FAA Downgrades India to Category 2


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As released by the FAA:

FAAThe U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced that India has been assigned a Category 2 rating under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program, based on a recent reassessment of the country’s civil aviation authority. This signifies that India’s civil aviation safety oversight regime does not currently comply with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); however, the United States will continue to work with India’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) to identify the remaining steps necessary to regain Category 1 status for India. With a Category 2 rating, India’s carriers can continue existing service to the United States, but will not be allowed to establish new service to the United States.

India achieved a Category 1 rating, signifying compliance with ICAO standards, in August 1997. A December 2012 ICAO audit identified deficiencies in the ICAO-set global standards for oversight of aviation safety by India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Subsequently, the FAA began a reassessment of India’s compliance with ICAO standards under the FAA’s IASA program, which monitors adherence to international safety standards and practices. The FAA has consulted extensively with the DCGA and other relevant Indian government ministries during its evaluation, including consultations in India in September and early December, and meetings this week in Delhi.

“U.S. and Indian aviation officials have developed an important working relationship as our countries work to meet the challenges of ensuring international aviation safety. The FAA is available to work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to help India regain its Category 1 rating,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The Government of India has made significant progress towards addressing issues identified during the September 2013 IASA assessment. On January 20, the Government of India took further steps to resolve outstanding issues when the Indian Cabinet approved the hiring of 75 additional full-time inspectors. The United States Government commends the Indian government for taking these important actions, and looks forward to continued progress by Indian authorities to comply with internationally mandated aviation safety oversight standards.

Additional Background on the FAA’s IASA Program:

As part of the FAA’s IASA program, the agency assesses on a uniform basis the civil aviation authorities of all countries with air carriers that operate or have applied to operate to the United States and makes that information available to the public. The assessments determine whether or not foreign civil aviation authorities are meeting ICAO safety standards, not FAA regulations.

A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority – equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures.

Countries with air carriers that fly to the United States must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

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Oxygen: Airbus A320: Project Airbus Tech


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Project Airbus Tech is pleased to announce the availability of the chapter on the A320′s Oxygen: ATA 35.

This is a milestone in the project, with just 3 chapters left to complete this A320 Q&A Bank.

We thank each and every one of you for the support lent, in any which way possible, including reviewing the answers. Hats off to Sushank Gupta for taking the efforts to answer the questions.

To view the chapter on Oxygen, click HERE.

Giving wings to the future aerospace workforce


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Okay, for once I guess we’re allowed to talk about ourselves. After all, its the Indian Republic Day, and when everyone who has done something for the nation gets a pat on their back, we, part of the silent army, revolutionizing aviation (though not yet to the extent of those who have done something for the nation), would like to feel proud of ourselves.

And we are.

We have a flight simulator built, and when its not being used for research & development, we get requests for kids to use them. Of the 60+ kids that have been part of a program that we’ve conducted, called the “Aeroflyer”, 22 were hand picked by the Department of Science and Technology, and sent across to The Flying Engineer’s commercial entity (to do with flight simulators and allied services, Flightrix), to give them an exposure to aviation.

We are proud to have done or bit for the society.

This video below captures what we’ve done, and what we like to do: promote aviation. We’re not necessarily pushing kids into becoming pilots: our activities stimulate the engineer in them, as well. We need bright aerospace engineers, to go beyond the only two type certificates issued by the DGCA: Hansa 3, and ALH Dhruv, both of which are snubbed by the citizens of the very country that’s produced it, for some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.



Chapter ATA 70: Engines: Project Airbus Tech Update


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LOGO_1280Project Airbus Tech is pleased to announce the addition of the chapter on Engines (IAE V2500 as in IndiGo’s fleet). These questions throw immense light into an Airbus A320′s engines, engine systems, limitations, and much much more!

Click HERE to access the question & answer bank, and scroll down to 19: Powerplant: ATA 70!

2013 Orders & Deliveries: Airbus-ATR-Boeing-Bombardier-Embraer


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The A-A-B-B-E aircraft manufacturers, namely, Airbus-ATR-Boeing-Bombardier-Embraer, have all announce their 2013 orders and deliveries.

Boeing announced its tally on 6th, Airbus on 13th, Embraer on 15th, Bombardier on 20th, and ATR on 23rd January, 2014. (today).

The results get sorted as: Medium-Long Haul Jetliners: Airbus v/s Boeing, Regional Jet: Embraer v/s Bombardier, and Turboprops: Bombardier v/s ATR.

Medium-Long Haul Jetliners: Airbus v/s Boeing

Airbus_Boeing_2013Boeing made more airplanes and sold and retained more airplane orders (based on NET orders) than Airbus. The single aisle family is the best performing airplanes for both manufacturers. The Quad Jet programs aren’t doing well. Lufthansa is the only operator of the 747-8 intercontinental: the passenger version of the 747-8.

Regional Jet: Embraer v/s Bombardier


Embraer seems to be steaming ahead of Bombardier’s regional jet programs. 5 orders of the E170 were cancelled, while 100 E175E2, 25 E190E2, and 25 E195E2 orders were placed. 3 CS100 orders were cancelled, while 37 CS300 orders were booked.

Embraer  has emerged as the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jets up to 130 seats.

Turboprops: Bombardier v/s ATR.

ATR_Bombardier_2013The Bombardier Q400 Turboprop program is nowhere close to the performance of the ATR 72/42 program. The above figures include 10 ATR42-600 sales and 7 ATR42-600 deliveries.

To bleed or to succeed? The discount airfare gamble.


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Spicejet VT_SGF 737

It’s that period of the year again, when SpiceJet decides to roll out attractive fares to fill otherwise empty seats on board its airplanes. For travel between the second half of February till 15th April 2014, SpiceJet offers a 50% discount on the base fare and fuel surcharge (which constitute most of the airfare), on limited seats on direct flights.

Other airlines have followed the airline-in-the-red.

