Do airframers listen to customers?

Aviation Week has an interesting story asking whether airframers truly listen to customers when designing airplanes.

The question is not an idle one. Airbus and Boeing constantly say they do, but Airbus is getting loads of flak from Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines (both of whom like to negotiate in the press) over the revamped A350-1000 announced at the Paris Air Show. Qatar says the changes came as a surprise (we were told otherwise at the time by Airbus).

Airbus CEO Tom Enders since said Airbus won’t keep changing the A350’s design in response to customer comments. One can appreciate how he might be tired of this. The A350 went through five or six iterations in response to customer comments, a somewhat awkward display.

Emirates, meanwhile, has been pressing Boeing for years to squeeze just a little bit more out of the 747-8 to make it capable of non-stop Dubai-LAX service. So far, Boeing hasn’t done so. More recently, Emirates is pressing Boeing to revise the 777 to do the same route. Boeing is still trying to decide what it wants in the 777 enhancement.

Airbus and Boeing officials have both said time and again that they design airplanes for 90%-95% of the missions and not that last 5%-10%. Most recently, Boeing’s John Hamilton, chief engineer on the 737, make it clear the 737-9 MAX won’t be redesigned to get that last 5% to make it a true 757 replacement for 4,000nm range. Airbus told us the same thing for its A321neo. The 757 was a unique airplane in many respects, but it also sold only 1,000 (nothing to be embarrassed by under any circumstance but it pales in comparison to the 737 and A320 families). Customer concentration was heavily weighted toward the US. Winglets gave the airplane new utility, long after production ceased.

The airframers each have gone through periods where customers complain they don’t listen–that Airbus or Boeing tells the customers what they have to offer. We think this is endemic to any buyer-seller relationship. But in the end, if the airframers don’t offer what the customers want, the orders go elsewhere. Boeing’s MAX is a good example. Boeing clearly preferred going with a New Small Airplane. While it dithered, Airbus launched the neo (which Boeing ridiculed). When Airbus cleaned up in orders and it became clear American Airlines was going to be among them, Boeing launched the MAX–and its commitment book is now impressive. NSA preference or not, Boeing ultimately listened to the demand for re-engined airplanes. Just as Airbus’ A350 saga was messy, so was Boeing’s on MAX. But there you go.

74 Comments on “Do airframers listen to customers?

  1. “Boeing launched the MAX–and its commitment book is now impressive.”

    I never heard of a commitment book, but maybe it’s just me.

    My impression is Boeing has been listening to the customers that say what Boeing thought all along & kind of ignores the ones that don’t.

    In case of the MAX, Boeing bluntly ignored SW, DL, Ryanair and AA requesting 737 reengining. They just knew better : setting a new benchmark with innovative 787 technology & most bystanders (e.g. S. Udvar Hazy) fully supported that. And stopped listening.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-14/ryanair-cfo-pushes-for-new-engines-on-boeing-737s-to-reduce-fuel-expenses.html
    http://airinsight.com/2010/11/01/southwest-boeing-some-thoughts/
    http://www.tourismandaviation.com/3665-delta-ceo-foresees-bright-future-for-787.html

    I was really amazed.

    • “Commitment book….” Yeah, we know. Boeing used to deride Airbus for announcing commitments. But it is what it is.

      • If those commitments do not translate into firm orders quickly, the commitment book could soon become a comic book!

        Just joking. 🙂

  2. Scott, Are Emirates new 50(plus 20)-300ERs convertable to the 777-8/9 or a new replacement?

  3. About Airbus not listening to its customers on the A350 mk1, it remains a strange story.

    Steven Udvar Hazy obviously gave a last push to this re-engined A330.

    After deciding to go to the all new XWB, Airbus sold 500 non-reengined A330s.

    If Airbus hadn’t listened and had started delivering low risk re-engined / enhanced / carbon wing A330 from 2008(?) at a rate of 7-10 per month, spending the E10 billion on other projects, would that have been a bad idea?

    Maybe Boeing should thank Udvar on their knees for convincing them to go XWB..

    • He may have already got his thanks in a more tangible way.
      IMHO Udvar Hazy was a Boeing Trojan in respect to the A350mk1.

      Additionally nobody in the leasing business or elsewhere wanted their Dreamliner investment endangered.
      Compare to the initial reaction to the NEO. That was not about resale value of the A320 but about 737 values.

  4. When Boeing designed the 777 they boasted that never before had the airlines been so involved, so early, in the decision process. They said that Boeing had followed the recommendations of the airlines and had incorporated them into the design of the aircraft. The airlines would get what they wanted, not the other way around.

    The idea was very good and quite successful. A great number of ideas were indeed taken into account and many costly mistakes were avoided. Boeing set a new standard of cooperation with the airlines and showed America at its best, as no other nation knows better how to please customers, by listening to them and letting them express what they want and say what they need.

    But there is a limit to where a manufacturer can go in terms of concessions. And there is one concession that Boeing did not make when they designed the 777. Apparently the majority of the airlines that were consulted said they wanted Boeing to install a side stick in the cockpit and get rid of the control column. Boeing refused to follow their advice. Why? Because to do so would be an endorsement of a technology first developed by Airbus. Never mind that the Space Shuttle, let alone the F-16, had the side stick long before Airbus did, it just didn’t look good for Boeing to come out with the technology after Airbus had already introduced it to the commercial aviation market. In short, it would have been humiliating for Boeing to come out second. Because in a duopoly to come out second is effectively to be the last. So they trashed that bold innovation.

    The requirement for the side stick was even more obvious with the Dreamliner. But again Boeing stuck to its line and pilots flying to 787 will have no place to lay their laptops for the next fifty years. It was a great opportunity lost, because Boeing could have preserved the Boeing safety philosophy by incorporating soft stops on the side stick (à la CSeries) to let the pilot overcome the control laws in extreme situations.

