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ULR flight

Sep 8, 2017

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A United 787-8, which is also uncomfortable in economy at nine across.

A somewhat unequal contest for epic flights between America and Australia has broken out with United announcing non-stops between Sydney and Houston with daily Boeing 787-9s from January 20 next year.

Houston is slightly closer to Sydney than Dallas Fort Worth, which has become very well established as a US gateway route for Qantas, which flies it daily with Airbus A380s.

There is really no contest when it comes to passenger amenity between the much larger and better appointed Qantas airliner and that of United, and as Australian Business Traveller points out, the US carrier’s flights will apparently not feature its latest premium cabin product when this new service begins.

However, despite various controversies, such as the smashing of passenger guitars, and the dragging of a paying passenger screaming off one of its jets to make way for staff to travel, the compassionate and caring US carrier commands a broad customer base in America, where flying is character building and people are big, and tough, and happy to get screwed into the ground because it’s a freedom thang. Where Qantas, despite years of high level diplomatic representations, still gets spelled with a U at times, and gets confused with koala bears in a land where some learned folk think ‘girt by sea’ Australia is actually Austria, even though it is girt between Bavaria and South Tyrol and primarily German speaking.

Qantas also adds its brand new 787-9s to the US route mix later this year, with Melbourne-Los Angeles services and its application of further Dreamliners to Melbourne-Dallas Fort Worth flights has been widely anticipated at some later stage to augment the SYD-DFW A380s.

Unless someone starts non-stop flights between Australian cities and, let’s guess, Denver or Chicago, in the next year, Dallas Fort Worth and Houston look set to be the deepest routes into the continental US until someone like Delta or United who have A350s on order decide to acquire some of the ultra long range versions of that Airbus available from late next year, and try for Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta hosts the world’s largest airport, where Delta, the world’s largest airline, has America’s largest range of domestic US connections. Delta’s Australian commercial partner Virgin Australia has been silent on the need for the big American to upstage Qantas and United with a veritable shuttle service of non-stop widebodies to Atlanta.

The jet that will fly both ways non-stop between any of New York City’s airports and Sydney with a commercially viable load hasn’t been devised, as yet, despite Qantas encouraging Airbus and Boeing to go the extra thousand miles or so since late 2005. That’s 12 years of being told to ‘get lost’ by the big jet makers. Qantas deserves an award for persistence. (And it will win through, one day.)

Airbus and Boeing really need to pay more attention to what Qantas wants, which is a few billion dollars worth of additional investment by the aircraft and jet engine makers. As a reward, Qantas might need six such jets to provide customers in Melbourne and Sydney with their own daily non-stop to the big Apple. And another half dozen to do the same for London non-stops. The big jet makers just don’t get it. They could get a Qantas order for a dozen jets with a unit development cost of a mere $US half billion each.

More seriously, United’s move may well reflect an effort to minimise any future loss of traffic should Air NZ launch Auckland-New York City non-stops and thus aggregate Australia originating traffic for such a route at a much more civilised airport than would be possible at any continental US gateway short of NYC.

alliances

Aug 31, 2017

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This Qantas gamble on Singapore looks pretty safe

A strongly positive analyst response is apparent this morning to Qantas announcing it will resume daily rotations of an A380 to London Heathrow via Singapore from next March, as well as putting the big Airbus on daily connecting flights between Melbourne and Singapore to the same timetable.

The move is seen by one financial analyst as a ‘sharp response’ to the rewed Singapore Airlines’ push to make its Changi hub even more relevant to the Australian market with upgrades to its A350 and A380 flights to this country.

The elimination of any Qantas flights through Dubai from March next year is also a huge boost to Emirates, which has previously signaled that all of its Australian services to major gateways will become A380 operated, and will continue to offer the benefits of Qantas points. Emirates is about the release details of massive upgrades to the cabins on its Airbus flagship.

It also undercuts the argument that Qantas is too Sydney centric, in that the Melbourne A380 upgrade follows the forthcoming rendering of Brisbane as an equal 787-9 capacity base to Melbourne as the airline brings its first tranche of the Dreamliners into service

Qantas group CEO Alan Joyce sees the benefit of the changes to the company as $80 million a year, over the top it seems of retaining the importance and flexibility of the current soon to expire commercial relationship with Emirates.

Most of the official Qantas statement, minus those likely to cause sugar diabetes, is reproduced below.

  • Five year extension to landmark alliance deal
  • Evolution of joint network to offer customers more choice
  • Three options to get to UK/Europe – via Dubai, Perth and Singapore
  • Capacity shifted to fast-growing Asia market
  • Changes to deliver upside to both airlines; Qantas annualised net benefit estimated at more than $80 million from FY19

Qantas and Emirates will apply to extend their cornerstone partnership for another five years[1], making changes to reflect customer demand, new aircraft technology and each airline’s respective network strengths.

These changes will deliver additional benefits to the eight million passengers who have travelled more than 65 billion kilometres on the combined network since 2013, increasing customer choice as well as frequent flyer earn and redeem opportunities.

The adjustments announced today will also deliver financial upside to both airlines, with Qantas annualised net benefit estimated at more than $80 million from FY19 onwards.

Meeting in Sydney to finalise the extension, both airlines agreed the first five years of the partnership had lived up to the promise of serving their customers better, together. Changes to the joint network are designed to reinforce this for the next five years.

KEY CHANGES

The key change will see the airlines better leveraging each other’s networks, by providing three options to Europe – via Dubai, Perth and Singapore[2].

Qantas will re-route its daily Sydney-London A380 service via Singapore rather than Dubai and upgrade its existing daily Melbourne-Singapore flight from an A330 to an A380.  As previously announced, Qantas’ existing Melbourne-Dubai-London service will be replaced with its Dreamliner service flying Melbourne-Perth-London.

A detailed summary of the changes, including effective dates, is provided at the end of this release.

