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/

Air France Bids Farewell To 747 After 45 Years Of Service

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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.

Finally Thai Airways Introduces Much Awaited A380 Service On Heathrow-Bangkok Route

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Thai Airways A380 will finally serve Bangkok – London route

Thai Airways International, Thailand main’s carrier has finally introduced its flagship A380 on the coveted Bangkok-London Heathrow on July 1st 2015. The move comes more than two years after the aircraft became operational in Thai service. The route had been traditionally operated by Boeing 747-400s up until the middle of 2012 when the aircraft were withdrawn for cabin upgrades. After the one-year hiatus necessitated by the cabin upgrade work,  the 747-400s returned to service on March 31st 2013 with a four airplanes rotation servicing the two daily frequencies. That one year span between upgrade was completed saw the interim use of the A340-600.

At that time in 2013 Thai Airways had only taken delivery of 4 of the 6 A380 it had on order with Airbus. While two aircraft were assigned on each of the Frankfurt and Paris destinations, the airline’s management never fully committed the type on the London route despite expectations that delivery of the 2 remaining A380 scheduled to arrive by late 2013 would make additional aircraft available. A380 service to London was first scheduled to launch December 1st 2013 but was postponed first until October 30th of the following year 2014, and then indefinitely. In the meantime the carrier curiously downgraded capacity on the line by withdrawing one of the two 747-400 with a A340-600.

The Airbus A340-600 used previously on the Bangkok - London route alongside Boeing 747-400
The Airbus A340-600 used previously on the Bangkok – London route alongside Boeing 747-400

Thai Airways International 747-400s are configured with 374 seats comprising 9 in First, 40 in Business and 325 in Economy. The A340-600 can seat 267 with 8 in First, 60 in Business and 199 in Economy. The A380 for its part boosts capacity to 507 with 12 seats in First, 60 in Business and 435 in Economy.

The Airbus A380 Fleet Cabin And Operations Part III: China Southern Airlines, Thai Airways International, Malaysia Airlines and British Airways

330px-A380_&_Red_Arrows_-_RIAT_2013This entry is the third installment of our series highlighting the Airbus A380 fleet’s various cabin configurations. The selection of cabin products and services made by China Southern Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and British Airways the latest carriers to celebrate the super jumbo entry into service, will be discussed.

The A380 aircraft had first entered service with Singapore Airlines in October of 2007. According to Airbus, by May 31st 2011, 49 aircraft had been delivered to 6 of the 18 customer airlines covering the 234-aircraft order book.On March 14th 2013, Airbus celebrated the 100th delivery of its A380 aircraft when Malaysia Airlines received the 6th and final aircraft ordered.

As of April 15th 2014, 128 A380s have been delivered and are active with 10 carriers Singapore Airlines 19, Emirates 47, Qantas 12, Air France 9, Lufthansa 11, Korean Air 8, China Southern 5, Thai Airways 6, Malaysia Airlines 6 and British Airways 5. A total of 324 firm orders have now been received for the aircraft, latest to date lessor Amedeo (formerly known as Doric Lease Corp) firm order for 20 aircraft was announced February 13th 2014.

7. China Southern Airlines: Humble Beginnings

China Southern Airlines A380 On Approach
China Southern Airlines A380 On Approach

China Southern Airlines has taken delivery of its 5 airbus A380 at a pace of 2 aircraft in 2011, 2 in 2012 with the last one in fleet by March 2013. These Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered aircraft are configured with 430 seats composed by 8 Platinum Private Suites whose designation is simply in lieu of the traditional First Class cabin, 70 First Class seats referring to traditional Business Class seats along with the 428 seats occupying the Economy cabin.

 

Seating Capacity: 430

 

The Upper Deck

First Class (Business); 70 seats

Economy Class: 76 seats

 

The Main Deck

Platinum Private Suites (First Class): 8 seats

Economy seats: 352 seats

 

 

First Class: 8 Platinum Private Suites

Employing the designation “Suite” for a First Class product would not be otherwise difficult to assume, had Singapore Airlines elected not to actual install their First Class seats inside private rooms on its A380 First Class. This approach has only been somewhat matched by Emirates (see our Part II) while the rest of the industry has generally settled for a partially enclosed luxurious seat that reclines into an actual bed. Depending on the operator, we’ve mostly seen separation walls of various height enhance the level of privacy surrounding the First Class seat. Despite not having fully enclosed its Platinum product, China Southern Airlines has delivered a robust shoulder height (1.52 m / 5 ft) partitioning scheme protecting a 33-in wide, 82-in pitch  purple and white fashioned seat. The 80-in long electronically adjusted seat faces a 23-in flat display housing 600 hours of digital entertainment content. With personal reading and mood lights, laptop and shoe stowage compartment, plus a mini-bar, not even mentioning generous usb and power connections, China Southern simply deserves a lot of credit. The A380 has proven just such an ideal platform to propel product innovation and further brand recognition. Deployed in two 1-2-1 abreast rows, these leather seats are found on the aircraft’s main deck forward-most compartment.    

 

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The Business Class (a.k.a First Class 70 seats)

 ChinaSouthernBusiness

The First Class seating arrangement simply mirrors that of a Business Class despite its name suggesting otherwise. On the upper deck, this cabin has used a configuration that we best describe as rows of 1-2-1 seats alternating with 1-1-1-1 seats. In this format each seat receives a lateral support assembly, underneath of which passenger seated will find enough hollow space to fully deploy their seat into flat bed.  Through this clever alignment, a Business Class passenger can never be positioned directly behind a passenger, but instead right behind the assembly securing the precious comfort for stretched legs. Fronted by a 15.6-in LCD also holding 6 hours or 1000GB of digital entertainment, this 87-in pitch, 24-in wide flat bed is a convincing proposition augmented because individually fitted with a mini bar and a 16-in x 7-in retracting table and stowage compartment holding a laptop or shoes. This cabin visual experience however can be quickly challenged by the light blue seat color as, blended with the overall white-colored cabin, can give the impression of plastic furnishings.

The Economy Class: 428 seat.

With 76 Economy Class seats installed on the upper deck behind the First Class in 2-4-2 layout, and the 352 seats deployed on the main deck in the 3-4-3 format, travelers will compromise with the industry standard 32-in pitch offered by the17-in wide adjustable seat with separate movable back and foot rest. That cabin offers plentiful AVOD (Audio and Video On Demand) powered by the 1000 GB (or 6 hours of digital content available throughout the aircraft) channeled through a 9-in wide back-seat display interfaced to a complete office software suite, 50 movies, 300TV shows; 100 CD albums and 25 video games and more.

8. Thai Airways International

Thailand main carrier, Thai Airways has inducted the A380 in its fleet on September 26th 2012. By November 2013, all 6 of the A380 ordered had been delivered to the fleet complete with the 507 seating capacity allowing each aircraft to embark 12 Royal First Class passengers, 60 Royal Silk (Business) passengers along with 435 Economy seats passengers. Thai is another operator having opted for the Rolls Royce Trent 970 engine to equip its A380.

Seating Capacity: 507

The Upper Deck

Royal First Class: 12 seats

Royal Silk Class: 60 seats Economy Class: 58 seats

The Main Deck

Economy Class: 377 seats

Thai Royal First Class 12 seats

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Thai Airways First Class seat

Installed on the aircraft’s upper deck, Thai Royal First Class relies on a 1-2-1 abreast seating arrangement covering only 3 rows of seat to deliver a unique fully flat bed experience to 12 First Class passengers. These 26.5-in wide seats, along with their 82-in of pitch when fronted with a 23-in wide LCD and Wi-Fi enabled entertainment system deliver robust value. This seat uses a structured very similar to the one mentioned in the China Southern section, but yet with a smaller waist-height enclosure preserving intimate and private spacing. Unencumbered with the Suite designation, this elegantly pearl colored seat shines by offering a very soberly refined, wood-enhanced environment into a very elegant First Class travel experience.

