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ULR flight

Aug 25, 2017


The original A350-900 breaking cover in 2013

Air New Zealand is expected to launch ‘spoiler’ non-stop flights between Auckland and New York City years before Qantas can persuade Airbus or Boeing to build a jet which can serve the Big Apple non-stop from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Plane Talking spies have seen delegations from Airbus in the Kiwi carrier’s headquarters in recent months (mission unknown) and only this week it spoke of its determination to invest in new long haul jets from either Airbus or Boeing.

The long hyped (and highly honorable) Qantas ambition for such epic duration flights to London as well as NYC from the eastern capitals of Australia are likely to be dusted off for another run at the announcement later this morning of the QF group’s profits in the year to June 30.

(There is a detailed recital of this behind The Australian’s paywall this morning.)

Qantas is looking toward such a service by 2022, assuming it succeeds in persuading the two big planemakers to come up with a version of their airliners which could do the route with more than a token number of passengers.

The candidate airliner designs would include future versions of the Airbus A350, even the large capacity A380, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner family and its 777-8, which has yet to fly as part of the 777-X family, but which is currently speculated to be ready by 2022.

The catch for Qantas is that an A350 ultra long range or URL model is available from the second half of next year, and with further tweaking, could carry a convincing multi-class payload of passengers between Auckland and any of NYC’s airports by 2020.

Auckland is about two hours flight time closer to the Big Apple than any eastern Australian city. Producing such a jet would not involve the same costs and risks for the jet makers as a more advanced derivative in terms of engines as well as airframes.

And while it would involve a one-stop flight from Australia to NYC just as happens today via Los Angeles or Dallas Fort Worth or Houston, anything that cuts out a second US airport along the way is a big plus for harassed flyers coping with seemingly dysfunctional security protocols on the other side of the Pacific.

Air NZ would be able to aggregate traffic from multiple Australian cities in Auckland (as it does now on some services) meaning that the onward flight has a far better chance of being sustainable in the immediate to medium term.

However Qantas would be dividing the demand for such ULR flights between dedicated jets flying from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, meaning a much higher risk of over capacity on three jets instead of one on any given day.

The Air NZ ‘plot’ to make Auckland the centre of the Universe, and not just Middle Earth, might eventually succumb to the pressure of demand from each Australian city, but neither Airbus nor Boeing has been able to meet their own deadlines for the higher volume introduction of new versions or models of wide body jets on time this century.

Thus a 2022 target date for a new jet to fit the Qantas ambitions for London and NYC may prove problematical, giving Air NZ a long ‘holiday’ from direct competition on a service to the latter destination.

In the post Brexit era non Australian airlines that could serve the London non-stop market include British Airways, indirectly part owned by Qatar Airways, and Virgin Atlantic, which is effectively controlled by US giant Delta.  All three are major A350 users or customers, with BA and QR also flying 787s and the Qatari flag carrier a launch customer for the 777-X series.

Delta would be the obvious US candidate carrier to exercise its open skies rights to fly non-stop between NYC and Auckland, as well as to Australian cities non-stop, once that capability in terms of larger loads is built into an airliner.

PS: The first Qantas 787-9 has broken cover outside the final assembly line at Everett north of Seattle

ULR flight

May 2, 2017


This Qantas 747 did London-Sydney non-stop in 1989

While there are obvious benefits (but maybe not in economy) in the forthcoming Qantas non-stop 787 flights between Perth and London for travellers starting out in Perth, the attractions for those leaving from Melbourne or Sydney are less clear.

Most flyer departing Australia for London, or for gateways in Europe, start their trips from the east coast cities, and for them the trip will continue to be one-stop, whether they fly via Perth, or the likes of Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.

And they will overwhelmingly do so in the superior comfort standards of Airbus A380s, including flying Qantas on what will be its only A380 all-the-way flight from Sydney, once Melbourne loses its Qantas A380 service on the route when the 787s start flying a domestic sector from Tullamarine airport to Perth for the onward London flight from next March.

Some of the disadvantages in this situation for those thinking of flying Qantas rather than Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways from Melbourne, can be found between the lines of this report in Australian Business Traveller.

All but Etihad among those Qantas competitors will be offering A380s all the way to London from Melbourne when Qantas reduces the seats it has on offer in Melbourne for a one-stop flight to Heathrow airport from its A380 via Dubai to the much smaller 787 via Perth.

So the net gain for Melbournians as well as those starting from points that are elsewhere east of Perth on the 787 service is questionable, no matter how excellent the product initiatives Qantas is bringing to the new but for most passengers tighter Dreamliner.