Customer demand for flights between Australia and Dubai will remain well served by the 77 weekly services that Emirates operates from five cities – Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney – including seven daily A380 flights. Qantas passengers will still be able to fly on Emirates to Dubai, where they have access to over 60 onward connections on Emirates to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

CEO COMMENTARY

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the changes represent an evolution of the partnership to deliver additional benefits for customers, including the millions of frequent flyer members of both airlines.

“The first five years of the Qantas-Emirates alliance has been a great success. Emirates has given Qantas customers an unbeatable network into Europe that is still growing. We want to keep leveraging this strength and offer additional travel options on Qantas, particularly through Asia.

“Our partnership has evolved to a point where Qantas no longer needs to fly its own aircraft through Dubai, and that means we can redirect some of our A380 flying into Singapore and meet the strong demand we’re seeing in Asia.

“Improvements in aircraft technology mean the Qantas network will eventually feature a handful of direct routes between Australia and Europe, but this will never overtake the sheer number of destinations served by Emirates and that’s why Dubai will remain an important hub for our customers.”

Sir Tim Clark, President Emirates Airline, said: “The Emirates-Qantas partnership has been, and continues to be, a success story. Together we deliver choice and value to consumers, mutual benefit to both businesses, and expanded tourism and trade opportunities for the markets served by both airlines. We remain committed to the partnership.

“Emirates has worked with Qantas on these network changes. We see an opportunity to offer customers an even stronger product proposition for travel to Dubai, and onward connectivity to our extensive network in Europe, Middle East and Africa. We will announce updates in the coming weeks.”

KEY CHANGES IN EFFECT FROM MARCH 2018:

  • The choice of three hub options between Australia and UK/Europe – Dubai, Perth and Singapore.
  • From 25 March 2018, QF 1/2 A380 service will operate Sydney – London via Singapore, replacing one of the existing Sydney – Singapore A330 services. The second Sydney – Singapore daily service will continue to be operated by an A330 aircraft.
  • From 25 March 2018, one daily Qantas Melbourne – Singapore service will be upgraded from an A330 to an A380 (QF35/36), with the second three per week service increased to a daily A330 service (QF37/38).

alliances

Aug 31, 2017

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Emirates Tim Clark (left) and Alan Joyce briefly tending the bar on an EK A380

Qantas and Emirates are seeking approval to extend their powerful commercial alliance, and have called a media briefing at which to discuss this further.

This post will be replaced or augmented with details of that conference but not until the writer has an opportunity (on a different screen) to consult some other contacts.

It is likely that changes to the deployment of the A380s that Qantas operates through Dubai from Sydney to London may be canvassed.

Qantas has already decided not to continue with the Melbourne to London dailies with the big Airbus prior to the launch of 787-9 Dreamliner services from Melbourne to Los Angeles late this year, in advance of one stop London flights by the small Boeing twin-jet from Melbourne via Perth next year.

Last week Qantas said there would be further changes to its deployment of its fleet of 12 A380s on the occasion of its June 30 yearly profit results. The city focus for the QF A380s appears to include Hong Kong, where arch frenemy Cathay Pacific is vulnerable to lack of capacity.

routes

Aug 29, 2017

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Dreamliner livery detail from a Qantas image of its 787-9s

Qantas has named Brisbane as the second base for its initial tranche of eight 787-9s, hosting the four Dreamliners not already assigned to a Melbourne base.

Its group CEO, Alan Joyce, said “Each aircraft we base in Brisbane brings new jobs. One hundred and twenty of our Dreamliner cabin crew and pilots will be based in the city, with many choosing to settle in the state. A further 350 indirect jobs are expected to be created as a result.

“We’ve said that initially our Dreamliners will replace the routes that our older 747 fly but there are also new destinations we are looking at given the capability of the aircraft. A range of exciting options is on the table that will help drive tourism to the state and we look forward to making that decision in coming months.”

From Brisbane a 787-9 could fly non-stop with commercially attractive payloads to Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and numerous established or potential destinations in China and the even wider Asia hemisphere. The reference to the specific cities in North America was contained in the Qantas statement.

Qantas’s first four in its fleet of eight Dreamliners would be based in Melbourne, serving the Melbourne – Los Angeles route from December 2017 and the Melbourne – London (via Perth) route from March 2018. This is the world’s first service to link Australia directly with the UK.

Qantas will take delivery of its first Dreamliner in October 2017 with the 787-9 operating on domestic sectors for six weeks for crew training and familiarisation before its first scheduled Melbourne – Los Angeles service on 15 December 2017.

Today’s announcement adds to the growing interest of foreign carriers in building up a Brisbane presence, with Singapore Airlines recently announcing it will link Singapore with the SEQ hub three times daily with Airbus A350s this coming summer.

It also underscores the Qantas advantage over Virgin Australia, which has no spare or new capacity in sight for additional wide-body services from Queensland to overseas points.

ULR flight

Aug 27, 2017

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In everyone’s dreams, a beeline between Sydney and London

While Qantas has focused on a shortfall in ultra long range aircraft performance as blocking its quest for viable non-stop flights from Australia’s eastern cities to London, Paris and Frankfurt there is another arguably much more difficult obstacle to overcome.

It is air traffic control reform, primarily in China and the multiple organisational sensitivities that drag down the efficiency of navigation across EU skies.

The Great Circle Mapper site graphic shown at top of page displays the optimum 17,016 kilometer that could be flown between Sydney Airport and London Heathrow.

It runs right into the thick of the dysfunctional (from the airline point of view) ATC jungle over China, well before European skies are traversed. China’s air navigation issues are well discussed in technical forums, and explained by experts in such things as reflecting its defence rather than civil aviation priorities.

What non China airlines might think about the consequences of this is not of any material importance to the PRC. It’s their sky, get over it.

But it could retard an otherwise perfectly direct transit of the PRC by a future Qantas 777-9 LR or A350-900 ULR by an hour, or more, and totally trash the benefits of improved long range performance should Airbus or Boeing indulge the Australian carrier’s wishes for the necessary improvements to be available by 2022.

Between China and the prickly situations that seems to arise all too often in the patchwork air traffic control suppliers in the EU, technological advancement could be neutered by political or administrative retardation.

