Jun 30, 2009


The May provisional traffic statistics from the Qantas and Virgin Blue brands are the last insights into their operations before black Friday, 3 July.

keyThis Friday is the day Delta, the world’s largest carrier, enters the Australia-US market on the Sydney-Los Angeles route, and Singapore Airlines’ Jetstar clone, Tiger, takes on everybody and Jetstar in particular on the formerly golden Melbourne-Sydney route.

Delta may not be as big a worry for the Australian carriers as Tiger, since it has neither the product reputation nor brand presence to compete at this end of the trans Pacific routes.

But at the other end, in its own briar patch, Delta is a very powerful and respected brand.

Tiger is arguably the bigger challenge to the Qantas and Virgin brands.


The figures, and especially those for the 11 months to 31 May, show that the Qantas group brands are shrinking in combined market share and the Virgin brands are growing. It is a trend that has been very obvious in recent months.

But because Virgin Blue doesn’t reveal yield movements, it doesn’t cast any light on which group is suffering the most, relatively speaking, in their all important cash reserves, or in Virgin’s case, give any clues as to how much domestic and regional Pacific operations are lessening the drain of serious start up costs for V Australia on the Los Angeles routes.

For the Qantas group, the ‘shock’ in the May figures is from Jetstar reporting its first significant step backwards since it began flying just over 5 years ago.

Jetstar’s passenger numbers in May were down by -1.6% compared to a year ago.

This added to a poor month by Qantas domestic with the full service brand loosing -4.7% of passengers compared to May 2008.

The figures also show continued divergent flight paths by the Virgin brands (Virgin Blue, Pacific Blue and V Australia) which grew total passengers by 10% in the 11 months to the end of May, compared to -1.6% declines in aggregate by the Qantas brands (Qantas domestic, Qantas regional, Qantas international, Jetstar domestic and Jetstar International).


The Qantas filing to the ASX this morning says total domestic yields have fallen by -4.7% for the 11 months to the end of May, with the international yields off by -2.6%. Both metrics exclude foreign exchange gains or losses.

Successive Qantas managements have declared Jetstar to be the key to the group’s survival, and it will on all the indications fiercely defend itself from Tiger, which plans to roll out major incursions into other key domestic markets in the coming year.

Put in perspective, the latest Qantas figures are stellar by world standards. In the Australian context, they show its market share, as reported yesterday, is in decline despite growth in the Jetstar operations (May domestic aside). Virgin Blue grew its domestic share in the 11 months to the end of May by 5.1% while Qantas domestic lost -4.5% or nearly one in twenty passengers in the same period.

But the full picture depends on the profit and loss statements for this financial year which will be released in August.

And by the time they are released, Delta and Tiger will have changed and toughened things in critically important markets.


Jun 30, 2009


A leak that says Virgin Blue is asking for slots at Hong Kong airport for its V Australia subsidiary isn’t surprising, except for taking so long.

The two factors in this move are the caustic losses being made by all carriers on the crowded trans Pacific non-stops to the US, and the synergy of a Brisbane or perhaps even Melbourne service to Hong Kong that connected reasonably well with the established daily flights between Sydney and London via Hong Kong flown by Virgin Atlantic.

Toward the end of this year V Australia will have enough 777-300ER availability to maintain a daily frequency to Los Angeles from Sydney, with maybe a few Brisbane flights, and a daily schedule for Hong Kong.

Virgin Blue has already signalled its interest in routes to Japan and South Africa for V Australia. It can’t do all of these things with a small fleet, but it adds to the evidence that it is scoping routes where Qantas is vulnerable, or has in the case of Japan, shunted its customers off onto Jetstar, which can mean loosing them for good as they react to this by choosing from non Qantas group alternatives.

It is also yet another reminder of the self inflicted wound by Qantas in not acquiring Boeing 777s. Qantas will never get back the billions of dollars wasted in excess fuel burn by hanging on to tired old 767s and earlier model 747s rather than acquiring advanced model 777s mid decade. Especially as competitors like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines demonstrate the flexibility and efficiency of what sadly may be the last great Boeing airliner ever built given the problems of the 787 project.


Jun 30, 2009


A back door attempt to water down the absolute responsibility of airlines for the actions of their employees and criminalise pilots has been blocked in the Senate.

The government attempted to use the device of a Select Legislative Instrument (SLI) to amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2005 to place off-duty airline flight crew outside the ‘class of person’ who can legally enter the cockpit and transfer criminal responsibility from the carrier to the pilot-in-command.

The rights or wrongs of that move are irrelevant to the precedent it would set in breaking the universal code by which airlines are responsible for everything a pilot does.

The Australian & International Pilots Association bulletin to members circulated last week says:-

AIPA certainly recognises that flight deck access for off-duty pilots is a significant issue. However, the precedent set by the transfer of criminal responsibility is an even greater concern and something which the Association simply can not leave unaddressed. Airlines control flight operations, standards, training and checking and have always borne the responsibility for the operational actions of their flight crew; any other approach would allow airlines to claim they were blameless for accidents and incidents. This is an important global principle and AIPA must do all it can to ensure Australian pilots do not undermine it.

AIPA combined with the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots AFAP in its AusALPA negotiating entity to win the backing of the government controlled committee to file a notice of intention to disallow the government sponsored SLI by pointed out that it had failed to meet its consultation obligations under the Legislative Instruments Act.

If AIPA (AusALPA) can convince the Opposition and one independent Senator that the regulations are flawed the changes to flight deck access regulations will be scrapped and cannot be resubmitted in similar form.

This would be a vital win.

If the precedent for transferring criminal responsibility away from airline managements is set it enables a future when Australian airlines, in terms of diminished safety and skills oversight, could legally get away with murder.


Jun 28, 2009


The most alarming question to arise from the Dreamliner fiasco is whether high composite airliners are doomed to fail.

Not fail as in fail to reach production, although that is a possibility even at this stage, but fail as in start crashing after large numbers of the two high composite airliners in question, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and its supposed sequel, the Airbus XWB A350, enter service.


The critical issues include thin gauge, load bearing, flexible components made from carbon fibre reinforced plastics and in places, their interactions with metal alloys.

The ‘lonely scientist’, Hans van der Zanden, has published a draft version of his book ‘The Impossible Dream’ on these issues online.

