be applied the 737 MAX. This is not a new idea. Boeing has referred to the various MAX models as the Boeing 737 MAX 7, or 737 MAX 8 etc..

WestJet Boeing 737 MAX-8
WestJet Boeing 737 MAX-8, one of 13 in their fleet which are currently grounded.

The move away from the MAX name has been a subtle process and Boeing has begun to the use the name 737 MAX and 737-8(7 through 10) interchangeably. This way they are transitioning away from the MAX name toward the normal naming convention of modern Boeing aircraft. This was evident in a press release recently when Polish charter airline Enter Air placed an order for two 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The release read:

Boeing and Enter Air today announced the Polish airline is expanding its commitment to the 737 family with a new order for two 737-8 airplanes plus options for two more jets.

An all-Boeing operator and Poland’s biggest charter carrier, Enter Air began operations in 2010 with a single 737 airplane. Today, the airline’s fleet includes 22 Next-Generation 737s and two 737 MAX airplanes. When the new purchase agreement is fully exercised, Enter Air’s 737 MAX fleet will rise to 10 aircraft.

“Despite the current crisis, it is important to think about the future. To that end, we have agreed to order additional 737-8 aircraft. Following the rigorous checks that the 737 MAX is undergoing, I am convinced it will be the best aircraft in the world for many years to come,” said Grzegorz Polaniecki, general director and board member, Enter Air.

So we now know that the aircraft to watch for in the future is the Boeing 737-7, 737-8, 737-9 or 737-10. I realise you would have to have arrived from Mars recently not to put 2 and 2 together, however, people have short memories and it won’t be long before they will be happily boarding their 737.

To understand the seriousness of the impact to Boeing of a failed 737 MAX, you just need to look at the order book. The MAX orders are second only to Boeing’s most popular 737 model, the 737-800. They simply cannot let the 737 MAX fail.

Safe travels.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Flight Simulator 2020 A320 neo landing

It has been a long time between drinks, but now within days, we will see the release of the latest iteration of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, MS Flight Simulator 2020. On 18 August 2020, we will see the first all-new version of MS Flight Simulator since 2006. That is a hugely long time in technology and for that reason, we expect to see some pretty cool stuff.

Flight Simulator 2020, a Piper Cub flys over a valley at dawn.
You can feel the crispness in the air as this Piper Cub flys over a valley at dawn. You feel you are there.

Considering that Flight Simulator 1.0 was released back in 1982, this has been a really solid product for Microsoft and popular with flight enthusiasts worldwide for many years. The previous version, Flight Simulator X, released in 2006 taken over by Steam in 2014 is still a great product and used by many still to this day including myself. FS 2020, however, takes things to the next level. As you would expect with newer technology, the level of realism is out of this world. Well, more precisely, it brings you out into this world.

So, what if you are not a budding pilot? No problem, the level of realism enables you to go and travel the world as if Covid19 didn’t exist. Let’s face it, most of us are not able to travel to the places we would like to go anymore and maybe not for quite a bit of time to come still. FS 2020 is all about the graphics. Asobo Studios who developed the program for Microsoft have used the AI technology in MS Azure to generate a lot of the scenery using Microsoft Bing Maps data. As a result the ground scenery is richer than it has ever been before and makes for a very realistic view of the world.

FS 2020 over NYC
Flying over New York City with changing weather. Beautiful!

There are three different versions of the FS 2020 release and the difference between these is around the amount of aircraft provided as well more detail or crafting around a selection of airports.

MS Flight Simulator 2020 Aircraft inclusions by version.

AircraftStandardDeluxePremium Deluxe
Airbus A320neoXXX
Aviat Pitts Special S2SXXX
Boeing 747-8 IntercontinentalXXX
CubCrafters XCubXXX
Daher TBM 930XXX
Diamond DA62XXX
Diamond DA40 NGXXX
Extra 330LTXXX
Flight Design CTLSXXX
Icon A5XXX
JMB VL-3XXX
Robin CAP10XXX
Robin DR400-100 CadetXXX
Beechcraft Bonanza G36XXX
Beechcraft King Air 350iXXX
Cessna 152XXX
Cessna 172 Skyhawk (G1000)XXX
Cessna 208 B Grand Caravan EXXXX
Cessna Citation CJ4XXX
Zlin Savage CubXXX
Diamond DA40-TDIXX
Diamond DV20XX
Beechcraft Baron G58XX
Cessna 152 AerobatXX
Cessna 172 SkyhawkXX
Boeing 787-10 DreamlinerX
Cirrus SR22X
Pipistrel Virus SW 121X
Cessna Citation LongitudeX
Zlin Shock UltraX

Of course as time goes on, private entities will start building their own versions of FS 2020 aircraft.

Flight Simulator 2020 at beautiful Queenstown Airport New Zealand
This looks just as i remember it from my visit in 2019. Flight Simulator 2020 really makes you feel as if you are there.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 airports by version.

Microsoft advises that there are 37,000 airports worldwide to which you can fly in FS 2020. Depending on which of the three versions you have, up to 40 of those airports have been handcrafted to show a lot more detail. They haven’t been clear on what the handcrafting actually entails, however, below is the list of inclusions by version.