Not that the current state of affairs across the Middle East for flights via Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha (the home hubs for Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) is anything but a pain, compounded at times by congestion at the main Dubai airport.

But ultra long range jets approaching the end of 20 hour or longer non-stop flights from Australia need to burn prodigious amounts of fuel just to carry fuel required for mandatory reserves for diversions caused not just by inefficient air traffic control, but sudden airport closures for weather or other reasons, as well as stronger than forecast en route headwinds, and so on and so forth.

On the way, such jets will have been so heavy at takeoff that they will not be as fast for some hours, nor as high flying and thus fuel efficient, as less heavy jets with engines and airframes designed around flights seldom lasting more than 15 hours in the air.

At various times in the past, proposals to fly a radically different route from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to say London have been made.

This would involve following a NE heading up to the high arctic of Alaska and Canada, or on some days, NE Siberia and maybe even crossing over the north pole before flying down the other side of the globe to the final destination.

There are insurmountable problems with this concept. It involves in the case of a Sydney to London flight, by way of example, around an extra 1000 to 1300 kilometers and at high arctic latitudes, low velocity NE headwinds are potentially more common than useful westerly breezes.

When things turn nasty in the Arctic, as in nastier than usual, the weather paralysis visited on Europe generally comes in from the NE.

A useful set of tools for toying with routes between Australian and European cities via the North Pole (and South Pole) can be found here. The results overflying Fairbanks, Point Barrow, or points in the Yukon, are daunting.

The economics and maths involved in ultra long flight are pretty dismal at this stage. ATC and airport congestion will quite possibly keep them that way for longer than Qantas, and other airlines, and Airbus and Boeing would like.

But eventually they will be overcome.

financial results

Aug 25, 2017

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Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, delivering loads of good news today

Qantas shareholders will get a further unfranked dividend of seven cents a share, and its passengers, a upgrade of its flagship A380 cabins, and much more.

It made an underlying Profit Before Tax of  $1,401 million (the second highest in Qantas’ history) and, as reported earlier today, will make an evaluation of new ultra-long range aircraft for Qantas International with a view to non-stop flights to London and New York City from Australia’s eastern capitals.

These are among the taking points Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce will discuss shortly at a media conference, and subsequent analyst session in Sydney this morning.

  • Underlying Profit Before Tax: $1,401 million (second highest in Qantas’ history)
  • Statutory Profit Before Tax: $1,181 million
  • Statutory Earnings Per Share: 46c
  • Return On Invested Capital: 20.1%
  • Net free cash flow: $1,309 million
  • Up to $500 million shareholder return: 7 cents per share ordinary unfranked dividend, plus an on-market buyback of up to $373 million
  • $55 million for non-executive employee bonus
  • Upgrade of A380 cabins and Melbourne Domestic lounge announced
  • Evaluation of new ultra-long range aircraft for Qantas International

Qantas today reported an Underlying Profit Before Tax of $1,401 million and a Statutory Profit Before Tax of $1,181 million for the 12 months ended 30 June 2017.

The underlying result represents the second highest performance in Qantas’ 97 year history, down 8.6 per cent compared with last year’s record. It is slightly above the guidance range provided in early May this year, mainly due to strengthening of the Group’s domestic businesses. A drop in statutory profit before tax of $243 million reflects that the FY16 result included the gain on sale from the Sydney Domestic Terminal.

Overall, the FY17 performance shows the Qantas Group’s margin advantage over local and global competitors which has been underpinned by completion of its three year transformation program.

SUMMARY OF RESULT

All parts of the Qantas Group delivered strong returns in FY17.

In the domestic market, Qantas and Jetstar combined reached a record $865 million Underlying EBIT, making them again the two most profitable airlines in Australia with around 90 per cent of the total domestic profit pool.

Qantas International, which has faced high levels of capacity growth in the broader market, saw an improvement of conditions in the second half; it posted an Underlying EBIT of $327 million. Continued strength in its core markets helped the Jetstar Group deliver the second highest profit in its 13 years of operation.

Qantas Loyalty booked a record $369 million Underlying EBIT on a 4 per cent increase in revenue as it continued to diversify its earnings.

The Group met all the objectives of its financial framework, reporting a 12-month return on invested capital of 20.1 per cent.  Another $470 million in transformation benefits were delivered, completing the three year program and outperforming the $2 billion target by $125 million.

The Qantas Transformation Program has underpinned these results and enabled the Group to outperform its key domestic and international competitors.

This performance means Qantas is able to reward shareholders, recognise the hard work of its people and invest for customers.

CEO COMMENT

CEO Alan Joyce said the result marked completion of a turnaround plan that has repositioned Qantas as one of the most profitable airline groups in the world.

“Three years ago, we started an ambitious turnaround program to make the Qantas Group strong and profitable. We tackled some difficult structural issues, became a lot more efficient and kept improving customer service.

“Today’s announcements show this plan has well-and-truly paid off. It’s delivered $3.5 billion in cumulative underlying profit, record customer satisfaction and the opportunity for Qantas to grow.

“We operate in a very competitive environment, so continuous improvement is crucial. Being more efficient is part of our culture and we’re now targeting an average of $400 million in gross benefits a year.

“We have a plan to keep delivering sustainable returns well into the future. We’re investing in lounges, Wi-Fi and cabin upgrades; looking at new aircraft to evolve our network; and diversifying into new businesses like insurance and financial services.

“Our people remain central to our success, and that is why it is so pleasing that we are able to grant another bonus to around 25,000 non-executive employees to mark the successful completion of the turnaround program,” added Mr Joyce.

REWARDING OUR PEOPLE

In line with the successful completion of the $2 billion transformation program, non-executive Qantas Group employees will receive a bonus of $2,500 (or $2,000 for part time). This will apply to approximately 25,000 people ranging from pilots to cabin crew, engineers, ground staff and office workers.

This brings the total amount set aside for non-executive bonuses to more than $220 million since the start of the turnaround in 2014.