This is perceived as a much better move when compared to what was done last year (2013), when the airline was under the reigns of Neil Mills. A flat fare of INR 2013 was offered, irrespective of the sector length. This time around, the fare, though discounted, is in sync with the sector. The airline has been careful in offering very few such seats on flights that always assure a good demand: the early morning and late evening /night flights between metros.

Apparently, this move from this airline has been “well calibrated”, and the airline has “learnt from its mistakes”.

Last year’s offer did not help much, with the overall load factors.

“It’s time to find your excuse to travel, as SpiceJet is offering 50% off on all flights when you book at least 30 days prior to your travel”, says the “SpiceJet 3 Day Supersale”. Based on last year’s performance, here are thoughts on the supersale:

Assume for the early morning flights (one of the more attractive flights), the load factors hover around 90%. For a 737-800, this is 170 seats. Supposing the airline, based on statistical study, decided to offer 19 seats for this sector, with the Super Sale offer. One of two extreme possibilities exist:

1. Unplanned travelers, smitten by the offer, pick up those 19 seats, while those business travelers who would have anyways paid regular fares and flown, may pick up the remaining 170 seats. But if the ticket fares, which shoot up due to higher perceived demand, is still applicable, an estimated 5-10 seats may remain empty. The airline makes money.

2. Planned travelers, who were yet to book their tickets, pick up the19 tickets, making the remaining, regular fare seats unattractive for unplanned travelers. This will still leave 19 seats empty. The airline loses money.

Practically, it may be a mix between options 1 and 2, leaving the carrier between 0 – 9 extra paying passengers. In this example, the incremental load factor is between 0% and 7%.

On sectors that do not usually attract good load factors, the stakes are much higher.

Comparing the load factors between years is not straightforward, as many variables exist. Yet, here is a comparison between the load factors in the 3 month period, February to April, from 2009 to 2013, for SpiceJet:

Spicejet LF Jan-Apr 2009-2013

Note that when SpiceJet came out with its offer last year, the months of February and March recorded higher average load factors compared to those in 2012, but the month of April did worse than in 2012.

With Go Air, Air India, and IndiGo offering similar airfares, the potential growth in passengers in this 2 month period is distributed.

Will the gamble make airlines bleed or succeed? To be seen.

General Aviation: Flight Safety Beyond Regulations


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Deccan Charters’ VT-DCE, which has a G1000 flight deck. The G1000 supports data logging, sufficient for FDM and FOQA needs.

The Flying Engineer explores regulations covering flight recorders, and how even in the absence of the mandate for such devices in single engine and piston aircraft, a commonly found avionics suite allows the operator to tackle flight safety: proactively.

The Indian Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in its civil aviation regulations (CAR) Section 2 Series “I” Part V Issue II, dated 23rd January 2013, covers flight data recorders (FDR), and describes a FDR as “Any type of recorder installed in the aircraft for the purpose of complementing accident/incident investigation.”

The same regulation does not talk about FDR for single engine airplanes. The closest it comes to is a recommendation, for commercial transport, and general aviation, “that all turbine-engined aeroplanes of a maximum certificated take-off mass of 5700kg or less for which the individual certificate of airworthiness is first issued on or after 1 January 2016 should be equipped with: a) a Type II FDR; or b) a class C AIR capable of recording flight path and speed parameters displayed to the pilot(s);or c) an ADRS capable of recording the essential parameters”

A recommendation is not enforceable, and single engine pistons are not covered.

Interestingly, CAR Section 3 (Air Transport) Series C Part III Issue II, dated 1st June 2010, talks of the minimum requirement for the grant of a Non-Scheduled Operator Permit (NSOP). The CAR covers single engine turbine, and single engine piston aircraft as well. The regulation also describes the need to demonstrate a “Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) and CVR/FDR monitoring system.”

Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) is defined as “the pro-active use of recorded flight data from routine operations to improve aviation safety.” FDM is important, as a review of recorded flight can identify deviations and exceedances, which can be used for corrective training. It is an effective method where an incident is analyzed, and brought to the notice of flight & maintenance crew before it amplifies to an accident.

The surprise here is the DGCA’s realization of the importance of FDM & FOQA in aviation, irrespective of the airplane type, but it’s very regulations do not cover FDRs in single engine airplanes.

Infact, piston engine, whether multi or single engine, are not covered: “All multi-engined turbine powered aeroplanes of a maximum certificated takeoff mass of 5700kg or less for which the individual certificate of airworthiness is first issued on or after 1 January 1989, shall be equipped with a Type II FDR by 31.12.2013.”

Either DGCA assumes that pistons have no future, or that operators, both commercial and general aviation, fly only turbines.

The benefits of FDM

FDM is beneficial for everybody, right from the student pilot to the airline pilot. In training, FDM is necessary to immediately identify exceedances and deviations, bringing it to the notice of the concerned. For example, a student pilot who pulled a high G maneuver may have stressed an airframe, and if before scheduled inspections, the airframe is stressed multiple times, a failure could result. Similarly, a private pilot with 50-60 hrs may make mistakes, which may go unnoticed unless an expert, or a sufficiently experienced person goes through the flight data recordings to understand and point out what went wrong, and how it may be avoided. These are small steps toward enhanced safety for all.

Flight Data Recording without a FDR


G1000 for a Cessna 172

Garmin’s G1000 has been adopted by many airframe manufacturers, making it a standard fit on their aircraft. Cessna for one, offers the G1000 from the 172R to its turbine single engines, including the Grand Caravan.

The Garmin G1000 features flight data logging (FDL), which is not a FDR, but may be used for the same purpose: FDM & FOQA.

On the 172, the G1000 for Cessna: NAV III, logs 64 parameters, at a 1 second interval. These parameters cover (and exceed) the requirements laid down in the regulations for an Aircraft Data Recording System (ADRS), but fall short on only 2 aspects: the recording interval (some data needs to be recorded at 250ms intervals, but is logged in the G1000 in 1 second intervals), and the control surface position (primary and secondary flight control positions are not recorded).

States the Garmin Manual, “The Flight Data Logging feature will automatically store critical flight and engine data on an SD data card inserted into the top card slot of the MFD. Approximately 4,000 flight hours can be recorded on the card.”

In addition, Garmin provides a free, simple to use software that in a few clicks converts the recorded flle to a Google Earth path, which can be viewed in 3D to visually analyze the flight path.


A side-by-side shot of the regions of the MFD where the SD card for flight logging is inserted. One aircraft has it inserted, while the other has it missing, losing the benefits of FDM.

The Flying Engineer has flight data logs from a Cessna 172R for two flights spanning over 2 hours, and the parameters have been so exhaustive that it has supported academic use of the data.

VT-FGE, the ill-fated Diamond DA40CS that crashed in the December of 2013 when on a training flight, has the logging functionality. With the log, it will be immediately clear as to what went wrong, playback of which will prevent other students from repeating the same mistakes.

Unfortunately, schools and some private operators record the data, but do not have a program to pro-actively monitor and analyze every flight, every day, missing an opportunity to self learn and proactively enhance flight safety.

GAGAN Readiness: G1000 with GIA 63W (Diamond DA40NG)


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Gagan LogoWith the Indian GAGAN (GPS-aided geo-augmented navigation) system expected to be fully operational by year end, The Flying Engineer visited a Diamond DA40NG today, at Bangalore, to check if the aircraft was SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) enabled, and how GPS information is presented.

GPS is the acronym for the Navstar Global Positioning System, a space-based radio navigation system owned by the United States Government (USG) and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). Due to its global availability, the Navstar GPS is a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

A SBAS system, in principle, detects errors responsible for low accuracy and integrity of GPS receiver positions, and broadcasts those errors via geostationary satellites. SBAS enabled GPS receivers apply these corrections, to compute a more accurate GPS position, with 99.99999% certainty. Sources of errors include the satellite (timing errors), and signal propagation delay (as it passes through the ionosphere). Satellite errors are applicable worldwide, but ionosphere errors are location specific.

The Garmin G1000 system relies on the GIA 63 IAU (Integrated Avionics Unit), which functions as the main communications hub, linking all other units (LRUs) with the PFD. Each IAU contains a GPS receiver, a very high frequency (VHF) G1000_SBAS01communication/navigation/glideslope (COM/NAV/GS) receiver, and system integration microprocessors. The GIA 63W (Note the extra “W”) contains a GPS WAAS receiver. WAAS is the United States’ SBAS.

Although labeled as a WAAS receiver, the unit can receive satellite corrections from other operational SBAS as well: Europe’s EGNOS, and Japan’s MSAS, as seen in the photo on the left.

When GAGAN becomes fully operational, supporting ILS CAT-I like GPS approaches, Garmin International is expected release a navigation database update cycle that will allow the Garmin G1000 display units to list the GAGAN system under “SBAS Selection”. It may then be prudent to de-select WAAS, EGNOS and MSAS, and select only GAGAN.

G1000_SBAS02The GPS Signal Strength box, as seen in the GPS Status page, in the photo on the right, shows the GPS satellites (these satellites have a code, called a PRN (Pseudo Random Noise), between 1 and 32), and the SBAS satellites (124, 126, 129). Satellite 124 is Artemis (EGNOS), 126 is INMAR3F5 (EGNOS), and 129 is MTSAT1R (MSAS).

GAGAN’s SBAS satellites, GSAT-8 and GSAT-10, will be seen as satellites with PRN 127 and 128, respectiely.

The green bars show satellites that are actually being used in the position calculation, the height of the bar proportional to the signal strength. The blue bar shows satellite 25 is locked on but not yet being used in the position calculation. The hollow signal strength bars for satellites 31, 126 and 129 show that the receiver has found the satellite and is collecting data, before the satellite may be used for navigation, and the bar becomes solid. No signal strength bar, as seen for satellite124, shows that the receiver is looking for the indicated satellite.

SBAS CrudeThe “D” indication on signal strength bar shows that the satellite is being used for differential computations. The differential computations, which is the consideration of the “error” to improve positional accuracy, is based on transmissions from EGNOS and MSAS. Since India is not in the intended geographical coverage area of EGNOS or MSAS (see image above, courtesy AAI), Ionosphere corrections are unavailable, but satellite error corrections, which are globally valid, are available, and being used.

With these corrections, the Estimated Position Uncertainty (EPU): the radius of a circle centered on the GPS estimated horizontal position in which actual position has 95% probability of lying, is 0.05NM, as seen in the Satellite Status Box.

The Horizontal and Vertical Figures of Merit (HFOM and VFOM), seen as 23ft and 33ft respectively, is the current 95% confidence horizontal and vertical accuracy values reported by the GPS receiver.

Based on GAGAN’s trials by the Airport Authority of India (AAI), the observed accuracies are 3ft horizontal and 5ft vertical: a dramatic increase in positional accuracy, which the same aircraft will observe when the GAGAN is switched on for civilian use: something that is hoped to happen by the end of Jan 2014, as per the AAI General Manager (CNS) heading the Ground Based Elements of the GAGAN Project at Bangalore, India.

GAGAN: “Approach” Benefits


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Cochin INstrument Approach Rwy27Some line pilots have asked how the GAGAN system (equivalent to the WAAS in the US and EGNOS in Europe) will benefit operations, considering Cochin already has a GNSS approach to Runway 27.

With the GAGAN fully deployed with APV 1/1.5 (Approach with Vertical guidance), expected by end of year 2014, after the GAGAN RNP 0.1 is activated (expected anytime this month), GPS approaches with qualified equipment, and in some cases qualified air crew, are instrument precision approaches. The present GNSS 27 at Cochin is a non-precision approach. (see chart on the left)

The major difference lies in three aspects: accuracy, integrity, and vertical guidance. With GAGAN, GNSS accuracy is further enhanced, leading to greater confidence in the approach. With integrity (pilots getting a  warning should the performance degrade), confidence in the system is further enhanced, allowing not just operators, but the regulator to approve instrument precision approaches. The precision is because of the enhanced GPS accuracy and integrity, which allow the aircraft to descend on a glide slope generated with the help of the GNSS’s vertical guidance.