This draft was not written in response to Boeing management’s abrupt about turn involving the now cancelled first flight of the 787 Dreamliner announced last week. Van der Zanden’s website was last updated on 9 June, well before the evasive announcement of a ‘side of airplane’ minor, easily patched issue by Boeing suckered much of the media for all of 24 hours.

In some regards, the book will drive readers to distraction with irritations like referring to these high composite designs as all composite designs.

The 787s and less clearly defined A350s are already burdened with tonnes of extra metal to make them work. They are far from ‘all composite’ and it seems, further than ever from coming to pass. They aren’t producing the claimed benefits.

The author is primarily concerned with how these designs take composites where they have never been used before, and how this involves leaps of faith more than reliable predictive models of their behaviour in such applications.

It was the failure of a static test wing under stress at ridiculously low levels that sharply highlighted the modelling problem that wiped out the 787 first flight and any lingering vestiges of credibility in those charged with the project’s management.

If Boeing doesn’t know how the materials will handle aerodynamic stresses now and over the lifetime of the investment the airlines are, or were, making in 787s, the foundations of proper certification of the type and its maintenance in terms of fatigue and damage are washed away.

Certainty is required. Dreams and hype are one thing, a real airliner is another.

The early chapters of ‘The Impossible Dream’, are interesting, but probably overdone as context for the technical critiques which make gripping reading from Chapter 5 through Chapter 7 followed by the important Sudden Impact testing proposal which is found in the tool bar on his website.

The draft book dissects the main issues with composites. Have the executive branches of Airbus and Boeing been engaged by these issues, or have the key decisions been made by marketing and sent to the design and engineering departments for implementation rather than consultation?

How many of the airlines have engaged themselves with these issues in Dreamliners and XWB A350s? Most airlines have long severed any real connection between management and technical knowledge of aircraft design and engineering.

“Oops, that’s interesting” is not a plausible defence after tens of billions of dollars worth of these types have been ordered.

In a sense the design issues that now arise are those of the management classes of recent decades, as in a post modern re-invention of Taylorism, versus the rude mechanics (or designers.)

It is a divide between hype and reality which may have lethal relevance to the future of these projects.

Update: Hans Van der Zanden has responded to a request for more information about his study and assures us that he is not involved with any of the interested parties in use of composites or their alternatives in airliners. The 3000 hour study is self financed and driven by safety concerns over the materials dating back to the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2000.

He says introducing a new construction material at this scale in airliners is a very dangerous undertaking.

In relation to the now cancelled first flight of the 787 he says, ” I was very nervous about the first test flight and it came as a relief when problems surfaced in time and finally at last engineers apparently found the courage [to say] that ‘enough is enough’.”

Van der Zanden says he will launch a more detailed web site concerning his study in the near future.


Jun 26, 2009


It needs to be recognised that the 787 project has the potential to ruin the Boeing Commercial Airplane business and force the company as a whole to re-organise its defence, space and other technologies activities into a separated entity.

Such thoughts are probably already being entertained in EADS, the owner of Airbus, as to how it might excise the parallel but financially much smaller debacle that has overtaken the A400M Airbus Military project for a short and rough field lifter should that project fail.

The Airbus A400M is a calamity at the moment. Unless everything goes incredibly right for that project over the next two years EADS itself has recognised that it might collapse because of a withdrawal of support by key partners.

However today is not about the A400M but the 787 Dreamliner, for which there are more than 800 orders.

Many of the orders would be liable in some manner to liquidated damages claims against Boeing if the project is cancelled or delayed by another two years, or results in an airliner which delivers too few of the benefits that were claimed for the wide bodied twin engined medium capacity jet.

None of these outcomes can be dismissed outright.

However the more likely, indeed necessary early outcome will be the removal of the management responsible for the 787 project.

The airlines who are looking for daylight in relation to their Dreamliners need to be able to talk to people who do not dissemble or trivialise the issues.

Taking the wider perspective on this, none of the claimed benefits of an electric-plastic 787 have been demonstrated. One core element of the Dreamliner design advantages is claimed to be the replacing of the functions powered by bleed air in conventional jets with electricity generated directly by the engines in the Dreamliner, resulting in a net fuel saving and simpler maintenance needs.

The other element was the claimed lighter, stronger, corrosion free and low maintenance features of carbon fibre reinforced plastic glued together in laminates and baked in giant ovens. Which started to break apart prematurely when stressed in a static test Dreamliner.
It the five and a half years since Boeing claimed the necessary technology was in place to achieve these benefits the result is one prematurely broken wing test assembly and a prototype of a jet it is unwilling to fly.

And this is the initial, smaller 787-8 model, not the stretched and improved 787-9 which is the version Qantas will now first take delivery of for Jetstar in 2013.

The 787-9 is supposed to be available to airlines around two and a half years after the 787-8.

Boeing has an astonishing amount of work to do in order for 787-9s to be ready for Jetstar service non-stop across the Pacific or one stop to Europe in four years time. Qantas knows that. It is applying its own stress test to Boeing, announcing earlier today that by mutual agreement the 787-9 will be delivered to its leisure and low cost brand Jetstar from mid 2013.

The lethal clause in the Qantas statement, that the decision was not influenced by this week’s revelation of a design fault and postponed first flight, has been widely misunderstood.

Today’s announcement came after weeks of haggling and was a done deal before the 787 prototype was done over in the last ditch announcement of the cancellation of its first flight.

A subsequent decision by Qantas on fleet matters will take these issues into account, once Boeing tells it what is going on, what the design changes are, and how long it will really take to get the Dreamliner certified.

Where does this possibly leave Airbus?

Bear in mind that Airbus was stampeded by the early sales success of the Dreamliners, and a distinct lack of interest in its evolutionary proposals for an A350 that was just a tarted up A330. So it came up with its own super plastic extra wide body or XWB A350 line up.

There have already been some hints that this XWB A350 offering, although also very successful in gaining early orders, is more than likely going to slip by some degree behind a target entry into service in 2013.

These hints may have much to do with the intelligence Airbus gathered in recent years from the supplier base for the 787 about how overweight and under performing various aspects of the Boeing project were proving. They could have given Airbus cause to slow down some of its own work on the A350 to reconsider how composites are used in some of its sections.

