Boeing Delivers Last Saudi AWACS With RSIP Upgrades. Analysis

Boeing-provided picture of a Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia E-3 AWACS

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Air Force has become the latest air arm to see its entire fleet of Boeing E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircraft undergo Boeing’s Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) upgrade. This follows in the footsteps of the AWACS fleets operated by the United States, NATO, the United Kingdom and France. According to Keith Burns, who manages the Saudi Arabia AWACS fleet upgrade program for main contractor Boeing, the technological effort provides a leap in detection range and sensitivity capabilities for the massive rotodome-mounted AN/APY-2 radar antenna, only made possible after the installation of a “new radar computer” along with an accompanying suite of “modernized software”.

The upgrade program also greatly enhances maintainability via the installment of more robust hardware components in a radar control maintenance panel.

The completion of the upgrade work on the last of five Saudi Arabia AWACS announced on May 23rd 2017 follows that already applied to the US Air Force 32 remaining AWACS retro-fitted from January 13,1997 to April 5th 2005, to NATO’s 17 AWACS undertaken from 1997 to February 3rd 2000, to the United Kingdom’s 8 AWACS upgraded between 1997 and December 18th 2000 and to the 4 AWACS aircraft belonging to the French Air Force brought up to standard between 2002 and June 28th 2006.

The initial deal involving Saudi Arabia’s AWACS was inked on August 7th 2008 with $42 million covering the Phase I scope of engineering works as well as the purchase of the RSIP kits from manufacturer Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.

The subsequent Phase II-A $73 million contract was followed by another $20 million award on September 16th 2010. However the overall contracts did require that actual work of only the first of Saudi Arabia 5 AWACS would place at Boeing Field in Seattle as the remaining 4 aircraft would be modified at Alsalam Aerospace Industries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “with support of Boeing engineers, technicians and a test and evaluation team” according to Boeing.

Background

Boeing delivered Saudi Arabia’s 5 AWACS aircraft between June 1986 and September1987. The aircraft are derivatives of Boeing’s legendary 707-320B mounting atop their fuselage the powerful 1970’s era Westinghouse AN/APY-1 radar and its more modern successor the Northrop Grumman AN/APY-2 (Northrop Grumman succeeded Westinghouse Electronics Systems). These large radar ‘complexes’ have given the AWACS also known as “E-3 Sentry” advanced surveillance capabilities at ranges in excess of 200 miles (320 kilometers) for low flying targets and out to 250 miles (400 kilometers) for higher altitude targets.

The Royal Saudi Air Force has acquired the 5 Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS thanks to the 1981 Peace Sentinel Foreign Military Sales program (which also made provision for up to 8 KE-3 refueling tankers; identifiable as KC-135 Tanker ‘clone’). Deliveries took place from 1986 to 1987. Like those operated by United Kingdom and France, Saudi Arabia’s AWACS models are powered by 4 fuel efficient CFM-56-2 high bypass ratio turbofan instead of the 4 Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbojets powering the US Air Force and NATO AWACS fleets.

Current context

With the highly publicized employment of the Saudi Arabia fighter aircraft fleet in full scale offensive operations in neighboring Yemen’s civil war, the RSIP capabilities follow previous upgrades done on the AWACS. In 1997 the Block 35.3 software upgrade was completed by increasing the memory on the IBM CC-2Er main mission computer system, itself designated Block 0. By 2003, capabilities were expanded further by the improvement of tactical data communication systems with the installation of Link 16 secure jam resistant terminals.

The AN/APY-1/-2 and AWACS Operation

With its normal crew complement of 18 an E-3 Sentry AWACS requires a four-members flight-deck crew, three technicians and 11 people assigned to core AWACS mission. For instance in the UK Royal Air Force, the mission crew itself comprises a tactical director (mission crew commander), a fighter allocator, three weapons controllers, a surveillance controller, two surveillance operators, a data-link manager, a communications operator and an electronic-support-measures operator. On NATO missions, crews consist of 12 members; a tactical director, a fighter allocator, two weapons controllers, a surveillance controller, three surveillance operators, a passive controller, a communications technician, a radar technician, a system technician depending on the mission.

