What’s news in the world of aviation?

Hello and happy Tuesday. These are some stories I have enjoyed of late.

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Why now is not a good time to operate all cargo airplanes

It's becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters -- to make money.  Photo: Your blogger.

It’s becoming more difficult for all cargo airplanes -or freighters — to make money. Photo: Your blogger.

Airlines are having a difficult time filling space on their all-cargo jets, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

What’s the problem?

There a couple of things, according to reporter Matt O’Sullivan. One is that the goods, such as electronics, that we love to buy are no longer manufactured in just handful of places. Instead, there are now manufacturing centers across China and Southeast Asia. If airlines want to carry the goods on freighters, they have to send their planes to cities they never would have considered a decade ago. That can work, but it’s expensive to do.

”Before, we could just sit here in Hong Kong and the trucks just came over the border from the Pearl River Delta – that was the factory of the world. It is still the factory of the world but there are now other factories of the world,” Cathay Pacific cargo director James Woodrow told the newspaper. That can mean sending freighters to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The other problem? There’s an imbalance in supply and demand. All-cargo jets aren’t the only types of planes that can transport goods. Any widebody airplane can haul cargo between continents, as I noted last year in a story on how airlines transport fresh produce from L.A. to Europe and Asia. 

O’Sullivan notes that Middle Eastern and Asian carriers have been adding to their widebody passenger fleets. And while those airlines are mostly in the passenger business, cargo helps them eek out a little extra profit.

“The cheapest way to carry cargo is in the belly of passenger jets whose objective is to get their valuable human cargo to their destinations,” O’Sullivan writes. “Freight in the belly of a passenger plane is icing on the cake for an airline, often making the difference between it making money on a flight or not.”

These market changes have led Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to park some of their planes, according to the story. “Singapore Airlines has four 747-400 jumbos parked at Victorville,” O’Sullivan writes.

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Poll: What’s your favorite historic airline livery? (European division)

We love historic airline liveries here at L.A. Airspace. I’m sure some of my readers feel the same way, even if they’re too proud to admit it. So I ask you this: Among these European airlines, which paint job is your favorite?

For what it’s worth, I go with SAS. Also, I think I have my dates generally correct for the liveries, but if you know the timelines more exactly, please let us know in the comments section.

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ANA will retire its 747s next month

Lufthansa is the only major passenger airline now flying the 747-8, the newest model of the iconic plane. Other airlines have decided the aircraft is not financially viable. Photo: Lufthansa

Lufthansa is the only major passenger airline now flying the 747-8, the newest model of the iconic plane. Other airlines have decided the aircraft is not financially viable. Could this the end of the line for the 747? Photo: Lufthansa

Another major airline is retiring its Boeing 747s — the airliner nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies.”

This time, according to Christine Negroni writing in the New York Times, the airline is Japan’s All Nippon Airways. ANA and JAL — Japan’s top two carriers — each started operating 747s in the 1970s, but JAL retired its final 747s in 2011. People, especially aviation nerds, love the airplane, but it’s no longer practical for a lot of airlines.

“Emotions, however, are no match for economics when it comes to a four-engine airplane and jet fuel that costs $123 a barrel,” Negroni wrote in the Times. “Along with the two Japanese carriers, Cathay Pacific and Singapore have also eliminated the 747 from their fleets, and Air India, Air New Zealand and Taiwan’s EVA Air are planning to do the same.”

ANA expects to have its final 747 flight on March 31, according to the Times.

There’s some question about whether this is only a 747 issue, or whether the market has dried up for super large jetliners. People get excited about the double-decker Airbus A380, but the future, some say, is in smaller 777s, 787s and Airbus A350s. In addition to generally having fewer seats than the 747, those planes have only two engines, which makes them considerably cheaper to operate. (Airbus is supposed to deliver its first A350 later this year, to Qatar Airways.)

“Many airline executives, however, say market changes are to blame for the slow sales,” Negroni wrote. “They say the mammoth airliner is history — and  (ANA’s chief executive officer, Osamu) Shinobe, is one of them. When he first saw the 747 in 1979, he said, the Japanese air travel market was booming and the jumbo’s 500-plus seats, in domestic configuration, far outmatched the next biggest airplane, the 320-seat Lockheed L-1011. Now, he says, the airline does not need that capacity: ‘Domestic will not grow so much anymore.'”

There is a new model of the 747 called the 747-8, which Lufthansa started flying in 2012. It is more efficient than its predecessors, but it is so far not selling well. 

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CBS News VIDEO: Inside Delta’s Atlanta operation center as a storm hits

CBS News took a tour of Delta’s operations center this week, showing travelers how the airline copes with poor weather. Above you can learn what the network found out.

If you found that video compelling, you might want to check out my earlier posts following my visits to the operations centers at three major airlines — United, Delta and Lufthansa.

Of the three, my favorite was the Lufthansa center in Frankfurt. There, I learned how dispatchers plan flight 456 from Frankfurt to Los Angeles. Here’s what dispatcher Marcus Pabst told me when I asked him if the computer program that plans flights always chooses the fastest route:

It depends on what I have preselected. I have four options. I can tell the computer, give me a minimum cost track, including the overflight charges. Or I can ask for a  minimum fuel track only considering the fuel burn. Or I can ask for a minimum time track.  I would use that if I duty time problems from the crew (crew are permitted to only work so many hours per day) or most of the passengers are transit passengers and have to pick up their next flight, and we are arriving so late that if I have to send 50 passengers to the hotel or to another airline we are going to have to pay more money.  The fourth option is the minimum distance track – the shortest distance between two points.


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