It would be very surprising if somewhere in Airbus a rather extensive review of its approach to a high composite design isn’t already underway, even though the A350 is to be manufactured quite differently to the Dreamliner.

That in turn could lead to entry into service delays in the A350 family, offset only by the continuing success of the A330 family, which is unbeaten in the efficiency stakes over flights of up to around 9 hours duration in the larger -300 version, and much further in the smaller -200 model.

Some analysts see the incremental improvements Airbus is offering in the A330 line up as introducing in a low key way at least some of the functionality promised for the original A350 model that didn’t excite airlines in 2004 and 2005.

I was at a Boeing Christmas party in 2005 shortly after Qantas chose the 787 over that version of the A350. The Boeing executive based in Sydney who clinched that order said he had mixed feelings about the win even though it saved him from certain dismissal had he failed.

His reasoning was that if Qantas had ordered the first version of the A350, Airbus would not have gone ahead with what became the XWB version, and this would have removed the threat they would come back with an all new design to rain on the Dreamliner’s parade, which was in part a correct prophesy.

But as it turns out, that version of the A350 would already be close to beginning flight testing now for service in 2011, and matching or surpassing the 787s on current indications if that jet makes even makes it into service the same year.

Airbus, in this hypothetical, would have blunted the 787’s early introduction, and followed it up with something larger in capacity and amenity in the middle of the next decade, which is fairly close to where the revelations about the Dreamliner this week have left the big jet rivals.


Jun 26, 2009


Qantas has cancelled 15 Boeing 787s and delayed the first tranche of deliveries from the balance of a remaining firm order of 50 of the jets for four years.

The move saves the airline $US 3 billion in capital expenditure liabilities, and also keeps it clear of the consequences of current issues with the design of the 787.

The details from the Qantas press release are shown below:-


Update: Qantas is not elaborating on the announcement at this stage, but a decision on how to replace some aged aircraft capacity in its fleet that was to have been taken over by 787s in the next four years will be made in coming days or weeks.

This is expected to involve additional Airbus A330s, but inevitably, some might argue for a Boeing 777 solution for some longer range and higher capacity routes. There is no sign however of the 777 being under consideration at Qantas.

The sting in the detail of the Qantas announcement has been pointed out by insiders. This morning’s announcement doesn’t take into account the design issues in the 787 revealed yesterday. That comes later, when Qantas learns more.


Jun 25, 2009


One of the most troubling aspects of the Dreamliner nightmare is the failure of the jet’s composite structures to behave as predicted by the computer models used by Boeing.

If the assumptions made in the design diverged so sharply from results when the wing was put under stress, what confidence remains in the overall robustness of the design?

Is the 787 at risk because of uncertainty over the performance of a design that departs radically from other uses of composite materials in airliners?

A concise review of this by Andy Pasztor and Peter Sanders was published in the Wall Street Journal today.

And in other developments Flightblogger, Jon Ostrower, has clarified the timeline of the wing stress test issue, reporting that a major stress test of the static test aircraft was carried out in April but that the issue was first identified by Boeing in another test late in May.

Some serious additional questions about the details and the state of internal communications between the management and the program directors in relation to that timeline arise from Ostrower’s report, but given that he is the best connected authority on the 787 program, he very likely going to be able to uncover the answers as well.

The Dreamliner debacle is about concurrent management as well as design issues, and it is becoming obvious that this management cannot be relied upon to accurately disclose let alone manage the technical issues.

A set of very difficult questions about management and design integrity have thus been dragged into the spotlight literally days before the first of the flight testing and certification Dreamliners was to take off from Everett. On a program that was to be completed in eight months and see the delivery of the first jet to All Nippon Airways on the ninth, next March.

Boeing said at every major Dreamliner briefing since 2003, when it was known as the 7E7, that it was on top of the technology required for a high efficiency and largely composite airliner, and made the point on many occasions that the project could not have gone ahead before then because that technology was insufficiently advanced.

The Dreamliner was not just an ambitious and thrilling concept, but a complete break with the past in terms of management and ownership.

The project was spread across the globe between partners that assumed design responsibilities and financial risk and reward sharing obligations as well as manufacturing roles.

It all looked so damn good too. But it required a leadership and level of design and quality control that appears to have been beyond the comprehension or competency of Boeing management.

There is a deep and disturbing divide between the fantasy of the Dreamliner as enunciated by management, and performance figures that bear no resemblance to the reality of the seriously overweight and flaw prone jet that has been put together on the basis of now questionable assumptions about how carbon fibre reinforced plastics will perform in an airliner.

Boeing has to try something radically new when it reports in several week’s time on the ‘fix’ for the Dreamliner’s problems and a new testing and delivery timetable.

It has to tell the truth.


Jun 25, 2009


Why can’t I use my laptop or mobile phone when the plane is taking off or landing?


The answers to this question from a Crikey reader come at a time when Qantas is about to launch a system in which ‘dangerous’ mobile phones are made safe, for a fee of course, using new communications technology.

The simple answer to the question today is that it is illegal. You are committing an offence and so is the airline if it doesn’t make you stop.

However many of the concerns airlines and safety authorities held world wide about mobile telephones or laptops in flight are becoming widely regarded by travellers and carriers and even the regulators as overstated.

This may have explained why Qantas flight attendants never saw, or acted upon, the use of mobile phones by members of two rival bikie gangs who coincidentally boarded the same Cityflyer service from Melbourne to Sydney recently, and took so much offence at each others presence they called ahead to arrange what became a murder in the domestic terminal after arrival.

Or why Kevin Rudd’s apparently rude and pushy entourage is reported as emulating the PM’s propensity for air rage by refusing to shut down their electronic devices as the VIP 737 threads it way past the big hills on approach to Canberra.

According to airline sources any largish jet between Australian cities will contain half a dozen or so mobile telephones that are left on for the entire flight by passengers who thought they were turning them off but didn’t.

How the airlines would know the number is unclear, but hearing a mobile phone go off somewhere in an overhead bin or coat pocket is not all that unusual on domestic flights.

It will soon become expensive however, as such phones automatically log in to new legal in flight data transfer systems that come with a charge like the one being readied for launch by Qantas.

