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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Air Transport vs. Rail Transport

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2013

Economics 101

Trains require an Enormous Amount of Infrastructure between Terminal Points whereas a Plane does Not

Trains and jets are big and expensive.  And take huge sums of money to move freight and passengers.  Each has their strength.  And each has their weakness.  Planes are great for transporting people.  While trains are best for moving heavy freight.  They both can and do transport both.  But pay a premium when they are not operating at their strength.

The big difference between these two modes of transportation is infrastructure.  Trains require an enormous amount of infrastructure between terminal points.  Whereas a plane doesn’t need anything between terminal points.  Because they fly in the air.  But because they fly in the air they need a lot of fuel to produce enough lift to break free from the earth’s gravity.  Trains, on the other hand, don’t have to battle gravity as much.  As they move across the ground on steel rails.  Which offer little resistance to steel wheels.  Allowing them to pull incredible weights cross country.  But to do that they need to build and maintain very expensive train tracks between point A and point B.

To illustrate the difference in costs each incurs moving both people and freight we’ll look at a hotshot freight train and a Boeing 747-8.  A hotshot freight gets the best motive power and hustles on the main lines across the country.  The Boeing 747-8 is the latest in the 747 family and includes both passenger and freighter versions.  The distance between Los Angeles (LA) and New York City (NYC) is approximately 2,800 miles.  So let’s look at the costs of each mode of transportation moving both people and freight between these two cities.

Railroads are so Efficient at moving Freight because One Locomotive can pull up to 5,000 Tons of Freight

There are many variables when it comes to the cost of building and maintaining railroad track.  So we’re going to guesstimate a lot of numbers.  And do a lot of number crunching.  An approximate number for the cost per mile of new track is $1.3 million.  That includes land, material and labor.  So the cost of the track between LA and NYC is $3.6 billion.  Assuming a 7-year depreciation schedule that comes to $1.4 million per day.  If it takes 3 days for a hotshot freight to travel from LA to NYC that’s $4.3 million for those three days.  Of course, main lines see a lot of traffic.  So let’s assume there are 8 trains a day for a total of 24 trains during that 3-day period.  This brings the depreciation expense for that trip from LA to NYC down to $178,082.

So that’s the capital cost of those train tracks between point A and point B.  Now the operating costs.  An approximate number for annual maintenance costs per mile of track is $300,000.  So the annual cost to maintain the track between LA and NYC is $840 million.  Crunching the numbers the rest of the way brings the maintenance cost for that 3-day trip to approximately $278,671.  Assuming a fuel consumption of 4 gallons per mile, a fuel cost of $3/gallon and a lashup of 3 locomotives the fuel cost for that 3-day trip is approximately $100,800.  Adding the capital cost, the maintenance expense and the fuel costs brings the total to $566,553.  With each locomotive being able to pull approximately 5,000 tons of freight for a total of 15,000 tons brings the cost per ton of freight shipped to $37.77.

Now let’s look at moving people by train.  People are a lot lighter than heavy freight.  So we can drop one locomotive in the lashup.  And burn about a gallon less per mile.  Bringing the fuel cost down from $100,800 to $50,400.  And the total cost to $516,153.  Assuming these locomotives pull 14 Amtrak Superliners (plus a dining car and a baggage car) that’s a total of 1,344 passengers (each Superliner has a 96 passenger maximum capacity).  Dividing the cost by the number of passengers gives us a cost of $384.04 per passenger.

Passenger Rail requires Massive Government Subsidies because of the Costs of Building and Maintaining Track

A Boeing 747-8 freighter can carry a maximum 147.9 tons of freight.  While consuming approximately 13.7 gallons of jet fuel per mile.  At 2,800 miles that trip from LA to NYC will consume about 38,403 gallons of jet fuel.  At $3/gallon that comes to a $115,210 total fuel cost.  Or $778.97 per ton.  Approximately 1,962% more than moving a ton of freight from LA to NYC by train.  Excluding the capital costs of locomotives, rolling stock, airplanes, terminal infrastructure/fees, etc.  Despite that massive cost of building and maintaining rail between point A and point B the massive tonnage a train can move compared to what a plane can carry makes the train the bargain when moving freight.  But it’s a different story when it comes to moving people.