AirportStandardDeluxePremium Deluxe
Aspen/Pikin County (USA)XXX
Bugalaga Airstrip (Indonesia)XXX
Chagual Airport (Peru)XXX
Courchevel Altiport (France)XXX
Donegal Airport (Ireland)XXX
Entebbe Int’l Airport (Uganda)XXX
Cristiano Ronaldo Madeira Int’l Airport (Portugal)XXX
Gibraltar Int’l Airport (UK)XXX
Innsbruck Airport (Austria)XXX
Los Angeles Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Tenzing-Hillary Airport (Nepal)XXX
Nanwalek Airport (USA)XXX
John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Orlando Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Paris Charles de Gaulle Int’l Airport (France)XXX
Paro Int’l Airport (Bhutan)XXX
Queenstown Airport (New Zealand)XXX
Mariscal Sucre Int’l Airport (Ecuador)XXX
Rio de Janeiro-Antonio Carlos Jobim Int’l Airport (Brazil)XXX
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (Dutch Saba)XXX
Gustaf III Airport (France)XXX
Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport (USA)XXX
Sedona Airport (USA)XXX
Sirena Aerodrome (Costa Rica)XXX
Stewart Airport (Canada)XXX
Sydney Airport (Australia)XXX
Telluride Regional Airport (USA)XXX
Haneda Airport (Japan)XXX
Toncontin Int’l Airport (Honduras)XXX
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (Canada)XXX
Schiphol Airport (Netherlands)XX
Cairo Int’l Airport (Egypt)XX
Cape Town Int’l Airport (South Africa)XX
O’Hare Int’l Airport (USA)XX
Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas (Spain)XX
Denver Int’l Airport (USA)X
Frankfurt Airport (Germany)X
Heathrow Airport (UK)X
San Francisco Int’l Airport (USA)X
Flight Simulator 2020 life like wildlife, elephants.
We were surprised at the level of detail given to examples of wildlife that are to be found in FS 2020. Even up close, if you dare fly that low, the movement and look is very realistic.

What do I need to run Flight Simulator 2020?

If you have ever run games or earlier versions of Flight Simulator on your PC, then you know that the power of your machine plays a large part in providing you with the ability to get the most out of these heavy graphic programs. MS flight Simulator 2020 is no different. It is acknowledged that this game is pretty heavy and so let’s have a look at what you need to be able to run the program and also what you need to run it well.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 system requirements: Minimum configuration to play the game.

This will allow you to run the game, but you may find you have to reduce density of certain items or that the smoothness is not perfect.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • VIDEO CARD: Radeon RX 570 or GeForce GTX 770 
  • PIXEL SHADER: 5.0
  • VERTEX SHADER: 5.0
  • FREE DISK SPACE: 150 GB
  • DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 2048 MB

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 system requirements: Recommended configuration to play the game.

This configuration should ensure you get the necessary frame rate for smoothness and that you can enjoy the full benefits of the enhanced scenery.

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better
  • RAM: 16 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • VIDEO CARD: Radeon RX 590 or GeForce GTX 970
  • PIXEL SHADER: 5.1
  • VERTEX SHADER: 5.1
  • FREE DISK SPACE: 150 GB
  • DEDICATED VIDEO RAM: 4096 MB

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the game once you start using it. Enjoy exploring the world!

When will the Boeing 737 MAX fly again?

Boeing 737 MAX.

It is well over a year now since Boeing’s latest version of their very successful 737 model was grounded in March 2019. This much-anticipated version of the type brought all sorts of technological improvements that brought it into line with the 787 and 777 models. As we know, the 737 MAX’s introduction was marred by the two tragic accidents causing the loss of 346 lives. First Lion Air flight 610 out of Jakarta on 29 October 2018 and then Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 on 10 March 2019 out of Addis Ababa. Airlines and aviation authorities around the world were quick to ground the aircraft type. However, the F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Authority (US)) cleared the aircraft as airworthy on the 11th of March 2019. This decision was reversed on the 13th of March as the similarities of the accident causes started to come to light.

So why did Boeing and the F.A.A. drop the ball so badly?

So why did Boeing and the F.A.A. drop the ball so badly? There have been many reports about a toxic work environment at Boeing going back many years. It seems that blame can be apportioned to both Boeing and the F.A.A. according to a House report which was released after a year-long investigation in March 2020. The investigation found in evidence which included texts on Boeing employee’s phones, that Boeing misled the F.A.A. with regard to the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) which was found to have been the blame for both accidents. For the F.A.A.’s part, the report found that the FAA “failed in its duty” and that its review of the troubled plane was “grossly insufficient.” The report also labelled Boeing as having a “culture of concealment”. This is quite damning when your industry is 100% about safety.

Boeing 737 MAX 8 PK-LQH of Lion Air
A Boeing 737 MAX of Lion Air, similar to that which was lost on 29 October 2018.

So what is so different about the MAX that this latest 737 is suddenly struggling with airworthiness certification?

As passenger jets go, the 737 is at the small end of the scale, designed to fly short to medium-haul with relatively few passengers. Small and compact, it was designed when pure jet engines were in use and not the chunkier bypass engines of today. Those first jet engines were long and thin and sat comfortably under the wing with enough ground clearance to spare. Economic and environmental pressures led to the introduction of cleaner and quieter bypass engines which by their nature are chunkier for want of a better word. The jet in a bypass engine sits in the middle at the core of the engine and that is surrounded by an outer shell surrounding the core which carries air pushed through by the larger fan at the front. So full jet thrust from the core then slightly less thrust from the surrounding fan pushed air. This stops the crackling and roar which happens as a pure jet exhaust is forced out into still air, the surrounding fan air softens that.

