An Airbus A380 hits 2 Light Poles at LAX while carrying Fewer Passengers than a Smaller Boeing 777 can Carry

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2014

Week in Review

The Boeing 747 ruled the long-haul routes for decades.  Because of its range.  And its size.  With it being able to carry so many passengers the cost per passenger fell.  Allowing it to offer ticket prices at prices people could afford while still making airlines a decent profit.  Airbus took on the Boeing 747.  And produced the mammoth A380.  A double-decker aircraft that can carry around 555 in three classes.  But this plane is big.  With a wingspan greater than the 747.  Not to mention special boarding requirements to load and unload its two decks.  But this extra large size couldn’t board at any run-of-the-mill 747 gate.  It needed a wider parking place.  Double-decker boarding gates.  As well as wider taxiways (see Korean Air A380 Hits 2 Light Poles At LA Airport by Tami Abdollah, AP, posted 4/17/2014 on Time).

A Korean Air A380 superjumbo jet hit two light poles while taxiing to its gate at a remote end of Los Angeles International Airport with hundreds of passengers aboard.

Airline spokeswoman Penny Pfaelzer says the flight arrived from Seoul Wednesday afternoon with 384 people aboard. She says an airport operations vehicle guided the jet onto a taxiway that wasn’t wide enough…

The A380 is the world’s largest commercial airliner, carrying passengers in a double-deck configuration. It has a wingspan of nearly 262 feet.

The search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is important.  Because Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was a Boeing 777.  One of the most popular long-range, wide-body aircraft flying today.  So if there is a mechanical defect every airline flying that plane would want to know.

Because of the cost of fuel airlines prefer 2-engine jets over 4-engine jets.  Which is why they like the 777 so much.  The 777-300ER can take 386 passengers in three classes 9,128 miles.  On only 2 engines.  Whereas the Airbus A380 can take 555 passengers in three classes 9,755 miles.  But on 4 engines.  Burning close to twice the fuel a 777 burns.  So the A380 can out fly the 777.  But at much higher fuel costs.  And with greater restrictions.  As the 777 can fit most any gate and taxiway at any airport.  Unlike the A380.  So is that extra passenger capacity worth it?  It is.  As long as you can fill the seats.  In this case, though, the A380 flew the approximately 6,000 miles from South Korea to Los Angeles with only 384 people aboard.  Something the Boeing 777-300ER could have done on half the engines.  And about half the fuel cost.

This is why the Boeing 777 is one of the most popular long-range, wide-body aircraft flying today.  Because it allows airlines to offer tickets at prices the people can afford while allowing the airlines a handsome profit.  And it has an incredible safety record.  Unless Malaysian Flight 370 changes that.  Which is why it is so important to find that plane and determine what happen.  As there are so many of these flying today.


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Thrust, Drag, Lift, Weight, Concorde, Center of Pressure, Center of Gravity, Boeing 747, Slats and Flaps

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 16th, 2013

Technology 101

The Drawback to increasing Thrust and Lift with more Powerful Engines is the Weight of Greater Fuel Loads

To get an airplane off of the ground requires two things.  To produce thrust that is greater than drag.  And to produce lift that is greater than weight.  You do this and you’ll get any airplane off of the ground.  Of course, getting these two things is not the easiest thing to do.  Primarily because of the purpose of airplanes.  To move people and freight.  People and freight add weight.  Which increases the amount of lift needed.  And they make the plane bigger.  A bigger object displaces more air increasing drag.  And thus requiring more thrust.

Engines provide thrust.  And wings provide lift.  So the obvious solution to overcome greater drag is to produce greater thrust.  And the solution to overcome greater weight is to produce greater lift.  And we do both with fuel.  Greater amounts of fuel can power bigger engines that can produce more thrust.  And larger wings can produce greater lift.  But larger wings also produce more drag.  Requiring additional thrust.  And fuel.  Or, we can produce greater lift by moving air over the wings faster.  Also requiring additional thrust.  And fuel.

Of course, the obvious drawback to increasing both thrust and lift is the added weight of the fuel.  The more fuel carried the more weight lift has to overcome.  Requiring more powerful engines.  Or bigger wings.  Both of which require more fuel.  This is why our first planes were small by today’s standards.  The thrust of a propeller engine could not produce enough thrust to travel at high speeds.  Or operate at high altitudes.  And the first wings were relatively fixed.  Having the same surface area to produce lift at takeoffs and landings.  As well as at cruising altitudes.  Big wings that allowed the lifting of heavier weights produced a lot of drag.  Requiring more fuel to overcome that drag.  And the added weight of that fuel limited the number of people and freight they could carry.  Or they could trade off that fuel for more revenue weight.  The smaller fuel load, of course, reduced flying times.  Requiring an additional takeoff and landing or two to refuel.