    Apparently the pressure was higher on Airbus to adopt a composite fuselage on the A350 than it was on Boeing to install a side stick. Reluctantly, Airbus followed suit. And that’s why they have the delays. They were simply not prepared for it. Was it a good move? From the marketing point of view, I would say they had no choice. From the engineering point of view, I am not so sure, because the benefits are not as great as they could theoretically be if CFRP was as conductive as aluminium is. There is a weight penalty that is hardly compensated by the weight saving. And from the maintenance point of view it could become a burden for the airlines to keep this unnatural electron path in a safe condition. It wont be as easy as replacing a bounding wire on an aluminium skin.

    So it’s not always obvious for a manufacturer to decide which way to go. The customers should be listened to, consulted, even cajoled. But you have to take some and leave some. Ultimately the choice should rest with the manufacturer, with all the risks involved carefully evaluated and minimized. And the customers will sometimes have to accept compromises. Because obviously, all the aircraft manufacturers cannot please all the airlines, all the time.

    • Boeings mass hypnotisation made a light metals fuselage unsellable.

      In my understanding Airbus would have preferred to do another round of metal fuselage with lighter materials. Then with material science more progressed look again at black materials for a fuselage.

      A really viable black fuselage comes with mastering fastenerless integration of skin and underlying structure ( frames, stringers, door and window frames ) preferably autoclaveless too. That would speak for very large panels but definitely not for barrels. Barrels are really only perfect for vessels that are mostly finished when the fiber/tape winding has been done.

      To finish: what customer should one listen to?

      Boeing got a bonanza gifted by LH with the detailed 737 requirements.
      Airbus was kickstarted with listening to a potential customer.

      My personal experience is that customers are too entangled in their own paradigms
      formed by old tech. They tend to express themselves in permutations of the past.
      The most fascinating element of my job is not designing what the customer wants but
      what he needs ( by backtracing on his requirements expressed in limited language.and reexpressing that in “modern” technology paradigms ).

      Same imho goes for airframers.

      • Barrels are really only perfect for vessels that are mostly finished when the fiber/tape winding has been done.

        Such as thick gauge composite casings on sold rocket motor composite casings.

        As for the A350, it could conceivably be upgraded with the large fuselage panels having co-cured not only stringers, as is the case today, but also with co-cured fuselage frames + door and window frames).

        As for the 787, I’ve a hard time imagining how you’re gonna do co-curing of the frames on a barrel.

      • Actually, back in the mid 1970s Airbus was almost dead. The A-300B2 wasn’t selling. Airbus relutently agreed to lease 4 of the 16 already built A-300B2s that were standing around waiting for customers to Eastern Airlines. The planes worked great on EA’s US east coast system. and they placed an order for some 24 or 25 “improved versions”, what became known as the A-300B4. After the EA order, PanAm also ordered the A-300B4 for its European routes.

        Combined, it was EA and PA that saved Airbus from being a ‘flash in the pan’.

    • Those side sticks sometimes can confuse the hell out of a pilot when flying at night and the airplane doing stuff not intended by the pilots (Air France Flight 447). With a column like the Boeing (assuming you get automatic feedback from the control) you can see the actual control column move in the direction that the plane is going (up, down, left, right) and you can visually see and feel it, not the case with those side stick. So, I don’t know really what kind of safety extra you are talking about. After all, Boeing planes keep flying all the time with not much problems. Sure is convenient for pilots to put their laptop in from of them in the Airbus planes, but the way things are going, I don’t think they’re be using laptops for long. Even smart phones seem to offer a lot of the things we use laptops for now.

      • Sorry, but apart from your seemingly deliberate anti-Airbus fear mongering, it looks as though the aircraft did respond precisely to the PF’s control sidestick inputs.

      • The safety is not in the side stick but in the control laws. The fact that an L-1011 crashed in the Everglades because the pilot brushed the yoke, and therefore inadvertently disconnected the autopilot, while checking an NLG light bulb on the co-pilot side, does not mean that the yoke should be removed for safety reasons. It was an isolated incident and a freak accident. The same reasoning applies to AF447. It is a real “freak accident” that was initiated by frozen pitot tubes that made the pilots (and the computers) literally freak out. Only in this case both the autopilot and the pilots have disconnected at the same time.

        I think some modifications will eventually be incorporated to the A330 to address potential hazards discovered on AF447. The THS commands come to mind as one quick fix. On the long term the possibility of installing angle of attack indicators is an other. At least on new aircraft designs, if not as a retrofit.

        But I am afraid AF447 will be used over and over again by Boeing fanatics who are still incapable to swallow the humiliation inflicted by Airbus when they introduced the A320 to an incredulous Boeing crowd back in the eighties (yeah, more than twenty years ago).

        I believe all airplanes of, and in, the future will have side sticks (except Boeing, of course). But I also believe Airbus went a little bit too far in removing the pilot from the loop and leaving everything to the computers. I believe a compromise between the Airbus and Boeing philosophy is the way to go. Envelope protection for normal flying, but with a “soft” override capability for the pilot in the side stick. That along with throttles that move in realtime with the computer commands, like Boeing provides already.

        Bombardier adopted both concepts on the CSeries. That’s because they learned from their masters. 🙂

      • … Just trying to make sense of your post –
        are you claiming side-sticks are inherently more dangerous than control columns? even suggesting they might have been a contributing factor to an accident causing hundreds of deaths and immeasurable grief to those left behind?

    • ……also known as “the-not-invented-here-syndrome”. 😉

      http://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/cit-sweetman.html?c=y&page=5

      The yokes and throttles incorporated electric drives that moved them as if they were connected to cables, even though they were not. Airbus was scornful. “Like putting a steering wheel on a horse,” scoffed test pilot Bernard Ziegler.

      Finally, just a small nitpick regarding the space shuttle flight deck; both the commander and the pilot station have a control stick centred in the same central position as to where a yoke is positioned on more “convential” flying machines.

      http://jetphotos.net/viewphoto.php?id=7133855&nseq=2

      • You are right, the Space Shuttle was not a very good example. Only military aircraft had the side stick before Airbus made their audacious move.

        In regards to the not-invented-here-syndrome comment, you are not supposed to fly the aircraft using the position of the control column, or yoke, as an attitude indicator anyway. There are instruments for that and commercial pilots are well trained to fly with those instruments. Not by the seat of their pants or stick angle.