Ethiopian Airlines ET-AVJ Boeing 737 MAX
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX much like the one that crashed on 10 March 2019 finally causing the MAX to eventually be grounded.

So back to our 737. As soon as bypass engines were to be added to this aircraft it became evident that ground clearance would be an issue. There was no real option to increase the landing gear length as there was the problem of where it should go during flight. You may have noticed when you got on your 737 Next Gen or just observed them at the airport, the engine nacelles when viewed from the front are not quite round. There is a bit of flattening of the circle at the bottom. This is for ground clearance.

The 737 MAX took things to the next level. CFM International, a leading jet engine maker for airliners had designed the Leap 1 engine series and these were to be the engine of choice for the 737 MAX. The Leap 1B produced economic savings, a big drawcard for airlines, as well as noise reduction which enable to aircraft to fly friendly to airports where this is important. The drawback is the larger circumference of the whole engine unit. To accommodate this, Boeing extended the nose landing gear by 8 inches over previous models as well as beefing up the main landing gear and support structures to take the extra weight of the bigger engines. The change that is important, however, is the position of the new engines. The nose gear extension on its own was not enough to maintain the required 17-inch ground clearance beneath the engines. To do this Boeing moved the engines further forward of the wing leading edge and higher. Problem solved, but perhaps with some trade-offs that would come and bite later.

the MAX could inadvertently be put into a stall situation

Boeing realised that in certain phases of flight the MAX could inadvertently be put into a stall situation. Enter the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System). This system was designed to prevent the pilot from being able to put the aircraft into a stall situation, a safety fallback system. It seems that Boeing believed this system would resolve any design-driven compromises and that pilots who were certified of previous 737 models could transition seamlessly onto the new MAX. Boeing was keen to avoid expensive pilot retraining.

So Boeing had a “culture of concealment” and the F.A.A. “failed in its duty”. It sounds like a perfect storm for both and let’s face it, we’re not out of it yet. Boeing for its part is still being investigated by various government agencies on financial and other matters. For the F.A.A.’s part, its chief, Steve Dickson, will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday 17 June 2020 at 10 a.m. ET. According to the committee, Dickson will answer questions about “issues associated with the design, development, certification, and operation” of the Boeing 737 Max. The hearing will also look at ways to reform the certification process.

It is events such as those unfortunate accidents that serve to expose wrongdoing and negligence among those who we trust to protect our safety. Cutting corners or simply being asleep at the wheel because this is all business as usual just doesn’t cut it in this industry. How long will it take for Boeing to gain back confidence from the travelling public? Luckily people have short memories. I would hope that what comes out of this is more vigilant F.A.A., to protect our interests and a more respectable Boeing. With such a long distinguished history in aviation, let’s not drop the ball now.

So when will the MAX fly again? Well, Boeing was hoping for January 2020, but this did not eventuate. In fact, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was let go by the board in December 2019 for trying to rush the MAX back into the air. Boeing continued to produce the MAX and only stopped when they ran out of storage space, including their staff car park. Around March they seemed to be preparing to ramp up again but Boeing has alerted to its suppliers to stop production once again. It seems the MAX will definitely miss the Northern Hemisphere summer. It seems a case of watch this space at the moment.

When will airlines start flying again?

Covid19 aircraft cabin

When can I go and visit family? When can I have a much needed holiday that I so surely deserve after this lock-down?

These are questions most people must be asking after the craziness of the last few months. Being locked inside for weeks on end, people are desperate for some semblance of what they remember as “normality” to return. Often the only thing that keeps us going is the vision of that overseas holiday we are working so hard for. Warm sunny days on some exotic beach to recharge us for the next onslaught of domestic bliss.

Unsurprisingly, the airlines are every bit as keen as their customers to get full planes back in the air. That is those airlines that have been able to survive the Covid19 suspension of travel. When we restart airline schedules, I’m sure we will not be seeing all players return to the table, and some that do will somehow be different from the way they started the year.

So many things need to line up before travel can start again, and different parts of the world will treat it differently. For example, here in Australia, we still have travel restrictions between the states. So we can go and holiday now within our own state, but no further. There has been talk of a travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia, two countries which have been very successful in their dealing with Covid19. The travel bubble basically acknowledges that both country’s approach to Covid19 is similar enough to forge a trust between the two to enable free travel back and forth. The hold up for this bubble to start is the fact that Australia’s states are still not open to each other, much less another country.

Let’s face it, how long can you bleed money?

So with many countries now getting on top of Covid19, what can we expect? Well, many airlines are seeing this as a sign that things may be ready to start swinging back into action. Let’s face it, how long can you bleed money before you need to get back to business? Not that it is up to the airlines. Countries need to agree with each other as to the terms of letting flights commence between them and within their own borders. Nobody wants to start a second wave of the pandemic when we have come so far.

Covid19 airport temperature check
A Covid19 airport temperature check. Checking before you board to ensure you don’t bring the virus onto the plane to being checked on arrival at the destination to ensure you don’t bring the virus into the country will be the new normal. We though post 9/11 travel was bad! I can see us having health passports in addition to our normal passport in the future.