The AN/APY-2 radar at the heart of the AWACS operation provides multi-mode operational flexibility split between air, maritime and electronic emitters surveillance (Electronic Support Measures). Contrasting key AWACS sub systems capabilities and their interfacing we have described on a previous post the six main Radar tactical modes as Pulse Doppler Non Elevation Scan (PDNES) mode, Pulse Doppler Elevation Scan (PDES) mode, Beyond-The-Horizon (BTH) mode, Maritime mode, Interleaved mode and Passive mode.

With full production status reached in 1997, the RSIP upgrade was, according to Northrop Grumman the most significant effort to improve the performance of the AN/APY-1/-2 radar delivering greater radar range resolution (augmented six-fold) with azimuth and elevation accuracy doubling. Overall capabilities were enhanced in keeping with modern aerial threats requirements such as small cruise missiles and reduced Radar Cross Section (stealth) aircraft. The implementation of new signal processing facilities (advanced Pulse Doppler waveforms, pulse compression) supported by the main computer hardware upgrades and installation of modern Graphical User Interface-based operator display promised overall mission efficiency increase by a factor of 1.5.

In the current context Saudi Arabia AWACS upgrade can only fully be justified within the realms of the bitter rivalry with Islamic Republic of Iran whose air force TO&E has retained lasting features (and equipment) from its 1970’s intimate collaboration with the United States. Furthermore, the IRIAF is now very likely to be sooner than later dramatically reinforced when acquisition of the powerful long range multirole Sukhoi Su-30 fighters aircraft will be enacted.

For more details on the RSIP application and AWACS evolving capabilities see our previous analysis:

http://www.aviationreportglobal.com/2011/04/11/awacs-upgrades-for-boeing-e-3-sentry-and-japan-boeing-e-767-part-1/

http://www.aviationreportglobal.com/2011/04/26/awacs-upgrades-part-ii-rsip-block-4045-and-scaneagle-uav/

Following 50th Delivery, ANA Now Operates The World’s Largest Boeing 787 Fleet

787-9 ANA 50th 787
787-9 ANA #467-ZB689 (50th ANA) Delivered on August 17th 2016

ANA, Japan largest carrier has reached a milestone when taking delivery of its 50th Boeing 787 Dreamliner on August 17th 2016. The new aircraft was handed over by manufacturer Boeing that day at an official ceremony held at the Everett facility near Seattle, Washington state.

By initiating a 50-aircraft order back in 2004, ANA become the launch customer for Boeing’s new highly fuel efficient 787 type. The first aircraft delivered to the fleet; a Boeing 787-8 arrived in 2011. Subsequently the carrier has accepted another 35 Boeing 787-8 along with 14 stretched 787-9 variants. The 787-9 started being delivered from 2014. This 50th aircraft delivered is a stretched 787-9.

To date the carrier has outstanding order for another 30 Boeing 787-9 plus 3 of the even larger Boeing 787-10.

Currently ANA claims the world’s largest 787 fleet with 50 aircraft out of 449 delivered to 39 airlines worldwide. Citing figures obtained from ANA, Airways Magazine indicates that replacing the older 767-300 by the state-of-the-art 787 has generated $98 million in savings each year for the carrier.

With its ability to operate on thin long haul routes, the 787 has extended the airline reach to non-stop destinations, more advantageously on routes where passenger traffic is less affluent. This makes it an ideal complement to the much larger Boeing 777 whose wider fuselage is better applied to denser , more mature routes. In all, since its entry into service the 787 can claim  to have allowed airlines the opening of more than 500 new direct, non-stop routes. ANA is betting on opening direct flight to Mexico City and Phnom Penh in the nearest future.