        And again, I think Airbus went too far with the static throttles. They should move in tune with the auto-throtle commands. It’s a very linear relationship that will easily accommodate the brain demand for rationality. I am surprised that the cartesian French did nor pick-up on that. Yeah, the more I think about it the more I believe Airbus went beyond the reasonable in removing the pilot almost completely from the control loop.

      • So does the B-1B and the C-17A. Their stick controllers are centered in front of the pilots. The F-16 uses a side stick controller, and IIRC, was the first airplane to ever use that configueration.

  5. Regarding the A350J, do we actually know what other customers NOT named EK and QR think about the plane? I doubt Airbus are that naive to improve the plane that way if a substantial number of customers didn’t want it. If the plane suits 10 other airlines(like BA, SQ, CX, QF, LH), but doesn’t suite the two ME airlines, then Airbus should stick to their guns.

  6. Airbus hasn’t listened to customers since the A-380, when they promised custom jet for everyone. But that has had obvious problems on production, Airbus is still behind the power curve.

    Then they went to the other extreme, a one size fits all A-350 (Mk. I), the warmed over A-330. Customers balked. They tried the one size fits all version of the A-350 4 more times (Mk. II through the Mk. V) before finally getting the A-350 Mk. VI (the XWB) close to what customers want.

    But now they changed the A-3510 to something EK and QR say they don’t want. Both Airbus and Boeing understand the NB is very different from the WB market. Airlines that need NBs all pretty much are limited because the sized aircraft they need can only have occasional incremential improvements until a new NSA type NB airplane comes along. The range issue is always 4,000 nm or less. But WBs are a different kind of aircraft. They have a wide variation in missions and range. WBs can have ranges between 2,000 nm and 9,000 nm, carrying anywhere between about 240 pax and 550 pax, plus good cargo capability.

    Boeing also ignored the customers by not giving them the B-747-8 they wanted.

    Let’s face it, the NB market is really just the A-32X/NEO and B-737NG/MAX, for now. The E-Jets, C-Series, and others are all “johnny come lately” airplanes with not a big market share, for now.

    But the WB market has the (in current production, or will be) A-330, A-350, and A-380 for Airbus, and the B-747, B-767, B-777, and B-787 for Boeing (no Boeing originated WB model is out of production). There are numerous WB models out of production that may still be marketable including the L-1011, DC-10, MD-11, A-300, A-310, and now the A-340. There are also older versions of the B-747 and B-767 no longer produced that are on the market, as well as some current versions of the B-767 and A-330s.

    While the WBs get all the glory and press (good and bad, deserved or undeserved), it is the OEMs NBs that pay the bills.

  7. Part of the problem of listening to Emirates, in particular, about the A350-1000 is Tim Clark’s inconsistency. He complained that the previous A350-1000 was underpowered, while arguing that Airbus should have stuck with the original plan.

  8. No better example perhaps exists than the demise of the UK civil aviation industry in the fifties & sixties a number of innovative Turboprop & Jet projects were under design & production. Interference by essential domestic carriers in effect meant these programs were morphed so much under a barrage of ludicrous design changes that the programs effectively became designs exclusively servicing the specific operating demands when the sun was finaly setting on the British empire.

    To suggest operators like Qatar & Emirates were kept out of any design change loop is absurd & for senior representatives of said airlines to state otherwise is not only unprofessional but incorrect. Such comments only serve to exaspserate relationships & smacks more of a lack of awareness & a hankering like of being in the media spotlight. Many question the credentials of these people within the roles they hold.

    For manufacturers it’s neigh impossible to satisfy all carriers demands, the sooner the fantasy flying Disneyland that the middle east has become stops wingding & accepts the fact that the rest of the world largly accepts, namely that airframes cannot exclusively be designed around their own specific demands the better airframes will be for all.

  9. Phil :
    No better example perhaps exists than the demise of the UK civil aviation industry in the fifties & sixties a number of innovative Turboprop & Jet projects were under design & production. Interference by essential domestic carriers in effect meant these programs were morphed so much under a barrage of ludicrous design changes that the programs effectively became designs exclusively servicing the specific operating demands when the sun was finaly setting on the British empire.

    A very specific example of this is the Trident. It was designed by de Havilland, which blind-fully followed BEA’s constantly changing requirements, and which demanded specifications that were tailored for BEA’s developing European network. In the end Hawker Siddeley (the manufacturer) lost the market, and their lead, to Boeing which came out with a much more marketable 727.

    In the Air Force, when during combat a pilot stops flying the aircraft to pursue an objective, it’s called “Target Fascination”. It may result into a crash because the pilot looses the overall picture and situational awareness. That’s exactly what happened to Hawker Siddeley when they were after BEA’s business. They lost sight of what the other players were doing and were unexpectedly shut down by an underestimated Boeing.

    The moral of the story is that it is very dangerous to try to focus on one particular customer, no matter how big that client might be. Because if you do so you might effectively win the battle, but ultimately loose the war.

    • DH/HS Trident, Your Oh so right….. Consider

      Ditto:
      Bristol, Britannia
      Handley Page, Herald
      Hawker Siddley, 748
      Vickers, Viscount,
      Vanguard
      VC10
      BAC, 1-111
      Aerospatiale/BAC Concorde

      • We wouldn’t include the Viscount in this list. It sold 444 aircraft worldwide and for its era was very successful. Arguably the BAC 111 should not be on this list either.


  10. If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’

    (Steve Jobs quoting Henry Ford)

  11. When you listen very hard to a customer, you get a B747SP.
    Airframers should listen to customers, but they shouldn’t tailor an aircraft to a specific customer.
    I think both manufacturers know this rather well, and other than the airlines they know the trades and hard limits.

    • My wife & I frequently sadly had to fly in the back of the 747SP on the Qantas SYD/LAX/SYD route, we don’t agree on much, but on this unanimously concur that this aircraft’s flying experience was our worst long haul experience to date & that despite the fact the SP had the none stop legs, when given the choice of a routing that offered a Pacific landing (anywhere) in a more friendly cabin we would select it.

