Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The A330 NEO : an avgeek reaction

The opening day of large airshows always generates interesting news. Yesterday at Farnborough was no exception with Airbus announcing their revamping of the classic A330 into a New Engine Option(NEO). For anybody not familiar with this now "industry standard" upgrade route, an airframer will take a tried and tested airframe, slap some new fuel efficient engines on, do some vital structural work, upgrade some avionics and...voila :  an airframe that will sell well for the next 15 years or so.

The Airbus A330 NEO
With this particular move, Airbus have firmly positioning themselves in a head to head battle with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which despite it's setbacks has sold very well. All the best to them I say!

But...part of me feels quite disappointed with the Airbus decision. Now don't get me wrong, I understand how these things work, and I know that airframers are ultimately businesses and are there to make money, but the avgeek in me screams out for more. I know that re-engining a solid performing aircraft is a sure fire winner for Airbus and will save them billions in development costs and give them the return that they want, but the dreamer in me wants more!

I recall the most recent first flight of an Airbus aircraft, the A350, and how I watched online as the new aircraft sped down the runway towards its lofty earth defying goal. I knew right well the thing was going to fly and fly well at that because they wouldn't have built it otherwise(!), but there was still a part of me that was nervous watching it and I found myself almost half looking away from the screen, just in case! And then it was up...and the crowd roared...and my soul soared with it!


First Flight of the A350
I guess the dreamer in me just longs for the brand new designs, new aerodynamic contouring, first time flights, the fanfare that goes around it etc...but I realize that the NEO's and MAX's of this world will continue to come, and continue to sell well. Maybe the game has just got too risky and expensive to be starting from scratch anymore...which is a pity.

In saying that, I will still look forward to my first flight in an A330 NEO...I am an avgeek after all!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Norwegian - Cheeky upstart or one to watch?

Every now and then, an aviation company rises with a drive to disrupt traditional models and thinking; to rock the boat and to bring new customers and income in areas that might have been thought of as impossible. I believe the latest carrier with this in mind is Norwegian.


They recently caused a stir when they applied for an air operator's certificate here in Ireland to allow their long-haul operations to be relocated to Dublin. The certificate was subsequently approved, and whether you agree with it or not, you have to admit that it is an intriguing move. Dublin is quickly growing into a major trans-Atlantic hub but that is a topic for another time.

Norwegian has grown into the third largest low cost carrier in Europe behind Ryanair and Easyjet but unlike their bigger brothers and their talk about low cost Atlantic flights, Norwegian are actually doing it! This month Norwegian started flights from Gatwick (Link) and other European destinations to various airports in the US from as low as $275 per flight.

I would love to think of this move as a game changer and should be getting the attention of the big trans-Atlantic players. I say good on them and good luck...may the price war begin and the consumer win!




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Emirates and the 777X

The rise of Emirates as an airline over the last 20 years has been nothing short of outstanding and is probably unparalleled in the history of airline travel. Combine this with the continuing popularity of the Boeing 777 and the imminent announcement of the 777X program and what have you got? A match made in heaven!

Emirates have been waiting for this version of the 777 for years and it's not too hard to see why.

Emirates' main hub, Dubai, is perfectly placed within the globe to take advantage of the growing Far East economies and their insatiable appetite for trade expansion into Europe and the US. Combine this with UAE's forward thinking and drive to grow their own economy has led to the energy and will to see Dubai's airport become a major player in the market.

The 777X will see some major improvements on the current version, most notably it's range. The smaller 8X will have a range of 17,000km which is more than any other airliner flying today. For the fun, I created this range map of the world showing how far a 777X could travel from Emirates' headquarters in Dubai; as you can see there is only a small section in the middle of the south Pacific that the airliner could not reach on one flight. That means they could fly to any city, in any country, on one tank of gas, using the 777X. I don't think that has ever been achieved before by an airline.
The Boeing 777X Range Map : pretty much covers it all

Of course there are other advantages to the new 777X, including increased fuel savings, carrying more passengers and the ability to replace four engined airliners such as the 747 and A380. The markets for four engined airliners for the short to mid term are starting to shrink but may pick up in the future.

I can't wait to see if the rumored "largest order" will materialize this November at surprise surprise, the Dubai airshow! How fitting a place for such an announcement...a match made in heaven!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What can a student pilot learn from the 787?

