Airline pilots are apparently trained not to spill drinks while in-flight. Interestingly, after our flight was delayed by nearly three hours (they like to avoid the insurance claims, so the delays are always just below three hours!), these chaps were in such a rush to get me to my wedding in Yangzhou that we ended up spilling the drinks in-flight!
Time to go back to Shanghai (via Hong Kong)...def will beat DHL to get my parcel to the British Embassy- as that would have taken 3 days...quickest turnaround...12 hours of running around London getting errands done (including a quickfire shopping trip to Harrods) and 8 hours of bliss sleep thanks to a great book by James (read his book...perfect for long-haul flights and short stopovers!). Ciao London...
On 3 August 2016, a Boeing 777-300 aircraft, registration A6-EMW, belonging to Emirates Airline, was operating a scheduled passenger flight, numbered EK521, and departed Trivandrum International Airport (VOTV), India at 0506am local time for Dubai International Airport (OMDB), the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At approximately 0837am local time, the aircraft impacted the runway during an attempted go-around at Dubai. There were a total of 300 people on-board the aircraft, comprising of 282 passengers, two flight crew members, and 16 cabin crew members. However, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) was very sad to announce that one of the firefighters lost his life while saving the lives of the others.
Jassim Isa Al Balushi managed to rescue 300 lives, but in doing so, he lost his own. The brave firefighter sustained fatal injuries after helping put out the flames during rescue operations, the report said. His valiant efforts, however, were not in vain, as everyone on board escaped from the burning jet alive—including 282 fliers and 12 cabin staff. Once everyone evacuated, the aircraft exploded and burst into flames and Al Balushi was unfortunately caught in the blaze.
The initial report into the incident has shown the pilot had tried to abandon the landing after the main wheels of the Boeing 777-300 had already touched down.
When such accidents happen, it is always best to wait for the investigators to do their job and publish the report, rather than listen to so many so-called 'aviation experts' on the TV and the internet because most of them are just guessing and have little or no idea on what the truth of the matter is.
The official Preliminary Report has been published by the GCAA of the UAE. Click here to get it from their official website.
A Malaysia Airlines B777-200 parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Memories of the two Boeing 777-200 aircraft belonging to Malaysia Airlines that were involved in accidents in 2014 (MH17 and MH370) are still fresh in mind, and every time I see a Boeing 777 belonging to Malaysia Airlines, the events surrounding the unfortunate circumstances of both accidents immediately come to mind. Am I scared to fly with Malaysia Airlines because of those events? No, I am not, and neither should anyone else be afraid to fly with a fine airline as Malaysia Airlines. I firmly believe that those crew on flights MH17 and MH370 were fine people doing their job to take passengers safely in comfort from one place to another, but sadly due to unfortunate events that were out of their control, they perished. Millions of passengers fly around the world, and flying is still one of the safest ways to fly. Let us not forget that Malaysia Airlines is one of the best airlines in the world- it is one of the great legacy carriers. In 2008, I fondly remember having a conversation with Martin Barrow (former MAS Executive Director) in his London office where he invited me to try and experience flying Malaysia Airlines. "Navjot, try Malaysia Airlines and review them. Winner of the Best Cabin Crew awards for many years", said Mr. Barrow in 2008. Ever since that day, I have always wanted to fly with Malaysia Airlines, but could not do so. Thankfully, that day arrived in August (yes, in August, I have been busy all this time so did not have time to update my blog). I am proud to say I flew Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu on a Boeing 737-800 (I will write a full review later).
The very professional and friendly crew of Malaysia Airlines flight MH170 from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu in August. All power to them and their colleagues for having the courage and professionalism to continue to doing such as wonderful job after their company suffered such tragic events in the past two years. They say that in the airline industry, an airline is finished if it suffers two or more accidents. However, I do believe Malaysia Airlines will once again be the Skytrax 5-star airline that it used to be. From my experience, their cabin crew and in-flight service is among the best and up there with the top airlines in the world (and for those who may be wondering - no, I am not being paid to write this.): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Kuala Lumpur means muddy confluence, perhaps because it gets it's fair share of rain. The 13th busiest in the world always seems to be empty, unlike JFK which at 19th busiest always appears to be more busy than it should be (or can handle). It's built about 50kms from the city, about an hour's ride by taxi, and is surrounded by forest because the former prime minsiter wanted to create the illusion that the airport is in the middle of the forest (which it is), and would pave way for other airports to be environmentally friendly - away from the city centre to reduce noise etc. The Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix track is located nearby.
Forests mean green, and green means hot...it gets very hot and humid here - almost into the 90 percent humidity as well as into the 40 degrees Celsius. During approach, planes have to contend with turbulence due to the localised hot air rising from the canopy (whcih we experienced on our way from Hong Kong).
Sunrise over India...flying over Ahmedabad with a Qatar Airways Boeing 777 keeping us company in the Indian skies (we are at 41,000ft flying to HKG, and they were flying to Shanghai Pudong)....this is the closest I'm going to get to India for a long time (until I get my hands on a Visa!!): Photo Copyright Navjot SIngh
The Aircraft Dispatch Engineer (left hand side), stands level with the flight deck side window, but clear of the spinning engines' intakes (don’t want to get sucked in!), and holds up the nose gear steering pin for the benefit of the pilots to see before waving goodbye. He is not saying “Chocks away, chaps!”, but the meaning is something on similar lines. Attached to the pin is a long red tape with the words 'Remove Before Flight' written in large white letters. The pin is necessary to prevent un-commanded movement of the nose wheels during the pushback phase from the aircraft stand. If the pin is not removed then the gear will not retract, which, in the past, has resulted in embarrassment for pilots in a number of airlines (you can Google it!). It means dumping enough fuel to prevent an overweight landing, then returning to land. This can cost an airline millions of dollars (US), cause unnecessary delays, cause extra stress/pressure to the pilots and make a lot of passengers unhappy and worried- none of which any airline or pilot wants. Aircraft can usually take-off with a much greater weight than they can comfortably land. So, for example the Airbus A380 (and I believe the Boeing 787, too) can always land at its maximum take-off weight in an emergency, but it’s very stressful on the brakes and hence can cause tyre bursts.
