How can I maximise my carry on luggage?

Wheelie bags are popular to use as carry on luggage.

How can I maximise my carry on luggage?

I remember when carry on luggage was simply a bag of goodies you took into the aircraft cabin with you to keep yourself amussed for a long flight. I used to relish handing over my suitcase(s) to the check-in person and walking away almost empty handed. For longer trips away I still enjoy that.

There is now, however, a change to the way we think about how we take our stuff with us.

Checked in luggage is becoming less common as travellers try to make use of the free carry on option.
Checked in luggage is becoming less common as travellers try to make use of the free carry on option.

The changes have several contributing factors. Firstly, we seem to spend a lot of time at airports

these days queuing for stuff. Security checks for one thing. So people are focusing more and more on how they can get through the process and be on their way more quickly. Having only a cabin bag is ideal for this as you can bypass the baggage carousels and be on your way very quickly. Secondly, the advent of unbundling airfares has led to the option, on many airlines, of paying for what you want and not what you don’t want.


…….. You can bypass the baggage carousels and be on your way……


One of things that you often have to pay for is checked in baggage. Many travellers see this as an opportunity to be able to reduce their airfare cost. We can forego paying for meals and more desirable seats. In the same way we can reduce the cost by carrying our bag into the cabin, not to mention the previous point of not having to wait for that last bag off the carousel at your destination.

Now, believe it or not, the airlines have also noticed this trend. When the baggage trolleys start going out to the aircraft half empty and everyone is turning up to the boarding gate with wheelie bags, something is changing. Like any business, airlines hate people getting away with something for nothing. Responding to the trend of travellers choosing to take advantage of the free carry on luggage allowance, they have started to clamp down on this allowance. In times gone by, the boarding gate people would just let you go through with your bags, provided they looked like they might fit in the overhead locker or you didn’t look like you were carrying bags of cement.


Yes size does matter……..


Not so now. Nowadays you can expect to have your bag scrutinised, weighed and even put into that funny frame thing to check it is small enough to fit into the overhead locker or under the

Be prepared to be asked to prove that your bag is within the airline requirements.
Be prepared to be asked to prove that your bag is within the airline requirements.

seat in front of you. Yes size does matter, but then so does weight. I wish we could say that there is a uniform rule about these weights and dimensions, but unfortunately every airline has it’s own idea of what this should be. Checking the airline website is really the only sure fire way to know what that allowance is. This is easy if you are travelling on one airline all the way. What if, for example, you are travelling from Singapore to Copenhagen via London. You might get a nice generous allowance from Singapore to London and then on your low cost carrier flight on to Copenhagen you get virtually nothing. This means of course that the meagre allowance for the second sector becomes the governing factor for the whole trip. Unless of course you anticipate consuming the difference on your first flight or posting the difference to Copenhagen from London.

What do we need to think about if we are choosing to go down the cabin luggage only path? First off we need to be aware of all the things that are prohibited in the aircraft cabin. It would be a depressing start to the trip if many of our items were thrown out at the security check. So first off, make sure you check with your airline website to see what the prohibited items are. These are fairly standard these days, but things do change and it pays to know, as ignorance is no defence.  Right?

Smart packing is your friend. Think about what you actually need. Many of us overpack, just in case, you know. With clothes try and make sure you wear your heavier clothes and that the lighter weight ones are in your cabin luggage compliant bag. For example boots, jeans, jackets, belts and coats can be worn or at least thrown over your arm, well maybe not the belts, jeans or boots. I’m not saying you do a Joey Tribbiani from Friends, but you get the picture. When you do pack your clothes, roll them instead of folding them. This ensures you can use all the space most effectively and also your clothes will be less wrinkled and ready to wear when you get to your destination.

Now, toiletries. Of course we know about the restriction on liquids in the aircraft cabin. The rule of thumb is no more than 100ml, but, yes I’m going to say it again, please make sure you check with your airline webpage to be completely sure. This means you need to pour the contents of your favourite shampoo, conditioner, etc into smaller 100ml plastic bottles. These can be purchased very cheaply and your can use them each time you travel. Make sure of course they close firmly as even in the aircraft cabin the difference in air pressure with ground level is significant enough to encourage liquids to try and leave the security of their container to go exploring in your clothes. Believe me they prefer your clothes as it is very hard to get rid of things like shampoo and skin cream out of them.


…..contain any random liquids or creams that make good their escape.


That brings me to the next point. Your toiletries bag. Put that away in the cupboard again as it won’t help you with you space saving or weight saving. You are much better off with a plastic zip

Check with the airline website to ensure you know the cabin bag acceptable dimensions.
Check with the airline website to ensure you know the cabin bag acceptable dimensions.

lock bag. The zip lock bag can be made to lie very flat among your clothes which is a great space saving technique. In addition, the plastic is more liquid proof than some toiletrie bags and can contain any random liquids or creams that make good their escape. When you do seal your zip lock bag, ensure you remove all possible air inside the bag as this will expand like a balloon as the cabin pressure reduces on climb out.

Metal items are another area that care needs to be taken. Even though we know not to bring knives, scissors etc.. Care also needs to be taken to not include items that look like knives and scissors. For example, you can get tweezers that may have scissor type finger holes. These are to be avoided in favour of the tong style variety. What you have to think of is how it looks to the x-ray machine operator. You may well get them through security eventually but who needs the grief of having to unpack your bag to show them the offending item. It may just put them in a mood to examine other stuff or confiscate the item anyway.


So what about our ever hungry electronic equipment?


Cabin bag stowage in the overhead locker can work for everyone if you show your case on its side with the bottom of the case against the back wall.
Cabin bag stowage in the overhead locker can work for everyone if you stow your case on its side with the bottom of the case against the back wall.

So what about our ever hungry electronic equipment? No one needs the angst of thinking their gadgetry is going to run out of juice, but those plugs can weigh a bit. Consider perhaps taking only the cable part of the charger with the USB plug at the end. Most aircraft have the USB plug point for your flight, so that is covered. At your destination many hotels have USB points now, but if not smart TVs have them. If you do need to take one and your bag weight is getting up there, then maybe a jacket pocket could be the answer. This could apply to any smaller but weighty items like camera lenses and the like.

So we’ve seen how it is possible to save on your next flights. Free cabin luggage is a boon for those who can squeeze their trip into a smaller bag. Let’s make the most of this while we can as you can be sure that airlines will come round to finding a way to charge for something we are currently getting for free.

Please share any ideas you might have about maximising cabin luggage, we would love to hear them.

How to find airfare deals

Passengers boarding a Boeing 747

How to find airfare deals.

So you’re planning that special trip away, but how do you get the biggest bang for your buck when buying those flight tickets for the plane trip portion of the journey?  Like anything worth doing, finding the best airline flight deals takes a bit of planning.

Timing of your plane trip.

Airliner on approach.
If your timing is flexible then use this to your advantage.

If you have some flexibility around the timings of your trip, you can use that to your advantage. Travelling in off peak times means you won’t be paying premium prices. Airlines, like any other business, use the supply and demand principal to maximise their return. For example, during the week you will find that early morning and late afternoon flights rarely have cheap fares available because these flights are frequented by business travellers. The airlines know that these flights will be well filled, so there is no need to offer cheaper fares. So avoid these times if at all possible. Time of the day is therefore important.

To find a cheap flight, other time factors are also just as important to consider. Times of the week also make a difference. For example, business travellers going to more distant destinations tend to go for the week. This means that Monday mornings and Friday afternoon/evenings are also peak times and unlikely times to find airfare deals. On top of that, you have weekenders departing on Friday evenings and returning on Sunday evenings.

So much to consider.

Other timings to consider in the search for your cheap flight ticket.

Ok, so we’ve considered the times above that are unlikely to provide us with good airline flight deals. That is of course assuming we have also ensured we’re not travelling on a public holiday or around a sports or other event. In that case all bets are off and prices go through the roof.

If you are travelling internationally then that adds a whole extra dimension to the exercise. Not only should you consider peak times in your origin country, but also those of your destination country and countries you might be passing through along the way. For example, I once travelled to London with a stop in Hong Kong along the way. I thought I had covered all my bases, but still I couldn’t find flight prices that I felt were a good deal. The reason I found out was that it was end of the summer school holidays in the UK and many children attending boarding school in the UK were returning to London. Lesson learned.

Check Airline Prices.

Having done our due diligence and decided on some dates that we feel are optimum for avoiding any peak periods. What next?

