Pisquali - Modern Airliners

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.

Boeing 777x First Flight

Boeing 777x Roll out

After two failed attempts, called off due to high winds, the latest addition to the 26-year-old Boeing 777 family has finally taken to the air. At 09:08 am, Saturday 25 January 2020, aircraft registration WH-001 started its takeoff run on runway 34 Left at Paine Field, Everett. With an 8 knot tailwind, broken clouds at 3,000 feet with 6 miles visibility, the largest twin-engine jet took a mere 30 seconds to become airborne. Applause and cheering from the crowd was drowned out by the worlds biggest jet engines, the GE Aviation GE9x.

Maiden flights of new airliners don’t happen very often, maybe once or twice a decade. Whilst the first flight of the Boeing 777x is a cause for excitement, Boeing must be feeling the pressure of getting this completely right in light of the 737 MAX situation. But enough of that.

The test flight lasted four hours out over the Pacific Northwest, a major milestone and the beginning of a very rigorous aircraft certification program. Before the aircraft can be delivered to airlines and begin carrying passengers, it has to go through a certification process. This is done with the F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Administration) and then no doubt with other agencies such as E.A.S.A. (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) before it can fly to, or overfly those regions. By current estimates, Boeing expects to be in a position to start delivering the first aircraft to customers in 2021. The first of those is expected to be Emirates. The order book for the 777x stands at 309 airframes with a list price of US $442M per aircraft. Of course, this is not necessarily what airlines will pay as they will have negotiated with Boeing for discounts around things like, number of aircraft ordered, or being the launch airline. Nevertheless, the sooner Boeing starts delivering, the sooner the income for this project will start.

The wingtip deployment can be clearly seen in this video as the Boenig 777x takes to the sky for the first time on a wet Seattle day.

So after 26 years of 777s (Tripple Sevens), what is so special about the 777x? Well, the original 777 was a step forward in its day, being computer designed it brought a lot of new ideas to the airliner design table. The 777x is carrying on that tradition by using technologies that have been tried and tested in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This includes using more composite materials in its construction, to make use of lighter stronger materials as well as materials which are far less susceptible to corrosion. Larger windows and an updated passenger cabin will be great news for passengers on this aircraft that Boeing maintains is the most efficient twin-engined airliner in the world.

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The standout feature is the folding wingtip………

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The stand out feature, however, is the folding wingtip. This feature, until now, was typical of fighter aircraft that were assigned to aircraft carriers. To save space when the aircraft was stored below decks, its wings would be folded upwards and thereby reducing the side to side space required for its storage. This is a concept that Boeing went with. To create the largest twin jet in the world, that is required to fly further than the previous version, was going to require a wing that gave more lift than the previous version. Winglets could have solved the problem to some extent, but it has been found that a longer tapered wing gives more optimal lift. The Boeing 787 and the Boeing 747 8 are testament to Boeing’s findings in this area.

So why folding wingtips? Well, let’s look at the Airbus A380. When it was introduced in the early 2000s, airports were required to make adjustments to gate areas to enable a much wider aircraft to be accommodated. They had to be “A380 Ready” before that airliner could land there. A huge upheaval and expense but it was seen as the new future and therefore was seen as an investment in that future. We now know of course that the days of the A380 are numbered, now that the giant twin airliners are coming of age. Boeing wanted to avoid the restrictiveness of requiring airports to upgrade to be able to handle an oversized wingspan. They wanted the 777x to be able to fly everywhere that the current generation of 777s can fly to. So was born the folding wingtip idea. The wingtips allow the 777x to change from a wingspan of 235 feet in the air down to 213 feet on the ground.

As the wingtips are a totally new technology in the passenger airliner space, the F.A.A. has come up with a set of 10 conditions that have to be satisfied before certification can take place. Boeing has stated that the non-deployment of the wingtips on takeoff can lead to catastrophic results. This is logical, as a fully laden aircraft, depends on the lift that those wingtips provide. If you suddenly have smaller wings than required, you are going by road with tragic results. The 10 conditions are designed to put fail-safes in place to

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… you are going by road with tragic results……..