A Wing that produces sufficient Lift at 600 MPH does not produce sufficient Lift at Takeoff and Landing Speeds

The supersonic Concorde was basically a flying gas can.  It was more missile than plane.  To travel at those great speeds required a very small cross section to reduce drag.  Limiting the Concorde to about 100 revenue paying passengers.  Its delta wing performed well at supersonic flight but required a drooping nose so the pilot could see over it to land and takeoff due to the extreme nose pitched up attitude.  As Concorde approached supersonic speeds the center of pressure moved aft.  Placing the center of gravity forward of the center of pressure.  Causing the nose to pitch down.  You correct this with trim controls on slower flying aircraft.  But using this on Concorde would create additional drag.  So they trimmed Concorde by pumping the remaining fuel to other fuel tanks to move the center of gravity to the center of pressure.

They designed Concorde to fly fast.  Which came at a cost.  They can only carry 100 revenue paying passengers.  So they can only divide the fuel cost between those 100 passengers.  Whereas a Boeing 747 could seat anywhere around 500 passengers.  Which meant you could charge less per passenger ticket while still earning more revenue than on Concorde.  Which is why the Boeing 747 ruled the skies for decades.  While Concorde flies no more.  And the only serious competition for the Boeing 747 is the Airbus A380.  Which can carry even more revenue paying passengers.  How do they do this?  To fly greater amount of people and freight than both piston-engine and supersonic aircraft?  While being more profitable than both?  By making compromises between thrust and drag.  And lift and weight.

Jet engines can produce more thrust than piston engines.  And can operate at higher altitudes.  Allowing aircraft to take advantage of thinner air to produce less drag.  Achieving speeds approaching 600 mph.  Not Concorde speeds.  But faster than every other mode of travel.  To travel at those speeds, though, requires a cleaner wing.  Something closer to Concorde than, say, a DC-3.  Something thinner and flatter than earlier wings.  But a wing that produces lift at 600 mph does not produce enough lift at takeoff and landing speeds.

Planes need more Runway on Hot and Humid Days than they do on Cool and Dry Days

The other big development in air travel (the first being the jet engine) are wings that can change shape.  Wings you can configure to have more surface area and a greater curve for low-speed flying (greater lift but greater drag).  And configure to have less surface area and a lesser curve for high-speed flying (less lift but less drag).  We do this with leading-edge slats (wing extensions at the leading edge of the wing).  And trailing-edge flaps (wing extensions at the trailing edge of the wing).  When fully extended they increase the surface area of the wing.  And add curvature at the leading and trailing edge of the wing.  Creating the maximum amount of lift.  As well as the greatest amount of drag.  Allowing a wing to produce sufficient lift at takeoff speeds (about 200 mph).  Once airborne the plane continues to increase its speed.  As it does they retract the slats and flaps.  As the wing can produce sufficient lift at higher speeds without the slats and flaps extended.

But there are limits to what powerful jet engines and slats/flaps can do.  A wing produces lift by having a high pressure under the wing pushing up.  And a low pressure on top of the wing pulling it up.  The amount of air passing over/under the wing determines the amount of lift.  As does the density of that air.  The more dense the air the more lift.  The thinner the air the less lift.  Which is why planes need less runway on a cold winter’s day than on a hot and humid summer’s day.  If you watch a weather report you’ll notice that clear days are associated with a high pressure.  And storms are associated with a low pressure.  When a storm approaches meteorologists will note the barometer is falling.  Meaning the air is getting thinner.  When the air is thinner there are fewer air molecules to pass over the wing surface.  Which is why planes need more runway on hot and humid days.  To travel faster to produce the same amount of lift they can get at slower speeds on days cooler and dryer.

For the same reason planes taking off at higher elevations need more runway than they do at lower elevations.  Either that or they will have to reduce takeoff weight.  They don’t throw people or their baggage off of the airplane.  They just reduce the fuel load.  Of course, by reducing the fuel load a plane will not be able to reach its destination without landing and refueling.  Increasing costs (airport and fuel expenses for an additional takeoff and landing).  And increasing flying time.  Which hurts the economics of flying a plane like a Boeing 747.  A plane that can transport a lot of people over great distances at a low per-person cost.  Adding an additional takeoff and landing for refueling adds a lot of cost.  Reducing the profitability of that flight.  Not as bad as a normal Concorde flight.  But not as good as a normal Boeing 747 flight.