In fact Qantas has indicated that it will completely refurbish its A380s from nose to tail in order to compete with the refurbished and brand new A380 Singapore Airlines inaugurates from Sydney later this year and well before the Perth-London non-stop begins.

The remaking of the Qantas A380 fleet is said by some sources to liberate very useful increases in payload through the use of space saving spiral or ‘enhanced’ staircases forward and aft and much lighter seating fixtures.  Whatever the accuracy of such information from within Qantas, there is every reason to believe its A380s will emerge from refurbishment as convincing answers to the initiatives already being built into new SingaporeAir A380s and promised for the Emirates fleet.

The currently configured Qantas A380s lag the amenity levels seen in the Etihad A380s (soon to be twice daily from Sydney and with around four times the total capacity of a single London via Perth 787) or those that fly at times on Australian routes for Qatar Airways, or indeed the Emirates A380s on which Qantas places its code shares so that its customers can get the bigger-than-Dreamliner economy seats yet earn Qantas points.

There are however major potential advantages for the small number of passengers Qantas can accommodate on its 787s through Perth in that Dubai airport is so overcrowded people have to queue for the toilets, even at times in some of the business class lounges as well as in the main terminals, and Abu Dhabi’s all new and soon to open Midfield Terminal is much needed given the pressure on existing facilities caused by its success in growing that alternative UAE hub.

Singapore is in the box seat in this situation. Its Changi airport hub may not always prove perfect for purpose, but its fair to say it enjoys a huge reputational and in this writer’s opinion, real advantage over the other airports at which all flyers from Australia to London or European cities will stop until a commercially viable true non-stop airliner from the east coast of this country to the UK and EU becomes available. Maybe even before 2025.

Hidden behind all the hype about non-stop Perth 787s to London, and if Qantas has its way, to Paris, Frankfurt and maybe even Berlin (if it ever manages to complete its new airport), there is a story about ‘Little Qantas’. Qantas is making itself a notably smaller player in terms of its own fleet to the UK.

It holds or held four invaluable slots a day at London Heathrow airport, but will after the Melbourne A380 daily ends, only fly an A380 on one of them, and a much smaller 787 on another. Most Australians who want to earn Qantas points on a flight to Europe or the UK will do so on Emirates code shares, and in its A380s or 777s (and from the early 2020s in 777-Xs.)

Unfortunately for Qantas, the 787 is too small an aircraft for purpose on major Australia-Europe routes. What made sense in December 2005 when it was ordered doesn’t make sense today when 777s (and 777-Xs) and A350s offer better operational outcomes on city pairs that haven’t grown enough to support A380 sized loads per available slot.

While Qantas has become a strong and profitable airline group, it hasn’t tried to keep pace with demand, much of which shows very clear signs of being inbound, from markets where its brand value and recognition is low.

Non-stop flights between Perth and the UK and Europe will not on their own address these structural challenges nor radically improve the one-stop on the way flying experience of travellers in the rest of Australia, and it could be the Singapore one-stop offers that prove the prime challenge to Qantas services.


Feb 23, 2017


Qantas guide to new Premium Y

There is an antidote (for extra $$$) to the cramped economy seating on the soon to arrive Qantas 787-9 Dreamliners, and it was unveiled in Sydney this morning as a wide and versatile premium economy seat.

The new Premium Economy seat is based on a prototype by Thompson Aero Seating and heavily customised by leading Australian industrial designer David Caon.

“Developing a new seat comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Working with Thompson and Qantas, I think we’ve created a new standard for Premium Economy,” Mr Caon said.

“We’ve made sure this seat offers genuine comfort through design elements not seen before on aircraft. There are a number of new bespoke design elements that we hope will really set the benchmark for this class.”

The seat pitch is 38 inches or 96.5 cms, but the key to its comfort appears to be in its width and the mechanisms which facilitate a roomy recline.  In standard nine across economy in the new 787-9s the seat pitch is 32 inches or 81.3 cms and the width is so constrained that hips bones will crush into each other, not something to look forward to on a 17 hour non-stop flight from Perth to London or even a 14 hour nonstop from Melbourne to Los Angeles.

Qantas introduced Premium Economy with its A380 aircraft in 2008 and later rolled it out onto the Boeing 747. Qantas will assess updating existing Premium Economy cabins in-line with its fleet planning and product cycles.

The Qantas Dreamliner will seat 236 passengers across Business, Premium Economy and Economy – a seat density that is significantly lower than many of its competitors.