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prevent the non-deployment of wingtips on takeoff as well as the failure of the wingtips to stay in place during flight. These conditions revolve around a comprehensive warning system to alert the crew to the fact they are attempting takeoff without the wingtips deployed. In addition, if that is ignored, there is the ability for the aircraft to prevent takeoff until wingtips are deployed. With every new technology comes a whole raft of things to consider and conditions to be tested for.

Like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which started its early days as the 7E7, the 777x will no doubt be dropped in favour of the actual variant names of 777-8 and 777-9. Some basic statics on the two models are as follows:

777x VariantRangePassengers
Boeing 777-816,170km (8,730nm)384
Boeing 777-913,490km (7,285nm)426

Be sure to visit our Boeing 777x page for more details.

At 251 feet, the Boeing 777-9 will be the longest commercial aircraft in the world.

The road to this first test flight has not been a smooth one. From the time that the 777x was first rolled out of the hangar in March 2019, it was found that the new GE9x engine experienced excessive wear when run. In September when the wing stress testing was done, there was an explosive decompression event when a tear appeared in the fuselage. The manufacturing of the 777x was to be done in a fully automated assembly line by robots. Challenges in this area have forced Boeing to revert back to the traditional human-driven process.

The 777x is in the air at last. We certainly look forward to watching its progress toward certification.

Airbus Versus Boeing

United Airlines Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800 on final approach at San Francisco.

For the first time since 2011, Airbus has outperformed Boeing.

As we all know, there are two main plane makers in the world today making the lions share of commercial passenger-carrying aircraft. Boeing and Airbus are more or less a duopoly in the skies and have been keenly fighting for market share for a number of years now. They’ve both had wins and setbacks from which they have managed to recover with lessons learned.

Now that 2019 is behind us, a year that many are quite glad to have in the rearview mirror, it might be interesting to see how it washed up for Boeing and Airbus.

It’s not hard to see which aircraft model was the most prolific in 2019. The Airbus A320 family of aircraft has been selling well for Airbus and in a year where the Boeing 737 MAX was not compromised by groundings, that aircraft should have been delivered in the same numbers.

Let’s not forget the turn around in the fate of the Super Jumbo Airbus A380. That aircraft was set to pick up the reins from the Queen of the Skies, the much loved Boeing 747, and take us into the new Millenium in style. What Airbus failed to recognise was that the advent of much better engine technology. This technology paved the way for the giant twin-engined jets to service those long overwater routes previously reserved for the four-engined airliners. This was bad news for Airbus as the sales of the A380 fell well short of the break-even point where the aircraft sales had covered the development and manufacturing costs. As if on a signal, different airlines cancelled their A380 orders or at least reduced them. The huge Emirates order will keep manufacturing going for a limited time until all orders of the type dry up.

It is not all bad news for Airbus, however. Where some of the A380 orders were cancelled, they were replaced by orders for the new A350 XWB. Even Emirates converted some of its A380 orders to A350 XWB orders. Obviously a cheaper option for airliners, and one that will continue to be developed into the future.

The smaller A320 family of aircraft have a higher production rate than the other models which is obvious from the graphic. These aircraft are produced in multiple locations to try and keep up with demand. Airbus is also ramping up the A220 production. The A220 was, of course, bought from Bombardier of Canada.

So, mixed results for Airbus. What of Boeing?

Boeing’s story is perhaps much more dramatic and has been very much in focus throughout 2019. As we know, the first event that gave a clue that all was not well with Boeing’s new 737 MAX happened in October 2018, when Lion Air flight 610 crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. The investigation started to show there was a problem with the system that prevents the aircraft from going into a stall. The heightened likelihood of a stall was anticipated due to a larger engine on this model needing to be placed further in front of the main wing to allow it to be raised higher to achieve ground clearance.

The Boeing delivery figures for 2019 show clearly the gap left by the delivery of the smallest model, the 737. The MAX deliveries should have been around the 570 aircraft mark, not 121 as shown above. The larger aircraft such as the 787 and 777 have longer production times and so fewer are produced compared to the 737.

