Posts Tagged ‘aerospace’

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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The British government is pressuring British Airways to purchase UK-made products in the interests of British jobs, the Times reports. “Government ministers and officials are understood to be urging Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA, to ‘buy British’ by supporting Rolls [engines] and Airbus, both of which have large manufacturing operations in the UK.”

I can’t even begin to go into how backward this is, but I’ll try: First, if Airbus and Rolls Royce offer products superior to their competitors’ (they are both certainly right up there with their competitors), then the decision would require no intervention. Second, BA is a mostly-Boeing airline, although the Times article fervently pushes a scenario in which BA might need to buy the A380. But it doesn’t make sense for BA to buy Airbuses unless it gets a good deal, which is something it needs to negotiate with Airbus. For the British government to get involved in a pricing deal with a private company would be illegal.

That’s right, illegal! (more…)

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Very Light Jets (VLJs) are going to enter U.S. airspace very soon. They were promised to shake up the aviation sector by offering the benefits of private jet travel at the cost of a full-fare coach ticket. VLJs achieve greater cost efficiency due to their small size and single pilot, and their jet engines, longish range, and ability to land on short airstrips theoretically makes them competitive with corporate aviation and commercial flights.

But VLJs have a problem–congested airspace around major U.S. cities has caused delays; delays have underscored the Air Transport Association’s claim–which includes an appeal to class warfare–that crowded airspace is caused by overuse by private jets. Commercial jets pay more in landing fees than private jets, so the debate is whether to make things more equal (airlines) or preserve a competitive general aviation sector (private aviation). (For what it’s worth, I want to see costs somewhat equalized, which will benefit most consumers, but I see the merits in having a competitive market for private jet travel, especially in the context of the coming VLJs. I plan to have a post sometime this week on the FAA reauthorization debate.)

Furthermore, the FAA is years away from implementing its years-overdue and now-outdated NextGen air traffic control system. If you take today’s congestion airspace areas and add hundreds of VLJs to them, well, it doesn’t take a flight scheduler to figure it out. So, as a result of the FAA’s air traffic control inertia, what Congress does with air traffic control user fees will probably determine whether VLJs can make it. Sensible policy on VLJs would be to “first do no harm” against the small-jet sector. The FAA’s failure to improve our air traffic control system has made that impossible. Delays will continue to spiral, fees will make VLJs uncompetitive, or both.

Air taxi heralds upgrade for the private jet [Christian Science Monitor via Gulf News]

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One of the media’s tropes is the battle royal between Boeing and Airbus, with the two companies as respective proxies for the United States and Europe. This is really no more than a trope, as both companies have been making their operations more international. The new Boeing 787 is really only American-assembled, not American-made–its parts are produced all over the world and shipped to Everett, Wash., for assembly.

Boeing has announced that China is now its largest supplier, with over $2.5 billion in contracts on all Boeing models. This is a sign of healthy trade interaction. When China’s state-owned aerospace companies start producing “homegrown” Chinese jetliners, one hopes that they will have learned a lesson about the value of international business cooperation and not follow the nationalistic path they seem inclined to.

China Now Largest Foreign Parts Supplier for Boeing [Aero-News.Net]

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As the BRICs develop their aerospace industries, they will decide whether they will participate in the international trading system or sell to a bloc of client states. Unfortunately, Russia seems to be returning to familiar paths as it attempts to produce 4,500 aircraft by 2025. Russia’s state-owned UABC is selling several Tupolev 204s to the Islamic Republic’s state-owned Iran Air. U.S. and European sanctions on Iran prevent the airline from buying the spare parts needed to maintain its Boeing and Airbus fleets. The sanctions are in place to pressure Iran to drop its nuclear program.

By constricting the Iranian economy, the West may persuade the regime in Tehran to give up its expensive nuclear ambitions and open up to true wealth. Russia’s decision to sell to Iran–not only airplanes–undoes that work. Russia is expressing its disdain for the multilateral trading system and bucking up a state sponsor of terrorism, a force for regional instability, and one of its old Cold War clients.

Russia is allowing its need for an outlet for production of new jets to supersede its interest in a stable regional neighbor. Moscow’s course, while it may bring good business in some quarters, indicates the path Russian aerospace and commerce in general will take in coming years.

Iran Turns to Russia for Airliners [AP]

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