In comparison ANA’s 777 fleet currently stands at 57 aircraft including 16 Boeing 777-200, 12 Boeing 777-200ER, 7 Boeing 777-300 and 22 Boeing 777-300ER. Another 6 Boeing 777-300ER are still on order with Boeing together with 20 Boeing 777X.  At full strength ANA could see up to 83 Boeing 777 operate under its brand.

ANA’s fleet structure suggests that operating the 777 fleet with 787 in equal proportion (83 Boeing 777 and 83 Boeing 787)  will offer the carrier an opportunity to simple double the footprint of its international long haul destinations coverage.

 

FlyDubai 737-800 Crash On Approach In Rostov-On-Don, Russia Kills All 62 On Board

A FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 identical to the aircraft that crashed Saturday March 19th 2016 while attempting to land in Rostov-On-Don during bad weather. All 62 on board were killed. (wikipedia picture Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)
A FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 identical to the aircraft that crashed Saturday March 19th 2016 while attempting to land in Rostov-On-Don during bad weather. All 62 on board were killed. (wikipedia picture Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)

A Boeing 737-800 operated by United Arab Emirates low cost carrier FlyDubai crashed while attempting to land at Rostov-On-Don in southern Russia this Saturday March 19th 2016. The aircraft had departed Dubai six hours earlier with 55 passengers and 7 crews on board. Operating as Flight 981, the 737-800 first aborted its landing while 6.7 km short of Rostov On Don Airport Runway 22, visibly due to gusts of wind approaching 67 km/hr.  At this juncture it appears that the aircraft was put on holding pattern nearby for close to two hours before pilots began to re-initiate another landing attempt. During the same time, another aircraft that had aborted two landings had already been diverted to Krasnodar. This second attempt to land failed tragically when the FlyDubai aircraft plummeted suddenly towards the ground from an altitude of 3,975 ft at about 5.6 km short of the runway.

Flydubay is, together with its most famous sibling Emirates Airways one of two airlines fully owned by the United Arab Emirates government. Both carriers have operated as completely seperate entities, even though there were some mutually managed operations segments early in the low cost’s beginning. The carrier which currently operates a fleet of 49 Boeing 737-800 had started operation in 2008 following a $3.74 billion order for 50 Boeing 737-800 with Boeing at that year’s Farnborough Air Show. A subsequent order at the January 2014 Dubai Air Show will position the carrier as the operator of another 11 Boeing 737-800 augmented by up to 75 Boeing 737 MAX 8. Opening the Rostov-On-Don route took place in 2013. The aircraft involved was registered as A6-FDN and was carrying 55, mostly Russian nationals passengers along with 7 crews. It had been delivered January 19th 2011 brand new and was later re-configured into a 12 business and 162 coach seating configuration.

 

sources: aviation safety network , Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia

The Qantas Boeing 747-400 That Flew With A 5th (Spare) Engine Under Wing – Analysis

 

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passenger windows view of one too many RB211 engine attached to the left wing of a Qantas 747-400

A very unusual aviation event took place on Wednesday January 5th 2016. A Qantas Boeing 747-400 (VH-OJH) normally powered with four Rolls Royce RB211-524 turbofans was seen flying with a 5th engine under its left wing.

The event was commented by a Qantas spokesperson  via the web, indicating that due to another Qantas 747-400 being immobilised in Johannesburg, South Africa in urgent need of a replacement engine, a 5 Tonnes spare engine was simply bolted under wing of another 747-400 flight QF63 departing Sydney to Johannesburg for ferrying.

By reason of its tremendous size and weight, expedited shipment of a Rolls Royce RB211-524 turbofan can only be done in the main deck of a dedicated wide body cargo aircraft (or combi) plane. Except if there is an option to transport it externally  fastened to the wing of a commercial 747 passenger plane. It seems Boeing engineers thought just that when they incorporated attachment points for a spare fifth engine on the venerable 747 way back in the 1960’s when designing the aircraft. The setup did not involve the need to power nor actually operate the engine but only have it travel securely bolted as an external under wing ‘passenger’.