Looking for a cheap fare doesn’t mean you have to travel on old aircraft. New state of the art airliners like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A350 or A380 are designed to fly more economically and therefore give the airlines the ability to be more competitive.

Next we need to find out what options are out there. Which airlines fly to our chosen destination? Also another factor to consider and decide upon is, what class of travel we want to travel in. Talking about cheap fares, we may conjure up pictures of backpackers travelling on ancient aircraft stopping in 25 mountain villages along the way, just to save a few coins. Not necessarily so, unless of course you want it to be. A cheap flight ticket can be any ticket that is a good deal for the service you receive. So whether you want to travel first, business or economy class, the principle is the same. Airlines put out deals on flights that they are having trouble selling. So decide at the outset what level of comfort your budget will allow for.

The class decided, we start our search. To start, go to neutral online travel agency sites that sell all airlines equally. Well, that is perhaps a little naive. Even online travel agencies have preferred airlines they sell due to higher levels of return for them. With this in mind still perform some searches on those sites. This will give you a feel for which airlines are relevant for the route you wish to fly. Also another handy tool is Google Skyscanner. You can perform searches as you can with online travel agents and find out which airlines fly and which fares are currently on offer. You can even set up alerts so that when prices change from your preferred options you will receive an email. This can be handy in case you forget the check back and a special is released.

Once you have ascertained which airlines are relevant to your requirements, visit their websites as well. I would recommend subscribing to alerts from them so that you get to hear about specials as they start or even before they start. A special fare doesn’t mean that all seats on that airline for that route will be sold at that price. Airlines work overtime to control yield and special fares will be allocated on flights depending on their popularity. On a peak time flight, even during the special fare period you will, in all likelihood, find no special fares. On less popular travel times however, you will find those fares.  Airlines review these constantly and will adjust the number of special fare seats up or down depending on how sales are going. Special fares work much the same as loss leaders work in other industries. For example, in your local supermarket you see those items at the end of the aisle facing the front door being sold very visibly at knock down prices. These items can be sold at a loss because they get people in the door and put them in a buying mood which they know will in most cases lead to sales of other items sold at the normal price.

Airlines will do the same thing. Release a very small percentage of seats at a very low price to

Airliner waiting for passengers
If airlines did not fill their flights with cheaper fares then it would cause them to lose money as those flights still have to fly, empty or not.

get people onto their website. Once there they have this idea that the prices are nice and low today, they will look and see that the special deal fares are available on flights that they don’t really like the timings of, so they look at the next fare up to see if there are better options. In their minds they have already spent the amount of the special fare and they then see the difference between that and not so special fare as the actual amount they are spending, which doesn’t seem so bad. Boom, the airline’s plan worked.

The message here is don’t lose sight of the bottom line.  If you find the special fare is not giving you what you need, back out and keep the research going, unless you are happy with the new option you have found.

Where should I actually buy the fare?

This is good question and no one answer is right. The travel industry can vary somewhat from country to country, but one thing you can count on is that it isn’t straight forward. We talked about online travel agency websites. These are great for seeing which airlines are the ones you should be shortlisting as logical options for the route you will be travelling. Should you buy from these websites?  Well, that depends. The travel agency needs to make money obviously, so how do they do it.  Once again there is no straight forward answer to that.  In years gone by there was standard procedure where a travel agency sold an airline seat and the airline paid them commission of X percent. Easy. Now, not so much. Very few airlines are now paying commission to travel agents. Let’s take a look back a few decades.

Back in the early days of travel we didn’t have the technology we have today. In fact it was the airline industry that was at forefront of driving the development of computer networking. But that is an aside. In those early days travellers had to come into an airline office to pay for their tickets. Of course it was not possible for an airline to have offices in every town village or city, so enter the travel agent who literally acted as an agent for that airline and collected money on behalf of that airline, and of course others. Now enter the online age and all of sudden airlines can actually be everywhere. As a result they, for the most part, have decided to stop paying those commissions that travel agents relied upon for so long.

IAT AIR TICKET
Travel agents and airlines used to have a good working relationship as airlines couldn’t logically have an office in every town.

So who pays now? This is also not a single answer question. In most cases you, the traveller, will pay a fee. So for the travel agency website you may well see some cheap fares but beware of the fees at the end, they may well undo the advantage you gained by finding a cheap fare on their site. However, don’t discount using these agency sites. Some travel agencies have such high brand recognition that they can command respect from the airlines due to the high turnover of travel sold on their site. In a case like this an airline might offer the travel agency net fares which are far below even what the airline is selling them for. The travel agency will mark them up and the mark-up will be their profit.  They will mark them up to such a level as to ensure a good return but remain at a very competitive level.

So in short there is no recommendation as to which is better, the travel agency site or the airline site. It really is a case of who comes up best on the day. It is definitely worth doing your due diligence.

So we’ve looked timings and the source of the special fares. One more thing that is worth considering is the routing of your flight. You will these days have seen that modern airliners are breaking all sorts of records in long haul non-stop flights such as Perth to London, Singapore to New York, Auckland to Dubai. The list goes on. Yes these can save a lot of time and if time is a concern then these are a great solution.  If however, time is not so important and you don’t mind spending a few extra hours getting there, then check out services that do have stop overs along the way.  For example, I used to travel to Europe from Sydney fairly regularly and I would choose to fly a carrier via Dubai. I had the option of the Sydney direct to Dubai, changeover and then on to London. Instead I chose the option that touched down in Bangkok for an hour or so on its way to Dubai. It took a couple of extra hours but I enjoyed a cheaper fare, as it was less popular with those in a mad rush, and I had the opportunity to stretch my legs and get some real air along the way.  It comes down to personal preference but there are opportunities to save.

I hope this has been some help. By all means we would be happy to hear your ideas of how to save on your travel spend.

Flight mode, why do we need to use this when we fly?

Flight or Airplane Mode

Air travel is is something that a great many of us get to do reasonably frequently.  For some it is too often, for others it is not often enough. Which ever it is, we are all familiar with the various announcements that are made on-board, particularly this one…

“At this time, make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and that your seat belt is correctly fastened. Also, your portable electronic devices must be set to ‘airplane’ mode until an announcement is made upon arrival. Thank you.”

Game controller flying your plane.
Your new pilot, the kid with the game controller.

Most of us dutifully obey the instruction and reach for our device(s) switching them either off, or to the particular phone makers version of Flight or Airplane mode. It wasn’t so many years ago that the devices had to be turned off completely from the moment you arrived at your seat until such time as the aircraft reached a certain altitude. We were led to believe that our mobile devices would interfere with the aircraft’s systems and it was very much in our own interests to keep those devices switched off. I always used to have visions of some 10 year old kid in row 36 who managed to get his game controller linked to the flight controls and then take us through some barrel rolls and loop de loops.

Things have changed a little now. Your mobile phone can be left on, with most airlines, for the whole flight and the only concession you have to make is to ensure it is in Flight Mode for the duration of the trip. This is of course only for devices weighing under 1Kg. Not becasue they emit a stronger signal or anything, but because they can become seriously dangerous projectiles in the event of the aircraft performing extreme maneuvers.  So you will be asked to stow those during take off and landing.


…because they can become seriously dangerous projectiles in the event of….


Ok, so back to the Flight Mode question. Why do we still need to use flight mode during the course of the flight? Various sources indicate that the effect of a mobile phone or cell phone on an aircraft’s flight intruments is fairly negligable. Aircraft instrumentation is state of the art as you would expect from a unit costing tens if not hundreds of milions. There are so many systems with many kilometres of wiring throughout the aircraft that need protecting from each other, never mind your mobile device. These systems are fully shielded so that attenuation or interferance from outside sources cannot corrupt signals sent around the systems.

So does that mean we can go ahead and just ignore the request for flight mode from the crew then?  Not quite. There is still a relatively old technology used by the flight crew. The radio. No, not the one tuned to the football, but the one used in the all important communications with air traffic control. The giving and receiving of instrcutions is still done using the good old radio waves.  Mobile devices depend on microwave towers or other ground stations to provide them with the required signal to enable them to provide you with information and other services you depend on. As you can imagine, these towers get harder and hard to find as you are cruising 11 kilometres up, perhaps over sea or desert.  Your phone, being the faithful servant that it is, tries harder by cranking up the signal strength to as much as 8 watts in an effort to enable you to view those all important food and puppy shots.

So what, I hear you say. Well, cast your mind back to the days when mobile/cell phones switched from analog to digital signal. When you got your new digital enabled phone, you found the signal and call quality was nice and crisp. However, if you were ever on a call near someone with an analog phone, you knew all about it.  It sounded like your ear was being ripped apart. This is what it can be like for the pilots, maybe not quite as extreme, but an annoyance never the less.