Thai Royal Silk Class 60 Business Class seats

Positioned on the aircraft upper deck aft of the Royal first Class compartment, the Royal Silk Class cabin aggressive concept is catchy hence adding more light to the sober elegance found on the Royal First Class. The purple color with touch of wood trimmings has been integrated to a 20-in wide flat bed seat which grants passengers 74-in of pitch. This seat is another iteration of the 1-2-1 and 1-1-1-1 staggered/alternating cabin rows we brought to light when previously discussing the China Southern cabin. An ergonomically savvy seat design whose assembly provides a small table on the passengers’ right or left side topping a small hollow space under which the passenger seated behind will find a padded foot support, ultimately positioned to become part of the flat bed. Each seat provides a protective frame surrounding the passenger when laying, certainly adding an acceptable measure of privacy. The interactive touch actuated display offers a respectable 15.6-in.

 

Thai Airways Business Class Seats
Thai Airways Business Class Seats
Thai Airways Silk Business Class in flat bed mode.
Thai Airways Silk Business Class in flat bed mode.

Thai’s 435 Economy Seats

Occupying the entire main deck of the A380, the 32-in (31-in for some) of pitch on a 18-in wide seat is governed by a 10.6-in seat-back mounted display delivering AVOD worth 100 movies and 150 TV programs.

Thai Airways Economy Class Seats
Thai Airways Economy Class Seats

 

9. Malaysia Airlines

Another Asian carrier which activated its entire fleet of 6 A380 in less than a year beginning from May 2012 through March 2013, also with Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered has selected aircraft furnished with 494 seats in a three class layout composed of 8 First Class seats, 66 Business Class seats and 420 Economy Class seats.

Seating Capacity: 494

The Upper Deck

Business Class: 66 seats

Economy Class: 70 seats

The Main Deck

First Class: 8 seats

Economy Class: 350 seats

The 8 First Class seats

Malaysia Airlines offers First Class seats on the main deck that are nested within a massive protective shell assembly and providing the passenger with a waist-height all around enclosed space. The seat is positioned to glide forward into a fully flat bed maintaining the passenger forward field of view at all time with the 23-in In Flight Entertainment display. With a 40-in width flat bed, this seat presents up to 89-in of pitch in a 1-2-1 cabin configuration populated with only 2 rows of seats. The dominant impression is that these are simply gigantic huge seats, without any ambiguously remote insinuation of “Suites”! This works extremely well because firmly anchoring the First Class seat as the ultimate travel experience. Upholstered  with traits of handcrafting, this product blends suede and leather into a red, maroon and purple delicately balanced finish.

A View Of The First Class Seat On Malaysia Airlines A380
A View Of The First Class Seat On Malaysia Airlines A380

The 66 Business Class seats

Located on the upper deck, the Business Class follows on the First Class trend of large protective seat assembly nests surrounding the actual seats. With the caveat that in the Business Class each assembly houses a pair of seats, instead of a single one in First Class. Pairing seats in this fashion is an effective and economical way to leverage a 2-2-2 seating configuration. The net result is a 22-in wide seat with a 74-in pitch. The screen is a  convincing 17-in wide display embedded in the back of the seat frame ahead. However these seats suffer from one drawback, providing a 180 degree flat recline, they are nevertheless deployed at a slight slant angle relative to the floor. This state of affair gives better credence to the motivation behind the 1-1-1-1/1-2-1 alternating configuration on rival China Southern and Thai Business Class. Fact is despite the generous size of the seats assembly, designers could not pull additional room in order to secure the highly necessary fully flat bed business traveler experience.

The Business Class Seat Aboard Malaysia Airlines New A380
The Business Class Seat Aboard Malaysia Airlines New A380
The Business Class seat deployed in flat bed mode
The Business Class seat deployed in flat bed mode

The 420 economy Seats.

With 10.6-in IFE display embedded in back seats, the 18-in wide seats are quite generous, preserving the 32-in of pitch that also characterize the traditional 3-4-3 configuration on the main deck and 2-4-2 on the upper deck.

 

10. British Airways

Having built its A380 fleet to operational status after the short span of time it required to acquire 5 of 12 aircraft following the July 2013 fleet induction and subsequent delivery of another 2 aircraft in 2013 and 2 more this year, British Airways is the youngest operator of the type. Being based at the main point of origin of the Kangaroo Route, British Airways could not receive its plane at a better time, with Emirates and Qantas set to dominate the market and Thai and Malaysia and especially Singapore Airlines on the prowl, while simultaneously responding to continental rivals Lufthansa and Air France.

The seating configuration provides 469 total seats on the aircraft with 14 in First Class, 97 in Club World (Business), 55 in World Traveller (Premium Economy) and 303 in World Traveller (Economy) putting British Airways on par with Qantas as the sole 4-cabin A380 operation to date (see Part II).

Seating Capacity: 469

The Upper Deck:

Club World: 53

World Traveller Plus: 55 seats

World Traveller: 104 seats

The Main Deck:

First Class: 14 seats

Club World: 44 seats

World Traveller: 199 seats

The First Class aboard British Airways A380
The First Class aboard British Airways A380

The First Class product: 14 seats

Installed on the main deck, the British Airways A380 First Class offers fourteen 198 cm (6’6″) long flat bed seats in a 1-2-1 abreast presentation. Positioning these seats at sideways angle relative to the aircraft forward’s movement has made possible to extract additional seats than on a traditional 3-rows cabin thus upgrading from a normally 12 passengers cabin into a 14 passengers cabin. compartment. In fact with the 2 extra seats having been assigned to the windows, there are now 3 rows of seats in the center and actually 4 rows of seats alongside the windows. Passengers amenities are plentiful with excellent power supply for personal electronic devices, an in-flight entertainment system sporting a conservative 15-in screen accompanied by noise cancellation headphones. With a 22-in width and 78-in pitch, these black leather flat bed seats offer great assurance of luxurious exclusivity. Fine finish and attention to detail can consolidate this British Airways product to elite status.

The Club World, BA’s Business Class: 97 seats

In the Club World Business Class cabin, British Airways has opted for a seemingly nontraditional arrangement of seats for 97 passengers. Dividing this product between the 44 flat bed seats installed on the main deck and the remaining 53 seats sitting atop has created a deranging unevenness. On the main floor, the layout offered has been a 2-4-2 arrangement with a quite original form: seats alternate between forward and rear facing positions. On the upper deck the narrower fuselage has induced a 2-3-2 compromise. This is a most dramatic departure from the industry most original offer to date of alternating rows of 1-1-1-1 with 1-2-1 seats in Business Class. Together with the First Class cabin, the two premium classes occupy half of the aircraft main deck space. On the upper deck the Club World also occupies real estate forward of the cabin. Being unorthodox has not prevented this product from being one of the few Business Class offering to allow a completely isolated, partitioned space, thanks to a sliding lateral panel. A pitch of 72-in and width of 20-in -average dimensions by all account- along with a 10.6 laterally-mounted retractable display help passengers navigate through unconventional cabin space.The seat is separated from the foot rest piece which deploys and/or retracts up against a wall facing the passenger. In flat bed configuration, the reclined seat is joined to the extracted foot rest blending into a single piece. This arrangement can become inconvenient as flat beds completely block movement of passengers who do not have direct access to the aisle. This may not be the only drawback of the forward/rear facing seating combination. Wondering what kind of experience would a steep angle take off following a quadruple Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered acceleration produce to the uninitiated.


The Club World - Business - Class on British Airways A380
The Club World – Business – Class on British Airways A380
The Club World - Business - Class flat bed aboard British Airways A380.
The Club World – Business – Class flat bed mode aboard British Airways A380.

BA’s premium Economy class, designated World Traveller Plus: 55 seats

This upper deck product marks the first occurrence of a  cpnventional seats lay out aboard British Airways A380. In fact the 2-3-2 configuration encountered on the upper deck middle section would provide 55 seats offering a pitch of 38-in accompanied by a width of 18.5-in, yet 1 inch short of Qantas similar product. Display screens are located on the back of seats.

