Saturday, May 23, 2015

Turn By Turn Navigation

These are some thoughts I've had recently about autopilots and EFBs and other avionics in the plane. Some are silly, but I think some might have a place, I just don't know how to quantify them. I sort of got this idea when reading about pilots missing stuff, and how close we are o having reliable Human Machine Interface (HMI).

In the car, having turn by turn navigation is pretty handy, when going somewhere unfamiliar. Sometimes roads are close together, and turns are confusing, especially the signs offering help. In the air, if navigating on airways, it is less confusing, but sometimes we don't remember if the turn to was 135 or 145 degrees. Autopilots can help, it has the plan, and if it missed the turn, it will fly a correction course. Maybe having a voice say "turn to heading 135 in a quarter mile" won't help. How about a voice to read the latest winds for the area we are in "winds 220 at 35", it might be good to know, especially if fuel is burning quicker than plan. I was thinking more on final, if the winds are changing, and AWOS is updating quickly, maybe that would be a handy bit of information. The volume would have to be low, or the tone of the voice would have to be just right to overcome what ever other noise may be happening.

The FAA has started more and more data link facilities. CPDLC is being made available to more and more aircraft. Push that further, and start looking at CDM, so the aircraft can fly the straight line. For many reasons, a flight should plan to use waypoints and stay on airways, but how about once airborne, the pilot be allowed to ask for direct to the destination. If the Primary Flight Display (PFD) had a button, "ask for Direct", that would query the FAA URET system, and make a plan that might work.

The connected cockpit has many people worried. Will hackers be able to fly the airplane, is always the worry. Certainly smart people are worried about it, and they won't let it happen. There might be people in the company that don't worry about it, and can show all the economic reasons to just hook the autopilot to the passenger WiFi, but none of the engineers will let it happen. Perhaps when no one is in the cockpit, all the systems will be on one network, but I hope not.

Writing the blog is certainly refreshing. Yesterday my thoughts were really out there, but having a day or so to temper the thoughts, I've managed to narrow things down to some practical thoughts. Hopefully my thoughts will bring you some ideas.

Monday, May 11, 2015

2 vs 4 is Less Better?

There is a lot of talk about the end of 4 engine jets. They just aren't economical people are saying. Kinda sort maybe I guess common sense would say "they" are right, in some ways, but this is aviation, and things are complicated.

The thinking is two engine operations is more efficient than 4 engine operation. Yes, running 4 engines will use more fuel than running two engines, for most aircraft. The thing is, 4 engine aircraft haul more, so thinking of cost per available seat, things aren't black and white. Wikipedia has a great chart comparing various modern aircraft.

This page has some good comparisons. Looking at the column to the far right labeled "Fuel efficiency per seat" you will see, especially in the jets built since 1997, most of the jets in the medium haul (transatlantic) will get about 90+ miles per gallon per seat (mpg). Even in the transpacific (long haul chart) the jets are all pushing 70-100 mpg per seat. The reason the economy goes down for the longer flights is because the jets must carry the fuel longer.

(the chart has a couple outliers, any jet that hasn't flown yet (IE first flight > 2015) you can't really count, the numbers are estimates). Newer jets are much more efficient than older jets.

Comparing things, is more complicated than the charts may indicate. Thinking about a New York to London flight, and using a 747-8 with 467 seats at 91mpg or a 787-9 with 304 seats at 99mpg it would seem that the 787-9 wins every time. 2 engines means less maintenance, and less fuel, so it should win. To buy a 787-9 will set you back about $250million, where the 747-8 will cost about $357million. The 787 still wins, right. Well again it is complicated.

No one sells all the seats on the aircraft, so assuming a 95% load factor, 3400 miles (JFK-LHR) in big round numbers, the 787 will use 10440 gallons of fuel, where the 747 will use 17450 gallons. With only 289 folks on the 787, the mpg drops to 94mpg and the 747 with 444 folks on the 747 the jet only gets 87 mpg per seat.

The 747 is hauling about 35% more passengers per flight, so 3 flights of the 747 would equal 4 flights of the 787, This is where the numbers aren't very general, but you can see that on popular routes where the load factors are high, the 747 may actually win. Less boarding time to load 3 flights, less taxi time. The fuel efficiency that I have shown here only counts the cruise portion of the flight, climb is very expensive. There are landing fees, and gate fees that need to be accounted for.

Fuzzy things though include maintenance. The aluminium 747 can be maintained by most maintenance facilities, where the composite 787 may need special maintenance facilities. More engines may mean more expense, but they are smaller engines, so there could be less cost handling them.

My goal here isn't to show the 747 is more efficient, my goal here was to show it may not be the end of the line for the four engine jets, just yet. There is still time for them, they aren't hugely inefficient, and may offer economies that may not be completely obvious.