The Airbus A320 is the first aircraft to be certified with the Pratt and Whitney (PW) Geared Turbofan (GTF) Engines. The GTF engines are revolutionary, moving somewhat closer to a turboprop with the presence of the reduction gear-drive. The A320neo (new engine option) variant with the PW 1127G-JM engines, the A320-271N, has run into a spot of bother, which has made Qatar and IndiGo refuse the aircraft with its present restrictions. Lufthansa is now the launch customer of the neo.
According to Air Transport World (ATW), “…operational restrictions are still in place for the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine, pending some hardware and software changes”. This restriction requires the engines to idle for three minutes before the aircraft can commence taxi. Qatar will not accept a part-baked product, and IndiGo will not operate an airplane that will mess with its strict turn-around schedule.
The 5th production Airbus A320neo (-271), MSN 6801, is slated for Lufthansa, to be registered D-AINA. The 11th production A320-271N, MSN 6864, to be registered D-AINB, is the second A320neo slated for Lufthansa. The remaining A320neos upto the 11th are slated for Indigo (5), Qatar (2), and Spirit Airlines (1). Both are assembled at the line at Hamburg (Germany). The first A320neo is planned by Lufthansa to be introduced into commercial service in January first week, according to ATW.
With Lufthansa stepping up as the launch customer, Qatar will become the second operator to induct the A320neo, and IndiGo the third. Go air is slated to receive the 23rd production A320neo (-271N). IndiGo will then receive its neos only in early 2016, as had originally been widely speculated, based on other issues the engine had earlier faced.
The Pratt and Whitney GTF engine, by virtue of its new technology, will have its share of issues till the engine matures, as is the case with almost every new engine. While the GTF optimises propulsive efficiency through the use of a reduction gearbox to drive the three stages of the engine at optimal speeds, the alternate engine to power the A320neo, CFM’s LEAP-1A, optimises thermal efficiency by running the combustion chamber much hotter, relying heavily on material technology to withstand such temperatures. According to Aspire Aviation, the CFM engines have underperformed on fuel consumption, and is facing issues related to both component heating, and cooling mechanisms.
While IndiGo and Go Air will bear the brunt of the bound-to-happen hiccups as the engine matures, Vistara, which is yet to make a decision on its engines in the first half of 2016, will receive its leased neos only in the second half of 2017. The airline will have good time to keep a close watch on the PW1127G-JM engine performance and reliability to make a better informed decision. While the aircraft and engine certification programme put the aircraft through extreme tests, it is also a known fact that Indian operating conditions are harsh for engines. Prolonged operations in Indian conditions will truly test the A320-271N.
Air India has apparently not yet decided on leasing neos in the short-medium term.
Edit (30th Sept): Edited to include the first flight of the first production A320NEO, which is destined for IndiGo. Edit includes a confirmation of a Space Flex cabin.
Indian domestic market leader IndiGo’s first Airbus A320 NEO (New Engine Option) – part of the July 2011 order for 180 aircraft, has rolled out of the Hamburg (Germany) final assembly line fully painted in the airline colors, but without the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) Engines. This is the third such airframe of the airline. Two have no engines fitted. The cabin has not been fitted yet.
MSN 6720, destined for IndiGo, first flew on September 25th at Toulouse, France. The aircraft fuselage has however not been painted in the airline’s colors, but the wings are in the airline’s markings. MSN6720 is the 6th NEO to be produced, and the first ‘production’ NEO. The to-be Indian Registration of MSN 6720 is yet unknown, but will likely be the first A320 NEO for IndiGo.
A320-271N MSN 6744, which is expected to be registered VT-ITA, is the 7th NEO produced, and likely the second for IndiGo. A320-271N MSN 6799, to be registred VT-ITC, is likely IndiGo’s third A320 being assembled at the Toulouse (France) final assembly line, and is the 9th NEO to be produced. All Airbus A320 NEOs that IndiGo will accept will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1127G engines.
The same engines had a problem with a clip holding seals inside the engine. This had caused concerns on the NEO program schedule, which has invariably slipped a bit. However, launch customer Qatar Airways expects to receive the first aircraft by the end of the calendar year. Interestingly, Qatar’s A320 NEO is MSN 6772 – the 8th NEO – which means it is later down the assembly line sequence when compared to IndiGo’s 6744 and 6720.
The NEOs rely on the sharklets and new, ultra-high bypass geared turbofan engine technology to together deliver fuel savings of upto around 15% (over and above today’s CEO A320’s without sharklets) . Such high fuel savings will however be realized only on very long flights that approach the maximum range of the airplane.