The World Traveller Plus seat, a premium economy offer.
The World Traveller Plus seat, a premium economy offer.

The Economy Class or World Traveller: 303 seats

Epitomizing mass travel in a way not seen since the advent of the Boeing 747 in 1970, the British Airways A380s offer Economy seating for 303 passengers. These 17.5-in wide seats deliver 31-in of pitch. There 104 seats in the rear-most section of the upper deck and 199 seats on the main deck. Because of the difference in upper and main deck fuselage width, the upper deck economy class presents a 2-4-2 abreast cabin layout versus the popular 3-4-3 layout on the main deck.

                  The World Traveller - Economy - seat

                          The World Traveller – Economy – seat

In comparison to Qantas, the only other 4-class A380 to date which offers 450 seats with 14 in First Class Suites, 72 in Business Class seats, 32 in Premium Economy seats and 332 in Economy Class seats, British Airways has heavily boosted the Business Class and Premium Economy capacity with, respectively 97 and 55 seats versus only 303 seats in Economy Class. In all, both carriers share similar view of the demand for First Class product, whereas British Airways unorthodox but deliberate Business class design is the second largest such cabin in the industry (after Lufthansa 97 seats and ahead of Korean Air 94 seats).

 

Exploiting the type, carriers expect to reap the benefits of tremendous brand recognition and superior customer loyalty. With Asian operators such as Malaysia and Thai, who alongside Singapore, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific etc operate Economy Cabin rows seating 9 passengers abreast on their Boeing 777 fleet (instead of 10 abreast as with Air France, British Airways and even Emirates), the notion of cultivating superior product is probably already elevated to a different scale.

 

Based in Guangzhou, China Southern has struggled to fill up its A380s due to the airport not having the traffic density the carrier was hoping to capture ….. at Beijing International (hub of rival Air China). Deploying the aircraft mainly on the Kangaroo route has proved as painful. With its main fleet composed at the time of aircraft no larger than Boeing 777-200, it is questionable if the carrier would ever be able to generate enough passenger traffic density at their hub in order to justify the need for an aircraft whom Air France indicated helped replace both a 777-200 and A340 simultaneously.  Recent orders to Boeing for larger 777-300ERs prove that the Chinese carrier is attempting to correct that flaw. Yet it would need years of operating 777-300ERs in double digit number to build up an A380 profitable fleet.

 

As for British Airways, these may prove defining moments for a reinvigorated carrier that recently inducted the industry’s star Boeing 777-300ER in its fleet in 2010, the A380 in 2013 along with the 787 Dreamliner. The airline is in the midst of a fleet development and renewal phase that is confronting the prospect of retiring the world’s largest remaining 747-400 fleet (48 aircraft?). In that quest, there will be room to grow the A380 fleet fleet and why not adopt the newer 777-8/-9 and/or even Boeing’s 747-8.

The Airbus A380 Fleet Cabin and Operations Part II: Qantas, Emirates And Singapore Airlines

The Airbus A380 Fleet Cabin and Operations Part I: Korean Air, Lufthansa And Air France

 

 

After Controversy Over Sensitive Technology, Boeing Finally Allowed To Complete Mid-Life Upgrade Of 4 French E3-F AWACS To Block 40/45 Configuration

 

A UK AWACS Flanked By 2 Tornados. the 4 CFM-56 High By-Pass Ratio Turbofans
A UK AWACS Flanked By 2 Tornados. the 4 CFM-56 High By-Pass Ratio Turbofans

Boeing has resumed work on the Mid Life Upgrade program for the four Boeing E3-F AWACS flying with the French Air Force.As Boeing’s main subcontract on the project, Air France Industries will undertake most of the work at its main facility at Le Bourget Airport near Paris. Boeing is nonetheless retaining most of the main engineering and quality assurance responsibilities. The first AWACS to receive the upgrade should be able to return to service in 2014 while the rest of the fleet will fly the upgrade by 2016. The works consist of $354 million worth of hardware and software improvements. Once available on the French Air Force four E3-F AWACS, the only other user of the highly advanced variant will be the USAF as none of the others AWACS operators(NATO’ s 17 E3-C, UK’s 7 E3-D, Saudi Arabia 5 E3 nor even Japan‘s more recent E-767 platform) can claim yet such capabilities.Illustrating the might of the systems upgrades, fears that sensitive technology would be transferred to a foreign nation even prompted a stop-work order being issued in September of 2012.Adding insult to injury, a proposal to sale France a degraded version of the Block 40/45 even envisioned the client disbursing an extra $5 million in engineering cost.

 That idea did not take hold following a risk review prompted by the US government, the project finally received clearance as initially specified in 2010.

The Block 40/45 Capabilities

As a previous in depth block 40/45 analysis from a previous entry recognized:

… the Block 40/45 configuration represents AWACS latest set of upgrades integrating the aircraft capabilities mostly through yet newer software based implementations. The New Generation IFF (NGIFF) provides more secure transponder-based Secondary Surveillance Radar SSR Mode 5 capabilities over longer range and with implementation of the Mode S civilian aircraft feature.

The Block 40/45 is also incorporating additional modern aids to navigation that will bring the aircraft always more in line with FAA/ICAO/EUROCONTROL safety of flight rules . The Diminishing Manufacturing Sources (DMS) Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation (DRAGON) initiative has been the driving force for the sourcing of a fully Components-Off-The-Shelf COTS Flight Management Systems avionics architecture. Funding for Required Flight Performance RFP capability in 2009 would allow pilots to conduct more fuel efficient computed take-offs, cruise, approaches and landings.

Net-Centric Capability (NCC) is finally merging with the Airborne Web Service data Access and sharing paradigm to enjoy greater benefits. In that logic connectivity is enhanced by fully IP-based Beyond-Line-Of-Site BLOS IP SATCOM. The introduction of robust chat services as the privileged medium of communication between war fighters is also mirrored aboard the aircraft. The new IP/ethernet connectivity architecture is reinforcing the open architecture solutions approach as well as providing incentive for cheaply interconnecting off-board and on-boards sensors via tactical data links. The well tested JTIDS is set to receive yet a newer Open Architecture based display employing a DII COE (Common Operating Environment) compatible Operating Systems (a choice from IBM AIX, HP-UX, Windows NT, Solaris 8, Red Hat Linux)…”

 In all the AWACS mid life upgrade brings decisive engineering advantages to France’s ability to continue sourcing replacement parts. After all the AWACS still relies on the 1950’s 707 platform and is also equipped with the 1970’s AN/APY-2 radar antenna and supporting equipment. The replacement of an older IBM mainframe with networked workstations just illustrates the shift in maintainability that the Block 40/45 open architecture brings about. The operational gains for France are as well far reaching; precision navigation capabilities conforming with Eurocontrol protocols and real-time tactical data interchange with France’s Tiger attack helicopters. Most of these gains bring readily observable “mission value” to operators and planners alike. As with the USAF, France’s AWACS fleet is now set to remain in service well into the year 2030.

 

sources

AWACS Upgrades For Boeing E-3 Sentry And Japan Boeing E-767 (Part 1)

AWACS Upgrades Part II: RSIP, Block 40/45 and ScanEagle UAV

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120924/DEFREG01/309240001/Pentagon-Stop-Work-Order-Adds-French-Aircraft-Cost

 

Cockpits Upgrades For US And NATO E-3 Sentry AWACS

E-3 Sentry AWACS Refueling A $368 million EMD (Engineering Manufacturing and Development) Defense contract with Boeing will finally see both NATO and USAF fleets of E3-A/B/C Sentry Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) retrofitted with advanced digital flight decks. The 32 E-3s aircraft in the US Air Force inventory along with the 16 aircraft operated by NATO, all delivered between 1977 and 1985 have been some of the most recognized military derivatives of the legendary Boeing 707-320B designed in the 1950’s. Despite continuous upgrades to the AWACS battle management/radar processing systems,enhancing the rotating dome-mounted AN/APY-2 radar performance under the current Block 40/45 configuration, the E-3 Sentry have mostly retained obsolescent analog cockpit flight instruments. The upgrade works on the aircraft that are scheduled to take place between 2013 and 2015 at Boeing Seattle facility will finally allow the AWACS fleet to operate without restriction in crowded airspace where precision navigation and minimum/reduced separation standards between aircraft are in effects under the International Civil Aviation Organization rulings.