  12. Normand Hamel :
    Yeah, the more I think about it the more I believe Airbus went beyond the reasonable in removing the pilot almost completely from the control loop.

    Airbus made a philosophy, if not a religion, that the pilot was actually a nuisance in flying the aircraft. And they have since designed aircraft that required as little inputs as possible from the pilot. Like Georges Clemenceau would have put it, flying an aircraft is too important a matter to be left to the pilots. Philosophical stance like this can easily translate into technical arrogance and used to practice engineering proselytism.

    • That imho is not quite correct.

      Airbus changed the job from “flying an aircraft” to “commanding an aircraft”.
      this certainly is a major change in objectives and requires quite the different skillset.

      Where the crew once was busy with all the technical aspects of keeping
      the plane in the air an Airbus today can esssentially fly itself. The crew now
      has time to decide where to go and instrospect the workings for correctness.

      This clashes with the observed trend to move piloting into blue collar terrain.
      By character blue collar guys tend to not be introspective they are reactive.

      • IMHO it is you who is wrong, my friend. Commanding any crewed aircraft has been in place since multi crewmember airplanes have been around. Pilots and co-pilots have been flying airplanes successfully for more than 100 years. The term is “Pilot in Command”, its routes are in nautical service where the Captain was the final word on everything. An airplane that is flown by a computer is not ‘commanded’ by the pilot. It is ‘commanded’ by the computer programming and what that programming allows the pilot to do. Today’s commerical airline pilot does not decide where to go, and in most cases how to get there. Computers do most of the work formerly done by pilots and crews from weight and balance, to take off and landing performance, to routing, airspeed, and altitude. The big problem comes into play when the computer screws up and then doesn’t know what to do. In an Airbus airplane, with the pilot completely out of the decision making and hands on flying loop this has proven to be disasterious. Yet, the cause is to often “pilot error” even when he or she couldn’t do anything to save the airplane because the computer program would not let him. At least Boeing recongnises that the pilot has to be in control and have the ability to override the computer when he/she needs too to save the airplane and everyone aboard.

      • Had a “soft stop” pushover been available to the pilot, the A320 would have probably just greased the tree tops instead of “landing” into them at Mulhouse-Habsheim.

  13. You also get an airplane like the A-345 that missed the point of what customers wanted. Thats why the B-77L was developed.

    • As ever an interesting viewpoint.
      could we rearrange that to : The A345 forced Boeing to the 77L 4 years later ?

      • And neither A345 nor 77L are what the customers want, so what is the point?

        Customers wanted a better A333 for medium distance (which Airbus delivered) and a better 77E for long distance (and they got the 77W).

  14. Normand,

    The industry (pilots and safety professionals) are deeply divided on the issue of columns and sidesticks for use in airliners. There are lots of “strong” opinions, but there is in no way a clear “majority” opinion on what is the “best” approach between column and sidestick.

    Normand Hamel :
    Apparently the majority of the airlines that were consulted said they wanted Boeing to install a side stick in the cockpit and get rid of the control column.

    You’ve badly revised history in your post. At the time Boeing designed the 777 in conjunction with the “Working Together” airlines, there was no clear preference for the sidestick. I was there and saw it first-hand. To say “Apparently the majority of airlines…” is simply a fabrication by you, or someone else who you did not reference. It is absolutely not the truth.

    As for the rest of your comments on this topic, you are clearly confusing the public fanboy/cheerleader debate on sidestick vs column with the real business and aircraft-rooted debate which goes on within Boeing and Airbus over such matters. Almost nothing you have said even remotely reflects any of the real reasons why the 777 and 787 have column controls.

    Normand Hamel :
    It was a great opportunity lost, because Boeing could have preserved the Boeing safety philosophy by incorporating soft stops on the side stick (à la CSeries) to let the pilot overcome the control laws in extreme situations.

    This is just a basic misunderstanding of Boeing’s flight deck philosophy. Whether or not “soft stops” are incorporated have nothing to do with Boeing’s fundamental flight deck philosophy. Both the 777 and 787 have envelope protections built into the flight control logic, and which manifest themselves in “soft stops” (i.e. increased control force required to push the airplane into certain portions of the flight envelope). The 777 has override (soft stops) for all protections, the 787 has override for most. These have nothing to with how Boeing’s publicly stated design philosophy for pilot controls affects the physical look of the controls.

    Boeing design philosophy for pilot controls affects the physical look of the controls in two ways:
    – Large displacement backdriven controls for visual and tactile cuing of command inputs
    – Cross-linked controls for cuing of other crew member command inputs

    These requirements can be achieved with a stick control. It may look and would work differently than the Airbus control, but the Boeing philosophy does not prohibit it. In fact, both the 777 and 787 programs formed teams to explore the potential of transitioning to stick controls. In the end, Boeing decided to remain with the conventional column, but not because sidesticks are “bad”, “dangerous” or “not invented here” – these are the fanboy/cheerleader emotion-based arguments. The real reasons have everything to do with development risk and crew transition costs for Boeing operators.

    It is sometimes good to remember… Only the fanboys and cheerleaders (include JL and RT in that bunch) want to make everything a discussion of absolutes (only one right way to do it, and the other guy is wrong, unsafe, incompetent, didn’t have the technology, “not invented here” etc). Real aircraft design occurs in a different context. Both OEMs largely have access to the same brainpower, skills, tools and technologies in this industry. What seem like fundamental differences (barrels vs. panels, or sidesticks vs. columns) often come down to very narrow differences in how one OEM manages or values the different factors within their trade study process. It may be that Boeing almost chose panels for the 787, or that Airbus almost chose column controls for the A320. The test of whether or not you are a fanboy/cheerleader is if the Boeing and Airbus trade process had tilted just enough that Boeing was building aircraft with panels and Airbus was building aircraft with barrels, or if Boeing was building aircraft with sidesticks and Airbus was building aircraft with columns… what would you be arguing for and against if that had happened?

    Based on the mounds of evidence posted to these blogs, it’s pretty easy to figure out who is an airplane designer and who is a fanboy.

    • “I was there and I saw it first hand”. Fine. I will take your word for it. Unfortunately I have no reference to give you to support my claim because I forgot where I read this. We will leave it there for now.