Major changes to A380 cabins and routes

Qantas has revealed considerably more about its plans for the future use of its 12 Airbus A380s than its rivals in their use in the Australian market, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

A multi-million dollar upgrade will see a change in the seat mix on the super jumbos to meet increased customer demand for premium cabins on flights to the US, Europe and Asia.

Structural changes are focused on the upper deck where 30 Economy seats will be removed and some partitions and a crew workstation rearranged to use space more effectively. This allows for an additional six Business Class and 25 Premium Economy seats, increasing the overall seat count on the aircraft by one and increasing premium seating by 27 per cent.

Other key elements of the A380 refurbishment program include:

  • Replacing Business Class Skybeds with the latest version of Qantas’ Business Suites, dubbed ‘mini First Class’ by frequent flyers. Every seat gives direct aisle access and allows better use of cabin space compared with the Skybed.
  • Installing the airline’s all new Premium Economy seat in a 2-3-2 configuration. This seat is almost 10 per cent wider than the model it replaces and will debut on the Dreamliner later this year.
  • Reconfiguring the front of the A380’s upper deck to redesign the passenger lounge to provide more room for First and Business Class customers to dine and relax.
  • Enhancing First Class, which remains in its current configuration on the lower deck. Each suite will be fully refurbished, including contoured cushioning and a larger, higher resolution entertainment screen.
  • Updating Economy with new seat cushions and improved inflight entertainment.

Work on the first A380 is expected to begin in the second quarter of calendar year 2019. All 12 aircraft will be upgraded by the end of 2020. The design integration will be managed by Airbus.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the upgrade would make sure the national carrier’s A380s retained their reputation for space and comfort on long haul flights.

“Customers love the A380. This upgrade is a major investment in putting the next generation of seats on the aircraft as well as more creature comforts to maintain its status as one of the best ways to fly,” said Mr Joyce.

“We’re seeing increased demand for Premium Economy and Business Class on the long haul routes that the A380 operates, including from people using their Qantas points to upgrade. When more travellers experience these new seats, we expect that demand will keep rising.

“Working with Airbus we’ve been able to achieve a very efficient layout on the upper deck. Using this space to increase the proportion of premium seating improves the revenue potential and the overall economics of the aircraft.

“When you combine this upgrade with the other investments we’ve been making in new aircraft and new cabins, it will give us consistency with our premium seats across the A380, A330 and incoming 787 Dreamliner,” added Mr Joyce.

Some elements of the upgrade will be rolled out later this year, including a memory foam mattress and pillow menu in First Class.

Qantas is continuing to investigate new technology to offer fast Wi-Fi on its international routes. A trial on the A380 in 2012 showed low levels of take-up due to slow connection speeds over remote areas of ocean. Fast domestic Wi-Fi  has become a reality only recently due to new technology and next generation satellites serving the Australian mainland. Qantas intends to be the first Australian airline to offer next generation Wi-Fi on international routes as it becomes available.

Qantas has also flagged its A380s will be operating more regularly on routes to Asia, with the 787 Dreamliner taking on the Melbourne-London route (via Perth) and freeing up some A380 flying time. More detail on these flying patterns will be announced shortly.

The capacity of Qantas A380s after the upgrade will be: 14 First Suites (unchanged), 70 Business Suites (up by six), 60 Premium Economy (up by 25) and 341 Economy (down by 30) for a total of 485 passengers (up by one).

ULR flight

Aug 25, 2017

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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

security

Jul 31, 2017

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London tube, July 7, 2005

While anti-terrorism procedures have already altered the way people travel, necessary responses to the alleged bomb-in-a-meat -grinder plot that led to arrests and raids in Sydney over the weekend may bring very significant long term changes to flying in Australia.

If for example, it becomes mandatory for domestic travellers to turn up at an airport two hours before the departure of a flight that is often between 50 minutes to 90 minutes long a net loss of another two to three hours out of the time it currently takes  to do a day trip to a meeting in Sydney from Melbourne might prove too big an ask for those who already have to be up at 4 am to be sure of getting to either city’s airport for a morning peak hour flight in time for a meeting or event that starts between 9-10 am.

This would be but one of the potential consequences of what may be demonstrably vital ‘improvements’ in airport security. The airlines are no doubt already acutely aware of this, and many other potential impacts.

It is difficult to image anyone thinking of going to Canberra or Sydney for the day from either city choosing to fly if four hours are going to be consumed by security requirements at the start and end of a trip that can usually be done door-to-door in three hours 30 minutes by car.

Nor does it ultimately matter how good an airport lounge may be if increased dwell time means no seats, no food, and too many people using the wi-fi at any one time. Lounges can be very good for at airport meetings, but would the airlines, or the airport owners, tolerate the costs of radically expanding them?  And not every business or government related trip can be fulfilled at a lounge anyhow.

Much can of course be done, no doubt at considerable cost, to improve security yet reduce the time taken, but anything that adds to the cost of delivering air travel will inevitably adversely impact demand. If we have learned anything from the last two decades, it is that air travel is price sensitive at both the corporate and discretionary private levels.

There is a broader concern for the securities authorities and police and response services to consider and it would be very surprising and alarming if they aren’t very much causing background concern already.

That concern is other forms of transport. Air travel seemed up until rail and bus atrocities like the July 5, 2005 attacks in London, to be the trophy target for transport terrorism attacks. But unfortunately surface transport, such as trains and ferries, are open to far worse atrocities, and this article, and for that matter, any discussion that might arise, isn’t going to outline attack scenarios for fear of imitation. Let’s just say the possibilities are appalling, and comprehensive, and airport-like processes to prevent them seem tenuous and fraught with uncertainties and improbable technical hurdles.

We’ve taken to air travel in a major way in this country. We may have to accept not only some very awkward security impositions upon it, but the dreadful vulnerability of rail, tunnels, stations, buses and bus stops, and so forth. It often seems remarkable how resilient other societies have proven in the face of terrorism, but then horrors of World War II, the insane actions of Bader Meinhof and the modern Irish ‘troubles’ and the determination of New Yorkers to continue with as ‘normal’ a life as possible in the months after 9/11 seem to have been welded into a collective culture of strength and defiance in the face of evil.