Are, or were, the safety claims valid?

Only on a one-in-a-million type of analysis according to most experts. So your chances of inverting the Cityflyer and making it do loops while passing under the Harbour Bridge are only about 100 times better than winning Lotto.

Which is why the airlines, without exception, try to enforce the rules. Any risk of device induced danger, no matter how small, is too large. Until they can make money out of it.

How does interference occur?

Mobile phones and wi-fi enabled laptops hunt for networks. They also turn up their transmitter and receiver power to maximum output looking for a response. They can try to use the alloy fuselage of the jet as a giant send and receive antenna for this purpose.

This ensures the battery goes flat incredibly quickly, but the technical concern has always been that despite all the standards of electromagnetic interference protection built into aircraft control systems for several decades, interference with navigational equipment or control systems may occur.

That fear may be absurdly overstated, but it is recognised in the regulations, and you must obey the law.

The safety regulators world wide now allow the use of mobile phones before takeoff and after landing until otherwise announced because they have no proven adverse effects on flight systems at those stages, and it is impossible to enforce a ban as people board or disembark anyhow.

Laptops and abdomens.

An open laptop in a Jetstar or Tiger flight is a physical triumph, since most people won’t even find room for their lap, but when open on any jet they obstruct access to aisles or exits, and while the jet is moving on the ground, or about to land, or until established on climb, it is a legal requirement to keep those spaces clear of obstacles in the event of an emergency evacuation.

You have about 90 seconds maximum to escape from a burning or sinking jet, or on a very bad day, one that is both burning and sinking. It is a very good rule. Keep your shoes on too. Running across burning tarmac covered with hot fragments of metal or rubber in your stockinged feet is such a bitch.

Money, money changes everything.

As soon as Qantas nails down the commercial details it will announce a service in which mobile phones can be used for email and text messaging but not voice on many of its domestic services.

The way this works is that your iPhone or Blackberry or whatever will be linked to your service provider via satellite using a ‘pico-cell’ in the cabin. For a fee. Details to be announced.

The technical justification is that the pico-cell is very low powered, and ensures that devices that connect to it will do so at very low power settings too.

Qantas has mercifully decided not to allow voice links. Ryanair, which appears to hate its customers, allows its passengers to talk for about €1 per second. The good news for anyone stuck in such a cabin, as this facility is becoming commonplace in Europe and North America, is that there are bandwidth limitations between the jet and either the satellite or ground stations the various systems use. Only about 20 passengers out of 180 on a Ryanair 737 can talk at once. Hopefully not seated all around you.

This is the beginning of a new age in in-flight communications and entertainment. As the systems get more capable airlines will offer connection fees rather than free seat back video entertainments, and you will be expected to bring your own iPod or Blackberry or laptop and pay to be connected to whatever you want via the large plasma video screen you can slave off your device using a USB cable.

And until then, the airlines will play safe and argue that while there is even the slightest doubt about electromagnetic interference from passenger devices in flight they will be continue to be banned. Unless you have tattoos on your arms, or are known to be part of a Canberra cadre of untouchables.


Jun 25, 2009


The numbers varied, but the hot tip earlier this morning was that up to 12 Airbus A330s will be added to the Jetstar fleet by late 2010 or early 2011 to replace the 787 capacity Boeing has failed to deliver according to any of its past broken promises.

This was followed by another hot tip that this wasn’t so. No extra A330s. Nothing. Nada, and so forth. The official comment from Qantas is that ‘there is no comment.’

So this post has been amended accordingly, as above, pending whatever actions Qantas takes.

However one thing that has emerged from various sources is that in its review of the state of the 787 program Qantas doesn’t see a jet that will be competitive against the A330s until perhaps 2013, and that could be either a 787 which has benefited from essential improvements over the current indications of Dreamliner capabilities or the all new Airbus A350.

The A330 is benefiting from the 787 situation. Virgin Atlantic snapped up 10 of the A330-300 model earlier this week to cover its position after assessing that the Boeing 787-9, the stretched and improved version of the 787-8 that suffered premature wing join failure in April, was never going to be delivered as promised in 2011 and 2012.

Virgin Atlantic remains officially committed to the 787-9 but is also negotiating a large order for A350s for later in the next decade.

Boeing, meanwhile, has set itself a task of coming clean within a few weeks on how, and when, it will fix the side-of-plane, oops, wing delamination issue it finally admitted to earlier this week when it cancelled the intended first flight of the 787 prototype only days after its senior management insisted at the Paris Air Show that it was going ahead as planned.

Side-of-jet, er, wing issue explained: Flightblogger has just posted a detailed explanation of what went wrong in April when the wing on one of two static test 787s was stressed to between 120-130% of maximum design load, apparently on the way to reaching the certification requirement of meeting a stress level of 150% of that value.

Last night Plane Talking received confirmation that the fault Boeing discovered in April cannot be patched as easily as suggested by the company without testing that establishes beyond doubt that once patched weaknesses will not appear further out toward the middle wing and wing tip areas.

This issue, so lightly air brushed by Boeing when it cancelled the first flight, is turning into a very large question mark over the future direction and timing of the program.


Jun 24, 2009


Boeing has a new definition of wing. It is ‘side of airplane’.

This means it wasn’t really the wing that was starting to break two months ago under static testing, it was just the side of the Dreamliner. Easily fixed. Could have flown on time. Nothing to worry about.

This tripe, swallowed in its entirety by the media at the conference call that announced the indefinite postponement of the first flight, is not going to go down very well at Qantas, which is concluding a review of its order for 65 of the Dreamliners and 50 purchase rights or options.

Some figures to contemplate. The 787-8 is currently around 7.5 tonnes overweight and showing a burn of around 4% more fuel than necessary to meet the performance that Qantas thought it was buying.

This is discouraging in a jet which has now twice shown an inability to handle the structural loads required, once in the central wing box, and once on the ‘side of the airplane’ which is actually the start of the wing.

If Boeing can’t call a wing a wing, and the media is so thick it doesn’t know when it is being had, that situation could go from bad to extremely bad without real warnings or discussions at a public level.

There is no credibility left in Boeing’s pronouncements on this project, nor in today’s implausible suggestions that it wasn’t until after more gung ho game changing humbug came from its executives in Paris last week that, well, shucks, it turns out that we can’t really fly the thing with metal patches over the weak plastic bits like we intended after all. What an astonishing load of cobblers!