The first of eight Dreamliners will be delivered in October this year with Qantas’ first international 787 services will take flight in December between Melbourne and Los Angeles. Flights between Perth and London, which will directly link Australia and Europe for the first time, begin in March 2018.


Jan 19, 2017


You wanna play ping pong? Vietnam’s robotics sector has a tireless companion ready for action

Jetstar, the Australian long haul 787 wide body operating franchise, is back in the business of serving the fast moving and fascinating market for seats between Australia and Vietnam.

Its earlier history on the routes hardy bears mentioning, especially for those who flew from here to there in the single aisle service it once operated via Darwin but which mercifully faded into the past.

This new push looks promising, if perhaps somewhat overdue. From May there will be Jetstar 787-8s (with what is a premium economy ‘business’ class and economy service) four times weekly from Sydney and three times weekly from Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City.

The only non-stop competition for Jetstar on these routes comes from Vietnam Airlines, which flies a non-stop daily 787-9 from each of these Australian cities to the Vietnamese capital.  It offers a lie-flat business class cabin, a premium economy cabin and a similar to Jetstar very un-Australian sized high density nine across don’t-try-to-move-your-hip and cheek-bones economy class on its larger capacity and more frequent Dreamliners.

(Vietnam Airlines also has Airbus A350-900s in its fleet. With luck it might come to the rescue of economy class passengers by deploying that jet in place of the 787s sometime in the future.)

The strategic importance of this move for Qantas and its Jetstar franchise cannot be understated. Vietnam is powering ahead economically, and within 10 years is expected to generate very significant national air travel demand mirroring to some extent the robust but also cut throat competition that has emerged in its domestic and shorter haul single aisle low cost carrier routes.

Qantas holds a minority stake in the single aisle A320 operations of Vietnam based Jetstar Pacific. What role Jetstar Pacific plays in these domestic and regional routes will no doubt be determined by its majority partner in this franchise, which is state owned Vietnam Airlines. On latest guidance, Jetstar Pacific is to double its fleet to 30 A320s by 2020, making it a potentially valuable feeder carrier for the competing ambitions of Vietnam Airlines and the Qantas group on the Vietnam-Australia routes.

Vietnam is carving a place for itself in high technology manufacturing (see top of page) but a non-neon laid back and culturally complex and interesting land still lies beyond its cities, and the new wealth emerging within them. (See below)

There remains more than communist controlled capitalism in Vietnam

low cost carriers

Aug 16, 2016


This incredibly empty staged photo of a Scoot cabin looks almost comfortable
This incredibly empty staged photo of a Scoot cabin looks almost comfortable

Singapore Airlines’ low cost wide body subsidiary Scoot has announced Athens as its first European destination.

It’s a definitive step given all the chatter coming from arch rival AirAsiaX as to where it will go when it eventually returns to Europe for the first time in years.

Scoot’s four times weekly service with Boeing 787-8s will begin on the Athens route from June 20 next year and appears to offer reasonable connections at Singapore’s Changi airport with the LCC’s Australia services.

(Besides, loitering with intent at Changi is a pleasant airport experience compared to some other transit options.)

There are deals too, but since Scoot thinks the media will do its advertising for free, this part of it won’t. However some of the fares between Australia cities and others via Changi that are on offer are lower than many of the fares you would pay flying economy between a range of major Australia airports. Or in some cases, close to what you might pay to park for a few weeks at some of them.

Singapore Airlines is sending a clear signal in its choice of Athens as a European city for Scoot that it will continue its policy of using the low cost brand to participate in markets where a premium fare customer is too scarce to merit operating its full service brand.

There is a semi-premium economy option available on Scoot for 18 passengers per flight, which includes some food, some drink, more legroom, and other concessions to comfort.

Its success so far in giving Singapore Airlines more participation in the total air travel market has made Scoot the object of a great deal of ‘observation’ by other airlines.

fleet support

Aug 8, 2016


View of the 787 flight sim from the supervisory area behind the pilot seats
View of the 787 flight sim from the supervisory area behind the pilot seats

Right on cue, Qantas has taken the critical step of investing in a Boeing 787-9 simulator in Sydney as it prepares for the introduction of a tranche of eight of the Dreamliners from October 2017.

Qantas has yet to confirm a first set of routes for the stretched version of the 787, but the often recited possibilities included non-stops between London and Perth,  Melbourne and Dallas Fort Worth, and Sydney and Chicago.

The Qantas media release today has much more detail for the curious, and rather than ruin it by boiling it down, it can be read in full here.

Those of normal stature and especially of normal width will no doubt await with interest a seat map showing what happens in economy class, where the nice people in your company’s travel management office increasingly put their employees.

