Monday, January 26, 2015

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 Crash: An Improved Crash Investigation?

Even though the resulting crash is just as tragic, is there an improved investigation of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in comparison to the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370?

By: Ringo Bones 

Given that it is still statistically the safest way to travel, air crash incidences involving passenger casualties is always deemed tragic. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes was almost left speechless upon hearing of the news – as in “no words can express…” - on the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 back in December 28, 2014 en route from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore. All the 162 passengers are feared dead and recovery of the wreck and bodies were delayed because of the Java Sea’s bad weather at the time – it was only a week after the crash that the first bodies were found. But has the recent investigation of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash in stark contrast to the investigation done on the still missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370? 

One of the most glaring differences between the two investigations is the lack of an “atmosphere of subterfuge” as the Indonesian authorities readily provided pertinent information relating to the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in comparison to the start of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The Federal Aviation Administration even raised the concern that Indonesia’s air traffic controllers were not up to the par in comparison to their international counterparts - which also made everyone ask whether the South-East Asian air travel industry is growing faster than the regional regulation agencies’ ability to keep up.  

Even though the latest ongoing investigations on the recently found black box / flight data recorders of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 suggests that it got caught in a powerful updraft of a storm cell that caused it to gain in altitude about as fast as a high-performance fighter jet under wind-shear forces that eventually prove too much for what the passenger plane’s airframe was designed to withstand. Further investigations could prove that the circumstances that brought the plane down is by no means a garden variety incident and could certainly result in improvements of currently established civilian air travel safety regimen. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Korean Air Macadamia Nut Air Rage Incident: Flying The Unfriendly Skies?

Even though she resigned and has since been deeply apologetic over the incident, is there a chance the Korean Air veep could serve some jail time? 
 By:Ringo Bones 

Immediately after the rather “weird” incident went viral on social media, the father of the Korean Air executive who went ballistic over the improper serving of in-flight macadamia nuts in the first class section of the plane immediately said to the press that “he was disappointed that he didn’t raise his daughter right”. And even though Heather Cho – vice president of the South Korea based airline firm Korea Air - has since resigned and was deeply apologetic over the macadamia nut incident back in December 9, 2014 could face up to 10 years in prison for creating an incident that led to an unauthorized delay of flights and the violation of American federal aviation laws if she’s going to be charged given that the incident happened in U.S. airspace. 

Heather Cho – a.k.a. Cho Hyun Ha – was a passenger at a Korean Air’s first class passenger lounge when she got infuriated when a flight attendant violated protocol by serving her the in-flight macadamia nuts in their original packaging rather than in a dish. And later due to public pressure in South Korea after the incident went viral on various social media service providers, Heather Cho soon resigned from her position as the vice president of Korean Air. 

Due to the Korean Air macadamia nut air rage incident, the rumored culture of bullying in the flight attendant service sector of Korean Air gained some credence of truth after scores of anecdotes soon went viral that such incidents are the norm – rather than the exception and why the public at large seem to remain clueless about it is due to the fact that flight attendants committing minor faux pas are harshly punished and are usually intimidated into silence. Is Korean Air veep Heather Cho running her dad’s company like a Yakuza gang? Even though this news story is till developing, it is overshadowed by the tragic Air Asia Flight QZ8501 that crashed into the Java Sea back in Sunday, December 28, 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The 2014 China Air Show: Not Economically Viable?

Despite for going on for a decade, does the overtly militaristic theme of the 2014 China Air Show casts doubts on its economic viability?

By: Ringo Bones

Officially known as the 10th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition for Railway, Shipping & Aviation which took place back in November 11 to 16, 2014 in Guangdong, The People's Republic of China, has been criticized by pundits – especially from the Jane’s Defense Weekly – as not economically viable in comparison to similar shows – i.e. the Farnborough Air Show back in July 2014 and the African Aerospace and Defence show back in September 2014 because the 2014 China Air Show consists mostly of military sales, as in 95-percent of the sales in fact. By way of comparison, the 2014 Farnborough Air Show and the 2014 African Air Show is a 90-percent commercial endeavor and 10-percent military and defense sales.