      As to the real reason why the 777 and 787 have control columns, it has nothing to do with Boeing’s flight deck philosophy and everything to do with industrial politics. Boeing could have done what Bombardier did by using Rockwell Collins avionics with a side stick and override capabilities, instead of a control column with similar override capabilities. Bombardier (and Embraer to a certain extent) is closer to Boeing’s philosophy than to Airbus’s. But BBD used the side stick, like Airbus do. And Boeing should have done the same. Having to choose between a Touch Tone telephone and an iPhone, most people would choose the latter. There is no contest there. What you say about the industry being undecided is pure baloney, and you know it. There is no contest here either.

      But we can still ask ourselves why Boeing did not do it. Your argument for continuity does not stand because Airbus forte is just that: commonality. There is less commonality between a 777 and a 787 than there is between an A320 and an A380. I would like to agree with you on this issue, but the weakness of your argument failed to convince me. The yoke or the stick are only instruments. Everything is managed by the control laws and the airplane architecture. For control laws most manufacturer are more or less equal. But I prefer Boeing’s approach over Airbus’s. But the best of the bests is presently Bombardier with the CSeries. They simply made the best possible technical choices available to them with present day technology.

      Good for you if you are an airplane designer. You have a better chance to know what you are talking about than the rest of us, mere mortals. But as a pure fanboy I have a more objective viewpoint because I don’t work for an aerospace manufacturer. And I do not favour, or love, one manufacturer more than any other. I am an Airbus fanboy as well as a Boeing fanboy. I am also a Bombardier follower and an Embraer admirer. I think they are all unbelievably competent and that’s why they are part of a dual duopoly.

      • Normand,

        You have no need to convince me of the merits of a stick controller. For my particular role on the 777 program, the stick was far superior to the column – (it has lower overall operating costs). However, I was just one component of the team who once contributed to the decision on whether to move to a stick or retain the column. Since I was there for that part of the 777 program as well, I trust you will accept my word that the decision making process never included discussions of “it will be conceding Airbus was right”. I’ll just point out again, there is no “right” and “wrong” for most of the differences people point to between Boeing and Airbus. Just differences in the ways the two companies come to design choices.

        I know my response was long and probably poorly worded, but I may not have been clear on a main point, so it is again:

        >> The Boeing flight deck philosophy would absolutely permit a stick control <<

        The people arguing Boeing would never use a stick because it is unsafe, or because it does not meet the requirements of their philosophy don't have a clue… they are the Boeing fanboys.

        As you note, BBD seems to have a stick design which largely accomplishes two of the requirements placed on the physical controls in a Boeing airplane (they are back-driven and cross-linked – not sure they would meet the large displacement requirement). Boeing has similar designs available which are in every way compliant, and I suspect we'll see it when we finally see Boeing's long-awaited "NSA". If we do see it, it will be because of the reasons I noted above (lighter, lower maintenance, less complex, fewer parts, lower cost to operate over the life of the airplane). It will not be viewed within Boeing as a mea culpa… but it will sure make a lot of Boeing fanboys eat some crow.

        The protection override issue actually has nothing to do with whether a column or a stick is used. Using a side stick has never meant the pilot could not override the flight control computers. This is a FBW design choice by Airbus, BBD, Boeing etc, which is completely separate from whether a stick or a column is used. Either can be accomplished with either.

        As for flight deck commonality, don't discount it… it is huge. Yes, Airbus has built a great deal of commonality designed into the A320-A380 aircraft. They got there by sticking with a consistent flight deck. Boeing was slower to recognize the value of it, but has fully embraced it today. It is not something which can be achieved if a company is keeps making wholesale changes in their flight deck interfaces. For the 787, there simply was no possibility the stick was going to win, and commonality with the 777 was the reason (again, not industrial politics). The 777 and 787 have 100% common by-memory procedures and the 787 flight controls are tuned to feel precisely the same as a 777 for operation close to the ground (column force & movement for rotation & flare, control wheel deflection matched to role-rates, etc.) These were essential in order to achieve common takeoff and landing currency with the 777. This is of huge value to existing 777 operators and there is absolutely zero possibility this could have been achieved if Boeing went away from the column controls on the 787.

      • Excellent reply CM. It works exactly as you described in A/C design. Thanks also for the insight and rationale of the decision making! Never heard of that. I always thought as well that the control yoke is kept as a kind of trademark. We’ll see what happens in “~2028” with the NSA. Greetings from the competitor.

      • Can you please tell us what your field is so we can better understand why you so vigorously defend your statement as true fact? It will help a lot of us a great deal!

  15. Uwe :

    Airbus changed the job from “flying an aircraft” to “commanding an aircraft”.
    this certainly is a major change in objectives and requires quite the different skillset.
    Where the crew once was busy with all the technical aspects of keeping
    the plane in the air an Airbus today can esssentially fly itself.

    Yes, and here is a good example of that.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzD4tIvPHwE

  16. The 747SP originally [1973-74] had two purposes: /1/ allow Pan Am, to fly non-stop NY-Tokyo when no other aircraft could do it and /2/ keep Pan Am from buying the DC-10. At the time it went into service in 1976 it did both. By 1981 Boeing had increased the 747-200B’s MTOW from 775 to 800 then to 820 and finally to 833000 lbs, and the 747SP was outclassed in payload and economics on all the long routes it had pioneered. Only 45 were sold, but they paved the way for many of of today’s long-range non-stops. [Pan Am later got DC-10’s via the National merger, but that’s another story]

    As for the 18+ hour A340-500, ultra long-endurance airliners are nothing new. 1957’s Lockheed 1649 Starliner was an 18-20 hour airplane, 44 were sold. Airbus’s 2002 A345 was also an 18-hour airplane; 36 sold. So is Boeing’s 2006 777-200LR. 52 sold.

    So maybe no one will ever get rich building and selling airliners specifically made for flights of 18 hours or more?

    .