Let’s face it, if the use of mobile/cell phones was of major concern to flight safety then you can rest assured that leaving the responsibility of ensuring the devices were turned off would not be left to the travelling public.  There is no doubt that on every flight you will find a number of devices have been left on during a flight either due to forgetfulness or laziness.

Whether it is safety critical or not, we want our pilots to be be relaxed as possible. We want them to be able hear and be heard when they talk to the ground without the possibility of interference blurring any flight direction instructions.  So complying with the flight mode instruction still carries as much weight as it ever did.

What Does Flight Mode Do?

Flight mode on your cell or mobile.
The control centre on your mobile or cell phone.

The flight mode function on your phone or other radio equipped device is a main control switch to turn off all radio enabled functions on your device. On your typical mobile/cell phone, this includes the voice/text, data (3g, 4g etc), Bluetooth and Wifi. You also have GPS but this doesn’t actually send anything, it sits there and listens for satelite signals and then translates them into something you understand by showing it on a map. Without data however, you won’t get your map presentation so having GPS can be as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

For a few years now several airlines have been trialing and are supplying Wifi onboard their aircraft. What this means is that you have the abilty now to connect to the aircraft’s onboard Wifi service and enjoy surfing the net and checking your email in the same way you can do at an internet cafe. “So hang on”, I hear you say, “I had to put my phone in Flight Mode, so how can I connect using Wifi?” Very good question and by the way, bravo for putting your phone in flight mode. As I said, Flight Mode is a master switch for turning off all radio related functions on your cell, mobile, tablet or laptop. Once they are all off you can turn individual functions back on. So seat belts on, Flight Mode on and then wait for the anouncement that Wifi service has commenced and turn just Wifi on.

The Wifi signal is much weaker than your main mobile or cell call signal as it only needs to talk to a device mere metres from your seat to get a connection. This is not going to scream in the pilots ear so everyone is happy.

Personally I have mixed feelings about on-board Wifi. I’ve always seen flying as a few hours you can step off the planet and leave yours and responsibilities behind with a good excuse for doing so. You know what I mean, let them miss you a little. Now I’m sure that corporate travellers will be expected to connect up and be available online or get that project completed because all resources are available. No peace for the wicked.

Flight Mode as we have seen is not going to make or break your flight as far as we can tell, but let’s show some consideration for the pilots who have to talk over the interferance. Your phone charge will last a lot longer in Flight Mode, so everybody is happy.

Fly safely and LIKE us if you do.

 

Aircraft Noise

A380 on approach to Heathrow Airport

Aircraft noise can be a very emotional subject for those who are affected by it in their day to day lives. Yes, like other aircraft enthusiasts, I love being next to an airport taking in the sights and thrilling at the gut shaking sounds of powerful jets. However,  I have also lived with those same jets passing near my home. The disruptive effect on your day to day life cannot be over stated.  Not being able to speak to someone else in the room or listen to the your favourite TV show gets very frustrating. In the 1980s I lived in Fulham, London.  Twice every evening our windows literally rattled as first the Concorde from New York arrived followed some time later by the one from Washington DC. Thrilling at first, but it gets old rather quickly.

So what is being done about it? What is the solution?

Aircraft noise in most countries is taken very seriously. Its disruptive characteristics have a negative effect on those exposed to it at close hand. Loss of quality of life, loss of productivity by those who have disturbed sleep among other things.

Enter the Jeg Age.

In the early days of passenger air travel, piston driven propellor engines were the only form of propulsion. Whilst they were relatively noisy, they didn’t produce sounds in the high frequency range that jets do.  When the jet age began with aircraft like the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8, a whole new ball game started. These early jets, compared with today, were fuel hungry and extremely noisy. Their engines were what you call pure jets, consisting solely of the jet engine turbine. The result was that the high pressure ignited fuel air mixture was forced out of the tail pipe into still air. The friction caused between the fast travelling air meeting the still air was significant and caused a large amount of the roaring sound that resulted.

Aircraft and particularly engine makers have for decades been working diligently to find ways to reduce the sound footprint of a jet engine. The most signficant break through was the bypass engine. The concept is to take the aforementioned pure jet, the jet turbine, and encase it in a second nacelle. The nacelle is the outer casing of the engine. Inside the front of this nacelle is a large fan. This fan sucks in air from the front of the engine and feeds some of it into the jet engine turbine, the rest of it flows around the jet turbine and is ejected back around the flow coming out of the exhaust tail pipe of the jet turbine.  As well as adding to the thrust of the engine, the bypass airflow also serves to encapsulate the exhaust from the jet turbine. This serves to reduce the friction between the jet turbine exhaust and the still air, as well as dampening the sound.

New methods and materials used in the construction of engine naceles and the engines themselves have also been instrumental in reducing jet engine noise. Boeing for example have

Boeing 737-9 MAX CFM LEAP-1B
Boeing 737-9 MAX CFM LEAP-1B engine. The chevroned rear of the nascelle like the Boeing 787 ensures a smooth laminar airflow over the engine casing.

adopted a new configuration for the trailing edge of their engine nacelles which can be seen on the Boeing 787,  Boeing 747 8  and the new 737 Max aircraft models. The nacelle trailing edge is finished in a chevron configuration, like a sawtooth. This means there is a longer linear trailing edge which allows the air from the engine and the still surounding air to merge together over a larger area, spreading that shock over a larger amount of air particles. The smoother the transition through the air of an aircraft, the greater its fuel economy and the less noise it makes.

Aircraft design improvements around noise reduction are not just limited to creating quieter engines. When Airbus Industrie began their initial design of the giant A380, one of the design requirements was to make it as quiet as possible. The engines of course were designed to be state of the art and provide noise reduction to strict specifications. Airbus however, also looked at another factor. An aircraft has a much larger noise footprint when it flys close to the ground. That stands to reason, an aircraft flying  low over your house makes much more noise than one flying twice as high. So what Airbus undertook to do was to design the aircraft so that it was capable of a steeper climb out. That is to say that the A380 is designed to be able to climb more steeply after take-off, thereby spending less time closer to the ground while departing a city.

Flying Quieter

It is not only what you are flying in that makes a difference. Airports located near built up areas are continually being presured to find ways to reduce their noise footprint. As our urban areas continue to sprawl, airports that may once have been located in the countryside now find themselves being surrounded by new housing and industry. It is tempting to think, well they knew the airport was there already so how can they complain? The truth of the matter is, many of our cities are getting overcrowded and whatever land is available must be used.

As our cities get bigger and spread around airport areas, more people are finding themselves living with aircraft noise. Of course airports provide cities with the lifeblood of their economies. Having an airport near the centres of business encourages compnies to base themselves in those cities.China Airlines Airbus A330-300 (B-18303) on final approach into Taipei Songshan Airport.
As our cities get bigger and spread around airport areas, more people are finding themselves living with aircraft noise. Of course airports provide cities with the lifeblood of their economies. Having an airport near the centres of business encourages companies to base themselves in those cities.

Many airports  have adopted various noise abatement procedures to help reduce the noise impact of their operations. For example, they can adopt air traffic control procedures that vary the aproach paths to the airport. That way fewer aircraft will fly over more suburbs rather than a few suburbs bearing the full brunt. Aircraft can be guided over water or forested areas as much as possible. During off peak times secondary runways can be used to allow those living under the main runway(s) approach path to have a break.

The way aircraft are controlled in the landing phase can also make a difference. In the landing phase most aircraft generate a significant amount of noise due to the configuration of flaps and additional engine thrust required to compensate for the extra drag caused by the extension of flaps. Traditionally most approach patterns for landing at an airport have consisted of stepping the aircraft down to lower altitudes as it gets closer to the airfield. For example, it gets cleared down to 10,000 feet where it flies for a while, then down to 5,000 feet where once again it flies for a while.

Continuous descent approach CDA
The Continuous Descent Approach ensures that the landing aircraft stays as high above the ground as possible during the whole landing approach phase. Thereby it minimises the noise footprint over populated areas it passes over by being higher above them.

During this time it is overflying populated areas at these relatively low altitudes generating noise. A new approach, literally, is the constant glideslope. This means the aircraft is not asked to start descent until it is clear all the way to the runway. It means the aircraft will descend at a constant rate all the way to the ground and not spend any time flying over the ground at lower altitudes waiting to get further clearance to descend. Like the A380s take-off above, the aircraft will spend the minimum amount of time close to the ground where it is the noisiest.