What might Qantas do? We don’t know what it will do but we can reasonably speculate that it mightn’t throw any more money at the order as it stands, and at the very least, will wait and see what the future options from Boeing and Airbus may point to, either in a Dreamliner that is a convincing reworking of the jet, or an A350 that might do the job for the right price at the right time.

It would not be easy for any airline to work out what that ‘right time’ would be either, without knowing when the passenger demand and yields will come back from the current unsatisfactory depressed levels.


Jun 24, 2009


Getting the truth out of Boeing is a real struggle. This issue that the company is trying to represent as something minor that can be patched internally was the wing starting to delaminate at something less than 120% of the maximum design load.

The side location dutifully noted by the US media in a Boeing conference call overnight is in fact the section of the wing closest to the wing box at the fuselage, while the wing box had already been redesigned and strengthened after it failed earlier stress tests.

The latest failure area is the bit that keeps the wing attached to the airliner.

This is not a trivial issue. To achieve certification the wing must not fail at less than 150% of designed maximum loads.

For Boeing management to suggest that it even remotely contemplating flying this jet with a ‘patch’ holding together a wing that started to delaminate under a ground test is to admit a total incapacity to manage the project, and a serious failure of the assumptions made in the design.

It has known about this issue since April.

Urgent remedial action in the management of this once great company and this ballyhooed project is needed.


Jun 24, 2009


There is no new schedule for flight testing of the Boeing Dreamliner following the postponement of the first flight due by 30 June because of the discovery in April of design deficiencies in the area where the wing joins either side of the fuselage of the high composite ‘plastic’ airliner.

Boeing issued this statement a short time ago:-

EVERETT, Wash., June 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Boeing (NYSE: BA) today announced that first flight of the 787 Dreamliner will be postponed due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft. The need was identified during the recent regularly scheduled tests on the full-scale static test airplane. Preliminary analysis indicated that flight test could proceed this month as planned. However, after further testing and consideration of possible modified flight test plans, the decision was made late last week that first flight should instead be postponed until productive flight testing could occur. First flight and first delivery will be rescheduled following the final determination of the required modification and testing plan. It will be several weeks before the new schedule is available. The 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane #1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft in the production system.Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said a team of experts has already identified several potential solutions.”Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localized area requiring reinforcement. Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes, and this is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team,” Carson said.

There will be consequences from this. After the disgraceful and premeditated misleading statements made by Boeing officials on the roll out of the joke first 787 on 8 July 2007 (hence the 7-8-7 symbolism using the US month-day-year calendar format) the program continues to flounder. The 787-8, the first model in the family, was to have flown by the end of September 2007 and been delivered to All Nippon Airways in May 2008.

Qantas was to have received the first 8 of its 65 unit order for service with Jetstar by December of that year. And then the first 15 by December of the next year.

At the end of last September Boeing solemnly promised first delivery of a 787 to All Nippon by this August. The management of this company has not made a single correct call on this airliner in any public statement since well before the sham roll out.

This management has overseen the deskilling of the work force at Everett to the extent that it couldn’t even fit the right bolts (fasteners) into the right holes in the still born mini fleet of test aircraft. It couldn’t even design the centre wing box properly, requiring its replacement. It can’t deliver on the performance promises made for the jets to the extent that the customers have run away from taking delivery of the first 20 or so because they will be too heavy. And this is a super light weight jet that was going to save (variously) 20% in fuel burn and 20% in weight compared to other twin aisle long haul 300 passenger jets.

This was the jet Qantas choose to perform critical functions with Jetstar and the main carrier including reclaiming lost territory by launching low fare services to markets where it had been forced out by Singapore Airlines, Thai, Malaysian, Emirates and others.

The 787 was crucial to the delivery of a new era in cost efficient maintenance. It was going to speed the retiring of an aged and increasingly unreliable fleet of 767s. It was going to make the Qantas/Jetstar A330 fleet an interim fleet.

Qantas has been made to look incredibly foolish by Boeing. There will be consequences.

Boeing’s delusional insistence that it can flight test and certify the 787 in as little as eight months (originally six months) points to the gravest of failures of management, in that hype is being presented as reality.

Boeing’s management needs to explain what it did with the great resource of design and engineering brilliance that culminated in the 777 program. Where are these people, why aren’t they employed in Seattle, delivering the outstanding airliners that have been associated with this once great company from the mid 50s to the mid 90s. Who killed this company’s brilliance and for what benefit?

These sorts of issues seem to percolate as well into the Boeing 748 program, which is running late, and the Wedgetail airborne early warning and command aircraft that Australia was suckered into ordering and which consistently fails to meet targets.

For the 787 to enter service for any airline any time in 2010 it has to pass its deep freeze or cold soak tests in the high Arctic by the end of February next year.

If it fails to meet that requirement the 787 will not achieve certification under current, and one imagines, unchangeable rules in relation to cold proofing an airliner, until no sooner than March of 2011.

Update An ultrasonic inspection detected “small areas, as small as 1 to 2 inches, where we saw a slight separation of composite layers within the part,” Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach says.

This is also called delamination, where the layers of reinforced carbon fibre glued together with resins and baked in a large oven have started to break or peel apart.

In a structure that hasn’t yet flown, and is required to hang together under 150% of the maximum designed load factor to achieve certification, this is a serious problem.


Jun 23, 2009


We have invited Jetstar to reply to this complaint in writing to our POSTAL ADDRESS ONLY.

Subject: how far have JETSTAR come with technology??

Hi Guys,

I think maybe the actual answer is: not forward but backward! Yes!

It seems they are able to have great huge iron birds fly through the air carrying thousands of passengers a day, but when it comes to communicating with people they seem to have omitted the possibility of Email or, yes, even the old fashion Telephone, to allow people to make a complaint.