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GE Engine Failures on Boeing’s Newest Aircraft cause Rapid Response and Fix from GE

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

Week in Review

Airbus built the A380 to compete against the Boeing 747.  In fact, there is a great competition between Airbus and Boeing.  Each even claiming that the other’s government is unfairly subsidizing the other company.  Which is a big deal because Boeing is a large part of total US exports.  Airbus has taken a lot of their business, though.  So they are very protective of their remaining market share.  And will take aggressive action whenever a problem arises that can affect their market share or their profits (see NTSB Urges Action After Engine Failures in New Boeing 787, 747 Airliners by Jason Paur posted 9/17/2012 on Wired).

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending inspections for all new Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft with General Electric engines. The NTSB made the recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration after two of GE’s newest engines experienced failures in the past few months. Three separate incidents all point to a similar cause for the failures in the engines.

“The parties to our investigation – the FAA, GE and Boeing – have taken many important steps and additional efforts are in progress to ensure that the fleet is inspected properly,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement on Friday. “We are issuing this recommendation today because of the potential for multiple engine failures on a single aircraft and the urgent need for the FAA to act immediately…”

According to the NTSB, GE has developed an ultrasonic inspection method for the fan midshaft that can be used while the engine is still on the airplane. All of the GEnx-1B engines used on 787 Dreamliners as well as spare engines have been inspected. All of the GEnx-2B engines on passenger versions of the 747-8 have also been inspected. There are more than 40 General Electric engines on freighter versions of the new jumbo jet that still await engine inspections and are expected to be completed this week.

The engine maker believes it has found the cause of the cracks and has changed the way the shafts are coated during the manufacturing and assembly process…

Did GE respond like this just because of the NTSB?  No.  They have a vested interest in their engines not failing.  For if they have a reputation of providing bad engines their customers will go someplace else.  Or the flying public will refuse to get on any plane with GE engines.  That’s why GE scrambled to fix this problem.  Because hiding it would have been a bigger hit on profitability.  This is the free market in action.  The market demanded fuel efficient and reliable engines.  Which GE delivered.  And when there was a problem GE responded quickly.  To protect the bottom line.  And their biggest customer.  Who could take their business elsewhere if GE costs them any market share.  For they are not the only engine supplier out there.

Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner can be ordered with either the General Electric or Rolls-Royce engines. Both of the new engines are responsible for a significant portion of the fuel efficiency improvements of the new airplane. And the Rolls-Royce engines haven’t been trouble free. Earlier in the summer the launch customer fo[r] the 787, All Nippon Airways, temporarily grounded its fleet of Dreamliners after premature corrosion was found in the gearboxes of the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines.

If this was a government manufacturer you would not have seen such quick action.  Why?  Because if there was a government monopoly for those engines where else could the aircraft manufacturers go?  The NTSB would have grounded all planes.  But there would not have been any urgency in resolving this problem.  As there was no potential for lost profits.  Which there was for GE.  Especially with a competitor in the wings just waiting to take their customers.

Government regulations don’t make aircraft safe.  The fear of losing profits on unsafe planes does.  Which is why people would much rather fly in a Boeing airplane rather than a plane produced under the command economy of the Soviet Union.  For back in the Seventies and Eighties the chances of a plane falling out of the sky were greater with a Soviet-built plane than with a private sector-built Boeing.  It’s the profits earned on safe airplanes that do the most to keep them from falling out of the sky.  Not bloated government bureaucracy.


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What the Big Planes can teach us about Free Market Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 20th, 2011

The Big Planes are Nimble in the Sky but Clumsy and Dangerous on the Ground

In airplane parlance, the Boeing 747 is a big-ass plane.  And the Airbus A380 is an even bigger-ass plane.  Too big some say.  Like a lot of airport administrators.  With a full-length upper deck, boarding requires a two-story passenger boarding bridge (PBB).  Something no airport had prior to the A380.  The 747 has a smaller upper deck and passengers get there by a set of stairs inside the plane.  Which allows the 747 to fit any wide-body gate.  Not the case with the A380.

