Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Airbus A380 at Frankfurt Airport
Factory, design flaws caused A380 cracks

Reuters – Thu, Jan 26, 2012
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Airbus acknowledged a combination of manufacturing and design flaws on Wednesday as it confirmed the discovery of more examples of wing cracks on the A380, while insisting the world's largest airliner is safe to fly.

A top executive said the European planemaker had come up with a solution to the cracks on a small number of parts inside the superjumbo's wings, which prompted European safety authorities to order inspections last week.

Airbus confirmed a Reuters report that more examples of the cracks had been discovered during the compulsory inspections, but declined to give further details before a Friday deadline for completing an initial phase of checks.
"The A380 is safe to fly," Tom Williams, executive vice president of programs at Toulouse-based Airbus, said.
The cracks were caused by factors including the choice of aluminum alloy for some of the 4,000 brackets in the wings as well as a type of bolt that put too much stress on the metal.

Engineers have ruled out metal fatigue, Williams said.

Airbus moved to shore up confidence in the world's largest jetliner amid a drip-feed of disclosures about cracking on components used to fix the outside of the wing to its ribcage.

Williams flew to Dublin to give an unscheduled address at an industry conference to dampen any concerns about safety.

European authorities have ordered inspections on almost a third of the superjumbo fleet, or 20 aircraft, after two types of cracks were discovered within weeks of each of other.

Since then, similar cracks have been found inside the 9,100-square-foot wings of at least one of the superjumbos examined under the directive, industry sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Airbus officials said that having understood the problem, they expected most of the aircraft being tested would show similar evidence of cracks, but that repairs would solve this well before they became a potential hazard.

It declined to say which airline had reported cracks during inspections but the spotlight is expected to fall on Singapore Airlines, which has said it is inspecting six aircraft under phase one of checks involving the most heavily used jets.
The airline opened up the debut A380 service in December 2007.

Singapore Airlines said it was carrying out inspections as required and would give an update once they were completed. The checks involve emptying and venting fuel checks for about 24 hours followed by a visual check via a manhole under the wing.
The cracks first came to light during repairs, lasting over a year, on a Qantas A380 severely damaged by a dramatic engine explosion in November 2010 that punched holes in the wing.

At first engineers were unsure what had caused the cracks but the initial microscopic flaws led to the discovery of a second and potentially more serious type of crack, some of them up to two inches long, in the central part of the wing.

The findings caused concern at the European Aviation Safety Agency which turned down Airbus's request for limited extra time to examine the data and ordered mandatory inspections last week.

Designed just before the latest generation of mainly carbon-composite jetliners like Boeing's newly delivered 787 Dreamliner, the A380 is about 60 percent aluminum, the main material used for making aircraft for decades.

"All aluminum structures have cracks. It is the nature of the beast. Each component is designed and modeled according to the desired capacity," Williams said. If one part breaks the structure is designed so that the load is spread elsewhere.

To deal with the unforeseen cracking problem, Airbus is changing its manufacturing processes to ensure smooth operation until at least the next four-year maintenance checks.

Longer term, it plans to switch to a different alloy, restoring the aircraft to its normal lifespan of 25 years-plus.
The wings were designed and built in Britain, which prides itself on state-of-the-art wing assembly. Unions there recently objected to some work being outsourced to South Korea.

Industry executives at the Dublin conference welcomed the clarification and said the problem had been understood.

"When they had the second round of cracks, that got more people's attention and a few airlines were asking questions," an executive said, speaking on condition he was not identified.

An Australian engineering union last week called for all A380s to be grounded pending more investigation. Airbus has dismissed this by saying regulators would be quick to ban flights if they believed safety to be at risk.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Gary Hill)
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Flight diverts after 'unruly' smoker battles attendant
By Ben Mutzabaugh,

Updated 17h 55m ago

Passengers on a United flight operated by Continental Airlines made an unexpected stop in San Antonio last night. That came after a man on the flight apparently couldn't make it the whole way to California without a cigarette.
At least that's according to the San Antonio Express-News, which writes:

A Continental Airlines flight traveling from Houston to California had to be diverted here Tuesday evening because of an "unruly passenger" who reportedly lit a cigarette in the cabin and refused to put it out then fought with a flight attendant, officials said.