Like the rest of the world, I first heard about the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 tragedy on the morning of the 8th of March. A simple message on my phone from a friend who lives in Shenzhen appeared: 'a Malaysia Airlines plane en-route to PEK is presumed crashed with 239 people on-board'. I was shocked (and still am shocked). The flight was code-shared with China Southern Airlines as CZ748. I could have been on that plane had I taken that route to Beijing. It could have been anyone of us. I frantically started browsing through the various news channels to get more updates. There was nothing any of the news updates could report except that a plane was lost...it was totally bewildering. To not get a word out was very disconcerting and unusual (and still is)…'How could a sophisticated and modern Boeing 777-200 aircraft at 35,000 feet get lost around an hour after take-off in this modern-tech age?' The plane's radar transponder (which provides a ‘squawk code’ that enables ATC to track it’s movements on radar), and VHF radio link were mysteriously disabled around an hour after take-off and no one knew where the plane was or where it was heading.
Since that day, the world's attention has been focused with great interest on this lost plane and its 239 passengers and crew (12 crew members and 227 passengers from 15 nations and regions; the majority of passengers were Chinese citizens). One probably cannot even imagine the horror that the relatives and families of those on-board the aircraft are going through. I do believe that the media has been too intrusive and sometimes have gone over the top when focusing on the families. Being a journalist I know very well that photographers may have to get pictures of the grieving families to please their editors, as those pictures earn them their bread and butter (sadly..), however I don't want to or have to look at them. Not only is it bad taste, but also disrespectful and wrong in my opinion. I believe that in some media reports it was confirmed that family members even scuffled with the media scrum, asking them to stop taking photos of grieving relatives.
We are now led to believe that it has apparently crashed in the far reaches of the southern Indian Ocean. However, that being said, this case is still a mystery...and the truth, when we finally find and recover the wreckage (I believe they will), will be even more surprising and shocking as some of the theories that have been put forward.
There have been many theories relating to the plane’s disappearance, some of them perfectly valid, and some of them completely absurd and unbelievable. For three weeks, friends and relatives of those on-board have been hoping for news - any news- of the wreckage of the plane- but nothing so far has come out. This has understandably caused a sheer amount of frustration, anger, and complete mistrust with the airline and the Malaysian government by the relatives of those on-board this ill-fated flight.
Theories…Theories…And Yet More Theories (but no solid facts)
Whenever there is a situation like this involving a plane crash (or presumed plane crash etc), I tend not to watch the TV news reports too much because there are too many conflicting arguments to and fro, and without being disrespectful to anyone I can say that there are far too many ‘aviation experts’ and journalists alike all proposing their own theories. Second-guessing and speculation does no good and is of no value to nobody. I don't believe in conspiracy theories because they make little sense. It is better to wait until either the wreckage of the aircraft is found - which has not happened at the time of writing this blog.
Again, no offense intended to anyone, but you just wonder how on earth did some of these journalists become 'aviation experts' when some of them cannot even distinguish an aircraft type and they conjure up their own theories? Who gave them that title? It doesn't look good...and with all due respect even some airline pilots would not call themselves 'aviation experts'...they may be very good travel journalists who have reviewed luxury hotels, airlines etc....but lets not promote them or brand them as being an 'aviation expert'. I am not an aviation expert...that honorable title should be given to someone with a serious amount of technical knowledge about aviation, such as, for example, Flight Global's safety expert David Learmount and independent aviation expert Chris Yates. Both of them are highly admired within the industry. Then there are plenty of aviation experts at Boeing, Airbus, NASA etc.
Some of the theories that have been mentioned by many experts include: 1. Uncontrollable fire on-board or decompression of the aircraft cabin, 2. A bomb, 3. Pilot suicide, 4. Accidental shoot down, 5. Over speed, manual recovery stuff-up, stall, loss of complete control. 6. Midair collision, 7. Hijacking
Theories 1 and 5. could be plausible as 95% of crashes happen around 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3,000 feet and around 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first TWO hours of a flight (these are facts proven and well-known in the aviation industry). Airline pilots are rigorously trained during every simulator check (every 6 months) to realize quickly that the fire is uncontrollable, and then dive for the ground as quickly as possible before the wing burns through and find the nearest airport to land at (if possible)- all under 20 minutes. However, ditching any plane in the dark (this plane disappeared at around 01:20am) is not easy, and especially when you are flying at around 300 kph.
In the initial stages of the investigation, the only real evidence available to the public was the visual observation from an oil rig worker, a New Zealander called Mike McKay. He noted in his e-mail report (which was issued publicly as shown below), that he saw flames start, and go out, at altitude near where the Vietnamese radar trace concluded. An experienced Captain I know commented that his initial reactions upon reading this report ‘led him to assume a wing separation because of over-stressing of the airframe in an apparent recovery attempt from a stall and then an eventual uncontrollable spin straight into the sea.’ That particular Captain went on to say: ‘I figured the lack of debris due to the aircraft going straight-in, and compressing the 777 to the size of a bus.’ Nobody has publicly discounted Mr. McKay’s report, and there has been no proof so far…but yet more anguish and frustration for the families and relatives of the ones on-board the aircraft.
There were also many reports about the aircraft being picked-up on radar west of the Malay Peninsula. Nevertheless, the Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force in a media statement rejected these unconfirmed reports on the 11th March (please see below)*
It is difficult to believe theories 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. This is because there is no proof of any such bomb, and no terrorist group from anywhere has claimed responsibility or any demand for ransom for hijacking (from past cases we have seen that terrorists and hijackers usually cannot help taking responsibility…).