The A380 also has something the 747 doesn’t.  The world’s longest wingspan on a commercial passenger jet.  The A380 is big.  And heavy.  It takes for big turbofan jet engines and lots of wing area to heft that incredible bulk into the air.  This causes an even bigger problem than the 2-story PBB.  Because it’s not easy to widen taxiways or runways.  Or move buildings and other infrastructure out of the way.  Which makes them a hazard when taxiing.  Which is when a plane is most vulnerable.  And dangerous.  More accidents happen while taxiing than flying.  Even the greatest aviation disaster of all time occurred on the ground.  When a KLM 747 on its takeoff roll crashed into a taxiing Pan Am 747 at Tenerife.  Killing 583 passengers.

So airport people are nervous about planes driving around their airports.  Especially the big ones.  With long wingspans.  Because things like this can happen (see Not again! World’s biggest airliner loses wingtip after striking building at Paris Air Show – two months after doing the same thing in New York by Daily Mail Reporter posted 6/20/2011 on the Daily Mail).

An Airbus 380 lost its wingtip in a taxiing collision with a building, just two months after another superjumbo was grounded for striking a private jet in New York.

The A380 superjumbo was grounded after the smash at slow-speed at the Le Bourget airport, where the Paris Air Show is taking place.

The collision mirrored an incident at JFK airport earlier this year when a private jet was spun round after it was hit by the wing of an A380.

And someone caught that JFK accident and posted it to YouTube.

The big planes soar majestically through the skies.  But they’re clumsy as an ox on the ground.  And dangerous.  But they’re also something else.  Profitable.  Because the more people you can put into a plane the lower your per-passenger costs are and the greater your profits can be.

Big Dollars and thin Margins

‘Can’ being the operative word.  Because it takes a lot of money to make money in the airline business.  Because airplanes are very expensive.  And the business is ultra sensitive to oil prices and recessions (see Aircraft Makers Not Put Off by Excess Capacity by Daniel Solon posted 6/20/2011 on The New York Times).

The carriers are being squeezed between high oil prices — expected to average $110 per barrel this year, against $96 in 2010 — and an overly rapid expansion of capacity relative to demand. Global airline capacity this year is slated to rise by 5.8 percent, while demand is expected to expand by only 4.7 percent.

“But with a dismal 0.7 percent margin, there is little buffer left against further shocks,” I.A.T.A.’s director general, Giovanni Bisignani, said at the annual meeting, referring to the $4 billion profit on projected revenue of $598 billion.

Despite these paper-thin margins some still have confidence in the air transportation industry.  And they’re making big bets.  Some 33,500 in all.

Looking ahead over the next 20 years, Mr. [James] Albaugh [chief executive of Boeing’s commercial airplane unit] forecast global demand for 33,500 new commercial aircraft, worth nearly $4 trillion, of which $1.7 trillion worth would be in the 100- to 200-passenger 737/A320 size range.

That’s a lot of money.  $4 trillion dollars.  It’s bigger than the annual GDP of Germany, France and the UK.  And every other country except the U.S., Japan and China.  It’s more than the sum total of all economic activity in most countries.  But for Boeing it’s just a sales projection.  Incredible.  How do they do it?  How do they do business in a world with such large numbers and such large risks?  Do they get special help from the government?  No.  They have a simpler business model.  They try to deliver what their customers want better than their competitors do.

Airline mergers — like United with Continental, Delta with Northwest, Air France with KLM and British Airways with Iberia — mean that fewer decision makers will be controlling larger purchases as the combined fleets are renewed or expanded. This has major potential consequences for both the large manufacturers in cases where the existing fleets include both Boeing (Continental, British Airways) and Airbus (United, Northwest and Iberia) planes.

Near-term, this may offer Airbus an edge in orders for its A320 New Engine Option, or A320neo, which could cut average fuel consumption immediately while allowing airline managers more time to evaluate the eventual Boeing response. At mid-June, A320 new orders totaled 362, with Airbus’s sales and marketing chief John Leahy targeting 500 by the end of the air show.

On the sidelines of a recent meeting of the chief executives of Star Alliance airlines, Harry Hohmeister, chairman and director general of Swiss, said the flexibility of engine choice offered by Airbus, between Pratt & Whitney’s 1100B and CFM International’s Leap-X, made it easier for him to opt for the A320 neo.

It’s a very complex industry.  Each part of it has its own concerns.  But no one is managing the overall industry.  The market is.  Airlines want to buy planes that cut operating costs.  So they can sell tickets at prices passengers can afford.  Manufacturers want to sell planes.  So they try to make planes that cut operating costs.  Each does their own part.  In response to market forces.  This is Adam Smith‘s invisible hand.  Everybody working independently to maximize their own interests.  And this benefits everyone in the aggregate.  Because planes with low operating costs are brought to market so airlines can buy them in turn allowing them to sell tickets that passengers can afford.