The criticism of the 2014 China Air Show not only centers on the show’s over reliance on the military and defense aspects of the aerospace industry, which has been in global decline since 9/11 due to the fact that multi-million dollar fighter planes are not very effective in tackling extremist terror groups but also on the fact that most of their public-relations exhibits used to wow civilian attendees are mostly according to Jane’s Defense Weekly pundits as “Soviet-era museum showcases that dates back from the 1960s”. Even though the 2014 Farnborough Air Show was overshadowed by the tragic shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, most of the “scant” coverage I’ve heard so far of the 2014 China Air Show has been largely negative. Given that the official name of the air show purportedly states its coverage on nautical as well as aviation matters, there has never been any mention of updated versions of the ekranoplan aimed at the civilian inter-island travel market.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Is It A Boat, is It A Plane? No, It’s The Ekranoplan?

Even though the International Maritime Organization classifies it as a ship, why isn’t the ekranoplan currently competing with conventional passenger and cargo aircraft? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Even though it has since been classified as a “ship / boat” by the International Maritime Organization after the first working examples were in limited manufacture as exotic pleasure craft by enterprising Russian émigrés in the United States during the early 1990s, for those old enough to have heard of the news of the Soviet Union’s latest secret weapon called the “Caspian Sea Monster” first hand back in 1974 when the Cold War was in full steam. You would probably call it a plane, too. But first, here’s an introduction to what is a so-called ekranoplan. 

The ekranoplan falls under the category of ground effect vehicles, or GEVs, which is defined as a vehicle that attains level flight near the surface of the earth or a reasonably sized body of water. It is also called wing-in-ground effect (WIG) vehicle or flare craft. The first vehicle to ever “fly” via the ground effect principle – albeit by design accident - was the German 12-engine Dornier Do-X of 1929 which have taken advantage of ground effect to get aloft. Similar craft, as in those early large passenger carrying seaplanes by pioneering commercial airliners around that time took advantage of the ground effect phenomena, but in most cases rather unintentionally because the effect was little understood by aerodynamicists back then. 

Back in January 1974, the public-at-large probably got their first exposure of a true purpose-built ekranoplan when Western intelligence sources who first reported the rather strange creation at the time called it the “Caspian Sea Monster”, which, many in the West believes, is a fitting name. The 10-engine flying boat that the then Soviet Union was testing over the Caspian Sea was deemed the largest aircraft of the time – with an estimated takeoff weight of 500-tons. By way of comparison, the largest adjudicated aircraft of the time, the United States’ C-5 Galaxy only has a maximum takeoff weight of 400-tons. The “Caspian Sea Monster” was, at the time, probably the most unusual flying vehicle because it operates by a deliberate combination of aerodynamic lift and “ground effect” – the air cushion phenomenon that lifts a Hovercraft. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union back in Christmas Day of 1991, the “full specifications” of the “Caspian Sea Monster” and the craft itself became finally available to Western analysts. During Soviet times, such craft were called “ekranoplans” and the Caspian Sea Monster, officially called KM or "Kaspian Monster"  by the then Soviet navy, even though it was only a proof of concept prototype and never intended to become an operational submarine hunting craft and troop carrying craft of the then Soviet navy was “mothballed” way before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Caspian Sea Monster has a “takeoff” weight (or was it “hover” weight?) of 500-tons and as a “water craft” has an 8-ton displacement. It has a length of 100 meters and weighs 540 tons fully loaded. 

Its design was based on the work of the Third-Reich era aerodynamicist named Alexander Lippisch, the Caspian Sea Monster was originally designed by the Soviet era Central Hydrofoil Bureau during the late 1960s and was lead by Rostislav Alexeev. During Soviet era research trials, the craft was found to be most efficient when “flying” 20-meters above the water while traveling at speeds of 300 to 400 knots. The KM / Caspian Sea Monster can even operate without refueling for as long as two to three days over ranges as great as 7,000 miles. The craft has a 15 to 20 man crew just to operate safely at such speeds and altitudes and was planned to be produced in submarine hunting and ultra-swift troop carrying versions before it was mothballed around the mid 1980s. 

