11 August 2011
A380 airlines compared
Rob Fisher

The LA times has a nice picture gallery comparing the ways different airlines have used the space on their A380s.

I think Emirates first class wins on bling factor alone. The features sound nice, too:

Enclosed suites afford passengers in first class a high degree of privacy. The suites feature sliding doors, a personal mini-bar, wardrobe and a 23-inch wide viewing monitor. The seats recline to form a fully flat bed. A divider that separates adjoining suites can be lowered for passengers traveling together. Like business passengers, first-class fliers have access to an exclusive lounge.

26 June 2011
A trip to Brittany – and more ruminations on Dreamliner World versus A380 World
Brian Micklethwait

I recently spent a week in Brittany (see various postings here, staying with friends who live in the city of Quimper, which at the south west end of the Brittany peninsula, just before you get to the final southern tip.

I’ve stayed with these friends before, and on every trip before this latest one, I’ve flown Ryanair from Stansted to Brest, Brest being about an hour by car north of Quimper.  But the bad news is that Brest airport has recently constructed a swanky new Norman Foster type building, with lots of sloping glass and metal struts everywhere and a general absence of rectangles.  Somewhere in among all these new arrangements, there was a fight with Ryanair, the upshot of which was that Ryanair no long does flights from Stansted to Brest.  Strangely, though, Ryanair still does flights from Brest to Marseilles.

I’m guessing that this either has to do with money or with time, or perhaps a bit of both.  Maybe Brest airport wants to be paid more, or Brest itself wants to pay less, for Ryanair flights to and from London.  Or, the new airport arrangements mean that Ryanair can’t turn its planes around as quickly as it used to be able to.

Also, you can’t help suspecting that perhaps Brest built itself a posh new airport terminal because it wants a better class of persons to come to Brest from London, and from many other classy spots, and the dribble of Ryanair riff-raff to stay away.  Maybe some day soon there will again be flights Brest/London flights, but more expensive ones, containing richer and better dressed persons.  But those are just guesses.

Anyway, whatever may have caused the Brest/London Ryanair flights to end, for this latest visit I had to go from Stansted to Dinard, which is the airport of the port city of Saint Malo, which is at the other end of the Brittany peninsula, to its north west, about four hours drive from Quimper.  Very tiresome.  My hosts kindly collected me from there on the way.  And on the way back, I and Mrs Host were both going to London, so we went by train from Quimper to Saint Malo (changing at Rennes), and then took a bus to Dinard and a taxi from Dinard to the airport itself.  All very cumbersome.

It did give us a chance to wander about in Saint Malo, which was good, and I got to go by train in France, which I’ve not done for decades, unless you count Eurotunnel trips to Belgium, Germany, etc.

While we relaxed in the small bar at Dinard airport, Mrs Host and I agreed about how agreeable these small airports are, compared to huge designer cattle shed airports like Stansted, and such as Brest seems now to want to be.  Mrs Host reminisced about a cheep and delightfully informal flight she once took from a tiny airfield in Kent, to a similar airport not very near to Paris, for about £45 in about 1990, in a propeller driven plane.  Our preference was confirmed hideously when we got to Stansted, at about eleven o’clock at night, to find ourselves at the back of a vast hoard of incomers to London, waiting while too few people indolently looked at everyone’s passport.  Were they seeking a terroristic pin?  If so, we were the haystack.  It was bank queue hell multiplied by a hundred.  Actually, it was over rather sooner than it at first looked like it would be, but first impressions were deeply unpleasant, and are hard to forget.

This experience makes me think that the long-term future of air travel is lots of small airports rather than a few big ones.  The big ones can’t get any bigger, or nastier.  And the bigger the big airport planes (I’m thinking A380) get, the naster it will get to use these airports.

Dinard airport, meanwhile, was a delight.  It’s not quite just the one shed.  An architect was involved at some point in making the ugly boxy building where you congregate, but this feels more like a railway station than an airport, and what is more a railway station that is quite a bit smaller and more relaxed than, say, Rennes railway station.  Dinard airport is small, and shows no sign of wanting to get any bigger.