Surely, you ask, wouldn’t it be more efficient if one entity did all this coordinating?  Wouldn’t it improve market efficiencies?  Reduce redundancies?  Make sure we use resources to maximize their value?  To have someone tell the manufactures what to build.  Someone to tell the airlines what to buy?  So the passengers get the lowest possible price?  Actually, it’s been tried. 

The Soviet Economy Collapsed because of too much Government

And it doesn’t work.  And never has worked.  Nor will it ever work.  Because one person or entity cannot be smarter than the millions of decision makers working to maximize their own interests.  Because a business prospers when it sells.  But to sell someone must buy.  Hence a business does best when it best pleases a buyer.  And that’s something a bureaucrat just can’t do.  For if he or she could, the Soviet Union would still be here.  And her GDP would be greater than the U.S., Japan, China, Germany, the U.K., France and every other nation on the planet. 

Well, the Soviet Union is no more.  Many probably don’t even remember the Cold War or the war between capitalism and communism.  (For those of you who don’t, capitalism won.)  Boris Yeltsin‘s right-hand man recounts the events of August 1991, the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union in Foreign Policy.  Key to her collapse was the state-managed economy (see Meltdown by Gennady Burbulis and Michele A. Berdy posted 6/20/2011 on Foreign Policy).

For months we had half-expected something like this. By the summer of 1991, the Soviet Union was falling apart at the seams. The economy was imploding, the deficit was ballooning, hard currency and gold reserves had been decimated, and Gorbachev’s stopgap reforms had only exacerbated the crisis…

…Yeltsin and the other democratic candidates had been elected to the Russian parliament in 1990 with the goal of securing more legally protected rights and freedoms, as well as a market economy, and Yeltsin had been elected president of Russia in June 1991 with almost 60 percent of the vote. But while we were secure in our popular mandate, we were utterly powerless to deal with the greatest threat to Russia: economic collapse. More than 93 percent of the economy, by our estimation, was controlled by the Soviet government. Yeltsin and those of us in his circle of closest associates soon came to believe that unless we were to content ourselves with being nothing more than a ceremonial body, we had to change the legal and economic bases of the union itself.

The government controlled 93% of the economy.  And it was falling apart at the seams.  Because bureaucrats are bad businessmen.  As demonstrated in the Soviet Union.  However, bureaucrats are good at something.  Being a bureaucrat.  And maintaining power.  The Soviet communists resisted the market reforms.  In fact, that August, the old hard-line communists effected a coup d’état.  To resist the Westernization of their country.  To hold on to their power.  At the expense of a suffering citizenry.  But Boris Yeltsin prevailed.  And the Soviet Union is no more.

Of course, it was not an easy road.  The rule of law did not quite catch up to the market reforms.  So there was a lot of corruption.  And crony capitalism.  Which is something that China saw.  And they are being very careful with their market reforms to avoid a similar fate.  But China, too, is rife with corruption and crony capitalism.  But these two nations are shaking off their communist lethargy and are becoming serious competitors in the global economy.  And China will soon be building commercial aircraft to compete against Boeing and Airbus.

Free Market Capitalism provides the Path to Success

Aircraft manufacturers are doing big and bold things.  Because they can.  By providing what the market wants.  It can do this despite the huge dollars involved.  And they don’t need any help from the government telling them what they need to build.  Or buy.

Government is full of bureaucrats who don’t know the first thing about business.  In fact, their involvement only hurts business.  Case in point:  the Soviet Union.  But that doesn’t stop bureaucrats from sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong.  Especially in the aviation industry.  They see all that money.  And they want a piece of it to bail out their budget deficits.  The latest scheme by the Europeans is to tax carbon emissions in an Emissions Trading Scheme.  Not only are they going to tax themselves, but they’re going to tax any airline flying into the EU for their carbon emissions.  Some are concerned that this may result in a trade war.  Probably because it will.  But that’s government.  They want the money first.  Then they’ll consider the economic damage their policies cause.

One has to marvel when looking at a 747 or an A380.  Incredible examples of what private enterprise can do.  One can only imagine what other great things people could do if they didn’t have to spend so much time and money fighting their governments.  And we can only scratch our heads when we see emerging economies move towards capitalism (to emulate the success of others) while established economies with bloated bureaucracies move away from capitalism (to emulate the failures of others).


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