Full speed ahead

The only time in the history of mankind where progress stopped dead in its tracks, for decades, is when the last Concorde made its last flight 24 Oct. 2003. Until now. The Concorde was never a commercial success, mainly because of extreme fuel consumption, forcing the few airlines using the plane to charge higher and higher ticket prices. The sonic boom was another problem. New design is in the process of addressing those problems. The sonic boom will be reduced and possibly allowing supersonic speed over land.

Boom Supersonic, a Colorado start-up, have advanced plans to build a long and narrow fuel-efficient aircraft, with test flights of a small-scale prototype already by the end of this year, building of a factory next year, and full scale production 2023. Full speed ahead obviously. The company goal ”flying passengers anywhere in the world in less than 4 hours for 100 USD”. United has options for 50 planes, a model named Overture capable of Mach 1,7, for use by 2029. Readers of this blog are expected to wish Boom great success. (The 100 USD might be a reson for concern.)

Boom is of course not alone. Efforts are made in Japan to get a number of major companies, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, IHI and Subaru to name a few, to pool resources for a development of a supersonic aircraft by 2030. And in Europe a 19-passenger Mach 3 Jet is planned by Virgin Galactic in a cooperation with Rolls Royce.

Mankind can stop worrying. Progress is back.

Hotas flygsäkerheten av lågprisbolag?


Wiss Air fick nyligen behov av att omplacera sin flygchef, sedan han ertappats (inspelat) med att
säga att man måste ha en lista på alla piloter som ofta sjukskrev sig eller ställde till annat elände.
Dessa kunde man säga upp eftersom det inte hade någon reglerad anställningsform, till förmån för
piloter från bemanningsbolag, som enligt flygchefen var så mycket lättare att hantera – och så
alldeles väldigt mycket billigare. Det elände flygchefen inte uppskattade var kostnader. En inställd
flygning p.g.a. tekniska fel på planet kostar. Likaså extra bränslereserver vid dåligt väder. En pilot
som ansåg sig vara för uttröttad eller att uppdraget var för svårt var en kandidat för listan.

Ryanairs nya hot/löfte om att flyga en mängd flygningar från Arlanda aktualiserar frågan om man
kan lita på lågprisbolag. Statistiken talar för att man kan det, även om just Ryanair har en historia
där tre plan samma dag hävdat nödläge p.g.a. bränslebrist för att få landa före alla andra, och ett
plan en gång på Landvetter bogserats in från landningsbanan då bränslet tog slut strax efter planet
tog mark. ”Räckte precis”, skulle någon ombord kunna säga, glad över en billig flygbiljett.

Om statistiken på intet sätt är alarmerande, så finns ändå en hotbild när högteknologisk verksamhet
drabbas av extrem spariver. Att på ett flygplan för en miljard sälja flygbiljetter, för mindre än vad
en taxiresa till flygplatsen, kostar kräver extrem spariver, inte sällan missriktad. Detta påverkar
verksamheten. Kärnkraften skulle vara fullständigt livsfarlig om den industrin utsattes för samma
sneda konkurrens som flygindustrin, men här sparas det dessbättre inte på ett sätt som påverkar
högsta tänkbara säkerhet. Inom flyget görs just det. Man kan t.o.m. gå så långt att säga att Boeings
enastående bekymmer under två år med sitt nya flygplan berodde på att man mörkade en ny
installation som borde ha krävt extra utbildning av alla piloter. Och varför det. För att flygbolag,
inte bara lågprisbolag, har varit tvungna att spara, och utbildning kostar pengar.

Således påverkar lågprisbolagen ekonomin för alla, och brist på pengar hotar flygsäkerheten.
Viss statistik finns. De senaste årens haverier har visat på en företagskultur hos vissa lågprisbolag
som skiljer sig märkbart från de uttalanden som förkommer om att säkerheten är deras första
prioritet. Bränslereserver har skurits ner, underhåll likaså, pilotutbildningarna har reducerats till ett
absolut minimum och tjänstgöringstiderna ökat. Just bristande utbildning har genomgående varit en
faktor i haverier med dödlig utgång. Reguljära bolag undgår inte kritik i sammanhanget. Air France-olyckan för att antal år sedan tillskrevs också en utbildningsmiss, men inte nödvändigtvis orsakad
av missriktad sparsamhet.