Initially there were suspicions of terrorism or hijacking based on reports that two Iranian passengers boarded the flight with fake passports; however, it was eventually revealed that they were just after a better life in Europe. There would have been a clear demand from someone if this plane was held on ransom. A recent example of this was displayed on the 17th February earlier this year when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 was hijacked by it's own First Officer and flown to Geneva. The hijacker, identified by officials as First Officer Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, waited for his Captain to go to the toilet before locking himself in the cockpit. As with all hijacking events in history, we saw that the hijacker did contact someone to demand something- asylum in this case. However, in the case of Malaysia Airlines MH370 nobody contacted anyone.
Having spoken to some airline pilots, and listened to their theories from experience, I am led to understand that it may have been a fire on-board (smoke kills within a few minutes….quicker than we all think...and especially at high altitude). At some point, after its crew and passengers surrendered and become incapacitated by smoke, the aircraft would have been flying all by itself, and would have eventually gone down into the Indian Ocean once it ran out of fuel.
If the plane was in the cruise on auto-pilot for so many hours without human intervention (as people claim now)...can we say that it's a miracle that it did not collide with another aircraft?...shockingly sad, utterly heartbreaking and scary to think that a 'ghost' plane was flying in the sky with incapacitated people on board...terrible. The answer from a highly experienced Captain with over 28 years flying service was: ‘The sky is enormous, you'd be hard pressed to hit another aircraft…even if you tried it would not work….’
However, the investigation and interrogation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Inmarsat plc, the British satellite telecommunications company, has been verified and accepted. The investigators from that company now confirm a Southern Indian Ocean trajectory and loss of signal. We have to respect that they have enough information to make that call. At this point in time, you can’t help but wonder why they (the investigators) did not dispatch a couple of long-range reconnaissance aircraft, that could have photographed the whole hemisphere by now, from over 50-60,000 feet, and with minute detail.
Inmarsat sell auxiliary satellite bandwidth to airlines and shipping companies (passenger and freight), so they can provide constant movement connectivity anywhere on Earth. According to the company, around 90% of the world's wide-bodied jets come installed with Inmarsat antennas built in to the fuselage – whether or not the airline operating the plane ultimately uses it. Now, even though Malaysia Airlines did not use it for technical data transmission, nevertheless, the technology has been tremendously useful in the search operation. For the search teams’ time and the treacherous weather in the Indian Ocean are their biggest enemies at the moment because the battery of the ‘pinger’ from the aircraft’s black box is going to stop sending out signals soon.
As well as the relatives of those who were on flight MH370, thoughts are also with the searchers. There's a LOT of ocean to cover (much of it the deepest in the world, and undiscovered so far), and every one of those searches are doing the best they can. The air and sea search efforts have been shifting throughout this case, and have recently shifted yet again as fresh radar data suggested the aircraft headed south faster than initially thought, bringing the plane down some 1,100 kilometres north-east of the previous search area, putting the crash point 1,800 kilometers off Perth, Australia. One thing is for sure, this investigation also reveals the large amount of rubbish that is lurking around in our oceans (!).
It could have been accidentally shot-down by either the Malaysians or the Vietnamese…however, who would want to practice firing missiles at 2 a.m.?!; and when it seems that hardly anyone of the Military installations actually noticed the aircraft? Unless there are some issues that have not been monitored with the mental pilots health, no sane commercial airline pilot carrying passengers would even think of entering another country’s airspace - especially knowing that they have a military Air Force - without permission. You can bet your bottom dollar that the minute a civilian (or military) aircraft enters another country’s airspace without permission, then a bunch of air force fighter jets would be scrambled to get close and personal within minutes!
In regards to reports that some villagers in the Maldives saw a plane flying low doesn't sound plausible to me. No offense but anything bigger than a seaplane would seem 'big' to the people there because most of them have probably never seen a plane of that size. Anybody...and I mean ANYBODY...who has seen the only airport in the Maldives (i.e. Male Airport) large enough to take a Boeing 777 knows that you can't hide a plane of that size anywhere on that place. The airport, just like the islands around it, is TINY...the 777 would stick out like a sore thumb!
The plane would not be able to hide anywhere, even on a remote airfield. Why? Because it would have to go over land masses and it would easily have been captured on primary radar operated by the military. As I mentioned above that nobody can enter another country's airspace without being detected by the air defense zone radars.
It could have been pilot suicide. However, all the commercial pilots I have spoken to have told me that it is highly unlikely that the pilot would have committed suicide. In the entire history of commercial aviation, only 4 airline pilots have been documented to have committed suicide during flight…this includes: Silk Air 185, Egyptair 990, LAM Mozambique 470, and Royal Air Maroc 630. It’s a very privileged career where individuals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many years to get trained, and are being regularly examined every 3-6 months for simulator training, in-flight checks, and health checks. It must take a very mentally disturbed and sick individual to take his and others lives with him on a plane.
No sane pilot wants to die or kill anyone..or even think of such idiotic things. Pilots have the moral duty of taking ownership and responsibility to save lives FIRST before anything in an emergency- safety is everything in aviation. Unless there is concrete evidence that this pilot committed suicide, it's a very difficult theory to accept and swallow.
The Boeing 777 aircraft has an exceedingly impressive safety record – the first fatal crash in its 19-year history only came in July 2013, when an Asiana Airlines (read about it here) aircraft crash landed short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Three of the 307 people aboard died. Besides the Asiana Airlines crash, the only other serious incident with the Boeing 777 came in January 2008 when a British Airways B777-200 landed short of the southern runway at London’s Heathrow airport without any serious casualties.
Brand Malaysia Airlines Damaged?
As the saying goes in PR that ‘any publicity, is good publicity’…however there is question in this case when it comes to a sad and tragic event like this. 'If you love life, don't fly with Malaysia Airlines!!' shouted one relative of a passenger on #MH370 as the Malaysian PM gave the news conference...at that point you would have thought that the Airline and the Government had shot themselves in their own foot (the above quote taken from twitter).