Tragically, this assessment was further proven correct when a second 737 MAX, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, crashed in similar circumstances after departure from Addis Ababa in March 2019. Not even six months after Lion Air. The aviation world immediately responded by grounding the Boeing 737 MAX pending further investigation and rectification of any issues that were found. Boeing continued to produce the 737 MAX in the hope that the grounding would be lifted and deliveries could commence. As 2019 wore on it started becoming obvious that the MAX was not going to allowed back in the air anytime soon. The production was slowed from 52 to 42 aircraft per month, and on 14 March 2019, the first cancellation of a MAX order was received. It was from Garuda Indonesia for 49 aircraft. There have been a number of others and as we write in January 2020, Boeing has suspended production. To be honest, I believe they simply don’t have the space to park any more.

There are around 400 aircraft ready to be delivered. If and when the all-clear is given and dependant on what remedial work needs to be done on completed airframes to make them airworthy, Boeing will schedule the delivery of those aircraft while firing up the production lines again.

United Airlines Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800 on final approach at San Francisco
Here we see a summary of the 737 MAX order book from first orders back in 2011. Everything is progressing quite well, with a bit of lull in 2015 and 2016. First deliveries start rolling out the door in 2017 and 2018 shows a good solid performance. In 2019 we see the wheels fall off. We have negative orders due to cancellations by Garuda Indonesia and others and deliveries all but dry up as well.

There have obviously been some bad decisions taken down at Boeing. We can only hope that they can learn from their mistakes and turn this into a win for all. Faith needs to be restored with the airlines and of course their customers, the travelling public. There is a common saying used by many, “if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going”. They need to make people feel like that again to get back in the saddle.

So Boeing versus Airbus? Clearly it has been a win for Airbus in 2019. The European planemaker came late to the party, compared to Boeing and its long history, but there is no doubt that they are a worthy adversary in the big airliner market.

One giant leap.

Philippine Airlines Airbus A350-900

The story of aviation is certainly all about balance. How can you go further but still carry a profitable amount of payload? It is all about trade-offs. You can certainly fill an aircraft to the brim with payload, but you will have to leave fuel behind in order to be light enough to get off the ground. You can alternatively load up with fuel to go a long way, but you will then have to leave passengers and cargo behind, so once again you can become airborne.

Even with the newest technology those simple laws of physics still apply.

The Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 will be the tool of choice when Air New Zealand opens its new long range route, Auckland to New York in 2020. The 787 is one of the new breed of giant twin jets using composite materials in their construction which offers greater strength at lower weights. This is the great enabler for ultra long range routes.

It seems, however, that every few decades improvements in technology allow us to take that next step. Whether it be the materials used in aircraft manufacture, the power and reliability of engines or the corrections to design theory. All evolved through lessons, often learned at a high cost. For instance, the move from canvas and wood to aluminium, the lessons learned about metal fatigue. The advent of the Jumbo jet, which brought travel to the common man. All, like our foray into supersonic travel, have been game changers. Some of these technologies have stayed and grown, others proved to be less popular. Not necessarily because they were bad in any way, but because they weren’t economical in most cases.

When all is said and done, airlines and airliner manufacturers are businesses with shareholders who expect to make a profit on their investment. Airlines find routes on which they can make a profit carrying passengers and/or cargo in a profitable way. Attracting customers depends on offering the service at a cost that is competitive and palatable to the market. The airline industry carries horrendously high operating costs. High fuel costs, aircraft that cost millions each as well as maintenance and other costs. So minimising cost, without impacting the level of service or safety is paramount.

The QANTAS Boeing 787-9 is currently being used on the ultra long range Perth to London route. QANTAS is embarking on what they call Project Sunrise which will see new non-stop routes opening from Australian cities to points all over the globe. On the 19th October 2019 a proving flight left New York to fly non-stop to Sydney, an exhausting 19 hours and 16 minutes.

Like any industry, it is important to use the right tools for the job. Airliners are those tools, and each of those models and variants has a very specific purpose and niche in the market. For example, smaller twin jets which can fly short to medium ranges to carry a small number of passengers more frequently. Larger transcontinental jets that carry many more passengers over greater distances.