Flygsäkerhet kostar pengar. Alltså är svaret på frågan i rubriken upp till var och en att bedöma.
Allmänheten möjlighet att numera flyga billigt är en utveckling i allas intresse, och att
lågprisbolagen gör vad det kan för att konkurrera får ses som självklart. Det som krävs, och som
justeras lite efter varje haveri, är ett regelverk som lägger strikta gränser för tjänstgöringstider,
utbildning, underhåll och bränslereserver bland annat. En utopi, kan tyckas. Kabinpersonalen, vars
viktigaste uppgift ombord är säkerheten, är givetvis också beroende av vettiga
anställningsförhållanden, framför allt även där vad gäller arbetstidens längd.

När man så sitter där på 10.000 meters höjd i 900 km/h kan man ju fundera över hur biljetten kunde
bli så billig.

New orders for 737

Boeing is struggling somewhat with its comeback, with some electrical problems with the MAX (not in any way related to previous grave problems causing the grounding), some rivet issues with the 777 and some fuselage snags on the 787. Meanwhile FAA has been forced to cancel some delegated manufacturing safety standard supervision granted to Boeing, which should by all means be a good move, provided people at at FAA know what they are talking about, which is not necessary always the case when it comes to government agencies.

In the midst of all this, Boeing can rejoice when looking at new orders. Southwest has ordered 100 737 MAX-7, adding to the previous 249 orders and 115 options through 2021 to 2026, with another 165 options up to 2031. All speculations that Southwest might be panning a shift to Airbus are thus effectively out the window.

More joy. FlyDubai has 237 MAX on order, taking delivery coming months of MAX-8 and MAX-9 already produced, sitting waiting in Seattle.

Ryanair recently raised its order of MAX-8-200 from 135 to 210, calling it a game changer, its CEO thrilled about the efficiency, economy and the 8 extra seats compared the their 737-800NG.

Alaska Air purchases 23 737 MAX-9, increasing orders and options to 120, and a backer of low-cost Flair Airlines has ordered 23 MAX-8.

With the above, Boeing is for the first time in a long period outpacing Airbus, with its Covid-19 losses.

Meanwhile the industry suffers economic problems, more now than before. To alleviate some pressure you can as a low-cost airline make sure that you have the cheapest pilots available. To do that you can make a list a list of pilots who are sick a lot, take more fuel than absolute minimum, cancel flights for reasons of fatigue or too many technical snags, and such. Too much of that and they are out. All this you can do as long as you don’t tell anyone. If you do, then you are out. Low-cost carrier Wizz Air has replaced its flight operations chief after he was apparently recorded telling his team to draw up a redundancy list of pilots who were often sick or ”caused grief” while sparing cheaper contract crew, which he preferred: ”They’re easy to manage because we can let them go at any time. They only have 24 days of (leave) and they’re incredibly cheap,” the manager says, before concluding: ”Sharpen your pencils and let’s see what you can come up with.”

Of course he had to go, since the airline has safety as priority number one. Fly cheap, and enjoy the thrill.

Worries for Boeing lovers

Just as the crisis surrounding the 737 MAX is about to subside, Boeings wide-body Dreamliner is causing new headache. There are manufacturing glitches dating back years, the litium battery havoc not included, since it was more a choice of system. Areas of concern have been found where the airframe parts are joined together. ”Two distinct manufacturing issues in the join of certain 787 aft body fuselage sections, which, in combination, result in a condition that doesn’t meet our design standards”. Boeing grounded 8 planes for starters. In October tiny marks were found in the inner lining where the carbon-fiber fuselage barrels are fused to form the model’s frame. That made Boeing store another 80 planes, not yet delivered.

A company spokesperson said that the defects in question are spots where the surface of the plane’s fuselage isn’t as smooth as its supposed to be. Those areas can create tiny gaps where fuselage sections are linked together and could lead to premature structural fatigue which would require extensive repairs.

A new area of concern are the cockpit windows, since Boeing learned that their supplier has modified its production process (to save money?). It affects a limited number of planes that are now being tested to ensure the windows still meet the requirements.

