March 10, 2007

I'm Super, thanks for asking.

There has long been a rivalry of sorts among aviation enthusiasts between Boeing and Airbus. Each airplane maker has its different fundamental culture and design philosophies. These differences are too complicated to discuss here, but they encourage both those individuals who fly them, and who wish they could fly them, to argue amongst themselves over which philosophy is better. Those who fly Boeing have coined the license plate holder: "If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going." I personally prefer Boeing. Call me a traditionalist... Or American?!

Well, Airbus is almost done with their new humongous A380. If you haven't seen what it looks like, just imagine a Boeing 777 with a full length second deck. It one-ups the B747. Very ambitious, and it has promised to increase efficiency on all levels for the airlines who fly it. There have been years of delays, ranging from electrical issues to new data that shows the plane may not be as structurally sound as Airbus claims it would be. A few airlines have given up on it, and pulled their orders recently.

On a personal note, I always complain about airlines that fly 15 flights a day between two cities, with many of the flights in small aircraft (as opposed to less flights with larger aircraft) just so they can tell their customers "we fly there 15 times a day, don't worry, you'll make it there". This is one of the reasons there are so many delays. The reason this is frustrating is because there are only so many runways, and there is only so much airspace, and it seems like a waste of space. In the en-route environment, every airplane looks the same on the scope, and we always need 5 miles and 1000 feet regardless if its a B767 or a CRJ. Once closer to the airport, the approach controllers need an extra mile or two here and there for the bigger planes, but its not as much as adding another plane.

Needless to say, I really didn't have any opinion one way or the other on the new big-bus. It seemed like a good idea to me, especially if airlines would replace thier two 757s with one A380. I take that back, you'd get to replace 4 757s with one A380. Now, I'm sure thats not the plan, but I can dream of less targets out there. Its mainly going to be flown in Europe and Asia, but we'll see a few of them here and there.

With that said, Airbus is flying a publicity flight into JFK this month to show off their new bird. I got to take time out of my busy schedule to attend a briefing on the "event" a few days ago. Turns out, the A380 isn't as efficient as it would seem. Enroute still only needs 5 miles, 1000 feet. But in approach control (and when Center is sequencing to handoff to approach control), the spacing increases to 10 miles, 1000 feet for wake turbulence. Thats 3 times the spacing needed between two 737s. Thats twice the spacing needed between two 747s. And frankly, at the Center, I think we'll be cautious about putting another airplane behind it and below it, regardless of how legal the separation remains.

So, the moral of my story:
This massive plane that is like two airplanes in one, needs to be treated like two airplanes for separation. It should be a winner. Oh, wait, I almost forgot. Our current weight/wake turbulence categories of Small, Large, Heavy is getting a new classification: Super. Look it up on March 15. It'll be right there in the 7110.65. "traffic 2 oclock, 6 miles, northbound, at 12000, a super A380, caution wake turbulence". Sounds like a PR move by Airbus to me. They'll need all the help they can get.

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