Our turn to say ‘they shall not prevail’ may be closer than we would have thought last week.

air safety

Jul 11, 2017

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ATSB Mildura Fog follow up report cover

The ATSB has just covered the Mildura fog crisis that involved Virgin Australia and Qantas 737s landing blind at the rural airport four years ago because they didn’t have enough fuel to go anywhere else, under a blanket of first class but irrelevant research.

The new research report doesn’t deal with the fact that it is permissible for domestic airliners in this country to set off on flights between cities without sufficient fuel to reach a planned alternative airport if the weather prevents them landing at their intended destination within the regulated safe minimums in terms of visibility and other conditions.

On June 18, 2013, the Qantas and Virgin flights found that they couldn’t meet those requirements because of an unforecast fog at Adelaide airport and elected to land at Mildura instead, which was within reach of their remaining fuel. However unforecast fog at Mildura saw both jets land at the country town without enough fuel to do anything else.

The upshot of various missed approaches by the jets was that the Virgin 737 eventually had to land despite considerable uncertainty as to whether it would find the runway, with the cabin prepped for a crash landing, passengers in the brace position, and calls of ‘brace, brace,brace’ from the flight attendants.

In its final report into those incidents, published last year, the ATSB said both flight crews uploaded sufficient fuel for the originally-forecast conditions in accordance with their operators’ fuel policy and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requirements.

However the ATSB failed to inquire, in breach of its obvious responsibility to do so, into the adequacy of the Australian fuel requirements for such flights. It was severely criticised by some pilots and safety analysts at the time for its gutlessness.

That administrative cowardice extends to today’s release of a study entitled The effect of  Australian aviation weather forecasts on aircraft operations: Adelaide and Mildura airports.

Today’s research release is of course first class in its compilation and execution, but structured no doubt by total coincidence,  to avoid the blindingly obvious need to examine the adequacy of the fuel rules followed by Qantas and Virgin Australia on the morning of the Mildura crisis.

The 177 page research report published today says that in relation to Adelaide and Mildura (and we dare to suggest every other jet capable airport in Australia) it is relatively more important that forecasts are retrieved at the latest possible time (before the point where a diversion is no longer possible) prior to arrival.

Will this research publication fool anyone? No. It could have been subtitled How to avoid going too far up sh*t creek when the unforecast weather threatens to close airfields you never thought you’d need to land on because you really don’t have the fuel to do anything else. Two Australian passenger jets were put in harms way by inadequate fuel rules. Had developed world standards for these been in force, both jets would have diverted to more distant airports, such as at Melbourne, or Sydney, or perhaps a more distant jet runway equipped country town than Mildura that was fog free.

PR dribble

Jun 23, 2017

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Visit the Qantas News Room to click on this video

Opinion Qantas has announced a collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre “to help develop the airline’s new approach to long haul travel ahead of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights this year.”

You can read all about this thoughtful and encouraging work here, in the detailed Qantas statement.

However you might also reflect on certain other matters, starting with the timing. The study has been announced long after Qantas revealed the configuration of the first tranche of 787-9s from Boeing, and the cabin features had been locked down.

This is peculiarly back-the-front. The logical order for reshaping the travel experience upon receipt of wonderful new shiny jets like the Boeing Dreamliner is to apply the learnings that arise to them before they are assembled, not after.

Qantas has already determined that it will follow the pack, rather than the few exceptions when it comes to 787s, by configuring the economy cabin nine across, giving it one of the smaller seats ever installed in a medium to larger and long haul capable jet since the start of the post Comet disasters jet age (which for the pedants, began in Russia in 1956, transporting dissidents like yours truly to Siberia.)

It has also, in its benevolent, far sighted and caring wisdom, decided to keep toilets for business class, premium economy and economy at what seems to be a level that flirts with heroic efforts at renal retention, or something as gross as people just shitting themselves in the aisles, on the 17.5 hours or so stage between Perth and London Heathrow starting next year, never mind 13.5 hours or so non-stop between Melbourne and Los Angeles, starting later this year.

This isn’t a criticism of the 787 family, but an observation about how everything Boeing promised, back in the previous decade, about how nice the Dreamliners would be, has been overruled by most buyers of the type in favour of packing passengers into them so hard that Amnesty International might be tempted to intervene.

Qantas is a terrific airline, and all Australians ought to feel entitled to claim some ownership of its brand value and great work it does in encouraging people to travel very long distances to visit ‘girt-by-sea.’

But surely it is important not to cripple them either, even for the time it takes to restore the circulation, and maybe buy some replacement items of clothing.

To be unusually blunt, the palaver in the press statement which I hope readers have studied in great detail seems to this writer to have a smokescreen function built in, to obscure the fact that Qantas is making it bloody difficult to endure a long 787 flight in the first instance in economy class and then talking about cooperating in arriving at solutions.

It reads like bullshit.

Over at Australian Business Traveller, the candid discussion that accompanies its coverage of the announcement, seems to agree.

cabins

Jun 11, 2017

5 comments

This looks more like a medical imaging experience than a space efficient A380 stairway

There is evidence, official **and unofficial, that Airbus is about to increase the practicable amount of seating offered in the world’s largest scheduled airliner the A380, and make it fly further or burn less fuel (or even do both.)

It is also a development not without risks as well as rewards for Airbus, and those of us who are of normal stature and less than impressed with insanely stupid moves in the airline game to jam every type of jet from any maker with seats so tight they inflict misery on passengers.

What is, in total, being offered to A380 operators, is fortunately nowhere as bad as already seen on many new or ‘refurbished’ Boeing 777s, 787 Dreamliners, Airbus A330s with 436 seats and alas, on some shiny new A350s.

This is because Airbus says it can retain a seat width of 18 inches or 45.7 cms in the relevant A380 Cabin Enablers even though one of them creates 23 rows of main deck economy class seating at 11 rather than ten across as found in all A380s in service at this time.

Study, perhaps with rising anxiety, the above linked report on the Runway Girl Network. It looks as though you may need therapy to recover from a long flight in an 11 across row in an A380 if you are, as the article illustrates, sitting beside the window at either end.