The Boeing 747-8 carries approximately 467 people on a typical flight.  And burns approximately 6.84 gallons per mile.  Because people are a lot lighter than freight.  Crunching the numbers gives a cost per passenger of $123.11.  Approximately 212% less than what it costs a train to move a person.  Despite fuel costs being almost the same.  The difference is, of course, the additional $465,753 in costs for the track running between LA and NYC.  Which comes to $346.54 per passenger.  Or about 90% of the cost/passenger.  Which is why there are no private passenger railroads these days.  For if passenger rail isn’t heavily subsidized by the taxpayer the price of a ticket would be so great that no one would buy them.  Except the very rich train enthusiast.  Who is willing to pay 3 times the cost of flying and take about 12 times the time of flying.

There are private freight railroads.  Private passenger airlines.  And private air cargo companies.  Because they all can attract customers without government subsidies.  Passenger rail, on the other hand, can’t.  Because of the massive costs to build and maintain railroad tracks.  With high-speed rail being the most expensive track to build and maintain.  Making it the most cost inefficient way to move people.  Requiring massive government subsidies.  Either for the track infrastructure.  Or the electric power that powers high-speed rail.

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One Passenger Airline charging by the Passenger’s Weight may offer new Funding Idea for Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2013

Week in Review

When the price of oil soars it doesn’t affect the railroads that much.  Because fuel costs are not their greatest cost.  Maintaining that massive infrastructure is.  For wherever a train travels there has to be track.  It’s different for the airlines.  The only infrastructure they have is at the airports.  And the traffic control centers that keep order in the sky.  Once a plane is off the ground it doesn’t need anything but fuel in its tanks to go somewhere.  And because the flying infrastructure is so much less than the railroad infrastructure fuel costs are a much larger cost.  In fact, it’s their greatest cost of flying.  So when fuel costs rise ticket prices rise along with them.  And they start charging more bag fees.  As well as any other fee they can charge you to offset these soaring fuel costs.

Boeing made their 787, the Dreamliner, exceptionally light.  To reduce flying costs.  They used a lot of composite materials.  Two large engines because they’re lighter than 4 smaller engines.  They even used a new lithium-ion battery system to start up their auxiliary power unit.  And made it fly-by-wire to eliminate the hydraulic system that normally operates the control surfaces.  They did all of these things to fight the biggest enemy they have in flying.  Weight.  For the greater the weight the more fuel they burn.  And the less profitable they are.

Freight airlines charge their customers by the weight of the freight they wish to ship.  Because there is a direct correlation between the weight of their freight and the amount of fuel they have to burn to carry that freight.  In fact, all shippers charge by the weight.  Because in transportation weight is everything.  But there is one mode of transportation that we don’t charge by the weight.  Passenger air travel.  Until now, that is (see A tax on overweight airline passengers: a brutal airline policy by Robin Abcarian posted 4/3/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

When teensy-weensy Samoa Airlines debuted its pay-by-the-kilo policy in January, I doubt it expected to set off an international controversy about fat discrimination.

But that’s what happened when news seeped out this week after the airline’s chief executive, Chris Langton, told ABC News radio in Australia that the system is not only fair but destined to catch on.

“Doesn’t matter whether you’re carrying freight or people,” explained Langton. “We’ve amalgamated the two and worked out a figure per kilo.”

Samoa Air, he added, has always weighed the human and non-human cargo it carries. “As any airline operator knows, they don’t run on seats, they run on weight,” said Langton. “There’s no doubt in my mind this is the concept of the future because anybody who travels has felt they’ve paid for half the passenger that’s sitting next to them…”

“Samoa Air, Introducing a world first: ‘Pay only for what you weigh’! We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air’fair’, you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fees, or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple. The Sky’s the Limit..!”

One bright note to this policy: Families with small children, who often feel persecuted when they travel, stand to benefit most from this policy. Since Samoa no longer charges by the seat, it will cost them a lot less to fly than it did before.

The appeal of this policy depends on your perspective.  If you’re of average weight sitting next to someone spilling over their seat into yours it may bother you knowing that you each paid the same price for a seat and resent the person encroaching on your seat.  But if you paid per the weight you bring onto the airplane then that person paid for the right to spill over into your seat.  Which they no doubt will do without worrying about how you feel.  As they paid more for their ticket than you paid for yours.  So the person who weighs less will get a discount to suffer the encroachment.  While the person who weighs more will have to pay a premium for the privilege to encroach.

