Bold and beautiful in monochrome.

Air New Zealand’s first Boeing 787-9 registered ZK-NZE. Image: Boeing/Air New Zealand.

Farewell to the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

Squadron 216′s last two Tristars taxi out on their final sortie at RAF Brize Norton. Image: Allan Huse.

As aviation continues its twin engine march, yesterday marked the end of an era for another Trijet with the RAF formally retiring its final two L-1011-500 series TriStars after 30 years of service.

Departing RAF Brize Norton  for a refuelling sortie over the North Sea before one aircraft conducted ceremonial fly pasts to mark the disbandment of the RAF’s 216 Squadron, formed in 1917 and in operation continuously for 97 years. Only 250 TriStars were manufactured by Lockheed, with the nine L1011s that saw service with 216 Squadron previously operated by British Airways and Pan Am joining the RAF in 1984.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar prototype during its first flight on November 16, 1970. Image: Air Pictorial magazine, January 1971.

The TriStar began as a request from American Airlines for a widebody aircraft that was smaller than the 747, but offered equivalent range and capacity to the recently retired DC-10. The TriStar was a technical marvel in many areas incorporating aerodynamic, avionics, engine technology and a cabin design that surpassed the market offerings of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.

Mounted into the rear fuselage, the middle engine was fed by an S-duct (similar to the B727) rather than adopting the DC-10′s separated vertical stabiliser mounted engine. The design reduced airframe drag and improved stability.

In the cockpit the L1011 pioneered a number of important technological advances, being the first widebody to incorporate:

  • an Inertial Navigation System which aligned the aircraft’s navigation system using current latitude and longitude;
  • an advanced autopilot system with truly independent autoland capability, fully certified to FAA CAT-IIIC zero visibility conditions;
  • automated descent control or Direct Lift Control (DLC), allowing the aircraft to maintain a consistent pitch without the need for pilot input by using four redundant hydraulic systems to automatically deploy spoiler panels to maintain the selected angle.

The sole engine choice was Rolls Royce’s groundbreaking triple-spool RB211 turbofans offering an unprecedented advance in engine technology. It was the first engine to incorporate carbon-fibre fan blades that delivered fuel efficiency and a power-to-weight ratio better than any competing design. Ironically the turbofan that launched RR into a global leader in aircraft engines was also the L1011′s downfall – design issues delayed the engines entry into service (EIS) by two years to 1972. The delay gave GE an advantage, it delivered its higher-thrust CF6 engine facilitating an earlier EIS of the intercontinental DC-10-30, highlighting the inherent inflexibilities in the L1011 design, which also suffered from a higher than expected MTOW and centre of gravity issues limiting its payload.

Image: Allan Huse

Teething issues overcome, the L1011 demonstrated reliability and redundancy in an era of that saw an increasing number of challenging aircraft accidents. Eastern, and later Delta were the largest US operators, while Cathay Pacific operated the largest L1011 fleet outside the US with 21 aircraft flying across its pan-Asian network.

But Lockheed needed to sell 500 aircraft to break-even. Great engineering wasn’t enough to save it from dwindling orders and a failed attempt by Jimmy Carter to sell production licensing Soviets. L1011 production ended prematurely in 1984. A victim of poor product differentiation and Rolls Royce.

#AvGenY: Aviation’s next generation

For years Australia’s aviation industry, indeed the industry worldwide, has tepidly danced around the issue of what to do about the falling number of young people attracted to aviation. It’s not a new issue. But it’s an issue following a repetitive script, with an incomprehensible lack of engagement of the young people walking away to more lucrative careers in other industries.

For an industry that prides itself on innovation and renewal, why are the hangar doors so firmly closed to young people?

My new #AvGenY series launched in March Australian Aviation is about bringing recognition to this incredibly important issue – written from a young perspective. It’s an issue that has been revisited again and again, but never by anyone young – at least that I’ve come across. Every time it’s by a generation seemingly disconnected from the next, believing they know better, but delivering the same conclusions.

I’m part of a generation that is full of ideas, and I believe there’s an amazing opportunity to develop a conversation incorporating as many of these as I can.

The industry is flying through promising times. If it is to grow at the levels IATA and ICAO predict there needs to be serious debate and recognition of the people who will carry it forward.