The chart clearly shows that lateral guidance is provided by the GNSS, and vertical guidance by a barometric system: the altimeter. This non-precision approach has a minimum descent height(MDH) of 430 feet, and a “decision height” of 410 feet, though vertical guidance is not precision.

With an APV, the approach becomes precision, with minimums between 200ft and 250ft. The approach is now precision, and the decision height is similar to ILS CAT I. In case the vertical performance of the GNSS degrades, it becomes an LNAV / VNAV approach, with minimums as published in the chart.

Such approaches can be very quickly published at many airports, without the need for a costly ILS system. This will allow many operators to exercise an APV at airports, leading to higher flight safety in one of the most critical phases of flight: the approach. In addition, operator can fly into an airfield even in weather conditions that will prohibit non-precision approaches, if an APV approach is published at that airfield, no matter how remote or deserted it may be.

CSeries: The Narrowbody Dreamliner.


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The first CS100 intended for commercial service being assembled.

Bombardier’s announcement: revising the entry into service (EIS) of the CSeries: came as a surprise to noone. You didn’t even need company insiders to leak information about the slow progress of the test flight campaign. The media front-ending is clue enough: the lack of updates, and the general lowly feeling : gave away a test flight campaign with nothing much to talk about.

Bombardier isn’t the first manufacturer to declare intensive test flight campaigns and program milestones, only to show the world that their program management planning wasn’t planned at all. The trend has been in alphabetical order: Airbus – Boeing – Bombardier. The Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 programs talked of entry into service dates that were too good, only to be found later that that they were too good to be true.

For Airbus, the A380 was a first: in terms of size, wiring, and a level of coordination in design that was not well coordinated. For Boeing, the airplane was, technically, a new design, with many firsts: technical and production, leading to software issues, and supply issues.

The graph below shows how unique, technically challenging, and possibly operationally “disruptive” airplane programs, show longer periods between the first flight & entry into service (EIS). The A300 was Airbus’ first airplane; the A340 was Airbus’ first quad-jet. The A350 has nothing special about it: it builds upon the A380′s avionics & software; the only thing new is the extent of use of composites. 12 months for the program should be doable.

Aircraft porgram Delta FF EIS

Legend: Blue: Past programs, Red: programs with significant gap between FF & EIS, Orange: Programs in progress.

In comparison to the A380 and the 787 programs, the CSeries is a “stranger” airplane for Bombardier. It is Bombardier’s first all new airliner design (the CRJ series is a derivative of the Challenger  from Canadair, the Q400 is a modification of De-Havilland’s turboprop offering), the manufacturer’s first airplane so big, the first airplane in the world to fly with the PW1000G Geared Turbofan Engine (never before has such  a large GTF ever flown), the companies first fly-by-wire aircraft, Bombardier’s first foray into designing an all composite wing for a commercial aircraft, and the first use of Al-Li on such scale on a narrowbody aircraft.

It is so new, that it is to Bombardier what the 787 is to Boeing. A great airplane, promising excellent fuel savings, but exhibiting a huge leap in technology & process: a toxic combination that introduces too many variables in one go.

The CSeries program has pushed the first deliverers by nine months to the second half of 2015, taking the time between first flight and EIS to a projected 21 months. The CS300, is expected to enter service 6 months later.

That is terrible news for Bombardier: The CS300 is expected to enter service in early 2016.

The CSeries was the very aircraft that made Airbus and Boeing reengine their airplane. But with the A320NEO planned to enter service in 2015, the popular single aisle family, which members A319NEO and A320NEO compete directly & indirectly with the CS300, will be available earlier, and with a better appeal: thanks to a proven airframe: the A320 family’s. Considering that Airbus can afford upto 25% off on the list prices, the A319NEO can be sold for for US$70.8M, about US$7M costlier than the CS300′s list price. The CS300 burns lesser fuel than the A319NEO, and is expected to have the same operating cost per seat as the A320NEO. The CS300 still has an appeal: massive appeal. Technically that is, operationally: uncertain.

“We are taking the required time to ensure a flawless entry-into-service. We are very pleased that no major design changes have been identified, this gives us confidence that we will meet our performance targets,” said Mike Arcamone, President, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

But questions still linger in the minds of most: with so much so new to Bombardier, how reliable will the airplane be? Will the CSeries become the narrowbody “Dreamliner”?

Spicejet: Trimming its network


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WingletThe Bain & Co report, which will be used by SpiceJet to restructure the airline, isn’t yet out. But it doesn’t take a consulting firm to look at the obvious.

On 16th January, 2014, SpiceJet announced the filing of its 2014 Summer flight schedule with the DGCA, for approval. The summer schedule starts from March end, and runs till October end.

The new schedule drops more routes than it adds, a sign of the airline restructuring in blossom.

On the international front, the airline will add Hong Kong and Dhaka, as destinations. SpiceJet will be discontinuing its Pune-Bangkok, Varanasi-Sharjah, and Delhi-Guangzhou flights.  Sharjah will continue to be served from Pune and Lucknow, and Bangkok from Bangalore. Guangzhou will be served from Kolkata, along with Hong Kong.

Few persons close to the airline operations told The Flying Engineer that loads on the Bangkok-Pune flights were very dismal, once recording as low as 4 passengers flying on a 189 seat Boeing 737-800.

Domestic destinations that will be done away with are: Pondicherry, Trichy, and Allahabad.

According to the airline, the revised schedule will ensure optimal utilization of the airline’s fleet.

To further increase focus on its customers who opt for SpiceMAX, SpiceJet will be reconfiguring its Boeing 737 aircraft to offer 5 rows of seats with enhanced legroom and value added services. The Corporate Frequent Flyer program, to woo business travelers, was introduced late 2013. This focus on Business class seems to stem from Sanjiv Kapoor, who has not been involved with a low cost airline before.