This Airbus line-in-the-seat -plan for its A380s present and future offers around 3-4 cms more hip bone space than found in reduced seat width nine across economy configurations like those in both the forthcoming full service Qantas 787s and the low fare Jetstar 787s now flying. Once you are part of a hip-bone sandwich in a row of seats, one centimetre less than the width at which contact is made is insufferable, or on a 17 hour sector like Perth-London, ‘eternally’ insufferable.

However the other A380 Cabin Enablers seem fine, and ought to change the rather lopsided way in which the comparative operational costs of flying the big Airbus compared to smaller hi tech designs like the 787, are debated.

Almost every claimed operating advantage of the 787 refers to jets jammed to the sidewalls with high density seating layouts, whereas the A380s now in service are with few exceptions, low density but high revenue in configuration, with much more space and general amenity in economy and premium cabins.

Comparing the per seat fuel burn of a 337 seat two class 787 to a 489 seat three class A380 is dumb, yet supposedly professional pilots keep popping up saying Qantas should sell all its A380s for the smaller jets, thus gifting even more market share from the Australian flag carrier to foreign carrier commercial partners or competitors. (Notwithstanding the current turmoil in the Middle East.)

The comparison between a 500 seat A380 as currently flown, and a multi-class class 787, ought to be at a seat count of around 180 for the Dreamliner, with the original classy eight across economy seats always envisaged as being standard by Boeing long before the current seat densification push took over.

That comparison, with an A380 that has the unofficially proposed new high efficiency wing tips, and improved engines, and internal layouts that yield up to 80 more seats, would be a far more realistic exercise.

Nor are the cabin enablers shown at regular intervals by Airbus in the last year the only innovations that could occur in current A380s. Some of the gossip about the Qantas remake of its A380 fleet involves new space efficient spiral staircases at either end of the big Airbus, and we already know that this year Emirates and Singapore Airlines will reveal totally new A380 cabins.

Whatever the truth about the Qantas ‘gossip’ there will be a gap between the faded glory of its current A380 business class product and that available now on its A330s and soon to be seen in the first of its 787-9s. That gap would have to be removed, and Qantas has said, it will at some stage, have all new product in its dozen biggest Airbuses.

The A380s already carry higher loads on routes where smaller jets are a waste of limited slots. They carry almost twice as many seats for the same number of pilots, as well as nearly doubling the carriage along the available air routes. Depending on the charging policy of a particular airport, using a larger than a smaller jet can also reduce navigation and handling costs per customer.

This topic seems to have a long way to run.

**Search for A380 Superjumbo May Get Even Larger With New Wings if the poorly constructed Bloomberg link overwrites itself.

routes

May 4, 2017

5 comments

Air Canada’s 787-9, beautiful from the outside, but rather compact within where you will be for 15 hours

Air Canada will have three non-stop Australia-Vancouver services over the Christmas-New Year peak leisure season at the end of this year, adding Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners on the Vancouver route four times weekly between December 3 and February 4, 2018.

The Canadian airline already has year around mostly 787 services to Vancouver from Sydney and Brisbane, in a semi-Dreamlinerathon which gathered momentum after Qantas scheduled much more comfortable 747-400s on the Sydney route more than two years ago.

Canada has surged into frame as a better value for money ski and year around holiday destination for Australia in recent years, and theoretically (since Qantas has not shown anything official about this) become a Jetstar destination at some time in the future.

It could be worth keeping an eye on the ambitions of the other Canadian flag carrier WestJet in the medium term, following its earlier decision this week to acquire 10 Dreamliners plus 10 options.

WestJet is headquartered in Calgary, the ski capital of Canada.

The possibility of two Canadian and two Australian brands divided between low cost and full service brands serving this market could firm in coming years, and Air Canada also has its Rouge leisure division with almost 50 jets in its fleet which appears hungry to find new opportunities for expansion.

The pleasure factor in the Australia-Canada non-stop market at the moment is the 747-400s that fly to Vancouver for Qantas. The 747 may be old, but it is configured with more amenable economy seats that the 787 alternative.

ULR flight

May 2, 2017

5 comments

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.

airports

Apr 26, 2017

5 comments

All A380s for Etihad at Sydney soon: Photo Seth Jaworski

We now know where the daily Melbourne-Abu Dhabi A380 will fly when Etihad changes that service to a 777 in October. It will move to Sydney, giving the harbour city double daily flights on the opulent giant airliner to Etihad’s Middle East hub for connections to dozens of flights, some also flown by A380s, to cities in Europe and the UK.

The changeover, from October 29, comes as a jolt for Melbournian fans of the flight in what has to be the best appointed A380 in any airline’s service today (although new Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qantas remakes of their A380s have been flagged.)

On current indications, the changing of Sydney to Abu Dhabi flights to an all A380 schedule will coincide with unofficial reports that Singapore Airlines will launch its new A380 product, in the first of a tranche of five new deliveries of the big Airbus, on the Sydney-Singapore route in the same month.

Etihad flies twice daily to Abu Dhabi from Sydney, and is a major competitor on the Australia-Europe market with Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates, as well as a co-equity holder in Virgin Australia with the Singaporean carrier.

From the end of October it appears that travellers between Sydney and London (or connections at major hubs en route) will therefore have a daily choice between as many as eight or nine A380s a day. Two with Etihad, three with Emirates, one with Qantas, one or two with Singapore Airlines, and seasonally, a possible return of a daily flight with Qatar Airways.

With a shortage of slots at London Heathrow and (so far) continued growth on long haul routes to Asia and the ME as well as EU and UK, operating those routes with smaller jets means the airlines would have to leave large numbers of customers behind. Or have them  diverted to other airlines like Cathay Pacific, where their business focus may be preoccupied with trying to get enough seats for centres like Hong Kong, where home airport congestion is further complicated by slot shortages at Sydney.

It’s these Sydney and London airport issues that explain the sudden focus on A380s by the key players on the Australia-London and Europe routes, and not anything inherently wrong with the Melbourne market.  Melbourne’s main airport has plenty of upside potential, assuming the owners get cracking on ensuring an additional runway and further terminal expansions occur in a timely manner.