Curfew is an option adopted by many airports. This restricts the operations of jet aircraft to certain hours of the day. For example, there may be no jet operations permited between 10pm and 6am. This ensures that there is quiet time when most people are trying to sleep. Curfew can cause problems for airlines. Flight delays for aircraft travelling to the curfew airport can be further exacerbated if that delay means they may arrive after curfew comes into effect. If they were only delayed by an hour to start with, they may find that the curfew will add a further 8 hours to the delay as they need to now arrive after 6am.

Another scenario affecting airline competitiveness is where we have two airlines, one based in city A where there is a curfew and one in city B where there is no curfew. Both airlines want to maximise the amount of flights they can do between cities A and B to profit from carrying more passengers. The airline operating from city B with no curfew has the advantage as they can start operating earlier and finish later.

Airport curfew and airline competitiveness effects.
Here we can see that the airline that operates out of the airport with a 10pm to 6am curfew is compromised by having to start later and finish earlier than its competitor based at the non-curfew affected airport. In this comparison, the airline from the non-curfew airport can do 3 return trips against its competitor’s 2.

By leaving at 4am for example and arriving just after the 6am curfew the airline from the non-curfew city is already halfway through their first return trip before the airline from the curfew city has even started. Similarly the non-curfew city airline can depart on their last leg just before 10pm curfew whilst the curfew city airline needs to conclude their last flight by 10pm.

Another innovation to make airports quieter is the provision of electical services for aircraft at the terminal gates. You may have noticed when you are at the airport that even though a jet might be stationary at the gate, you can still hear a jet engine whine. This is caused by what is known as the APU or Auxilary Power Unit. The APU is a small jet engine that usually sits in the tail cone of a jet aircraft. It doesn’t provide any thrust as its sole purpose, as the name implies, is to provide power to the aircraft whilst its main engines are not running. This power is what is used to run lighting, air conditioning and other electrical functions whilst the aircraft is parked. The APU may be much smaller than the main engines, however, its noise output is still significant. If you live next to an airport the jet noise is constant. To alleviate this type of noise, many airports are providing land based power which an aircraft can plug into instead of firing up their noisy APUs before shutting down main engines. A significant amount of noise is avoided as well as unnecessary polution.

Friendly Neighbour

It is accepted that airports are not the best of neighbours. Some airports however,  make an effort to try and make life better for those who live close.  I use an example from Sydney, Australia , which is the largest city in Australia and a very important commercial hub. Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International airport is located around 7 kilometres from the city centre which is handy for travellers but also ensures many parts of the city are exposed to aircraft noise. Sydney city undertook to compensate the worst affected suburbs by providing the homes with sound proof double glazed windows. This of course helped those residents immensely, but at what cost?  Well, subscribing to the concept of user pays the users of the noisy aircraft paid. A levy of A$3.60 was applied to each ticket that involved an arrival or departure in Sydney. Once the expense of the double glazing was covered the levy was removed.

It is doubtful we will ever completely resolve the issue of aircraft noise, but finding ways to reduce it and manage it better goes a long way to improving the lives of those who are subjected to it. Finding ways to observe noise abatement helps us all.

Boeing 797 a Middle of Market Solution

MoM 797 Boeing

The use of the 797 designation could be a nice round off for a 60 year cycle since the introduction of the Boeing 707. But why do we need another Boeing model and what is Middle of the Market?

Middle of the Market(MoM) is a term Boeing coined back in 2005 which described their then MoM solutions, the Boeing 757 at the top end of the single aisle market and the Boeing 767 at the bottom end of the twin aisle market. Those two venerable work horses have been out of production for some time now which is why Boeing is concerned about this sector of the market.

So where does Middle of the Market lie? One could be forgiven for thinking that the 737 is growing bigger in the form of the 737 MAX and there is a smaller 787, the 787-8. However, let’s take a closer look at how those two aircraft compare.

Aircraft  Max Take-off Weight  Range  Configuration  Passengers
Boeing 737 MAX-9 88,300 Kg (194,700 lb) 6,510 km (3,515 nmi) 2 Class 178
Boeing 787-8 227,900 Kg (502,500 lb) 13,621 km (7,355 nmi) 2 Class 335
 Gap  139,600Kg (307,800 lb) 7,111 Km (3,840 nmi)  – 157

Looking at the figures above you can get an appreciation for the large gap between the largest 737 and the smallest 787.  To service this section of the market, airlines have to either under utilise their 787s or schedule more frequent services with their 737s. Neither option is very financially desirable which is why Boeing is looking at a completely new design for this niche in the market.

Sources indicate, and Boeing themselves have made announcements at the last Paris Airshow, that they expect to begin design work on what has unofficially been named the Boeing 797 or the MoM in 2018. The expected Entry Into Service (EIS) is 2024-2025 however, some sources indicate this could slip to 2026.

So what will the anticipated new model be like?

Boeing 737-8 MAX Winglet
This view shows the distinctive Boeing 737 MAX winglet. Two smaller winglets mean that that there is less weight required than for a more robust single longer span. In addition it means that a significant additin wing surface is added whilst still being able to fit into Gate size C at airport terminals. Will we see this design feature included in the Boeing 797 design

General design requirements call for an aircraft that can manage a range up to 9,630 Km (5,200 nmi), around 10 hours flying. This will enable the aircraft to be used on routes such as the North Atlantic where it would be small enough to operate into and out of smaller city airports, avoiding the traditionally over crowded main hubs. For passengers the benefit will be to be able to fly to far off destinations from their home airport without inconvenient connections along the way.

The carrying capacity will of course depend on the carrier’s choice of configuration of the passenger cabin. The passenger carrying range is targeted for 220 – 270.

The new design will require a new range of engine with thrust in the 45,000-50,000 lbs range. Boeing have specified a requirement for a geared turbofan. This is where a gearbox sits between the big fan at the front of the engine and the internal turbine. This enables greater control over the engine with the ability to maximise efficiency of engine speeds at different stages of flight. CFM, which is 50% co-owned by G.E. and Safran, have indicated they will be competing with Rolls Royce to produce such an engine, whilst Pratt and Whitney will offer an upgraded version of their GTF engine.

Boeing is confident in this sector of the market and estimates that they will be able to sell 4,000 797s over a period of 20 years. Airbus for their part are confident that their current offerings of the Airbus 321 NEO and A330 NEO will cover them, however, they haven’t ruled out the possible addition of an A322 to the Airbus family.
Construction of the B797 is likely to draw on lessons, new techniques and new materials that have gone into the development of the 787 as well as the 737 Max. The wings and fuselage will be made primarily from carbon fibre materials, as is the larger 787. We may also see the split winglets which are a feature of the 737 Max. These will increase the wing lifting area, giving better fuel economy without the penalty of greater wing span. The benefit of maintaining a lesser wingspan is to enable the aircraft to fit into smaller gate areas at smaller airports thus enabling the concept of flying between more regional centres.

No doubt as design decisions are laid down, we will get a much clearer idea of how the latest Boeing offering will look. Meanwhile, 2026 seems a long way off. To bridge the gap, Boeing is seriously considering reintroducing the 767 300ER as an interim measure. It is a decision that has been on again, off again, but apparently it is currently in an on again phase. The last off again phase was due to the production of the 787 being lifted from 12 to 14 per month, but we assume this roadblock has been removed.

Let us see what the future brings.

If you know anymore about the Boeing 797 or MoM, please feel free to comment below.

Why airplane windows are round

Douglas C-47b G-APBC British Midland

Why are airplane windows rounded?

You may have wondered why airplane windows are round. Yes, it does look more sleek perhaps

Jet Airliner Window

Today we are used to all our airliner windows being oval.

and gives a streamlined impression. To be honest as far as streamlining goes it matters not whether the windows are square, round or some other shape, as they are flush with the fuselage metal and the air goes past them just as happily. So, is there another reason for rounded windows?

The answer, of course, is yes. Every feature of an aircraft exists for a very specific reason. Designs of various components are normally in place to respond to certain conditions that exist in various phases of flight to which the aircraft will be exposed. These can be anticipated conditions which designers are aware of, or they can be the result of lessons learned in the school of hard knocks.

The design of aircraft windows falls into the school of hard knocks category.

In the early days of aviation when passengers were first being carried, windows were found to be required as people would tend to become quite claustrophobic in a windowless tube. In spite of the weight penalty incurred by adding slabs of perspex at regular intervals along the side of the fuselage, designers resigned themselves to the necessity if they were to carry more than just cargo.