Under the current system the people who weigh less subsidize the ticket prices of those who weigh more.  It’s not fair.  But it does save people the embarrassment of getting onto a scale when purchasing a ticket.  So should all airlines charge like all other modes of transportation?  Or should they continue to subsidize the obese?  Should we be fair?  Or should we be kind?

Chances are that government would step in and prevent airlines from charging by the weight.  Calling it a hate crime.  Even while they are waging a war on the obese themselves. Telling us what size soda we can buy.  And regulating many other aspects of our lives.  Especially now with Obamacare.  Because the obese are burdening our health care system with their health problems the government now has the right to regulate our lives.  And they have no problem calling us fat and obese.  But a private airline starts charging by the weight of the passenger?  Just don’t see how the government will allow that.  For it’s one thing for them to bully us.  But they won’t let these private businesses hurt people’s feelings by being fair.  So the people who are not overweight will continue to subsidize the flying cost of those who are overweight.

Until the government determines obese people are causing an unfair burden on society.  The obese have more health issues.  Which will consume more limited health care resources.  Also, flying these heavier people around will burn more fuel.  Putting more carbon emissions into the air.  Causing more breathing problems for everyone else.  As well as killing the planet with more global warming.  So while the airlines may not want to weigh people when selling them a ticket because of the potential backlash, the government won’t have a problem.  To cut the high cost of health care and to save the planet from global warming caused by carbon emissions they may even introduce a ‘fat’ tax.  Like any other sin tax.  To encourage people to choose to be healthier.  And to punish those who choose not to.  If they can force us to buy health insurance what can stop them from accessing a ‘fat’ tax?  Especially when they do have the right to tax us.

This is where national health care can take us.  When they begin paying the bill for health care they will have the right to do almost anything if they can identify it as a heath care issue.  Because it’s in the national interest.  They’ve painted bulls-eyes on the backs of smokers.  And drinkers.  With tobacco and alcohol taxes.  And you know they would love to tax us for being fat.  Perhaps even having our doctors file our weight with the IRS.  So they can bump our tax rates based on how obese we are.  If the tax dollars pay for health care they will say they have that right.  As the obese consume an unfair amount of those limited tax dollars.  Anything is possible with an out of control growing federal government faced with trillion dollar deficits.  Especially when they can call it a health care issue.

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The Lack of Aviation Accidents is making it Difficult to make Extremely Safe Flying any Safer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Or more automated.  There have been so few accidents in the last decade that it’s getting harder to make safety improvements.  Because through much of the history of flying safety improvements followed the accidents (see Airline Crash Deaths Too Few to Make New Safety Rules Pay by Andrew Zajac posted 6/25/2012 on Bloomberg).

More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil. That’s great news for aviation companies and their passengers — and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety.

The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements.

“If anyone wants to advance safety through regulation, it can’t be done without further loss of life,” said William Voss, chief executive officer of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has made flying safer.  By combing through airplane accidents to find out what went wrong.  Sadly, it took loss of life to advance safety.  Because a plane that didn’t have an accident was safe.  And didn’t need any safety advancements.

A cost-benefit analysis is at the heart of a dispute between the FAA and unions representing pilots of cargo carriers such as FedEx Corp. (FDX) and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) over the scope of the new regulations, which take effect in January 2014.

The rules will limit the hours pilots fly, taking into account the time of day they work as well as the number of takeoffs and landings. First proposed by the FAA for both passenger and cargo pilots, the rules were trimmed to exempt freight carriers following review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs…

Regulators concluded that the benefit of improving pilot safety at freight airlines wasn’t worth the expense. Because costs of crashes are based primarily on the value of lost lives and freight airlines don’t carry passengers, losses are inherently smaller in cargo accidents under the formula…

Freight carriers object to the new fatigue rules because the costs are at least 10 times the benefits based on FAA data, according to Stephen Alterman, president of the Washington-based Cargo Airline Association. Cargo-airline pilots fly an average of 30 hours a month, compared with 50 hours a month for passenger-airline pilots, he said.

Passenger airline pilots fly more because passenger aircraft fly more.  A commuter route may make 3-4 round-trips in one day.  The freight aircraft (such as FedEx and UPS) typically fly overnight.  Trucks make their deliveries to the airports at the end of the day.  The planes fly through the night so trucks at the destination city can deliver those packages the following morning.

