Friday, April 29, 2005

The New Airbus

There was cheerful news this week as Airbus managed a first ever flight of their new A-380 series - the biggest passenger aircraft ever.


It's about time we heard good news from the civil aviation industry, as it's been taking us steadily backwards for decades now, and I'm not talking of the giant leap backwards with it's failure to even think about a replacement for the Concorde.

Why do I say steadily backwards?

Because here's a hard-to-believe dirty little secret about civil aviation known only to anoracks and insiders:

Over the past 40 years or so, civil aircraft have become slower.

Yes, slower.

Not just a fraction slower either - we're taking about 15% slower as compared to the faster models in service from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s.

And that 15% isn't trivial over the distances jets cover - add that amount to the ratbastard tedium of a ten hour flight back in 1965 and you get an extra hour and a half of bored-to-tears-misery in 2005.

90 minutes of time - the one commodity you can never buy back.

To make this regression even more painful, new slower aircraft are designed to have less space per person inside, and the inside itself is colder and less airconditioned than ever before (leg room, cabin heating, and a/c all cost money).

There's no magic wand to solve all this overnight, but the A380 may be a step in the right direction. It's claimed to cruise at the very fast speed of 630mph, a useful 25mph faster than its rival Boeing 747, although incredibly, still slower than the legendary Convair 900 series from the 1960s, with hindsight the biggest lost opportunity in civil aviation history.

The huge amount of space in the A380 series just might translate into slightly more legroom for everyone. And as a new plane it takes advantage of the quiet fuel-efficient engines and advanced simulation and modelling techniques that enable it to be designed and built cheaply and operate unobtrusivley.

I really hope it works well, I hope plenty get sold, but above all else I'm delighted that it's faster than it's older rival (as it damn well should be) and bucks the slower-is-better trend that would have had us back in turbo-props in another couple of decades...


Post a Comment

<< Home