QANTAS, here in Australia, are anticipating they will reach 40 capacity compared to pre-pandemic activity for domestic travel by the end of July 2020. In the U.S., American Airlines anticipates flying 55% of its domestic schedule compared to the same period in 2019. In May, American only flew 20% of that schedule. Bear in mind that this is the Northern Hemisphere summer, so demand is high. In both cases, the announcements have helped the share price of these airlines as confidence in that market starts to turn around. This trend is fairly common across the board.

So is all this activity a sign that things are going back to normal? To be honest, no. Covid19 is still out there and is by no means a lesser threat than it was a few months ago. We don’t have a vaccination yet, so it could rear its ugly head again at any time. The enablement of travel to restart again depends very much on us being able to manage things like social distancing and minimising contact with others as much as possible during the whole process. This includes the airport and inside the aircraft cabin, taking all the usual precautions we employ on the ground.

This outlines how aircraft cabin air is different

Some airlines have been controlling which seats are allocated so as to create spaces between passengers. Whether it be not allocating the middle seat in a set of three, or putting a single passenger in each row, other than families which can sit together. Whilst the aircraft cabin is an enclosed space like any other form of transport like a bus or train, IATA has released a Briefing Paper which is worth looking at if you are indenting to fly. This outlines how aircraft cabin air is different from those trains and buses. In short, aircraft cabins use HEPA(High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters to ensure the air you breath is free from better than 99% of airborne bacteria and viruses. The airflow is a 50/50 mix between outside air and recycled internal air which gives on average 15 to 20 cubic feet of air per minute per passenger. The personal air from above can also ensure you are only getting that clean air.

Delta Air Lines focuses on cleaning procedures for their fleet in response to the COVID-19 virus at the Delta TechOps facility in Atlanta, Ga..
Delta Air Lines focuses on cleaning procedures for their fleet in response to the COVID-19 virus at the Delta TechOps facility in Atlanta, Ga..

Akbar Al Baker, has reportedly told Boeing and Airbus….

It is great to see that our favourite airlines may survive to take us back into the wild blue yonder at some future time. Starting some services as described above will surely help, but we’re not out of the woods by a long shot. Airlines still have many aircraft sitting on the ground, not earning money, in fact costing money. In many cases, no doubt, the income from the start-up of the limited services will come nowhere near covering the costs, but simply slow down the money bleed. As a flow-on effect, those airlines have orders for new aircraft from the likes of Boeing, Airbus and others, which are coming due for delivery and payment. This presents a bit of a balancing act in the relationship between the airlines and manufacturers. Many, if not all, airlines are seeking a delay to their aircraft deliveries and payments as obviously cash is tight. Also, schedules don’t actually require any new aircraft to be added right now and there is certainly no market for used older aircraft either. For their part, Boeing and Airbus also need cash flow to keep their businesses going, so it is a fine line between holding airlines to their commitments and giving leniency and time extensions until the market improves. Outspoken CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, has reportedly told Boeing and Airbus if they don’t come to the party and give time extensions, his airline will no longer buy aircraft from them.

So interesting times ahead. How do you feel about travel beginning again, or have you already travelled in a Covid19 world? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. So many are still living in their isolation bubble, so news of what really happens out in the real world is a nice departure from what might be fake news. Fly safe everyone.

Is this finally the end of the Boeing 747 Jumbo?

Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 N750PA

Just over 50 years ago on 09 February 1969, Boeing made history as the worlds largest jet airliner, the Boeing 747 named City of Everett, climbed off the new purpose-built runway into Seattle’s grey sky. Thus began our love affair with what was to be dubbed the Jumbo Jet.

US carrier Pan Am was the launch customer for the Jumbo and scheduled their first service from New York to London for 7:00 pm 21 January 1970. The service was to be flown by an aircraft named Clipper Young America. On departure from the terminal in New York, however, there were technical difficulties around one of the engines overheating. The aircraft returned to the terminal and a replacement aircraft was flown in. The replacement 747 which was called Clipper Victor, was substituted and renamed Clipper Young America. The first commercial service of the 747 Jumbo departed New York finally at 1:52 am on 22 January.

Pan Am under the stewardship of Juan Trippe was a force to be reckoned with during that time and their need for a larger aircraft than the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 was a driving force in the eventual design outcome of the 747. Boeing was not completely convinced that a passenger aircraft of this size had a market. To this end, they created a design that would work well for freight airlines, which is where they saw the biggest market potential. This is of course why we have the distinctive bubble on top of the fuselage where the flight deck is located. The bubble enabled the 747 to be produced with a nose door for loading cargo with clear access to the fuselage unencumbered by a flight deck blocking the access. This may well have been a stroke of genius as we now see Boeing still producing the 747-8F, the freighter version.

Including the current 747-8, there have been 1,555 Boeing 747s delivered since that historic flight back in 1969. The 747, “Queen of the Skies”, changed the world of travel and became the symbol of air travel. Appearing in songs and movies and just generally winning our hearts, the 747 has been a favourite for many years.

KLM Boeing 747-400 departing from Amsterdam.
KLM Boeing 747-400 departing from Amsterdam. KLM has been retiring their 747s and don’t anticipate the type to ever fly again under a KLM tail.

50 years is a long time in technology. Of course, the various models of the 747 have all come out with improvements and technology updates, but other technologies have also improved and eclipsed the need for a very large four-engined airliner. This is discussed in our article “Boeing 747-8 Are we falling out of love?”.

