Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winterized Runways, Anyone?

With the unseasonably cold weather sweeping across Europe disrupting European air traffic since December 17, 2010, will winterized or snow-resistant runways become standard in the future?

By: Ringo Bones

The unseasonably cold weather sweeping across Europe during the last few days had certainly put a damper on the busily hectic travel schedule this Yuletide Season. Heathrow Airport – one of the European air spaces’ busiest – had been paralized for a few days since Friday December 17, 2010 due to really heavy snowfall. So does other major European airports in Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels. Lufthansa had even advised their advance ticket holders to expect cancellations and wait for weather updates. With flight schedule delays becoming the norm – rather than the exception – during this once in every 20-year heavy snowfall, are winterized snow-proof runways be the solution?

From the airport operator’s perspective, winterized or snow-proof runways could make much more economic sense than using currently available runway de-icing machines that costs on average 2 million US dollars each that are only used once every 20-years or so. And believe it or not, research in winterized or snow-resistant runways dates back as far as the 1960s. Back then, fertilizer – of the common form and garden variety – is hardly a product ordinarily associated with advanced aviation research. Yet aviation researchers back then had surmised that in the near future, you may see airport runways coated with artificial manure as an aid to bad weather landings – as it promises to help keep aircraft from skidding on icy runways.

The substance being examined as a promising de-icer is urea, a commercial fertilizer that also acts as antifreeze. Early investigations during the 1960s showed that urea – sprinkled on a runway before or during a snowfall or freezing rain – can prevent ice formation, but long-term tests are needed to determine the effects of the chemicals on airframes and engines and to show what form of urea – powder, pellets or liquid – will prove most efficient in keeping airport runways ice-free. If these scheme works better than current ones, will it translate to costlier ticket prices / airfares during the winter season?

Trent 900 Turbojet Engines: The Airbus A380’s Weakest Link?

Ever since the narrowly averted disaster of Qantas Flight 32 back in November 4, 2010, are those four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 Turbojet engines the Airbus 380 Super Jumbo’s weakest link?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since the quick thinking of the skilled crew of Qantas Flight 32 narrowly averted a tragic crash when the number 2 / QF32 engine of their Airbus A380 Super Jumbo exploded in mid-flight back in November 4, 2010. And during the next day, a Qantas 747 also developed engine trouble questions started to be asked about the reliability and air worthiness of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines used in Qantas’ fleet of passenger planes. Soon after the incident, Qantas share prices took a nosedive, but are the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines used in the Qantas fleet inherently faulty or did Qantas just received a faulty batch of these specific types of jet engines?

The shabby batch of Rolls-Royce jet engines theory appeared more plausible when back in November 8, 2010 Qantas grounded their fleet of Airbus A380s for thorough inspection that lasted three days when their ground crews found out that there are oil leaks on a number of their aircraft using the Rolls-Royce sourced Trent 900 turbojet engines. The oil leaks appear to be localized in the turbine section of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines. And by November 15, 2010, up to 40 units of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines used in Qantas’ fleet were found to be faulty and had to be recalled.

By December 2, 2010, the investigative findings of the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau had traced the fault to an oil tube connection in the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines. By this time Qantas has already replaced four engine units since the Flight 32 incident back in November 4, 2010. Preliminary studies by the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau had revealed that this critical section of the jet engine is prone to metal fatigue upon exposure to the routine high temperature and stresses typical in this type of jet engine’s manufacturer’s recommended operational guidelines.

During the course of the investigation, it was later found out only the heroic crew of Qantas Flight 32 that saved the passengers from certain death says Martin Dolan of the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau. Captain Barry Jackson of the Australian International Pilots Association also praised the quick thinking of the crew of the stricken Qantas Flight 32. Since the Qantas Flight 32 incident and the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau’s investigative findings, Qantas has since taken the preliminary legal measures to be compensated by Rolls-Royce for the resulting financial loss. But are the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines the culprit in the Qantas Flight 32 incident and other Qantas’ passenger fleet troubles since November 4, 2010?

The Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbojet engines are by so means a shabbily engineered product; it is truly an engineering tour-de-force. Imagine being able to supply 370-kilonewtons of thrust all by itself. And four of these massive jet engines are required to fully lift the 560 tonnes fully loaded mass of the Airbus A380-800 Super Jumbo into the air. With a blower measuring almost 3-meters in diameter, it looks impressive enough just being parked there on the tarmac if you’re fortunate enough to see one up close. Maybe our still ongoing global economic recession is to blame for this quality control oversight at Rolls-Royce’s factory.