Aviation journalist Ben Sandilands passes

Ben Sandilands

Oct. 31, 2017: Ben Sandilands, the cranky, crusty curmudgeonly writer of Australia’s Plane Talking (Crikey), died Friday after a long illness. He was 73. Cancer was the cause of death.

We only met Sandilands on a couple of occasions but avidly followed his blog for years.

He was controversial in Australia. Sandilands was a long-time critic of the Australian Transportation Safety Board and of Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Airways. His persistent criticism won him no friends in officialdom.

But having writing aviation for 60 years, Sandilands had sources through Australian aviation and often wrote penetrating pieces about whatever topic he happened to be pursuing at the time.

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A380, from flagship to LCC mass transport

By Bjorn Fehrm

January 23, 2017, ©. Leeham Co: The Airbus A380 was introduced as the flagship aircraft for an airline’s fleet. Legacy carriers with a large long-haul network introduced the aircraft on the routes with the most traffic in the network. After an initial rush of inductions, only Emirates continued to buy the aircraft in larger numbers. The aircraft had become too large for the airlines which sought frequency over capacity at their hub airports.

Airbus and its leasing partner, Amedeo, are convinced the aircraft will have a second spring when airport congestion has grown in the next decade. Until then, both are seeking the market niches that will keep production at minimum one aircraft per month.

We sat with Amedeo’s CEO, Mark Lapidus, at the Air Finance Journal conference in Dublin to find out what market will require a new or used A380. Lapidus has spent the last two years in meetings with the world’s major airlines, discussing all aspects of operating an A380. He presented some surprises.

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Book Review: The Crash Detectives


Crash DetectivesJuly 5, 2016, © Leeham Co.: The Crash Detectives, by Christine Negroni, © 2016. Penguin Books. Available on Amazon.com.

As an avid follower of The Smithsonian Channel’s “Air Disaster” series and The Weather Channel’s “Why Planes Crash,” as well as knowing Christine Negroni, I was anxious to read her new book, The Crash Detectives. (Negroni is also the author of Deadly Departure, about TWA Flight 800.)

Negroni is no wanna-be aviation disaster geek. Her resume qualifies her to understand aviation accidents and speak and write with knowledge about them.

Negroni writes about dozens of aviation accidents and mysteries. Some of these are well known (the de Havilland Comet I accidents, for example). Some were miraculous outcomes (United Airlines 232, US Airways 1549, Qantas Airways 32). Some are ancient history (pre-World War II, including the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.)

Among the most interesting are the accidents in which hypoxia of the pilots are involved. These make fascinating reading. And it is hypoxia that is the leading cause of Negroni’s theory of one of commercial aviation’s most infamous mystery.

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Bjorn’s Corner: Asia-Pacific Air Traffic Management

By Bjorn FehrmJune 24 2016, ©. Leeham Co: Having covered the Air Traffic Management challenges in North America, Europe and Middle East we will now finish the series by looking at some specific problems affecting the Asia-Pacific region.

Asia-Pacific is the world region with the strongest growth in air traffic. IATA calculates that within 20 years half of the world’s air travel will originate or terminate within the region. Figure 1 shows that air traffic has several hot spots in Asia-Pacific, but also that there are areas with rather moderate traffic.

ATM in Asia Pacific 2016.06.23

Figure 1. Air traffic’s main routes in the world. Asia-Pacific is an area with large differences in air traffic intensity. Source: Rockwell Collins

The region has its unique set of Air Traffic Management problems. We will now cover those that must be solved, should the region’s Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) be able to manage the forecasted growth in air travel in a safe way. Read more

Inexpensive real-time FDR system developed by California firm

Thompson Flt Test

The flight test pattern of a Thompson Aerospace real-time data transmission on a Boeing airplane. Click on image to enlarge.

June 14, 2016, © Leeham Co.: Egyptair Flight MS804 disappeared from radar May 19 and there is very little known about the last minutes of the flight at this writing.

A French ship two weeks ago reported hearing pings on the same frequency as the flight’s black boxes. As yet, the pinging hasn’t been confirmed as being from those boxes (remember the false alarm on the Malaysia Airlines MH370 search). The main wreckage and these boxes have yet to be discovered.