Whilst Boeing is seeing a tapering off in interest in the passenger Jumbo, they at least still have the cargo version which has around 17 outstanding air-frames still to be delivered. Spare a thought for Airbus and the Airbus A380. You could say they came a little late to the Jumbo, or Super Jumbo party. By the time the first A380s were being delivered, the aviation scene was already changing, with newer technology large twin-engine airliners such as the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A330 and Airbus A350 taking on long haul services. ETOPS certifications enabled these giant twins to fly the routes previously reserved for the 4 engined giants. The writing was on the wall.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 (D-ABYU) at Frankfurt Airport.
Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 (D-ABYU) at Frankfurt Airport. Lufthansa was the launch customer for the Boeing 747-8i (International) and currently have not announced plans to retire these newer aircraft.

These changes were already well underway before the current economic market created by Covid-19 took its toll on travel. Airlines who still carried the Boeing 747 in their fleets already had firm plans in place to retire the type in the very near future. This, in many cases, was projected to happen over the first years of the 2020s, however, the effects of Covid-19 on global travel has prompted these airlines to bring forward their 747 retirement plans.

For example, Virgin Atlantic will be retiring its 7 747s very shortly. Consider that its 747 fleet has an average age of 20 years, whereas the rest of its fleet, excluding these 747s, has an average age of 9 years. This represents a significantly higher cost in maintenance for the aging older technology aircraft. Lufthansa has also brought forward the retirement of 5 of its 13 Boeing 747-400s. It is worth noting that Lufthansa is one of the few airlines that bought the newer Boeing 747-8i. At the time of writing, this aircraft would still be retained by the airline. British Airways which has a large fleet of 28 747s will be working toward complete retirement of the type by 2024.

British Airways Boeing 747-400
British Airways have 28 Boeing 747-400s in their fleet and are working toward retiring them all by 2024.

QANTAS for its part was looking to retire their last 6 747s by the end of 2020. The current travel climate has caused them to re-evaluate that schedule. Of the 6 mentioned, 3 have now already made their way to the aircraft graveyard in the Mojave Desert, California. The remaining 3 were scheduled to operate routes to Johannesburg, Tokyo and Santiago until the end of 2020. It is now widely believed that the remaining 3 will follow their sisters to Mojave this month, June 2020. Foreward QANTAS schedules show that the aforementioned routes will now be flown by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The “Flying Kangaroo” on a 747 tail, once a very common site will be no more. By the end of the year, the only place you will be able to see a QANTAS 747 will be at HARS(Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) at Shellharbour Airport, just south of Sydney. Well worth a visit.

Boeing 747-438 VH-OJS QANTAS
QANTAS Boeing 747-438 . Once such a common site in our skies, soon to be no more.

I know I’ve had some of my most epic and memorable flights on the 747. Down the back or up the front always a wonderful experience. Whether it be a brand new 747-200B of Air New Zealand or a really tired old QANTAS 747-400, you always felt like you were on a real airliner, the grand old Queen of the Skies. I know I will miss seeing them and being able to get on one.

Do you have any special memories of 747 flights you have taken. Feel free to share them below.

Is Covid-19 isolation an opportunity to learn to fly?

Southwest Airlines 737-800 flying over beautiful landscapes in Flight Simulator.

As many of us in different countries are being asked to stay at home and isolate ourselves, this may be a strange question. Is this a good time to learn to fly? If being a pilot is in your future plan, and isolation is hampering your ability to pursue your training, or you are simply an aviation enthusiast who is frustrated from not being able to plane spot or indeed travel, this might be for you.

I am talking about Flight Simulation. It is not exactly X-Box or PlayStation, but it is a way to learn a new skill or hone an existing one. Imagine as you are locked up at home, still being able to go out and see the world out there, the one that you used to move about in. That sounds a bit science fictionish, but in some countries, it is not far from the truth as we try and stem the spread of the dreaded virus by staying home.

Now when we talk about flight simulation, it is tempting to visualise a fully functioning flight deck replica that sits in a box suspended on hydraulic ramrods. Like the ones they have down at your national airline’s training centre. If you can run to that kind of thing, I salute you. Not only that, I’d love to get an invitation to hangout at your house when the whole isolation schtick is finished.

Flight Simulator Airbus A320 easyjet FSX
With flight simulation you can source your favourite airliners and airlines and fly their routes. Re-live old trips or explore new destinations. Once you have your choice of flight simulator you can source many free airplanes or more detailed scenery for different locations on the web, many for free.

For the rest of us, flight simulation is available at home on your own PC, and not surprisingly for a fraction of the price that your local airline has forked out. Flight Simulation for the home user has come a long way over the last years. When I was first introduced to it back in the early 1990s, a pilot friend of mine showed me this new program he had bought. It seemed really cool at the time, although in all honesty it consisted of a flat world where land was green and sea was dark blue and sky was light blue. You had the choice of flying from Chicago Merrill Meigs airfield on Lake Michigan (I believe that was actually closed in March 2003), Los Angles, New York or Seattle. The only aircraft was a Cessna Skylane, but it was such a blast to actually fly this plane around.

New versions were added over the intervening years, each with some new enhancement that gave a new wow factor. The addition of sound, the addition of new geographical areas, improved scenery, dynamic scenery. The list goes on.