All of the above – and the MAX issue – confirms what an informed industry observer stated some time ago, that when Boeing merged with (bought) McDonnell-Douglas, they transferred from a company making the best planes in the world to a company making the best profit. That should go hand in hand in the best of worlds, but when focus is on the latter (and a move to Chicago), the former takes the hit.

What has hit Boeing the last few years is nothing but a tragedy. Why it happened is the key question. One person claims he has the answer, and he is so bright that he has been knighted. Emirates Sir Tim Clark states that the problem stems from Boeing’s board of directors.

”Culpability for the culture, strategy, direction, priority of that company rests with the Boeing board and nobody else. And that’s where the buck should stop. And that’s where they need to get themselves sorted out. Clearly there were process and practices, attitudes – DNA if you like – that needs to be resolved from the top down.” Boeing shuffled its top leadership amid the Max grounding, firing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and installing Dave Calhoun, a board member, as his replacement. Not enough according to Clark: ”It is pointless shuffling the deck. Boeing need to take a good hard look at themselves; I’m sure they have.”

Badly needed consolation for Boeing lovers could be the fact that, last Tuesday, Boeing had for the first time, in an agonizingly long time (14 months), logged more new orders that cancellations!

The MAX fix

When in a fix, fix it. In Boeings annus horribilis (unfortunately not just one) one major problem is about to be solved. The MCAS software, which caused the mayhem, is fixed, and the plane is again flying. For those who wish to channel their fear-of-flying to one specific aircraft, to make all other aircraft seem safer, this information is of no value. For those who wish to feel good about the most scrutinized plane in history, this is in short what has been done to the software that was so utterly half-assed.

Flight control system will now compare inputs from both AOA sensors. If the sensors disagree by 5.5 degrees or more with the flaps retracted, MCAS will not activate. An indicator on the flight deck display will alert the pilots.

If MCAS is activated in non-normal conditions, it will only provide one input for each elevated AOA event. There are no known or envisioned failure conditions where MCAS will provide multiple inputs.

MCAS can never command more stabilizer input than can be counteracted by the flight crew pulling back on the column. The pilots will continue to always have the ability to override MCAS and manually control the airplane.

On top of this there is now simulator training, which previously bean counters thought to be too expensive.

On top of that, FAA has been shaken in line with penalties and lay-offs, Boeing likewise, and the industry is better off, realizing again, under the axe, that the cheapest route is never safe. But, as always, not without some blood money spent.

A fan blade is all it takes

The fact that the host aircraft was a Boeing 777, may cause ignorant observers to believe that Boeing again has a safety issue. The engine blow-up for Uniteds flight from Denver To Honolulu has been presented in vivid visual on social media. Informed observers realize that American engine manufacturer Pratt&Whitney has a trademark stain. Then again, when a fan-blade fails it has other implications. The focus of this blog has for some time centered on the relationship between money and flight safety. The grounding of some hundred aircraft equipped with similar P&W engines tells a story; inspections required. If you inspect fan-blades every day they won’t cause trouble, if you never inspect them they will. Good judgement decides with what interval they should be inspected, and if that good judgement is clouded by economic concerns, things might go (will go) wrong. But again, the industry has become safer, by a mishap now addressed.

Bloomberg has observed a bulletin issued by Boeing to its customers, related to the latest accident involving a B737. Again, ignorant observers, eager to blame Boeing for anything these days, may be derailed. The bulletin states what is valid for anyone flying anything from a Cessna to an An-225. It reads like this: ”Continual crew awareness of airplane attitude, airspeed, flight control position and thrust settings is fundamental for airplane upset prevention and can reduce the effect of startle or surprise caused by rapid unexpected changes.” Anyone producing an airplane should include this in the first pages of their instruction manual.

An issue affecting B787 concerns the cargo compartments, where panels have become damaged or dislodged. The safety issue here is that in case of a cargo fire, the extinguishing agent may be less concentrated through leakage. Now being controlled and rectified. Nothing sensational.

Breaking news: Another similar case with an uncontained engine failure just happened, this time in the Netherlands. A 747F strew souvenirs over a village near Maastricht/Aachen airport after take-off. May-day, fuel-dump and landing in Liège, Belgium (longer runway). Pratt & Whitney again. Time to step up inspections.

