Archive for February, 2007
‘Aviation Legend’ is a often misused term, it gets everywhere; across the pages of magazines that should know better and maybe preserve the title for the deserving few. Traditional heroes are chiseled and shaped by war and propaganda into a figures that not many of their contemporaries would recognize.
You couldn’t wander the display circuit in the seventies without stumbling across the odd one here and there. In this way I met Douglas Bader and Ginger Lacy. Douglas briefly and Ginger for a couple of hours sat in a circle on the grass next to our aircraft. Douglas was instantly recognizable from Kenneth More’s portrayal of him in the film Reach for the sky. He had lost none of his charismatic, pugnacious character to time and had something approaching God-like status amongst the eminent company that surrounded us at Biggin Hill during the UK’s premier ‘Air Day’.
Ginger was a gent with a twinkle in his eye and a passion for flying that he had maintained through the war and beyond. He was teaching people to fly at his own flying club on the windswept coast of Northern England at he tender age of sixty one. He inspired great respect and affection, even after the shortest meeting.
There are memorable moments in the display world where the sheer artistry of a performance defines the true master. I remember watching Ray Hannah practice his display sequence at Booker late one summer evening in a Spitfire Mk IX, – it was exquisite to the point of terrifying. I would have given him 2 points for his consideration for the preservation of a treasure, but 100 for his virtuoso performance.
He left no margin for error, but displayed that thoroughbred in a breathtaking way, I have never seen the like since and nor am I likely to.
Neil Williams was very different, an ETPS graduate test pilot and another man completely in love with flight, and with aerobatics in particular. Watching him four point roll the Yak 11 was to witness absolute fluid mastery in the art of dancing in the sky with an aeroplane. His crisp but flowing roll retained pin point accuracy without losing a brushstroke of perfection. That single manouver has always occupied the same place in my memory; as with Ray, seen during practice at Booker during a Spring evening with hardly a soul about.
Well before this time, Neil had a remarkable in flight emergency whilst flying a Zlin during practice. During a maneuver the main spar had failed at a connection point; he had managed to catch the wing as it folded by rolling away from it to the inverted. He returned to the airfield inverted to roll erect seconds before landing. The wing folded as he rolled upright and the subsequent arrival was spectacular. The aircraft was a write off but he climbed out unhurt.
I never bumped into Alex Henshaw in the flesh, but I met him through his writing about a chapter in his exceptional life. ‘Sigh for a Merlin’ will be a title recognized instantly by Spitfire enthusiasts all over the World. The book tells the story of the production test flying of the Spitfire from Castle Bromwich, a place that no-one would choose to site an airfield for that purpose. Its primary asset was its proximity to the Spitfire’s production lines, its secondary, the power station cooling towers nearby. They formed a primitive beacon in the form of a bump in the cloud deck visible from the clear blue sky above. He used this reliable feature to remain oriented above the cloud deck and to aid his letdowns through the ‘clag’ to minima that would raise our hair today. And he did this sometimes twenty times a day in inclement weather to keep the supply lines rolling to the squadrons. This book is an aviation ‘must read’ if you have any interest in the triumph of will over adversity in aviation and war.
So where am I going with this? I never saw him fly, never met him and now never will. He died peacefully at his home on the 22nd Feb 2007 at the grand old age of 94 after staying up all night to look after Purdy, his sick Labrador.
We need to perform a little alchemy here to build a picture of Mr Henshaw. You must visualize a man driven by the knowledge that his work was absolutely vital to the success of a war effort. He technical expertise was demonstrably exceptional; according to contemporaries his displays took his aircraft to the limits of its capabilities and the audience to the edge of their seat, metaphorically and literally. He broke the rules with panache retaining complete mastery of his machine right to the very edge of what was possible.
Take the raw talent and skill of all of the men above, the courage and the passion that made them what they were and you come close to creating a picture of Alex Henshaw. That he could be a difficult man is known and alluded to in his obituary and many accounts of him but… as they say in the annals of history, “Come the moment, come the man.” What a moment and what a man. A flier with very few peers and a largely unsung legend.