According to a friend who flies the Airbus A330, there is a saying in the aviation industry that if an airline is on the front pages for more than TWO weeks, then it's bound for failure. If that statement is true then Malaysia Airlines may be history. However, I think that the airline may survive this bad episode because: 1. It's the national flag carrier of Malaysia, and 2. Malaysia Airlines is strongly financially backed by the Malaysian government and Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad. The airline may be struggling (it has been some time), however I am optimistic that Malaysia Airlines will eventually bounce back in the future. They may initially reduce the fares and go for a heavily tempting PR campaign to increase interest, OR the worst-case scenario may be that it could be taken into the hands of a low-cost carrier, such as Tony Fernandes’ Air Asia (though the latter statement may not be plausible).
Bear in mind that national flag carriers have gone bust in the past (Olympic Airways, Sabena Belgian Airlines, Swiss Air (before it was re-branded), VIASA Venezuelan Airlines, VARIG Brazilian, Balkan Bulgarian, MALEV Hungarian and many others), however it must be noted that these airlines were not provided strong financial support by their own financially struggling governments. It must also be noted that some major airlines have gone bust after experiencing disasters. Prime examples include Pan Am (after the Lockerbie disaster), TWA 800, and Swiss 111. However, in these respects, Malaysia Airlines is fortunate to have solid support from their government.
I firmly believe that until any concrete evidence has been presented, then those Malaysia Airlines crew and passengers should be hailed as heroes for trying to save the plane from disaster, but were unable to do so for whatever reason (fire…most likely considering what’s been presented). It’s not good of the tabloid newspaper editors for writing articles that may be deemed untrue and certainly not good to mislead their readers without any facts or proof.
While the families are understandably upset with the airline and the Malaysian government, it must be noted that the airline is just an observer that is passing the information from the investigators to the public. And in this case we have investigators and search teams from around 25 countries, so therefore the ability to communicate effectively and coordinate together as ONE team in a smooth fashion is absolutely crucial. There is not much an airline can do once an investigation starts except keep the media and families of the crew and passengers informed , and therefore it is obviously causing friction because the public are not getting much information from the airline or the government. The airline’s role and credibility is measured by how they treat the families, and how they handle the media. The one good thing this has revealed is the frightfully negligent way we have approved airplane safety, particularly design of black box.
Without any doubt whatsoever, we have seen ourselves on the TV screens in the past three weeks that the airline has mishandled the media (and vice-versa), and that comes across bad from any PR prospect. It just shows that the airline may have not been prepared for such an event. Perhaps this would be an excellent learning curve for all other airlines around the world too. They key word here is ‘investigation’- and so the airline cannot really do much except wait for the investigators to complete their job. When an aviation disaster happens, the airline and the management team of the airline are mere observers, and wait for what the investigators come out with.
The airline has no doubt one of the best in-flight products in the industry. I fondly recall the words of Mr. Martin Barrow -former non-executive director of Malaysia Airlines- inviting me some years ago to try their product: 'Why don't you try MAS, Navjot? Best cabin crew in the world'. Nevertheless, far fetched from reality, the airline is going through some tough times indeed.
A week ago when the families vented their angry and frustration during one of the chaotic press conferences, the only words I could think of were: complete madness...completely diabolical...too many 'aviation experts/cooks' in the kitchen...too much clutter/confusion...too much media intrusion around the grieving families...too many theories. We can only hope that the relatives will have some news soon on what exactly happened to their loved ones in their final moments. The one good thing this event revealed is the frightfully negligent way we have approved airplane safety, particularly the design of the black box.
It's a mystery that not one piece of the plane has been found. It's a truly amazing situation the aviation industry has found themselves in - though I do believe that it may take time before we find something. When people point to the size of the aircraft, the answer to that is simple: the aircraft is not big at all. In fact it's probably the size of one bottle cap in a large sea. If it went straight into the ocean then it would have turned immediately into a metal box perhaps the size of a small bus...especially if it went in nose first, at speed...and everything else would have sadly been either vaporised or turned into minute shrapnel pieces.
Until concrete evidence is presented, I, like many others, believe that we should not label the crew on that plane as terrorists, suicidal, or anything else negative...but as heroes who were frantically trying to get the plane safely back on the ground but could not do so.
* a version of this article also appeared on the Huffington Post blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/navjot-singh/post_7222_b_5056524.html
My sincere thanks to my friends and colleagues, many of whom are professionals in the aviation industry and are touched by this case, and who contributed with their thoughts to this article. - Navjot Singh
*The Royal Malaysia Air Force has rejected the media reports that it tracked the Boeing 777 after it turned west in a statement posted on its Facebook page and reproduced in full below.
(This statement could be read as confirming the substance of the reports, that the RMAF did in fact follow MH370 as reported.)
OFFICIAL STATEMENT BY CHIEF OF ROYAL MALAYSIAN AIR FORCE ON BERITA HARIAN NEWS ARTICLE DATED 11th MARCH 2014 ON SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS IN THE STRAITS OF MALACCA
1. I refer to the Berita Harian news article dated 11th March 2014 on Search and Rescue Operations in the Straits of Malacca which (in Bahasa Malaysia) referred to me as making the following statements: The RMAF Chief confirmed that RMAF Butterworth airbase detected the location signal of the airliner as indicating that it turned back from its original heading to the direction of Kota Bahru, Kelantan, and was believed to have pass through the airspace of the East Coast of and Northern Peninsular Malaysia. The last time the plane was detected by the air control tower was in the vicinity of Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca at 2.40 in the morning before the signal disappeared without any trace, he said.
2. I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above, what occurred was that the Berita Harian journalist asked me if such an incident occurred as detailed in their story, however I did not give any answer to the question, instead what I said to the journalist was “Please refer to the statement which I have already made on 9 March 2014, during the press conference with the Chief of Defence Force at the Sama-Sama Hotel, Kuala Lumpur International Airport”.
