Odds and Ends: MAS MH370, Day 3; Qatar on A380; A330neo; New Small Airplane

MAS MH370, Day 3: The dominant news last week and over the weekend was, of course, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER. It didn’t just crash (which is the assumption): it vanished, with no trace at all.

There was a tantalizing clue that maybe it turned back toward Malaysia, its origination, based on radar returns. But if it were near the Vietnam coast, why turn back when there probably would have been a closer airport in the event of an emergency?

If the radar report is accurate, and the airplane did turn, the larger question is whether the turn was intention, under the command of the pilots (or hijackers), or whether the turn was induced by some problem with the airplane or engines, or an explosion?

As we wrote over the weekend, the absence of debris along intended flight path suggests the airplane deviated–but this is speculation, albeit perhaps supported by the radar indication of a turn.

Some of our Readers, and observers on television, noted that a few days passed in the case of Air France 447 before debris was spotted. AF447 was the Airbus A330 that disappeared between Rio de Janeiro and Paris in 2009 in the South Atlantic. There are similarities but there are differences, too. AF447 went down well out into the open Atlantic in waters about 15,000 feet deep. MH370 disappeared in a much smaller, confined area where the depths are much shallower: up to 300 feet deep. The entire Gulf is 320,000 square km, no small area to search but certainly far smaller than the South Atlantic where AF447 went down.

Latest developments:

  • It’s now been reported that the oil slicks have been analyzed and are not from MH370.
  • Officials say it was standard procedure to keep the cockpit door locked, in accordance with ICAO rules, and cannot be opened from the outside. We’d point out that this doesn’t rule out a cockpit breach entirely, however.
  • The “passport passengers” were not Asian.

The Wall Street Journal created this graphic that is quite illustrative about the situation. What we haven’t seen anywhere is the location for the “turn” reported by radar.

Mary Kirby and Steve Trimble have opinion pieces about the need for a real-time streaming of information. Kirby’s piece is here and Trimble’s is here. Each have a good argument. One thing they don’t talk about is whether there are international standards that would permit this. We did a story for Kirby when she was editor of APEX magazine about the international standards issue with respect to Wi-Fi on airplanes. That story is here.

Although the details between Wi-Fi and real-time aircraft data streaming are different, we wonder if the over-arching challenge Boeing faced with Wi-Fi is the same or similar for real-time data streaming.

Qatar on A380: Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, is known for his hyperbole and about-faces, but every once in a while he expresses an opinion that has some useful information. His comments about the Airbus A380 is one of these occasions. Take note of the operating costs vs fuel prices and the reference to re-engining the airplane.

A330neo momentum: There continues to be increasing interest among airlines about the prospect of an Airbus A330neo, our Market Intelligence tells us.

New Small Airplane: Here is a 13 page PDF paper written in 2012 and presented to the AIAA discussing the prospects of a twin-aisle operation on 757/737/A320 routes.

27 Comments on “Odds and Ends: MAS MH370, Day 3; Qatar on A380; A330neo; New Small Airplane

  1. I remember part of the high costs of ULH flights is fleet utilization. An expensive large aircraft should e.g. be able to make 3 flights in 2 days /48 hrs. doing the same route every other day, doing the return flight inbetween. If a flight is longer then e.g. 14 hours this is no longer possible. On 9-10 hour flights you can often fly daily rotations and build in more flexibility / high utilization.

  2. Lets have a sceptical look on Qatars comments on the A380:
    He says buing a A380 NEO makes no sense if the new subfleet is not large enough.
    Fair enough. But surely the mininum size is not fifty. Otherwise it would hardly have made sense to buy only ten in the first place, no ?

    I’ve tried to find a nonstop flight from Doha to LAX. I couldn’t find one.
    Emirates offers that connection nonstop, with a A380.

    Btw: how many nm is Doha-LAX ?

    • I think what he is eluding to is that there is a number of identical aircraft in a fleet where commonality is no longer such a big economic advantage. Having the same type (ie. current A380-800’s) powered with the same engine will be a common fleet no matter how many airplanes are in the fleet. However if they had purchased a batch of A380’s with RR engines and another batch with GP7000 engines then commonality and economics could be compromised, it depends on how many airplanes are involved. Pilot rating would be common but having a 2 different engine types requires a greater number of expensive spare engines and thus is considered uneconomical until one reaches a certain number of aircraft in each fleet. The usual number I see for most fleet types is 25-30 of the type. So if Qatar had 30+ RR powered A380’s and 30+ GP7000 powered A380’s it would not be a big deal. If they only had 10 of each instead of 20 with the same engine, that does indeed make a difference. This is why when you look at large fleets you might well see more than one engine type in that fleet (ex: TAM and LAN A320 family aircraft) because the airline will simply go with the best deal they can get from the engine manufacturer each time they place a follow-on order.

