New aircraft grounded in US

It is hard to understand the effects of the US federal government shut-down from abroad. For most Americans, life continues more or less as normal – rioting in the street, queues for food or major power shortages seem a long way away. Looking at figures does not help much because they are too big to comprehend but if you look at the way some individual businesses are being affected, it is all too easy to see the slow, debilitating impact the shut-down will have if it goes on much longer.

At the weekend, one US newspaper was happy to report that only two new passenger aircraft had been delayed going into service because of the shut-down. Now the figure has increased to six and will surely double in the next few days. The FAA has sent home the staff who register new passenger aircraft so that is that. Airlines just have to look at their shiny new jets on the tarmac and hope that one day soon, they will start earning money.

The US airlines are strong enough to manage without a handful of aircraft for a week or two but if that week or two becomes a month or two, the numbers will multiply and the knock-on effects will start. New staff have been trained to fly them, the aircraft might require further fitting-out by sub-contractors, old aircraft cannot be sold or passed to companies for conversion or scrapping. Bit by bit, the economy starts to dry up from the edges.

And that is just the airline business. The same thing is happening everywhere else. For the most part, nothing particularly damaging – it is as if the whole US economy has had a tiny puncture and the air is very slowly escaping.


Boeing 787 impressions

Earlier this month our publisher had his first trip on a Boeing 787 – from Oslo Gardemoen to Gatwick, care of Norwegian. Was he impressed?

Yes, it did have a “new-car” smell.

In a way, impressively unimpressive – anyone not interested in planes, even frequent flyers, might not notice the difference.

The much heralded LED mood lighting struck me as gimmicky.

You only notice how big the windows are when you start looking out of them. The innovative window-dimmers (the plane doesn’t have blinds) worked well eventually, but required a rather strong finger to press the button hard enough to get any response.

Much has been made about the 787’s cabin pressure being set to 6,000 feet, rather than the usual 7,500–8,000 feet. I must say I didn’t notice the difference. In fact, my ears started popping the moment we left the cruise at 43,000 feet, as usual.

The clincher is the noise level – this is the thing that most impressed me. I was sitting in economy just behind the wing and it was noticeably quieter than any other plane I’ve ever been on, at all segments of the flight.

So, yes, sort of.


787s are go but…

It looks as if the Boeing 787 is likely to go back into service very shortly which is good news for all concerned. Boeing and the Japanese manufacturers of the over-heating battery seem to have produced a very solid solution which will mean the problem will not happen again.

The Boeing 787 has had a very turbulent history. Deliveries were badly delayed as the complicated world-wide supply chain set up by Boeing failed to deliver all the parts on schedule. Ironically, the world-wide supply chain is one of the reasons the aircraft has achieved such high sales. By giving manufacturers around the world contracts to build valuable parts, Boeing’s salesmen were able to push the aircraft to airlines in those countries as being “locally-made”. The batteries that caused the problem were made in Japan – it is not a coincidence that the biggest operators of 787s at the moment are two Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA.

Actually, even without this “local” advantage, the 787 was always likely to be a success. It fills a unique and very valuable area in an airline’s fleet and allows them to operate long routes, with limited passenger demand, very economically.

The various troubles have cost Boeing hundreds of millions but there is little doubt that in a few years time, they will be counting the profits and the 787 will be seen as one of their most successful products.

There is just one lingering doubt. After intensive work over the last few weeks, engineers and safety regulators have come up with a plan to ensure that any future over-heating will not be an issue. However, the actual cause of the original over-heating in the batteries has not been found. That should not be an issue because, if the same thing happens again, the batteries will not react in the same way so all will be will.

I am no engineer so cannot possibly comment but, whilst robust sticking-tape is good, surely it would still be nice to know the root-cause.


Dreamliner problems grow exponentially

The grounding of all Boeing 787′s a few weeks ago did not cause much comment in the general press. There are only just over fifty of these new aircraft in service and the few airlines that have them only have a handful in service so most have been able to re-schedule their services using their existing fleet. Only the two Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA have had any real problems and they seem to be coping quite well.