There were few details on the man's identity, but KHOU TV of Houston says the FBI took him into custody before Flight 1287 resumed its journey to the Ontario airport in Southern California.

The man could face federal charges, San Antonio police Capt. Cris Andersen tells the Express-News.

The incident delayed the flight's arrival by about two hours.

Continental, of course, is now part of a merged United Airlines under the parent company United Continental Holdings. In its story from November, The Associated Press writes that "the so-called single operating certificate means that, as far as the FAA is concerned, United and Continental are one airline."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2007 to present
The World's Longest Flight, in Coach
January 19, 2012

Over the Pacific Ocean

It's 2 a.m. aboard Qantas Airways Flight 7 from Sydney to Dallas. The sun is rising. Time for a quick stretch, then a couple of episodes of "30 Rock." Are we there yet?
Five hours remain on the 15-hour trip, the longest flight in the world with a coach cabin. It's an eternity when shoehorned into space with a mere 16 inches of hip width inside the armrests.
Nonetheless, long-haul nonstop flights like this one are increasingly popular among business travelers and high-end tourists who are willing to pay about 20% more to avoid a layover.

Airlines are adding longer and longer non-stop flights but 15 hours in the air can be painful. McCartney on Lunch Break discusses his ride on one of the longest flights in coach and how many episodes of "30 Rock" a person can watch in one sitting.

Qantas launched its Sydney-to-Dallas nonstop flight last year four times a week and will move it to daily service this summer. Delta Air Lines offers Johannesburg nonstop from Atlanta, offering an alternative to European connections. Emirates is expanding its fast-growing network geographically, reaching Los Angeles from Dubai nonstop, for example, and Dallas next month.
"There are a certain amount of people in long-haul markets willing to pay extra to get there quickly, even though it takes a long time," said Bob Cortelyou, Delta's senior vice president of network planning.

The nonstops are possible as more commercial airlines add more ultra-long-range jets to their fleets. The latest offerings from Boeing and Airbus all can travel more than 9,000 miles before stopping for gas. And older models have extended range with strengthened bodies and bigger landing gear and wheels to carry the weight of more fuel. Qantas bought a few 747-400s from Boeing Co. specially fitted with extra fuel tanks to extend their range by about 500 miles, making it possible to reach Dallas from Sydney.
Likewise, passengers are prepared for the long haul.

"You have to know how to pace yourself," said architect and interior designer Beatrice Girelli. For her, the Los Angeles to Singapore 18-hour nonstop she takes about six times a year on Singapore Airlines is like a "spa day." Working long hours on the ground, she finds that time spent six miles above Earth becomes her escape: She sleeps, relaxes, avoids work and enjoys three meals plus Italian or French movies.

Real-estate executive Gerald Giannini, another regular on Singapore Air, has his own routine. Dinner after departure from Los Angeles is followed by a sleeping pill. He wakes up after a full eight to nine hours of sleep—something he never gets even on 12-hour trips to London.

"People hear 18 hours and they freak out. Once you're on it, you understand," he said. "It's a lot less wear and tear on my body than the old way."

Singapore Air pioneered ultra-long nonstops when it began flying 18 hours from both Newark, N.J., and Los Angeles to Singapore seven years ago. Most Singapore Airlines flights stop in Tokyo or Frankfurt to get from the U.S. to the other side of the globe, but the nonstops have found a devoted following among frequent travelers.
The airline launched nonstop U.S. flights offering both business-class and a premium-type coach cabin. But demand for business class tickets was much stronger. For the first time in the airline's history, business class saw higher percentages of seats filled than coach, said Singapore spokesman James Boyd, so the airline switched to a luxurious all-business-class configuration, with 100 lie-flat beds on a plane big enough to carry more than 300 passengers.

Singapore said it charges, on average, about a 20% premium for the nonstop flight over one-stop trips. The flights save about four hours over flights with a Tokyo or Frankfurt stop.

For a trip at the end of this month, for example, the business-class fare from Newark nonstop to Singapore was priced at $8,446 round-trip, while business-class from New York's Kennedy Airport with a stop in Frankfurt for the same dates was $7,446.

The convenience has overcome passenger fears of being airborne so long. Some travelers worried about the safety of flying 15 hours or more. Others worried about dehydration in arid airplane cabins and the risk of blood clots from deep-vein thrombosis.

