To have an aircraft waiting to pick you at an airport is one thing: yes, it is cool, and sounds like fun. To be in a 4 seat Cessna 172R, struggling to climb with the three souls on board, the luggage, and fuel for a one our trip, is another.
It’s a light aircraft, but it’s a good one. With the high wing, it’s pretty stable. But when the aircraft is heavy, the engines screaming at close to full power to squeeze what was barely a climb at 4000ft, dark clouds all around, dropping visibility (visibility was still good, though), an upright seat to accommodate my over sized luggage, and gusts that bump you around once in a while, it isn’t really the comfort you’d expect to enjoy.
It wasn’t bad, it was good. We finally “cruised” (read: bumped around) at 7500ft. It just is the way in which you get thrown around that sometimes makes you wonder if you’ll ever reach your near term destination. This was my longest flight ever on a single engine aircraft. I had to do it someday. And I would gladly do it again and again!
I know I’ve turned a year older, and I can no longer hide my white hair.
Friends can turn a dull day bright. I had my phone switched off the whole day, yesterday, to enjoy a nice, peaceful, and lazy day on my birthday. Well, friends had other plans.
An amazingly super person from Honeywell set out to make a video. A video that would capture a few words from some of the closest ones. And that one person did a superb job; a real good job.
My friends from my former employer, Honeywell, featured in the video. So did some good members from my Aerospace Lighting team: Optical, Mechanical, Electrical, wishing me in chorus! My professor and former head of Department at the University where I earned my electrical degree, my beloved cousin brother who, from the other side of the earth, did bear the cold to record a nice video; the 1 year+ adorable son of a very, very good friend, wishing me in front of the webcam; my super-well informed Lufthansa Regional friend who helped me pen the Q400 vs ATR article, and of course, the ones whom I owe everything to: my parents.
I thank everyone who managed to call me, Whatsapp me, SMS me: You all are kind, very, very kind. One commander who has been my guiding light, whom I have known from the days of 2 stripes to the 4 of a well respected commander. Never to forget the wonderful, big-hearted man who has made many (almost all) my aerospace projects a reality, and has guided me in business. And many more wonderful people, none of whom may be thanked in just a few words.
To those who forgot: I know you had to “perform" at your airline, and you are forgiven!
Thank you, everybody, for making the 25th March of 2013 a day to remember. And for making me wiser, stronger, bigger. You know who you are, and I love you all.
Saving the best for the last: Thank you, my beloved one: Without you, I couldn’t have walked so far.
VT-SNG, A BOMBARDIER BD-700-1A10 (Marketed as the Bombardier Global Express, and now rebranded as the Global 6000), just flew into Bangalore HAL airport. The aircraft was spotted on the downwind, as it majestically turned right for base to land into VOBG’s Runway 09.
This Global 6000 is owned by Sun TV Network Ltd (whose parent is Sun Group, which also owns Spicejet), and is used to transport their honco, Kalanithi Maran. The brand new aircraft was registered VT-SNG (manufacturer serial number 9493) on the 11th of March, 2013.
Bombardier describes the Global 6000 as “Speed, Range and Stately Supremacy". It has a maximum range of 6,000NM (11,112km), and a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.89 (89% the speed of sound). It can fly at FL510 (51,000ft above mean sea level at an altimeter setting of 1013.25), carrying 8-19 passengers. VT-SNG, however, has been certified with a seating capacity of 16.
The range is impressive, but what I like about Bombardier is their frankness. “6000NM is a theoretical range with NBAA IFR Reserves, ISA, 8 pax/4 crew. Actual range will be affected by speed, weather, selected options and other factors."
The aircraft is propelled by two Rolls-Royce Deutschland BR710A2-20 turbofans, each producing upto 65.5kN of thrust (about 6500kg thrust per engine), lending the aircraft a minimum thrust to weight ratio of 1 : 3.47 (at the MTOW of 45,132kg) , which is pretty high. This means the airplane can climb steeper and faster.