  17. It is a pity that the comment part of this excellent blog is becoming another A vs B cheer leading exercise.

    Sterile and uninteresting. 🙁

    • You can always watch the Bombardier videos. Maybe you will find them fertile and interesting. 🙂

      This excellent blog is not becoming another A vs B cheer leading exercise. It is, and will always be, A vs B. The tension between the two polarities is what’s making it so interesting. As long as we always respect each other, it’s just fine the way it is. And the beauty of it is that you don’t necessarily have to take sides. I mean always the same side, no matter what the issue is.

      With an open mind we can all learn something each time we read each other’s post. What’s obvious here is that most of the participants are aviation professionals, and each one can make a contribution to a better understanding of this business.

    • I see it differently. A vs. B is both entertaining and informative, particularly when it can be done with some semblance of civility and a basis in reality.

      Boeing and Airbus are two absolutely massive industrial giants in a world where industrial companies are fading away. They both design and manufacture the highest technology and most complex vehicles in the world. They are very closely matched in capability and marketshare. They are more the same than different, yet the differences are noteworthy and worth exploring. Even the fanboys are entertaining, although they usually manage to crush the intelligent conversation with mounds of misinformation.

      The unfortunate side of A vs B is the ugly bias and bigotry it brings out in some. Maybe that’s what you are referring to. I like Boeing and hope for their success because they are an American industrial icon and I am an American. I’d expect a European to feel the same pride and wish the same success for Airbus, and for the same reasons. However, when people hate Airbus because they hate Europe, or when people wish failure upon Boeing because they hate America, it will ruin the conversation every time.

      This site has become a collector for people who have been banned from other industry enthusiast sites because of the sentiments and behavior I have described above. Unfortunately, Scott permits it here, so we get to hear about peoples’ hatred as well as their thoughts on airplanes.

      • CM, our Reader Comment rules are well laid out and I am pretty strict about personal attacks and politicking. But I also believe in free speech (though the aforementioned may conflict with this) and as long as people are polite, it’s not up to me to be a referee between Airbus and Boeing boosters. More to the point, I don’t have the time.

        To be sure, I sometimes cringe about the extremes but as long as they conform to the Rules, I’m not going to interfere.

        Scott

  18. CM :
    As you note, BBD seems to have a stick design which largely accomplishes two of the requirements placed on the physical controls in a Boeing airplane (they are back-driven and cross-linked – not sure they would meet the large displacement requirement). Boeing has similar designs available which are in every way compliant, and I suspect we’ll see it when we finally see Boeing’s long-awaited “NSA”. If we do see it, it will be because of the reasons I noted above (lighter, lower maintenance, less complex, fewer parts, lower cost to operate over the life of the airplane). It will not be viewed within Boeing as a mea culpa… but it will sure make a lot of Boeing fanboys eat some crow.

    I always enjoy those exchange with you CM. You are in my opinion one of the best blogger around.

    Thank you, Normand

    • Thanks Normand. I take that as high praise.

      And by the way, you could never qualify as a fanboy/cheerleader for Boeing or Airbus in my book… you pointed out something good and something bad about each OEM in a single post. This violates fanboy rule number 1 about never acknowledging the other OEM actually does some things well (other than PR, marketing, back-room politics, scams and fraud, of course 🙂

      Cheers!

      CM

  19. Airbus introduced the sidestick / FBW into civil airliners.

    Nobody asked for it. Probably existing pilots / airlines didn’t like the idea.

    Probably they ignored customers, pushed it through based on cold research.

    It became very succesful, set a new standard and most new aircraft will have it.

    hmm..

  20. Normand Hamel :
    Had a “soft stop” pushover been available to the pilot, the A320 would have probably just greased the tree tops instead of “landing” into them at Mulhouse-Habsheim.

    My understanding of the Habsheim crash is that they were toast anyway. There is no soft override in hard physics.

    TopBoom one above:
    You imho show the difficulty in grasping that concept change.
    Nonetheless: It is there. The flight savety guy at flight global has written a range of very interesting articles on that topic .

    CM, I share your dislike of black and white posters.
    On the other hand this place has about the lowest amount of nonsensical posts around.
    Even elsewhere notorious posters post coherently here 😉

    The “uselessness” of the 747SP: What else would the SOFIA Infrared Telescope ride on?

  21. I think Habsheim is a human error bred by over-confidence in the technology. The pilot seems to have been the proverbial ‘bold’ pilot, and seems to have believed that he could get away with it thanks to widgetry. Question probably is therefore not whether Boeing control philosophy would have rescued the plane (it wouldn’t), but whether he would have pulled the same stupid stunt in a 737. Probably not. On the other hand, (and I really don’t have any idea), would the Airbus control philosophy have prevented the THY crash in Amsterdam? Could they have stalled an A320 in the same way they did with the 738 in that case? How would the radio altimetre failure have affected an A320?

  22. Normand Hamel :
    Had a “soft stop” pushover been available to the pilot, the A320 would have probably just greased the tree tops instead of “landing” into them at Mulhouse-Habsheim.

    Everything I’ve read about that incident says that that is just not true!

    If anything, that would have started a stall resulting in a more disastrous impact.

  23. It’s obvious why the Middle Eastern airlines are unhappy, they are not a destination, their business case is taking pax from Asia and Australasia to Europe, or similar trips, transiting the Middle East. For example, if the 350 won’t make it from Australia to Dubai with a full load the Middle Eastern carriers won’t get the same economy flying from Australia to Europe with it as their competition will get going via Singapore, Thailand or India, where they can fly fully loaded. It will, however, still be a lot more economical than using a 777 between Australia and Europe. No doubt the same goes for other Middle Eastern airline routes which involve, for example, flights to US west coast or Africa.

    This 350, as it is, could seriously damage the business case for the big Middle Eastern 3.

  24. Didn’t the Habsheim crew 1) fly too low (not 100ft) 2) lower than surrounding obstacles; 3) fly too slow, reducing to reach maximum possible angle of attack 4) have the engine speed at flight idle too long for a go-around ?

    The media attention it got and gets for 23 yrs, the conspiracy theories that will never go away, also IMO had to do with Timing. 1988: the eurocrats somehow put on the platform an innovative superior narrowbody unasked for, making the 2 established OEMS look so seventies.