"Ten years ago, people were hesitant or fearful. Now they're going more and more long-haul. We are seeing more and more acceptance, and fewer queries on the phone" with concerns, said Singapore Air Vice President Mohamed Rafi Mar.

Delta loads up extra water, drinks, snacks and two full meals for passengers on its Johannesburg flights, which actually cover a shorter distance than the Qantas Dallas-to-Sydney flights, but take longer because of wind differences. Also, the cruise speed of the twin-engine 777 is a bit slower than the four-engine 747. The Delta flight is the longest in the world on a plane with two engines.

Flight attendants get two 2½-hour breaks during the flight; pilots work half the flight. Crews have bunks in the ceiling of the 777.

Qantas has six 747s with extended range of about 8,800 miles (7,670 nautical miles) and uses them to fly to Buenos Aires as well as Dallas. The planes take off at speeds 5 knots faster than regular 747-400s because wings have to produce more lift for the heavier plane. Flights from Sydney to London still have to make a stop—no commercial airliner can yet do that without making a stop.

Adding the Dallas flight let Qantas tap into the huge hub of its partner, American Airlines, adding 59 additional routes to the Qantas network. As a result of all those connections, the flights have been performing well since they started in May, said Stephen Thompson, executive manager of global sales for Qantas. Round-trip fares on that route typically cost $1,500 to $2,000. For a trip in early February, for example, a nonstop flight from Dallas to Sydney and back cost $2,052, while connecting service through Los Angeles cost $1,692.

Because of headwinds going back to Australia, the Qantas 747 has to stop in Brisbane for fuel. When weather has been bad, flights have had to make occasional fuel stops, but Qantas said it hasn't been any different than other long routes.

Mr. Thompson said service on the ultra-long flight is much the same as on 12-hour trips to Los Angeles. "The key is to entertain people and get them to relax," he said.
On board the trip in November, Mary Paulus of Okeechobee, Fla., curled up in two seats in coach to sleep. She paid $40 extra to reserve an aisle seat, then had an empty middle seat next to her. She slept, ate and still had time to watch three movies.
"What are you going to do? You know when you get on it's going to be long," she said.

Still, Earl Russell, like so many other passengers, was restless. After being airborne for 12 hours, it seemed well past like time to land, but there were still three hours to go. Mr. Russell, a government employee on his way home in Leavenworth, Kan., tossed a blanket over his head and tried to go back to sleep.

"It's just a very long flight," he sighed.

Write to Scott McCartney at
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Non Stop Flights Stop For Fuel

January 11, 2012

Dozens of Continental Airlines flights to the East Coast from Europe have been forced to make unexpected stops in Canada and elsewhere to take on fuel after running into unusually strong headwinds over the Atlantic Ocean.

The stops, which have caused delays and inconvenience for thousands of passengers in recent weeks, are partly the result of a decision by United Continental Holdings Inc., the world's largest airline, to use smaller jets on a growing number of long, trans-Atlantic routes.

United's strategy works when the winds are calm, and it allows the airline to operate less expensive aircraft with fewer cabin-crew members to an array of European cities that wouldn't generate enough traffic to justify larger planes.

But by pushing its international Boeing Co. 757s to nearly the limit of their roughly 4,000-nautical-mile range, United is leaving little room for error when stiff winds increase the amount of fuel the planes' twin engines burn.

Last month, United said, its 169-seat 757s had to stop 43 times to refuel out of nearly 1,100 flights headed to the U.S. A year earlier, there were only 12 unscheduled stops on roughly the same volume of 757 flights.

Such stops are safer than eating into the minimum amount of reserve fuel pilots are required to keep on board, which guarantees that a plane can fly 45 minutes past its destination or alternate landing spot.

The resulting delays can cause passengers to miss connections; require them to be put up at hotels by the airline; and sometimes prompt them to seek compensation for their troubles.

A United spokesman said the company has been offering compensation as a gesture of good will in situations where customers' experiences warrant it.

Remote Canadian fields at Gander and Goose Bay are the primary places to top off the tanks, but United confirmed that some of its 757 jets were also diverted to Iceland; Ireland; Nova Scotia; Albany, N.Y.; and Stewart International Airport, 60 miles north of Manhattan.