Deadly plunge (cont’d)

The accident mentioned in latest article, the Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed last month killing 62 people, has been explained in a preliminary report. To any regular airline pilot the explanation should be confusing. The auto-throttle systen has allegedly reduced power on the left engine while keeping normal thrust on the right. After climbing another some 3000 ft (from 8.150 to 10.900) with the autopilot engaged, it disengaged. It had obviously co-operated long enough, trimming away the unbalance until it could take no more. When disengaging, it caused – not surprisingly – a bank to the left; ”the plane rolled to the left more than 45 degrees and started its dive.”

Unless there is more to report, the available info is nothing but sensational. Asymmetric thrust (read engine failure) is by far the most common practice in simulators around the world in normal pilot training. There simply has to be more to this story, which makes it prudent to refrain from any judgement on the airline and its pilots at this stage.

Not really related, but in a way similar, and where the pilots did nothing wrong except falling asleep, an incident from long ago is worth mentioning. A 747 was plowing along in the night over the USA at 35.000 ft, when one engine stopped for an unknown reason, possibly fuel starvation since everybody was asleep. The autopilot did what it could to keep things straight and level for as long as it could. All available trim adjustments made and with the speed dropping, it finally gave up fighting, flipping the aircraft on its back and sending it into a vertical dive. With a 5G pull-up the crew (they were now awake) managed to stop the descent as 7.000 ft, loosing some airfoil surfaces, especially in the tail section, with all main gears torn from their up-latches crashing out through the landing gear doors, but remaining attached to the aircraft, and limped, badly bruised, into LAX, realizing again that the 747 was the sturdiest aircraft ever built.

Some more Boeing-lover news; Boeing delivered 26 aircraft in January, boosted by the clearing of the 737 MAX jet to fly again after a 20-month ban as it also won four new orders for its 747-8 freighters. The 747 is obviously still hanging in there.

Deadly plunge

The headline does not apply to the airline industry economy in general, flight safety in general, Boeings reputation in general, but to the unfortunate flight that went down two days ago in Indonesia. That it was a Boeing 737 aircraft has nothing to do with the MAX-debacle that has badly bruised Boeing. Boeing has built in excess of 10.000 737 in different versions, so there is a good chance it is a Boeing anytime something happens. That it happened to a low-cost airline has necessarily nothing to do with the accident either, even though the airline has a tarnished safety record, with 4 previous fuselage write-offs since 2008, due to botched landings and runway overruns. They had up to now caused no fatalities, except for a farmer they hit at one of the overruns. When facts are available, there will most likely be need for further discussions.

In that discussion there will probably also be need for a repetition of the fact that safety cost money, and that people still are allowed to fly too cheap. Repetitions are boring, but safety issues not addressed by those responsible (red authorities – and managements to some degree, though only trying to survive fierce competition) needs be repeated. The post-pandemic re-start will pose some safety issues with maintenance concerns and rusty pilots. Qantas has allegedly planned for a full week of pilot training, before lade-off pilots are back on board. That this will be an industry-wide standard in cost-cutting times is a wet dream at best. (Check end of this article for 20 safest airlines).

Boeing has got one fat bill out of many. 2,5 Billion USD. (In metric countries 1000 millions are called something else.) That shall cover fines for misleading FAA and airlines in various ways, big or small, and settlements also with bereaved families. That is but a fraction of what the total cost will be when the bottom line is drawn, if it ever will be, including lost sales, returns, re-organization and a trade mark damage of historic proportions. It’s hard to wrap your head around a figure like 2,5 Billion USD. Most people can relate to 1 million USD. Like approx. 10 Ferraris. A Billion is something different. If one million corresponds to JFK runway 31L, a billion is like the distance between New York and Las Vegas. 2,5 billion will take you to Honolulu. (The bottom line will take you several orbits around the globe.)

