More range, less pilots, only passengers and no cargo - is this the future for the upcoming generation of long-range civilian aircraft? Discussions on one-man cockpits, or nobody in the front seat, have been going on for some time already. Passenger aircraft without belly space for cargo seems however to become reality.
Non-stop is the name of the game
Operating with two to three stops across the Atlantic or five to six stops to certain Far East destinations, is of course something of the past. Civil aviation has expanded in leaps-and-bounds since the early sixties and non-stop two-engined airliners with greater range are seen as being quite normal these days.
We’ve seen the successful introduction of long-haul two-engined airliners with up to 340 minutes allowance for a one-engine operation in case an engine mishap. This has progressed from Long-Range (LR) variants to Extra Long-Range (ELR) and now finally to Ultra Long-Range (ULR). The traveling public moving from Australia for example, to Europe have long since yearned for non-stop operations. The same applies from South-East Asia to the United States. Both Airbus and Boeing have been pushing this and have come up with LR and ELR variants, mainly using two engines.
Airbus moves towards passenger only aircraft
The longer you fly, the more fuel you need and a good eye for reducing unnecessary weight in order to create more range.
You can’t leave passengers behind - but apparently this rule may not work in the future on ULR aircraft for cargo transport.
Airbus introduced their latest wide-body version not long ago and dubbed it A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body). It’s selling well, but long-haul carriers such as Australia’s Qantas and Singapore Airlines, want non-stop range. Hence, the A350-900 ULR which made its first test flight in May and is expected to enter service by the end of the year. Boeing already operates a B787 version for Qantas on Perth to London Heathrow. Not long enough, some say.
The A350-900 ULR is said to offer more distance and lead customer is Singapore Airlines who plan to operate Singapore - New York Newark, which is said to be the longest non-stop flight in the world. To do that they need to load up to 24.000 litres of extra fuel and that means that unnecessary weight “such as cargo” - will have to be done away with if the ULR can stay above the clouds for up to twenty hours. There will be no extra tanks installed (weight), but instead Airbus will create a new fuel storage system to accommodate extra fuel.
So - no cargo!
Not quite - at least not yet!
The forward belly holds will be deactivated for cargo where normally there is space for up to 90 cubic metres of cargo. Baggage will go to the rear.
Happily enough for those in love with air cargo, Singapore Airlines is so far the only customer for the ULR Airbus. But, this will surely change as other carriers see the advantage of ULR operations for passengers. One of them being Qantas who would dearly love to introduce a non-stop Sydney to London service - something which the B787 so far cannot accomplish.
More range - even less cargo capacity and somewhere down the line no cargo on board. Airbus is not happy with sales of their A330-200 freighter and could possibly close the production line very soon. It’s been a slow mover compared to Boeing’s 777 and 767 freighters. Could it be that the Toulouse manufacturer is losing interest in the importance of revenues generated by air cargo?
One could jokingly state that a one-man cockpit, or even a ‘no-man‘ cockpit could save further weight. There are talks on this which are aimed at trying one-man cockpits in the future on freighters.
God forbid! - Freighter pilots again as guinea pigs?
Airbus puts production in the UK under review
In its Brexit “risk assessment” aired last Thursday, plane maker Airbus warned Downing Street it could withdraw from the country if the UK exits the European Union single market and customs union without an acceptable transition deal. If so, this would “lead to severe disruption and interruption of UK production,” reads their statement. "This scenario would force Airbus to reconsider its investments in the UK, and its long-term footprint in the country," it added.
Currently, the European plane maker employs 14,000 people at 25 sites in the British Isles, with around half in Wales. In addition, more than 4,000 suppliers are based there.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: "We have repeatedly warned that the UK cannot take the huge economic risk of cutting ourselves adrift from the single market and customs union. Particularly in the case of manufacturing sectors, which in Wales are so important in providing high-paid, high-skilled jobs."
The UK is due to leave the block of 28 on 29 March 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May has emphasized on several occasions that the UK will not stay in the customs union.
John Mc Donagh