    I took an american Boeing line maintenance officer into an A320 cockpit (I worked at an airport in 1990/91, during the GulfWar). A nice guy, but I remember he went completely in denial & even slightly hostile being confronted by the roomy cockpit with a few tv screens & joy sticks only.

    I guess these kind of crashes (also the AF 330 and Korean accidents) put renewed focus on crew psychology, interaction, selfconfidence etc. that often proved the weakest link. I guess we all know that computers would do better in many cases but have a hard time accepting it.

  25. Visual obviousness in HI design and failure exposure is a primary goal.

    The Airbus Trimm arrangement would appear to be a failure here.

    On the other hand and by my impression from what has been published
    about AF447 ambivalence in the decissionmaking process and overfocusing
    on a prejudiced situational assumption killed them.

    The primary fix will be found in CRM. Not that there won’t be any secondary
    lessons applied.

    • A great irony of both OEM’s control law design is the thing which saves an aircraft in one scenario will be its undoing in the next. Compare the consequences of an Airbus style alpha floor protection on BA38 and TK1951. Had the 777 implemented a hard alpha floor protection, the computers would likely have nosed BA38 into the neighborhoods short of the A30 with sure tragic consequences (the BA38 crew demonstrated remarkable piloting as they flew the aircraft several miles at an AOA which was technically a stall). TK1951, on the other hand, would likely have been saved by by alpha floor, despite the CRM and airmanship incompetencies we saw in that flight deck. Whether or not you backdrive the thrust levers has similar arguments for and against. I may be sounding a bit repetitive, but the differences between the two OEMs’ design approaches are not a matter of right and wrong – It is frequently the case that there is no single answer which will be the best solution in every circumstance.

      • Firstly: I really like your posts!

        Concerning the 777, the question is, how long a protection is active. You can lose the alpha floor protection under certain circumstances. I would have to look it up, but in most cases a double engine flame out should lead to direct law and to the loss of all flight envelope protections, alpha floor included. So you can also deadstick an Airbus at the very edge of the envelope. Regardless of the FCS architecture, you need a cold blooded, highly proficient pilot to save the day (i.e. Hudson River Sully)

        Thank you for writing this: “TK1951, on the other hand, would likely have been saved by by alpha floor, despite the CRM and airmanship incompetencies we saw in that flight deck.”

        It is almost impossible to count how often the Airbus Normal Law saved a underperforming crew from losing an aircraft. The more are FCS related mishaps highlighted. It is a little bit sad, that the airlines think that they can save some bucks on the pilot training and proficiency, because of the reliable flight control system, Airbus offers. That concerns me.

        I am also convinced that the OEM’s have a similar level of technical competence, maybe with some stronger points here and some weaker points there. I will not elaborate this further but in the end, the decisions are based on complicated design trade-offs. You explication really nails it!

  26. Uwe, Keesje, SomeOne, Andreas,

    Thanks for your reply to my comment on Mulhouse-Habsheim. In unison you have denied my proposition and I cannot disagree with you. Please note that I used the word “probably” in my statement. I was actually fishing. This unfortunate accident (or unsuccessful “suicide attempt”) has been in the back of my mind for the last 23 years.

    I am still unable to reconcile the hard science with my intuitive grasp of the situation. And whenever I have to confront the A vs B divergent philosophies in regards to the ultimate control of the airplane, I keep thinking about that A320 crash landing. What if? is the question I unrelentingly ask myself.

    What surprised me here is that the usual Boeing crowd has remained deafeningly silent about it. To me this corresponds to an unacknowledged admission that the Airbus control laws prevented the worst. At least in this particular case. If there are sceptics out there I would like to here from them.

    Generally speaking, I remain convinced that Airbus has gone a little too far in wanting to remove the pilot from the loop. I certainly would like to hear more on the subject from both camps. Perhaps in another thread.

    • It is a paradigm thing.
      A discourse:
      You see the really furious crashes currently in the IT domain.
      If you cloak one mechanism onionwise in a completely different paradigm
      or two you will create the potential for crashing clashes :
      Look at copyright law which is hardbound to information and carrier being inseparable ( in a commercial viable way. ) Introduce the easy separation and lossless duplication and that system is shot to hell. All the layering on of added copyprotecting change a single thing about that and all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t fix it, neither can lawyers.

      Result: legal spastics due to riding a dead horse until somebody invents a new system that adequately wraps the issue.
      ( and get rid of IP as an idea. patents, copyright are a timed privilege and not property.)

      If the current wrapping paradigms in commercial airliner design would have this fault
      we would see quite a lot more cascading failures.

      To explain:
      Rising system complexity is wrapped in “simple” paradigms to enable actual and effective use. No pilot would be able to control all aero surfaces in a conventional manner: turn a nob here, twist a lever there, adjust that flapmixer just a tiny bit. … unworkable.

      This is the same for Boeing as well as for Airbus. The major difference imho is
      that Airbus has decided to go whole hog starting with the A320 accepting the issue and
      trying to achieve homogenous wrapping with a completely new paradigm while Boeing
      from my vantagepoint seems to go for wrapping the new complexities in a “as we are used to”
      thus “old” paradigm. But for Boeing the solutions stay distinct systems. This is both : advantage ( degrees of freedom for a single module is smaller than for a fully integrated system and disadvantage ( you can’t utilise synergies from merging systems. )

      Noticable Oops: there are pilots around that try to see the Airbus abstract plane as a conventional oldstyle thing with a couple of curlicues added. Those will fight their plane
      through their complete career because they can’t “talk” to it. Cats and Dogs.

      IMHO introducing a new paradigm rquires you learn it and understand it. You have to make it your own.

      A new paradigm can enable things that were impossible before and would
      stay impossible if you persist in wrapping new tech in well known old paradigms.

      Think of an automobile that you would ride the horse way via spurs, a whip and reins 😉
      Over time and progress one looses potential.

      Compare to black materials. The same paradigm thing applies.
      Using metal construction paradigms for CFRP minimises or inverts the possible gains.
      Missmatch.