Even if you're not an aviation geek you will no doubt have heard all about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's issues with it's batteries. It's a major story and has huge ramifications for the aviation industry as a whole. For me, as a student pilot, I was wondering what could I learn from the situation and if there is anything, could I apply it to my training. You'll have to forgive me here as I guess I am stretching it a bit, but I think there are things to learn from every situation, so here goes.

1: Just because it's legal doesn't necessarily mean it's safe

Boeing latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner
The 787 had to go through a barrage of tests for it to be legally certified and allowed to fly passengers. Now, I understand that the 787 is a huge para-dime shift in the way electrics are done in an aircraft so you have to ask the question; are the current FAA procedures for testing these electrics adequate or do they need to be updated? Considering that these issues happened, I'm guessing they do need to be updated. But for all intents and purposes for the sake of this article, there was a time when the 787 was legal, but wasn't safe.

In relation to flight training, I have often been told by instructors that just because something is legal doesn't necessarily mean it's safe, and I am grateful for such diligent instructors. Take the minimums regarding visibility which are needed to go flying in VFR. Here in Ireland, if you are flying at or below 3,000 AMSL and at 140kts or less, legally you can fly in visibility of 1500m. Now if I'm flying at 140 knots in one direction and another pilot is flying directly towards me at 140 knots also, how long do we have to avoid each other after we make visual contact?

If you take it that we're approaching each other at 280kts, that's 518km/h and we only have 1500m potential separation, that means we have 6 seconds to avoid each other! 6 seconds? How can that possibly be classified as legal? I don't think I need to labor this point apart from saying that I would always take a legal requirement with a pinch of salt.

2: Don't count your chickens before they hatch

According to this article, Boeing execs were given a wrap on the knuckles for giving a press conference outlining their suggested fixes for the Dreamliner battery issue without the backing of the NTSB on the suggested solution. I think they might have been jumping the gun here a bit, but you can understand their urgency to do some damage control.

787 after making an emergency landing in western Japan
In flight training, I have heard the saying that your flight is not complete until you tie down the plane and shut the gate behind you. There is a tendency to psyche yourself up for arguably the most intense part of flying, the landing, and then as soon as you touch down, to let yourself relax. There is still the issue of directional control as you slow down, taxiing to your stand per the towers instructions, watching out for people on the ramp, shutting down the engine per the checklist and then tying it down or chocking it appropriately. It ain't over till its over!

3: Every decision made or action taken has a knock on affect

What with all the work carried out to get the battery issues fixed it looks like this might have a knock on affect on the 787 ETOPS certificate. According to this article, this may have to be looked into now, which, if ETOPS was lost, would be a massive blow to Boeing. The Dreamliner was built to fly long range over oceans. This has still to be determined.

Every decision made as a pilot can have knock on affects, some with very serious outcomes. Deciding to fly when you are obviously fatigued can impair your judgement and decision making. Deciding to drop down below unexpectedly low cloud cover without knowing exactly whats below or ahead could be disastrous. Letting "Get-there-itis" take over before or during a flight has been mentioned on many an accident report. I'm reminding that every decision made or action taken has a knock on affect and I need to be mindful of that.


Well, I guess as one famous flight instructor always says, "A good pilot is always learning" (mzeroa.com). As much as I hate to see a fantastic airplane such as the 787 grounded, I'm reminded that in every situation, we need to keep learning. If we continue to learn, we keep our minds open. In keeping our minds open, we grow more accepting of others and aware of how much MORE we have to learn.

So, always look out for the next learning opportunity and take it with both hands when it comes.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I love to fly but...

I love to fly. I've always loved flying, ever since I was a kid. And I still do. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm always going to love it and continue to love it till the day I die. Taking up flying lessons a few years ago has only strengthened this feeling and added to the desire to get up in the clouds. Yep, for sure, this ain't going away.

But, I have a problem. It's something I never thought would be a problem and it's got to the stage now where it's starting to bug me and affects my behavior. I've started getting disillusioned with my own ability to answer a question clearly and concisely and am now resorting to just smiling and giving three or four word answers. I think I'm starting to look a little bit...out there!

