Airbus has their second A350-1000 XWB test aircraft out and about in its new Carbon Livery.
With a three-class configuration, it can carry 366 passengers just under 8,000 nautical miles. It’s powered by two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines that have been custom built for Airbus specifically for this plane. From Airbus’s estimates, the airframe design and engine come together to offer a substantial 25% increase in fuel efficiency to other long-range competitors.
The Boeing 757 is an iconic plane in its own right, though not always as distinguishable to the untrained eye as a 747 or A380. It has been in production from 1981 to 2004, and in service since 1983. In fact, many airlines are holding onto their 757s tightly because of the versatility offered by this plane, in range, passenger capacity, and flight abilities.
While browsing Reddit’s /r/Aviation subreddit, I came across an article about Norwegian looking to Airbus to use the A321neo to take the place of their 757s. While Norwegian is a staunch Boeing supporter and purchasing their new 737-MAX, they recognize that the 737 simply does not have the range that the 757 does, even with the improvements provided by the MAX variants. The A321neo’s Long Range variant, however, does meet this need.
Benjamin from Business Insider goes on to explain that the issue is the size of the engines and the way the original 737 was designed. As I mentioned the other day, he A321neo-LR uses the CFM LEAP-1A engines, while the 737-MAX uses the CFM LEAP-1B engines:
An upgrade to a larger engine will likely involve a redesign of the 737’s landing gear. That’s because the 737 was designed in the 1960s to be powered by Pratt & Whitney’s JT8D engine with a much more compact fan diameter of 49 inches.
This means that whether it decides to modify the 737 or to build a new plane from scratch, it’ll be a move that will likely cost billions.
Also in the Business Insider article, there is a link to Patrick Smith’s Ask the Travel, where he discusses the shortcomings of the 737 from a pilot’s perspective. Most of what is discussed won’t directly affect a passenger, but one excerpt stands out:
Short runway? Stiff headwinds? Full payload? No problem. With 180 passengers on board, the plane can safely depart from a 6,000-foot runway, lifting off at a measly 135 knots (assuming flaps at 15 or 20), climb directly to 39,000 feet, and fly clear across the country. Nothing else can do that.
While the cramped cockpit of the 737 (versus A320, A321, or 757) isn’t something we won’t experience as passengers, one thing we can appreciate is versatility. The 757’s cabin is also roomier than the 737, as the 737 was initially designed as a regional jet.
Like I said, there are many airlines that are holding onto their 757s (Delta still has more than 150 in service) to be able to optimize the ratio of passengers to fuel-costs and maintenance. If the A321neo-LR can fill the void left by aging 757s, it would be a huge win for Airbus.
No, I don’t mean the Messianic figure from the Matrix movies, I am referring to Airbus’s denotation of improved engine performance and mileage: “New Engine Option”. These two narrow-body planes are reported to have an improved fuel efficiency estimated at 15% over their traditional counterparts, which will allow them to fly from the East Coast to Western Europe. This efficiency is due to a combination of new manufacturing technologies (and materials) leading to lighter planes , more efficient engines, and wingtip devices to help reduce drag.
Until now, we were limited to 757 variants when it came to narrow-body options to cross the Atlantic. While the 757 does offer lie-flat seats in certain configurations – Raleigh to Paris on Delta, for example, it is definitely aging and it shows. More fuel efficient options should translate to cheaper tickets for the passengers, and more options as well.
The 737-MAX family will use the CFM LEAP-1B engine, which is larger and more efficient than the older CFM56 engines found on the bulk of the 737 fleet. The estimated range is between 4,000 and 4,400 nautical miles for all but the ‘MAX 200’ variant, which is unique to RyanAir as a variant of the 737-8.
Additionally, it will have new wingtip devices which further boost its fuel efficiency. This combination of wingtip technologies is referred to as a “split scimitar winglet” by Boeing.
Though Southwest will be the launch customer of the MAX 7 and MAX 8 variants (Lion Air will be the launch customer of the MAX 9 and RyanAir of the MAX 200), I fully expect other airlines to replace their aging 737 population with these, especially when it comes to profit margins and fuel costs.
A320neo & A321neo
Both the A320 and A321 narrow-body aircraft from Airbus offer ‘neo’ options, and both are driven by CFM LEAP engines, though -1A. As with the 737-MAX, these planes also have redesigned wingtip devices (referred to as ‘sharklets’ by Airbus).
