Archive For June 29, 2012

Brave pilots fight Colorado fires

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Incredible aerial footage of Colorado wildfire tankers (radio chatter included). USAF National Guard C-130’s line up in positions behind the spotter aircraft.  This type of flying requires great precision. Brave crews doing dangerous work.

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Going Postal

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Most often we hear about passengers going nuts because of delays and other operational snafus.  But what happens when the flight attendant also “goes postal”? Take a look at this.

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Coach Seating and Comfort

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The use of the terms together seems an oxymoron. Passenger comfort in coach class is notoriously missing, despite the best efforts of the OEMs to design cabins that restore it.

As any passenger knows, it’s the airlines that ultimately decide the seating configuration. Interestlingly, the UK is the only country that has regulations defining the minimum size of passenger seats and the space between seats.

Boeing designed the 787 with comfortable eight abreast seating in mind and airlines immediately chose to narrow the seating and cram in nine abreast. The 777 was intended to have nine and airlines chose 10. None of this speaks to seat pitch.

Airbus, at its recent Innovation Days event spent significant time explaining how its cabin design team is offering the industry’s widest seats.

Even as Airbus touts these wider seats, reality among airlines is something different.  Researching at SeatGuru.com, we discovered that many Airbus customers do not make use of the OEM’s offerings. We included data for the 737 for comparison purposes. The following table listing seat widths on typical single aisle airplanes in service.

The highlighted cells show the most common economy seat size for each aircraft type. Airbus A320-family airplanes seem, on average, to have a slight edge in seat width.

As one considers the table above, note in the last column the number of sub types within each airplane type. Airlines have a plethora of seating layouts within each type.  The Airbus offerings may be more numerous as their cabin is wider, offering more customization as a result.

Among these airplanes, 34% of A319s, 89% of A320s, 87% of 737-700s and 83% of 737-800s have seats narrower than 18 inches.  This appears to indicate that even when Airbus offers the ability to provide passengers with higher comfort levels, airlines are less enthusiastic.

Airbus now offers a new coach seating option with two 17-inch seats and a 20-inch seat at the aisle. One would think a seat that is nearly 18% wider would be an attractive ancillary revenue opportunity for airlines. Airbus suggests the ancillary revenue could be worth over $3m NPV over 15 years.  We will see if the idea takes off. The challenge for airlines is integrating this new concept into an existing fleet.

Unfortunately, when offering the 20-inch seat (on the aisle) the other two seats go to 17-inch width. Which means that if deployed, one third of passengers get the more comfortable seat and two thirds go back to 17-inch width compared to today’s 18-inch width.  Airbus argues that offering the wider seat actually means more comfort for the other two seats as there is a sense of much less crowding. As Airbus puts it: “Providing adequate seat width for those that need it most, improves the travel experience for those sitting close by.” Of course the argument is bolstered by the fact that the 17-inch seat is what is typical on competing 737s.

In linear terms, Airbus says that a one inch seat width increase is equivalent to a 1.6 inch pitch increase.  As anyone in an economy seat can comprehend, those inches grow logarithmically more valuable with each 30 minute segment of flight length.

The 17 inch seat width dates back to the start of the jet age in the early 1960s.  How have people changed since then? Average height has not changed; American men are about 5 feet 9 inches and American women are 5 feet 4 inches.  Height speaks to seat pitch.  With respect to seat width, consider this.  Americans have grown a lot larger over the period and need that extra inch of seat width.

Results from the 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 34.2% of U.S. adults aged 20 years and over are overweight, 33.8% are obese, and 5.7% are extremely obese.  Disturbing statistics for those of us living in the United States. And probably why so many Americans find airline seats growing smaller.

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WheelTug completes 737NG tests

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Wheeltug plc announced the successful installation and test of the first in-wheel WheelTug® system in Prague on a Germania 737-700. During testing, pilots were able to push the plane back, and taxi without waiting for a tug or powering up the engines. Pilots were able to move the airplane using motors located in the nose wheel powered solely by the aircraft’s APU. WheelTug anticipates savings to be greater than current average airline per-flight profits.

The four day system test was conducted at Prague Ruzyne Airport. The system performed on all pavement types as well as wet and oil-slicked tarmac. You see a short video of the test here.

“I’m excited about seeing engineless-taxi come to aviation. It was a great honour to be the first pilot to use WheelTug on a Boeing 737,” said Germania Captain Patrick Hintzen. “In particular, there are many delays on push back and it is where the airline has the least control of aircraft. With WheelTug, we are freed from the ‘chains’ that keep us parked at the gate.”

The WheelTug is designed for rapid retrofit. In under two hours, the test system was uninstalled from the Germania 737-700 and the aircraft returned to service. WheelTug remains on target for Entry-into-Service for the 737NG and A320 families of aircraft. 215 WheelTug delivery slots have already been reserved by European, Middle East, and Asian airlines.

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CSeries Update

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This week AirInsight visited Montreal and Mirabel along with other media and analysts. The unedited videos below provide readers with some of the briefings. (more…)

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Vampires Beware – Electric Window Shades on the 787 Aren’t Dark Enough!

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The launch customer for the Boeing 787, All Nippon Airlines, has approached Boeing to fix an emerging problem with the electric dimming windows on the 787, which apparently are not dark enough for it’s passengers to sleep comfortably.  Those windows darken significantly, but are not fully opaque, and apparently the additional light entering the cabin is enough to make sleep more difficult on some flights, particularly when the angle of the rising or setting sun is aligned with the fuselage.

Of course, the large size of the windows makes them quite popular with passengers who like to look outside, but the size also brings in more light than smaller windows, requiring more effective shading.  I find the large windows quite attractive, as I typically tend to look outside at several points during a flight.

Ryosei Nomura at ANA stated “for our passengers to have good sleep, we realized that it is important to offer appropriate darkness during flights, especially for long haul.”  ANA is now considering installing traditional pull down blinds over the electric windows if Boeing can’t come up with a solution to darken them.

Boeing declined to comment on the issue, citing the proprietary nature of discussions with customers, but indicated that customer response to the larger dimmable windows has been favorable.  Airbus has included traditional shades on the A350XWB, citing the lack of opacity on the 787 windows as the reason for using “conventional” technology on their new aircraft.

ANA remains extremely happy with the 787 and currently has 7 aircraft in service.  Apart from the windows they appear to love the airplane.

Bottom line: We’re betting Boeing and its supplier PPG will find a way to crank up the darkness a bit more in the near future.  For now, make certain that you wear a sleep mask and rest easy, as the 787 is apparently a vampire free airplane.

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