What's my problem? Well, in a nutshell, I can't for the life of me tell people why I love to fly. I know what you're thinking; "Is that all?!" But for somebody like me, who has had aviation in my blood for over 30 years and for the first time in my life getting to DO the flying, this has become a big problem for me. On a regular basis, friends and family ask me how my flying training is going. In most cases they are genuinely interested and being very polite in asking, but I find this is where my problems begin. I used to try and go into some detail as to what I was doing in my lessons to give them some idea of what was involved.

Lets take learning to take off for example; the conversation might go something like this:
"So you accelerate down the runway, adding some right rudder to keep the plane in the middle and then when you reach a certain speed, you pull back slightly and all of a sudden you're up."

"Wow, that sounds great. What's it like when you take off?"

"Well, its like...it's...amazing...one second you're trundling along the ground and then....well, then you're up in the air...climbing away in the...air..."

Oh words, why do you fail me thus?! Why is it so hard to describe that sublime feeling of when you leave the constraints of the earth and start to float up on a cushion of air, at the same time experiencing true three dimensional freedom and movement? That feeling of your first bank onto the crosswind leg when you're leaning into the turn and the whole horizon shifts in angles you never see on the ground, and never will. How do you describe that "Oh my goodness" feeling when you start learning to land and the ground seems to rush up towards you, flying past your peripheral vision as you try and lower the plane onto the ground without bending something?

Any pilots out there reading this probably understand what I mean, but why is it so hard to describe to somebody who has never done it?

I have come to this conclusion on the matter : that the experience of flying is much more that the sum of it's parts. It is much more that just learning a new skill, expanding your knowledge, gaining muscle memory, seeing the ground from the air etc. It is much more.

I guess I might equate it to trying to describe the Grand Canyon to somebody who has never been there. It sounds impressive enough, but doesn't stir the imagination. The only way the Grand Canyon can move your soul is to experience it. You look up at the Canyon walls and all of a sudden you start to consider how small you are but yet how wonderful this world is. It does something to you.

This happens to me when I'm flying; it stirs me within in such a manner that I can't explain it.

I came across a CS Lewis quote recently which tends to sum it up for me in a few words:
"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now."

So, from now on, I'm not going to get frustrated with not being able to describe flying to others. I will just smile politely, be as passionate as I can about the subject...and then twist their arms until they agree to take a trial flight! That'll sort them out!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Episode 11 - First Flight In A New Plane

Getting to fly a brand new airplane is a rare event in a pilots life. For some people it might only happen a handful of times, and for some, not at all.

What with changing flight schools and a new airplane I was really looking forward to my first flight in the Grob G115. Follow along as I describe my first flight.

I've included some pictures of the Grob below in case you don't recognize the type.

Episode 11 - First Flight In A New Plane






Friday, February 22, 2013

Episode 10 - A Quick Update

It's been a while since I've recorded so I just thought I'd put something out there that's short and sweet with a basic update of what I've been up to. The big news this episode is that I'm changing flight schools and looking forward to flying out of a new airfield.

Apologies in advance for the quality of the recording...I'm trying to find an easier way to record on a regular basis.

Episode 10 - A Quick Update

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Episode 9 - Crosswind Landings

Shortly after my solo I got the opportunity to practice some crosswind landings with what I would consider to be fairly strong direct crosswinds. This was a very new and challenging experience for me as we hadn't ventured out to fly with winds above 15 knots at this point. The METARs for the time I was flying showed the following :

EIDW 181200Z 28025KT 9999 FEW018CB BKN033 06/00 Q1008 NOSIG
EIDW 181130Z 28021KT 9999 SCT020 07/01 Q1008 NOSIG

As our runway is 22, this meant a direct crosswind of between 18 and 23 knots. Follow along as I tried my hand at crosswind landings for the first time.

Episode 9 - Crosswind Landings

Friday, June 8, 2012

Episode 8 - First Solo Video

As promised here is the short video of my first solo that one of the club members kindly took. It may be short and not have much in it, but I'm surprised at how attached to it I've become! There's something about capturing a special day on video that helps you relive the moment over and over again. Hope you enjoy it!

Episode 8 - First Solo Video

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Episode 7 - First Solo

A pilot will never forget the first time they flew an airplane on their own with no instructor present. I experienced this on the 10th December 2011 and needless to say, it was an event that I will cherish and never forget. I count myself blessed and privileged to be able to say I can fly an airplane by myself and it just makes me more keen to continue with my training and get my license.

Follow along with me as I describe the events of that day!

Episode 7 - First Solo