Monday, August 25, 2014

Airbus Tests Jet's Ability to Fly Farther From Emergency Landing Sites: Widebody A350 Would Be Able to Take More Direct Flight Routes

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor and Robert Wall
Aug. 24, 2014 7:36 p.m. ET

Airbus Group NV intends to ramp up flight tests this week to demonstrate that its newest jet model eventually should be allowed to fly routes taking it as many as seven hours from an emergency landing strip.

Slated to be delivered to lead customer Qatar Airways Ltd. by the end of the year, the A350 would have unprecedented regulatory leeway compared with other twin-engine jets on ultralong polar or over-water routes.

If European regulators grant approval in coming years, the widebody jets would be able to take more direct routes to slash flight times, save fuel and give Airbus a potential marketing advantage connecting a limited number of destinations.

Industry officials said Airbus would win bragging rights for the A350 to fly virtually any nonstop route in the world without having to make adjustments to stay closer to potential diversion airports.

More broadly, the issue also highlights the remarkable reliability of the latest generation of engines, along with electrical, fuel and fire-suppression systems. Many U.S. commercial pilots can fly for an entire career without ever having to shut down a damaged or malfunctioning engine.

"Engine failure long ago stopped being a common cause of major airline accidents," said industry consultant Bob Matthews, a former senior safety analyst in the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Accident Investigations. "The latest safety issues aren't substantially greater than the thresholds we've already passed."

By some measures, according to Mr. Matthews, U.S. carriers on average experience one extreme jet-engine failure every 16 million flights. Some engine-plane combinations currently avoid in-flight engine shutdowns for years. As recently as the 1990s, the FAA's safety yardstick focused on one engine shutdown per 100,000 flight hours.

Rival Boeing Co. and some airlines currently have approval to fly certain Boeing aircraft as far as 5 1/2 hours from the nearest suitable airport in case of an emergency. When plans for the A350 were unveiled, Boeing said it didn't intend to match Airbus's goal.

On its A330-300 widebody, Airbus already has approval to fly as far as four hours from the nearest airport under so called Extended-range Twin Operations, or ETOPS, rules.

"This is the first time we are targeting such an aggressive ETOPS certification," said Fernando Alonso, senior vice president for flight testing at Airbus. Airbus initially needs to persuade European regulators the A350 can safely fly seven hours using a single engine and that other safety equipment, such as fire-suppression devices, also can last that long.

Later, the FAA will be asked to give its stamp of approval.

A seven-hour diversion amounts to a trans-Atlantic trip from New York to London on a single engine. When the A350 goes into service, Airbus expects to have approval for diversions of more than three hours.

To combat fire, one batch of extinguishers is designed to put out the flames. A second group would release chemicals in a controlled way to assure the fire doesn't rekindle.

Before extended twin-engine routes became widespread, many pilots and leaders of pilots' unions were skeptical. Regulators moved slowly to expand from 120 minutes to 180 minutes to 207 minutes the maximum flight time from the nearest strip. Four-engine jets such as Boeing's jumbo 747s, along with Airbus A340s and double-decker A380s, operate under different rules.

In the beginning, "Boeing had to handle the perceptions," according to Bill Yantiss, a senior official at a unit of consultant Argus International Inc. who previously was the top safety official at United Airlines. But today, he added, "technology to look into that airplane" from the ground "and anticipate future failures is pretty phenomenal."

Some of the new, nonstop routes that would be open to twin-engine jets include trips from Australia to Brazil or New Zealand to South Africa.

At this point, Mr. Yantiss said, "it's partly a case of one-upsmanship." The residual risk, he added, is relatively small because "we're clearly building on a history of success."

Sometimes, though, it isn't cutting-edge technology that can make a difference. Under some circumstances, he said, malfunctioning lavatories "can be a limiting factor" when captains consider diverting.

Mr. Alonso said an initial validation flight has already taken place, with an A350 test plane flying seven hours on one engine. Airbus plans to complete at least four more such flights. Regulators also will scrutinize reliability data of all the plane's systems, gathered during previous flight tests that spanned 14 months and 2,500 hours in the air. The earlier tests didn't focus on extended one-engine operations.

During the coming tests, Airbus will land the A350 in the Azores in the mid-Atlantic, more than two hours' flight time from Portugal, and on Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa. Both are common diversion airports for trans-Atlantic travel.

- Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment