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Posts Tagged ‘aerospace’

LOL Boeing

lolboeing1

Lately, I’ve been reading LOLFed — the fun way to stay on top of the financial crisis. Today, on the heels of the leaking of Airbus’s dossier on the Boeing 787 and yet another round of 787 delays (deliveries pushed to 2010), LOLFed “reports” on some advice for Boeing chief James McNerny: “McNerney, upon calling his predecessor Alan Mulally for advice, received the suggestion that he taxi a 787 from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and ask Congress if they could spare a couple bucks to help the process along.”

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The Government Accountability Office is expected to rule by Thursday on Boeing’s protest over the Air Force’s decision to go with the Northrop Grumman/EADS tanker. Boeing is desperate for the $40 billion contract, but the Air Force insists that the Northrop Grumman proposal is superior.

But Congressman Norm Dicks had the best line of the day: “No matter what happens with the GAO . . . I think Congress has to step in to this and do what the Air Force didn’t do, and that is to have a real independent look at this thing.” Wait a second: Congress is independent? The same body whose members routinely intervene in government decisions and market forces to achieve outcomes narrowly beneficial to their districts (and top donors)? Moreover, is a congressman who represents Washington state, home to Boeing’s primary aircraft assembly plants and a large share of Boeing’s jobs, really qualified to take a “real independent look” at this issue?

Washington Ruling Expected on $40 Billion Aerial-Refueling Contract [W$J]

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The FAA has filed an action for a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines on account of operating aircraft without conducting a particular routine inspection on them. Here’s the story: For some unstated reason, Southwest failed to conduct “mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking” on forty-six Boeing 737 Classic-series aircraft from June 2006 to March 2007. Southwest notified the FAA of its lapse on March 15, 2007, and according to the airline, “The FAA approved our actions and considered the matter closed as of April 2007.” Apparently not. According to the FAA, “after Southwest Airlines discovered that it had failed to accomplish the required repetitive inspections, between March 15, 2007 and March 23, 2007, it continued to operate those same 46 airplanes on an additional 1,451 flights. The amount of the civil penalty reflects the serious nature of those deliberate violations.” Southwest is not denying that it operated these flights, and according to a statement from Boeing, “Southwest Airlines contacted Boeing for verification of its technical opinion that the continued operation of SWA’s Classic 737s, for up to 10 days until the airplanes could be reinspected, did not pose a safety of flight issue.” Boeing did not believe the safety of Southwest’s fleet was ever compromised. So, to recap: Southwest thought that the FAA had approved operating the aircraft between discovering the lack of testing and the conclusion of testing, and the FAA says it never approved such a plan.

At the heart of this issue, as best I can see it, is the phrase “deliberate violations.” What did Southwest think constituted FAA approval? We need to wait and see how Southwest officially responds to the FAA’s action to learn more. I’ve queried Southwest, and if I hear more details, I’ll post them. This is a very serious issue. Some observers (including the usual suspects in Congress) are jumping to conclusions, but I think we need to wait and see what else Southwest has to say.

FAA accuses Southwest of ‘deliberate violations,’ proposes $10.2 million fine [ATW Daily News]
We Take Safety Seriously [Nuts about Southwest]

Photo credit: Flickr user Cubbie_n_Vegas. Used through a Creative Commons license

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This AP story on Aviation.com has a troublesome lede. Check it out: “China plans to set up its own company to make passenger jumbo jets, making it less dependent on Boeing and Airbus, official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.” (Emphasis added.) I’ve blogged previously about China’s aerospace ambitions. Here, the reporter errs in his word choice. China and its airlines are not dependent on Western jumbo jet manufacturers any more than any other airline. Dependency does not bear on fair commercial transactions. A Chinese airline pays for an Airbus product, and both sides theoretically benefit. Dependency assumes that one party to a deal is a benefactor — a very different relationship than that between a vendor and a customer. Unfortunately, what China will do is make its airlines more dependent on the state-run Chinese aerospace firms.