Proposed Upgraded US/NATO AWACS flight deck (Boeing)

The new state-of-the-art digital flight deck layout proposed by Boeing consists of 5 main Multi-Function glass Displays integrating an open architecture originating from the Boeing 737NG program. Boeing will rely on proven expertise and materials from Rockwell Collins for the flight management system suite (air-data and flight-management computers) as well as Telephonics of New York, Thales of Belgium, EMS of Canada and Raytheon of Maryland. Once the new flight systems are operational alongside the very recent Block 40/45 radar processing/battle management configuration upgrade, the E-3 Sentry fleet would have secured the critical uninterrupted sourcing of new replacement parts for at least the next 20 years.

In comparison, various similar programs have already been successfully undertaken on other high value aerial assets whose strategic and operational status remain critical to the US combat posture.

The US Navy E-6B Mercury Showing Its Resemblance With The E-3 Sentry AWACS
US Navy E-6B Flight Simulator For Aircrew Training Showing The Upgraded Flight Deck

In the case of the 16-aircraft strong Boeing E-6B Mercury fleet (another Boeing 707-320B derivatives) delivered to the US Navy between 1989 and 1992, a cockpit upgrade based on the 737-700 has been effectively implemented between 1999 and 2003. Fulfilling a strategic communication and command role for the Navy’s Strategic Communications Wing 1, the E-6B Mercury cockpit inherited from the Boeing 707-320B offered only marginal improvements over its E-3 Sentry ersatz. In the E-6B case, the $123 million flight deck upgrade program saw 6 new flat-panel modern Multi-Function Displays replace more than 100 analog cockpit instruments.

The E-4B Will Also Receive A New Flight Deck

A more recent cockpit upgrade program for the 4 Boeing E4-B National Airborne Operations Center delivered in 1973 to the US Air Force 55th Wing was announced June 7th 2011. Again 737NG avionics systems will be fitted to that 747-200-based platform. Under the program, the E-4B aircraft will integrate new core CNS/ATM (Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management) systems to 737NG-inspired Multi-Function Displays glass deck management interface.

In all, upgrades of legacy 70’s or 80’s Boeing military aircraft cockpits have continuously relied on open architecture avionics program derived from already successful implementations on passenger Boeing 737NG and 777 aircraft. In each case aging and/or out-of-production flight systems have compounded limited operational capabilities to poor maintainability due to the growing difficulties of sourcing replacement parts.

Another successful case saw Off-The-Shelf components sourced from Smiths Industries used to upgrade 59 USAF KC-10 Tanker. That retrofit showcased a combination of PowerPC-based CPU architecture solution with a VMEBus controller in a program began in 2002. This approach has permitted the potent 1970’s DC-10-based platform to acquire more operational flexibility.

Lufthansa Takes Delivery Of First Boeing 747-8I Equipped With long Awaited New Business Class Seat (Video)

Germany’s main carrier Lufthansa took delivery of the first evr 747-8 Intercontinental to enter passenger service. The aircraft official hand over to Deutsche Lufthansa AG took place on April 25th 2012. The ceremony was attended notably by Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Christoph Franz, chairman of the Executive Board and chief executive officer of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. The ferry flight to Germany saw the new aircraft registered as D-ABYA depart Everett airfield on May 1st with about 30 passengers and crews on board including company’s senior executives. The arrival event in Germany was marked by the aircraft conducting a touch and go maneuver at the Hamburg airport Lufthansa’s maintenance base before flying along to the carrier’s Frankfurt main staging base. The aircraft is scheduled to officially enter service on the Frankfurt-Washington Dulles route on June 1st 2012.

The New Fully Flat Business Class Seat

With the new business class seat that will debut on the 747-8I, Lufthansa finally ends years of compromise with a less competitive product for business travelers. The old seat which was introduced in 2004 lacked the fully flat bed feature that global carriers need to grow their business travelers market share. The result of years of study that included a 8 week trial period with passengers flying the Frankfurt-New York route in 2010, the new business class seat will leverage on the 747-8I cabin being 30% quieter than that of the 747-400 it replaces. As well the new curved interior concept will provide a more spacious and more modern experience.

Characteristically the new business seats are aligned in a V-shape layout. Adjacent seats join at the feet but are more widely separated at the shoulder area, hence providing greater separation between passengers. It is a 1.98m (6’6”) long seat supported by a 15” wide LCD screen which espouses the ergonomic and practicality advantages afforded by a protective shell as seen in Air France new business class seat.

The new Business seat V-shape layout will debut on the 747-8I

The new Flagship (in front of the A380).

Despite its 5.6m length advantage over the 747-400, the new Lufthansa Jumbo Jet seating capacity has been confined to 362 passengers: 8 in First Class, 92 in Business Class and 262 in Economy Class. In comparison to the 8 First; 80 Business; 234 Economy (322 total) seats and 16 First; 52 Business; 310 Economy (378 total) seats on the two current configurations available on the old 747-400, the relatively lower seat density on the new aircraft shows Lufthansa emphasis on passenger comfort. This notion is supported by the previuosly mentioned 30% reduction in noise against he 747-400 and the prevalence of the A380 for high density shuttle service. Lufthansa’s largest aircraft, the Airbus A380 leverages on its double decks to embark 526 passengers in a configuration that accommodates 8 Flat Bed seats in First Class, 98 old seats in Business Class and 420 seats in Economy Class. The current absence of the new Business class seat aboard the A380 seemingly elevates the 747-8I to flagship status. A very favorable delivery schedule will allow Lufthansa to fly up to 15 new Boeing 747-8I by 2015, with the 5 remaining aircraft on order coming later (in addition to which 20 options may be exercised).

The retirement of some of the oldest 747-400 in the fleet, specifically the 15 aircraft deployed for service between 1989 and 1992 now appears likely.

With the 15% reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (per passenger) made possible by the GEnx-2B67 engines, Lufthansa is entering a new realm of improved operating economics initially on routes from Frankfurt to Washington D. C, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Software Releases Configurations For F-35 Lightning II JSF (Analysis)

 

First F-35 Test Aircraft Heading For Eglin Air Force Base

Software development involving the F-35 Lightning II sub systems is seeing multiple configurations being developed simultaneously as the new aircraft is progressing towards reaching initial operational capabilities later in the decade. Traditionally “evolutionary” approach would permit software-enabled capabilities to be incremented using the same code base while the aircraft program transitions from “training” to “war fighting” status. In the F-35 case, multiple teams are working on various software releases hoping to merge capabilities at a future stage of maturity. As a result various timetables describe the scope of remaining work done against the aircraft’s sub systems architecture. The road map we explore surveys the program’s development effort from the current Block 1 “Ready for Training” software configuration to the Block 4 “Enhanced War fighting” maturity target.

The F-35 presents major systems components whose  functionality does not fall within he realm of traditional software-enabled capabilities (flight sciences, training systems, etc). Rather the aircraft program is seeing a greater share of software development and integration bound to the innovative Prognosis Health Management System (PHM) and the powerful Autonomic Logistics Information Systems (ALIS) management and planning tool.

Autonomic Logistics Information Systems ALIS

ALIS is evolving as a major software development and integration undertaking whose complexity has been a source of schedule slips. The system is designed to improve the aircraft maintainability by providing direct visibility horizontally across maintenance, support, pilot, mission, logistics etc.. functions. In that realm, spare parts can be produced and inventoried in keeping with ALIS-generated components life cycle model. It forms a high value distributed information system implementing best practice Enterprise Supply Chain Management. In fact ALIS is at the heart of the F-35 JSF achieving major requirement of guaranteed “low cost” logistics throughout the targeted 30 years (or 8,000 flight hours) of service life. However, a Recent Quick Look Review document has stressed the multi-level risks associated with ALIS from a development standpoint:

the immaturity of ALIS development and the data integrity of aircraft configuration information are program-level sustainment risks which affect ALIS usability in test and operations. Concurrent development and production drives the need for multiple ALIS software releases in test and in the field which increases time and resources required to develop, correct and manage software.”