It seems that if you wish to make a COMPLAINT to this airline you are ONLY allowed to via a POSTAL Address and apparently NO OTHER WAY!!!
After calling the night before to confirm my flight details, I was assured that I just needed to be at the airport “at least about 30 minutes” before the flight. (My children were traveling to Brisbane to see their father.) IE the flight was at 6am, we arrived just before 5.30am and had to wait behind another customer.
I waited about a minute or so and noticed a lady behind a counter who then seemed obliged to call me over to check me in.
I handed her the paperwork and she proceeded to ask me for ID etc, I explained it was for my kids and that I would not be travelling. She then looked over the counter at the suit cases and asked if we had anything in flammable etc in the carry on luggage etc.
During this time she had not at all recorded anything on the computer and then looked at the printed confirmation again and said “Oh you’re going to Brisbane?” then added, “You’re too late!”
I replied that the flight wasn’t due to go until 6am!
“Well it’s past 5.30 and you have to be here 30 minutes before!”
I explained that I had been.
This was when she did something on the computer and then called on a walkie talkie and said “I have 2 people travelling to Brisbane. Can you get them on?”
The reply was “Ahhh well hmmm ….. Probably not.” and in my view there was a slight suggestion that it wouldn’t take much convincing to have assistance granted.
However, She promptly hung up without any hesitation. There was no explanation that this was 2 children or any question of “if we got everything to you now could we get them on.” Or no other assistance at all.
She then continued to argue with me, seeming extremely bored with the whole scenario, like she was due somewhere else. And that (in her words) “well everyone else can be on time, why can’t you!”
Obviously this aggravated me and I advised that I had been on time but obviously if she had of logged us into the computer at that time then maybe I wouldn’t be “LATE”!
She then proceeded to serve another customer regarding some paper work.
I asked another lady at the counter beside hers, what I was meant to do about the tickets for my children needing to travel to see their father?
“Well she’ll have to fix that up!” she replied referring to the girl I had just talked to.
So I had to wait to talk to this girl again who advised me it would cost $70 to have these rebooked for tomorrow.
I bit my tongue and advised her to rebook for the next morning, same time if available.
She then proceeded to list the flights available.
I asked if there was one at 6am? Yes! Well can I have that one?
She did me things of the computer and again she asked what time?
She did something more. “6am did you say?”
“Yes! The same time as today!”
Then she took the paper work from me and did something else on the computer then began to change the details.
“OK the flight leaves at 1.45am and you need to be here 30 minutes before.”
“Am I not able to get the 6 am flight as I asked?”
“Oh Sorry.” She says, “There’s been so much going on with noise around here, I must have misunderstood!”
After being completely disgusted and treated extremely rudely and then told I would be charged the fee of $70 if I still wanted my children to travel to see their father,(I feel through no fault of my own) I came home to make a complaint.
the young man on the phone was extremely polite and understanding but unfortunately could not assist and offered a supervisor to call me back.
The supervisor did call be back however seemed not willing to listen to my complaint and was advised abruptly that I was late and he could see this as I had been booked in at 5.35 and this girl had been “generous” as I should have been charge $120 for a late rebooking! And they have strict rules about checkins etc.
I was outraged and explained that this girl would not take any details and did not book anything in the computer for some time AFTER I arrived at her desk.
He disputed this and said, she would have recorded it as you approached the desk.
I disputed this as she seemed very bored at the time and she played around with the paperwork before doing anything.
As he did not seem to care about the complaint or the issue of this rude individual representing his company, I asked to speak to someone higher than himself, I was promptly told, “HE” was the highest person I could complain to.

When I replied that I was sure he must have a supervisor or manager himself, he was the highest!
While questioning the hierarchy of the company being sure he did not own or run the company himself and with all “Customer Service” issues, surely there must be other avenues one must be able to take.
I was told, no, he was the ONLY one I could talk to and if I wanted to write to someone he could provide a postal address!
I was advised they do not have Email or phone numbers to speak to anyone higher, JUST A POSTAL ADDRESS.

As I advised this “Supervisor” with great frustration that surely with the great strides we have made over the decades I would have thought a company that can fly great beast through the air at extensive speed, you would think they couple provide a little of that technology to their communications!

I advised again, that I was sure that if I wished to make a complaint maybe to management there must be some other method other than a snail mail letter, that would probably either be ignored, lost. or even if it did get there, would take 6 weeks to receive a reply.
I advised him I would prefer a phone number
An Email address?
I asked for a phone number of a secretary of a manager who I can relay my complaint too!
ie here we have a company making millions of dollars every day while pumping out emissions into the Ozone layer, they also seem to prefer customers to be happy with the cutting down of trees if customers wish to dare complain when they have an issue.
I spoke to various people within the company and NO! you get to complain to a supervisor but if you wish to take it further you are required to take a step back in time and go snail mail and wait 6 weeks for a reply, and that’s only if it doesn’t get lost along the way or accidently lost in the local wastepaper basket.
This is APPARENTLY the ONLY form of communication to them if you have a complaint!!!!!
I thought we were supposed to be growing more trees to counter all the current technologies emissions, not to have them cut down for a company that is happy to use their money and technology to pollute the air and then use those trees to make a complaint instead of cleaning the air because their policy in this instance ISN’T to keep with technology!!!!

Don’t you think that this is pretty ridiculous, coming from a company that millions of Australians trust their lives too when they fly???
I’m hoping maybe you may be able to get some sort of sensible outcome out of this disgusting display of “customer service” or possibly find some other form of reply other than a “supervisor” who seems to like to imitate the CEO and think he is convincing enough to us poor plebs buying cheaper flights.
Or maybe, the whole airline competition for flights has the system splicing us into “Classes”.
This definitely is NOT the Aussie Way we true Aussies do things.
True Aussies have compassion and believe in a Fair Go. Maybe Jetstar isn’t so Aussie after all!

Progress? A fax has been received at the Crikey bat cave from David May, Head of marketing and PR at Jetstar. It says:-

Think it’s fair to say we are reviewing how we respond to our customers, and addressing this feeling that it’s hard to get in touch with us.

I’d also like to take a look at your anonymous customer’s complaint, to see if we can help. If you could please pass him/her my direct details I’ll point them in the right direction.

This will be done shortly.


Jun 22, 2009


An item in the Cairns Post this morning adds to the rising number of fools with lasers being caught doing something that might have seemed like a coward’s cheap thrill in pointing a laser at an aircraft.
A TEENAGE boy has become the first person charged under Queensland’s
new laser laws after he allegedly targeted the pilot of a rescue
helicopter near Mareeba early yesterday morning.