In a statement Etihad said:

The announcement comes as Etihad Airways marks the 10th anniversary of flying to Sydney, its first Australian destination.

Featuring the carrier’s revolutionary The Residence – the world’s first three-room suite on a commercial airliner – the additional deployment of the 496-seat double decker aircraft means one of Australia’s largest cities will join London and New York as an all-A380 operation.

Business and leisure travellers to and from Abu Dhabi, the airline’s operational hub, will enjoy increased capacity, and the airline will meet the growing demand from the UAE and connecting cities across the Gulf region, the Middle East and Europe.

The Sydney – London Heathrow route, via Abu Dhabi, will also offer guests the consistency, convenience and comfort of a seamless all A380 service in both directions. All three daily London Heathrow flights are operated with an A380. Beginning June 1, the second daily New York service will be upgraded to the superjumbo.

Introduced on the Sydney route two years ago, the A380 accommodates up to two guests in The Residence, which features a living room, bedroom and shower, together with nine First Apartments, 70 Business Studios and 415 Economy Smart Seats.
Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways Chief Executive Officer, said: “Sydney is one of our busiest and best performing long-haul routes where we have experienced increased demand, particularly in our premium cabins, since the launch 10 years ago.

air safety

Apr 13, 2017

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A Qantas 747-400 leaving Sydney airport.

The Australian air safety investigator the ATSB is sparing in its use of the term ‘serious incident’ which it has applied to the apparent control and turbulence issues that coincided with minor injuries to 15 Qantas passengers in a 747-400 approaching Hong Kong airport last Friday, April 7.

The ATSB has in the past said a ‘serious incident’ was one which had the potential to cause a crash.

That makes this inquiry of the highest importance, but it doesn’t permit premature conclusions to be drawn from the small amount of publicly available information, as carried by various media reports like this.

The fact that the stick shaker warning was activated is an indication that the 747-400 was in a situation where a further decline in its airspeed would put it at risk of a stall.

On the other hand stick shaker warnings are designed to alert pilots to the impending risk of such an event. They do not go off at the very final moment, but at a moment when prompt action will remedy the situation.

There is no suggestion that the Qantas pilots didn’t promptly and professionally respond to the warning and deal with it as effectively as possible. The paucity of information available doesn’t give an insight into whether all of the related systems on the jet were functioning properly, or that the warning was ‘real’, or that the turbulence experienced in the jet was in fact directly related to the onset of low speed buffeting in the airframe.

In short, there is no reason at this stage to jump to conclusions about the answers to what are important questions.

What can be highlighted is that air traffic vectoring on approach to Hong Kong airport is notably complex and naturally prone to turbulence because of a combination of the constraints of surrounding PRC air space management, and disturbances that can be caused by the uneven terrain that is flown over.

A fact based insight into the conditions that prevailed when this incident occurred can be found in this Aviation Herald report.

As this extract makes clear, this was a very bumpy ride.

Data off the ADS-B capable transponder of the aircraft suggest the aircraft was descending to enter the hold at about 340 knots over ground on a track of 315 degrees, when descending through FL229 at 17:47L (09:47Z) the speed decayed to 290 knots over ground still on a track of 315 degrees before increasing to above 400 knots over ground in altitude fluctuations between FL214 and FL230 before levelling off at FL220 at 390 knots over ground subsequently reducing to 340 knots over ground.

ULR flight

Apr 9, 2017

5 comments

The largest version of the A350 now being readied for service

A remarkable breakthrough in the seemingly eternal quest for an airliner that could fly a commercially viable payload non-stop between Sydney or Melbourne and London was reported by Reuters this week, but hardly caused a ripple!

The World of news stories was of course, distracted out of its collective mind by other non-air transport developments.

The Reuters report does however merit very close attention. It has as it indicates caused more than a little excitement in Qantas, which has lusted after such an airliner since before 1989, when it flew a non-viable payload nonstop from London to Sydney in its very first Boeing 747-400.

The nitty gritty of the report is that Airbus says its forthcoming A350-900 ULR or Ultra Long Range twin engine widebody will be capable fairly soon of flying from Australia’s two major cities non-stop to London (which is much harder than from London).

However, the -900 sized A350, which is already flying despite being hostage to incompetent seat manufacturers, and over less epic distances, isn’t as big in plausible ULR capacity as Qantas wants. Nor is the Boeing 777-8, which will be its natural competitor, as it too seems to incorporate the potential for such missions.

Qantas wants the jet in a multi-class 300 passenger format, which given the pressure on available airport slots at both ends of the routes in question is not unreasonable.

But neither Airbus nor Boeing are betraying more than a flicker of polite and ephemeral interest in what Qantas actually wants to do on those routes, or even with non-stops to New York, because they amount to almost nothing when it comes to the overall demand for medium to large long distance jets which don’t need to fly to such extreme lengths.

If you want to kill the economic attractions of a new technology Airbus or Boeing wide-body to 99.9 percent of the market, you burden it with an airframe and other features that all but 0.1 percent of the market would find useless.

In this respect the Airbus plans for the A350 in coming, and potential, ULR formats are more than intriguing. Its shtick is that from 2019 all A350-900s will have the inbuilt potential to be upgraded into A350-900 URLs, thus solving the problem of producing a version of the jet almost nobody wants.

But by then it will also, seat makers permitting, be delivering to clamoring customers the second and larger version of the A350, the -1000, which is closer to, but not close enough to, the size Qantas actually wants for non-stop ultra long range flights, working on the assumption that this larger A350 will also get the ULR treatment fairly soon.

This doesn’t change the impetus of ULR development. It is clear that Qantas will get what it wants from one or both jet makers, provided the world hasn’t gone mad, and the demand for such flights stubbornly refuses to eventuate.

There are some operational issues to overcome in such long duration non-stop flights.