Structural Prognostic Health Management System (PHM)

With both on-board and off-board sub systems components, the F-35 Prognosis Health Management systems (PHM) plays the critical role of orchestrating the data flow between aircraft sensors linked to ALIS ground stations. This data flow can propagate relevant flight events correlated into valuable information for strategic fleet management insight; fleet sortie generation, customer support, suppliers and OEM as well as base management activities. With global logistics in mind F-35 operators derive tremendous benefits in support cost as well as optimal aircraft mission availability (an enterprise management approach with long range simulation and forecasting optimized towards the 8,000 flight hours/30 years service life target).

PHM Architecture: On-Board vs Off-Board systems

With its On-Board and Off-Board system architecture, PHM is tasked with fusing numerous sensors carried abroad the aircraft prior to offloading events information to off-board “health prognostics” processing.

The on-board air vehicle’s sensors monitor the health of flight critical, propulsion, airframe, mission and vehicle systems (over 100 parameters) recorded several events per second at frequency ranging from 20 events per second (Hz) to 80 Hz (320 Hz in aggregate). Some estimates credit the system for generating as much as 100-200 MB of data per flight hour which are recorded and preserved every 10 flight lifecycles in some cases.

The On-Board component of the PHM is interfaced to a vehicle support system interface with on-board diagnostics panel and to a portable memory device. The Off-Board Mission System (OMS) component which logs data recorded during flight provides maintenance debriefing insight and prognostics for intelligent logistics.

PHM Sensor Fusion

The sensor fusion paradigm promulgated by the PHM provides data as diverse as:

-Inertia and Strain sensor data (longitudinal, normal, lateral acceleration at the center of gravity) ,

-Engine Data (estimated total gross thrust feedback, estimated main nozzle thrust, main engine core speed, engine fan speed, ready to convert to jet, lift fan nozzle, pitch angle position,estimated lift fan thrust, estimated left and right roll nozzle thrust feedback, lift fan speed -physical/RPM, lift fan clutch status word),

-Control Surface (left & right flaperon angular position, left & right horizontal tail angular position, left & right vertical tail angular position),

-Air Data (angle of attack, static pressure measured, angle of sideslip, mach number, true airspeed, altitude rate) etc.

A prior GAO audit recognized this abundance of sensors as a factor in the growth of F-35 software code in comparison to previous aircraft programs: “The program’s software generation will integrate complex real-time interfacing of sensor “fusion”, weapons and fire control, maintenance and diagnostics, and propulsion and various actuated controls. The effort implements 8 times more software lines of code than found on the F/A18E/F and 4 times more than the F-22. Further growth of software code size soon became apparent “Software growth was 40% at preliminary design review, 13% after the critical design review. Recent programs saw 30 to 100% growth”.

F-35 Multiple Software Releases

A previous entry following the 2011 Selected Acquisition Report described the scope and pace of software development work for the program:

the initial limited release of Block 1 software was flown for the first time in November 2010 with Block I capability being implemented in software code at 81% (20M out of 24M software line of code). The road to Block 3.0 full warfighting capability scheduled for development in 2011-2014 has been charted through implementing the following blocks:

Block 0.1 (flight sciences 2006-2007),

Block 0.5 (initial mission systems architecture 2008-2010),

Block 1.0 (initial training capability 2008-2011),

Block 2.0 (initial warfighter capability 2010-2013) and

Block 3.0 (full warfighting capability 2011-2014).

The latest Quick Look Review has identified currently 8 flight releases versions being “manage(d) in System Design and Development; 4 for mission systems and 4 for Flight Sciences”. A Selected Acquisition Report also points to further complexity whenever functionality is added: “Additional mission systems capability is being added in each software block. The program has already encountered six weeks of down time on (test aircraft) AF-6 for software Block 1B, 2A, 2B which add weapons and more sensor fusion remains to be tested.”

F-35 software development phases:

Block 1

Block 1AReady For Training”

The first software release was incorporated into the first twelve F-35 delivered to Eglin Air Force base with basic “training capabilities” in the early phase of the program SDD (System Design and Development) testing phase in 2010 and 2011. These airframes covered the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 1 and 2. The On Board software completed final flight testing with 44 sorties realizing 78.5 flight hours well on its way to receiving airworthiness clearance from the Air Force. Off board systems managed to reach government certification phase.

Block 1BInitial Training Capabilities”

This software implementation would bring timely Initial training capabilities to the System Design and Development phase. This software block permits simulating Air to Air and Air to Ground engagements and equips the 17 aircraft of the LRIP 3 lot with delivery schedule between late 2011 and late 2012. The12 aircraft using Block 1A configuration would be upgraded to Block 1B standard.

On Board systems have completed 25% of flight testing and are considered half way to production readiness. Mission systems appear poised with 99% of capabilities implementing new functionality for sensor fusion, electronic warfare and on board imagery as well as system security provisions. These systems have been partially tested (25% of flight test schedules undertaken) while production readiness testing has reached 50%.

Off board systems are still undergoing system integration and test rework for security certification and government acceptance while its mission systems components have incurred an additional 2.5 month schedule slip even though 99% test-verified.

The Off-Board Block 1B software validation regimen has completed 86% of the ALIS/HM test work and 82% of training system integration

Block 2

Block 2A “Advanced Capabilities”

Improving on the Block 1B, Block 2A systems include enhanced simulated air-to-air and air-to-ground training features incorporating weapons and electronic attack as well as tactical data sharing via the MADL (Multifunction Advanced Data Link) and Link 16 for interoperability. These features cover 32 aircraft of the LRIP lot number 4 scheduled for delivery from late 2012 to early 2013 and the 32 LRIP 5 aircraft due to arrive between early 2013 and early 2014. Following initial deployment on Cooperative Avionics Test Bed in October 2011, 70% of integration work had been completed as of November 2011.

For off-board systems, despite completion of requirement work, system integration and test rework marginally began. Code development code and unit tests have been completed though.

Block 2B “Initial warfighting Capabilities”

F-35 with the Block 2B configuration would in theory be Initial warfighting capable; capable of conducting actual tactical missions such as basic Combat Air Strike and interdiction, equipped with 2 GBU-12, 2 GBU-32 precision bombs, or 2 AMRAAM for air-to-air all internally carried.

Development phase for On-Board component was still limited to development code and unit tests.

Off-Board systems are also in code development and unit tests phase.

The Block 2B would also be available for retrofit on bpard the 64 Block 2A F-35 aircraft initially delivered as lot 4 and 5 and initially fitted with the Block 2A release.

Block 3

Block 3I (Initial) Tech Refresh 2

With only 30% into its development phase completed, the Block 3I (Initial) did no present a challenge other than being a Technical Refresh 2 version implementing the Block 2B variant on a hardware processor upgrade. The 38 aircraft of LRIP lot 6 due between early 2014 and early 2016, along with the 70 aircraft of LRIP lot 7 due from early 2015to early 2016, will share similar operational capabilities with the 64 Block 2B aircraft. Development work onto the off-boards air craft have been lagging that of the Block 2B ones.

Block 3F (Final) Full War Fighting

This software release would pave the way for the F-35 to conform in full to “war fighting” status as defined in the project Operational Requirements Documents. The 110 aircraft scheduled for delivery as LRIP lot 8 between early 2016 to early 2017 will display the Block 3F build. The LRIP lot 9 aircraft due probably beyond 2017 have not yet been accounted into a order schedule. When retrofitted onto LRIP 6 and 7 aircraft, the Block 3F (“Final”) software release will be the definitive F-35 war-ready configuration. It is estimated that on-board systems definition requirements are still being finalized.