You might want to read his obituary written in todays Daily Telegraph.
NB: I have omitted all ranks and titles for clarity. No disrespect is intended.
Airbus employees to begin hearing details tomorrow
ATW: Tuesday February 27, 2007
EADS board unanimously approved Airbus’s Power8 restructuring plan, details of which will begin to be revealed to employees Wednesday. The board said in a statement that it “fully supports” the cost-cutting program, adding: “Power8 shall enable Airbus to better face the challenge of the US dollar weakness, the financial burden related to the A380 delays as well as its future investment needs.”
The approval followed last week’s Franco-German summit that brokered compromises on job cuts and facility closures aimed at easing German opposition to the restructuring plan. Company officials now will have to convey the plan’s merits to labor groups that have threatened work disruptions.
More comment from The Seattle Times.
We are starting to see the wood from the trees. The labour groups reaction and the political fallout will ultimately produce the pain and delay in implementation. The wrangling has substantially been done, pragmatism prevailed in the boardroom by the look of it.
UPS, Airbus agree to let either party void jet order.
“United Parcel Service and Airbus agreed that either company can cancel an order this year for 10 A380 freighters after repeated production delays.
UPS, the world’s largest package shipper, will decide whether to retain the $2.8 billion order after getting new delivery dates from the plane maker, UPS spokesman Mark Giuffre said Friday. The companies declined to provide details of the accord.”
Origin: Mary Schlangenstein – Bloomberg News
Is this all bad for Toulouse? Looked at another way, perhaps Airbus needs to lose some of the short term pressure to get the jets out of the door and into service. Early adopters dropping out provides relief for those further down the track who stuck with the program. As production ramps up and the aircraft comes into service, the world will be able to judge for itself which of the two theories of air travel becomes dominant or whether there is space in the marketplace for both (hub operation – smaller size aircraft, higher frequency or large loads, point to point.) The passage of time will change the scenery determining the success or failure of these projects no matter what – the money is invested and the metal is being cut. Losing orders can’t be described as a winning result but surely some clouds have silver linings?
Besides, UPS must have cut an excellent deal and provided the aircraft appears soon and is a success, it is just what they need. Do you see anything else out there able to shift those volumes?
Source: Bob Lekites, VP – Airline and International Operations for UPS, on the freight carrier’s decision to postpone its final decision on whether to cancel its order for 10 Airbus A380 Freighters until the end of 2007.
“This agreement will provide us additional time to evaluate our network requirements and make a decision once and for all as to how best to ensure service to our customers,”
British Airways has ordered four Boeing 777-200ERs and taken options on a further four of the type. The new aircraft will be delivered during early 2009 and will be powered by either General Electric or Rolls-Royce engines (British Airways currently operates both on its existing fleet of 43 B777-200s and B777-200ERs).
The options, if confirmed, would be for delivery in 2010. British Airways currently has no long-haul Airbus aircraft. The airline also increased its order for A320s (from six to 10), following the conversion of four options, and has four additional A321s on order.
British Airways initially intends to replace 20 of its 57 Boeing 747-400s and 14 of its Boeing 767-300ERs in the next decade and is considering the following additional and replacement aircraft: Airbus A330, A350, A380, Boeing 787, 777 and 747-8.
And the next problem?
Aircraft flight and cabin crews start to go ‘out of hours’ as the delay soaks up their available duty. So now we have jets in the wrong place, crews out of hours and unable to fly them even if the destination airport opens and can accept aircraft again. So, how about we get a new crew to fly the passengers to where they want to go? Well – from where? The diversion airport is unlikely to be the base for the diverted aircrafts crews and the severe weather has pressurized the crewing establishment to the point where there are no spare crews to be had anyway.
Now take just this one diversion and multiply it across the entire system and we begin to see a picture that at least looks like chaos. The crew scheduling departments of every airline involved are a hive of activity as ‘schedulers’ unravel the ball of string that once was the regular airline schedule. Aircraft and crews that are heavily delayed lose their crews as they go ‘out of hours’; the aircraft now ‘out of position’ on the schedule are simply unable to move until the weather relents and the crews get rested.