Maxing most of the raw power is the supercritical wing, swept back 35°, which features winglets for drag reduction.
The Flight deck features a Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suite with four 15.1-inch (38.4 cm) Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens, and a Head-Up Display System (HUD), 3rd generation Enhanced Vision System (EVS) and Synthetic Vision System (SVS).
With more than US$58.5 Million per jet, the maximum payload is 1,710kg, which is equivalent to just 17 commercial airline economy class passengers (Based on 70kg passenger weight + 25kg check in baggage + 7kg cabin baggage).
Ofcourse, this is a business jet to flaunt, not an air-bus to make money.
Says Rusdi Kirana, CEO of Lion Air, which has been, off late, making headline for all the “right” reasons.
Surprisingly, for a man who has absolutely no emotional attachment to the airline industry, all his orders are worthy of an ego boost. Surprising for a man who started off as a typewriter salesman, and has ended up as the CEO of the family owned business of the fastest growing airline in the world fueled by a dubious source of funding. Indonesia is ranked 118 by Transparency International. The ranking runs from least corrupt at No. 1 to most corrupt at No. 176.
In the February of 2012, the Indonesian airline placed an order for 27 ATR 72-600 aircraft, which, when all delivered in 2015, will make Lion Air’s subsidiary, Wings Air, the largest ATR operator.
In the same month of the same year, Lion Air placed the then largest firm order in aviation history, for 230 Boeing aircraft: 29 Boeing 737-900ERs, and 201 737Max, with options for 150 more 737MAXs.
Said Rusdi, in 2006, to Flightglobal, “Everyone knows that the passenger doesn’t really care about aircraft. I hear other airline people say they will go from old aircraft to new aircraft because their passenger likes it. But the passenger is already flying with you so who cares? Unless you are like Singapore Airlines where it is part of your image you should only change your aircraft if the cost is better. Here in Indonesia it is all about the ticket price."
But Yesterday, (March 18th, 2013), Lion Air ordered for a total of 234 A320 Family aircraft, comprising 109 A320neo, 65 A321neo and 60 A320ceo: one of the biggest orders from that region.
Surely, the orders are business driven. The carrier is banned from flying into the US and EU skies over safety fears. Now, Airbus and Boeing “safety experts" are running in and out of the airline auditing its safety and helping improve its rating.
Lion air has quite a few thin feathers on its cap. The first Boeing 737-900ER, and the and last ATR 72-500, were delivered to Lion Air. Lion Air is expected to be the launch customer for the 737-9 MAX.
Lion Air, with its subsidiary Wings Air, presently has a fleet of 125 airplanes, which comprise a mix of 737 Classics, 737NGs, 747-400s, MD-82s, MD-83, ATR 72s, and Dash 8-300s. This is impressive, considering the airline started operations in 1999. This combined fleet size is 17 aircraft more than the combined fleet strength of the Indonesian national flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia, and its low cost subsidiary, Citilink Indonesia.
This is surprising growth, and surprising business moves, coming from an apparently public shy, boyish charm businessman who said almost 6 years ago, on why he started an airline: “I did it because I was hungry”. Surprising that in a business with hairline margins, high costs, and stiff competition, that was the first business of choice for a starving man.
Instead, he went on to say, “I didn’t have money. If I had money at that time I would never have done an airline. Only stupid people who have money do airlines. If I had money I would buy plantations or do mining or property or restaurants.”
So we have a shy CEO who was hungry, made about US$10 a month, and decided, of all businesses, to start an airline, and has managed to grow it to the largest by fleet in the country, with money magically appearing from absolutely nowhere.
If Aditya Ghosh considers Southwest beyond Godly status, Lion air is Supernatural.
New Airbus A320 family aircraft come with strengthened wings, ready for the increased aerodynamic loads the Sharklets impose on the wings. It is then up to the customer to choose for a factory installation of either the roughly US$1M winglets, or the standard wingtip fences.