Enough reminiscing. What I am driving at is that today, Flight Simulation provides a very real experience. The scenery realism is getting closer to the real thing, using data derived from Google Maps you really get the feeling you are arriving or departing the actual location as you know it in real life. Not only that, but with an internet connection you can get your simulation weather conditions to match the real forecast for that location.

So who is flight simulation for?

You could be forgiven for thinking that flight simulation is only for those who have a good knowledge of flying. This is not necessarily so, in fact not so at all. Let’s look at two of the more popular flight simulator programs for PC on the market. Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 11. Both of these simulators are designed for the beginner right through to airline pilot. There is a training academy built in to enable the novice to gain confidence in the various phases of flight right from the very beginning. For example, my son who is now in his late teens started with my help when he was 6 or 7. Now he gets a lot of pleasure flying missions in various airliners domestically in Australia and overseas. This is in the simulator of course. Whilst flight simulation can be a great help in practising various phases of flight for the real world, it is of course there as an additional resource not a replacement for real flight training. It can, of course, help you to get good practice in procedures and manoeuvres and end up saving you money in hours flown in the real world.

So you could say it is both entertainment and a relevant tool.

Flight Simulator X Boeing 737 of ANA Japan
Explore beautiful parts of the world and see how they all fit together from your eagle eye view.

Do I just fly on my own?

Like most things with flight simulator programs, you have choices. If you just wanted to go and tear up the sky in a Lear Jet, see the scenery up close in a Cessna or explore further afield in a Boeing 737, you can do this alone or in company. For instance, if you wanted to fly an actual mission in a Boeing 737 from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO), as the real world airliners do, you can certainly do that. You would begin by creating a flight plan where you can designate such things as the actual route you want to fly, the height you want to fly at, among a host of other things. Once you file your flight plan, just as airliner pilots do, you then use air traffic control through the radios to get clearance for each phase and guidance right through your whole flight mission. As you go through the flight you will hear other aircraft talk to air traffic control as well as see them along your travels if it is a busy route. The feeling of realism is very high and the satisfaction of completing a mission likewise.

But what about real people? I want to share this with my friends. Yes, during this time of isolation, doing things together with your friends is challenging. Thankfully we have the internet at least, and also thankfully flight simulator programs have the option to fly with others. I know I have used this function many times to fly with someone else in my household or with friends on the other side of the world. You can chat as well see each other’s aircraft which can make for an interesting way to hang out. Go and explore the world together.

So what do I do to get started?

For the beginner, we have used the Extreme 3D Pro Joystick for many years and found it a great way to enjoy flight simulator. It has throttle and any programmable buttons to bring your flight simulator experience to life. Additions can be made once you know you are hooked on simming.

Flight simulator programs have come down quite a bit in price since the early days. If you have a reasonably up to date PC you should be able to run these programs quite easily. In addition, I would recommend getting at least a basic controller. Whilst you can run the simulator from the keyboard, the controller will give you that extra feeling of realism. That’s what we’re after, right? We want to feel like we are flying a real aircraft. Like anything, there are much more high-tech add-ons you can buy if you decide to become a real enthusiast. What ever you choose, happy flying and keep safe.

What happens to planes grounded by COVID19?

Grounded Aircraft

There is no doubt that COVID19 is shaking up the world we live in today. The human tragedy that has taken place and has yet to take place cannot be overstated.

One of the biggest and most visible effects, is that of our ability to move around freely, specifically, air travel. To curb the spread of COVID19, and the importation of that virus, many countries moved quickly to restrict travel. Most particularly international arrivals. In the early stages, airlines reduced their services so as to avoid the well known infected areas and the risk of bringing back infected passengers to their home country. This has quickly escalated to total travel bans being put in place for most countries, leaving airlines with no business in those markets.

Naturally, no income means that costs have to be reduced very drastically and quickly to avoid bankruptcy. This has involved mass staff layoffs and of course the grounding of many aircraft. At first international routes were most affected as countries closed their borders to new arrivals. Domestic services continued to run, however, at a reduced frequency. According to the OAG (Overseas Airline Guide), a data centre for flight schedules, in the U.S. in the week to 24 March 2020 airline seat capacity dropped by 1.4 million seats or 6%. Some of the larger airlines are saying they are planning to further reduce domestic capacity by 30% and international by 75%.

While some low-cost carriers like Spirit are trying to stay afloat by offering fares as low as US$18 plus fees, the trend is growing to ground airliners that cannot fly their normal routes.

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… offering fares as low as US$18…

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So where do the airlines keep these grounded planes? As you can appreciate, a large modern airliner takes up a lot of space and also needs to have a solid base beneath its wheels. In a way, the problem being common to all operators helps. For example, at Tulsa International Airport they have been able to close seldom used taxiways and runways to accommodate 50 airliners owned by American Airlines. Normal operations are not affected.

Airliners stored at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok.

This is obviously not the answer everywhere. There are many thousands of aircraft being grounded and there isn’t enough unused space at the world’s airports to accommodate them all. Throw into the mix the fact that there are the grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft in various locations awaiting certification clearance to fly again, and you see there is a parking problem.

Where there is a problem, however, there is often someone benefiting from the solution they provide to that problem. One such business is ComAv, an aircraft maintenance and storage firm based at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. Their Director Corporate Initiative, Lisa Skeels, said they are definitely very busy. They are currently storing 275 planes and can accommodate 200 more. ComAv is inundated with requests from various airlines for storage space although they would not reveal which airlines.