The 2012 selected acquisition report relates the note of caution emitted by legislators regarding progress on the Block 3 configuration: “Under the recently revised F-35 schedule the committee notes that development of block three hardware and software components will not be complete before 2015 and believes that the request to procure kits to retrofit 25 LRIP F-35A aircraft to the block three configuration is premature. Accordingly the committee recommends $7.6 million, a decrease of $86.6 million for F-35A modifications.”

Block 4

In a similar fashion, SAR 2012 reports the deferment of Fiscal Year 2014 $115.7 million funding for the development of Block 4 “Enhanced war fighting mode” that would improve on the Block 3F build on account of additional program risks.

Conclusion

The F-35 software development program represents concurrency development with all its main attributes of risks, delays and inefficiencies applied to an already complex, delay-prone undertaking. The concurrency quick look review of November 29th 2011 considers the F-35 design as still not mature on account of the basic design awaiting the incorporation of numerous changes and modifications. Given the 18 to 24 months median time span required for design modifications to be incorporated,the 725 currently identified Change Requests carry the potential to push the program to the brink.

The discovery of newer software defects, bugs or shortcomings on the aircraft’s multiple software Block releases is likely to further stretch the program current SDD testing phase.

 

 


FedEx Express Fleet Strategy; In 767F Out MD-10F

 

 

MD10F Landing

 

By Karim Toure

 

FedEx Express will introduce a new medium wide body freighter in its fleet beginning in 2014. The contract agreement signed on December 14th 2011 with manufacturer Boeing will see the global logistics carrier receive 27 Boeing 767 Freighters. The delivery schedule agreed to will see the first 3 aircraft join the fleet in 2014. For FedEx Express, expectations surrounding the new aircraft are two-fold; retiring the longstanding MD-10F fleet of which some airframes are reaching 40 years of age, and extracting maximum business benefits from an optimized and cost efficient operation. Thus the new 767F provides momentum to achieving the 20% reduction in fuel emission and operating cost goal sought by the company for the year 2020.

Aging MD10F Fleet vs New Sustainable Strategy

First introduced to the world of travel in 1970 the tri-jet DC-10 only began service as a freighter with FedEx in 1981. By 1997, a Boeing retrofit program allowed the newly re-designated MD10F to be flown by a 2-pilots crew instead of 3 in the DC-10. The porting of the open avionics architecture found on the state-of-the-art MD-11 to the MD10 platform, allowed FedEx Express to consolidate its pilot type rating and long range wide body operation to a seemingly single MD10F/MD-11F type. This sizable fleet MD10F/11F formed the backbone of FedEx Express long haul wide body operation successfully riding the global expansion to China into the new millenium.

By the time the first three Boeing 767 arrive in 2014, more than a dozen MD10 will have passed the 40 years age barrier. In fact we identified at least 15 of 58 MD/DC10-10F built in 1971-1973 with the 17 MD10-30F built from 1978 on.

The need to replace aging aircraft also brings the opportunity to execute a sustainable strategy that emphasizes cost savings for the longer term. FedEx Express says the twin-engined 767 will outright deliver the 30% decrease in fuel burn over the aging tri-jet, so critical to the brand’s 20%-20% reduction in both emission and unit costs by 2020. Accordingly fleet wide changes are underway to propagate these savings and enhance the company’s profitability with at least $1.9 billion earmarked for aircraft and aircraft-related capital expenses in 2012. The introduction of 17 ultra long range Boeing 777F wide body aircraft since 2009 and replacement of up to 67 aging narrow body Boeing tri-jet Boeing 727F by twin-engined 757-200F also burning 30% less fuel are contributing further to this strategy.

Based on the basic Boeing 767-300ER passenger version, the 767-300F displays the same attributes that governed the introduction of the Boeing 777F. Operating in the 100 tonnes carrying capacity segment, the Boeing 777F has provided twin engined capabilities surpassing FedEx Express most capable wide body aircraft; the three-engined 92 tonnes MD-11F. In fact with its exceptional operational performance (range, fuel efficiency, carrying capacity, lower maintenance and exploitation cost) it has also provided a lower-risk alternative to the Airbus A380F initially sought by FedEx Express for service entry in 2009. The 777F also provides a more viable alternative to the quad engined 747-200/-400 dominating that industry’s segment.

When introduced in service, the 767-300F intends to replicate the same success demonstrated by the 777F in addition to providing extreme flexibility to the FedEx Express operation. The type can in fact be considered a potent replacement for any of the wide body aircraft currently operating with FedEx Express including the smaller medium range (regional) wide body Airbus A300 and Airbus A310-200/-300 freighter aircraft as well as the larger MD10-10F/MD10-30F. In the future when operated in tandem with the 777F, both aircraft may provide capability gap replacement for at least 4 different aircraft types (A300, A310, MD10 and MD11).

As a result seamless logistics chain complementarity between 767F and 777F will remain critical for FedEx Express in lowering unit cost. The carrier which as of January 2012 was operating 17 777F plans to take delivery of up to 41 additional aircraft (if options are exercised) including at least 2 in 2012, 4 in 2013, 7 in 2014, 3 in 2015, 3 in 2016 followed by another 9. The complete delivery schedule for the 27 Boeing 767 will see the first 3 aircraft arrive in 2014, followed by 6 in each of the year 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Another 14 757-200F are also coming to the fleet; 8 aircraft will be converted from passengers to freighter and join the fleet in 2012 and 6 in 2013.

Review Of Logistics/Fleet Integration

According to the company, the FedEx Express mainline fleet is tasked with linking daily its primary sorting facility in Memphis, Tennessee to other national and regional bases forming the “company’s multiple hub-and-spoke system”. These consist mainly of the Indianapolis national hub, the Newark, Oakland, Fort Worth and Greensboro regional hubs, and the major metropolitan sorting facilities located in Los Angeles, Chicago and Anchorage. Additional packages processing facilities in Paris (France), Guangzhou (China) and Cologne/Bonn (Germany), Tokyo (Japan), Stansted Airport outside London (UK), and Pearson Airport in Toronto (Canada) form the critical transit points for the global packages processing network. Miami also plays additional role as the regional hub for most of the America’s southern hemisphere. This distributed topology forms the basis for the company’s overnight logistics operation and fleet integration strategy as well as aircraft selection/assignment.

We are surveying the carrier’s fleet operation exclusive of the 47 ATR-42/-72 and 241 Cessna 208B which are all leased to subcontractors.

Narrow Body Boeing 727-200F vs 757-200F

The narrow body freighter fleet is in a state of transition as it was assigned for more than 20 years to some 67 three-engined Boeing 727-200 Freighters. These aircraft mostly built in the 70’s have been sourced, as most freighter via the passenger-to-freighter conversion market. Because their noisy Pratt & Whitney JT8D-217 engines have been re-fitted with hush kits for QC2 airports noise compliance, they have managed to remain in service around major metropolitan airports where they still operate mostly at night past curfews hours. However they are now soundly outclassed by the 30% lower fuel burn of the twin Rolls Royce RB211-535E4 high by-pass ratio engines powering FedEx Express 58 Boeing 757-200F. Although not produced anymore, the 757-200 passengers aircraft are actively sought by FedEx Express. From the 58 aircraft in the fleet inventory, 21 are being converted from passengers to freighter including 8 that are due to join the fleet in 2012 and 6 in 2013. As of November 30, 2011 FedEx Express had $671 million for deposits and progress payments transactions partially allocated to acquiring the 14 aircraft planned for 2012 and 2013.

In operational capabilities; with its maximum structural payload of 43,300 lbs (19,600kgs), the 20 tonne (metric) 727-200F typically carries 8 88”x108” or 88”x125” pallets on its main deck and may be deployed on routes such as Des Moines Intl KDSM to Eastern Iowa KCID (flight time 24 min), Billings Logan Intl KBIL to Denver Intl KDEN (flight time 1h05min) or Philadelphia KPHL to Memphis (flight time 2h22min) etc.

