boeing - Modern Airliners

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 Boeing buying its way into the supersonic market?

Aerion AS2 Supersonic business jet

No sooner had we posted our article on the prospects of future supersonic jets gracing our skies again, and here comes an announcement from Boeing and Aerion of Reno, Nevada. The giant plane maker, Boeing, on Tuesday 05 February 2018 made a significant investment with the experts in supersonic technology, Aerion. The financials involved have not been disclosed, but suffice to say it will no doubt help out with the US$120 million development costs for the Aerion AS2. It must have been a good deal as Boeing shares touched a record high of US$407.48 after opening above US$400 for the first time ever.

The reasoning behind the investment can best be summed up in a statement by Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt. He said, “through this partnership that combines Aerion’s supersonic expertise with Boeing’s global industrial scale and commercial aviation experience, we have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight.”

As a side note, Aerion and Lockheed Martin were in a Technical Viability partnership from 2017 which lapsed on 01 February 2019 to develop the AS2. Neither party expressed willingness to further this partnership. It almost seems that Boeing was waiting in the wings.

So what is the AS2? What is Boeing buying into?

The Aerion AS2 is a business jet designed to cut travel times significantly. Here are some specs.


Aerion AS2 Specs.

SpeedMach 1.4 / 1,000 mph / 1,610kph
Length49 metres
Wing Span21 metres
Wing Area125 square metres
Tail Height8 metres
Cabin Length9.1 metres
Cabin Height1.87 metres
Cabin Width2.2 metres
Engines3 x GE Affinity Turbo Fans
CockpitBy Honeywell
Thrust15,000 lbs
Max SpeedMach 1.6, Mach 0.99 over supersonic banned areas.
Range9,260 km
Landing distanceLess than 4,000 ft
Take-off distance full fuel.7,500 ft
Basic Operating weight22,588 kg
Max take-off weight52,163 kg
First Flight2023
Enter Service2025

The obvious question is, how will the AS2 suceed where Concorde failed? The restrictions for supersonic flight over land are still very much in place. Because of the sonic boom created by shock waves as the aircraft crosses the sound barrier, these aircraft are not permitted to over fly land for environmental and social reasons. So what has changed?

A model of the Aerion AS2 Supersonic Business Jet (SBJ).Note the squareness of the wings, much more like a modern fighter than the classic Concorde delta type wing.
A model of the Aerion AS2 Supersonic Business Jet (SBJ). Note the squareness of the wings, much more like a modern fighter than the classic Concorde delta type wing.

There is certainly pressure in the United States on governing bodies to relax the rules around supersonic flight over land. This may or may not be successful. However, in Europe there seems to be no appetite for relaxing these rules, and Europe of course is a huge destination for any business related travel. Relaxing of legislation, therefore, cannot be a condition that supersonic plane makers should count on.

The solution has to be in the technology. To minimise the sound shock wave as much as possible, the AS2 is designed with a very long tapered fuselage. This helps to control the length of the wave, thereby lessening the resultant boom. Aerion have developed BOOMLESS CRUISE™, which they say will enable the AS2 to cruise at speeds approaching Mach 1.2 without the sonic boom. This is dependant on temperature and wind. Once the AS2 gains certification Aerion intend to work with authorities in order to gain approval for this cruise capability.

There is a third feature in the AS2, in that it can fly just as efficiently at Mach .95 as it can at super sonic speeds. Mach .95 is still significantly faster than current passenger airliners, so with this flexibily, the AS2 certainly has the ability to suceed where Concorde failed. Whilst not as fast as Concorde, the AS2 has the capability of flying anywhere in the world without noise related restrictions. She will still have the ability to shave 3 hours off a trans Atlantic flight as compared to present day airliners, which is significant.

The AS2 will come with various cabin configuration options, from standard airliner seating to dual cabins with lounge chairs in one and a meeting table in the other.

On the outside, the AS2 is very sleek as mentioned above, with a long tapered fuselage. Aerion have done away with the delta wing of Concorde and gone for a more square wing, similar to modern fighter jets. The wing is very square with sharp angles and very thin. Originally Aerion were leaning toward two 19,000 lb thrust Pratt and Whitney engines, but changed to the present configuration of three 15,000 lb thrust GE Aviation engines. The tri-jet configuration they found offered better take-off performance.

It will be great to see supersonic travel coming back into focus. The renewed interest will no doubt lead to technological advances and enable supersonic jets to become the new normal. That, surely, will make air travel much more attractive.