777X’s Trans-Sonic & Sub-Sonic Wind Tunnel Testing Underway


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Left: Subsonic wind tunnel testing at QinetiQ's facility in Farnborough, U.K, Right: Trans-sonic wind tunnel testing at Boeing's Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle

Left: Subsonic wind tunnel testing at QinetiQ’s facility in Farnborough, U.K, Right: Trans-sonic wind tunnel testing at Boeing’s Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle

Boeing announced that testing has begun at the Boeing Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle to further validate 777X high-speed performance projections. Data from the high-speed tests will help engineers with the configuration development of the airplane, validate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) predictions and support preliminary loads cycle development.

Subsonic wind tunnel testing on the 777X started on Dec. 5, 2013 at QinetiQ’s test facility in Farnborough, U.K., to test the airplane models’ performance at low speeds such as those experienced at takeoff and landing, and at different non-clean configurations, notably with the high lift devices such as flaps and slats.

“We are on track to complete our top-level design in 2014 and reach firm configuration in 2015,”, Terry Beezhold, vice president and chief project engineer of the 777X program, said, back in Dec 2013. “Wind tunnel testing will validate our performance models and generate a vast amount of data that our engineering teams will use to design the airplane in this phase of development.”

The Boeing 777X program, which includes the 777-8X and 777-9X aircraft, is yet to be formally christened.

Capacity in the Indian Market, and where the CSeries CS300 can fit in


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“I remember when we had very strong demand for A319s, then it shifted to the larger capacity A320 version…and we’re now seeing very, very strong demand for A321s”, explained John Leahy, Airbus’ Chief Operating Officer – Customers, during the 2013-2032 Global Market Forecast press briefing in September, 2013.

Almost a month later, the US Based carrier JetBlue Airways, deferred deliveries of its 100 seat Embraer 190 aircraft, ordering instead 35 Airbus A320 family aircraft: 20 A321NEO and 15 A320CEO aircraft. The airline seeks to reduce costs with the Airbus A320 aircraft which burn less fuel per seat, but with a largr capacity: 150 passengers for the A320 and 190 passengers for the A321.

Back home, and one month before JetBlue’s decision to focus on larger capacity aircraft, the “JetBlue of India”, IndiGo, opted for 20 Airbus A321NEO aircraft, of its 180 all A320 order back in 2011, exercising the option that was inked in the deal.

Airlines, which stayed away from the A321, which accounts for 20% of all Airbus A320 family (A318, A319 CEO+NEO ,A320CEO+NEO, A321CEO+NEO) orders, are now leaning toward the A321NEO because it promises the affordable operating costs that otherwise kept airlines at bay: different aircraft sub-type, and higher operating cost. Suddenly, the A321NEO’s reduced operating costs, thanks to the fuel saving sharklets and the PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engine, make the added 20-30seats affordably attractive.

To the airlines, higher seat capacity at reduced operating costs means higher profit potential. Note potential.

Statistically, the best performing airline in the country, IndiGo, has the best load factors,: an average of 81.4% over 5 years from 2009-2013, with the highest being 83.8%  in 2010. IndiGo’s added capacity, and demand has grown, but the effect on load factors has been nil; the average load factors remain more or less constant. So getting larger airplanes will not have a significant impact on load factors, but may slightly increase profits per flight on account of the reduced operating cost per seat.

Indigo’s single-type fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft can accommodate 180 passengers. 83.8%  load factor corresponds to 150 seats. So why not replace the fleet with A319s?

A 150 seat airplane like the Airbus A319, or its direct competitor, the Boeing 737-700 is costlier to operate, per seat, as a shorter aircraft isn’t as optimized as the longer aircraft it was derived from. But what if you had an aircraft with a cost per seat as much as that of the A320NEO (which is claimed to be 15% more efficient than the A320 CEO), but with 150 seats? This would make the aircraft cheaper to operate, have lower capacity but push load factors closer to 100%, while keeping the fares low, or possibly lower than the competition.

The smaller, efficient aircraft, like what Bombardier claims of its CSeries CS300, has lesser seats to sell to break even, has the same cost per seat as the A320NEO, costs lesser to operate, but doesn’t have to fly with many empty seats if the tickets are priced low, or lower than the competition, and the brand marketed well.

Assuming that the breakeven load factor (BELF) for a particular, fixed operating environment is 70% for the Airbus A320NEO, and assuming that the CSeries CS300 fitted with 150 seats has a similar BELF, then with the A320NEO, the airline must sell 126 seats to break even, while sell only 105 seats on the CS300 to break even. Considering the average of 150 seats occupied, per flight, on average, the A320NEO flies 24 passengers contributing to the airline’s profits, while the CSeries CS300 flies 45 passengers contributing to the airline’s profits. Of course, if both aircraft flew with 100% load factors, on a dense route, the A320 gets 54 passengers contributing to profits, but that is only a potential, not a guarantee.

Unfortunately, airline pricing and BELF aren’t so simple, but this gives you a rough idea of what is possible with the CSeries CS300 in the Indian market.

For those who didn’t get it: What’s possible is an all CS300-fleet airline, that shoots right into profitability, defeating the competition. Is it this simple? Only IF Bombardier delivers its promise of meeting the projected costs per seat, and if Bombardier’s not-that-great image relating to aircraft dispatch reliability and maintenance issues are sorted: something that will be a challenge considering that almost everything about the aircraft, including the very design, is new, and without decades of airframe maturity like that of Airbus’s or Boeing’s narrowbody market leaders.

The conundrum: Increase capacity and increase both the profit potential as well as the risk of a loss on a route, should the loads go either ways. Decrease capacity and introduce a stronger element of predictability and control, but lowering the profit potential.

What would you choose?

Understanding the Ultimate Load-Wing test: A350


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The Airbus A350 program achieved another milestone with the successful completion of the ultimate load wing test in December 2013. The ultimate load wing test is a test in which the wing is deflected to simulate the “ultimate” load, beyond or at which the wing is expected to fail.