In comparison, the 39-49 tonnes 757-200F (maximum structural payload is 86,000lbs (39,000kg) for the 757-200PF) accepts up to 15 125”x88” pallets on its main deck on typical trips like Edmonton Intl CYEG to Memphis Intl KMEM (duration 3h15min), Green State Airport KPVD to Fort Wayne KFWA (duration 1h45min), Norfolk International KORF to Indianapolis KIND (duration 1h37min).

71 A300-600F and 53 A310-200F/300F (only 3 A310-300F)

Combined, the A300 and A310 fleet brings tremendous value to the brand as the entry level wide body model deployed within the continental US. They are characterized by relatively young age fleet (the oldest A300B4-600 was built in 1986), twin engine economy, and 54 tonnes and 42 tonnes respectively for the A300F4-600 and A310. In fact both model share a 222” fuselage cross section that allows them to align most pallets and containers formats 2-abreast on main decks. The 30′ (10 m) shorter fuselage on the 150’6.7” long A310 is enough for 16 pallets (the 88”x125”) versus 21 for the A300. Using the larger 96”x125” would limit the A310 to 12 pallets and the A300 to 15 in single row layout. The ubiquitous LD-3 container fits extremely well under the main deck and 15 to 23 of them can be embarked respectively aboard the A310 and A300 lower holds.The A300 may operate the5h40min flight linking the Newark KEWR and Los Angeles KLAX national bases. However these aircraft are also encountered on 25 minutes duration flights Tucson KTUS to Phoenix KPHX along with 3h52min long Vancouver CYVR-Memphis KMEM. The A310s are found on the Washington Dulles KIAD-Indianapolis KIND route (1h19min), New York KJFK-Memphis KMEM (2h40min) or San Francisco KSFO – Memphis KMEM (3h18min).

LD-3 Containers Inside Airbus A300 Lower Cargo Hold

MD-11F wide body long range (64 aircraft)

FedEx Express most capable and more advanced freighter until the arrival of the Boeing 777F in 2009, the MD-11F can carry up to 92 tonnes (202,733 lbs) of payload on remarkably extended trips.

From a logistics approach it appears as a elongated MD10 (DC-10) with which it shares the 237” (6.02m) fuselage cross sectional width but with a much greater Maximum Take Off Weight capability between 610,000 lbs and 630,500 lbs. Three General Electric CF6-80C2D1F or Pratt & Whitney PW4460 and 4462 engines rated at 60,690 lbs, 60,000 lbs and 62,000 lbs of thrust respectively allow the aircraft to transport 26 pallets (88”x125” or 96”x125”) comfortably on the main deck with an additional 6 pallets along with 14 LD3 containers and more bulk cargo below deck. The MD-11 provides unrestricted over-the-water intercontinental capabilities such as Memphis Intl KMEM to Honolulu PHNL (8h26min), Honolulu to Sydney YSSY/SYD (9h21min), Anchorage-Narita (7h01min) or Frankfurt EDDF/FRA-Memphis KMEM (9h12min).

The 777F

FedEx Express carries up to 228,700 lbs (103,737 kg – 103+ tonnes) while bringing the ultra long range concept established by the Boeing 777-200LR passenger variant to the cargo industry. The 13h50min Hong Kong-Memphis flight and 11h07min Anchorage-Hong Kong showcase these capabilities. With its 206’6” (62.94m) fuselage length, the 777F has enough main deck volume for up to 27 larger 96”x125” pallets. The lower deck with both forward and aft cargo hold is very flexible; operators can choose between having 18 LD-3 (2 across) containers in the forward compartment plus another 14 in the rear compartment. The addition of 3 optional body fuel tanks will only be at the cost of 6 LD-3. Ten standardized pallets can be retained in either 96”x125” or 88”x125” format. Recognizing the aircraft adaptability and advantageous operating economics of the two massive GE 90-110B1L, FedEx Express has made provisions to operate up to 41 additional aircraft.

MD10 Regional Wide Body vs 767-300F

The MD10F has illustrated the tremendous growth potential of the basic DC-10 design. The first ever variant produced in 1970 was the DC10-10 easily recognized by a two-units main landing gear and offering a payload of 119,556lbs (54,230 kgs). The subsequent DC10-30 variant which had the 3-units main landing gear improved the payload to 152,964lbs (69,383 kgs) betraying a reinforced airframe structure. With the MD10 retrofit packaging a passenger-to-freighter conversion, MD10 airframes were further strengthened prior to the installation of their large forward cargo door. As a result FedEx Express 58 MD10-10F and 17 MD10-30F maximum payload escalated again to respectively 139,000 lbs (63,049 kg – 63 tonnes) and 177,500 lbs (80,512 kg 80.5 tonnes).

The 767F in comparison adapts the 767-300ER passenger variant to a cargo role. It provides a 10 feet stretch of the basic 767-200 model introduced in 1980 from 170’6” (51.97 m) to a length of 180’3” (54.94 m) for the 767-300/-F while retaining the same 16’6” (5.03 m) cabin width. Type certification for the 767F was granted by FAA on October 12th 1995 initially with two engines variants from General Electric; the CF6-80C2B6F and CF6-80C2B7F. There are currently up to 9 engines available with designation and thrust:

General Electric

CF6-80C2-B4 57,900 lbs (26,263 kg)

CF6-80C2-B6 61,500 lbs (27,896 kg)

CF6-80C2-B8F 60,600 lbs (27,488 kg)

CF6-80C2-B7F1 60,600 lbs (27,488 kg)

Pratt & Whitney

PW4056 56,750 lbs (25,741 kg)

PW4060 60,000 lbs (27,216 kg)

PW4062 60,600 lbs (27,488 kg)

Rolls Royce

RB211-524G 58,000 lbs (26,308 kg)

RB211-524H 60,600 lbs (27,488 kg)

As of January 31st 2012, 65 aircraft had been delivered to the cargo industry including 4 to ANA, 1 to Asiana, 3 to DHL, 1 to GECAS, 3 to JAL, 8 to LAN. But none more widely deployed than with launch customer UPS which has taken delivery of 45 aircraft from 1995 to January 31st 2012 and has a backlog order for 14 more aircraft.

Typical employment by the Louisville, KY-based rival logistics giant is the 7h50min flight from Cologne to Newark, 2h10min flight from miami to philadelphia or 5h44min flight from Ontario to Kona international at Keahole. Inspired by UPS operational experience, FedEx is likely to use the 767F as a drop-in replacement for the MD10 flying routes as long as the 6h51min (3,433 miles) Anchorage-Tokyo or even average like Luis Munoz Marin Intl TJSJ/SJU – Memphis Intl KMEM (3h58min), Memphis-Montreal Mirabel CYMX (2h55min) or Manchester KMHT – Memphis Intl KMEM (2h57min).

A 767 Freighter Being Assemblt At Boeing's Everett Line

767F payload vs MD10F

With its exterior fuselage diameter of 198” (5.03m) against 237” (6.02 m) for the MD10, the 767F is barely wide enough to comfortably fit two standardized pallets abreast. The MD10 main deck makes a great utilization of space by allowing 2 pallets abreast on either of the 88”x125” (30 pallets), 88”x108” (22 pallets) or even larger 96”x125” (20 pallets). The 767F somewhat offers the same 2 pallets abreast but mainly for 24 contoured type A pallets advertised by Boeing with their 88”x108”. We expect that no more than 20 88”x125” can be squeezed inside its more narrow fuselage. Transporting the larger 96”x125” is only possible in a single line of 15 pallets plus one 88”x125”. The 767F lower deck is tailored-fit for 30 LD2 containers spread 16/14 between forward and rear compartment. Other exotic configurations can mix 8 LD3 to 5 LD4 or 4 96”x125” pallets to 7 LD8.