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ComAv is inundated with requests…….

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I’m sure we’ve all heard of the desert boneyard storage facilities for unused airliners, but there is a distinct difference between parking an aircraft in the desert and parking an aircraft and keeping it maintained. Like anything an aircraft left unattended will start to deteriorate and will eventually become unairworthy. Airlines have huge amounts of capital tied up in these aircraft and they need to know that when this global downturn ends, that their aircraft can come back into service with a minimum delay. This is not just like parking your car in the long term car park while you go on a trip. The aircraft, if it is to be stored for a long period of time, needs to be put into an “aircraft coma”. This typically means draining and replacing all fluids and sealing the cabin doors and engines.

Whilst parking a large Boeing 777 can cost around US$150 a day to store, the required maintenance can start from US$2,000 per month. Even though the jet is static, the manual calls for regular checks on such system as avionics, hydraulics, electronics and other operating systems. The trick is guessing how long this covid19 situation will last. There is a more intense idling maintenance schedule which involves aircraft actually being regularly started up. Basically, the more intense the maintenance schedule, the quicker the aircraft can return to service when things return to normal. The maintenance cost may be high, but the lost earnings may be much higher for an aircraft’s delayed return to service.

What we also no doubt might see is perhaps the earlier retirement of older aircraft like the McDonnell Douglas MD-88s, MD-90s and perhaps even some of the remaining Boeing 747s.

What tomorrow’s airline industry will look like is anyone’s guess right now.

Coronavirus (COVID19) and Modern Airliners.

Grounded Aircraft

If there is one thing there is an abundance of at the moment, it is ever-changing information about COVID19 and how it is affecting our lives. The situation merits all the superlatives being thrown at it at the moment and literally changes by the hour. So what has this got to do with Modern Airliners or any airliners for that matter?

You would have to have arrived from Mars to not know the extreme measures that are being taken by governments to try and reduce the effect of COVID19. Obviously, the priority is to reduce the number of people that are infected and thereby reduce the death toll from this pandemic. The second concern, and perhaps nearly as important as the first, is the economy. I hate saying that as it sounds like life isn’t worth very much. The economy, however, is what makes people’s lives what they are today. It provides jobs, it keeps people fed, clothed and under shelter. Ensuring this continues will prevent the loss of life through on flowing effects of the pandemic.

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… if I travel will I be able to get home again….

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We have seen border closures in many countries around the world in the last few days. Even if the borders aren’t closed, there are travel restrictions and simply the fear of, “if I travel will I be able to get home again?” In living memory for most people today, this is not a concept that they have ever experienced and it may take a few who ignore the warnings to get caught out before others see the seriousness of the issue.

Ok, what has this got to do with Modern Airliners?

I thought you’d never ask. All around the world airlines have felt the impact of the above border closures and travel restrictions. Most have severely trimmed back their services to try and stem back the money bleed. Flying empty aircraft is a very costly business and is to be avoided at all costs. Initially, Australian flag carrier QANTAS grounded 10 out of its 12 Airbus A380s as these aircraft require a high occupancy rate to break even, financially. This grounding has been quickly followed by many other of its aircraft for the same reason, as further route capacity reductions or cancellations take place. This is just one example of what is happening to carriers all over the world. The immediate result has been that many travellers who have been urged to and have chosen to, repatriate themselves are finding that they are part of a very large group that is being affected by the reduction of airline capacity.

So what of the airlines themselves? Airlines are a very important part of the world economy. They are the catalyst that enables world economies to work at all. For this reason, it is of paramount importance for a country to ensure their national or other carriers remain in business. I know here in Australia, the government has given an economic stimulus to the airlines to enable them to survive this major upheaval. Oil prices falling off a cliff earlier this month has not been enough to make up for the drop in customers for the airlines. Even though it is estimated this could save airlines in the order of B$28 (US) over 2020. We have to face the fact that we are going to see a mass extinction event of smaller airlines.

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… revenue losses for passenger transport would run at B$63 – B$113 (US)…

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Depending on how quickly the COVID19 pandemic can be contained, IATA estimates that revenue losses for passenger transport would run at B$63 – B$113 (US). Impact by market according to IATA looks something like this.

RegionPer cent ChangeUS Dollar Change
Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam.-23%-49.7 Billion
Rest of Asia Pacific.-09%-7.6 Billion
Austria, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom.-24%-37.3 Billion
Rest of Europe.-09%-6.6 Billion
Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates.-23%-4.9 Billion
Rest of Middle East.-09%-2.3 Billion
Canada and US-10%-21.1 Billion

It doesn’t make for good reading, does it?

So what will happen to the grounded aircraft? It is hard to know what to plan for. How long will the pandemic last, what will the world look like when it is all over? Will we need the same capacity as before? One thing we can be sure of is that things will eventually bounce back. They may be different in some ways, but the economy will pick up again as people come back from isolation. We may find, however, that the need for people to work from their home during the pandemic, will lead to more technology being thrown into the online world to make things possible that currently are not. People’s perception of travel may change. If you go back to 9/11, people became fearful of flying. Not to mention the added hassles of extra security whenever you did so. Cruising became a much more attractive alternative for holidaymakers, as there was a much lower likelihood of terrorist attacks, or at least so it was sold. I fear that many people are losing their appetite for being on a cruise ship after what has happened to several ships since COVID19. So maybe air travel will regain its popularity again.