When the FAA announced the grounding, it was assumed it would be just for a few days or weeks whilst the batteries were tested. Unfortunately, Boeing, the Japanese manufacturers of the battery and the various safety authorities do not seem any nearer to finding out what has gone wrong. Rumours are now spreading that the grounding could continue for several more weeks or months.

Boeing’s delivery schedule plans to ratchet up delivery of the new aircraft to ten a month by the end of the year. Officially, the schedule has not changed – though obviously there are no current deliveries since the aircraft cannot fly. A delay of a few weeks would not cause a problem but the longer this goes on, the more serious the consequences could become.

Airlines who currently have the 787 should not have too much trouble substituting other aircraft from their fleet in the slack Winter season. However, from May onwards, the Summer schedules will make it much harder to do this. The Summer schedules will have been drawn up on the basis of the new aircraft being fully operational. Some airlines will already have signed contracts to sell, or return old aircraft to leasing companies. Other airlines will, in turn, be counting on these aircraft entering their fleets.

In Britain, both Thomson and British Airways are expecting 787′s in the Spring and early Summer. Thomson have already allocated their two 787′s and sold the seats. Maybe they can just continue using the 767′s they currently have but they were supposed to be leaving the fleet (with one departing as each new 787 arrives) and, presumably, another airline is expecting the 767′s. Qatar have been waiting for their 787′s anxiously and several new routes (which have already been sold) depend on the aircraft being in the fleet. Norwegian claim their new longhaul budget routes due to start in the Spring will not be hit because they have contingency plans to lease another aircraft – but there are very limited replacement aircraft available for lease and they will be expensive. And so it goes on.

The 787 grounding is far from a disaster yet. Even if it continues for the rest of the year, it will not cause chaos, but, the longer it goes on, the more trouble it will cause and it could be a very annoying summer for some airlines.

Lufthansa’s sexy new toy

I am not a regular aircraft anorak. Most new types leave me cold. Airbus has become very good at producing aircraft which are efficient but soulless and even the new A380 does not make me enthusiastic. Boeing seems to be in a competition with itself to produce yet longer versions of its 777 flying-tube and the 787, for all its technical wizzardry, still seems rather like a 767 with go-faster stripes.

But there is one new aircraft I have to admit to finding genuinely exciting. Boeing’s new version of the jumbo, the 747-8, has genuine style and character both inside and outside. Unfortunately, it looks as if Lufthansa will be one of the few passenger airlines to buy it. The airline has decided that the specific characteristics of the aircraft make it ideal for routes with a higher Business Class demand so it will be flying on some of their more lucrative routes.

This video shows the making of nine individual ad campaigns on one day. Whilst it is meant as a behind-the-scenes look at a photo-shoot, it actually gives a better feel of the aircraft than some that have been shot to deliberately showcase it.

Isn’t publicity wonderful?

The Japanese airline, ANA, have been looking forward to this week for a very long time. Finally, their patience as the launch customer for the new Boeing 787 is rewarded and their brand-new, sparkling 787 is delivered. The new aircraft should attract almost as much attention as the first A380 superjumbo. Taking the first aircraft of any new model is a slight risk because there will probably be some initial minor problems, but ANA obviously calculated that the deluge of good publicity would be worth the hassle.

And then…

The co-pilot of a ANA 737 pressed the wrong button sending his aircraft into a 6,000 feet dive and suddenly the newspapers are full of publicity for ANA but definitely not the sort of publicity the airline was hoping for.

And to make matters worse, one website publishes the story alongside a picture of the new ANA 787 without even mentioning that it was a 737 involved in the incident.

ANA’s publicity people must be tearing their hair out.

What a beautiful aircraft

That was – allegedly – the comment of the previous CEO of Lufthansa when he saw the first take-off of a new aircraft on order for the airline.

You might expect that, as good European, Wolfgang Mayrhuber, was talking about the Airbus A380. Actually, it would be hard for anyone to call that aircraft beautiful – “big” is about the best description.