Or, if the customer chooses to, may later swap the wingtip fences with the winglets (Airbus calls them Sharklets), in what is known as a Production Retrofit. The rettrofit kit adds to the cost of the Sharklets.
Jet Blue made “history” by being the first operator to perform a production retrofit, on its aircraft N821JB (MSN 5417 which first flew on the 1st of December, 2012). This aircraft was produced before MSN 5428, which is now registered as 9M-AQQ, flying for Air Asia, and made “history” as the first Sharklet Equipped A320 to be delivered.
The recently delivered A320s to JetBlue, which came without the Sharklets, take less than 2 days per aircraft to fit the Sharklets. However, the older A320s in its fleet, on which JetBlue wishes to fit Sharklets, will need structural modification to strengthen the wings, and will take an estimated 14-21 days at a MRO facility. Newer deliveries will have the Sharklets fitted at the factory.
Watch the two videos, to understand and appreciate the differences between the two ways in which you can strap on the Sharklets: either at the factory, or at your facility.
Last Year, ATR produced 60 ATR 72 aircraft. Bombardier had produced 36 Q400s. 2012 saw ATR selling 115 aircraft (74 firm orders and 41 options), while Bombardier witnessed a sales of 81 aircraft (50 firm orders and 31 option aircraft).
This year, ATR is projected to produce 80 aircraft, almost all being the ATR 72-600. This will widen the gap between deliveries of the ATR 72 and the Q400, in 2013. A sign that the slower of the two turboprops, the ATR 72, is actually racing ahead of the Q400.
Maybe it’s the operating economics of the ATR 72. Or the average regional route lengths suited to its typical missions. Or the large number of operators in a region. Or the access to proximate training facilities. Or the rise of the developing nations while the developed saturate.
The aviation market in Asia, especially South-East Asia, is booming, in contrast to slowdowns and downsizing in Europe and the United States. In the February of 2013, ATR won an order for upto 36 ATR 72-600s, from Malaysia Airlines (MAS). Prior to that order, MAS had ruled out the ATR 72-600 series, on the grounds that there was no -600 simulator in the area. Says ATR’s CEO Filippo Bagnato, “In the last five years, Asia-Pacific has accounted for 50% of sales; so it is quite an important market for us". So important is the market that ATR, in December, set up a ATR 72-600 training centre at Singapore, just because one customer demanded it.
What resulted in the ATR epidemic in Asia, particularly South East Asia?
The rise of the South East, Average regional route lengths, superior operating economics, Aggressive Sales, local availability of ATR type-specific qualified pilots and engineers, Luck #1, and Luck #2.
The Rise of the South East.
Says Neil Dave, Consulting Analyst, Aerospace & Defense, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific, “Many ASEAN countries currently lack comprehensive and well developed ground transport infrastructure and countries in these regions are divided by vast seas, therefore there is a demand for a well-knit, flexible air-transport system,” said Dave.
“Also, with the increasing popularity of air-travel as mode of transport, there is a rise in demand for low cost travel among countries in the ASEAN region which are not connected,” Dave continued.
Quoting a CAPA report, “The continued strength of the economies in ASEAN, led by booming Indonesia, and the continued rapid rise of the region’s middle class should ensure another big year of traffic growth for Southeast Asian carriers – particularly LCCs and, to a lesser extent, full-service carriers."
Lucky with Route Lengths:
The ATR 72 is typically packed with 68 -72 passengers. Air Dolomiti in Europe flies its -72s with 66 seats, while Jet Airways (South Asia) has 68 seats, and this number can easily rise to 70-72 seats for South East Asian operators, thanks to the average height of the average male in the respective countries (Germany: 5′ 10″, India: 5′ 5″, Indonesia: 5′ 2.2″), which allow for a lower seat pitch.