As the series progresses we want to hear from you by commenting here, on Facebook or Twitter using #AvGenY.

  • What makes it hard to enter the industry?
  • Can we encourage a change in thinking?
  • Do you think young talent is recognised?
  • Is help readily available?
  • Would age quotas help?
  • What role can social media play to attract you?

 

ETOPS in action: Perth – Mauritius

I thought a recent flight from Perth to Mauritius provided a great basis to highlight the impact of ETOPS restrictions on airline operations in the Southern Hemisphere.

There is no trans-polar or oceanic route in the Northern Hemisphere that requires more than ETOPS 240 approval (four hours from flying time from a suitable airfield), and more than 90% of routes require no more than ETOPS 180.

ETOPS speed schedules are designed assuming a MTOW at departure with highest gross weight and enroute weather conditions at critical points enroute determining diversion speed and endurance. Speeds vary by operator, and other factors including carriage of additional passenger oxygen allowing operations at an intermediate level above FL140 are also taken into account.

Down south ETOPS restrictions have arguably a much greater operational impact as this Perth – Mauritius sector highlights.

Air Mauritius’ previous A340 operation to Australia tracked along a flight path relatively close to the great circle routing (see map below). Now operated by its A330-200 fleet – approved for ETOPS 180 (for arguments sake roughly 1,000nm) – the aircraft must track significantly to the north of the great circle route. Flying north-west after departing Perth to remain within diversion flying time of Learmonth, the Cocos Islands and then Diego Garcia, before tracking to the south-west for Mauritius.

The result is a longer flight time – the previous 8:30 minute block time westbound, is now an 8:30 minute flight time – approximately 45 minutes to one hour longer airborne.

The associated impact on flight economics is substantial as Virgin Australia learnt the hard way in its brief foray into Boeing 777-300ER operations between Melbourne and Johannesburg. To remain with ETOPS 180 restrictions the 777 operated a more northerly, inefficient routing – maps of westbound and eastbound flights – resulting in a flight time 1:15 longer than Qantas’ 14 hour Sydney – Johannesburg service.

The lightest grey shade on the map indicates ETOPS 180 limits. If Air Mauritius were to gain approval for ETOPS 207 or even 240 it would allow a more efficient southerly routing. But would you really be comfortable knowing you are that far from land on the off chance your Royce stops Rolling?

 

 

 

Virgin Australia: A decade of international services.

Today marks ten years since Virgin Australia (Blue at the time) launched it’s first international flight, DJ007 between Christchurch and Brisbane on January 29, 2004.

Across the Tasman, Virgin’s competitive bullseye wasn’t locked squarely on the Qantas Group, it was also taking on a newly relaunched and reinvigorated Air New Zealand in its highest yielding market place. Pacific Blue grew quickly, leveraging the opportunity to develop reliable low-cost air services to the remote, developing islands of the Pacific, an area of the world that couldn’t support the high-cost operation of either national carrier.

Virgin’s long-haul ambitions came to fruition in 2009 – the worst time to launch an international airline, but it had little choice – with the launch of V Australia services to the US.

Continue reading “Virgin Australia: A decade of international services.” »

The weekly rollerboard 12 January

AA’s inaugural A321T service. Image: Edward Russell.

This week Australia’s mantle for offering the best transcontinental airline product in the world – which Australian’s unjustifiably love to pick apart as woefully inadequate – was challenged for the first time in perhaps two decades as American Airlines launched its new premium A321T service from New York JFK to Los Angeles.

Compared with the past decade of woefully inadequate product offer onboard American carriers, the product reinvention is a welcome return to the days of glamorous transcon air travel. There will be a 30 per cent increase in the number of first class seats AA offers as business class and economy decline by 13 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. Continued capacity rationalisation carries through to the strategic relaunch with AA’s total New York-Los Angeles capacity decreasing in favour of frequency growth from ten to thirteen services daily.

Continue reading “The weekly rollerboard 12 January” »

The weekly rollerboard 5 January

Flying Knight

Her Majesty seems to have taken a keen interest in airline strategy, with Emirates President Tim Clark knighted in this year’s New Year honours for “services to British prosperity and to the aviation industry”. Clark is recognised as an “outstanding British business leader and premier airline strategist”. Clark worked for four years at Gulf Air as a route planner, before joining Emirates in 1985. In 2003 Clark was appointed president and under his stewardship Emirates has grown to become one of the top ten biggest carriers in the world. The Royal Aeronautical Society’s fascinating interview with him earlier in 2013 is well worth watching:

Continue reading “The weekly rollerboard 5 January” »

Looking to the sky in 2014.