The practice seems to have been undertaken on many occasions since the 1970’s  first with the “Classic” series 747-100/-200/-300 and later with the 747-400. Sadly it was reported that Air India Boeing 747-200 flight 182 that exploded June 23rd 1985 due to a bomb being detonated on board killing all 329 inside was also carrying a spare engine on its left wing when the incident occurred. Pictures exist of various carriers operating 747s with the spare engine attached (notably a 2011 picture of Qantas own 747-400 VH-OJN sister ship of the VH-OJH involved in the latest ferrying flight).

The need to ferry a 5th engine mostly evolves from two situations: 1) a stranded 747-400 needs a spare engine. The spare is ferried to the stricken airliner strapped underneath the wing of another 747-400 or 2). a 747-400 that underwent emergency engine replacement (often leased or loaned from another carrier) while away from its base needs to ferry the unserviceable engine back to its home base where the faulty engine can be fully repaired.

3-engines ferry flights prohibit passenger flight

Yet 747 with have the option to conduct 3-engine ferry flight (back to their repair base) even when one engine is not functional. This may seem less expedient as it has to be done under very restrictive flight conditions involving specially qualified ferry flight crews operating under degraded safety limits margins in speed, weight and altitude. That option eliminates the possibility of generating revenue with paying passengers and goods transported on board. In all the ability to attach an engine under a regular commercial flight is just the least disruptive for flight operations, the most practical and economical by far as well as logistically expedient.

5thengine

The Qantas announcement specified that the additional weight and drag incurred by the presence of an extra 5-Tonnes engine underneath the wing had warranted a refueling stop in Perth prior to the flight cruising directly to Johannesburg. The announcement made reference of the fact that the presence of that large, characteristically heavy outsize object under the aircraft’s left wing also necessitated adjustments being made by the flight crew of some of the aircraft flight configuration parameters.

Flight analysis and aircraft configuration (a 5th engine can induce as much as 7% less range for that specific mission)

According to flight data available in flightaware.com QF63 operated on January 6th 2015 undertook the Sydney Perth flight leg in 4 hours and 20 minutes and Perth-Johannesburg portion in 10 hours and 08 minutes. Normal QF63 direct flights Sydney-Johannesburg usually span a bit less than 13 and a half hours. The web site also reports an average speed of 445 knots (Mach 0.67) on the Perth leg and 463 knots (Mach 0.70, 857 kn/hr) when bound to Johannesburg. This compares to 495-499 knots (Mach 0.75, 920 km/hr) cruise speed normally on the route (these average speed incorporate slower take-off, climb, descent and approach phase so may be well below actual cruising speed under good or even adverse wind conditions). With a 5th engine, a 747-400 traveling at the optimized 857 km/hr speed on a 13.5 hour journey can only theoretically cover 11,569 km as opposed to the 12,420 km Sydney – Johannesburg span, representing a 7% range shortfall for that specific mission (actual distance flown directly between Sydney and Johannesburg is 6,857 nm; 11,035 km and additional reserve emergency fuel is required).

Does the spare engine needs to be covered with a aerodynamic nose cone?

-in cruise condition the flow of air going in and around the 5th engine can have serious drag penalty. it seems air rushing into the main fan blade can be a bit of an issue too.

For an idea of the thrust delivered by a 747 engine’s, pilots often rely on N1 value read out in their instrument panel. For Rolls Royce RB211-524G/H that power Qantas 747-400 fleet, a 100% N1 performance value on the pilot engine display indicates that the main fan rotation speed has reached 3,900rpm (rotation per minute). At maximum thrusts N1 values can reach 110.5%, equivalent to 4,310rpm. For the General Electric CF6-80C2-B1F turbofans equipping the 747-400ERs versions that Qantas also operates have N1 value of 100% that translate to 3,280rpm on the fan blade. Those engines have maximum fan blade rotation speed of 3,854 rpm reached when N1 is at 117.5%.