3. What I stated during that press conference was, The RMAF has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar and this resulted in the Search and Rescue Operations being widen to the vicinity of the waters of Pulau Pinang.
4. I request this misreporting be amended and corrected to prevent further misinterpretations of what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report.
5. Currently the RMAF is examining and analyzing all possibilities as regards to the airliner’s flight paths subsequent to its disappearance. However, for the time being, it would not be appropriate for the RMAF to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved. However all ongoing search operations are at the moment being conducted to cover all possible areas where the aircraft could have gone down in order to ensure no possibility is overlooked.
6. In addition, I would like to state to the media that all information and developments will be released via official statements and press conferences as soon as possible and when appropriate. Our current efforts are focused upon on finding the aircraft as soon as possible.
GENERAL TAN SRI DATO’SRI RODZALI BIN DAUD RMAF
Chief of Royal Malaysian Air Force
11 March 14 Kuala Lumpur
Dubai-based Emirates Airline placed an order for 150 of Boeing's new 777 mini-jumbos (nicknamed 777-X), in a $76bn (£47bn) deal at the 2013 Dubai Air Show. These will be a combination of 35 Boeing 777-8Xs and 115 Boeing 777-9Xs; plus 50 purchase rights. It is the single largest aircraft order by value in the history of US commercial aviation, creating and supporting an estimated 436,000 jobs in the US. Emirates currently operates 131 Boeing 777s and has a further 214 Boeing 777s on order. The 777-X, which has FOLD-UP carbon fibre wing tips will be delivered in 2020 (without the bendy wings, the wingspan is about the same as the Airbus A380).
Emirates has also ordered FIFTY Airbus A380s, in a deal worth $23 billion. The airline is already the biggest customer of the A380.
So where will they be parked? Dubai is a tiny place, and indeed, so is it’s airport. The answer is going to be ‘Dubai World Central - Al Maktoum International Airport’. The airport is planned to become the world's largest passenger and cargo hub, ten times larger than the current Dubai International Airport which covers an area of 29 square kilometres (7,200 acres) and Dubai Cargo Village combined. One terminal is going to be for ALL THE OTHER AIRLINES except Emirates (& Qantas Airways two daily appearances). The latter two will enjoy having Terminals A, B & C to themselves. When they move to DXB World - it'll be in one hit, in about 2020 - when the first 777-X arrives.
Meanwhile, all the freight aircraft and the VIP aircraft will be sent to DXB World before the runway works next year (DXB World is going to have FIVE runways). So, now you know where they’re gonna park the 140 A380s, 150 777xs, 100 777s and 70 A350s as from 2020.
While the aviation industry is suffering financially in the Americas and Europe, it is booming in the Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern regions. Huge airport construction projects are well under way in cities such as Shenzhen (new airport terminal will open on 28th November), Doha, Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kunming, and many others (mostly in China and the Middle East).
On final approach into Hong Kong International Airport's runway 25 right, our brand new Boeing 747-8i had just passed Tin Liu Village (Ma Wan Park) and Tai Lung when we were challenged head on by a powerboat (as seen in the photo below). The giant whale's landing speed of around 160 knots (184mph) was just a bit too much for the poor soul (who must have been going at around 90 mph).
Ready for action...another long haul flight. This time on-board the Boeing 747-8i - longest aircraft in the world.
At 76.25 meters, the Boeing 747-8 is officially the world's longest aircraft (cargo or passenger usage). It can accommodate a maximum of 605 passengers (in an all economy class configuration), or around 400 passengers (in a 3 or 4 class configuration). The freighter version of the aircraft has a cargo capacity of 30,177 cu ft (854.5 m3). 53 aircraft are currently in service, with 36 of those being freighter versions. Currently, Lufthansa German Airlines is the ONLY two airline that operates the passenger version with 9 aircraft in active service, and a further 10 on order. It was a pleasure to be on this rare gem, nick-named the 'Queen of the Skies'. There is talk that the current Boeing 747 aircraft used by the President of the United States of America, nick-named Air Force One, will be replaced with the Boeing 747-8i in the near future.
The aircraft I flew on today entered service on the 26th of July 2013 (aircraft Reg: D-ABYK), and this was it's 5th flight since entering service with Lufthansa. No wonder why the interior had a smell like that of a brand new Mercedes car!
While most of the legacy European airlines (BA, Air France, KLM, Iberia, Alitalia, TAP, SAS, Finnair, and Aer Lingus), are going through an 'economic sufferage', Germany's national flag carrier, Lufthansa German Airlines, can be proud that it is one of the few airline companies in the Western hemisphere that is doing well. News earlier in London that the new UK Government is thinking of scrapping plans for the third runway at Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, will have wide repercussions for airline manufacturer Boeing, who have bet on the 'more flights more often' mantra in developing the 250-330 passenger 787 Dreamliner.
With no ability to increase aircraft movements the prize must go to Airbus who bet on the 526 seat Airbus A380-800 (nicknamed the 'Super Jumbo'). Lufthansa was the 2nd European airline to operate the A380, and has 10 aircraft currently in service operating on high density routes such as Beijing, Johannesburg, and Tokyo.
On December 6, 2006, Lufthansa placed an order for 20 Boeing 747-8I airliners (the longest aircraft in the world), becoming the launch customer of the type. The airline currently has 9 aircraft in service, each with 386 seats; and has a further 10 on order. I had a chance to fly on this relatively brand new aircraft (which first flew on June 1st 2012). Lufthansa is the only airline that currently flies the passenger version of the Boeing 747-8i. Korean Airlines, Air China, and Arik Air have placed some orders for passenger version of this aircraft.
The sight of a Egyptair Boeing 777-300ER landing at Heathrow's Runway 27R caught my eye as I made my way in order to catch my flight. Despite the serious civil unrest and chaos that the country is going through, the airline is still flying normal schedules without any issues. Egypt's sea resorts, especially Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, are popular holiday destinations for many Europeans (July and August are the hottest months of the year at Sharm el-Sheikh, and become a beehive for avid scuba divers). The pristine waters of the Red Sea (it's actually turquoise), the year around sunshine, the great Egyptian hospitality and the delicious food all are key reasons why so many Europeans escape their boring and dull lands in search of sun, sea, and sand.
The land of the people who were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art and architecture is going through a tough time at the moment. While there may be enhanced security in places such as Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada (where I guess most of the passengers in the plane above would have come from), the country is going through a phase of continued unrest and the evolving political situation.
In Cairo on the 14th of August Egyptian security forces ended sit-in protests at Nahda Square close to Cairo University in Giza and at Rabaa Al-Adaweya mosque in Nasr City. This resulted in at least 500 deaths. Violent clashes also occurred near Mostafa Mahmoud Square in Mohandiseen, Cairo. It’s very likely that there will be further protests in Cairo- and let's hope that
The veteran Australian author and broadcaster, Clive James described the Boeing 747 as being (I quote): 'Like a winged supertanker full of odoriferous amethystine ordure', and 'a colossal machine'. His words echoed in my mind as I came face-to-face with this beauty on a hot summer's day at Heathrow International Airport.
Aviation is bringing along many gems in the sky, especially with the Boeing 787 'Dreamliner', the Airbus A380-800, and the Airbus A350-900XWB; but nothing will ever beat the imposing beauty of the original 'Queen of the Skies', the Boeing 747 (AKA, the REAL Jumbo Jet).
On the morning of the 6th of July 2013 just past 11.28am local time, a Boeing 777-200ER belonging to South Korea's Asiana Airlines (flight number OZ214) carrying 307 passengers and crew, crash landed while on approach onto San Francisco International Airport's Runway 28L.
Whenever a plane crash happens, second guessing and pure rumors or any other speculation does no good and is of no value to anyone - even to professional journalists who work for Broadsheets - trust me on that one!. It can be extremely irritating (and distressing for passengers relatives), when people on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, PPRune, Airliners.net, Jetphotos.net and Fox News' etc. go about with their so called 'aviation experts', spewing historical events and their own takes on what could have gone wrong. I prefer to wait until either the wreckage is examined/investigation in complete or the NTSB is notified. It's one of the reasons that I don't turn on the TV at these times but rely on concrete factual information for journalists from informed media such as FT.com and the BBC.
The weather was reported as very good; the latest METAR reported light wind, 10 miles (16 km) visibility, with no precipitation, and no forecast or reports of wind shear. The pilots performed a visual approach assisted by the runway's precision approach path indicator (PAPI).
The landing gear and then the tail struck the seawall that projects into San Francisco Bay. Both engines and the tail section separated from the aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that the main landing gear, the first part of the aircraft to hit the seawall, "separated cleanly from [the] aircraft as designed". The vertical and both horizontal stabilizers fell on the runway before the threshold.
The remainder of the fuselage and wings rotated (yawed) counter-clockwise 330 degrees as it slid westward. Video showed it pivoting about a wing and the nose while sharply inclined to the ground. It came to rest to the left of the runway, 2,400 feet (730 m) from the initial point of impact at the seawall.
Out of the 291 passengers and 16 crew, sadly 3 passengers died, and 181 passengers suffered serious but non-fatal injuries. Out of the three who lost their lives, two were named as Ms. Ye Mengyuan and Ms. Wang Linjia, both Chinese nationals, and both 16-year-old middle school students from China's eastern Zhejiang province. They were seated at the rear of the plane and their bodies were found on the tarmac. The third passenger died of her injuries several days later at hospital. At the request of her immediate family, her name and the extent of her injuries were not published. Among the injured were three flight attendants who were thrown onto the runway while still strapped in their seats when the tail section broke off after striking the seawall short of the runway.
Now, on that note a point about the photos of the crash and the relatives going around on Twitter etc. (especially the UK Daily Mail, and other tabloids), that can be so ridiculous. OK, photographers may have to get pics of the grieving families to keep their Editors happy ..BUT I don't want to OR have to look at them. It's just sick. RIP to those who have died. You can tell when the stupidity at The UK Daily Mail has reached new heights when they write false stories in order to get their readership high. The Editor has been trying to pretend that his rag is NOT a tabloid (heaven forbid) by spilling stories over the gutter in an effort to win a design competition at his local school. He should give up & just use the tabloid tricks that were developed by experts.
The Boeing 777, like ALL American built aircraft (except the 787 Deamliner - now dubbed the 'nightmareliner' because of its high number of faults) is a very reliable and strong aircraft- the Boeing 777s are the aviation's equivalent of the John Deer Tractor, you can throw anything at them and not a single whisker in sight will damage them.
This was the Boeing 777's first fatal accident, and second crash (previous: British Airways Flight 38 in 2008), and third hull loss since the Boeing 777 began operating commercially in 1995.
It's a well known fact in the industry that around 95% of aircraft crashes happen 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3000 feet. 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first two hours. The fix is, when realizing it is uncontrollable, dive for the ground before the wing burns through. Record aloft is below 25 mins.
Below is video animation showing the comparison between the actual flight path taken by flight OZ214 into San Francisco's Runway 28L, and what the correct flight path should have looked like.
The video is a testament to a brilliantly-built aircraft; designed and modelled entirely on computers in the early 1990s. The video shows what happens if you can use the fuselage to dissipate the energy, then the landing gear and the engines shear off at extreme speed, as designed. Unlike steel, aluminium doesn't produce sparks like steel does.