Automatic flight controls have made flying safer.  But they have also contributed to pilot fatigue.  As being a pilot is more about monitoring systems than manually flying a plane.  Which gets boring.  There was a recent incident where both pilots nodded off for a few minutes and overflew their destination.  There was another incident where the pilots were getting conflicting warnings (an over-speed warning and a stall warning at the same time due to a plugged airspeed sensor) causing great confusion.  They focused their attention on the automatic flight systems a little too long and stalled the aircraft.  These are good pilots.  Highly skilled.  But sitting still and monitoring flight systems without having to do any flying can dull the reflexes.  Not much.  But enough.

These incidents are the exception to the rule.  The rule being that flying has never been safer.  And there is no other form of transportation as safe as flying.

The risk of a fatal accident in commercial aviation has been reduced to 1 out of 49 million flights over the past five years, from 1 in 1.7 million flights from 1975 to 1989, according to NTSB records. That’s a 96 percent decrease in risk…

Safety has improved since the late 1990s as the airline industry and regulators learned to analyze massive quantities of data for anomalies and voluntarily made changes to head off potential problems, according to Thomas Hendricks, Airlines for America’s senior vice president for operations and safety.

“We go out and proactively address an issue prior to waiting for an incident to occur,” Hendricks said in an interview. “The information technology revolution has made this possible.”

Airlines cannot get people to fly their planes if they have a reputation for being unsafe.  That’s why airlines are analyzing data and voluntarily making changes if it will make them safer.  For having a reputation that your planes don’t fall out of the sky is a good thing.  Making new regulations almost moot.  Except, perhaps, in one area.  Letting pilots fly again.  They want to.  They can fly extremely well.  And should.  For the best way of bringing an aircraft in trouble safely back down is having a highly skilled pilot at the flight controls.  Which we have.  But we’re just not letting them fly much these days.

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High Fuel Costs makes Union Contracts too Costly on Qantas’ International Flights

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 26th, 2012

Week in Review

There is an inverse relation between gas prices and driving distance on your summer vacation.  The higher the gas price the shorter your drive.  When gas is cheap you can travel across the country in a recreational vehicle.  When gas prices are high you may limit your drive to a single day.  Perhaps even a single fill up.  Because driving adds up.  If you fill up twice a day you may pay $150 at the gas pump.  If you drive two days out and two days back that’s $600 in driving costs.  Which you could put towards a nice hotel or some fun.  Or into your gas tank.  Which isn’t really a whole lot of fun.  Especially when you have some bored kids fighting each other in the back seat.

Fuel costs can make the difference between a nice vacation and a bad one.  And between a profitable operation and an unprofitable operation (see Australia’s Qantas to Split Business into Two by Reuters posted 5/22/2012 on CNBC).

Qantas Airways, said it plans to split its loss-making international and profitable domestic businesses, though Australia’s top airline was viewed by analysts as unlikely to spin off or sell the international operations…

The changes are part of a five-year turnaround plan aimed at shrinking costs and getting the international operations into profit…

The airline…is emerging from a bruising industrial dispute with unions…

Weak demand and high fuel prices are taking a toll on airline profits, pushing airlines across the world to cut costs and delay capital expenditure. 

The reason companies go through these bruising disputes with their unions is because of the good times when all other costs aren’t so bad.  When fuel was cheap the airlines were making some decent profits.  And it was affordable to be generous to their unions.  When they had little choice but to be generous.  For a strike during busy times is not good to the bottom line.  So they enter into these agreements that just cripple a company when fuel costs soar.

The international business is losing money because it takes a lot more fuel on those international routes.  And when demand is low it is very difficult to raise ticket prices.  Because even though Qantas is a quality airline there are other quality airlines out there trying to make it in an industry suffering from low demand.  And they are all trying to keep their ticket prices as low as possible to get the few passengers out there still flying.  It’s gotten so bad that some airlines are charging for things they’ve never charged for before. 

Such as carryon bags.  Which helps revenue in two ways.  It helps pay for fuel costs.  And it discourages passengers from carrying on luggage.  Which reduces weight and saves on fuel costs.  For an airline only puts into their fuel tanks the amount they need to fly.  They don’t top them off.  They count everything going onto that airplane and calculate the weight to add to the weight of the airplane and the weight of the fuel they carry.  The less the weight on that plane the less fuel they have to burn.

The short routes tend to be the more profitable ones.  There are more of them (one plane can make 2-3 round trips in a day).  And they burn less fuel.  That adds up to profitability.  Which is why Qantas is profitable on their domestic routes.  But not on their international routes.  And why the domestic business can pay the high union contracts.  While the international business can’t.

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