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.. So maybe air travel will regain its popularity again.

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So, about those aircraft. Airlines like British Airways(BA) and Lufthansa(LH) have the biggest remaining fleets of Boeing 747s. If you discount the age of Luftahnasa’s Boeing 747-8s which are around 6 years old now, the average age of the BA and LH 747s is around 21 years. Will they consider retiring them early. An older aircraft becomes a lot more expensive to maintain and if there is no income being generated from this aircraft, its financial burden becomes too heavy.

So with all these aircraft grounded, what about new aircraft orders? That is the on flow effect that will hurt plane makers like Boeing and Airbus. There will be the airlines that disappear and their orders cancelled. Then there are airlines like Cathay Pacific, for example, that have approached Boeing and Airbus about delaying their orders.

Boeing for its part has approached the US government for a B$60 stimulus package. The aviation industry must survive and it is worth noting that Boeing estimates that 70% of its revenue flows on to its 17,000 suppliers. The aviation industry is a huge employer and its demise can not be allowed to happen. Similarly, Airbus and its many suppliers are in the same boat.

Apparently the story is not all doom and gloom. Dr. Steve Wright of the University of the West of England, Bristol(UWE Bristol) believes that the aviation industry will survive. Jobs will be lost, mainly at the customer-facing level, and of course those smaller airlines. Aviation seems to go through an 11 to 12-year cycle. Events such as 9-11 and the global recession of 2008 knocked the industry about, but it recovered. It will again. Meanwhile, Dr Wright says, development of new aircraft still goes on. In 5 ye4ars time, we will still see the fruits of technology research that is going on right now.

Air New Zealand Skynest.

Air New Zealands incredible Skynest

For a small country on the edge of nowhere, New Zealand has certainly and continues to, show that they are outside the box thinkers. The folks down at Air New Zealand are certainly from that mould.

The most recent idea that has travellers excited is the Skynest. Maybe that sounds like it is for the birds, but let’s just back up a little and look at the drivers for such an idea, before we look at the idea itself.

New Zealand is as I said earlier, is on the edge of nowhere. We used to joke that, “it isn’t the end of the Earth, but on a clear day you can see it from here”. Quaint, but what has that got to do with Skynests and Air New Zealand? Well, being so far from the main population areas of the world, most flights out of New Zealand are Medium to Long Haul services. If you can travel up the pointy end of the plane, the pain is somewhat reduced by varying degrees of lie-flat seats. The few times I have travelled in such style, I found it ok, but not perfect. Perhaps it was the lack of privacy, or simply that a seat that tries to be a bed as well, usually fails to do either perfectly.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of Air New Zealand, it is plain to see that they needed to find a way to make passengers not arrive at their far-flung destinations, feeling they completed the spin cycle.

The point is though, what about us poor schmucks back in cattle class? Going all the way from Auckland to London with enough room for one butt cheek is not a good way to fly, but it means you have a little more money to spend on the rest of your holiday. So we endure it. At least you can get out for air somewhere around halfway along the route for a walk around as they put more fuel in the tank. This way your legs can be reprogrammed to walk again. But wait a minute………….

Didn’t Air New Zealand announce that they were about to start flights, non-stop Auckland to New York? What is that? Around 18 hours? I don’t think the mind can take in sitting in a seat without the freedom of movement for that long. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t sleep sitting up. I can’t read enough books, watch enough movies or anything else you can think of to make 18 hours pass.

The modern business class seat is designed to be everything to everybody. A seat, a bed, an entertainment theatre. But what about the plebs down the back who can’t afford the price but still need to survive an 18-hour flight?

Back to Skynest. Air New Zealand has a high proportion of the longest air routes in the world in its network. So the appetite for finding a solution to the discomfort of economy passengers on Long Haul and Super Long Haul routes is high. Air New Zealand is not a stranger to innovation, having brought us the Economy Skycouch, where a row of 3 seats can be converted to a lie-flat bed that can accommodate two people. Admittedly the length is around 155cm which means you have to keep your feet tucked in, lest they get trimmed off neatly at the ankles by the drinks trolley.

Skynest takes things to the next level. It takes up the same space as to rows of seats, so two sets of 3. This is replaced by an alcove that has 2 sets of 3 tier bunk beds either side. The 6 people are accommodated in the same space but in lie-flat beds which are semi-private. It looks like a great way to get some shut-eye.

The Skynest pod has six full-length lie-flat beds. Measuring 200cm in length and 58cm at the shoulders, this is a wonderful use of space in the most expensive real estate in the world. The Skynest is envisaged to come with a full-size pillow, sheets, blanket, earplugs, privacy curtain and sleep designed lighting. Other features may be added.

Air New Zealand have a been working on this concept for around 3 years now and have sought feedback which has been very favourable. Overseas consultants and other trial participants were brought in and after signing secrecy agreements, tested 11 different scenarios revolving around a range of seats and other products to come to the final design. Air New Zealand will be looking to patent the Skynest and sell to other carriers who may be interested, just as they have with Sky-couch.

It may be a while before we see Skynests in the air, in fact, Air New Zealand will be making a decision on this next year once the Auckland to New York non-stop service has operated for a year. Where will Skynest fall in the price range? Thinking currently is that it will be higher than the normal economy fare but lower than premium economy.