New Delta Interior is Attractive, Roomy, and Confusing

Immediately upon boarding my Delta Air Lines flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Denver, I noticed some very different and appealing changes. First, I noticed the 12-year old Airbus A319 had new overhead stow bins, hanging down low and allowing far more capacity than I’ve seen on a narrow-body airliner before. Inside each bin, there is an instructive graphic, telling passengers to turn their bags onto their sides, allowing optimal room for up to sixty percent more bags, according to Delta. Not everyone got the message, however, as many bags were still placed in the bins width-wise. And although the Delta gate agent had advertised the fact that the flight was full and solicited volunteers for complimentary gate checks, there was still ample storage in several bins for additional bags.

New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta's A319
New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta’s A319

The Passenger Service Unit is a big improvement, aesthetically. With cabin lights on, the portion of the PSU against the ceiling glows a pleasant blue, thanks to its surrounding LED lights. But unfortunately, the new design is proving challenging. After the cabin lights were dimmed, there were at least a dozen inadvertent presses of the Flight Attendant call light, as passengers searched for the buttons to turn on their reading lights. The reading lights have a lightbulb icon, just above the black button which turns the light on. The button is quite difficult to see in an otherwise dark cabin. When the call button is pressed, the surrounding LED glows orange. The PSU also features a blue glowing Wi-Fi icon that appears above 10,000 feet. 

New overhead bins in Delta's A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)
New overhead bins in Delta’s A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)

The cabin is configured with 132 total seats, including 12 first class, 18 Comfort Plus, and 102 slimline main cabin seats. Each seat has Panasonic In-flight Entertainment, including movies (priced from free to $6), TV shows ($1), music, games, fleet information and flight tracking. Each row also has two power outlets. Kids’ movies are free, which is a huge plus for parents. Headsets can be purchased for $2. Inflight Wi-Fi is provided by Gogo and can be purchased.

Panasonic IFE screen on Delta's refurbished A319
Panasonic IFE screen on Delta’s refurbished A319

Zodiac Aerospace designed the updated new galleys, seats and PSU. The first A319 to receive the upgrade rolled out in late July. Retrofit of the A319 and A320 fleet is expected to continue until summer, 2017.

Sky Fight! Boutique Air vs. Vegas McCarran Airport

Part 135 operator Boutique Air has thrown down the gauntlet before McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, by publicizing a feud over Boutique’s desire to operate scheduled service into McCarran. In an open-letter email from Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson to Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary A. Vassiliadis, Simpson says the airport (LAS) is being downright discriminatory.

Boutique Air had planned to begin service from Merced, California to LAS on Sunday, November 1st, but there is currently no flight schedule on their website. The airport states that Boutique many only fly sterile operations into LAS, at Terminal 1. The airline wished to operate non-sterile flights, into a FBO.

Boutique Air 2

In his letter, Simpson points out, “We have never encountered any resistance by any airport in conducting scheduled service between smaller communities with larger hubs, until now…The problem is that it is not the place of a public airport funded by federal tax dollars, to tell an airline what type of operations they are willing to accept. It is the duty of a public airport to accommodate all operations that are safe and do not disrupt the normal operation of the airport.  Somehow none of the other airports where we conduct non-sterile operations [including DFW and ABQ] have a problem with us. In fact, they welcome us.”

Simpson also notes that McCarran has been the recipient of federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for runway and taxiway refurbishment for the past five years, amounting to over $109 Million. The reception of AIP grant money prohibits LAS from being discriminatory with its policies, but Simpson alleges that because the customers from Merced would be mostly Hispanic, that they’re being shut out: “What I am hearing though, is that the largely Hispanic community of the Central Valley will not be allowed to fly into McCarran via Merced because Boutique Air is not allowed to come in non-sterile.” Simpson goes on to day that Boutique is on the verge of serving the Native American community of Gallup, New Mexico, where they would potentially want to offer flights to LAS.

McCarran accepts the non-sterile operation of dozens of private jets each day, to and from FBOs, but the scheduled operation of Boutique’s single-engine Pilatus PC-12s is for some reason forbidden, other than being “against airport policy.” The latest response from LAS told Boutique Air that if they want to offer non-sterile flights to Vegas, perhaps they should use North Las Vegas Airport. A win for Boutique Air in Las Vegas would be a win for the air travel consumer.

747 Captain Wins 2015 Red Bull Air Race Championship

Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, Paul Bonhomme captured his record-setting third Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Bonhomme is well-known for his aerobatic skills, but he also happens to be a 747 Captain for British Airways.

At the post race conference, Bonhomme said, “I knew it was going to be hard work, everyone was on their game. We seemed historically to come out of the blocks well… that was pleasing, then it was pretty obvious that everyone else was catching up. Up until 3 o’clock this afternoon, I had no idea what was going to happen.”

