New Delta and American Safety Videos

Last week American Airlines announced the release of their interesting and shiny new safety video. Not to be outdone by American Airlines, Delta announced their new safety video less than 24 hours after American.

American Airlines has a very interesting video. It is attention grabbing, and fun. Reactions have been mixed, but I actually like it quite a lot. It is interesting enough to capture your attention, even if it isn't perfect, it does its job in a fun way. 

Delta, apparently jealous that American Airlines was getting press for their safety video, then released their safety video the very next day. It has a video game theme and in my opinion is much worse than the American Airline video. Delta's video is an unfortunate attempt at interesting that falls flat with me. It's just the safety speech with some odd visuals.

Safety videos can be important for passengers who haven't flown recently or fly extremely infrequently. Those of us who fly regularly, the safety speech just gets tuned out, I know where the life vests are, I know how to buckle a seat belt. So when airlines add interesting twists to the safety video, it can grab your attention and make the mundane interesting again.

We are regular flyers though, so we'll probably see that video 400 more times, and it'll get boring again at some point.

Inital Reports from Emirates Crash Last Month

Roughly a month ago, an Emirates flight landing in Dubai on it's return leg from India, crashed on the runway during a landing attempt. Everyone on board was able to evacuate before the plane was engulfed in flames, only one firefighter was killed during the incident. That crash was speculated to have a gear problem that caused the crash... it appears that may not have been completely true.

Let me preface this by saying that this initial report is by no means conclusive, and the full investigation with true cause will come out many months from now. With that said, we now have the intial report from the investigation, and some of the reports on the first day of the accident look to overly favor the pilot. Historically aircraft accidents in majority of cases are caused by pilot error and the intial reports on Emirates flight 521 looks to have been caused by an error in the pilots actions.

What appears to have happened is that the 777-300 landed very long, almost 1000ft further down the runway than it should have. The cause for this may have been a number of factors from wind, to improper glide slope, but for whatever reason this occured, the aircraft touched down too far down the runway. Once the aircraft touched down the pilot decided to go around and try the landing again, this happens from time to time when an error happens during landing. 

Typically the process is to reapply full power to the engines, pull the nose up and lift off the runway. The pilot is then able to circle around and attempt the landing again. In the case of EK521 the pilot appears to have completed the go around sequence in an incorrect order. This may have been due to confusion or nerves or something else. 

On the Emirates flight the pilot appears to have lifted the nose in the air and immediately retracted the gear before applying power to the engines again. Jet engines do not go immediately to full thrust, there is time to spool up and hit full thrust. Due to the pilot lifting the aircraft and retracting the gear before adding engine power, the aircraft began to slow down significantly as soon as the plane was pulled into the air. Without adding power right away, the aircraft would not have had enough speed to stay in the air. The landing gear was not locked down to take the drop back onto the runway, and so the aircraft dropped back onto the belly of the plane and susequently crashed. 

This is the intial report at the moment and may change. We'll have to see what the final report says when it comes out. 

The True Price Of Low Cost Carriers Might Be Your Safety

Good or bad, low cost air carriers have taken the world by storm. Some of the most well known in the US are companies like Southwest, Frontier and Spirit. Europe is no exception seeing companies like Ryanair take over as a major air carrier. In many cases these companies offer no frills sort of fares that limit you on things like picking seats, getting food, or even carring your luggage on board. These companies make money on the fees they levy after the initial low cost fare. However, when it comes to some companies, you may be paying the cost not with money, but with your own safety.

Washington Post ran an article singling out Allegiant Air as a major problem in the low cost industry. If you have never heard of Allegiant Air, I wouldn't be surprised, they likely don't fly to many of the major markets you may be used to. Allegiant focuses on smaller airports servicing higher capacity direct flight routes. The only place I've ever seen them is at Syracuse Airport in New York when I visit family. From SYR airport, the company serves only 4 destinations, 3 in Florida and 1 in South Carolina. These routes are popular tourist destination airports, but not Orlando as you might expect, but rather places like Tampa.

Allegiant has been a darling child on Wall Street, seeing growth numbers unprecedented in the low cost carrier market. The company racked up a 154% increase in profits last year. That type of growth should sound suspicious to anyone, especially in a saturated market like low cost carriers. This in the past has made Allegiant a big stock on the markets of Wall Street... well it was. It seems that is has begun to fall out of favor, shedding a massive percentage of their once high stock value.