The typical baggage weight limits for ATR flights in the SE-Asian region are 10kg for cabin and 15 kg for check in, totalling 25kg. With the average assumed body weight of 70kg per passenger, this total weight per passenger, including baggage, is 95kg.
With 95kg/passenger and 72 passengers, the payload goes upto 6840kg. Considering headwinds of upto 80kts at the cruise levels of the ATR, the useful range of the ATR 72-600 can be very safely assumed to be 500 NM. (ATR Literature claims 825NM for the -600 “option" [23,000kg MTOW] under the following conditions: ISA – No wind – JAR Fuel Reserves – Typical European Airline OEW)
500NM circles, centred at Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore, cover the whole of India.*
A 500NM circle, centred at Manila, covers almost the whole of the Philippines.*
A 500NM circle, centred at Bangkok, covers the whole of Thailand.*
500NM circles, centred at Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, covers all airports in Malaysia.*
500NM circles centred at Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Ambon and Jambi cover most of Indonesia.*
The regional routes are tailor made for the ATR 72-600. Luck #1.
*Does not consider terrain and elevated airports beyond the performance limits of the ATR 72.
The ATR 72 is less expensive to buy (by list price, though the heavy market demand for the type may make Bombardier offer the Q400 for lesser), less expensive to operate (the Q400 consumes almost 30% more fuel than the ATR 72-600), and due to its simpler design and systems, has a very high dispatch reliability.
The lower operating costs results in a lower breakeven load, of around 35 passengers, which is about 6 to 10 passengers lesser than the Q400.
ATR and Airbus share the same parent company: EADS. The not-spoken-of fact is that if you buy an ATR aircraft, you get a good deal on Airbus airplanes. And vice-versa. On top of this, ATR’s sales team is comprised of an aggressive one, that can help with support from European export credit agencies. Further, ATR goes out of the way to secure a customer.
Bombardier is milder. “The aircraft sells for itself" is the attitude of key sales personnel. Plus, Bombardier has two nearly competing aircraft under its brand: the Q400, and the CRJ700. Both are in the 70 seat category, and have similar range. Bombardier, and the customer, are easily confused.
Bombardier, unlike EADS, does not, as yet, offer a comprehensive product line. The yet to fly C-Series will be Bombardier’s first single aisle mainline solution, which will well complement the Q400. But Bombardier still lacks the entire product line and capacity that would be needed for domestic operations: products the size of the A321 and A320.
Local availability of manpower and training facility.
There are only 5 operators of the Q400, in 4 countries of Asia. ANA and JAC in Japan, Air Niugini in Papua New Guinea, PAL Express in the Philippines, and Spicejet in India. There is no abundance of Asian Q400 pilots and engineers.
Although South and South-East Asia is teeming with ATR type pilots and engineers, the demand for the type is so high that there is a shortage of such qualified crew. This is where luck#2 plays a role.
ATR has one ATR 72-600 training centre at Singapore, which will help significantly reduce the costs of training and sim-checks.
There are ATR-type-rated pilots in Europe who could come to SE countries such as Indonesia. Lufthansa’s ATR operation Air Dolomiti, for example, will be downsizing, which will make ATR pilots available. They will need jobs, and they are in good demand.
The curious case of Citilink Indonesia:
Citilink, the low cost carrier of the national flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia, had considered the Bombardier Q400 for its turboprop fleet. It was believed that the Q400 would be chosen, to differentiate from the competition: Wings Air’s ATR 72 fleet.
Arif Wibowo, the CEO of Citilink, said that there were three key considerations to selecting the aircraft type: economic, such the purchase price; financing; and aircraft performance. In the request for proposals, Citilink required bidders to present a plan to provide pilots, and ATR had agreed to this.
Incidentally, after Citilink announced in the December of 2012 that had decided to order ATR 72-600s, it placed a firm order with Airbus for 25 A320neo, in the January of 2013.