He was actually talking about the new version of the 747 – the Boeing 747-800 series. Lufthansa should have the first of their order in service early next year. On looks and style, it beats the A380 by miles as you can see here.

The only bad bit of news is that its entry into service could be delayed because, unless the US agrees its budget this weekend, the certification process might be held up.

Another A380 prang!

Whilst they have become rather a tedious forum for pre-arranged purchses to be officially announced, air shows are still the most important public opportunity an aircraft manufacturer gets to show off their aircraft. And shows do not come more prestigious than the Paris Air Show.

So it is rather a shame for Airbus that they had to cancel a flying display by their A380 after it touched wings with a fixed structure on the runway. No doubt the taxiways were particularly crowded with aircraft but Airbus will be deeply embarrassed at another very public show of the problems of operating the A380 at busy airports. This is only a few weeks after an Air France A380 had an unfortunate collision with a regional jet at JFK. No doubt one of the aims of the intended flying display was to show just how nimble the A380 is in the air. Alas, it ended up showing that it is far less nimble on the ground.

There does look to be a case for improving pilot visibility from the cockpit of the aircraft. Airbus will certainly have to do something to convince both airports and airlines that the A380 can be operated easily at the world’s busiest airports.

Hopeless Politicians

Most countries have a handful of politicians who seem to lack the capacity for logical thought. There are quite a few examples in Britain but, of course, the US beats us hands down us with Sarah Palin. However, for sheer jingoistic stupidity, the French politician, Bernard Carayon really takes some beating.

Air France has announced that they are getting ready to place an order for 100 new longhaul aircraft which they will purchase from either Boeing or Airbus. M. Carayon has organised a petition calling on Air France to only purchase Airbus aircraft and thus support French industry.

Hopefully, no one will take any notice of Bernie’s ravings because they will do his cause more harm than good.

Ignoring politics, it is likely that the managers of Air France and KLM will want to split the order between Boeing and Airbus. Fifty aircraft from each manufacturer is still enough to get some very serious discounts and it avoids becoming too dependent on one company. From a practical point of view, splitting the order is likely to be the best solution for the company.

Splitting the order is also likely to avoid too many political problems. The French government has a minority shareholding in both Airbus and Air France. There has been a long-running dispute at the World Trade Organisation between Boeing and Airbus about illegal subsidies from governments on both sides. If Air France placed its order entirely with Airbus, this would inflame the argument even more and probably lead to calls for sanctions in the US against Airbus.

In other words, if Air France were foolish enough to follow M. Carayon’s demands, Airbus would gain one big order but probably suffer a loss of business in the end.

The more M. Carayon rants on this subject, the harder he is making it for Air France to make a rational decision. Indeed, it is possible that the airline will feel it necessary to be more generous to Boeing than it might have intended just to show they are being even-handed.

If he is serious about helping Airbus, M. Carayon would be advised to take a long summer break in a Trappist monestry.

Rolls Royce Trent Engines – Special Offer!

One of the annoying things about the travel business if the plethora of false special offers. There is no point in agents advertising 50% off a hotel when they are simply referring to a rack rate which no one is likely to pay. Nor do we have much time for the never-ending budget airline “sales” which largely seem to feature normal rates.

At least the airlines get a taste of their own medicine when it comes to buying aircraft and engines. According to Court testimony in the States, the official price of a Rolls Royce Trent engine is $20m. But how much do airlines actually pay?

$15 million?

$10 million?

$5 million?

No – as a special, unrepeatable offer to you gov, you can have one for a knock-down $2.5m.

Actually, some airlines must be paying even less because that is the average price.

Airline engines are a little like printers for laptop computers. The manufacturer can almost give them away because they are making their real profit on the spares and maintenance contract.

Equip a large airline’s fleet of new aircraft with your engine and you have a revenue-stream for years ahead.

All that is sound business but I still cannot understand why they need to establish a “book price” which is so far detached from reality. Airlines might like to think they can fool the public with silly pricing but do the engine manufacturers think their airline clients are equally gullible?