We should all take notice of what is happening at Allegiant Air, something that could massively impact many people. Safety may very well not be the top priority it deserves at Allegiant. The company made many of their strides by buying older aircraft at a massively reduced price over new aircraft. Problem is, with older the aircraft is they tend to be more likely to see a failure if not properly maintained. These aircraft are old and in turn require more maintenance, and more safety checks on a more regular basis. Now this could still equal massive profits due to the major up front savings on the aircraft. Done correctly, these aircraft don't need to be unsafe.

However, Allegiant is starting to draw attention not only from the press but also from the FAA. Arguably the FAA should have been on top of this problem long ago, since Allegiant has had some major missteps in recent years. Famously a mid air mishap occurred aboard Allegiant flight 864 about a year ago. After takeoff the pilot turned the aircraft around and made an emergency landing due to a strong smoke smell in the plane. After landing, the airplane was evacuated as an engine smoked on the runway. Emergency crews had to meet the aircraft as passengers rushed to de-board the plane.

This should have been a incident that resulted in the pilot being praised for good judgement and protecting passengers... instead the pilot was fired. Allegiant stated the reason for removing the pilot was that he failed to protect the plane and evacuated without just cause, causing the plane to require significant repairs to replace evacuation windows, slides and the like. Allegiant is now caught in a legal battle over wrongful termination. I think we can all agree this is a case where Allegiant was acting in their best interest and not that of the pilot or passengers. Beyond that, this may indicate a systemic problem at the company, safety may not be taking the forward role that it should be.

Looking at data acquired over the safety record of Allegiant, a troubling trend was easily seen. Delta operates many similar aircraft to Allegiant, often on their regional routes. The aircraft Delta operates are also very close in age to the ones that Allegiant operate as well. During all of 2015 and the first 3 months of 2016, Allegiant Air had 9 times more incidents than Delta even though Delta operates a fleet 3 times larger than Allegiant. Those are some pretty damning numbers.

We've seen similar problems at other low cost carriers too. Southwest a number of years ago was caught bribing FAA officials to allow aircraft to continue flying beyond dates when they were required to undergo major safety checks. While this saved millions of dollars for Southwest by deferring these checks, it also put many airplanes and passengers at risk. These rules are in place for a reason and while we can argue on how restrictive the rules should be, the fact remains these are currently the laws. Profit is not a good enough reason to throw safety out the window.

While Allegiant Air seems to have a major internal problem, we also need to watch all of these low cost carriers. When operating in a industry where profits can be difficult to turn, safety may be the one thing that is sacrificed for the bottom line. This is never ok, and we need to start to hold people accountable for their actions on these fronts.

Next time you want to fly with a low cost carrier to save a few dollars, just keep in mind what you may be sacrificing for that low cost ticket.

Rolls Royce Still Denies Widespread Issues as ANA Expands Engine Replacements

I wrote yesterday about the issues that ANA (All Nippon Airways) is having with their Trent 1000 engines for the 787 airplanes. ANA has found significant issues on the turbine blades of the Rolls Royce engines that they use for their Dreamliners. At the time, it wasn't clear that ANA would need to replace their entire fleet of engines. 

ANA came back today and made it clear that they would in fact need to make that exact move. ANA will now be replacing every single engine in their fleet of fifty 787 aircraft, a total of 100 engines would need to be serviced. The scale of the replacement project is the reason that ANA anticipates the replacement to take 3 years. 

To date, ANA has already had 3 in flight failures of the turbine blades, and a few others that have been discovered and repaired before an in flight mishap occured. 4 of their 787 aircraft have been grounded by the airline for safety reasons as they continue repairs on the faulty engines.

Rolls Royce still continues to downplay the situation though. As I had speculated yesterday this is a far larger problem than Rolls Royce intially and still tries to play this off as. The engine manufacturer is working on a turbine blade design change that will be implimented next year. In the mean time the faulty engines seem to still be in production. 

Representatives for Rolls Royce have stated previously that the issue is solely with ANA. This is almost certainly not true, as the engines that ANA is replacing are from the entire production run of the 787 from the very first airplane to the latest delivery of airplane number 50 only a few months ago. Rolls Royce engines represent 40% of the engines flown on the 787 to date, likely presenting a widespread issue.