The Emergency Management Queensland helicopter was landing at the
Mareeba Hospital helipad about 1.35am when it was hit four times by
a high-intensity green laser beam.

The pilot landed the aircraft safely and reported the incident to
Cairns air traffic controllers, who alerted police.

A 17-year-old boy was later charged after police found him in
possession of a hand-held laser device at a service station at Byrnes

He will appear in Mareeba Magistrate’s Court on July 13 charged with
endangering the safe use of a vehicle by directing a beam of light from
a laser.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years’ jail.

He is the first person in Queensland charged with the
offence, which was legislated last year and further tightened last

EMQ senior pilot Spida Ryder said the practice of aiming lasers at
aircraft was fraught with danger.

There have been several arrests in NSW recently on similar offences, and one of them may have been after a ‘black’ chopper with lights off was making a routine scan from afar of areas where laser incidents have been reported.

The full story may come out in court, but one thing is certain, when a laser goes off it is surprisingly simple to pinpoint the origin of the beam from a surveillance platform, and have a ground police patrol on the spot soon after, and be able to catch offenders who would have no inkling that they had been spotted.


Jun 22, 2009



Jun 22, 2009


Richard Branson’s call on Sunday for HMG to let British Airways go broke rather than prop it up with bail out money is fiercely controversial.

It is exactly how Branson wants it to be in the circumstances when British Airways is trying yet again to stich up the North Atlantic market with another airline that looks financially weak in American Airlines.

Two sick airlines begging for help from Washington DC and Westminster is not a good look. Rather like asking for help so that they can get together and conspire to screw their customers, what’s left of them.

The notion that governments should call winners is obnoxious to most market oriented analysts in the 21st century. It was last called for when Ansett was headed for oblivion, when National Party leader John Anderson mounted a push in cabinet for the Howard government to ‘save Ansett.’ But nothing was going to save Ansett, cabinet sat on Anderson, and the tide of history swept Australia’s once second largest airline away.

While the hair pulling and name calling cranks itself up to high volume in Little Britain over the Branson bounder and poor struggling British Airways one thing is worth remembering.

Nothing Branson has said about the state of British Airways is as dire as what has been said by its own chief executive officer Willie Walsh, as he begs staff to work for free , or attacks its flight attendants for scarcely working at all.

Unless Walsh is a liar, British Airways is in grave danger.


Jun 22, 2009


These plots of the wreckage and victims (red) recovered from the Air France flight AF447 disaster on 1 June show the enormity of the task that confronted search vessels and aircraft mostly provided by Brazil.


The data, released by the French accident investigator, the BEA, is mapped on 6 June, (above) and between then and 10 June, with a navigational reference point TASIL and the last known position of the Airbus A330-200 at bottom of frame, against the rugged ocean floor topography, more than 5000 metres deep in places.


Debris from the tail section of the jet, its wings, and from a galley near the second door from the nose of the jet has been found, together with 50 bodies from the 228 people on board.

There is no evidence of fire or a chemical explosion on the recovered objects according to reports from France and Brazil. The rudder and its housing in the vertical stabiliser or tail of the jet were recovered attached to each other and showed signs of having been ripped off as a unit from the top of the fuselage at a set of attachment points where aerodynamic or impact break-up would have been expected. Victim trauma is consistent with an air blast after a fuselage break up. The reports claim there is no evidence of water in the lungs of the victims, indicating death occurred on or before impact with the sea.

The battery powered beacons that would indicate the position of the missing cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder have at most around six days power remaining. If their location can be fixed on the ocean floor deep sea recovery equipment will attempt to raise them.

The search for signals from these devices continues but the sea is no longer giving up physical traces of the disaster, and the surface search and recovery operation has been scaled back.


Jun 20, 2009


A concept for turning matter from a single type of plant into a high performance composite material for use in aircraft cabins has won a University of Queensland team first prize in the inaugural Airbus Fly Your Ideas challenge.

It is an idea which minimises the use of energy from fossil carbon releasing fuels in the production of aircraft parts, and could even eliminate their release depending on the power sources employed in its manufacture.

The first aircraft were made of ‘bio-composites’, wood, glue and cloth, more than a century before the term was devised to describe ways of reducing industrial sources of carbon emissions.

Laminates of strong flexible woods like spruce where crucial to many of combat aircraft of World War II.

But the use of fast growing castor plants caught the judges attention because it takes fossil carbon release evasion in aviation into new sources and applications.

Further details are found in the Airbus statement below.

A team of students from the University of Queensland (Australia) won the inaugural Airbus “Fly Your Ideas” challenge at the Paris-Le Bourget Air Show. The “COz” team won for its project into the use of the castor plant to develop the first ever single plant-based high performance composite materials for aircraft cabin components. The goal is to reduce dependency on non renewable sources and improve end of life disposal thus contributing to a reduction of aviation carbon footprint. They conducted a comprehensive feasibility analysis entailing fibre production and testing, demonstrating very encouraging mechanical and environmental properties.

The multinational “COz” team comprises team leader, Michael Heitzmann (27), of Swiss origin and Alex Ng (25), originally from Hong Kong, both PhD students in Mechanical Engineering, and third team member, Benjamin Lindenberger (26), from Germany, an Aerospace Engineering student who is undertaking his University of Stuttgart diploma thesis at the University of Queensland.

“We wanted to demonstrate that composite materials made entirely with Castor plant fibre can reduce the aircraft carbon footprint and enhance environmental protection. We are extremely proud to have convinced the jury with our project and we hope it will have a future in aviation.” said Michael Heitzmann, Coz team leader.

The students were congratulated at the ceremony, at Le Bourget, by Tom Enders, President and Chief Executive Officer of Airbus, who awarded the €30,000 prize to the winning team. The second place team from National University of Singapore, “Solaire Voyager”, received a prize of €15,000 for its proposal to use solar cell technology integrating photovoltaic cells aboard aircraft to generate electricity.

More than 2,350 students from 82 countries around the world entered the competition, which started nine months ago. The students’ objective was to come up with innovative and eco efficient ideas to shape the future of aviation, and deliver a further reduction in the industry’s impact on the environment. The competition was also designed to attract more young people to this crucial industry.

