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.
Improper aircraft modifications have proven to be fatal, in the past, taking the lives, innocent or not, of the men and women on board. Aircraft modifications are the responsibility of maintenance personnel, who ensure that the modification is done right, and checked before releasing the aircraft.
On December 3rd, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a $325,000 penalty against Dallas-based Southwest Airlines for allegedly operating an aircraft that had been improperly modified, violating Federal Aviation Regulations. The aircraft is a Boeing 717, operating for US based low cost carrier AirTran Airways, which is in the process of merging with Southwest.
On Aug. 29, 2011, maintenance personnel improperly installed a switch that enables flight crews to test the windshield heating system on a Boeing 717. The Boeing 717, unlike most other Western airplanes in operation, has 7 cockpit glass panels (excluding the eyebrows). Of these, three (left, center and right) are the front facing windshields, and the rest windows.
Proper installation of the switch would have allowed personnel to isolate the windshield anti-ice system that was causing a warning that the windshield heater was failing. Instead, the center and left windshield warning systems were reversed. The right windshield warning system continued to operate properly. The aircraft was operated on 1,140 passenger flights before the problem was corrected.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said that the installation error didn’t compromise safety as it was an extra system. The primary system for alerting crews to a potential window-heater malfunction was still working.
On the 20th of March, 2001, a Lufthansa Airbus A320 almost crashed when the captain’s sidestick was cross-wired in error by maintenance personnel. Although the captain commanded a right roll input, the airplane rolled left. Following the brief confusion, when the left wing-tip was around 2ft from the ground, the first officer, whose controls operated normally, took over by overriding the captain’s side stick input.
Boeing announced that it will adjust the production rate for the 747-8 program from 1.75 airplanes to 1.5 airplanes per month through 2015 because of lower market demand for large passenger and freighter airplanes.
“This production adjustment better aligns us with near-term demand while stabilizing our production flow, and better positions the program to offer the 747-8’s compelling economics and performance when the market recovers,” said Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager, 747 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Although we are making a small adjustment to our production rate, it doesn’t change our confidence in the 747-8 or our commitment to the program.”
The company expects long-term average growth in the air cargo market to begin returning in 2014, and forecasts global demand for 760 large airplanes (such as the 747-8) over the next 20 years, valued at $280 billion. The large aircraft market is unpredictable, but Boeing had attempted to predict it during the A380 program: that the market was shifting away from very large airplanes to smaller ones. In 2012, Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing vice president Randy Tinseth had said, referring to historic statistics “demand has been met by more flights to more places, rather than by bigger aircraft." He pointed out that the outlook figure for large-aircraft demand had fallen.
The trend is toward lower capacity, large twin engine aircraft that are more fuel efficient and cost effective.
Lufthansa is already considering an early 747-8 retirement, replacing it with the 777-9X. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has stated his preference for a twin over a quad jet, simply because of the inherent efficiencies.
To date, the 747-8 has accumulated 107 orders for passenger and cargo versions, 56 of which have been delivered. Of these, the 747-8I, the passenger version, has orders for only 40 units, of which 17 have been delivered. 9 have been delivered to Lufthansa, the only airline operator of the type, and 8 to VIP customers: Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, Royal Flight Oman, State of Kuwait, Qatar Amiri Flight (3), and the United Arab Emirates Government.
The first delivery at the new production rate is expected in early 2014. According to Boeing, The production rate change is not expected to have a significant financial impact.
Lufthansa is a name to reckon with. It is more than just an airline: It has shaped the history of aviation, and the fortunes of an airplane manufacturer: Boeing. Interestingly, both the airline and the manufacturer have the same roots: German.
The “relationship" between the operator and the manufacturer began with Lufthansa’s choice of the Boeing 707, over two other airplane manufacturers. The airline didn’t accept the standard aircraft: It opted for the Rolls-Royce Conway engines in place of the standard fit P&W JT4A.
Boeing’s flight deck and fuselage cross section commonality between the 707 and the 727 made the 727 a perfect fit for the airline’s need for a medium range airliner: it cut training costs involved with a transition from one fleet to another, for both the cockpit and cabin crew. In early 1971, Lufthansa’s jet fleet was entirely made up of Boeing airplanes.
Prof. Gerhard Höltje, one of Lufthansa’s former Technical Directors, convinced Boeing to build the Boeing 737: a tailor-made short-haul jet for Lufthansa; convincing Boeing wasn’t easy . The cockpit layout was similar to the 727 and the 707s in the fleet. In addition, when the Boeing 737-200Adv was launched with new avionics, it was Lufthansa, Sperry (now Honeywell), and Boeing that froze the design of the popular mode control panel (MCP), the design of which is still largely retained on today’s Boeing 737NG airplanes. Boeing’s eventual agreement, and Lufthansa’s persistence, have made the fortunes of the airplane manufacturer. Which is why Luftansa proudly states, “The Boeing 737 –“made" by Lufthansa".
The Boeing 747-8, is yet another Lufthansa-Boeing airplane. Lufthansa needed an airplane with a slightly greater seating capacity than its existing 747-400s, and Boeing was a bit lost on the replacement for its 747-400, the last of which was produced in 2009. Boeing had earlier maintained, in the face of the Airbus A380 launch, that the market for big airplanes, the likes of the A380, did not exist, in light of the changing trends in air transport. Which is why Boeing invested so much effort into the 787 Dreamliner program.
Teams from Lufthansa, Lufthansa Technik, and Boeing sat together in shaping the 747-8.
In was in the November of 2005 that the “747-8" was officially announced. But in early 2009, only one customer: Lufthansa, had ordered the passenger version of the airplane: the 747-8i. Till date, there have been only 40 orders for the 747-8i (With 13 delivered to Lufthansa and one to a private operator), and 60 orders for the 747-8F (Freighter version), of which 32 have been delivered to Atlas Air, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Nippon Cargo, and Volga-Dnepr. In total, there have been 100 orders since the program was launched about 8 years ago.
In stark contrast, the total orders of the Airbus A380 stand at 262: crossing the often acknowledged break even sales of around 200 airplanes. The program was launched in 1994, and the aircraft christened the “A380" in the year 2000.
In the typical 3 class configuration, the A380 sits about 58 passengers more, and flies further than the 747-8i: About 500NM more when both take off at their respective MTOW.
Early last month, Boeing admitted to losing an order for five 747-8F, placing pressure on the troubled program. Boeing has also parked two 747-8F at the Marana Pinal Airpark in the Arizona desert for long-term storage as the cargo carriers that ordered them cannot use them given the slump in the worldwide air-cargo market. A whitetail 747-8F sits at Everett, without a customer, and three other -8Fs have been re-registered, indicating deferrals in delivery.
Further bad news from Lufthansa is its consideration for an early 747-8 replacement, with the 777-9X. Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has stated his preference for a twin over a quad jet, simply because of the inherent efficiencies. Lufthansa is preparing to abandon its first fortune dwindling baby: the result of two great companies with claimed industry farsightedness that wasn’t so far sighted, this time around. So far, Lufthansa is the only airline to fly both the new jumbos: the A380, and the 747-8i. The 747-8 is the anticlimax of the Lufthansa-Boeing product relationship.
Despite the warmer response towards the 747-8F from cargo airlines, the numbers aren’t encouraging, with possible delivery challenges arising in 2014. The 747 program, known to have spawned the era of the “jumbo-jet" travel, has lost its large capacity passenger market to the Airbus A380, and its cargo freighter demand to the twin engine Boeing 777F.