The Head or the Heart?
Just because two or more aircraft are in the same class, it doesn’t mean that they’ll perform to the same standard. An airline’s requirement stems from route demand, and this demand defines the desired capacity, and range; Everything else that define the aircraft then play an important role in deciding the best.
In an airframe market, filled with competition, which results in options, the airline is caught between choosing a product that stands out from the other players, and choosing a product that makes the most economical sense. More often than not, what ego-driven airlines look for, is a differentiator, while truly customer focused airlines that are keen on operational viability, look for, is a suitable performer.
Citilink is a low cost carrier; and no 70-80 seat airplane beats the operating economics of the ATR 72-600. The Q400 has a greater performance (greater range, faster climbs, higher cruise speeds), and promising potential (upto 8 more seats on the same flight), but a potential remains a potential until tapped. Forego the 8 seats and you break even with lesser passengers. Look at the typical routes in South East Asia and they are all suited for an ATR 72, as typified by Wings Air, which is set to becomes the largest operator of the ATR 72. Watch the ever increasing fuel prices and you’ll want a less thirsty aircraft.
The Q400 promises more revenue potential, with more seats and an extra flight. But it has to fly more passengers to break even, and more passengers to make the same amount of profit that operating the ATR 72-600 will make. Not many regional sectors bring in 100% loads to tap that potential.
True that the Q400 flies faster, but there must be customers willing to pay for that speed. In a booming aviation environment that is low-cost driven, where the markets are yet to mature and loads are yet to pick up, economics is paramount.
In short, in most of Asia, a low cost carrier can only beat the ATR 72-600 with an ATR 72-600. For everywhere else, like in North America, you have the Q400.
With respect to type rating designation for the ATR 42/72 series, DGCA finally recognizes the same type rating (single license endorsement) for the existing ATR 42/72 variants and ATR-600 variants as “ATR42/72". This means that the flight crew on Jet Airways’ ATR 72-500 can now fly either the -600 variant or the -500 variant on a single day, but not both the types on the same day.
This allows Jet Airways to better utilise its turboprop flight crew, which until recently was affected by DGCA’s then non recognition of the common type rating for the two types.
With only 2 ATR 72-600 in its fleet, and more expected to be inducted, this recognition is welcomed as Jet Airways slowly phases out the -500 in favour of the -600. Further, Jet Airways will realise training cost savings from the newly opened ATR Training Centre at Singapore, which houses one ATR 72-600 FFS (Full Flight Simulator).
The common rating is allowed with a differences training. EASA recommends a differences training of 5 days, which includes and covers 28 hours of classroom instruction, web based training, and practice on the Virtual Hardware Platform Trainer (VHPT), and 4 hours per crew on a Full Flight Training device (FFT), such as a FFS.
The differences training between the two aircraft focus on:
Engine malfunctions during take-off;
Use of avionics in normal and abnormal / emergency operations, including FMA annunciations, caution and warning messages on the Engine & Warning Display (EWD), and associated human factors issues;
Use of Flight Management System (FMS);
Use of Electronic Checklist (ECL);
Ice detection and management systems and displays (including APM); and
Crew Resource Management (CRM) with regard to the new functionalities.
Jet Airways (I) Pvt Ltd has reportedly leased two Kingfisher ATR 72-500s, bearing DGCA registrations VT-KAK (MSN 758) and VT-KAO (MSN 772), both manufactured in the year 2007. These two aircraft are leased from INV Jet Leasing Ltd.
Jet Airways has managed to lease these planes at a very attractive rate, thanks to the inability of the lessors repossess and fly out Kingfisher aircraft.
The aircraft are being painted in the Jet Airways’ livery; re-registration of the aircraft is uncertain. (Update: Aircraft re-registered as VT-JDD and VT-JDC, respectively)
Of the 15 Kingfisher ATR 72-500s registered with the DGCA, only three seem to be leased from traceable and established lessors.