An experienced Airline pilot with over 28 years in the cockpit, who did not wish to be named, told me (I quote):
'It's long been the Airbus philosophy that "if the aircraft is not doing what you want (for ANY reason) disconnect the automatics and fly it manually at once". That works well in airlines where you have a wealth of basic Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying skills to fall-back on. Sadly, with the death of general aviation around the world, there are many countries where pilots don't have that background. It's why Airbus has increased the endorsement program from 9 simulators to 13. Airbus now teaches people to fly each model visually with all systems working normally (especially after what happened with the Air France 447 crash). Who would have thought it would come to this? Many of us. Predicting that, one day, each pilot would have to pass a test of knowledge to survive. At Aviation Theory Centre in the early 90s I ran a series of lectures explaining that our books taught "To Pass The Test - Not Just The Exam". Sadly most theory centres just teach the syllabus and no more.'
Another airline pilot gave me this account of an aircraft coming in too LOW into Dubai Airport a few days after the Asiana Airlines crash happened (I won't name the pilot who gave me this credible report):
'Blood ran cold today. 28 years of flying and never heard this from an APProach controller:
APP: "XXXXX (an indian carrier) Are you too low? I have you at 800 feet!" [now, he usually transfers to TWR at about 5 miles (1500 feet) so there is no reason to be at that level on Approach.]
XXXX: after long silence "XXXX going around"
APP: "XXXX are you climbing? I still have you below radar lowest safe!"
XXXX: " We are climbing through 1,500, can we make a visual circuit?" (this is how Gulf Air crashed an A320 and the clever controller decided to take it out of his hands...)
APP: "Climb to 4000 feet and make left turn to 030." (Thereby saving the day, he never even answered the query for a visual approach.)
How, you ask? Well the QNH was 994mb and 500 feet lower than the std of 1013. Setting the altimeter from high (1013) to a low number winds OFF altitude. Old Pilots say: "High to Low LOOKOUT below!" I bet the XXXX boys still had 1013mb set'.
The below presentation, ('Children of Magenta'), provides a wealth of experience and advice for pilots of new-generation airliners (especially 787, A380, and A350). When in doubt: Disconnect automation, fall back on your flying skills and FLY THE AIRCRAFT.
HOWEVER, the problem is: what if you a crew who have no experience in hand-flying aircraft, no raw flying experience to fall back-on (as those Asiana 214, and Air France 447 pilots)?
One of my mates, an experienced Captain for Emirates, says: 'Always make sure YOU are flying the aeroplane, and that IT'S not flying you. Sadly, this brilliant instructor has passed away. He'd be rolling in his grave if he knew that there are thousands of pilots currently flying airliners who have never had such a background.'.
Flying is not the same as it just to be back in the 1980s and even early 1990s- it's not as glamorous as it used to be...and even more importantly safety is plummeting these days. Did you know Singapore have fired ALL their expats since this accident at SFO? The week before this Asiana crash, a Singapore Airlines B777 did a go around on the same runway after doing the exact same thing…with a 777 full of passengers. That - in the 90s - would have been inconceivable!.
When you have 300 passengers behind you, there is no room for failure, and it's dangerous to just depend on the Autopilot. No doubt, the Asiana Airlines crew were invited for a not-so polite chat over a tea session in Washington...no biscuits though.
On the 29th of April 2013, a National Air Cargo Boeing 747-400 freighter on behalf of US Mobility Command, registration N949CA performing cargo flight N8-102 from Bagram (Afghanistan) to Dubai Al Maktoum (United Arab Emirates) with 7 crew and cargo consisting of 5 military vehicles, crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Air Base's runway 03 at 15:30 local time, and erupted into flames near the end of the runway within the perimeter of the Air Base. All 7 crew died in the accident.
National Air Cargo confirmed their aircraft N949CA with 7 crew, 4 pilots, 2 mechanics and a load master - initial information had been 8 crew -crashed at Bagram. The airline later added, that the aircraft had been loaded with all cargo in Camp Bastion (Afghanistan, about 300nm southwest of Bagram), the cargo had been inspected at Camp Bastion, the aircraft subsequently positioned to Bagram for a refuelling stop with no difficulty, no cargo was added or removed, however, the cargo was again inspected before the aircraft departed for the leg to Dubai Al Maktoum.
A horrifying dashcam video captured the full extent of the crash with the Boeing 747-400F appearing to take off normally as it gained altitude, and then plunging into the ground like a rock. It’s the kind of stuff you may see in a nightmare. The video went viral on the internet and elsewhere (except it was not shown by some respected media outlets). There was a time in history when such things were NOT shown by the media.
At the time the news broke out of the crash I was in Detroit, (Michigan), home state to six of the crew members who died. Interestingly enough on that day I was on the phone to a very good friend of mine who personally knew the deceased Captain of that unfortunate flight. Captain Rajan, former of Pan-Am and a veteran Boeing 747-400 training Captain with Boeing, told me of his utter shock and disbelief that the video of the crash was freely available on the internet.
It’s a sad change of the times indeed that with all the modern technology and social media there is nothing that cannot be sold by anyone (and they don’t have to be journalist in order to do so). In my opinion, such videos should not be on the internet or elsewhere as a mark of respect for the deceased. Yes, there are lots of unmentionable and horrific videos on the internet, however normally such things are not shown by the media. It’s not a Hollywood movie...it’s totally disrespectful to those who died to show that video (In my opinion).
When passengers arrive or depart from London's two major international airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, they will notice that the aircraft models that are displayed as welcoming adverts are in fact not representative of any of the British airlines.
On the 30th of March 2007, a scale model of Concorde which had the pride of place at Heathrow Airport's entrance for 16 years was sadly removed, and replaced in 2008 with an Emirates Airlines A380 aircraft model. British Airways had decided not to renew the £1.5m annual rent to advertise on the roundabout at the gateway to the London airport. Instead, Emirates Airlines, the major carrier of the United Arab Emirates, poached the prime spot with a six-year deal to advertise on the site.
Meanwhile at Gatwick Airport, Turkish Airlines have partnered with Eye and Gatwick Airport to suspend a scale model aeroplane inside the airport terminal. The Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, situated in Gatwick’s North Terminal check-in measures 6.1m in length with a wingspan of 5.1m. The 124kg structure created by Leading Models will be suspended from the check-in ceiling until August 2013.