767 Upgrades

Dispelling the perception that as first introduced in 1980, the 767 is also an old aircraft, we are listing some of the 767F Seller Furnished Equipment recently certified for use on the aircraft by the FAA comprising:

-sensor-equipped fully automatic, joystick-controlled cargo loading system,

-environmental temperature control system for transporting live animals and perishable goods,

X-band Fuseland Enhanced Vision System (EVS) Nose Radome Assembly,

WeatherMASTER X-Band Fuselage Nose Radome,

-Teledyne Controls Wireless Ground Link-Quick Access Recorder (WQAR),

-EVS-2500 Enhanced Vision System,

-Tailwind 550/560 Live TV System,

-Collins HF Communication System HFS-900D,

-CEIS TM Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) System,

-Honeywell RESCU 406AF Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) System,

-Collins Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II), -C16221LA03 Thales Integrated Standby Flight instruments Display (ISFD),

-L-3 Communications Model FA2100 Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), –Honeywell Runway Awareness & Advisory System (RAAS), -AlliedSignal Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System,

-L-3 Avionics Systems GH-3100,

-Dual Honeywell XK516D High Frequency (HF) radio systems, -Upgraded Yaw Damper Servos, P/N 1540500 -1AA /-3AA /-5AA /-7AA /-9AA /-11AA,

-Metric Altimeter indicator to provide metric altitude and a metric repeater,

-Class 2 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) provisions for navAero t-BagC2, -Upgrade of the internal core software of the ACARS Data Link Management Unit (DLM-900),

-Upgrade of existing Mode S Transponders to ACSS Mode S Transponder P/N 7517800-10005,

-Honeywell (TRA-67A) or Collins (TPR901) Mode S Enhanced Surveillance System,

-Intermediate Gain Antenna (IGA) Sub-System Issued and

-Electronic Flight Bag Provisions and Aircraft Wireless LAN Unit.

Conclusion

The 767 with its ETOPS operation and wide enough fuselage will give FedEx an edge in cutting cost and adding the flexibility of a nimbler general purpose wide body aircraft than previously possible with the MD10F.

FedEx Express logistics system fleet wide common denominators are the 88”x108” and 88”x125” standard pallets because all the wide body aircraft can accommodate them 2 abreast (A300/310, MD10/11 777F and 767F). The 96”x125” pallet format however remains a niche item only ideally suited for the 777F and MD10F/-11F. In that respect the 767F is regrettably at a great disadvantage as it can only embark these pallets in a single line. Below deck, the LD-3 comes as the versatile medium also adopted fleet wide (narrow/wide body) even though the 767F appears naturally better suited for the narrower LD2 container. Despite inefficient logistics integration between the 777F and 767F, FedEx Express strategy will prove beneficial.

Looking at industry’s trend we have seen Lufthansa Cargo deciding last year to replace MD-11F with 777F. Furthermore 747F operators will increasingly be faced with the difficult choice to upgrade to larger 747-8 (Cargolux, Atlas Air) or go for the 777F. FedEx Express early adoption of the 777F has already hedged it from its 100+ tonnes needs while ideally cushioning it for the post MD-11F era. Thus 767F may derive success simply from complementing 777F.

 

 

 

Air China To Employ New Boeing 777-300ER On Its Beijing-Los Angeles Route

 

Xinhua news Agency photo of new Boeing 777-300ER delivered to Air China

Air China announced it would increase its flight frequency between Beijing and Los Angeles while introducing brand new Boeing 777-300ER on the route. The new 777-300ER flights will operate as flights CA 987/988 and CA 983/984 beginning June 1st 2012. The move follows Air China accepting the 4 brand new aircraft from Boeing between July and December 2011.

The new schedule will see two daily flights each departing Los Angeles and Beijing. For instance China Air flight 984 would depart Los Angeles at 1:40 am and flight 988 at 1:20 pm arriving in Beijing the next day landing respectively at 05:20am and 5:00 pm (all local time).

Previously flight CA983 eastbound leg originated in Beijing at 9:35 pm every evening while CA987 operated solely on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday leaving Beijing at 1:50 pm for their 11hr 40min journey. In similar fashion the 12 hr 50 min eastbound return flights from Los Angeles to Beijing operating as flights CA984 departed at 12:40 am everyday while CA988 adhered to 11:50 am departure on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

By increasing its weekly services between Los Angeles and Beijing to 14 flights, Air China is attempting to increase its market share on a highly promising segment. The brand new Boeing 777-300ER gives the emerging global carrier the flexibility and branding that it needs to compete. The 777 twin engines operation brings advantageous operating economics that the aging 747-400 normally assigned to the route can hardly deliver. A streamlined ground and flight operation would translate in generating higher number of flights with sustained passengers density at the carrier’s global hub. The increased flight connections at Air China Beijing hub would consolidate its global gateway status. The added comfort of the state-of-the-art 777-300ER automatically brings the Air China brand on part with other highly recognized Asian 777-300ER operators such as Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, Eva Air, Thai Airways International and others.

Air China Boeing 777-300ER

With its layout of 8 First Class seats, 42 Business Class seats and 263 Economy Class seats, the 313 passengers-capable aircraft is more comfortable than the 747-400 aircraft it is replacing and can challenge existing trans-pacific Asian rivals.

First Class seating

The ‘Forbidden Pavilion First Class’ seat that had been previously introduced as an upgrade to 6 of the carrier’s 14 Boeing 747-400 (the remaining 8 being -400M combi variant have not received the upgrade) seems a natural fit for the 777-300ER. Under the re-designation of Premium First Class seat, it provides a fully enclosed flat bed ‘Suite’ experience. In that segment Air China may now compare favorably with for instance, Singapore Airlines 35-in wide enclosed First Class seat (Singapore Airlines First Class 777-300ER seat is different from the lavishly luxurious Suite offered exclusively aboard SIA Airbus 380). Korean Air top-of-the-line First Class Cosmo suite and Cathay Pacific First Class Suite can also fall be challenged by Air China improved First Class posture. Thai Airways International and Eva Air are other 777-300ER Asian operators with highly competitive First Class products.

Air China is the latest asian carrier looking to replace its quad-engined 747-400 with twin-engined 777-300ER

The Business and Economy Class seat

The fully reclining 180 degree business class seat aboard Air China 777-300ER provide a marked improvement over the comfort of the 170 degree recline Capital Pavilion Business seat found aboard the 747-400. While it is still difficult to surpass Singapore Airline 34-in wide Business-Class seats, Air China 42 Business Class seats will help attract West Coast-based US business travelers looking for connecting flights in Beijing. Putting forward their 777-300ER, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways International and Eva Air have proved adept at crafting well-researched Business and Economy Class products that can aggressively woo Asia’s travelers looking for the most convenient flight combination via a major Asian hub.

With 9 passengers seating abreast in 3-3-3, Air China has improved on the 3-4-3 found aboard the 747-400 while adhering to philosophy espoused by the other previously-mentioned Asian Global carriers. However its 135 degree of recline will ensure a very comfortable experience.

The 8/42/263 seats configuration indicating respectively First, Business and Economy class also maintains Air China in line with its rivals. Singapore airline flies a 777-300ER configured in 8/42/228, Cathay Pacific: 6/53/238, Thai Airways International: 8/30/274, Korean Air 8/56/227 and EVA Air 36/71/211. All these carriers having adopted the 3-3-3 standard in Economy Class.

On a previous survey of 777-300ER operation Air France and Emirates appeared at both end of the spectrum. After consolidating its entire First Class offerings to its A380, Air France seemed to have found a way to make money flying high density 777-300ER configured with 42 Flat Bed Business seat in addition to 24 Premium Economy seats and 317 in economy but in 3-4-3 arrangement.

Emirates Airlines, the largest 777-300ER operator, elected to install 8 private suite in First Class cabin as in its A380. In a move reminiscent of Air France, its 777-300ER are now fitted with 42 Business Class seats and 3-4-3 abreast seating in Economy capable of seating 304, 308 or 314 passengers.

By standardizing the 3-3-3 configuration in lieu of 3-4-3, Asian carriers with global ambitions have silently upgraded their Economy Class cabin to Premium Economy. With an order of 15 Boeing 777-300ER outstanding with Boeing and 14 747-400 all delivered before 2000 still flying, Air China is the latest major playing banking on the type to execute a successful business strategy in the 21st century, replacing the more expensive to maintain and operate 747-400.