The other three finalists were (by team name alphabetical order):

– “Big Bang Team” from Universidad Politécnica de Valencia in Spain for its windowless cabin proposal for a new eco-efficient aircraft design.

– “Kometa Brno” from Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic whose team developed a project on aircraft taxiway movements using electro-motors.

Airbus invests €2 billion annually on R&D, more than seven per cent of its annual turnover. The company plans to hire some 300 engineers worldwide this year.


Jun 19, 2009


Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese ended the one airport for Sydney policy today in a rider to granting approval to Sydney Airport’s latest 20 year plan.

He said Sydney would need a second airport after 2029, and invited the NSW Government to join in a study to find and develop a site.

Which really means something will have to be selected and built by 2029, and in the state with the worst record in infrastructure and planning processes in the country, that means overcoming an immense burden of political and administrative inertia.

But the statements that accompanied the announcement from Sydney Airport and Qantas contain important departures from what the Minister said.

Here is Albanese’s announcement in full:-

Today I have approved Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport’s 2009 Master Plan – but in doing so I note its long term forecasts are further evidence that Sydney will require new airport capacity.

Sydney Airport Corporation plans to further develop the site in order to support the aviation activities so critical to the economy.

Already this critical piece of aviation infrastructure handles about a third of the nation’s air traffic, generates approximately $8 billion in annual economic activity and supports more than 200,000 jobs.

Specifically, the Master Plan proposes to increase the proportion of the site used for aviation activities from 86 to 91 per cent; improve the taxiway system so aircraft can move around the site quickly and safely; expand freight handling facilities; and provide more gates at both the domestic and international terminals.

The Government is absolutely committed to maintaining the existing cap on movements as well as the curfew. Noise sharing arrangements will continue.

My approval of the Master Plan does not however indicate acceptance that the Airport can and should handle the projected growth in traffic, with the annual number of aircraft flying into and out of Sydney expected to rise to 427,000 by 2029.

Such traffic volumes would place considerable added pressure on those communities living around the Airport.

As the Airport gets busier, the supporting road and rail infrastructure will become more congested, delays more frequent and nearby residents exposed to even longer periods of aircraft noise.

The national interest dictates that Sydney will need new airport capacity.

That’s why I have today invited the NSW Government to participate in a joint study to assess options, identify potential sites and evaluate investment strategies for delivering additional airport capacity.

The joint study will also look at ways of providing integrated transport solutions for the existing airport as well as any second airport. It will also consider the future of the Badgerys Creek site given the Government has ruled it out as an option for a second airport.

The study’s final terms of reference will be outlined in the National Aviation White Paper expected to be released later this year.

The Government got independent expert advice from Access Economics to assist its assessment of the Sydney KSA Master Plan.

Sydney Airport Corporation is now required to publish the final Master Plan within 50 business days and make copies available to the public.

Now consider the response from Qantas.


The words ‘in the Sydney basin’ are the contentious issue. No airline is going to support a remote Sydney Airport. Nor will their passengers, who will either avoid doing business in Sydney, or change flights at an intermediate port to ensure they arrive at an airport relevant to their actual destination within the metropolitan area.

Albanese has ruled out Badgery’s Creek, which is the only passably large site left on dry land in the Sydney basin.

Which points to filling in a large part of Botany Bay to greatly expand Sydney Airport, or just part of its southern shores around Towra Point, for a satellite airport connected by road and rail to the main airport along the lines proposed at the turn of the century by the late Bill Bradfield.

Or alternatively it points to a huge waste of money on an airport somewhere in the southern highlands, the Illawarra, or in the lower Hunter, which needs a new airport given the constricted opportunities at the RAAF Williamtown base where facilities are leased by the airlines.

(Badgery’s Creek is roughly as far from the centre of Sydney as Narita Airport is from Tokyo Central, the southern highlands sites are two to three times as remote and anything near Newcastle is four to five times the Tokyo-Narita distance allowing for the topographical challenges north of Sydney.)

Finally consider this extract from the Sydney Airport statement, which promises not to do a whole list of things while finessing what it has today to lift capacity from 31 million passengers a year to 79 million a year.


At no point in its full statement does Sydney Airport acknowledge the point the Minister makes about needing a second airport.

It sounds more like a case of ‘No Minister’ rather than ‘Yes Minister.’ The smart money would be put on the minister prevailing over Sydney Airport but having something of a struggle with Qantas, the other airlines and perhaps even a NSW government that realises that a remote second airport means the end of Sydney’s pre-eminence in business and leisure travel.


Jun 18, 2009


Here’s a question for anyone thinking of switching to Qantas or staying with them.

What’s wrong with this press release?

qf-releaseFor a start it doesn’t sit well with anyone who has checked in on line and printed their own boarding pass for a domestic flight, only to confront a farcical queue to get to the ‘dedicated’ baggage drop check so slowly that it is easier to join the digitally impaired and check in the ‘old fashioned way’.

Neither Qantas nor its competitors do themselves any favours at all in pushing home or office check-ins that are incorrectly claimed to save time. And don’t preach to us about how it is easy using the lounge. That involves giving discretionary loyalty to one brand more than other in advance. No way.

If Qantas can’t manage domestic pre-printed boarding passes efficiently why should we expect anything better flying with it on international services?

Another issue is with Qantas thinking that limiting seat selection to the three top tiers of the frequent flyer membership is attractive to anyone contemplating switching allegiances. It is a huge barrier. What a truly stupid idea. ‘Hello, glad you chose Qantas. No you can’t choose your seat. What do you mean Good Bye?’

It is true airlines take seat requests from very frequent flyers seriously upon booking, and that when you go to select your seat on Singapore Airlines some will have been already taken by their top tier flyers. Well, not lately it seems, but that’s another matter. The point is that anyone paying a higher yielding fare in most cabins on major Qantas competitors gets to choose or change their seat one to two days before departure if they check in online. They don’t need to be a vanadium, titanium or aluminium frequent flyer, they just need to have paid for the seat.

And thirdly, there is no reference to being accompanied on board by a band, or even a jazz player if you have booked business or first class at full as in non-distressed inventory rates currently on offer. Let’s face it, real, full rate business and first class passengers aren’t that common any more. A bit of theatre is called for. No!