At high altitude cruise, the N1 value selected for thrust setting parameter depends on aircraft weight, altitude etc and only represents a fraction of the fan rotating speed mentioned above (N1 varying roughly anywhere in between 45% and 75%) however we can imagine that the windmill motion impelled by the aircraft speed onto the spare engine fan is meaningless (close to null), preventing high speed air from flowing freely through the fan blade back out through the fan cowling duct and the turbine, hence ultimately producing drag forces that are said to limit the aircraft performance to a speed number value between mach 0.78 and mach 0.81. We see that the 5th engine acting aerodynamically as somewhat of a brake chute under the left wing. Most agree that the proper way to allow a turbofan to travel economically and safely is to either remove the fan or cover it. Boeing wing maintenance manual illustrates this with a drawing of a cone-shaped engine cover fitted to the 5th engine. Even more, turbine blade may need to be secured to avoid windmilling altogether. This would prevent components damage due to frictions when no engine lubricant   is supplied.

Here we must also recognize that the 747-100/-200 were designed to be very fast with purpose-built highly swept wing angled at 37.5 degree favoring an excellent cruise speed of mach 0.84. The stretched upper deck modification that first appeared on late model -200SUD (Stretched Upper Deck) in the mid 80s and standard on the later -300 and -400 series were said to provide aerodynamics benefits actually bumping cruise speed performance up a notch to mach 0.85.

Aircraft reconfiguration for flight with more drag on the left wing

The effect of drag induced by the presence of a 5th inoperative engine on the left wing can be modeled by the aircraft motion being slightly slower on the left wing, but faster on the right wing. Thus causing a flight attitude where the aircraft nose tends to turn slightly to the left.

The chrobotics.com web site explains that the difference between course and heading is called crab angle (very close to driving forward in a straight motion but with your head turned slightly to the side). For 747 this is big deal in high cross wind landing and also when operation with ‘one engine out’  requires assymetric thrust compensation.

It seems pilots can have options to compensate for a left turn tendency by trimming the aircraft to turn slightly right. Such trimming of the aircraft can be achieved by applying rudder deflection to the right. The net force resulting from more drag on the left wing and right side turn can cancel out each other and make the aircraft fly straight. This is done via rudder trim controls.

747trimstand

On 747-400 rudder trim ‘Yaw’ controls are located on the center aisle pedestal aft of the engine thrust levers. The crew can select the rudder deflection angle by turning a rotary knob to the desired position as indicated in the above Boeing diagram. This will result in the nose of the aircraft pointing precisely where the pilot intends it to.

The same mechanism also controls the deflection of the low and high speed aileron controlling bank angle trim. This can be applied by pilot input directly by rotating the steering wheel while activating a switch. However bank angle can not be applied past an angle value of 47 degree. Furthermore bank angle trim can not be applied while the auto-pilot is engaged. This where Yaw trim via rudder deflection can be very effective as it can be applied in auto pilot-managed cruising condition.

Aircraft reconfiguration for flight with more weight on the left wing 

The addition of a 5th engine under the aircraft left wing does not pose structural issues for the aircraft however the extra 5 tonnes create obvious weight unbalances causing the aircraft to bank more to the left. This condition can easily be remedied by the introduction of a weight counter-balancing mechanism. On 747-400 the sophisticated fuel tank architecture permits to use embarked fuel as a flexible weight ballast system.

Fuel as a 5-Tonnes counter weight

The 747-400 fuel system architecture relies on a system of cross feed valves operated via the pilots overhead fuel management control panel. This links directly to a bus (intricate network of piping, valves and pumps to shift fuel from one tank to another)

747-400 fuel tank system

the 747-400 fuel system architecture manages and distributes fuel among 8 tanks.