Our 2013 retrospective, and Airbus breaking with tradition on A350 MSN2 , inspired me to take a look at what this dynamic industry might have in-store for 2014:

A350 MSN2 the first test aircraft to be fitted with a full cabin interior in its new carbon fibre scheme. Image: Airbus SAS.

CASA Regulation
Some big regulatory changes will take place in 2014. In particular, CASA will need to guide the Australia’s airlines on the use of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) following changes to regulatory legislation by the FAA in the US and EASA in Europe. Currently Australian carriers are self regulating in this respect, but moving independently as a way to gain competitive advantage will only create headaches for crew in enforcing use on-board.

 

Image: Graham Cook

Domestic capacity
The war will continue until the end of the first half, bringing further revenue pressure to the Qantas and Virgin groups. Qantas has invested too much the public rhetoric behind in its strategy, to back away now would look like it was giving in. Not the best market image to present given its current financial position. Expect the Federal Government to make small changes to the level of single foreign ownership to the Qantas Sale Act.

 

 

 

Sydney Airport
The political future of Tony Abbott’s Government depends on their ability to deliver a courageous bipartisan policy decision. With a promise of a decision, a ‘government of no surprises’ will now need to deliver with a real commitment on Badgery’s Creek. This will come as a stage 1 single runway development, with no rail connection, because Abbott’s made it clear he doesn’t like trains. Also expect a change to the slot caps at Sydney Airport, starting with the 05:00-06:00am landing window.

Continue reading “Looking to the sky in 2014.” »

Carry-on’s top 13 of 2013.

2013 was exceptional proof that aviation is far from sclerotic. Beginning with continued fixation on the 787 as Boeing’s amour propre was tested by further incidents and a grounding. Eyes turned skyward for the equal greatest number of first flights in history. Rarely appreciating the continued challenging conditions airlines and the industry faces, politicians continued to provide opaque interference, compounding an already fractured dichotomy. There was awe as the world’s largest airline was replaced with with an even larger carrier, rosy profit turnarounds turned into sickening loss projections, and a renewed geopolitical rivalry in everything from aerospace manufacturing to air traffic rights. Here’s our 13 of 2013:

1. The 787.

The most exciting new aircraft in years became known for one thing in 2013: fire. In January the worldwide fleet was grounded – only the second aircraft since the DC-10 to be grounded in this way – following a series of electrical faults and battery fires caused by thermal runaway. The batteries were pulled out, boxed, and additional venting at a cost of approximately $500,000 per aircraft. Back in the air confidence has grown, the 787-9 is now flying and there has only been a small fiery issue relating to a locator beacon. Image: Richard Deakin.

 

2. CSeries flies.

110 years later Bombardier did it again for the very first time. This time with the first completely new narrow-body design since the A320 family.

 

3. ICAO’s emissions agreement.

ICAO’s member states reached a landmark multilateral agreement to develop a market-based measure that would reduce carbon emissions by 2020. The agreement will allow countries and airlines to operate under a single global standard rather than competing carbon regimes. Governments’ individual plans will be approved at the next assembly in 2016.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Carry-on’s top 13 of 2013.” »

#keeptail or #switchtail? Doug Parker doesn’t care.

Debating the merits of certain aircraft liveries as much as anyone, I have always believed they are not particularly important to the success of an airline, and have yet to find a customer who based their purchase decision on the exterior design of the airplane.

- Doug Parker, American Airlines CEO

Now, merger complete, employees of the world’s biggest airline are being asked to vote on which livery best represents the future American. Amid ongoing controversy over AA’s bold livery change in 2012, and with more than 200 aircraft already painted, employees have been presented with the two most cost-effective livery options for repainting AA’s remaining fleet and the 620 or so aircraft in the US Airways fleet.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, American will keep all the existing heritage liveries adding one for US Airways, and also TWA.

Do you prefer the bold, distinctive flag and flight symbol, or a return to the old AA eagle, a representation harking back to AA’s proud past?

Full statement by American CEO Doug Parker here

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