Indeed, if that bar we relaxed in is anything to go by, they positively glory in their smallness.  There are pictures there of old airplanes, with propellers, and of people in goggles posing in black and white or sepia in front of byplanes.  There were things like this ...:


… and this:


Boeing having bet their farm on the Dreamliner, a two engined go-anywhere improvement on the now ubiquitous Boeing 737 (which is what Ryanair now uses for most of its flights, including all my Brittany trips).  Airbus have bet their farm on the A380, a four engine enlargement of the Boeing 747.

In the short run, maybe Airbus have a point.  If the current question is: How can we get more cattle through the big cattle shed airports?, then the A380 may well be the answer.  And if the question is: How can we give more legroom to more money-no-object globetrotters, trotting globally from one huge financial centre to another?, ditto.

But what if, in the longer run, the question turns into: What’s the best way to get little clumps of people, inexpensively, from a small airport somewhere in the world but nowhere in particular (like Dinard or for that matter Quimper, which also has a small railway station type airport) to another small airport somewhere else in the world, for the tiny number of people who want that particular journey, yet who don’t want to be treated too much like a herd of cattle?

Maybe if you run the air passenger business, and run airports, the first two questions are what you now obsess about.  But speaking as a passenger, I can tell you that I greatly prefer the latter question.

I want a Dreamliner world, rather than an A380 world.

I see that I have blogged here before about this great commercial Confrontation Of Our Time.  In that earlier posting I quoted someone saying this:

How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?

Exactly.  What I feared was going to happen at Stansted on the night I passed through this week, would happen, at a truly mega-airport like Heathrow, for real.

I could ramble ever onwards, but instead I will say: over to Michael Jennings for more detailed answers to all of my questions, and for many more facts to back up or contradict my speculations.

31 March 2011
Brian Micklethwait

Today Instapundit linked to a report about how the HondaJet recently flew for the first time at its maximum speed of close to 500 mph.  Later (or maybe I just missed it the first time around) he added to his posting a link back to a piece he himself wrote a year ago about this airplane.  Good, I thought, because I had been wondering why he considered the HondaJet so worthy of his linkage.


Here is why:

The HondaJet is the brainchild of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. Fujino told me that his first job in the United States was in Mississippi, back in the 1980s, and that he found that wherever he traveled by air - even elsewhere in Mississippi - he usually wound up having to change planes in Atlanta. This seemed wasteful of time and fuel, and made travel iffier, since it created the risk of a missed connection. To Fujino, the hub-and-spoke system makes sense for a country like Japan, where Tokyo is at the center of everything, but much less sense for a country as big as the United States, where important places are widely distributed. For this, point-to-point travel is much better.

This is no secret, of course, to the people who travel by private jet now. But private jet travel is very expensive, which is why it is the domain of CEOs, celebrities and the like. The HondaJet represents an effort at changing all of that, by using technology and design to bring costs down and allow private-jet travel at costs that approach commercial ticket prices. (Fully loaded, Fujino says, the cost per seat on the HondaJet should be roughly comparable to a first-class commercial ticket). To keep costs down, the Honda folks have put a lot of thought into ways to make the plane as small and inexpensive as possible, without sacrificing comfort or speed.

I’m intrigued by the way the jet engines are above rather than below the wings.  This enables the landing gear to be directly under the engines, which means the wings need to do less structural work.  Hanging the airplane from its jets, so to speak, enables everything else to be nearer to the ground, which is convenient in all sorts of ways.  Including, I guess, that it makes the landing gear less bulky, because it has to reach down less.

Clearly, billionaires are a big part of the target market.  Billionaires may buy more - and more expensive - stuff than the rest of us, but at their own spending level they are presumably just as price sensitive as the rest of us.  That they have so much money suggests to me that they have a history of being careful with it.  So, I’m guessing lots of them will like this cheaper private jet, and lots of others will reckon this to be the first private jet worth buying.

But Honda are not expecting everyone who flies the HondaJet to be an owner of a HondaJet, or an employee or friend or relative of such an owner.  They also anticipate something more like a taxi model of USA air travel to develop.

It all sounds very promising.