Some up-lifting news for Boeing lovers: un-grounding is progressing as planned, some areas already ok, led by USA where AA made a Miami-New York round trip two days before the end of last year. Other areas are expected to follow shortly, where Europe and most Far East countries has decided to have their own evaluation, not trusting FAA for good reason, even though FAA has re-shuffled its ideas of supervisions. Another up-lifting piece of news for the hard pressed Boeing management, including a show of good faith, is that Alaska Airlines are getting rid of Airbus aircraft, going for an all-Boeing fleet, and ordering some 50 new Boeing MAX in the process.

A plunge for another – for generations outstanding – reputation is possibly in the pipeline for SAS, first kneeling for low-cost competition and now for pandemic consequences, firing a lot of their own pilots and cabin crew, starting a low-cost competition i.e. with itself, from a tax-haven, i.e. Ireland. Safety depends on pilots, and on cabin crew when pilots or other factors cause an emergency. Pilots are as safe as they are trained and scheduled, as long as they are suitable for the job in the first place. The fired pilots were on record for decades, well known by their chief pilots, including simulator training results, and they had a pilots union, making sure safety was not infringed upon. The CEO Rickard Gustafson has resigned his position. Shares will tell a story.

The top twenty safest airlines as promised, by a rating including incident and accident statistics and among other things fleet age: 1. Qantas 2. Qatar Airways 3. Air New Zealand 4. Singapore Airlines 5. Emirates 6. EVA Air 7. Etihad Airways 8. Alaska Airlines 9. Cathay Pacific Airways 10. British Airways 11. Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic 12. Hawaiian Airlines 13. Southwest Airlines 14. Delta Air Lines 15. American Airlines 16. SAS 17. Finnair 18. Lufthansa 19. KLM 20. United Airlines. Two low-cost out of twenty.

Mach 2

The quest for supersonic travel is – as mentioned in a previous article – after a dormant period revitalized substantially. Several companies are struggling with aircraft design in various sizes and shapes. It’s been 17 years since the last flight of the Concorde and now one prototype is scheduled for its first flight before the end of next year. Most manufacturers are so far aiming for the business jet segment with less than 20 passengers but one company stands out. With the suitable company name Boom Overture, the development of a 55 seat premium aircraft is leading the race for speed. All available modern efficiency parameters are involved in the design, including engines with no need for afterburners. It will be slightly faster (M 2,2) than the Concorde with a slightly longer range while being able to offer ticket prices at a quarter of that for Concorde – or rather similar to a normal business class ticket. Extensive test flights are planned for two years and hopes are high that it will be in commercial use by the end of next decade. Orders are already being placed by airlines including Virgin Atlantic and Japan Airlines.

Others are following. Worth mentioning is the plans by Virgin Galctic for the Virgin Galactic Mach 3, initially planned for 19 passengers, but with the ambition to up-size to a bigger version more suitable for airlines, where the speed would be the competitive edge. Spike is another company focusing on long range (11.500 km) and efficiency with a reduced sonic boom, and with a windowless cabin with external images projected inside. The number of passengers not certain.

Most spectacular is a Mach 5 project by Lockeed Martin together with NASA, initially not planned for, but at a later stage developed for passenger use, if all goes well. Now we are talking hypersonic.

So if you ”feel the need for speed”, the future looks bright, or at least better than before. That goes for just about everything these days, and anyone reading this; have a Happy New Year.

Here we go again

The first 737 MAX to take to the sky with passengers will today (Wednesday December 9:th) be flown by GOL, Brazils largest domestic airline (127 jets whereof 7 are MAX). It is a cautious move, they so far have not stated which route and passengers are allowed to switch to other equipment, should they want to.
American is planning a flight before years end New York- Miami.

On the east side of the Atlantic the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) expects to clear the MAX in Januari 2021. It will be a lengthy process with a long follow-up of the aircrafts performance once cleared.
What they will look for before ungrounding is listed below.

Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two AoA sensors
Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor
Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
Tests of systems including the AoA sensor system
An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage.

So, after almost two years, there is hope for the future, but the costliest ever, in history worldwide, company bad luck – read mismanagement – has all but ruined the company economically, surviving on military contracts and some sales of 767, 777 and freighter versions of 747-8. In excess of 60 billion USD, it has surpassed the previous number one, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by BP. The difference is that BP survived without loosing a lot of public trust. Boeing has a longer road ahed. So does FAA for their role in what is an unprecedented aviation industry management catastrophe.