The ultimate load is calculated as 2.5 times the maximum expected G load that the aircraft would ever encounter in its service life. For the Airbus A350, which is limited in the G loads that it may experience, by the Fly By Wire system to +2.5G, or with the FBW system deactivated, as is the case with a reversion to direct law, approximately between 3-3.5G with the aerodynamic limitations of the flight control surfaces. The ultimate load is then possibly between 7.5 – 8.75G.

Based on this G force, the expected wing flex due to aerodynamic loading is computed, and the wing of a static test airframe flexed (loaded) to the corresponding load. The wing is expected not to fail at this “ultimate” load equivalent flex. At this loading, the A350′s wings flexed in excess of 5 meters, while at a similarly scaled G loading, the A380′s wings flexed to close to 7.5 meters. The 787′s wing flexed up to 7.6 meters in a similar test, mandatory for certification.

In February 2006, the A380′s wing gave way just before the 1.5 times greater G load limit was reached.

Unlike in the past, aircraft manufacturers don’t seem to be stressing the wing beyond 1.5 times greater load, to the point of wing failure. The actual failure load may not be known.

According to Airbus, “This test was performed on the A350 XWB static test airframe that was built specifically to demonstrate the structural integrity of the airframe. The strains induced into the airframe were measured and monitored in real time using more than ten thousand measurement channels. The huge volume of data recorded was analysed and correlated to the structural computer models which have been used to design the airframe.”

With the comforting thought of a safe-enough wing, the first A350 airframe intended for commercial service, MSN6,  is being assembled for launch customer Qatar Airways.

Southwest 4013: Pilot Error? Unlikely.


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Another 300ft, and the Boeing 737-700 N272WN would have rolled 60ft down the embankment, resulting in an accident

Another 300ft, and the Boeing 737-700 N272WN would have rolled 60ft down the embankment, resulting in an accident

A Southwest Boeing 737-700 registered N272WN, operating as Southwest Airlines flight 1403 scheduled to land at Branson Airport  (KBBG) from Chicago Midway (KMDW), landed instead at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport (KPLK), about 5NM to the north of the intended destination airport.

The incident happened on 13th Jan 2014 at ~00:11 UTC (12th Jan 2014 18:11 CST).

The 737 landed on Runway 12 at KPLK (3738ft long x 100 ft wide), and stopped right on the piano keys of runway 30, leaving just 300ft to the edge of the 60 ft embankment on which the ends of the runway sit. The tires were reportedly “smoking” with the intensity with which they were applied.

METARs Read:

KBBG 130055Z 18011KT 10SM FEW250 15/M02 A2971
KBBG 122347Z 15012G23KT 10SM FEW250 17/M02 A2970

The runway at KBBG is oriented 14-32 (7140ft long x 150 ft wide). It is difficult to understand how the pilot may have landed at KPLK instead of KBBG. Pilot error seems unlikely, as the pilot may have initiated a go-around seeing runway “12” instead of “14” or “32” that may have been expected at KBBG. KBBG has an ILS approach for runway 32 and two RNAV GPS Approaches for 14 and 32, either of which may have been strung into the FMS.

Sunset in the area was 17:18 local time, and civil twilight till 17:46 local. The aircraft landed in the absence of natural light. KBBG and KPLK both have runway edge lights, but Runway 14 and 32 at KBBG have PAPIs (Precision Approach Path Indicator), while KPLK has no visual approach aids for runway 12. Further, the hangars and terminal building for KBBG are on the left (when approaching runway 14), while those at KPLK are on the right (when approaching runway 12).

Based on Flightaware’s track of Southwest 4013, the aircraft deviated from its intended flight path 111 NM away: possibly indicating an intentional deviation from the flight path at or close to the top of descent. The airplane’s track seems to have drifted to the north-northwest, while winds generally blew from south-southeast. This track shift can occur if the airplane’s flying on the heading mode, but may easily get noticed as a deviation from the active flight plan route on the navigation display in the cockpit.

SW1403 Track Deviation

SW1403 started deviating from its track close to its TOD, 111NM away from KBBG

So, we have 2 pilots in a 737-700 that has an INS (Inertial Navigation System) with periodic VOR-DME / DME-DME position updates, augmented by a GPS, that together can compute the aircraft’s position with great accuracy, and displays the planned route from Chicago Midway (KMDW) to Branson Airport  (KBBG). This combination of man-machine seems unlikely to land at the wrong airport. Or did the crew enter the wrong destination? Highly unlikely, considering that pilots usually select the company route rather than punching in the route manually. Further, the route is usually cross checked with the filed flight plan. And yes, Southwest does not fly its Boeings into KPLK: the runway is, evidently, too short; choosing a wrong route seems unlikely.

Did the pilots get the automation mode wrong, and fly a heading rather than LNAV? Even if they did, the aircraft’s position would have clearly shown a deviation from the active flight plan. Did the pilots miss the building and hangar lights that somehow was on the right instead of the left? possible. Did the pilots notice the absence of the PAPI? unlikely. It was dark, and they would have very much noticed the PAPIs absence, or relied on the GPS approach to KBBG, which would have shown them that they were far off the field.

In short, everything about this approach somehow does not seem to point solely towards pilot error.

Airbus’ False Marketing: It’s not you, it’s the seat


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Airbus’ marketing seems to have gone on a slightly unrealistic overdrive, with its “Felt squashed on a recent flight? It’s not you, it’s the seat” campaign, which states:

Airbus offers an entire product line of modern, efficient jetliners designed for today’s standard of passenger comfort: at least an 18-inch wide seat in economy class.

That statement isn’t true. Data published by Airbus shows that the A320 family’s cabin can have either 18 inch wide seats and a 19 inch aisle, or 17 inch wide seats and a 25 inch aisle. Indigo Airlines has the 17 inch seat option. The campaign doesn’t explicitly mention the “long haul economy standard” set by Airbus, and slyly brings the A320 into the picture as well.