So back to balance. The travelling public is becoming ever more mobile. Holiday makers travelling all over the globe to find those, as yet, unspoiled destinations. Business travellers, similarly, need to get to all sorts of far flung destinations to close that deal. To the business traveller, time is money, so get me there quickly. To the leisure traveller, too many hours in that economy class seat are soul destroying, among other things.

This is where technology is currently being focused. Being able to fly further from more origins to more destinations. What does that mean?

Let’s look at the iconic Boeing 747. It was designed to operate out of big city airports. It is big and needs a big runway to take-off and land on. So, the system, known as hub and spoke was used. For example, you take the Boeing 747 from London Heathrow to New York JFK, then change to a smaller commuter airliner to go on to a secondary city. That makes for a long journey, not very convenient. There were several factors that led to things being done this way. One is engine reliability. Aircraft and their engines need to be certified (ETOPS) to fly long over water routes. This is particularly true of twin jets.

For many years, aircraft like the 4 engine Boeing 747, Boeing 707, Douglas DC8, Airbus A340, as well as the 3 engine Douglas DC10 and Lockheed L1011 were the mainstays of trans-oceanic travel. Airbus perhaps came a little late to this game with the Airbus A380. Certainly, a marvel of aviation technology, the A380 has not met its sales potential for Airbus. Existing customer airlines have shortened their orders as they have seen that the game has changed.

The age of the giant twin jet is upon us.

Engine technology has enabled the production of engines with a far lower failure rate then in the past. Through testing and the resultant certification, large twin-engine jets like the Boeing 787, Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 are able to fly further from the nearest available airfield then past twins. This is what makes trans-oceanic travel possible.

Delta flies one of the worlds longest non-stop routes from Johannesburg to Atlanta which takes around 16 and a half hours using the trusty Boeing 777-200LR. Shortly we should being seeing the newer Boeing 777X, which will come out in in a 777-8 and 777-9 variant.

The economics are obvious. Twin jets require less spares to be kept in store, less maintenance. Not being as big as their Jumbo and Super Jumbo predecessors, they can fly into smaller airfields, doing away with the need to transfer through busy main hubs.

So, what about the further part?

The new twins, particularly the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, use a high percentage of composite materials in their construction. Carbon fibre and plastics provide strength but at a lower weight than aluminium. This delivers benefits in having a lighter aircraft with the same if not higher strength. Keeping the base weight down enables a higher payload which is great news for the airlines operating them.

Back to the balance. Being able to carry a higher payload means we can carry more fuel without leaving as many passengers behind for those long-haul routes. This is important for more remote parts of the world, like Australia and New Zealand. QANTAS the Australian national carrier, for its part, is focused on Project Sunrise. The aim is to fly non-stop from Australian capital cities to major destinations around the world, like London and New York. They have already been operating from Perth to London non-stop for a few months now, a flying time of 17 hours 45 minutes. On 19 October 2019, QANTAS took delivery a Boeing 787-9 with which they performed a publicity flight under the number QF7879 from New York to Sydney, non-stop. The flight took 19 hours 16 minutes and carried 50 odd passengers and crew. Data was taken of how each passenger dealt with the nearly 20-hour flight. It will be interesting to see their findings when they are publicised as this may help us to understand and mitigate the effects of super long-haul flight.

Air New Zealand announced that they would commence flying non-stop Auckland to New York, a flying time of between 17 and 18 hours. The options for travellers in a hurry to get to their destinations are certainly about to explode. Whilst these services will no doubt be aimed at the upper end of the market for now, I’m sure they are looking at ways to make sitting in economy for those extended flying times possible.