Rolls Royce has tried to blame part of the issue on what they say is ANA's "intensive" use of their engines. That is once again almost certainly not true, as ANA would not be operating airplanes any differently than any other airline other than the fact that their planes may be on shorter routes and see more takeoffs than other airlines. However, I'm flying a 787 on Qatar for a 45min flight in a month, that seems like a short route too. Of course I'm not curretly aware if Qatar used Rolls or GE engines on their 787's. Still, the engine should be designed to handle this, it is hardly a good reason for at least 7 known issues on ANA airplanes, 3 of those resulting in midair mishaps. 

This very much reminds me of past aircraft issues and companies trying to downplay their roll in faulty equipment. We really don't know the full extent of the issue as details are still trickling out, but Rolls Royce should be more urgently making a change to engines. This may very well see some interventions from the FAA and EASA soon if the scale of the issue continues to expand as it seems to be doing. 

We'll keep an eye on Rolls Royce and ANA to see how this progresses. 

Rolls Royce 787 Engines Have A Huge Problem

The Boeing 787 began service with Japanese airline ANA or All Nippon Airways. ANA was immediately impressed with the performance of the 787, so much so that the company became the top operator of the Dreamliner. However, aircraft service with the 787 has not been smooth sailing over it's life. 

I was part of the design team on the Boeing 787, and every time we saw an issue crop up, I'd quickly make sure it had nothing to do with the work I was responsible for, and to date my areas of the plane have been unaffected. The plane however has seen some significant pains in the days since it entered production. Battery issues grounded the fleet for a time, much of that being a direct result of incidents on board Japanese carriers. That issue has since been resolved.

Now it looks like ANA has discovered a big issue that impacts their fleet. Rolls Royce engines are susceptible to turbine blade cracking and subsequently high vibration from the damaged engines. This is not an issue that impacts all 787 aircraft though and there is a reason for that. 

When purchasing a new 787 aircraft, there are two engine options to choose from. Companies have a choice between Rolls Royce engines and General Electric engines. Only about 40% of customers choose the Rolls Royce engines and there is a good reason that GE has the majority of customer, they put a lot of work into making their engines easier to repair and less complicated. Rolls Royce stuck with past design choices and made their normal, more complicated engines. With more complication, comes more difficult repair and more chance for failure.

The big difference in design between the two engines is that GE uses a two stage engine and Rolls uses a 3 stage engine. This means that Rolls Royce has more moving parts, additional drive systems, and overall the engine is heavier. Also, Rolls Royce doesn't use the GE quick change out system either making repairs and getting planes back in the air more difficult and slower. All of this looks to be contributing to a major problem for ANA and likely other airlines as the problem looks to affect more than just ANA. ANA is currently saying that the repair fleet wide could take as long as 3 years to complete, quite a hefty investment in time to fix a manufacturing/design problem.

ANA currently operates fifty 787 aircraft, many of which need to have the turbine stages replaced. Turbine blades are at the aft end of a jet engine and see the highest temperatures of any engine part. After combustion, the hot gases escape through the turbine blades which power the rest of the engine. Since the turbine blades see very high temperatures, this can make them susceptible to a range of failures if not properly designed. 

ANA has not been forthcoming on what conditions cause the issue, but did state that there are certain conditions that can cause the problem, likely meaning that the issue is repeatable. It is unclear if this is a manufacturing defect on certain engines or a deeper design flaw in how the engine was made from the start.

While Rolls Royce claims that only engines operated by ANA are impacted, this is very very very hard to believe. 787's are not sold in blocks, Boeing does not sell the first 20 to ANA, and then 20 to Etihad and so forth, each Dreamliner created tends to go to a different customer depending on when the airline has negotiated delivery and plans for working the planes into their schedule. To say that only ANA is impacted is borderline ridiculous. I won't write it off completely, but I do fully expect this problem to grow in the coming months.

At this point it is early and likely still under investigation by the FAA and EASA. We may see an air worthiness directive from the FAA in the near future if the problem is big enough. This would require all aircraft to be serviced quickly and could spell deep problems for Roll Royce. Right now this is still speculation, but I do not think this problem will be isolated to ANA.