The company’s entire product line is designed for modern comfort standards, ranging from the single-aisle A320 Family to the widebody A330 and A350 XWB families and the 21st century flagship A380 jetliner – which has a standard 18.5-inch seat in economy class.

Seat width is one of the most important – yet often overlooked – factors for passenger comfort. With an extra inch, compared to the 17-inch industry norm set in the 1950s that is still used by other aircraft manufacturers, Airbus jetliners offers travellers more personal space and room for lateral movement.


Embraer offers 18.25 inch wide seats (though another technical documentation points to 18 inch wide seats) in the economy, across the E Jet series (as per company published data). The C-Series, which has threatened the A318, A319, and in part the A320 members of the A320 family, has seats that (claimed by Bombardier) are a mix of 18.5 inch wise seats and 19 inch seats (see image above). These are far wider, and more comfortable than the seats on the A320, and even the A380 in economy (claimed to be 18.5 inch wide). So, “Airbus cabins are designed to offer passengers and airlines the highest levels of comfort, services and efficiency.“?

Airbus’ inadequate and improper “research”, states “It’s not you, it’s the seat” and “the 17-inch industry norm set in the 1950s” in the same page (CLICK HERE). Truth be told, Rebecca Utz, from the University of Utah, presented a paper, “Obesity in America, 1960-2000: Is it an Age, Period, or Cohort Phenomenon?”, which shows how its “You” and not the “Seat” that has grown too big to fit in a 17 inch wide seat.

Obseity Trend Princeton

Funny huh?

Preparing for GAGAN: SBAS vs Non-SBAS Receiver


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GAGAN's GSAT 8 (closer to Africa) and GSAT 10 provide the SBAS correction & integrity signals.

GAGAN’s GSAT 8 (closer to Africa) and GSAT 10 provide the SBAS correction & integrity signals.

With the GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation (GAGAN; Indian term for the country’s SBAS system) availability just a few days away, excitement is in the air, especially those who realize the benefits of the Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) and the benefits it brings to aviation applications.

Today, we get to see the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS; US term for their SBAS system) as an option on a high sensitivity WAAS enabled Garmin receiver, and how it compares with a non-specialized commercial grade GPS receiver (A Nokia E-72 was used for this).

The Garmin unit picked up 11 Satellites, while the Nokia E72 picked up only 8 (blue bars).

The Garmin unit picked up 11 Satellites, while the Nokia E72 picked up only 8 (blue bars). Note that the Nokia GPS cannot receive signals from satellites beyond #32.

The Garmin handheld unit (eTrex-H, now a discontinued model from Garmin, but used by many for aviation applications, though not certified for such use) features a high sensitivity receiver. With higher sensitivity, it can pick up weak GPS signals, which are too weak for standard sensitivity GPS receivers to pick up. As a result, it receives signals from more satellites, making the reported position very accurate and stable. (with a 3 meter accuracy, you can be assured of landing within 10ft on either side of a runway centreline)

The Garmin Unit's accuracy was rock solid stable at 3 meters, while the Nokia's accuracy fluctuated, and came nowhere close.

The Garmin Unit’s accuracy was rock solid stable at 3 meters, while the Nokia’s accuracy fluctuated, and came nowhere close.

In addition, the Garmin eTrex-H also has a the ability to receive signals from ANY SBAS satellite, and apply the necessary corrections to make the signals more accurate. Considering that the GPS unit already has an accuracy of 3m, it may be unlikely that a greater accuracy may be noticed with the WAAS system, although the corrections will be applied. This is because, closer to the equator, the ionosphere introduces a lot many errors, which disturb the GPS signals. An SBAS attempts to provide a 7 meter accuracy; anything better than that must be treated purely as a bonus!

WAAS ellitenabled, and the Garmin unit looking for Satellite 39 from EGNOS

WAAS ellitenabled, and the Garmin unit looking for Satellite 39 from EGNOS

In the settings, WAAS was enabled, and as a result, the Garmin GPS unit received satellite number 37 (Jan 10) and 39 (Jan 11). A standard non-WAAS / SBAS receiver will not see more than 32 satellites. GPS satellites have a PRN (Pseudo Random Noise code that allows the receiver to decode that specific satellite’s information) between 1 and 32, both inclusive. Any satellite beyond 32 is a SBAS Satellite, part of WAAS, EGNOS (the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service),  MSAS (Multi-functional Satellite Augmentation System (Japanese)), or, as will be seen in a few days, the GAGAN system’s. Satellite numbers 37 and 39 are from the European EGNOS, but the corrections received will not be applied by the receiver as the satellite signals specify the area of applicability.

The GAGAN system’s satellites, with a PRN of 127 (GSAT-8) and 128 (GSAT-10), will appear as satellites 40 and 41, respectively, on a GPS receiver. Both satellites transmit the same information. That satellite from which the GPS receiver receives stronger signals will be selected. For Bangalore, this is GSAT-10 (Seen on the GPS receiver as 41).

The excitement is building!

Airbus takes the A350 out of Europe, and trans-atlantic, for the first time


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With its unwavering focus on meeting its certification program goal of 2,500 hours within 12 months since its first flight on  June 14th 2013, Airbus has sent its second A350, MSN 3 (F-WGZZ) to Bolivia, South America, where high altitude tests will be conducted. The tests will be conducted at El Alto International Airport (IATA: LPB, ICAO: SLLP) at La Paz, which is at 13,325ft MSL and has a 13,123ft long east to west runway, and at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport (IATA: CBB, ICAO: SLCB) at Cochabamba, which is at 8,360ft MSL and has a 12,460 ft long south-east to north-west facing runway.

The aircraft landed in Bolivia on 7th January, 2014.

This is the first time that the A350 has crossed the boundaries of Europe, and for the first time undertaken a trans-Atlantic flight, flying for the first time into South America.