      A Good night!
      Uwe

  27. @ Oscar RE. #41

    20 years at Boeing in widebody design. During that time I worked on the 777-200, 777-300, 777-200ER, 777-300ER, 777-200LR, 767-400, 747-400ER, Sonic Cruiser, 777F and 787-8. I now work as a consultant helping airlines evaluate product offerings from all manufacturers.

  28. CM :
    Whether or not you backdrive the thrust levers has similar arguments for and against.

    Can you give us concrete examples of situations where static thrust levers would be an advantage over back driven ones?

    • Both OEM’s design displays to show a command “bug”, as well as EPR. This is the real data of what thrust setting is commanded vs what thrust the engine is delivering.

      The argument against backdriving the thrust levers goes something like this: By not backdriving the thrust levers on the Airbus, the bus crew is required to look at the displays to understand this relationship between commanded and actual thrust. On the Boeing, even though the thrust bug is shown on the display and this is the only “official” indication of commanded thrust, backdriving the thrust levers there creates a tendency to relate the lever position / movements as being equal to commanded thrust. Even though this will be true 99.999999% of the time, it technically cannot be used for this purpose. In the case of BA38, the thrust levers moved forward and no thrust was forthcoming. The only place to understand that the engine is receiving but not responding to a command is to look at the relationship of the command bug to EPR on EICAS – something the bus drivers are very much in the habit of doing.

      In the end, I agree with you; I would rather see the thrust levers backdriven, as I feel there are stronger arguments for it than against it.

      • Thanks for a crystal clear explanation. I had never looked at it this way before.

  29. @ CRORpower RE. dual engine flame out and dropping into alternate or direct control law. The BA38 circumstance was very unusual in that it was fuel starvation but neither engine suffered a flameout. They spooled up somewhat, but neither achieved anywhere near commanded thrust – fuel flow was there, but not enough. I’m not sure either OEM’s control law would degrade to alternate or direct under those circumstances.

    And thanks! As I mentioned above, I also love a good conversation about airplanes!

    • CM, fascinating insight, many thanks for it. Given that I have four TK flights today and tomorrow, I really hope they have sorted out their CRM issues.

      From a passenger perspective, I don’t feel more or less safe in either an A or aa B. It is airline dependent. The only time I noted an attitude difference in myself was during aborted approaches. I had three in the last year, in a Fokker 100, a B738 and n A320. I believe the A320 automates a lot of things in this situation that in the other two the piloots have to command, so that made me feel (!) safer. Although I’m sure itks irrrational.

      • I flew on TK this month and never gave it a thought. I often think the safest airline is the one who recently suffered a loss. Awareness becomes heightened, training is reinforced, CRM issues are scoured for, etc. In the case of 447, it came as such a shock to the industry, virtually all OEMs and all airlines took remedial action, even if it was just to reinforce the training of procedures which were already in place.

  30. some notes and afaiu :
    Sully seems to have flown and landed in normal law.
    Defective radar alt. should impact transition from normal to flare mode.
    http://www.pprune.org/tech-log/343759-airbus-dual-ra-fault-flight-control-laws.html
    (not read yet)

    BA38 has an Airbus equivalent : the “short” landing of a Hapg Loyd A310
    in Vienna ( doesn’t bring anything to the discussion ).
    Comparing the reports on Gimli Glider and Air Transat 236 could be interesting.

    we talked about MTU being not known for compressor designs previously:
    the PW6000 engine got the underperforming PW design swapped out for
    an MTU HPC.

  31. Reply Uwe # 57 Re AF447, I am no expert, but what has puzzled me is that the crew seemed not to be aware that they were in a stall and therefore rapidly descending. Why not just look at the altimeter and apply power/nose over to get out of the stall?

    Reply to CM #s 58 & 66 (BA 38). I seem to remember reading that the flight crew saved the day by immediately changing the flap setting to something like take off mode or perhaps even a horizontal position. The effect was to increase the lift-producing wing area just enough to get them beyond the houses and onto the grass. I have wondered how long it took the flaps to adjust. If they had moved into their new positions more slowly than they did, perhaps it would not have worked.

    • my interpretation is that the initial pulling of height brought them an energy exchange that reduced speed below the minimun airspeed for valid indication. They never realised that airspeed indication was now not working for a very different reason.
      For the remainder of the flight they seem to have been lingering in the horizontal speed range bracketing invalid/valid indication switching on and off stall warning as a result.
      Their assumption on the other hand seems to have been that they were on the other edge ( stall / no stall ). They never did any plausibilty considerations for the instruments.
      Crew cooperation was ZERO, cortex switched off all around.

      May be making it more obvious on which edge of stall indication you are would have helped.
      I do have doubts. It looks like the crew composition was a bomb on a hair trigger.
      ( I have to confess that I am a terrible UI designer, my forte is more in excluding biohazards from the loop 😉

    • In regards to BA38, the flaps had been set at 30 on approach and were reduced to 25 approximately 20 seconds before impact.

  32. Uwe :
    we talked about MTU being not known for compressor designs previously:
    the PW6000 engine got the underperforming PW design swapped out for
    an MTU HPC.

    MTU supplied both the LPT and the HPC on the PW6000. Although the PW6000 was not a commercial success, MTU was recognized for its technical leadership in core design and that was the main reason, over and above commercial considerations, why they were invited to participate on the GTF program. The HPC and LPT expertise developed by MTU on the PW6000 was transferred directly to the GTF. Except that this time around they did not design the entire HPC, but only the forward stages (P&W doing the rear stages), plus the LPT.

  33. CM :
    I flew on TK this month and never gave it a thought. I often think the safest airline is the one who recently suffered a loss. Awareness becomes heightened, training is reinforced, CRM issues are scoured for, etc. In the case of 447, it came as such a shock to the industry, virtually all OEMs and all airlines took remedial action, even if it was just to reinforce the training of procedures which were already in place.

    That’s how I see it too. In fairness, I was more upset about them making me fly in shabby Eco seats (with one spare in the middle) for 3.5 hours on the A321 from LHR to IST, only to put me in plush(ish) C class seats on the 738 from iST to ESB (40 mins). Shameless pandering to the Turkish politicians!

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