By the nature of the beast, an ekranoplan type ground effect craft has a fuel efficiency rating way better than that of a fixed-wing aircraft and / or helicopter flying at low level due to the close proximity to the ground or water surface dramatically reducing lift-induced drag. In practice, ekranoplans only require half or even a quarter of the power than that of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft and / or helicopter requires in getting off the ground or off the water’s surface. 

There are also safety benefits in flying close to the water’s surface as an engine failure will not result in severe ditching. However, by the nature of the beast, ekranoplans are difficult to fly even with computer assisted fly-by-wire control systems used on the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the now retired F-117 Nighthawk stealth (hence the 15 to 20 man crew of the original KM or Caspian Sea Monster) aircraft because flying at such very low altitudes just above the sea or any large body of water may be dangerous if the craft banks too far to one side while making a very tight radius turn.  

Another disadvantage of ekranoplans is that takeoffs must be performed into the wind which in the case of the craft taking off over water means “slamming” into waves while taking off – a maneuver that creates drag and reduces lift. This is the very reason why even though those 1990s era single-engine ekranoplans featured in the Discovery Channel back in 1992 to 1998, that were similarly priced to a typical single-engine Cessna at the time had very few private buyers to keep their manufacturers afloat. I mean have you ever seen hip-billionaires like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban showing off their very own single-engine ekranoplans then and now? 

Two main solutions of the ekranoplan takeoff problem have been implemented since its prototype design stage. The first was used on the original prototype of the KM or Caspian Sea Monster which placed engines in front of the wings to provide more lift. The Caspian Sea Monster has eight of its jet engines mounted on the “canard” of the plane. Some of which were not fired until the craft was fully airborne. The second approach was to use some form of an air-cushion to raise the vehicle most of the way out of the water, making takeoff much easier. This was used in the by German Hanno Fischer in the Hoverwing – successor of the Airfisch ground effect craft – which uses some of the air from the engines to inflate a skirt under the craft in a form of a sidewall or skirted hovercraft. 

The only ekranoplan that attained operational status in the Soviet armed forces was the A-90 Orlyonok, which is a “scaled-down” multi-engine propeller version of the Caspian Sea Monster and was used by the Soviet navy during the 1980s as a submarine hunting craft. Even though they are quite rare, there are post Soviet era commercial passenger ekranoplans still operating in the Caspian Sea region modeled after the A-90 Orlyonok.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Can British Airways Boost It’s “Green Credentials”?

Given that the world’s airline companies are viewed as the main contributors of man-made carbon dioxide even though they just contribute about 3-percent overall, will British Airways’ plan to make kerosene from domestic wastes eventually boost the airline company’s “green credentials”?  

By: Ringo Bones

Even though they only contribute around 3-percent of the overall man-made carbon dioxide emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere, the world’s airline companies has since been under somewhat unfair scrutiny when it comes to those man-made activities that exacerbates the ongoing climate change that could eventually result in sea-level rise and an increase in the number of droughts and rainfall pattern disruption. But will the British Airways’ plans to make aviation grade kerosene from domestic wastes eventually lower their overall carbon dioxide emissions?

At present, conservative funded think-tanks are still publishing data that the manufacture of hydrocarbon-based fuels from biomass and related material like domestic and agricultural wastes offer no less overall carbon dioxide emission reduction as opposed to refining these fuels directly from crude oil. The very fact that most of the world’s crude oil supply comes from less-than-friendly nation-states only bolster every tenured scientists’ attempts at making hydrocarbon based fuels from “alternative” and “renewable” sources.  

Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of IAG – International Airline Group, the parent company of British Airways – says there are already plans to create a facility to make aviation grade kerosene for use in their jet airliners from domestic wastes. Even though the spot price of crude oil has now dropped from 110 US dollars per barrel at the start of 2014 to around 85 US dollars per barrel at present, the British Airways kerosene manufacturing plant that will open around 2017 will still be cost competitive with crude oil sourced aviation grade kerosene even if the spot price of crude oil falls to around 50 US dollars per barrel. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mainland China: The Private Jets Industry’s Undiscovered Country?