Then what happens?
Well ‘someone’ has to rebuild the schedule that you see advertised and published. That flying program has to be re-established or the company simply cannot function and that means a period of cancelling flights, cutting and pasting in new ones and mental energy expenditure that defies description.
Crews reduce their rest entitlement to minimum legal limits to get the show back on the road. Schedulers and airline staff multitask working horrendous hours to swing the program from chaos to short term, sticking plaster order. Hotels creak with their cash registers racing to cope with demand from very, very peed of people. And all of this is done whilst maintaining a a smile, remembering that passengers are human beings too and that it is imperative to focus on draining the lake whilst beating off the crocodiles.
I have seen this happening quite a few times now, it is fascinating and inspiring to observe people working so skillfully against such complex problems. The UK can be little different fromt he ‘States or anywhere else for that matter. NO company is immune, NO company can afford to employ manpower to make this drama easier to cope with. It just isn’t possible to do that and offer a ticket price that will enable you to stay in business.
So what can we, the airlines do?
Our information and communications systems improve as new technologies and improved software help with the organisation of the disruption. To date the airlines collectively have not been that good at putting information into the terminals.
The major comment from our customers seems to be that they are not being kept informed of what is happening. In truth often there is really no answer to that; the information chain from Operations to the terminals is a long one and the situation often changes so quickly that information can become out of date within minutes of being distributed causing confusion and frustration. Operations staff know this so tend to get on with the job and leave the terminal staff to hold the lions at bay with their ever fraying customer service skills. To speak to the terminal staff in situations like this is to converse with heroes; I don’t know how they do the job sometimes. The pay tends to be poor and the hours long and as for the glamour of aviation… well. They live on adrenalin and McMuffins, like the crew scheduling staff and we would all be lost without them.
There must be room for improved information systems to make headway, I cannot help thinking that massive video screens placed strategically around a terminal and connected to an ‘Information Distribution Cell’, could do to take the heat out of a highly pressurized situation. Even if those screens showed nothing more than the efforts being expended on passengers behalf – live snow clearance operations, ramp operations and other ‘stimulating’ content like that.
The handling of disruption in an operational sense is improving as the frequency of problems increases. Take terrorist action, weather disruption and the industrial action that is inevitable in any human enterprise, and you have an increasing frequency of events that provides vital experience that can be learned from and the experience used to improve procedures and systems.
Why haven’t the airlines got to grip with these problems.
The air transport structure has never before been under the pressure that it under right now and all the signs are that airline and system expansion will continue for the foreseeable future. Change is coming at the airlines at a terrific rate and due to the economics of the flying game, our staffing levels have diminished to help with the bottom line or just plain survival.
Aircraft utilization has never been higher, pilots and flight attendants have never worked as hard as they do now – believe me; I have talked to crews worldwide about this and it is a very hot subject.
The world has changed, using the ball of string analogy, the string used to be wrapped slack, now the ball is twice the size and wrapped really tight.
In summary, we have a way to go, but we are getting there – one inch at a time.
A lot of stuff hit the fan in the US recently. Passenger reaction to Jet Blue’s and other carrier’s woes over disruption is interesting and worthy of a little inspection. Airlines generally get a bad press during system delays largely due to the chaos that reigns in the terminals with so many people packed into what becomes a small space. A truly human problem and a very human reaction.
If we are all to be grown up people here we need to look at airline disruption for what it really is, the machine grinding to a halt for good reason. Every carrier in every country experiences the consequences of severe weather and how they handle the problem of course defines how the traveling public view the airlines competence. How we handle it in a civilization is starting to define us. The airlines have work to do in many departments.
Let’s look at the effects of heavy snow closing airports and doing its worse to the system.