I was already flying to Boston with my girlfriend, so for my return, I routed through Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale before returning to Raleigh (yay segments!). The full route can be seen below. Thanks to my status with Delta, I was confirmed for First Class for all five flights. 😀
Airbus does have plans for both “neo” (New Engine Operation) and “LR” (Long Range) variants. The A321neo had its first flight in February of this year, but the long range variant will not be delivered until 2019. This variant will allow ranges of up to 4,000 nautical miles, however.
Delta was focused on customer comfort with the A321 interior, and it shows. More images are available from Delta’s website with information on the new storage option from Airbus. My favorite feature? Working air vents. It is a pet-peeve of mine from Delta’s 737-900ER (and some of their refit 757s), so I was excited to have actual airflow! It’s particularly important in the South, where it gets well above 90°F in the Summer.
The in-flight-entertainment console was surprisingly intelligent, which was a pleasant surprise. I was able to skip through a movie by dragging my finger across (instead of fighting with fast-forward and rewind), and was able to pinch-to-zoom on the map!
Overall, this plane excels in all the areas a flyer would look for, offering a quiet and quick ride to your destination. I look forward to the A321 being introduced to other routes!
When I stopped by the SkyClub at Fort Lauderdale, I knew my flight to Detroit was delayed — Delta both emailed and texted me with this. However, the agent checking me in noted this and rebooked me on an earlier option so that I would be sure to make my connecting flight from Detroit to Raleigh. Additionally, she asked for descriptions of my checked luggage and made sure all three pieces would be transferred to my new flight. She really went above and beyond, there — though I’ve been rebooked like this before, I’ve never had an agent make sure my luggage was moved over. This degree of customer care is why I stay loyal to Delta.
AirCanada Rouge A321
Though this post is about Delta, as I got situated on my flight from Fort Lauderdale to Detroit, I noticed we were docked next to another A321! This one operated by AirCanada’s Rouge service.
To maintain my status with Delta, I like to plan creative routes when traveling. For my trip to Sacramento this week, I opted to fly from Raleigh to Atlanta, Atlanta to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Sacramento (instead of to Salt Lake, and from there directly, for example… or directly from Atlanta… or many other options).
737-900 First Class
My first flight of the day was on one of Delta’s 737-900s. Though the seats are quite comfortable, and the in-flight entertainment console is crisp, the air-flow in the cabin is horrendous. Older 757s and even 717s have much more directed air pressure, allowing you to remain cooler. Extremely important when you’re in the South!
757-200 Thrust Reversal
My second flight, the longest leg, was on a 757-200. Unfortunately I didn’t get upgraded on this leg (I didn’t really expect to, since I was flying out of Atlanta). The nice thing about this was my seat was immediately in front of the engine. This allowed me to capture the thrust-reversal upon landing in LAX!
All 757-200s use one of two engines (one of which has two variants):
According to the Delta Museum, and using FlightRadar24 to cross-check the tail-number based on flight number, I confirmed that my 757-200 was using the PW2037.
Now for some background on thrust reversal! The purpose of thrust reversal is to take some of the engine’s thrust and direct it forward instead of backwards. This allows for shorter landing distances, less wear on brakes, and make for an all around safer flying experience. If you listen after landing, you will hear a loud woosh – that is the thrust reversal process. The Wikipedia article above identifies three types of thrust reversal mechanisms available for jet engines:
Purdue released a very helpful visual guide to differentiate between the three, as well as an explanation of where the thrust actually goes! Since the PW2000 series is a high by-pass engine, the cold stream type is what we would expect, and as you can see it is indeed what is happening:
Arizona Meteor Crater
And now, a brief reprieve from AvGeekery. 😉 Very brief.
En route to Los Angeles, we crossed just south of the Barringer Crater! You can see it up and to the left of the engine intake, below.
Upon Arrival at LAX, I made my way to the SkyClub in the middle of Terminal 5. From one of the seats along the window, I was able to see planes arrive and depart. Given LAX’s traffic, I got to see quite a few wide-bodies, as well as one of Alaska’s 737-900ERs! Lucky, on his blog “One Mile at a Time”, has a very nice guide on differentiating between different variants of wide-body aircraft. Simply put, it largely comes down to the number of wheels, engines, or doors they have. 😉
I tried to find the right version of their seat map on SeatGuru, and have provided links to those, as well. If you find something amiss, please let me know!
After an hour and a half, because the inbound flight was a little late in arriving, I was on my way to Sacramento. It’s not a true visit to LAX without catching a glimpse of the Theme Building!