AirlineOriginDestinationMilesDurationAircraft Type
Singapore AirlinesNewarkSingapore9,53418h 45mA350-900 ULR
Qatar AirwaysAucklandDoha9,03217h 50mBoeing 777-200LR
QANTASPerthLondon9,00917h 20mBoeing 787-9
EmiratesAucklandDubai8,82317h 5mAirbus A380
Singapore AirlinesLos AngelesSingapore8,76917hA350-900ULR
United AirlinesHoustonSydney8,59617h 15mBoeing 787-9
QANTASDallas Fort WorthSydney8,55717hAirbus A380
Philippine AirlinesNew YorkManila8,52016h 45mA350-900ULR
Singapore Airlines and
United Airlines
San FranciscoSingapore8,44616h 35mSQ A350-900ULR
UA Boeing 787-9
Delta Air LinesJohannesburgAtlanta8,43916h 25m777-200LR

How do you feel about super long-haul flight? Would you be keen to take a nearly 20 hour flight, and what class of travel would you travel in? We would love to hear how you travellers feel about that?

Airbus announces the end of A380 production.

Emirates Airbus A380-861

European aviation powerhouse, Airbus, announced, not unexpectedly, that they would cease production of the A380 Super Jumbo.

The huge double-decker A380 was set to revolutionise air travel in the new millennium and give stiff competition to the Boeing 747 Jumbo. Able to carry over 500 passengers across long distances, the A380 looked like a sure bet in that niche market. Launched in 2008 by Singapore Airlines, the future looked hopeful with orders from many of the worlds prestigious airlines. Notably, Middle Eastern airline giant, Emirates, ordered a whopping 162 airframes. Airbus expected to sell around 1,200 A380s in order to recoup development cost, and of course, turn a profit. The actuality is that they have not even achieved a quarter of this target. As at the 31st of January 2019, 234 A380s have been delivered with 232 in active service. Of these 106 are with Emirates.

Where did Airbus go wrong? Like anything in the commercial world, the economics no longer stack up. The high price of the aircraft, coupled with the extensive upgrades required at airfields, before they can accommodate the Super Jumbo, led to very high overheads. Aviation, like most industries with an accent on technology, are ever changing. It can be very difficult to predict future trends, and Airbus is not alone in this. Boeing also got burned by this trend with their 747-8i. Designed as the descendant of the much loved 747, it met with a very lukewarm reception and has since ceased production. Boeing at least could fall back on the original failsafe of the 747, by creating a freighter version of the 747-8. This has done slightly better. The bubble on the original 747 was to enable a freighter version to be loaded through an opening nose door. They didn’t have faith that the passenger version would sell, so took an “each way bet”.

The focus seems to be now moving toward the long-range twin-jets. Both Boeing and Airbus have a wide range of offerings in this space, which offer airlines a wide choice across their whole network. The economics of filling one very large aircraft to the point of profitability can very challenging. With slightly smaller aircraft, routes can be flown more frequently and economically. Today’s giant twins like the Airbus A350-11 and the Boeing 777-9, are coming online and are enabling airlines to offer non-stop services between cities where it has not been possible in the past. Airlines, like QANTAS, are rethinking their strategy and proposing services that to date have not been possible.

An Airbus A380 destined for Emirates takes shape in the Toulouse factory. When production ends for the Super Jumbo in 2021, there are an estimated 3,500 jobs that will be at risk.
An Airbus A380 destined for Emirates takes shape in the Toulouse factory. When production ends for the Super Jumbo in 2021, there are an estimated 3,500 jobs that will be at risk.

Only a few days ago QANTAS announced that they would no longer require the remaining 8 A380s in the order book. Virgin Atlantic also withdrew their order of 6, as they no longer wish to take up the A380. The final crunch came when Emirates announced it would reduce its order of 162 by about 20 aircraft. Once the balance of the Emirates and A.N.A. orders are fulfilled, there is no further backlog. Airbus anticipate closing production in 2021, which could impact up to 3,500 jobs. Not only will this affect Airbus, but also the many suppliers who create components for the giant aircraft.

It seems the A380 came along just a little late in the day. The focus of aviation has changed once again and it seems the day of the giant 4 engined Jumbo is over.

QANTAS Airbus A380 Orders Capped at 12.