Photo courtesy Red Bull Media
Photo courtesy Red Bull Media

Bonhomme won four of eight races this year, taking the 2015 Championship by five points, over Australian Matt Hall. Hall won this weekend’s race in Las Vegas, with Bonhomme taking second. Third place for the 2015 season went to Austrian pilot Hannes Arch. Captain Bonhomme, age 51, has been flying on the Red Bull circuit since 2003, and is the most successful pilot in the Race’s history. He got his pilot’s license at age 18, and has been flying aerobatics for 29 years. American pilot Kirby Chambliss finished 12th in Las Vegas, and 11th overall for the 2015 series. He spent much of the 2015 season making adjustments to his Zivko Edge 540, including winglets and a new canopy.

Peter Besenyei. Photo courtesy Red Bull Media.
Peter Besenyei. Photo courtesy Red Bull Media.

Also this weekend in Las Vegas, the Race also celebrated the career of 59 year-old pilot Peter Besenyei, of Hungary. Besenyei has retired from competitive flying with 22 podium finishes over nine seasons, including eight victories, and the inaugural world title in 2003. He is known as one of the pioneers of the sport.

Avgeek DREAM Come True — My First Boeing 787 Flight

I finally took my very first flight on board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner! I’ve been following this aircraft since it was on the drawing board, and still called the 7E7. I joined the World Design Team and participated in the naming contest, though “Dreamliner” did not get my vote. In 2008. my wife and I even made a special Seattle detour prior to an Alaskan cruise, just to see the first 787 (ZA001) on the assembly line in Everett.

I had toured a couple of 787s in the past, including test aircraft ZA003 during Boeing’s World Dream Tour at DFW, and British Airways’ first 787-8, G-ZBJA, but I had yet to fly on one until this week. My inaugural flight was aboard British Airways’ first 787-9 Dreamliner, G-ZBKA.

My trip was part of a media assignment for AirwaysNews, and my full trip report will be on that site very soon. But here, I just wanted to share my experience in a more personal way, and reflect on some notes that I found interesting.

Before my flight, I had always made the assumption that the dimmable, electromagnetic window shades were more of a gimmick than something that was really necessary. This flight completely changed my mind! Leaving Heathrow, I sat in seat 1A, which had the sun on my side during the first half of the flight. I dimmed my window shortly after takeoff. The first couple of steps still allow you to see outside with a lot of detail, but without being blinded by direct sun. It became pleasant to look outside. With the window completely darkened, it wasn’t a full blackout, but the sunlight now appeared as moonlight, making the cloud tops glow beneath us as we soared over the North Atlantic.

British Airways' 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.
British Airways’ 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Everything about the flight was excellent, from the quiet cabin to the service by the flight attendants, the seat comfort, and entertainment options. As you’ll see in the photo above, the seat area is spacious, and appointed with high-end materials and features. Once again, there will be many more details about the trip on AirwaysNews, so please check it out.

I’ll have more 787 experience in the weeks to come, including a trip to the other side of the world, so stay tuned for that!

Boeing Sets New All-Time Quarterly Delivery Record!

Boeing announced today that the company had set a record for aircraft deliveries in the third quarter of this year. One hundred ninety nine aircraft were handed over to their new owners, between July 1st and September 30th — which factors out to over two planes every single day!

For the quarter, Boeing delivered 126 737NGs, four 747s, five 767s, twenty seven 777s, and thirty seven 787s.

Image courtesy Boeing
Image courtesy Boeing

The total delivery number for the year sits at 580 airplanes. 101 of those planes have been 787 Dreamliners. Previously, the quarterly record was set just three months ago, in which 197 Boeing were delivered in Q2 of this year. Boeing VP Randy Tinseth says, “Bottom line—it’s all part of our goal to get airplanes into the hands of our customers as quickly as possible.”

American 787-8 Dreamliner. Image via Boeing
American 787-8 Dreamliner. Image via Boeing

One airline, American Airlines has experienced delays on the deliveries of their new 787s – not because of Boeing, but because of production delays from French seat maker Zodiac. Zodiac’s production facility in eastern Washington experienced an explosion in min-July of this year, in which five people were injured. The company’s shares dropped after the Runway Girl Network reported that American was seeking a new seat supplier for its 787-9 deliveries, slated for 2016. Zodiac experienced an explosion at its facility in eastern Washington in July of this year, injuring five. Rival company B/E Aerospace is presumed to be the new supplier.

Airbus Looks to Introduce “I Just Want to Sleep” Class

Beds on planes are not a new concept, with airlines such as Etihad and Singapore offering lavish accommodations in their first class suites. But with a new patent application filed yesterday, Airbus is now looking to develop a new, stacked, pod-like arrangement, similar to those seen in some international airports.