And here is the second error in the article — or at least what should be a category error. Paul Krugman famously argued that countries don’t compete; firms do. The reporter should not be referring to China, Airbus, and Boeing in the same category. But China’s state-run aerospace firms make the country virtually identical to the firm. Here, the country is competing with the firm. The media have a regrettable habit of treating Airbus and Boeing as national proxies, but China has a regrettable habit of actually having state proxy companies.

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Welcome, Airliners.net readers! I hope you’ll poke around the site and subscribe to my RSS feed to get the very latest.

The Chinese were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of jumbo jets danced in their heads.

China, not stopping with its forthcoming small-to-medium-size civilian jetliner, is moving forward with its jumbo jet program. Its two state-run and owned aerospace companies, AVIC I and AVIC II, will be restructured. AVIC I (an acronym for China Aviation Industry Corporation) produces larger jets, both civilian and military, and AVIC II focuses on small aircraft and helicopters, both military and civilian. The word is that a new company will be launched by March 2008 to handle the jumbo jet program. The civilian jets will be a twin-aisle, twinjet, 200-300 seat CS2000 (pictured above, and in the vein of the Boeing 787 or Airbus A330) and a single-aisle, 150-200 seat CS2010 (along the lines of a Boeing 757). Eventually, a military-use jumbo jet will be offered (see the illustration below from Xinhua).

AVIC I and II will be reworked to produce parts and equipment for the jumbo jet program, in addition to continuing their own product lines. These developments raise the question of why China is going this direction. The global market for large aircraft is well-served by Boeing and Airbus, both of which produce excellent aircraft without being centrally managed by the state. Furthermore, both Airbus and Boeing compete in an open international market. I’ve written elsewhere that China may attempt to use its emerging network of proto-client states in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America as a market for uncompetitive Chinese products.

More worrisome is China’s insistence on “homegrown” aircraft. Just as the major aircraft producers are developing sophisticated international supply chains and moving toward truly global jets (the B787 is 25 percent foreign-produced, and parts are manufactured all over the United States), China wants to move in the direction of nationalism. They’re not there yet (many components of the ARJ21 are U.S.-made), but China’s jumbo-jet drive illustrates a troubling trend.

China’s determination to produce a large jet (as if that is a sine qua non of superpower status), combined with the fact that the industrial drive is being managed from Beijing, means that China is ignoring the market for the jets which it will produce. Maybe the market will accommodate the Chinese product, but it might not. Famously, Boeing almost went bankrupt in the 1960s producing the eventually successful B747 for an untested widebody market. The state-owned company that will produce the CS2000, CS2010, and larger jets will probably not be exposed to such risk, and the absence of risk may severely distort the market for commercial aircraft.

China’s major aircraft companies to restructure as ‘jumbo’ jet tops agenda [ATW Daily News]
China to establish company to build large jet [Reuters]

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My exchange with Daniel Hall earlier this week made it onto The Economist‘s Free Exchange, which was in turn picked up by Megan McArdle’s Asymmetrical Information.

The Economist writer brings in the intervention dimension:

[S]o politicised an industry as air travel need not fear dislocations in any case; governments would react incredibly quickly to pull back on any part of an agreed-upon energy bill that appeared to cause significant damage to airlines or aeroplane manufacturers. This, in fact, is one of the arguments made by carbon pricing sceptics–that governments will not allow the necessary pain to be felt.

McArdle follows this with

[G]overnments will not allow anything to harm the airline industry.

What I don’t quite understand is why this is so. Why is everyone obsessed with having protected domestic airlines, and indeed, airplane manufacturing capacity? . . . Now China, too, wants its own airframe manufacturer. And everyone wants to protect their national airlines.

 

Why is flying so emotional? And so heavily, heavily protected by the heavy hand of the state?

Two things to say about this: amen, but things may be looking up.

Aviation remains one of the most nationalized industries on the planet. British author Simon Calder once wrote, (more…)

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It’s a broken wingtip, not a broken wing

When I saw the Daily Mail item about the passengers who refused to fly on a plane whose wing tip had been broken off, I thought it was not really worth my blogging attention. Then I got emails about it, and replied that it really wasn’t a big deal. But with the blogosphere’s attention to the incident, I thought I’d throw in my two cents. This is what I emailed one of my correspondents:

Wingtips primarily function to increase range and fuel efficiency. They may be “blended” into the wing, but they’re not part of the actual wing structure. I suppose if the pilots thought the airplane was airworthy, it would be OK. They generally don’t have death wishes and will not hesitate to scratch a flight if the aircraft is unsafe.

