The first of our weekly rollerboard wraps, neatly packing up a broader and atypical perspective on the industry.

Going to ground

Air India’s Boeing 787 fleet has been in a bit of a pickle over the last few weeks leading to the airline’s decision to preemptively ground one aircraft at a time from the end of November.

Ostensibly for software upgrades, each grounding will last for an undetermined length of time giving AI time to conduct more general repairs across its fleet of ten 787-8s. What is wrong outside the airline’s own 787 minimum equipment list (MEL) Air India hasn’t confirmed, but there has been multiple incidents including the loss of a mid-underwing-to-body fairing located on the belly of the aeroplane on the right side at Bangalore Airport, a cracked windshield grounding an aircraft in Melbourne, another grounding in Sydney due to undisclosed issues, and a braking issue on a flight from London to Delhi.

An unofficial Air India source says “Boeing has put out certain service bulletins which the airline will implement. This is not mandatory. The airline is doing it on its own to increase reliability of the aircraft.”

Qantas closes Avalon

Qantas’ Avalon 747 maintenance base will close as a result of significantly reduced engineering requirements. Down from a peak of 34 aircraft in 2004, Qantas’ 747 fleet now stands at 15, and will reduce to ten by 2015 as retirements continue, resulting in Avalon becoming subscale with no work required for 22-months over the coming four years.

The site of future 747 maintenance is yet to be determined with the airline’s Brisbane facility under consideration as well as third-party facilities in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK and US. Any decision to move maintenance overseas is likely to result in outspoken rhetoric on the airline becoming more unsafe, a generally baseless argument given any facility must first be approved by CASA, and unions admitting there is only a ‘casual link’ between past incidents and the increased level of third party MRO work.

For any airline, 22-months with no scheduled maintenance is a long time to be absorbing the expenses a base that cannot support Qantas daily line operations (Avalon has no scheduled Qantas flights) or other fleet types. Qantas has also reportedly rejected receiving Victorian Government subsidies to keep the operation open, likely to further damage the government’s attempts to rebuild the State’s stalling aviation strategy which has suffered significant competition from the Queensland Government.

Qantas has had a continuous presence at Avalon since 1959, when the facility first opened to conduct engineering training and maintenance on it’s newly acquired B707-138 fleet.

The NEO world begins as the XWB world grows

Airbus has completed assembly of the first major component of the NEO programme. The engine pylon will eventually be attached to the first A320NEO to fly in the autumn of 2015.

The first assembled NEO component, an engine pylon for the first A320NEO. Image: Airbus S.A.S.

MSN5 the fifth A350XWB test aircraft and the second to be fitted with a full passenger cabin has entered final assembly in Toulouse. Due to fly in spring 2014, MSN5 will be used to demonstrate its airport operational capabilities to certification authorities, as well as for long-haul passenger flight cabin testing using Airbus employees as test subjects.

A350 MSN5 tail section. Image: Airbus S.A.S.

This testing will be an interesting space to watch following Airbus recent release of the results of limited – involving only six passengers on a simulated flight – polysomnographic research it commissioned revealing, perhaps too conveniently, that the 18 inch wide seats fitted in its nine-abreast economy configuration provides for 53 per cent better sleep than Boeing’s standard 17.2 inch configuration. While scientific, it’s a hardly earth-shattering scientific discovery that even a marginally larger seat delivers slightly more comfort. And it’s inconceivable that Airbus will fit MSN5 with a ten-abreast cabin to validate these findings.

Economy is never going to be comfortable enough to allow you anything close to a blissful sojourn. Perhaps next we’ll see Airbus demand that everybody has a first-class seat? Unless you’re narcoleptic.

To wrap up

A harrowing, but incredible, circa 1945 photo taken above Crantenburg, Germany of a Boeing B-17F going down after being hit by a Messerschmitt-262.