Airbus Pod 2

In the drawings, we see a 3-3-3 economy seating configuration, which is common to the A380 and A350 – both of which are used for long haul international flights, where people would like to get some quality sleep. The application says these beds would be safe to occupy during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Therefore, the passenger would not need to purchase or occupy an additional seat. With a cross section of just over 31 by 31 inches, the pods would be arranged so that the passenger would lay perpendicular to the direction of flight, with their head toward the outer wall of the aircraft. The box would be made of plastic or fiber-reinforced plastic, keeping the weight of the equipment relatively light.

For safety purposes, the pod would be equipped with an inflatable air bag system to protect the passenger in the event of a crash, but would only be 5-10cm thick, so as not to impede evacuation of the aircraft. The inflation would be triggered automatically by sensors. The space would also be void of any edges and corners on which passengers could potentially injure themselves. A passenger service unit (PSU) would be installed, and would include an emergency oxygen mask, a speaker, an air conditioning vent, and a lamp. A flat-screened video monitor could be provided for in-flight entertainment and safety videos, which would drop down from the ceiling. These would of course need to be stowed during takeoff and landing. Speaking of video, Airbus also recommends a small camera be installed so that flight attendants can monitor the passenger during the flight.

Airbus Pods 3

Even in the most comfortable lie-flat business class seats, you can still be disturbed by conversation, galley preparation, light from windows, and even the footsteps of people in the aisle. The notion of being surrounded by four walls does have its appeal, not only for privacy, but for quality of sleep. So, what do you think? I think it’s a great concept, and I would imagine it could be pretty comfortable, except for perhaps taking your meals. And for someone who has never gotten a good night’s sleep on a plane, I think this concept would finally provide a way for that to be achieved.

Airbus ‘Perlan 2’ Sailplane Completes Successful First Flight

On Wednesday in Redmond, Oregon, Airbus Group’s Perlan 2 sailplane made its first flight. Flown by chief pilot Jim Payne and team pilot and project manager Morgan Sandercock, and attached to a towplane, it took off from Redmond Municipal Airport. It was released by the towplane at an altitude of 5,000 feet. During the flight, the pilots performed various control system checks on the aircraft.

Sailplane pilot and NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson conceived the project in 1992, after seeing images of stratospheric mountain waves in Sweden. He then spent the following six years researching mountain waves, which are spawned by strong winds blowing over the tops of high mountain ranges. In 1998, Meteorologist Elizabeth Austin partnered with Enevoldson, and discovered that the Polar Vortex, and one of its principal components, the stratospheric polar night jet, existing only in winter, provided the high speed wind in the stratosphere that powered incredibly high waves.

Famed experimental pilot Steve Fossett joined the project in 1999. At NASA’s request, the U.S. Air Force loaned pressure suits to Enevoldson and Fossett. A German-made, two-seat Glaser-Dirks DG-500M glider was chosen as the basis for the Perlan flyer. It was built as a motorized glider, but the Perlan team removed the engine. Fossett and Enevoldson flew the glider in the Patagonia region of Argentina to a record altitude of 50,727 feet in 2006. This led Fossett to pledge funding for Phase 2, but he died in a 2007 plane crash into mountainous terrain, 9 miles from Mammoth Lakes, California. Project funding was halted, and so was the Perlan project.

Image via Airbus / Perlan Project
Image via Airbus / Perlan Project

At EAA Airventure 2014 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders announced the Airbus partnership with ‘Perlan Mission II.’ I was at the press conference for the announcement, where Enders said, “Our company is built on the shoulders of aviation pioneers who pushed boundaries in their own times – people who flew higher, farther, faster. Hence,when we learned of the Perlan Project and its quest to soar to record heights, we knew we needed to find a way to be a part of it. Partnering with the Perlan team is consistent with our core values of furthering innovation in aerospace and of inspiring the next generation of designers, manufacturers and aviators.” Phase 2 would involve soaring to the edge of space, at 90,000 feet in order to explore climate change, learn more about weather forecasting, the Ozone layer, and the future of Martian space exploration.

Perlan 1 is now on display at the Museum of Flight, in Seattle. For Perlan 2, a two-seat pressurized glider by Windward Performance is the research aircraft. Made of composites, its 83-foot wingspan will allow it to soar to even higher altitude, and with air pressure less than 2% of seal level, the glider will fly at nearly half the speed of sound. Although the cabin will be pressurized, the pilots will wear pressure suits, in case of an emergency. It is also equipped with a ballistic parachute system. Prior to Wednesday’s flight, Perlan 2 received its airworthiness certificate from the FAA on September 4th.

Perlan 2 will next be flown in Nevada, this December, after receiving its cabin pressurization. El Calafate, Argentina is the selected location where the exploratory flights will be performed, slated for the Southern Hemisphere winter of 2016, to take advantage of the Polar Vortex and stratospheric polar night jet. The 90,000-foot goal altitude, once achieved, will be a record for an airplane, surpassing the SR-71 Blackbird which holds the current record of 85,069 feet. By 2019, the project aims to move on to Phase 3, adopting new transonic wings and achieving an altitude of 100,000 feet.