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Irwin Stelzer, a very intelligent commentator on economic issues, indulges too much air rage in his latest column. After running through a laundry list of typical air travel complaints, he reveals that his understanding of air traffic control funding, for example, is shaky:

Now consider the world’s airlines’ roles in all of this. They have by and large acted as if their customers’ experience in airports is none of their concern. . . . Unless, of course, he or she is sitting on the tarmac for a few hours, in which case the airlines are guessing that their customers are not completely up-to-date on the carriers’ reluctance to fund a new air-traffic control system that might eliminate such annoyances.

Well, the airlines are actually trying to set up a “new” system, which has its own merits but no hope of alleviating such annoyances in the next few years. They want general aviation to bear a greater share of the ATC funding burden. The airlines are indeed “reluctant” to continue funding an air traffic control system that cannot accommodate the increasing demand for air travel. The key to relieving congestion is to charge higher prices at the (less than ten) crowded hub airports where such congestion occurs. Of course, this will increase fares, but it’s a rational way to allocate seats on flights at premium times of day–times when Mr. Stelzer presumably prefers to fly. (more…)

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So the A380 flew for the first time in commercial service, yippee. I just can’t get all the excited about the overdone Airbus-Boeing rivalry hype and the endless back-and-forth in the mainstream media about how every setback/leap forward means that Airbus/Boeing’s business plan is great/terrible. But I can get excited about this:

Safety concerns have been raised about the A380 super-jumbo after two passengers were attacked by lions during their on-board safari. The two business class passengers had to be rescued when their Land Rover became bogged down near a watering hole and they tried to get back to their flat-bed seats on foot.

The incident comes as Airbus announced that the next generation of A380s will feature a 25,000 seat auditorium based on the Roman Colosseum. Vasily Borodin, vice-president of Russia’s Aeroflot, said first class passengers will be able choose up to a dozen people from economy and then command them to fight to the death. “The winners and their families will be upgraded, so we should get some terrific contests,” he added.

Also on board: golf courses, hunting, and a six-story waterslide!

Safety Fears after A380 On-Board Safari Incident [parody from Daily Mash via Nuts about Southwest]

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In a post about Northwest Airlines’s new Airbus A330s, Ben Mutzabaugh reminds us that Northwest’s workhorse aircraft, the DC-9, is still in use with no planned replacement. NWA has 134 DC-9s, which seat 90-130 depending on configuration, and it has 130 of its other domestic workhorse type, the A319/A320 family, which seat between 125 and 150, meaning that the narrowbody Airbus jets are not a direct replacement. Northwest’s smaller-jet contractors are operating (at the high end) 76-seat Embraer E-175s and CRJ-900s, the max allowed under union rules. The business angle is that NWA needs a replacement for the DC-9. Will it be the 90-110-seater the E-190/E-195? Something else? It’s interesting to look at.

But this blog is about policy, and I wanted to point to the discussion in the comments about the safety of NWA’s old DC-9s. There’s a lot of claptrap about how unsafe the old birds are (as usual, people use “Internet grammar and spelling”):

  • “One accident with a Northwest DC-9 will ground the entire fleet. Their playing the numbers game.”
  • “How is that the FAA can regulate the maximum age for pilot but not the planes?”
  • “35 years old? No wonder I am afraid its going to be my last flight everytime I get on one, those planes are older than me!”

Fortunately, there are some common-sense commenters too, driving home the fact that old planes are not necessarily any less safe than new planes. So there’s really no reason for the FAA to “regulate the maximum age” of planes. Every aircraft in commercial service has to have a Standard Airworthiness Certificate. If the plane passes, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Wright Flyer; it’s considered satisfactorily safe.

NWA’s international fleet gets younger, but DC-9s still flying [Today in the Sky]

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