      • If you are deciding between engines of the same generation, I would agree. That’s not the case he was talking about, however. He explicitly mentioned a A380-Neo.

        If Airbus would offer a A380-Neo you’d have to weight the cost of introducing a second engine type subleet against the fuel savings by using a next-gen engine. So if 25-30 is the typical min size for a sub type, that number would still be lower if you factor in the fuel savings by the Neo.

        • However, the capital cost of an A380neo will be substantially greater than that of a currently produced A380″ceo” such that the economic benefit over the lifetime ownership of the airplane is slightly better, not dramatically better. The simple reason that airlines are jumping all over A320neo’s and B737MAX’s is because by operating these aircraft they reduce the percentage of operating cost attributable to fuel, the only item they have no control over. Much better to pay more in capital cost for the airplane (a known cost) vs. be at the whim of international fluctuations in fuel prices during the economic life of the airplane. Therefore, I still maintain that commonality benefits remain in place up to 25-30 aircraft within a fleet.

        • “the capital cost of an A380neo will be substantially greater than that of a currently produced A380 ceo”

          Thats an interesting statement. Where do you deduce that conclusion from ?
          He was talking about a potential order in the future for additional A380s and if he’d be interested in a NEO for that.

          Lets say I order 15 A380CEO and 15 A380 NEO in 2020.
          Why would the capital costs for the NEO order be higher than for the CEO (except from a possibly slightly higher list price for the NEO) ?

          • In further response to “nofly”….I’m in the business of financing commercial aircraft, therefore what I am suggesting regarding a hypothetical A380neo situation is in fact based on market experience.

            Here’s the Airbus list price sheet. You will note that in same year dollars, the equivalent neo aircraft costs roughly 10% more than the comparable ceo model. Actual price paid at delivery depends on the delivery date(s) and any further differential will be accounted for by an annual price escalation factor applied by the manufacturer. We all know that airlines do not pay list pricing, and we also know from experience that actual discounting for the most part takes place on a percentage off list price basis. If one assumes that the same percentage discounting applies to both types then approximately a 10% net price differential will be maintained. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is to check with any airline how much they are paying for an A320neo vs. an A320ceo ordered at the same time and with similar equipment (except for the engines of course). Lastly, the same situation applies to the B737NG vs. B737MAX.


  3. If they left at 12:21am and responded/reported back at/after 1:30am per the Narita bound 777 that is rumored to have heard from them, then I don’t understand how they wouldn’t be well into/past that red dot in this post (still in the south china sea). Otherwise Kuantan would have still been able to pick them up.

    My suspicion/SWAG is that there is a tiny debris field in the tropical rain forest somewhere (past Saigon), not the south china sea.



    • If they left at 12:21am and responded/reported back at/after 1:30am per the Narita bound 777 that is rumored to have heard from them,

      The key here is “rumored”. Because this report about an NRT-bound flight having had contact with MH360 has in the meantime been shown to be false.

  4. Just saw that. Search area widening sure seems to indicate they have no clue where it went. Fail to see how it could plausibly have gotten to the west side of peninsular Malaysia undetected.


    Andaman sea surely indicates they have precious little real data, and/or it is fairly likely to have been hijacked/re-routed entirely.


  5. I keep on wondering why we are not hearing anything about any other ways to localize this plane. Are there really no satellite connections that can be use to get a general idea of the location or a point in time from which no more transmissions took place. Or for example the before mentioned ACARS. Even though it might not contain telemetry data, there should be “bleeps” of any kind?

    After this much time one starts to wonder how competent the involved countries are in executing a coordinated search. Are they truly working together, with a defined search grid?

  6. Thanks Mary Kirby and Steve Trimble for trying to make the same point I was making in prior posts regarding this accident. Imagine the expense of having 40 ships and 10 airplanes running around for 3 days now and nothing to show for it. Then if and when it is found, the added expense of finding and retrieving the FDR and CVR boxes. Time for real time position and aircraft operational data (not just maintenance data or failure modes) transmission capability to be implemented.

    • So the Air France search and FDR recovery effort cost an estimated $18 million and this was a rare case of extreme difficulty in not only finding the aircraft but also getting to it.