The early airliner windows resembled those you might find on a bus.  They were usually rectangular in shape and came in various sizes depending on who’s aircraft you were in. Passengers would have the opportunity to enjoy the view and assure themselves that they were indeed flying right side up.

This worked like a dream, everyone was happy, passengers enjoyed the flying experience quite happily entering this metal or canvas tube to be taken aloft and deposited at some distant location. This applied to propeller airliners and worked well in their operating range of altitudes to a maximum of the mid 20,000s of feet.

Junkers_Ju52.3m_G-AHOF_BEA_Ringway

A German made Junkers J-52 airliner with traditional square windows. This was not a problem for low-flying propeller aircraft.

Enter the jet age

In the early 1950s, there was a new sound in the sky. Jet engines were used for the first time on passenger transport aircraft. The de Havilland Comet was a radical new concept in passenger travel. With its four jet engines buried in the wing roots, it was a very sleek looking aircraft for the period. The Comet offered faster travel times as compared to its propeller predecessors partly due to its ability to fly higher in thinner air, which propeller engines were not capable of doing.

Comet Prototype at Hatfield with square windows

The jet age came to passenger air travel in the form of the de Havilland Comet. The prototype is seen here at Hatfield, England with square windows.

For a year, the Comet enjoyed huge success. It was popular with passengers as the higher altitude flights meant not only faster travel times but also smoother flying due to the Comet’s ability to fly above most of the turbulent weather, that propeller aircraft were forced to fly through

The cause of these accidents had investigators baffled. With all the pieces of wreckage retrieved, they could ascertain that the aircraft suffered catastrophic structural failure. Eventually, they were able to pinpoint the source of the break up to a point in the roof of the fuselage. It took some time before they finally worked out the route cause.

Effects of high altitude flying.

As mentioned earlier, propeller aircraft are limited to how high they can fly. This means that the effect of high altitude flying is not really a factor in their day to day operation. Let’s look, however, at jet airliners. These aircraft fly much higher, often twice as high as their propeller driven cousins.

We know that we as humans can only survive below a certain altitude if we are not to succumb to the effects of hypoxia. This in simple terms means we need to have a certain amount of oxygen in the air we breathe or we will lose consciousness and eventually perish. Airliner manufacturers are aware of this situation and have as a result come up with pressurisation in aircraft cabins when it is anticipated that this aircraft will climb above the acceptable altitude.

In the past, most airliners have offered a cabin pressure which is approximately equivalent to the pressure at 10,000 feet above sea level. In today’s more modern aircraft such as the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the pressure offered is closer to that found at 6,000 feet above sea level.  Obviously the lower the pressure altitude, the more comfortable it is for the passengers as it is closer to what they are used to on the ground.

Let’s look at what this does to the aircraft fuselage. An aircraft such as an A350 takes off from sea level and commences its climb to a cruise altitude of let’s say 35,000 feet above sea level. As it climbs out, the air inside and outside the aircraft are of equal pressure. On passing 6,000 feet, the pressurisation system kicks in. As climb continues, the cabin pressure is held at that which was found at 6,000 feet. On the outside, however, the pressure continues to fall the higher the aircraft climbs. On reaching the cruise altitude of 35,000 feet, the pressure differential between outside and inside is almost 6 times. There is almost 6 times more air pressure inside the aircraft then outside.

Todays aircraft are made from various metal alloys and have a very high strength to weight ratio. This notwithstanding, there is still some anticipated growing and shrinking of the fuselage each time the aircraft climbs and descends. Each takeoff, climb and descent and landing is known as a cycle. Aircraft with very high cycle amounts are those that are used on short domestic hops as opposed to those doing long trans-continental or trans-oceanic flights. These aircraft are rigorously checked for any cracks or metal fatigue resulting from many cycles where the fuselage is subject to many expansion and contraction events.

Before the advent of the jet age, the understanding of the effects of cycles and metal fatigue were not understood as they had not applied to airliners that had been used thus far. It was not until the Comet flew much higher and endured many cycles that things unravelled. The Comet still flew fairly short hops by today’s standards, much like the propeller aircraft of the day. A trip from London to Singapore would involve many stopovers such as; London, Rome, Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore. That is 6 cycles for one trip.

Square Windows

As mentioned above, investigators of the Comet crashes were able to pinpoint the source of the structural failure to a point in the fuselage roof. It seemed as if a crack had opened up along one of the joins between pieces of the aluminium skin. After some time and testing, it was found that the crack had started at the corner of one of the windows.

Window section of Fuselage of de Havilland Comet Airliner G-ALYP which was the third Comet built. On 10 January 1954 after taking of from Rome enroute London Heathrow, the aircraft broke up near the island of Elba on the Italian coast.

Window section of Fuselage of de Havilland Comet Airliner G-ALYP which was the third Comet built. On 10 January 1954 after taking off from Rome en route London Heathrow, the aircraft broke up near the island of Elba on the Italian coast. From this, investigators made the shock discovery of the effects of metal fatigue on square windows.

The Comet was designed with square windows just like its propeller-driven ancestors. Unlike its propeller-driven ancestors, the Comet experienced a much more extreme difference in pressures as it flew much higher. Tests showed that structural pressures would always find the weakest point, which in this case was the corner of a square window. Instead of pressure being absorbed evenly throughout the structure it found the window corner was the weakest point which became the focus of the pressure.

Dan-Air London Comet 4C G-AYWX

The de Havilland Comet with rounded windows continued on to a successful 30 years of service. Here we see the larger Comet 4C model which included round windows and wing pods for additional fuel.

The Comet was grounded for two years while the research was conducted and corrections were made to the design. Whilst the Comet mark one never flew again and sales were severely affected for the following versions, it still went on to have a successful 30 years of life with rounded windows.

So why do we have rounded windows on aircraft? It is to maintain structural integrity and distribution of the considerable forces applied to the fuselage evenly.

Where is MH370 two years on?

Mystery of MH370

Here we are, 2 years down the taxi way from one of aviation’s biggest mysteries. Two years ago 239 passengers and crew settled in for a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Boeing 777 belonging to Malaysia’s national flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines, lifted off into the balmy Malaysian night and flew into history. Now on the second anniversary of the aircraft’s disappearance, we seem no closer to finding an answer.

Like MH370, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lifts off.

Like MH370, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lifts off.

Now on the second anniversary of the aircraft’s disappearance, we seem no closer to finding an answer.

it sends inconceivable in today’s high tech world that we can lose a big airliner so utterly and completely. It goes to show that we haven’t quite got the ability to track the movement of everything that goes on in our world.
Since that fateful night two years ago, there have been so many theories of cover-ups, lies, and deception. Was it done by a rogue pilot? Was the aircraft deliberately flown below the radar to enable it to be hijacked elsewhere? Was the aircraft flown in the shadow of a Singapore Airlines flight to enable it to be flown to Central Asia undetected.

The initial search area for MH370.

The initial search area for MH370 centred on the logical areas around the Malaysian Peninsula.

We’ve heard of an oil rig worker seeing a ball of fire crash into the sea in the distance in the South China Sea.

We’ve heard of inhabitants of an island in the Maldives, where large airliners are rarely seen, reporting a low-flying large jet flying overhead hours after the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. This prompted a theory about the jet being flown to a small atoll called Diego Garcia which lies just south of the equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean  and belongs to Great Britain.

It just goes to show that we do not take readily, as humans, to unexplained situations and work to fill the void with theories of what we think the likely train of events may have been. It also serves to show we are quite willing to believe some fairly far-fetched theories to fill the void of actual knowledge.

But as usual, it seems fact is stranger than fiction. Of all the far-fetched scenarios, who came up with one where the airliner found its way into the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean? No one as far as I can recall.

I must admit that when I first heard of it, I was amazed why someone would believe such a far-fetched story. Of all the stories I had heard, this seemed to be the most fanciful.  A flight that was headed north ends up being further south than it was ever intended to go north.

The current search areas determined by satellite pings as well as fuel range limits of MH370.

The current search areas determined by satellite pings as well as fuel range limits of MH370.

Those engine ping handshakes that gave the arc of area where the aircraft is supposed to have been, were obviously conclusive enough for several governments to throw in millions of dollars’ worth of search time and resource. While it is admirable that governments are seen to be caring about those poor souls who perished, and those who are left behind wondering what became of their loved ones. I am often left wondering why the Southern Indian Ocean scenario was so readily accepted so quickly and that governments were so quick to be prepared to throw millions at the project.