Airbus’s “Space Flex” concept allows airlines to increase the seating capacity of the Airbus A320 (both current engine options (CEO) and NEO) to 189 seats, without compromising on seat pitch and comfort. This is achieved by moving the two rear lavatories closer to the bulkhead, eating into the galley space. This makes more sense to no frills carriers which do not carry much meals on board. The space for service trolleys in the aft galley of the aircraft reduces from 7 to 3. The space where the aft lavatories were fitted are replaced with 1.5 rows of seats.
This increase in number of seats reduces unit costs by 5% to 6%. It is not known if IndiGo will adopt the space flex concept yet. No physical changes to the emergency exits are required. However, opting for a mix of 189 seat and 180 seat A320s may reduce operational flexibility for the airline. Opting for a higher capacity however seems inevitable.
IndiGo is believed to have opted for the Space Flex cabin, but details on when it will appear are not known.
AirAsia India , which opened for sales on May 30th, sold out the entire seats on the first flight in nine minutes, according to the Indian venture’s chief executive officer Mrithyunjaya Chandilya better known as Mittu, which according to him, “must be a record somewhere”.
Loads on the airline have been very encouraging. Reportedly, the Bangalore-Goa flights fly almost full, while the Bangalore-Chennai flights fly with about 80% load factor (occupancy), bringing the average to around 90% plus. The CEO is smiling, albeit with a hint of nervousness, and the big boss: AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes is very optimistic about India.
Underneath the show, excitement, and optimism, are the currents of cautiousness, and disagreement within the airline. The head of investor relations at AirAsia did not seem to mince words when talking about the airline’s break even: What Mittu had told the whole world: a break even in four months, seems to be far fetched for the head of investor relations who now says it’s not before eight months.
AirAsia India is probably the most dynamic airline in the country, today. Which is very good (and much needed), and at the same time paints a picture of an airline that wasn’t fully prepared for India. In parallel, the airline is putting people first, promising to make a cabin crew a line pilot. This, and a lot more, including Tony’s recipe for success, and how it seems to really be his show, which you can read when you click here.
Goa is the latest addition to AirAsia’s destinations.
AirAsia Group CEO Tony’s tweet, last afternoon, “Very very proud to announce AirAsia India open for sale tomorrow. Wow. First flight June 12th. Ser you all In India on the 12th“, was the group’s Indian startup’s battle cry. The first sectors are expected to be Bangalore-Goa, and Bangalore-Chennai.
All that AirAsia India’s voice, Mittu Chandilya, has been claiming till date, will be put to test: the airfares, claimed to be 30% lower than regular airfares of other airlines; the turnaround time: an optimistic 20 minutes, and more.
Almost five hours later, the battle cry was responded to, by SpiceJet. It announced a ‘Special Promotional fare’ coinciding with AirAsia’s first commercial flight – June 12th- on two popular routes in South India by offering tickets as low as Rs 1,499, excluding statutory taxes. Including taxes, this amounts to INR 2,058. This all inclusive fare is 60% lower than that offered by other carriers for Bangalore-Goa flights on 12th June.
Coinciding with the formal announcement, Sanjiv Kapoor, COO of SpiceJet tweeted, “How does Rs 1499/- ow for MAA-BLR vv or BLR-GOA vv starting June 12 sound? That’s the lowest allowed by DGCA. Should we? 😉“
This is SpiceJet’s pre-emptive strike on the market, hours before AirAsia India opens up its portals for booking on these sectors.
Kaneswaran Avili, SpiceJet’s Chief Commercial Officer, and former director-business development at AirAsia, is making SpiceJet go the way of AirAsia in stimulating the market and shoring up revenues through carefully planned and limited promotional airfares. With Kaneswaran on board, AirAsia will be competing with an airline that has one of its original own, but till lacks the economies of scale, and operational streamlining that AirAsia India will enjoy by being a part of the AirAsia group.
Edit: But AirAsia India shocked the population with INR 990 fares from Bangalore – Goa. This has miffed SpiceJet, which was at the receiving end of DGCA’s flak for selling INR 1/- fares (with tax amounting to around INR 450 for Bangalore – Goa), and was told to not sell below INR 1,499. Many see this as unfairness meted out to an Indian airline.
AirAsia India is officially launching on May 30th: exactly two years after the now defunct AirAsia Japan launched (opened for sale of tickets) in 2012.
The sale of tickets is expected to commence later today at around 23:00hrs (11pm).
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.
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 “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.