"Headwinds returning from Europe are more extreme than we have seen in 10 years," said a United spokeswoman. For the past decade, December headwinds averaged 30 knots, according to United data. But last month, the winds averaged 47 knots, and, on the worst 15 days of the month, 60 knots.

The winds didn't abate this month. In the first eight days of January, United said it made unplanned refueling stops on 14 flights on the six routes most prone to refueling, including four on the Stuttgart-Newark run, four on Paris-Washington Dulles and two each on Stockholm-Newark and Barcelona-Newark. Those routes tend to be nearly as long as the plane's maximum range.

For remote airports such as Goose Bay and Gander, which have been largely bypassed in recent years by jetliners' longer range capabilities, fueling stops can bring in tens of thousands of dollars in landing fees and other revenue a month.

The United spokeswoman said it hasn't substituted larger aircraft on the affected routes because those planes are being used on other parts of the route network of the Chicago-based carrier, which was formed by the 2010 merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines.

According to industry estimates, a nearly full 757, operating with fewer flight attendants, can be more profitable than a larger plane such as the Boeing 767 carrying the same number of passengers but more attendants.

The refueling-stop issues haven't posed any safety hazards, according to government and industry experts. But a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said agency officials are "aware that United aircraft have made more unscheduled fuel stops this year than last year, and we are looking into the issue." Capt. Jay Pierce, chairman of the pilots union representing Continental pilots, said last week that he asked the union's safety officials to look into the matter.

The fluky weather pattern, which meteorologist Henry Margusity blames on La Niña, or cooler-than-normal equatorial ocean temperatures in the Pacific, has also created problems for other airlines using single-aisle 757 jets across the Atlantic.

USAirways Group Inc., which uses 757s between Philadelphia and some European cities, said that in December it diverted four of 112 trans-Atlantic flights due to strong headwinds. Three Amsterdam-Philadelphia flights and a flight from Brussels to Philadelphia gassed up in Bangor, Maine, the company said. Early in January, two more had to stop in Bangor. But the carrier, which has a much smaller European route map than United, has some flexibility to switch to Boeing 767 jets, and a spokesman said it tries to do so in the winter.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, which serves six European routes with 757s, said it has had "a few" unplanned fuel stops on westbound flights, but it's "not a daily occurrence." Delta Air Lines Inc., which also flies 757s to Europe, said it didn't experience a single diversion due to fuel constraints in December or so far this month.

United's Continental unit—which relies on 757s to link its Newark, N.J., hub to numerous European destinations—has been most adversely affected. And recently, Continental began deploying some of its 757s on two traditional United routes out of Dulles—to Paris and Amsterdam—that used to be served by larger planes, exposing some westbound fliers to the same diversions that have played havoc with its schedule and reputation.

Jesse Hoy, a TV producer in Los Angeles, was traveling back from Paris with his pregnant wife on Jan. 3 on a Continental plane. Shortly before takeoff, Mr. Hoy said, the pilot said the jet was going to make an unscheduled fuel stop in Gander due to high winds but would try to get passengers to Dulles in time to make connections. Mr. Hoy said the plane landed at 9:50 p.m., the exact time his United flight to Los Angeles was scheduled to take off. The couple didn't make it home for two more days.

The workhorse 757, which entered airline service in 1983 and was produced until 2004, can carry more than 220 passengers in one class. In the U.S., it was initially used for domestic flights, including coast-to-coast trips, and for trips to nearby overseas destinations. But once the FAA in the early 1990s granted airline operators permission to use it on over-water routes, carriers including American, Northwest, US Airways and Continental found the 757 a fuel-effective way to serve cities in Western Europe that had previously been reached with larger, more costly wide-body planes that consume more fuel but have greater range.

Continental's enthusiasm for the 757 came under scrutiny four years ago when federal officials determined the carrier was responsible for nearly two-thirds of all the minimum fuel or fuel-emergency incidents reported annually by airliners landing in Newark. There were minimum fuel issues on 23 flights arriving from Barcelona over the course of a single year. When pilots make those calls, air traffic controllers give them landing priority. The Transportation Department's inspector general didn't find any safety violations, however.

Write to Susan Carey at