  • 1 reserve in the horizontal stabilizer optional 9,992 kg
  • 1 reserve in each of the wing tips optional 4,003 kg x 2
  • 1 main huge tank in the centre wing tank 51,973 kg
  • 1 main in each wing outboard section 13,572 kg x 2
  • 1 main in each wing inboard section 37,989 kg x 2
  • -400ER can have 2 additional fuel tanks installed in the aircraft belly cargo holds (carrying respectively 183,192 kg and 192,912 kg)

The diagram show that the 5th engine is located right under the aircraft left wing main fuel tank. With its 37,989 kg storing capacity, this fuel tank can be filled with just enough fuel to accommodate the extra weight of the 5th ferry engine. Simplistically put filling 5 tonnes less fuel on the left wing’s main tank than on the right wing’s main tank and the aircraft is balanced. But again we must keep in mind that the fuel management system can be a bit more elaborate as 747-400 have automated cross-feed features that continuously monitor fuel levels and can transfer it across different tanks.

 

Most material on the 747-400 systems in this article relies on the excellent Haynes Owners Workshop Manual BOEING 747 1970 onwards

by Chris Wood

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/QFA63/history/20160106/0800Z/YPPH/FAOR

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/QFA63/history/20160106/0130Z/YSSY/YPPH

 

Airbus A320NEO Enters Service With Lufthansa

A320neo_Lufthansa_becomes_launch_customer_2_d13b47c060

Lufthansa the launch customer for Airbus new A320NEO aircraft began operating the type this January 25th 2016 with its maiden flight on the Frankfurt – Munich route. The aircraft registered D-AINA (MSN 6801) was delivered to Lufthansa on January 20th 2016 ahead of another 70 A320NEO and 45 A321NEO ordered by the group from the European plane maker. The A320NEO (New Engine Option) represents Airbus latest incarnation of the highly successful A320 family which has sold nearly 6,900 since the late 80’s with 4,500 NEO destined for some 80 airlines since its plans were finalized in 2010. The aircraft characteristically differs from regular A320 aircraft due to the addition of the new blended wing extension christened “sharklet” (similar to boeing “Winglets”), as well as with their new larger diameter engines. New Engine Option identifies the presence of the new clutch fan technology Pratt & Whitney PurePower Geared Turbofan engines PW-110JG-M. The powerplant is expected to take narrow body air travel to a whole new lower boundary of operating economics burning 15% less fuel and producing 20% less emission. Delivery of the new aircraft had been due December 22nd but was postponed following problems with the PurePower engines. The relatively low key first flight paves the way for a new era of air travel.

Two Years After Tragedies, Malaysia Airline Withdraws 777 From Fleet

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So long 777 in Malaysia Airlines Livery

Malaysia Airlines is ending Boeing 777 operations immediately, the Independant UK reported. The government-owned carrier has announced that the new restructuring plan being currently executed imposed to do away with the aircraft that was involved in the two MH17 and MH370 tragedies. Both incidents had involved two of the carriers 6 Boeing 777-200ER. MH370 is a 777-200ER that disappeared somewhere probably in the Indian Ocean on March 8th 2014 with all 239 people on board. MH17 incident involved another Boeing 777-200ER being shot down by a surface to air missile while cruising over battle- scarred Ukraine, killing all 298 on board. Despite the recovery of a small number of aircraft parts, the aircraft involved in the MH370 tragedy is missing to this day.

The effort marks a dramatic new direction for the carrier whose image suffered tremendously from the two catastrophes. Instead of the Boeing 777-200ER, the carrier will for now operate 737-800 on the Guangzhou – Kuala Lumpur route and Airbus A380  on the Heathrow – Kuala Lumpur. The 777-200ER started arrived in the fleet in 1997. By 2004 the carrier had 17 such aircraft operating its long haul fleet. The carrier loss of two aircraft paved the way for the gradual phase out, visibly in an effort to distance itself from the tragedies. Subsequently 8 aircraft found their way back to the lessors leaving only 7 aircraft operating in the fleet. The long haul fleet is now left to operate with 19 A330, 6 A380 and 2 enduring 747-400.