I am not trying to promote any of the conspiracy theories. I do find it strange that not one floating object such as seat squabs, neck pillows and other floating objects have never been found. These objects are more susceptible to wind-driven effects, as opposed to the flaperon found on Reunion and the alleged horizontal stabiliser piece found in Mozambique that would have floated below the surface and been more influenced by ocean currents.

There are of course many kilometres of uninhabited coast lines around the Indian Ocean, but something should turn up somewhere and be found. If the flaperon and other piece were ripped off the aircraft, I feel it safe to assume the fuselage did not stay intact to contain all the loose objects that should have floated away.

I just hope that something is found soon. The friends and relatives need closure and aviation needs to know what happened and how it happened so steps can be taken to remove the likelihood for the future.

Aviation because safer as we learn from accidents and incidents and build process to prevent it happening again.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in any way shape or form and would love to hear the opinion of others. Feel free to join the discussion below.

Plane Spotting and Plane Spotters

Plane Spotting

Very few of us can resist watching and taking in the sound of raw power as a jet liner makes its take off run and claws its way into the sky. Plane spotting or plane watching is a pass time enjoyed by many. You don’t have to be a plane spotter as such but just someone who has a few minutes to spare as you head past the airport, or a parent giving your kids the thrill of the beauty of flight. The planes themselves are a marvel to watch as they make their precision landings and powerful take offs. But this also stirs the imagination around where they are going and where they are coming from, conjuring up images of far-flung places.

Access to airfields for plane spotting

Every airport is different, some are easily accessible for plane spotters, while others present quite a challenge. With the extra security around air travel these days, airfield operators are keen to keep as much distance between the public and operating aircraft as possible.

Mangere Airport

Some airports, like Auckland’s’ Managere Airport are challenging as they are surrounded by water. Sometimes going off the airport location can give you a better vantage point.

The first thing to do is to familiarise yourself with the airfield. If it is your hometown you may already know all the locations that are appropriate for getting good views of the runway. If you are not familiar, then Google Maps is a good way of getting a feel for the best places to try. It may be a little hit and miss at first as you might find some of the roads indicated on the map are private access roads and not for public use. Be sure to comply with all access rules as security is taken very seriously today and heavy fines could apply.

Best views for plane spotting

As I said, some airfields offer more choices of locations for plane spotters due to the nature of the topography of the countryside in which they are located. Maybe they are surrounded by industry with warehouses blocking the view, or maybe they protrude out into the water with no way of getting close. Whatever the situation, there is usually some location that offers the opportunity to catch sight of air traffic coming and going.

Where to be to watch taking off aircraft.

Where to be to watch taking off aircraft.

When you do have a choice of locations, you need to decide which phase of the landing and take-off phase you want to see. Do you want to be in the middle where you can see taking off aircraft rotate and begin to climb out as well as landing aircraft completing their landing roll. Do you want to be at the end of the runway where you can either having taking off aircraft climbing over you or landing aircraft descending over you? Each time you go and plane spot, you can choose a different experience and if you are so inclined, add to your photo collection.

Where to be to watch landing aircraft.

Where to be to watch landing aircraft.

Conditions to help you choose your plane spotting location.

As we know, aircraft operations are very weather dependent. Aircraft fly in almost all weathers, however, it is how they fly that changes. The wind plays a critical part of how the airfield is used due to the fact that aircraft must take off and land into the wind. This reduces the length of runway they require, as the air is already moving over their wings before they even start their take-off roll. This will perhaps affect the location you choose to plane spot.  For instance, if you stand at the upwind or windward end of the runway on a windy day, you may possibly not see many aircraft up close. The arriving aircraft will stop more quickly as their speed across the ground is slower on landing. Taking off aircraft may be quite high by the time they cross over you, as their rate of climb will appear much steeper. A location closer to the downwind end of the runway would be better.

The angle of the sun is also another aspect to consider. Even if you are not photographing the planes, you will be more comfortable with the sun behind you than having to look into it. Aircraft rise into the sky and as you follow them with your eyes you will likely look directly into the sun. Be aware of the orientation of the runway you want to visit. If it runs north/south then try to be on the east side in the morning and the west side in the afternoon. If you are photographing the aircraft then you will ensure that the detail and colourful liveries of the airliners are nicely represented instead of that disappointing shot turning out to be little more than a silhouette.

Plane Spotting Photography

Like any kind of photography, the sky is the limit on what you could spend on getting the best equipment. This is great for those who live and breath aircraft and perhaps make an income through flight photography. These are the enthusiasts who have huge telescopic lenses, tripods and all sorts of other paraphernalia.

For most of us, this is not the case. We love to watch aircraft and even like to build up a nice collection of photos of the aircraft we have seen. So long as your camera has a reasonable zoom lens on it and you are not 5 kilometres from the runway, then you have a reasonable chance of capturing some great snaps.

The other thing that can help you is to be sure your camera has a good megapixel rate. I will be honest, many of my earlier pictures were done on my phone which sports 13 megapixels. How this helps is that even if you zoom can’t get you close enough, the density of the picture can go some way to making up for it, in fact quite a long way. Once you have your picture on screen you might find your aircraft occupies a quarter or maybe even less of the picture. By cropping it and zooming in you may find that you still end up with quite a nice picture.

The picture below of the QANTAS A330 was such a picture. It was quite a long way off, but because the megapixels were quite high I was still able to crop and zoom in to feature this aircraft. To do this I simply used the default Windows Picture viewer which as an edit function. Not rocket science, nor in any way costly.

You might also notice that I didn’t adhere to my own advice as relates to the sunlight. The colours would have been more vibrant had I been on the other side of the aircraft. On this occasion I been there very early to capture dawn pictures, which put me on the western side of the airfield in the morning.

QANTAS A330 climbing out at Sydney

A QANTAS Airbus A330 climbs out from runway 34L at Sydney Airport

Alternative places for plane spotting.

It may sound a little strange, as where else would you go to spot planes other than an airfield? As nice as it would be to get some good views of aircraft in level cruise, it is not really possible. Any land formation high enough would be avoided by aircraft like the plague.

There are other locations you can consider though when looking to snap or just watch aircraft. Sometimes these locations can be near the airport and will give you the ability to watch these aircraft in a slightly different phase of flight. For example, I went to the car park of a well known Swedish furniture store which is on the flight path of aircraft departing to the north. As the crow or aircraft flies, it is less than a kilometre from the runway threshold and a little to the west.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380-841 Registration 9V-SKA was the worlds first commercial A380 delivered 16 Oct 2007 seen here climbing out from Sydney.
Singapore Airlines Airbus A380-841 Registration 9V-SKA was the world’s first commercial A380 delivered 16 Oct 2007 seen here climbing out from Sydney.

This enabled me to capture aircraft in the post takeoff climb configuration during and just after landing gear retraction. Being slightly to the west of the runway centre line meant that I was able to get a bit of a side view rather than just seeing the underbellies of the departing airliners.

Perhaps in your location, there might be a hill or building that can give you a bit of elevation alongside the approach or departure track of aircraft into and out of your local airfield.

When should I go plane spotting?

The object of the exercise is to go to the airfield at such a time when there will be a lot of aircraft movements. Your location will determine how challenging or easy this is. If you live near London Heathrow for example, then you would be hard pressed to go when it isn’t busy. If you live somewhere that is a little more off the beaten track then it may take a little more research before you go out.

Like any kind of movement of people, airports often have peak and quiet times. Obviously, you want to go in the peak time if possible so you can view the most number and biggest variation of aircraft. Most airfields these days have an online arrivals and departures information website. Use this to get a feel for the best times to go and do some plane spotting.

How can I monitor air traffic once I am at the airfield?

It used to be that the only way to monitor air traffic was by the use of a multi band radio scanner. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great way to monitor where the air traffic is as you listen to communications between air traffic controllers and aircraft flight crews. As well as the information on where the aircraft are. It adds a bit of a human touch as you can actually listen to the pilots of the aircraft you are watching.

Today we have access to mobile phone apps that allow you to track all the aircraft as if you were an air traffic controller yourself. Using such an app you can monitor the aircraft as they approach the airfield and line up for landing. This way you can be prepared for aircraft that you hope to capture on film. Examples of these include; Flightradar24 and Flightaware.

I hope that this item on plane spotting has helped you in some way. I would love to hear your plane spotting experiences, perhaps you have favourite spots that you can recommend to others.

Thank you for stopping by.