The illustration at the of the post was provided by Virtual Aviation Flight Training which is a major flight simulator training services provider with a 787 centre at London Gatwick.


Jun 17, 2016


SingaporeAir's A350 answer to United's 787-9
SingaporeAir’s A350 answer to United’s 787-9

It doesn’t appear to have occurred to the timid mainstream media, but something of a holy war for your backside is involved in the new SingaporeAir non-stop flights from Singapore to San Francisco which start on October 23.

They will use the current version of the Airbus A350-900, and your backside will actually fit in its economy seats for a flight which can last as long as 17 hours flying against headwinds in the direction of Singapore over a nominal shortest possible distance of 13,592 kilometres.

Singapore Airlines announced this service yesterday in response to United Airlines’ just launched non-stop service on the route using the Boeing 787-9.

Thus the world of increasingly frustrated and discomforted economy class flyers will have a head on, make that rear on, contest between the Airbus and Boeing medium sized latest tech twin engined airliners on the same route, and the differences between the service standards of SQ and UA will not be the whole story.

Both airlines have configured their main cabins at nine seats across, but the Boeing is narrower and was designed by the American planemaker at the outset to be a very civilised ‘Dreamliner’ with roomy eight across seats in economy.

When a ‘Dreamliner’ is flown in the nine across configuration, which is what most carriers do, or will do, the seating is the among the meanest and most miserable every flown in any jet since the successful restarting of the modern jet age late in 1958 with Boeing 707s.

This isn’t what Boeing intended, but it is the awful reality.

The only way to fit typical American or Australian adults and teenagers into a nine across 787 for a flight requiring heroic powers of endurance would involve surgery to reduce hip width.  (This also applies to operations where 767s are fitted with eight across Y class seats, and A330s are flown nine across in economy class.)

Qantas has promised to compensate economy class passengers in its forthcoming 787-9 services with extra legroom. That will never be good enough, unless it is so generous that a passenger can swivel sideways to avoid raw bone pain in the hips.

The problem for 787 operators is that unless they screw their passengers where it hurts they will not get seat counts that reflect rising levels of demand that weren’t understood when the design was set in granite.

The industry (over time) has entered a period in which growth in numbers, and in the size of the average human who catches planes, have both exceeded the theoretical economic optimums of super efficient cabin configurations.

This contest, between efficiency goals and the pain and discomfort thresholds of customers, is going to be laid bare (or something like that) when SingaporeAir’s civilised A350s take on United’s more compact 787s, across business and premium economy classes of product as well as in standard economy class.

The SingaporeAir flights will offer a total 257 seats, United’s 252 seats. The overall dimensions of the A350-900 are slightly larger than those of the 787-9.

The Singapore carrier’s use of the A350-900 appears to be interim, as that jet is optimised for shorter routes than the non-stop to San Francisco. In 2018 it starts taking deliveries of the ultra long range A350-900 ULR and says they will be used for the much longer non-stop route between Singapore and Newark (for New York City) which the airline abandoned in 2013, as well as to Los Angeles, which is only slightly further than San Francisco, but can consume vital extra minutes in its even busier vectoring for a landing.

It has also said other cities in the US will get A350-900 ULR flights. In the 2020s Boeing will offer a larger ultra long range jet in the 777-9 and Airbus has informally mentioned the ULR potential of larger versions of the A350 and an upgraded A380.


Jan 26, 2016


air safety

Dec 23, 2015



Dec 21, 2015


The Air Canada 787-8 Dreamliner has changed as well as grown Australia-Canada services
The Air Canada 787-8 Dreamliner is changing as well as growing  Australia-Canada services

Interest in Australia-Canada travel has surged to the extent that Air Canada has turned its new route from Vancouver to Brisbane to a daily 787 Dreamliner from 17 June next year. When the service starts on 1 June it was initially set at only three flights a week. Continue reading “Air Canada 787 doubles key Australian route even before it launches”


Dec 18, 2015



Dec 6, 2015



Nov 11, 2015


air safety

Oct 28, 2015



Aug 27, 2015


air safety

Aug 22, 2015


The Ethiopian 787 at London Heathrow after the tail fire was suppressed

The aviation world quickly lost interest in a tail fire in a parked Ethiopian Airlines 787 at London Heathrow in 2013 when it was found to have been caused by a pinched wire in an emergency locator transmitter and not its then controversial underfloor lithium ion batteries .

However this last week’s release of the UK incident investigation by the AAIB has changed that. Continue reading “That tail fire in an Ethiopian 787 was more serious than thought”