Despite the pessimistic future outlook by leading economic pundits, is this country with the fastest growing billionaires still the private jets / executive jets industry’s “undiscovered country?

By: Ringo Bones 

Even though leading economic pundits still paint a pessimistic outlook when it comes to The People’s Republic of China’s future annual economic growth rate by saying it can no longer do a repeat of the economic prosperity that it experienced during the first decade of the 21st Century, the country is still well known for having the fastest growing number of billionaires – which Ali Baba’s Jack Ma is a good example. But believe it or not, Mainland China still doesn’t have a private jets / executive jets industry providing its still growing population of billionaires, thus – inexplicably – making the country an “undiscovered country” when it comes to private jets.

In a BBC interview back in September 14, 2014 of Robert Molsbergen, the Chief Operating Officer of the Warren Buffett owned NetJets already has plans to establish a private jets / executive jets business in Mainland China given that nobody else has done it yet. NetJets had recently negotiated with local Mainland Chinese business partners which only suggest the company’s seriousness to establish a private jets / executive jets industry / service to the still untapped region. Even though there are still fears that foreign companies are still not treated evenhandedly by the monolithic Beijing communist party, the burgeoning Mainland China’s richest 1 percent is just too tempting to ignore. 

Mainland Chinese billionaires or not, air travel is projected to increase by 5.7 percent throughout Asia by 2017 according to an assessment made by the International Air Transport Association – IATA – back in 2013, so even if the private jets / executive jets demand plateaus, Warren Buffett’s NetJets could diversify into a bespoke high-end airline that caters to Asia’s millionaires by providing a 1950s style service to those who can afford it. The whole of Asia could be the global aviation industry’s fastest growing sector.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do Civilian Airliners Need Military Style Countermeasures?

In the wake of the “accidental” shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel-held east Ukrainian last July 18, 2014, is there a need for military style countermeasures in civilian planes?

By: Ringo Bones

Even though an ongoing investigation has yet to determine whether the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by a Russian made BUK / SAM surface-to-air missile over the pro Russian rebel held eastern Ukrainian airspace back in July 18, 2014 is accidental or deliberate, the world’s airline industry has since contemplated whether civilian passenger planes now need military style protection systems. Given the capabilities of your typical military style surface-to-air-missile or other anti-aircraft weapons systems, is the concept even technically feasible in planes now in current use on airline companies?

Ever since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the heightened airport boarding and on-board security on passenger planes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, TSA and other security agencies have since made hijackings of planes and crashing them into buildings a thing of the past. But back in July 18, 2014, the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 flying at around 595 miles per hour 32,000 feet over east Ukrainian airspace by a surface-to-air missile that can fly over 2,000 miles per hour and can shoot down a plane flying up to 70,000 feet raised a yet unprecedented aspect on the safety of civilian air travel yet again.

Inexplicably since 9/11, the ongoing War on Terror has seem to have sent the global defense industry on a decline since Al Qaeda and other similar groups doesn’t have an air force equipped with supersonic capable fighter planes. Thus the bulk of the military aviation related spending of the War on Terror centers around military transport planes similar to the Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules – like the Airbus A400M Military Transport that can carry well-armed infantry troops to the terrorist’s strongholds as opposed to engaging Osama Bin Laden in a dogfight 70,000 feet above Kandahar.

Even though military transport planes with a similar flight envelope to your typical civilian airliner had been equipped with various countermeasures – i.e. aluminum chaff and magnesium flare dispensers - that enable them to evade surface-to-air missiles since the height of the Cold War, these SAM countermeasures have yet to find their way to an Airbus or a Boeing passenger plane owned by a commercial airline company. Near the end of the 2014 Farnborough Air Show, British aerospace firm BAE Systems said that the civilian aviation industry needs military style protection in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 back in July 18, 2014. But even though the idea of installing military style countermeasures on civilian airliners is technically feasible will it be economically viable from the airline company’s perspective? Or is this just another way for aerospace firms to make money in the post 9/11 world? Maybe civilian airlines will now start to have their radar intercept officers to avoid them being brought down by radar guided "beam-rider" SAMs.