Long Haul Flights

Air India boeing 787-8 dreamliner

Getting to far flung parts of the world has been a challenge to mankind for as long as history stretches back. Knowledge of riches and resources beyond what can be found locally has driven us to find new ways and routes to far distant corners of the planet. What virtually anyone can achieve on today’s long haul flights in a matter of hours would have taken months, if not years in the not so very distant past.

Whether it was the Vikings setting off for lands unknown, the Chinese doing the same, or the Portuguese circumnavigating the Earth. We have always been driven to new horizons by the prospect of the exotic worlds that lie beyond and how they could enrich our lives.

We still live by those same principles. Instead, however, of intrepid explorers setting off for journeys that may take them from their homes for years at a time, or forever, in many cases. We have business travellers completing those same journeys in a matter of hours and making trade deals. We have holiday makers making those same journeys to find the sun, or a great shopping deal not available at home.

Those journeys are now so common as to seem mundane to many. While travelling over routes that were once only for the brave and those willing to risk life and limb, we now quibble over the quality of food, the entertainment system or how much leg room we have. How quickly we adapt.

Today we are seeing records tumble every few weeks as airlines propose and begin ever longer “non-stop” routes. These are made possible by the latest long range airliners, such as the Airbus A350, the Boeing 787,  Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777. Emirates launched their super long range route of Dubai to Auckland, initially with the Airbus A380 but now with the Boeing 777-200LR (LR=Long Range), a distance of 14,200 kilometres. That is around 16 hours, depending on the wind.

The Emirates flight is impressive but that record is set to tumble as Qatar Airways are about to launch a Doha to Auckland non-stop flight which is 300 odd kilometres longer than the Emirates flight. Also announced are United Airlines non-stop flights from San Francisco to Singapore, Singapore Airlines flights from Singapore to Los Angeles.

So how did we get around the world before the advent of today’s modern airliners?

The simple fact was, that travel was for the rich in most cases. Yes, there was the opportunity to travel relatively cheaply by ship if you travelled in the lowest class. This kind of travel was usually once in a lifetime as you emigrated from one country to another. Long distance aviation was another story.

The difficulty for early international travel was to create an aircraft that could carry a usable payload for a long enough range. There has always been the trade-off between carrying enough fuel to reach the destination versus carrying enough payload (passengers) to make the trip profitable for the airline.

Flying Boats

During the 1930s on both sides of the Atlantic, aircraft makers like Boeing and Short Brothers

Boeing 314 Clipper

Boeing 314 Clipper

decided that the future of long-range passenger air travel lay with the flying boat. These large chunky machines were generally powered by four propellers affixed to a huge wing atop the fuselage. Inside the accommodations were laid out as if the travellers were on a first class sea journey.  Cabins could be set up for seating during the day-time, and as sleepers for night-time. There were even dining rooms so meals could be taken in a civilised fashion.

Little wonder that a trip from the UK to Australia would cost as much as an average annual salary. The cabin may have been first class, but it was quite an adventure never the less. One of the reasons for choosing to land and take off from water was the ability to fly to places, or via places, where no adequate runway was prepared. These lumbering behemoths may have been able to lift a luxurious cabin and it’s occupants into the sky, however, their range was severely limited by today’s standards. At little better than 1,000 kilometres, they had to hop their way across the globe which made for very long journey times. For example a trip from Sydney to Singapore which today takes between 7 and 8 hours, involved a journey time of four full days with three overnight stop-overs. This was not too dissimilar to travelling by ship where you got to see some of the world on your way.

Land Based Propeller Airliners

War always brings advances in technology and for aviation this was certainly the case. A new generation of land-based propeller airliners emerged making use of advances in engine reliability as well as many more airfield that were now available.

War always brings advances in technology and for aviation this was certainly the case. A new generation of land-based propeller airliners emerged making use of advances in engine reliability as well as many more airfield that were now available.

These airliners started to resemble what we see today as far as cabin layout is concerned. Gone was the cavernous and opulent interior of the flying boat to be replaced by a more practical cabin seating both economy and first class passengers in most cases. Airliners of this age were more streamlined and were capable of higher speeds than the lumbering flying boats.

A preserved Super Constellation "Connie" come in to land. The long nosewheel and curved fuselage was designed to keep the longer propeller blades clear of the ground, whilst the triple lower tail enabled it to still be stored in the standard hangars of the day.

A preserved Super Constellation “Connie” come in to land. The long nose-wheel and curved fuselage was designed to keep the longer propeller blades clear of the ground, whilst the triple lower tail enabled it to still be stored in the standard hangars of the day.

Perhaps the pinnacle airliner of this age was the Lockheed Super Constellation, a very sleek aircraft almost resembling a dolphin in shape. With a cruising speed of 295 knots (547 KPH) she had a maximum range of 4,700 Nautical Miles (8,700 Kilometres). For the princely sum of around 2.5 times the average annual salary, one could travel from Sydney to London in no less than 64 hours. The journey would involve 8 stops, such as; Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, and Tripoli. The journey, lasting 3 days, would involve overnight stops in Singapore and Cairo.

Engine reliability was still an issue and it was not uncommon for delayed propeller airline to arrive with only 3 or its 4 engines running.

In addition, these aircraft were all susceptible to weather conditions. The Super Constellation had a service ceiling of 24,000 feet which means it was not able to climb above weather as we expect today’s jets to do. This could lead to delays as pilots awaited weather systems to pass over, manoeuvring around them if they were already airborne

A New Sound in the Sky

The late 1950s saw the introduction of the Jet Airliner age. Aircraft like the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8, each with four jet engines mounted beneath their swept back wings, started to be the mainstay of intercontinental travel. With a much higher speed than the propeller  airliners, these jets dramatically cut down travel times. The Sydney to London trip could be done in half the time at around 30 hours.

The jet airliner age brought faster speeds as well as the ability to fly above most of the weather.

The jet airliner age brought faster speeds as well as the ability to fly above most of the weather. This QANTAS Boeing 707 sported the V Jet insignia were the V stands for vanna, the Latin for fan. It was powered by the newer generation fan jets.

The problem of range, was still there though. These jet flights, while being faster, still required multiple stopovers along the way to refuel. The Sydney to London route would require 5 to 6 stops along the way.

Enter the Jumbo

In 1969 passenger aviation changed dramatically. Boeing launched their most audacious design yet, the Boeing 747. This aircraft, dubbed, the Jumbo Jet enable several hundred passengers to be carried all on one aircraft. One result was a drop in the cost of flying which brought it within reach of the common person.

Pan Am Boeing 747 May 1985. Pan Am was the driving force behind the development of the Boeing 747.

Pan Am Boeing 747 May 1985. Pan Am was the driving force behind the development of the Boeing 747.

Whilst the size and carrying ability of the 747 was impressive, one of the great features that attracted airlines was its range ability and speed. It could fly further and faster than the DC8 and 707 at a cheaper seat / mile cost. This opened up the ability for intercontinental airlines to offer faster and cheaper journey times to far away destinations. If we go back to our Sydney to London route, the early 747s reduced the stopovers to 2 which were typically Singapore and somewhere in the Persian Gulf like Bahrain. The journey time was now in the low 20 hours.

There was even a shorter version of the 747, 747SP (Special Performance)  which had an increased ranged due to the reduced weight. This was requested by Pan Am and Iran Air so that they could service some of their longer non-stop routes such as New York to the Middle East and Tehran.

It’s Twins!

Jet engine technology has now reached a point of reliability where a shut down during flight is almost unheard of. An aviation standard called ETOPS (Extended Operations or Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim) governs the certification of twin jet airliners to fly long distances over water or remote territory. These certifications have been gradually granted to the large twin jets we see in our skies today.

It took a while to gain acceptance that twin jets could be used on long over water intercontinental routes. Airbus had an each way bet with their A330 and A340 models. They are essentially the same airframe, but one has four engines and one has two. Their adage was, “four engines for long haul”. The A340 proved popular at first and boasted a long range model that flew some of the longest routes in the world. It was quipped that it was a flying tanker with a few passengers along for the ride.

Once ETOPS approval was given to the large twin-jets such as the; Airbus A330, Boeing 777 and more recently the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350, the economics of the four-engined airliner just didn’t stack up anymore.

Today

Today it seems to be the age of the twin-engined airliner which is capable of meeting and surpassing the performance, reliability and economics of all previous airliners. What used to take 6 weeks by ship, 4 days by flying boat or 3 days by Super Constellation is now possible in around 17 hours.

Airbus A350 History started with test aircraft tirlessly chekcing and testing new systems.

Airbus A350 XWB is the new high tech twin jet airliner from Airbus.

