Friday, April 29, 2005


How safe is the A380 aircraft?

One thing that is very clear is that throughout its’ development the behemoth called the A380 struggled with weight problems.

Airbus engineers and executives admitted that it was this weight problem that consumed months of engineering time and was mainly responsible for pushing costs way above the earlier projected budgets.

“We found there was too much mass,” Jean Claude Schoepf head of the A380 final assembly line admitted to the press during the development stage of this huge aircraft.

The whole project threatened to escalate to a situation where Airbus would come out with a very different airline than what they had promised and committed themselves to clients to produce.

The solution was to head back to the drawing boards and carefully cut down the weights section by section, without compromising on the strength, critical for airlines which spend most of their time in high altitudes.

More carbon composites for example were introduced in the horizontal struts that support the two cabin floors and hold the fuselage in shape.

So desperate was the need for this giant to cut down its’ weight that engineers even used chromate-free paint, which is lighter. According to figures from Airbus, this move helped cut the weight of the outer paint work down to 350 kilograms (770 pounds). This is in comparison to 550 kilogrames (1,210 pounds) for a plane of this size using other paints.

The heavy use of new, weight-saving composites made out of fibreglass-aluminium and carbon fibre and the development of a state-of-the-art wing helped the A380 keep its’ weigh within manageable limits. Actually the long wingspan is the reason airports will need modifications for the A380 to land (more on that later in this article).

Still the end product weights 1 percent heavier that its target of 305 tons, according to Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard. Airbus overspend on the A380 project by $1.9 billion.

Coming to the safety issue, weight is always an important issue when it comes to the safety of aircrafts. Actually it is a critical issue and that is why baggage is always limited and analyzed carefully before any aircraft takes off.

So what does all this mean in terms of the overall safety of this new aircraft? Is it not true that commercial considerations always compromise on the safety of anything? Makes you want to consult Ortho Evra Attorneys, doesn't it?

Actually the truth is that the aviation industry is different in that very high safety standards are taken into account in the manufacture of any aircraft. Safety is always the driving force right from the design stage and even though commercial aspects come into play, safety always over rides them.

A case in point is that an earlier plan by A380 engineers was to keep the wingspan as close to normal as possible despite the extra weight. In the end they were forced to stay with the long wings which are the main reason why airports around the world will be forced to make minor but costly adjustments to accommodate the A380.

What’s more, Airbus projections indicate that this aircraft is going to be very busy (our predictions in this blog concur with this view). So Airbus engineers knew that their handiwork was going to be stretched to the limit when in service, so their was clearly no room for compromises.

Our view is that so far Airbus has been meticulous in its’ safety issues and therefore there should be no reason to doubt this giant project.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


What the new A380 aircraft means to you

Everybody is saying basically the same thing. It is a wonder that something so huge can actually get off the ground.

It is instructive that some articles made reference to the fact that the event was taking place 101 years after the Wright brothers’ feat at Kitty Hawk. Instructive because the earlier event made this latest event possible in more ways than one. (see earlier post below on Wright brothers.)

The brilliant Wright brothers proved through their intensive tests in wind tunnels they created themselves that it was possible to get virtually any weight off the ground, you just had to calculate the lift and what you required to get the lift you wanted. That is wing span, shape etc. It was that simple.

Not very different from the principle that you can get a ship of virtually any weight to float on water.

It is even more fascinating to note that before the Wright brother’s land mark achievement there were enough influential people who did not believe that a flying man-made machine was feasible.

But the sceptics this time are of a different nature, actually a commercial nature to be exact.

There is plenty of talk right now after the successful Airbus 380 test flight recently, on who is right about the commercial viability of a really large passenger jet.

The general feeling is that the market is too small to justify this size of aircraft In other words most people believe that it is not economically viable.

The guys at Airbus (and this writer as well? believe that it will be a HUGE commercial success. The guys at Airbus are really not telling us why they think their aircraft will soar business wise, in simple enough language. Probably for obvious reasons – the competition is listening in to every word and this might not be the time to reveal their thinking.

According to me, there is a simple reason why the A380 will be a huge success.

When you increase the carrying capacity of a commercial transport vehicle, you also reduce the cost per person of getting your passengers from one point to another. So without even considering the many other technological aspects that cut costs for any A380 operator, there is already a cost advantage in increasing the passenger numbers.

Now we all know that the internet has made the world a smaller place. But most of us do not realize that there is something else the internet has also done. And that is, it has boosted and encouraged world-wide travel more than anything else. Just like radio boosted sales of music instead of killing it as was initially predicted by virtually everybody, the internet is already doing the same to world travel.

The only problem is that until now, it has been too expensive. Cost cutting measures and cheap fares by successful budget flyers have had only a very limited impact. Now there is a real opportunity to cut down the cost of flying to less than 50% of what it is now with this larger aircraft.

While the plane has the capability of carrying 840 passengers, airlines are planning seating configurations that will limit loads to slightly more than 550 people. I have this feeling that they will revise those numbers upwards shortly after this giant goes into service in mid 2006.

I also have a hunch that this is what the folks at Airbus have seen. Much as I hate to say it, they’re right and they’ll be proved so, very soon.

And don’t forget that Airbus appears to be on a roll in recent times – the company is almost certain to outsell Boeing for a second straight year in 2005. And surely they must know something nobody else seems to know to have spent $13 billion over 11 years developing the A380.

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It all started with the brothers who hardly had a high school education

The story of the Wright brothers and their invention which forever changed the world, deserves closer study by everybody.

These guys who had a pretty basic education – they didn’t finish high school. Can you imagine a high-school drop-out who can't handle math taking on financial jobs? Yet the Wright brothers took an extremely engineering approach to the feat of inventing flight. They started by getting their hands on everything they could find about their subject. They read, they wrote to people. (It would have all been so much easier if the internet were around then).

This enabled them to closely study all efforts that had been made so far and to discover where they went wrong (people often got killed trying to fly.)

They then started off by creating their on version of the most advanced glide of the time. They then made modifications as they went ahead.

Interestingly the brothers quickly discovered that most aeronautical data available at the time was unreliable at best and plain inaccurate at worst.

Guess what they did to correct this situation. They started documenting their on more accurate data which they used for their research. The Wright brothers built their own wind tunnel to test airfoils and measure how to lift a flying machine into the sky. As a result, they were the first to discover that a long, narrow wing shape was the most ideal for flight. (It is interesting that A380 engineers were forced to design longer wings to take the huge weight of this new aircraft.) It is these longer wings that will force modifications on most airports so as to accommodate this huge bird.)

They also figured out how to move a plane in mid air, to change direction, height etc. Their other major discovery was recognizing that a propeller is in effect, a rotating wing, they used the data from their wind-tunnel experiments to design the first effective airplane propellers. And when they discovered that a lightweight gas-powered engine did not exist, they decided to design and build their own. It produced 12 horsepower and weighed only 152 lbs, this in itself was quite a feat.

Have you ever wondered why despite the so many attempts to fly, the Wright brothers made sure that there was a photographer at Kitty Hawk, that day. It was because from their tests in the in wind tunnels and from their totally scientific approach, they knew what the Airbus engineers already knew when they prepared for their test flight of the A380 – that the damned thing would fly.


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