With the designed 30-day battery life of the pinger expiring just days away, this is yet another example of why real-time transmission of flight data from the airplane to the ground is needed.

As with MH370, followed by Air Asia Flight 8501 (whose boxes and wreckage were eventually discovered and recovered), the mystery surrounding MS804 spur new calls for action to provide real-time data streaming of a flight’s important information about the performance of the airplane and any anomalies.

Airbus officials aid during their Innovation Days presentations last week they are studying real-time data streaming. ICAO, the international organization the sets rules and requirements for the world’s airlines, has moved slowly since MH370 but now appears ready by year-end to establish requirements and deadlines for real-time data streaming.

Cost and bandwidth have been cited as principal obstacles to overcome.

But a small company in California says the technology is here today at an affordable cost, and it is fully compliant with ICAO standards.

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Pontifications: ICAO continues to drag feet on real-time data transmission

Hamilton KING5_2

By Scott Hamilton

May 23, 2016, © Leeham Co.: Malaysia Airlines MH370. Air Asia 8501. Egyptair 804.

Three passenger flights lost over the oceans. One, MH370, remains undiscovered to this day. Air Asia took a couple of weeks to locate. Egyptair debris took about 36 hours. The black boxes are still  missing from MH370. Once the Air Asia wreckage was discovered, the boxes were recovered fairly quickly. According to media reports, the black boxes of 804 have been “generally” located, but Egypt has dispatched a submarine to more precisely locate them.

The absence of real-time data transmission from the Flight Data Recorders contributed to the mysteries of what happened to these aircraft and spurred wild theories and conspiracies. ACARS, which does transmit data from airborne aircraft, does so at intervals–not real-time. Real-time data streaming from on board transmissions could provide immediate answers to what happened to an airliner.

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Top 10 Stories in 2015

  • HOLIDAY SCHEDULE: Unless there is major, breaking news, Leeham News and Comment is taking the Christmas-New Year’s holidays off. We resume our normal publishing scheduled Jan. 4, 2016.
  • So what do we have? Mitsubishi holding an MRJ briefing on Christmas Eve, Tokyo time. There’s no webcast or dial-in number but we’ll look for the stories coming out of this briefing and post something just for the record.

Here are the Top 10 stories on Leeham News and Comment for 2015:

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MH370: “Presumption” becomes “high presumption,” but little else

August 5, 2015: French authorities said today there is a “high presumption” that the flaperon found last week on La Reunion Island east of the African coast is from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER.

The prime minister of Malaysia was more certain, saying the wing part was definitely from MH370.

When the flaperon was found and identified by photos as coming from a 777, the presumption then was that it was from MH370. Now it’s a “high presumption.”

Beyond this, there is nothing new.

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MH370: Caution, no quick resolution

July 29, 2015: By now the world knows a piece of an airplane wing consistent with a Boeing 777 has been found on an island near Africa, thousands of miles from the search areas of the West Coast of Australia.

As this is written, while news reports indicate Boeing says that from photos the part appears consistent with a 777 wing part (and, of course, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is the only missing 777), confirmation hasn’t been achieved.

Even if this part proves to be from the missing 777, don’t expect any resolution soon.

Computers may be able to calculate ocean currents, time and distances to trace back a reasonable point of origin–if possible, this will take time–and then deep sea searching must start all over again.

Caution should be exercised over this discovery. No quick resolution is going to be forthcoming if this part is from the missing airliner.

This mystery is far from over.

Malaysia Airlines fleet restructuring

April 30, 2015: Malaysia Airlines is offering for sale or lease all six of its Airbus A380s, its two Boeing 747-400Fs and four Airbus A330-200Fs and four Boeing 777-200ERs as it seeks to restructure following a disastrous 2014.

MAS lost two 777s last year: MH370, the flight that disappeared and still hasn’t been found; and MH17, the flight that was shot down over Ukraine.

Elimination of the freighters wipes out MASCargo.

MAS, the passenger operation, has six A380s, 15 A330-300s, 57 Boeing 737-800s with 14 on order and 10 options and 13 777-200ERs, according to Wikipedia. Read more