They will require the sacrifice of much more space that might otherwise have been used for passengers for additional pilots, and additional cabin crew. These professionals can’t safely carry out their duties without very careful management of rest periods, and what worked for Singapore Airlines non-stops of sometimes 19 hours duration to and from Newark in A340-500s won’t work for a flight that could readily take every minute as long as current one-stop flights between SE Australia and London via Dubai or Abu Dhabi or Doha.

The idea that such flights could be done three hours faster than one-stop flights today is unfortunately unrealistic. The flights will begin at lower speeds and initial altitudes than those that go non-stop from Sydney to Dallas or Dubai today, and their flight corridor planning will be intensively based on finding the most favorable higher altitude winds, and the least costly over flight navigation charges.

It can be very costly for airlines to use the air space over certain countries, if by flying a little less directly, they will encounter lower navigation charges. Flight planning divisions may need to change the routes selected for specific flights more than once in the 24 hours prior to departure.

The interior of the jets used will also have to be notably more generous in providing toilets than some of the highly questionable cabin formats being seen or proposed on some lesser distance routes today.

These inconvenient truths will tax the attention span of those airlines that seem to regard the normal functioning of the human body in confined spaces as something that can be degraded for the sake of improved cost metrics.

Unless Qantas changes its ways, that flying kangaroo logo may need to be adjusted to one with tightly crossed legs.

cabins

Apr 5, 2017

5 comments

Virgin is going to be hard to beat on MEL-LAX flights

The return of Virgin Australia’s 777-300ERs to the Melbourne to Los Angeles route this week sets up a strong contest with Qantas A380s (and arguably a no contest with any QF 744s) on the route pending its augmenting its capacity with brand new 787-9 Dreamliners much later this year.

This time around there is a new factor in play with the replacement of the Virgin Australia long haul business class product with something superior in every respect to the ‘old’ Qantas A380 biz class product at least in terms of physical dimensions and features.

Virgin Australia has thrown everything at its return to the route, even though it will offer in total much less capacity than the other Australian flag carrier on the route, which can take between 13.5 and 15.25 hours to cover gate-to-gate depending on the conditions at cruising altitudes irrespective of what type of jet does the flying.

Some of the differences between the Virgin 777s and Qantas A380s would rate as lesser or greater priorities for various passengers. In fact setting up a true contest between statistically significant numbers of flyers and involving steps to minimize conscious and unconscious biases would cost millions of dollars and almost certainly produce a result that at least half of available market for the services would ignore if they didn’t agree with the conclusions.

As a result any media battle to score a win by either side will not command any respect either. It would be as silly as relying on a Skytrax survey to determine how you spent thousands of dollars.

Time for some opinionated disclosure! This reporter will on aircraft type alone always prefer an A380 to a 777, and favour a 777 over any A330, and opt for an A350 over any 777, A330 or 787. But this contest for Melbourne-Los Angeles, at least until the QF 787s arrive, and the QF A380s are refurbished with all new flagship product defies that sort of outrageously facile analysis.

The 777 may be a much noisier jet inside than any of the other types mentioned, but in the Virgin Australia format the reduced risk of renal crisis waiting to use a relatively scarce toilet on the Qantas jets (for the most part) outweighs the inconvenience of using a noise cancelling headset. On the Qantas A380, a business class passenger seated beside the window has to clamber across the adjacent flyer seated on an aisle. This was unacceptable when the A380 was ordered with this product, and totally out of the question in 2017.

On the VA 777 I have a reasonably sized bar at which to indulge in conversation with others if in business class, and if in premium economy I get a roomier seat and in most instances, one with more legroom, than Qantas offers for the same class of cabin on its A380s, surviving 744s, and forthcoming 787-9s.

Virgin has also retained the classic nine across format for normal economy in its 777-300ERs, which is for this particular traveller, a huge plus factor.

At this moment, in this one person’s opinion, Virgin Australia has deployed a 777-300ER on the MEL-LAX route that will on its amenities, see off the Qantas A380, and in key comfort metrics, the pending deployment of 787-9s.

But nothing stays the same for long in healthy product competition. Within a few years everything could prove to be completely different to how things are today.

air safety

Mar 22, 2017

5 comments

File photo Lithium-ion fire UPS cargo plane

The risk that the Trump bans on larger electronic devices on selected airlines and from specified airports could kill planeloads of passengers now confront many carriers, but they don’t appear likely to directly affect Australian carriers.

The Australian government has just indicated it is not contemplating such bans for Qantas or Virgin Australia flights. The UK government has implemented similar but less extensive bans. At this early stage there is no sign that it would affect the Qantas flights to London that transit Dubai, but Qantas will clarify that situation if necessary.

The prime target of the bans appears to be the main Middle East hubs of Dubai (Emirates) Abu Dhabi (Etihad) and Doha (Qatar Airways) and their national carriers in terms of flights into the US.

What are the technical risks with the selective US and more recent UK bans on laptop use in cabins? Lithium-ion powered laptops and tablets can spontaneously ignite and burn fiercely.

If this happens inside a cabin the fires and fumes can be suppressed by flight attendants trained to isolate and quench such blazes.

There are many such incidents reported in recent years on safety databases, some of which could otherwise have ended in heavy loss of life.

In a cargo hold, despite the installed fire suppression systems, such successful intervention is problematical.

Uncontrolled lithium battery fires are already implicated or identified as the prime cause of cargo flight disasters.

This is the crux of the disbelief and bafflement of many airlines and safety authorities over the Trump policy, and the UK’s hasty ‘me too’ response.

Airlines already prohibit the carriage of passenger devices powered by lithium-ion batteries in checked baggage for this reason.

Why do the US and now UK bans directly contradict and undo life saving safety measures?

This analysis in the Washington Post says the bans have nothing to do with safety or anti-terrorism measures, but are a blatant attempt to injure Middle East carriers, starting with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

If so that comes with the risks of those airlines retaliating against Boeing. They hold the large majority of orders for the forthcoming Boeing 777-X family, and include the world’s largest customer for current model 777s in Emirates, and Etihad and Qatar are also large-scale users of 787 Dreamliners.

These bans may well prove to be a case of playing with fire, and with unintended consequences.