According to Airbus, “Operations at such high altitude airfields are particularly demanding on aircraft engines, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) and systems. The aim of these trials is to demonstrate and validate the full functionality of engines, systems, materials as well as to assess the overall aircraft behaviour under these extreme conditions. A number of take-offs with all engines operating and with simulated engine failures are being performed at each of the airfields to collect data on engine operating characteristics and validate the aircraft take-off performance. The autopilot behaviour will also be evaluated during automatic landings and go-arounds.”

MSN-3 is planned to spend around a week at Bolivia.

Till date, the A350 program has accumulated 800 flight test hours in about 200 flights flown by MSN 1 (F-WXWB) and MSN 3 (F-WGZZ), resulting in an average of 4 hours of testing per test flight. The third A350, MSN- 2, F-WWCF, is assembled and painted, will soon take to the skies, and will be later joined by MSN 4 and MSN 5, to fly test flights in parallel to meet the goal of a 12 month certification program.MSN4 and MSN 5 are being assembled.

Within 5 days, India’s navigation system will be “Stellar”!


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GPS Satellite Present 2145 09 JAN 2014

GPS Satellites from which signals could be received at 2145IST (1615UTC) on 9th January 2014.

The Flying Engineer visited the Master Control Centre of the GAGAN system, the equivalent to the United States’ WAAS. This piece talks of the GPS system, as available today, and the changes expected, in a few days, to aviation navigation in India.

Navigation information may be from a self contained source (such as an inertial navigation system), or from land external radio aids, such as VOR, DME, ILS, NDB (almost on its way out), or from space based radio aids: Satellites. The most commonly used satellite navigation system is the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System, popularly known as the GPS.

GPS_Receiver_Satellites_and Signal

The GPS signals as received by the on-board GPS receiver of a Nokia E-72. The screenshots are for different orientations of the phone: North-East-South-West. As seen at 21:37 IST (16:07UTC) on 9th December 2014.

A simple GPS receiver in a mobile phone (I didn’t pull out my Garmin as the battery is dead) can show you the satellites in the vicinity, and the positional accuracy. If you’ll notice, the mobile phone receiver shows 32 slots for 32 possible active GPS satellites (identified by their PRN number: see the table below), not all of which are in the line of sight of the receiver at any given point of time, as the satellites orbit the earth. GPS signals are weak, and hence by making the mobile phone face North, East, South and West, different satellites could be picked up, all those which were “visible” (line of sight) from the ground (see the table of satellites).

GPS Satellites 2146 IST 09 JAN 2014

GPS Satellites “visible” over Bangalore as of 2146IST (1616UTC). This table matches with the GPS satellites visible on the phone.

The advantage with a satellite based navigation system, such as the GPS, which offers navigation signal coverage globally, and hence called GNSS or Global Navigation Satellite System, is that it overcomes line of sight and range issues associated with all land based radio aids, and doesn’t drift like the INS. Today, most aircraft have a GNSS receiver on board, and is used to supplement navigational information obtained from the VOR, ILS, and the INS, if present on board.

The “supplement” in the statement above must be paid attention to. Because a GNSS’s control is exclusively in the hands of just one country / union, other countries do not have a way of controlling or monitoring the signal. Further, errors that creep into the signal as it passes through the ionosphere degrade the positional accuracy. Hence, on all airplanes in India, “GPS Not to be used for Primary Navigation” is often seen in the flightdeck, especially in general aviation (GA) aircraft, even though the accuracy of  GPS receiver is greater than that of a VOR, and the INS, but worse than that of an ILS.


Note the horizontal and vertical accuracies, which are sufficient for enroute, but poor for a precision approach.

The GPS system (which includes the receiver) guarantees an accuracy within 100m (0.05NM), but practically observed GPS accuracies at the receiver level are encouraging: usually, the accuracies go up to 3 meters for good receivers with higher sensitivity (like a simple handheld Garmin eTrex H), and is around 10-40 meters for GPS receivers like those found in mobile phones. With 0.05NM accuracy, it may immediately seem evident that with a GPS receiver, an airplane can comfortably fly a RNP 0.1 route / arrival.

It can, but it may not. The problem is that, if all the satellites behave equally bad, (or ionospheric disturbances introduce too much error), fooling the GPS receiver into believing that it is computing a valid, accurate GPS position, the outcome may be as bad as a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). There must be a means to inform pilots if the GPS signals are not reliable. That requires a second system based on the GPS, that monitors the GPS signal’s integrity, and lets users know if the signals are reliable or not. Once information about integrity is made available to pilots, GPS may be used to navigate, for as soon as the signals go bad, pilots will receive a notification which will allow them to discard GPS data, and switch to land based radio navigation aids to continue navigating safely, and sufficiently accurate.

In India, this role of monitoring the signals is the responsibility of the GPS aided geo augmented navigation (GAGAN) system. The GAGAN system has 15 ground stations scientifically scattered across the India, to monitor GPS signals. The system offers integrity monitoring only within India’s flight information regions (FIRs), besides providing information that allows GPS receivers to compensate for errors induced due to either the satellites or the propagation through the ionosphere. This make the GPS receivers determine position with far greater accuracy: as much as 7.6 meters, with a guarantee.

In 3-5 days from today, the GAGAN system will be switched on, available to everybody, not just to airborne receivers. However, the information crucial to aviation, which is reliability & accuracy, needs something more than a normal GPS receiver. The GPS receiver needs to have the ability to receive the additional information: about signal integrity, and error information (that may be applied to increase accuracy). This information is made available through additional satellites: in the case of the GAGAN system, these are satellites with codes 127 and 128, transmitted by the Indian GSAT-8 and GSAT-10, respectively. GPS receivers which sell with a “WAAS-enabled” tag (like my Garmin eTrex H) will be able to offer the accuracies promised.

WAAS enabled Airborne GPS receivers, such as the Garmin GNS530W (Note the “W” for WAAS) will be required to fly in Indian airspace, if the aircraft is to fly a GPS arrival, approach, or route. These receivers are readily available, and when installed, the “GPS not to be used for primary navigation” will be a sticker of the past.