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.

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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.

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Second A350 takes to the skies.

Sometimes I manage to come across the most random stories, while the Xtra large ones fly under the radar. A350-900 MSN3 has officially joined MSN1 in the sky on the A350 test programme after completing its maiden five hour long sortie earlier this week.

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An Xtra-wide formation: A330, A350, A380.

In the excitement of various firsts by Boeing and Bombardier last week, overlooked was Airbus’ first: its widebody family test aircraft, the A330 (rear), A350 (foreground) and A380 flew in formation for the first time before continuing on their own test sorties. Magnifique.

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Boeing’s 777-9X is almost go as Lufthansa commits to order for 34.

Lufthansa has become a launch customer for the yet to be launched next generation Boeing 777X project ordering 34 777-9Xs in addition to 25 Airbus A350-900s, with options and purchase rights for an additional 60 aircraft – 30 each of the 777-9X and A350-900.

The 777-9X will be powered by the General Electric GE9X and feature a new advanced composite wing, which at 71 metres will be the longest aircraft wing Boeing has produced. The result? An estimated 20 per cent better fuel efficiency and a 15% reduction in operating costs over the 777-300ER resulting in the lowest seat kilometre costs in the industry.

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Next steps for the next generation.

Image: Boeing.

With the worst news for airlines behind them, Airbus and Boeing are now making fast tracks in the development of their next generation aircraft families.

On May 30 in Everett, Boeing commenced final assembly – the process of joining the wings, fuselage sections, and integrating systems – of the first Boeing 787-9 on the former 767 production line. With the three flight test aircraft requiring installation of additional flight testing instrumentation, the surge line was created to ensure no disruption to the ramp up of 787-8 production.

The 787-9 features a 6 metre fuselage stretch over the baseline 787-9, and strengthened internal structures for a higher maximum takeoff weight, increasing range by 300nm (555km) to 8,000 to 8,500nm (14,800 to 15,750km).

The redesigned horizontal and vertical stabiliser is the first on a commercial aircraft to incorporate a hybrid laminar flow control (HLFC) system. The system passively ingests air at the front of the surface, allowing the laminar flow (boundary layer) – the layer of air immediately above the surface of a wing or stabiliser – to remain attached longer. By maintaining a smooth boundary layer for longer the transition point of the laminar flow to turbulent air can be moved backwards across the surface reducing drag by a further 1%.

Image: Boeing.

Production is expected to take approximately two months. A vast improvement on the planned five months for the 787-8 which later became two years and seven months. Launch customer Air New Zealand is expected to take delivery of its first aircraft in early 2014.

Meanwhile over in Toulouse, the prototype Airbus A350-900 MSN-1 rolled out on May 13, had its two Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engines started for the first time yesterday after a successful start of the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit (APU).

MSN1 powers up for the first time. Image: Airbus SAS.

A successful engine start brings the A350 one step closer to commencing ground runs, including taxi trials and rejected takeoff tests in preparation for its maiden sortie, the date of which Airbus is yet to reveal.

Ain’t she pretty? Airbus rolls out painted A350XWB.

Image: Airbus SAS.

Airbus has rolled out its first Airbus A350-900 MSN001 in its full paint scheme at its Toulouse production facility.

Airbus is yet to set an official date for the maiden sortie of the prototype flight test aircraft.

Fitted with Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines the aircraft has spent close to a week in the paint shop. The A350 has already completed flight-test-instrument (FTI) verification and will now commence ground testing, followed by a series of ground runs before its first flight.

Airbus holds 616 customer orders for the three member A350 family, which will eventually include a smaller 250-seat A350-800 variant and larger 350-seat A350-1000 variant.

More information about the Airbus A350 family.

Image: Airbus SAS.

Airbus’ future of flight

For an industry so focused on innovation and efficiency, commercial aviation is seemingly on an eternally long, straight taxiway to deliver the next great fuel saving. Important in an industry facing extreme operational pressures, but what comes next?

Airbus’ 2050 Concept Aircraft and Smart Skies are more than just a funky conceptualisation, Airbus sees them as a way to spark debate and discussion among all industry stakeholders. And more importantly engage the aviators of tomorrow.

Speaking at last week’s Airbus’ Charles Champion, Royal Aeronautical Society’s Charles Kingsford Smith dinner, Executive Vice President of Engineering was at pains to reinforce the mentality of thinking about programmes now and for the next ten years must change. In looking at future concepts, Airbus has identified a whole gamut of issues to substantially improve efficiency and also engage minds to make the concepts a reality.

If a good representation of Airbus’ leadership, Champion seemed pretty genuine about the need to engage the younger generation that will take over the industry; explaining Airbus’ practical steps to encourage the transition. The Concept Aircraft and Safer Skies team consists of around 30 young engineers, who work with a minimal budget and have given their time for free outside usual Airbus work commitments, to develop a creative yet convincing case for future air travel.

Airbus sees a move toward smaller sustainable airports, energy neutral airports, powered by wind farms and algae. Image: Airbus S.A.S

Champion says future aircraft design could be compromised by a lack of knowledge of judgement. As an ever larger number or engineers retires, there is a decreasing number of young engineers with various levels of training to replace them, creating a gap in the knowledge that is passed on. The result? Younger aircraft engineers lack the capacity to judge the validity and application of their designs. To overcome this Champion says “our engineers are continuously encouraged to think widely and come up with ‘disruptive’ idea”.

The world also faces a shortage of pilots. The situation is dire, and to be honest, endless forums on how to encourage the next generation to jump in the cockpit, without actually engaging us directly, aren’t working. Compounding this issue, Champion pertinently argued that dealing with pilots of all standards is likely to become a disruptive issue, with the increasing number of multiple crew licenses and regulatory approvals for training only working to increase complexity further.

Airbus’ assisted takeoff would run on an electromagnetic track system. Allowing for smaller engines, lower aircraft weight, and the ability to use continuous climb power setting. Image: Airbus S.A.S

This is where Airbus has taken itself to the fore. “We have to ask if there are entirely new ways of doing things, and we have to have the conversation with the airports, the government authorities, those concerned with the development of better air traffic arrangements, as well as the airlines” says Champion. Airbus is not just tooting its own horn, it is pushing the industry to engage in a contextual discussion involving multiple stakeholders.

Airbus’ future concept is not solely focused on operator cost and the flight experience, but synthesising the entire operating environment. Champion argues that this will be the only way to meet the stringent targets the industry has set for itself.

Creativity is the key. The Concept Aircraft is only an idea. But, any future Airbus aircraft will be strongly influenced by combination of airframe and engines in a way that has not been explored today, Champion made it clear that Airbus would draw from some, but not all of the elements. He explored the particular idea of formation flight having the capability to reduce separation to 1nm. Airbus research indicates “in a V formation of 25 birds, each can achieve a reduction of induced drag by up to 65 per cent and increase their range by 7 per cent”. This alone equates to 10-12% for three aircraft in formation.

Airbus’ Concept Aircraft in formation flight. Image: Airbus S.A.S

2050. Will we see today’s rife competition or a few giant airline groups? Who hopes to float around in airships again? Will we have truly ‘Open Skies’ to fly anywhere at anytime? Radical ideas, but given the environmental sceptics fighting sustainable change, and aviation foe finding new ways to restrict this vital industry on a daily basis, it’s important for aviation that the future begin today.

More on Future by Airbus here.

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