Air France Bids Farewell To 747 After 45 Years Of Service

airfrance747farewell
Celebratory water canon salute on January 11th 2015 as Air France flight 439 arrives from Mexico, the last revenue flight of a Boeing 747 in Air France livery.

Air France has now officially turned the final page on its 45 years old history operating the Boeing 747.

The farewell festivities began January 11th 2016 as the last commercial revenue flight arriving in Paris from Mexico was operated by one of the fleet’s 3 surviving 747-400. Upon its arrival at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, flight 439 received celebratory water canon treatment by airports firefighting vehicles.

Remaining events saw two special 747-400 flights carrying the highly symbolic designation of Air France  Flights 747 and 744 depart Paris CDG at 9am and 11:30am respectively on January 14th using (the 3 last remaining 747-400 are two 1992-vintage aircraft registered as F-GITD and F-GITE along with F-GITJ built more recently in 2004). On board a privileged group of Air France-selected passengers together with a mix of lucky buyers of the Euro 220 tickets were  treated to Business class hallmark champagne and delicacies. The aircraft embarked on a low altitude honor tour across France’s Landmarks including the Mount Blanc, the Mount Saint Michel, the cities of Paris, Toulouse and Bordeaux also bringing a final opportunity to “showing off” the Queens of The Sky to the public at large. Of more than 30 000 peoples that had intended to take part in those flights, only a few privileged 700 or so people took part.

Subsequently the aircraft were put on display to the visiting public at Le Bourget airport on January 16 and 17. There Air France stewards, pilots and mechanics associated to the 747 operation conducted guided visits for visitors.

History of the Jumbo Jet in Air France service

With customer code 28 being assigned by Boeing to Air France, the french national carrier operated as many as 73 Boeing 747 from 1970 to 2016. The carrier purchased 18 Boeing 747-128, 29 Boeing 747-228, and 24 Boeing 747-428, respectively designating 747-100, 747-200, and 747-400. We note that 2 Boeing 747-300 were also absorbed from the UTA fleet following its merger with Air France in December 1992.

The french national carrier first acquired the type in 1970 with F-BPVA being the first 747-100 (or -128 to use Boeing customer code) delivered on 20 March 1970, paving the way for deliveries of another 17  -100 airframes. The first revenue flight took place June 3rd 1970 on the Paris – New York route.

By 1974, the fleet began incorporating the 747-200 with F-BPVO arriving in October 1974, followed by 28 other aircraft including numerous combi and freighter variants.

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Historic picture of one of two UTA Boeing 747-400 (747-4B3) F-GEXB taken by Philippe Noret before the merger with Air France in December 1992. F-GEXB went on to serve Air France until finally being scrapped in 2014.

The 1991 acquisition by Air France of UTA brought two 747-300 F-GETA and F-GETB accompanied by another 2 Boeing 747-400 (747-4B3) registered F-GEXA and F-GEXB. These arrived in the mix of Air France own sizeable orders with manufacturer Boeing for 747-428 that began arriving from February 1991 with F-GITA being the first 747-400. The 747-400 fleet would eventually peak at 24 aircraft with the most recent 747-400ERF freighters being delivered from 2002 (F-GUIA) to 2007.  Surprisingly the 6 newer longer range dedicated freighter Boeing 747-400ERF (747-428ERF) did not stay in the fleet long, being all returned to lessors before reaching the 10 years mark with the carrier.

In fact by the mid-2000s the airline was already in 777 mode, looking to replace the 747 freighters with 777F, just as it had began doing in its passenger fleet way back in 2005. Here hard economics alone campaigned decisively for the end of the 747 service. Typically as an online article of Lepoint newspapers points out the 432-seat 747-400 as operated by Air France on the Paris – New York route required 102 tonnes of fuel. This figure contrasted unfavorably with the 107 tonnes carried by the 540 seats A380, and the mere 68 tonnes needed by the 381 seats 777-300ER (along with its 20 tonnes of paying freight). This alone can explain Air France voracious appetite for the 777.