When we expect to be able to go and explore any part of the world in the few weeks holiday we are allocated, or go and close a business deal on the other side of the world, this is a huge step forward.

On the other side of the coin, one has to wonder what is lost when you no longer stop along the way. Have we lost the adventure that makes travel exciting? Will we no longer look forward to the journey itself as we complain about the food and watch the same shows we watch in our own living room?

It seems long haul flights have become as exciting as a trip to the mall.

How Safe is Flying?

A330 QANTAS ready for interior fit out

How safe is flying today?

How safe is flying? I used to get asked this a lot while I was training for my private pilots’ licence. My favourite response always used to be. “Well, the most dangerous part is the drive to the airport.”

Seriously though, it is a very good question. How safe is flying in those gigantic machines along with a few hundred other people coming along for the ride. Let’s face it, this isn’t a perfect world and things go wrong. When airliner accidents happen, they of course go spectacularly wrong. Larger aircraft, carrying more passengers flying faster. It seems a miracle any get through at all. But they do. In fact, travelling by air is one of the safest methods of transport available today.

As an example, in peak times there can be 5,000 commercial aircraft flying over the U.S.A. at any one time. Similar numbers are also over Europe and Asia. These flights all happen every day with little incident.

Air Crash Investigations

Air safety is no accident. Let’s turn that around. Ok, we know accidents happen, we see it on the news and of course those popular TV programs like Air Crash Investigation. It may seem like a lot of people taking ghoulish interest in a tragic event. The actuality is that accidents contribute more to air safety than almost anything else. When an accident happens, no matter how minor or major, investigators will examine the details until they are 100% sure of what the cause was. This can be a pains-taking process and sometimes takes a year or more.

The reason for this painstaking process is prevention. By investigating and determining the cause of an accident, processes or new methods in construction can be put in place to prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future. In this way, no accident is ever without benefit for future fliers. These benefits will manifest themselves as; new training procedures, new maintenance procedures or new construction procedures.

B Checks must be done in the aircraft hangar, whilst C and D checks must be done at a purpose built aircraft maintenance centre. How safe is flying depends on these being done.

B Checks must be done in the aircraft hangar, whilst C and D checks must be done at a purpose built aircraft maintenance centre.

Aircraft Maintenance

Aircraft maintenance is a key component to the safety of flying. Each aircraft has strict guidelines set down by the manufacturer on how the specific aircraft should be maintained. In addition, there are strict guidelines set down by aviation authorities such as the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) in the U.S. or EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) in Europe as well as other national aviation bodies in other countries. These bodies set the minimum standard of maintenance procedures for aircraft in that country as well as those flying into that country.

These procedures are constantly being updated with new findings from accidents, incidents or new technology that comes into the industry. All this is in place to ensure that when you and I get on a plane, we can count on doing so in full safety.

Aircraft maintenance service intervals can be broken into 4 categories or checks plus the daily pre-flight inspection. The timing of each of these checks is generally determined by the amount of hours an aircraft has flown and/or the amount of flight cycles an aircraft has endured. A flight cycle is one take-off and one landing. Therefore a flight from Melbourne to London via Bangkok is 2 flight cycles.

How Safe is Flying is Determined By Aircraft Maintenance Checks

Daily Inspection

Prior to every days’ first flight, a visual inspection of the aircraft is carried out. This inspection is a methodical walk around performed by one of the pilots and is a check for any superficial damage or anomalies on the aircraft. The visual inspection looks for any outwardly obvious damage or inconsistencies that might render the airliner unsafe for flight that day.

  • The wings and skin are checked for damage caused by bird-strike or other foreign objects.
  • Moving parts such as flaps, ailerons and elevators are checked for any foreign objects that may impede their free movement.
  • Tyres and are checked for splits or excessive wear.
  • Brakes are checked for  foreign objects or cracking
  • Air intake ports are checked for foreign objects
  • Pitot and Static air intake tubes are checked for any blockage

These checks are continued throughout the day before every flight. You can rest assured that the pilots want to have a safe aircraft every bit as much as you do. Nobody likes surprises once you are in the air.

Airlines very carefully schedule the various maintenance checks to coincide with their due date whilst minimising time out of service for aircraft.

Airlines very carefully schedule the various maintenance checks to coincide with their due date whilst minimising time out of service for aircraft.

Like your car requires servicing according to the manufacturer’s manual, aircraft also have a stringent schedule for mandatory checks and servicing. Airlines must have very detailed documented procedures for every step of aircraft maintenance which must be followed to the letter and signed off. As part of their certification to be allowed to fly into and out of various countries, airlines must be able to show their maintenance procedures and how they are followed to ensure passenger safety. In this way the question, how safe is flying? can be answered, as safe as we can possibly make it.

Airliner maintenance and safety checks can be broken down into 4 different levels. These are commonly known as the; A, B, C and D checks.

A Check

Other than the Daily Inspection, the A Check is the lightest check and is performed the most often. Depending on the aircraft type and the kind of use it gets, the A Check is performed every 300 – 600 flight hours or every 200 – 300 flight cycles. Remembering that a flight cycle equals one take-off and one landing. If the aircraft is used on short domestic flights, for example, it is more likely the cycles will be the determining factor as these will build up more quickly versus the flying hours.

The A Check itself is generally carried out overnight while the aircraft is not in service to minimise any loss of revenue. Around 20 – 50 man hours are involved in this check and it can be carried out at the airport gate.

B Check

The B Check is a more intense check and needs to be performed in an aircraft hangar. The check is performed around every 6 months and depending on the aircraft type may require 120 – 150 man hours. A Checks can be incorporated into the B Check so that the aircrafts’ removal from flying schedules is minimised.

C Check

The C Check is a much more intense check and requires a lot more space. For this reason, it must be carried out at a designated maintenance base. Depending on the aircraft type, this check is required to be carried out every 20 to 24 months which is also influenced by the number of flying hours. Around 6,000 man hours will be required which may keep the aircraft out of service for 1 to 2 weeks. A much more in-depth check of the airframe is carried out while many components are removed for inspection or replacement.

This check is designed to capture any problems with corrosion and cracking before they become a problem, as well as replacing or servicing smaller components.

Early detection is the purpose of most of the check performed during maintenance checks.

Early detection is the purpose of most of the checks performed during maintenance periods.

D Check

The D Check is by far the most intensive check performed on aircraft and is also known as the HMV (Heavy Maintenance Visit). This check is carried out around every 6 years and can take the aircraft out of service for 2 months. Like the C Check, the service must be carried out at a purpose built maintenance base with the appropriate facilities. The work can involve around 50,000 man hours and essentially is a total strip down of the aircraft. Often even the paint has to be removed to allow a detailed inspection of the aircraft skin, looking for cracking and corrosion.

Airlines will often use this opportunity to refresh or update the livery of the aircraft as well as refurbishing and updating the cabin interior.

The cost of performing a D Check is huge. Depending on the aircraft type, a ball park figure of 1 million US dollars is not unusual. For this reason, the number of maintenance bases in places like the US are few. Many airlines will fly their aircraft to locations where labour costs are lower to perform this check. This doesn’t mean the work is inferior, as the same stringent documented work processes are in place and supervised.

As a rule of thumb, an airliner generally has 3 D Checks in its working life. After the third, the aircraft value has diminished to the point where it is likely to be worth less than the cost of doing the next scheduled D Check. At this point, the airline normally decides to retire the aircraft.

Air safety is no accident, but a painstaking very highly controlled process.

Air safety is no accident, but a painstaking very highly controlled process.

Conclusion

How safe is flying? When we look at the number of flights that are achieved without incident every day, we can see that the expectation of arriving at our destination in one piece is almost a given. Almost, because nothing in life is guaranteed. The same could be said for walking or driving down to our corner store. There is an element of risk in simply being alive.

The airline industry, and in this I include airlines, airliner manufacturers and airport operators, take safety extremely seriously. Their reason for their existence depends on the public being comfortable with the answer to, how safe is flying? Flight, for most people, is the only time in their lives that they will be in an environment that is totally hostile to their being. Too cold, not enough air to breath, too far to fall and too fast. Air travel has to be seen to be going the extra mile to provide a safe environment.

By learning from every accident that occurs and using that knowledge in maintenance procedures or flight training procedures, bit by bit accident likelihood is being reduced.

Being on a commercial airliner is now one of the safest places to be.

I would love to hear your views or experiences around how safe is flying today. By all means, leave those comments below. Thank you for stopping by and reading how safe is flying..