      So the questions are, “What is the cost of implementing this real time streaming technology?” and “Why is it actually so important to get the information right away?”

      I can certainly understand the need for some sort or real time 99.9% accurate location (including height) tracking method since I believe the majority of costs come from the search effort and if one knows exactly where the aircraft is at impact, this will certainly reduce search time, effort and costs while also greatly increasing the chances of rescuing any possible survivors.

      But aside frome the “possible” cost savings, which I am not convinced of, why do all the flight data parameters need to be streamed real time?

  7. Upon deeper thinking, there is something unusual that no one has mentioned about the ‘Passport Passengers.’ To travel from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, it is very unusual routing to go through Beijing. There are much more direct routes, including a non-stop from KL to AMS on Malaysian Air. Looking on a variety of air ticketing sites, none of them offer or suggest flying through Beijing. Very unusual.

    • Indeed Kurt, a very unusual routing for flying straight thru. Even more interesting that both ONE WAY tickets were purchased by an Iranian intermediary known as “Mr. Ali” and issued in Thailand for departure out of Malaysia to Europe, one passenger (Italian passport) to end up in Copenhagen while the other passenger (Austrian passport) to end up in Frankfurt, both flying onwards from Beijing on the same KL flight. I’m not sure where I heard it but somehow understood that the stop in Beijing was indeed a stopover and not necessarily a direct connection.

      • I think people should forget about the passport thing. It happens all the time. It’s actually a common way for people to immigrate on the black market – you route via places that don’t need visas and then jump ship at a waypoint… in this case it would have been Amsterdam. The routing via Beijing was simply to get a cheap ticket.

        Thailand is the easiest place to get cheap stolen passports.

        From personal experience, someone who booked the seat next to me from KL to Amsterdam (coincidentally) was a no-show – this had been a stopover flight from Indonesia. It meant that everyone on the flight had to retrieve their hand carry so they could check for any suspicious packages left behind, but on the upside my wife and I flew home comfortably with the only free middle seat on the entire packed aircraft! 🙂

        And I personally know (innocent) check in staff in Singapore who were caught up in the fallout when a trafficking operation was discovered using this exact method to get people from the Indian sub-continent to Europe. Routed through Singapore on stolen passports, then on to various final destinations with an extra stop in Europe so they could jump ship.

        And guess what… they got through because it is NOT common practice to check all passports as people believe – even for someone like SIngapore Airlines! For one thing, it takes too much time, and for another, it’s too expensive. Interpol, IATA etc. all charge a lot of money to make use of their databases.

        • “And guess what… they got through because it is NOT common practice to check all passports as people believe – even for someone like SIngapore Airlines! For one thing, it takes too much time, and for another, it’s too expensive. Interpol, IATA etc. all charge a lot of money to make use of their databases.”

          If true, that is certainly pathetic and makes a joke of this whole passport/security “scam” we are subjected to these days.

          Oh here is a great reminder, two weeks ago, security at an Italian airport seized my corkscrew. I thought it was because of the 1″ blade but she proudly boasted that the corkscrew itself is sharp and therefore a dangerous weapon. This after I deliberately left it out in the open so they could see what an harmless item it really is.

          • Note that I was saying that the AIRLINE doesn’t have the resources to check passports all the time…

            That should be (and is) left to border control.

            The point here is that the traffickers use routing where the passengers don’t need to pass border control until they get to where they want to escape. It’s not the airline’s job to check everyone’s alibi…!

  8. Has anyone looked at a slow loss of cabin/cockpit pressure and a failure of the monitoring system (crew not having donned at least one mask could be more common for eg during a meal) ? It would explain the lack of messages and the aircraft would have gone on using AP thus crashing further off the planned route

    • In 1996 Value Jet-592, a DC-9 crashed into the Florida Everglades as a result of a fire in the cargo hold produced by improperly shipped oxygen generators. The airplane plunged near vertically into the swamp and disintegrated. There was no big pieces of the airplane left on the surface. It borrowed through the mud and finally hit rock, the hole quickly filled with water, leaving the only visible mark of a water filled hole with the sawgrass pushed aside.
      There are similar swamps in southern Vietnam, and the coastlines of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
      I am wondering if MH-370 crashed into one of these swamps in a similar fashion as the VJ-592 did? If that is what happened, and no one witnessed the crash, we should be looking within these swamp lands.
      The VJ-592 decent and crash was witnessed by local fishermen in that area of the Florida swamp at the time of the crash, so the location was quickly known.
      Just more speculation on my part.

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