The 747 replaced by another Boeing product

In Air France service the 777-300ER (-328ER should we say) fulfills a growing number of roles; there are now 5 different cabin configurations of the aircraft seating respectively 296, 303, 322, 381 and 468 passengers making possible a very flexible combination of passengers product ranging from First, Business, Premium Coach and Coach. Along with flexibility and versatility, twin engine fuel efficiency has propelled the 777-300ER popularity to an all time high illustrated this past November 2015 when Air France took delivery of its 40th ship. This is in addition to another 25 shorter fuselage 777-200ER passenger version plus another two -200LRF freighters. The aircraft has shown its endurance and adaptability with the 468 seat “Indian Ocean / Caribbean” cabin configuration proving able to replace the Air France high density 472-seats Boeing 747-400s that had long operated a route, once thought to be the sole realm of the 747 brand.

For Air France the long haul fleet has stabilized around the 40 777-300ER and the 10 Airbus A380. In comparison, Deutsch affiliate carrier KLM fleet has elected to retain its 24 Boeing 747-400 in service. British Airways is another operator that shows no sign of replacing its proudly owned 747-400, still operating 41 of the 57 aircraft it has acquired, albeit with revamped cabin product. In all with a barrel of oil priced bellow $30, carriers are seeing their fuel bill slashed by 3 quarters of what it was one year ago. This augurs well with the cyclical aviation industry well honored time period where positive cashflow and earnings must be accumulated in order to prepare the financing for the next cycle of aircraft purchases. In fact there hasn’t been a more favorable time to operate efficiently four-engined Boeing 747 in a long while. British Airways and KLM retaining the 747-400 seems to conform to that approach. For Air France, so long the 747s.

Singapore Airlines To Launch Ultra Long Range A350 Variant For Direct Flights To The US

Singapore A350
Airbus Rendering Of Singapore Airlines A350XWB

On October 13th 2015, Singapore Airlines has announced it was adding 4 more A350-900 to its current outstanding order of 63 with Airbus. On that occasion, the carrier detailed new plans to fly direct non-stop flights to the US once it takes delivery of 7 specially configured new Airbus A350-900. The 7 aircraft will be taken from the current backlog of 63 A350-900XWB on order with Airbus, and receive special modifications to increase their endurance. Re-designated as Ultra Long Range, the new A350-900 aircraft variant will incorporate an increase Maximum Take Off Weight sufficient to accommodate the extra fuel needed for the longer cruise, along with necessary modifications to the fuel system. In addition the aircraft is set to receive aerodynamic improvements which have not yet been specified by Airbus at this time. The decision by the airline to re-introduce direct flights between Singapore and the US comes two years after it stopped operating the world’s longest commercial non-stop flight linking Singapore to Newark. On that route first established since 2004, the airline relied upon a quad-engined A340-500 configured strictly with 100 of the carrier award-winning fully flat business class seats. Following the route closure, the A340-500 aircraft used by Singapore Airline on that route were to be re-purchased by Airbus which it appears has kept them (5 aircraft) in storage ever since. The 18.5 hours Newark Singapore intended to save business travelers the 4 hours additional time that connecting flights on non-direct routes impose. However the significant duration of flight itself may have discouraged some business travelers.

EVA To Order Another 2 Boeing 777-300ER With 24 787-10

EVA AIR 787-10EVA Air has manifested its intention to acquire another 2 Boeing 777-300ER along with 24 Boeing 787-10. The new build aircraft package compounds a list price of $8 Billion. The October 15th 2015 statement by manufacturer Boeing Company reminded that the Taiwan-based carrier already operates 21 Boeing 777-300ER with another 15 due for delivery from Boeing together with another 5 Boeing 777F. The introduction of the stretched 787-10 in EVA Air fleet alongside the workhorse 777-300ER will provide a more profitable -fuel efficient- alternative on marginally less dense routes.