QANTAS A380 VH-OQA taking off

Back in 2006, QANTAS was one of the first airlines to place an order for the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo. 20 of the type were ordered which certainly lifted the QANTAS image as an industry leader. On 21 September 2008, the first A380, registration VH-OQA named for the much loved and respected aviatrix Nancy-Bird Walton landed in Sydney. Over the next 3 and a half years Airbus delivered 11 more airframes with the last of the 12 arriving in December 2011. VH-OQL, named Phyllis Arnott after the first woman in Australia to take a commercial pilots licence, is now officially the one that concluded the order.

For the last 8 years, QANTAS has had 8 A380s outstanding in their order book with Airbus. Sources at QANTAS indicate that those remaining 8 aircraft have not featured in its future network plans for some time. This week it was announced that the remaining 8 would no longer be required and in discussions with Airbus formally cancelled that remaining order. This is no doubt bad news for Airbus as this cancellation is a significant contributor to the $US4 billion in lost contracts. Airbus is putting a brave face on it, one source quoted as saying, “one month does not make a year”. Let’s hope they’re right.

When we look at the order book for the A380 as at the end of January 2019, we see there are 313 orders with 234 airframes delivered of which 232 are currently in active service. The QANTAS order for 20 aircraft was the third largest behind Singapore Airlines and Emirates. The Emirates order itself is what is keeping the A380 factories open. Of the 162 ordered by the giant airline, 109 have been delivered. We also note that Virgin Atlantic who had 6 on order have now dropped off the order list.

Whilst Airbus might see the Emirates order as being a lifeline for the A380. There is talk that Emirates may also be rethinking their strategy and perhaps looking at the A350 as a viable alternative. As we wrote back in 2015 about the 747-8, is the day of the 4 engined Jumbo sized aircraft at an end? We can only speculate, and of course, Airbus is remaining tight-lipped, about whether we will soon see a closure of the Airbus A380 production line?

QANTAS say they are committed to the A380s in their fleet and around mid-year this year, they will embark on a revamping and upgrade of the interiors of their A380 fleet. So there certainly is committment to the type in the future.

Project Sunrise

Described as the last frontier of aviation by CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce, is the non-stop flight to anywhere in the world. The advent of the giant twin-engined airliners is bringing this dream into reality. QANTAS recently took delivery of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners which have been deployed on the Perth to London non-stop flight route. This will become available for East Coast Australian cities soon as well. Mr Joyce indicated that the aircraft are stripped back and are targeted at the higher end business market. Cargo may even be sacrificed in favour of sleeping berths for the extremely long flights.

The QANTAS Boeing 787_9 Dreamliner is pivotal in Project Sunrise, bringing more of the world into the non-stop flight umbrella.
The QANTAS Boeing 787_9 Dreamliner is pivotal in Project Sunrise, bringing more of the world into the non-stop flight umbrella.

Perhaps we are at that tipping point where those longer flights are becoming economically feasible. If we go back a few years, the Airbus A340 was given as a solution to those ultra long flights that other airliners could not compete with. Singapore Airlines pioneered some of those long routes, but eventually the economics didn’t stack up. The long-range A340 became known as a flying tanker with a few passengers allowed along for the ride.

QANTAS also introduced an extremely long route from Sydney to Dallas, Texas using their Boeing 747 400ER. It was quite a stretch, and on several occasions on the Dallas to Sydney leg which is against the jet stream, the aircraft had to stop over in Noumea due to low fuel. This route is now operated by the Airbus A380.

Orignally Mr Joyce of QANTAS was adamant that the Project Sunrise aircraft would carry in excess of 300 passengers. This has been revised back now, and may well follow the lead of Singpoare Airlines on their Singapore to New York route using an Airbus 900ULR (Ultra Long Range). This non-stop flight of 18 hours is available to 67 Business Class travellers along with 94 Premium Economy Class travellers. Certainly a high end portion of the market. For high flying business travellers, this is the quickest way to get there, so may be money well spent.

Perhaps we’re not all as keen as those business travellers to shave a few hours off our trip and pay those premium prices. But there are new aircraft being developed and improved all the time. The likely candidates are the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 1000. We mustn’t quite forget about supersonic travel either. Concorde may not a have flown for a decade and half, but that doesn’t mean the concept is dead.

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