Back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s the airport billboards at British Airports were thronged with national pride such as BOAC, British Caledonian (remember them?!), British Midland, Virgin and so on. With the change of the times, it's the Middle Eastern and Asian carriers who seem to have the money (China Southern Airlines have huge billboards outside Terminal 4 at Heathrow). So the question is if there any chance that we may ever see British carriers advertising their airlines at British airports?
I have had a few people asking me the question: How do pilots and ATC communicate over Chinese airspace? The answer is: In aviation English (which I will give an example of at the end of this blog article).
It is nothing new that most pilots operating on Chinese airlines cannot (with all due respect), speak good enough English (or none whatsoever in some cases). It would be true that the current and the future generation of Chinese pilots that are trained in Australia or the U.S.A. can converse in English, but those who are trained in China may not be able to converse in English (especially veteran pilots). The same goes for airline and military pilots from Japan, Korea, Russia, and other countries where English may not be widely used even as a second language. Having spoken to a few airline pilots from various international airlines such as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, British Airways, and Emirates, the problems come about when pilots whose first language is English are trying to work out what is going on when they listen to the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) transmissions over the airwaves. It certainly does not help if the local ATC and local pilots are communicating in Chinese rather than the international aviation language (i.e. English).
Captain Bill Johnson, who flies the Boeing 777-300ER says though the problem is a global one, it can be more problematic over Chinese airspace because of the seriousness of the language issues. 'When we are flying over Chinese airspace, more times than one we have to repeat everything to make sure that the Chinese ATC and other aircraft in the immediate airspace can understand what we are saying,' said Captain Johnson who has over 20 years flying experience.
‘The main difference between flying over China or Russia, and other parts of the world is that the measurements used by Chinese and Russian ATC and pilots are in meters. The metric altitudes translate into feet, and most airlines give pilots a conversion table. The metric altitudes translate into feet, and most airlines give pilots a conversion table,’ said Captain Johnson.
Captain Syed Abdul Aziz A. Rahman who flies the Airbus A340, told me that the Chinese and Russians have devised their own meters to feet conversion tables, which can be problematic if you have never flown into Russia or China. "Basically they have assumed that 300 meters = 1000 feet. Airlines have to then change it to their own specific standard operating procedure. The First Officer (or the Pilot not flying is most cases) reads the metric equivalent in feet which is then inputted into the FMS and altitude window by the Captain (or the Pilot who is flying) who also checks the ECAM ( Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor) screen for agreement on both sides. The procedure, which takes around 5 minutes, finishes by both pilots agreeing visually and verbally," said Captain Rahman, a veteran with over 22 years flying experience. The checking procedure at the end is so important because otherwise pilots can have problems when flying over international airspace.
I fondly recall sitting in the jumpseat of a China Southern Airlines Boeing 757 from Guangzhou to Sanya where the captain hardly spoke a single word of English. He spoke some aviation language such as 'Standby', 'Affirmative', 'OK, China Southern 6748 climb to flight level 350'. But to my surprise some of the most important instructions were in Chinese, such as 'Cleared for take-off', 'Cleared to land', 'V1.....V2...Rotate' were all in Chinese! His English, with all due respect, was so limited that instead of telling me to wait he shouted aviation terms 'standby....standby!'. On that particular occasion even the First Officer could not communicate in normal English.
Captain Sheetal Rajan, a senior training Captain on the Boeing 747-400 with the Boeing company and CEO of 'Air Safety Equipment', says that even though the minimum required international standard for English is IACO Level 4 (which is equivalent to Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)), he is still surprised that some pilots in places such as China and Russia tend to have a lower level of English than the international required standard. ‘I suppose they may just rely on using aviation English,’ says Captain Rajan.
Because of the amount of traffic in the skies and the quick turnaround time needed at airports for take-offs and landings, the vast majority of ATC around the world speak quickly (a crude example is the ATC at London Heathrow where a plane lands or take-offs EVERY 50 seconds or so!). In busy airspaces such as India and China it is no exception. Even a one minute delay in the aviation industry can end up costing hundreds of dollars, so ATC are always under pressure to make sure that planes get from A to B as safely and quickly as possible. With this in mind most of the ATCs whose first language is not English (i.e. Indians, Chinese, Thai, Russians etc.) tend to speak quickly to the pilots. However to eliminate confusion they have to repeat it twice over so that the pilots can understand what they are going on about. Unless, of course, there is not that much traffic around so then ATC can speak as clearly and slowly as possible (which is rare around busy airports such as Shanghai Pudong, Beijing etc.).
The skies over China can get ridiculously busy, and with the aviation industry seeing a fast growth in the country, it would only be time when Chinese pilots will need to start speaking fluent English.
Examples of aviation language:
Standby = please wait
Retard = Its an autothrottle callout during flare to retard the thrust levers (normally you hear the FMS say this 3 times….’Retard, retard, retard’)
Affirmative = OK,I understand
Flight Level 350 = 35,000 feet (similarly Flight Level 360 = 36,000 feet and so on)
Cleared for take-off/Cleared to land (easy to understand!)
Climb Up/Descend (easy to understand!)
Turn right heading 180 degrees/Turn left heading 180 degrees etc.
Speed back to 170knots (or 180 knots etc.)
The alphabet from A-Z is standard as with the police/fire/ambulance services (A= Alpha, B = Bravo, C= Charlie, D= Delta, E= Echo, F= Foxtrot, G= Golf, H= Hotel, I= India, J= Juliet, K= Kilo, L= Lima, M= Mike, N= November, O= Oscar, P= Papa, Q= Quebec, R= Romeo, S=Sierra, T=Tango, U=Uniform, V=Victor, W=Whiskey, X=X-ray, Y= Yankee, Z=Zulu !!)
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