When snow starts to fall delays immediately start to be felt in the system by aircraft inbound and aircraft on the gate waiting to go. The cause? runway snow clearance programs. Aircraft can land with light coverings or even packed deposits if braking on the runway for departing and landing aircraft is not too badly degraded.
Falling snow complicates matters as it accumulates because it needs removing and the braking action measurements being taken don’t stay valid for long. Taxi-ways become ill defined and slippery, ramp lead-in guidance becomes obscured and the gate areas become dangerous due to slippery surfaces and a similar problem with entry guidance onto gates. The flying game begins to slow right down, and it needs to, to remain safe.
During sustained snowfall it isn’t long before the airport closes for runway clearance forcing inbound traffic to divert to an unaffected airport or one where it has stopped snowing and the clearance effort has reopened runways and taxi-ways. Some airports alternate runway clearance and manage to stay open, but the rate that they can handle traffic reduces and aircraft are still forced to divert because they do not have sufficient fuel to wait around.
Next problem – at the diversion airfield.
The ‘open’ airfield that has received all the diverted traffic is flooded because it is, by definition convenient for the destination, gate space is at a premium and the place is busy. The refueling and handling facilities become loaded as the airport tries to cope with its now delayed regular departures (waiting to go to the place the diversion aircraft couldn’t land at) and the diverted aircraft.
Maybe it would be someone like Sir John Harvey-Jones in his day or another character of the presence and ability of a corporate ‘Red Adair’. Either way, Airbus need a firm hand on the tiller guided by a vision of its future that obliterates rampant national interest from the agenda. It is one thing to know where a solution should lie, quite another to identify the hand that would receive the approval of all the vested interests involved. Have they got, or will they get the best man for the job?
Boeing is not a stranger to industrial and structural problems but they weathered them without major disasters (that we got to hear about.) Airbus must do the same and move on but they face problems from just about every quarter with a massive project that is behind schedule, overweight, unfinished from a design point of view and whose future is still very much in the balance. Airbus might refute that claim but if they cannot resolve size and shape issues, they cannot produce aeroplanes. If a major customer withdraws they may well be left with a stricken giant and who would want to stand beneath such a creature and try to catch it as it falls?
Politics is woven into the Airbus/EADS structure in a way that it is not (quite) with Boeing. Where States provides funding and national prestige is involved, look for political interference and cover up in the name of political expediency which is always short term. Jacques Chirac, plagued by his own problems refuses to criticize the managers at Airbus, but states that ‘there are problems’ and that ‘steps will be taken.’ What steps I wonder, and when?
When did government interference ever solve problems? Meddling by civil servants most often produces more muddle, something that Airbus and EADS badly need to avoid.
I believe that Boeing needs Airbus to survive and even thrive. Was it William Pitt that said, “The most valuable asset to a government in power, is a powerful and able opposition.”
Something there for us all I think.
Via: The BBC Online
Airbus has been forced to postpone an announcement on a major overhaul of the business, amid disagreement between its various European partners. The struggling planemaker said it had shelved plans to reveal a radical restructuring, likely to result in thousands of job losses, on Tuesday.
France, Germany, the UK and Spain, all home to Airbus factories, have been unable to agree on future contracts. Costly delays to the A380 superjumbo have hit the company’s finances.
Parent firm EADS says Airbus needs to reduce its costs by 5bn euros (£3.4bn) by 2010 to boost productivity and make up for the losses from the delays to the flagship project. Further savings after 2010 – in the region of 2bn euros a year – are also likely.
“I made proposals which I deem balanced, both from an industrial and a technological point of view and which serve our objective of economic competetiveness. I wish that they can lead to the consensus we urgently need. Airbus cannot delay implementing Power8 any longer”
Louis Gallois, Airbus chief executive
Government ministers and union officials from all four countries have been lobbying Airbus bosses in recent days, fearing that plants in their countries will bear the brunt of the cuts.
Newspaper reports have suggested that Airbus could cut up to 12,000 jobs from its 57,000-strong workforce.
But Airbus said it had been unable to reach a “consensus” on the restructuring, particularly over which plants in which countries would handle the manufacturing and final assembly of the new A350 plane.
AIRBUS EUROPEAN PLANTS
Toulouse: 11,500 staff
Saint Nazaire: 2,300
The firm said it hoped to resume negotiations on how contracts to build the plane – finally approved in December – would be shared out in the next few days.
“I made proposals which I deem balanced, both from an industrial and a technological point of view, and which serve our objective of economic competitiveness,” Louis Gallois, chief executive of both Airbus and EADS, said.
“I wish that they can lead to a consensus we urgently need.”
Mr Gallois stressed that a decision on the future shape and size of the business could not be delayed any longer, saying that staff were “eager” to know about their futures.
Airbus’ main factory is in Toulouse, where the firm is based.
Among its German plants, the company employs more than 10,000 staff in Hamburg, where final assembly of three models takes place.
In the UK, the firm operates plants at Filton, near Bristol, and Broughton, in North Wales, employing more than 11,000 staff in total.
This is very serious indeed, it was always a little strange to say the least that a succession of CEOs came and went at Toulouse. Even potential new bosses, after looking at the books decided that this was too large a lions den for them to enter with just a whip.
If it is so important (and it is) to turn out jets and meet delivery promises, why lay off the very people who are going to dig you out of a hole?
If you close factories and relocate production in another place, isn’t that going to involve construction projects, recruitment and staff training? Doesn’t that equal more broken promises, slipped delivery dates and lost orders?
If you announce a restructure and delay it, isn’t that going to totally demotivate those who are building your jets today, but are not part of the plan tomorrow?
If the production matrix that Airbus set up across Europe looked clumsy and overly dispersed when it was conceived and constructed, how much more so does it look now, and is now the time to rearrange the furniture?
If Airbus don’t get a grip of their business they are going to collapse under their own weight.
ANN: Storm Linked To Rash Of Air, Ground Incidents
Officials at Denver International Airport aren’t sure if — or how — a snowstorm led to cracked windscreens in over a dozen airliners Friday… but the storm does appear to be the common denominator.
The Associated Press, citing local media reports, states regional carrier SkyWest Airlines appeared to suffer the most cracked windscreens, with nine of its CRJs and Embraer Brasilias (above) affected. Eight of the planes were either preparing to takeoff, or on approach to land, when the cracks occurred; another was inflight when hit with the cracks.
“Only the outermost layer was affected” on all the planes, SkyWest spokewoman Marissa Snow said. The inner “failsafe” layer held, and no emergencies were reported.
Wind gusts close to 100 mph were reported in the Denver area at the time the cracking occurred, although airport officials say the winds were calmer at the airport itself — with gusts up to 50 mph.
Not optimal conditions, certainly… but also not uncommon for Denver in the winter. None of the pilots reported seeing flying debris that could have struck the planes, causing the cracks.
DEN spokesman Steve Snyder said airport officials were “baffled” by the problem.
And the problem wasn’t limited to SkyWest, either. Frontier Airlines also had two of its planes stricken with cracked windscreens while in flight… and, even more perplexingly, two others had windscreens crack while the planes sat at the gates.
Wind is a possible culprit, Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said… but added no one is certain that was the cause.
“It’s not exactly unusual weather for Denver,” Hodas said. “We don’t know what it is… It’s kind of a mystery at this point. It’s truly bizarre.”
At least 55 flights from DEN were cancelled due to Friday’s storms, while others were diverted, according to the AP.
As Aero-News reported earlier this month, pilots of a Beechcraft King Air 200 were startled when their plane’s windscreen cracked while cruising at 27,000 feet. The pilots depressurized the plane’s cockpit, and became unconscious before they were able to secure their oxygen masks; fortunately, they regained consciousness and were able to bring the plane in for a safe, though dramatic, emergency landing.
This is very strange isn’t it? Not since this post have we seen something almost supernatural in manifestation as this. There will of course be a natural explanation for it, I am sure the FAA or NASA will get to the bottom of it. Failing that just ask your nearest airline manager….