It’s sort of the opposite extreme to the A380, the ultimate hub airliner.  That is trying to make air travel cheaper by making the biggest planes even bigger.  The HondaJet makes air travel cheaper by making the smallest and most convenient planes, that can still go fast and over long distances, cheaper.  The HondaJet is, you might say, the Dreamliner, only more so.  Or to put it another way, the HondaJet, it is hoped, will do to travel within the USA what others hope the Dreamliner will do for travel worldwide.

21 November 2010
A few rather ancient transport links
Brian Micklethwait

Some while back I started accumulating links to interesting transport things, concerning events during the recent spell of Transport Blog outage, by googling “transport” and ignoring everything boring, which is a hell of a lot.  (Mostly politicians moaning about how they aren’t being allowed or should be allowed to waste public money on transport crap of various sorts.)

But then I got ill and forgot about this.  Today, just to clear my decks, I give you this file of links.  There aren’t actually that many, but for what they are worth, click and enjoy:

Inside the world’s biggest private jet.

Is Google the most significant transport enterprise of twenty first century?

Passengers break out of train.

Germany gets across the channel.  It’s taken seventy years for the big arrows at the beginning of Dad’s Army to get here, but now they are about to.

The mobile web is bigger than transport.

Video of train spotter failing to spot the train.  It’s behind you.

Buy more salt.  I.e. for the roads this winter.

And finally, what with Michael’s recent writings here on the subject, a couple of motorcycle links: Motorcycles - miracle or menace?, and The tireless motorcycle museum curator.  Tireless.  Get it?  Oh never mind.

See also this excellent Vietnam motorbike picture.

Patrick: please feel free to re-edit the categorisations below.

LATER:  I also agree with the commenter who reckons that this bit of road building video is BRILJANT!!!

27 October 2010
Security, iPads and biodiversity
Rob Fisher

First liquids are to be allowed on planes, and now the chairman of British airways is complaining about security theatre. Taking off shoes and taking laptops out of bags is a waste of time, he thinks. The “aviation industry” agrees with him. Air travellers have had enough and the tide is turning. This is good news. And this is very funny, and typical of authorities unable to keep up with technology:

...confusion over whether the iPad is a laptop or not, thereby requiring further examination, was one example of inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, Airbus are getting in on the biodiversity bandwagon. Why?

07 May 2009
My A380 flight
Rob Fisher

A few weeks ago I flew on Emirates EK002 from Heathrow to Dubai.  I specifically chose that flight to try out the A380.  From the front it looks a bit ugly.

Front of A380

Once inside, the first thing I noticed was the stairs.  They look like the entrance to a London night club.  Commoners like me were not allowed up the stairs.

A380 stairs

The seats were pretty spacious for economy class.  I am six feet tall and did not feel at all cramped.  I don’t think it was much different from 747s I’ve flown on, though.  The interior didn’t look much different either, although Emirates put tiny lights on the ceiling to look like stars, which was quite pretty when the main cabin lights were dimmed.  One odd thing is the entrance to the cockpit, which rather than being on the top deck like a 747, is on the lower deck but up a few steps.  There are two sets of steps: the left set leads to the cockpit and the right set leads to toilets.

The in flight entertainment system was the best I’ve used.  The screen is nice and big, there were lots of movies, every number one single ever and some slightly better than usual but not great games.  You can plug in a USB stick and view your photos.  I managed to send an email to Michael Jennings, but didn’t get his reply even though the system told me I would.

In-flight email

Best of all were the three external cameras.  The front one was best and offered a good view of the approaching runway while landing, the downward facing one was mostly useless except shortly after takeoff when the front one only showed sky, but the most spectacular was the tail camera, even though image quality seemed slightly worse on this one.  Unusually, the system was switched on from the gate until landing, so you get to keep an eye on everything.

Tail camera

If you’re not interested in planes and you’re flying economy, you won’t notice much difference.  But if you like planes or you get to try business class or better, you’ll have a lot of fun on the A380.

18 September 2008
A380 flight booked
Rob Fisher

I am excited because I am booked onto an Emirates flight to Bangkok via Dubai on an A380.  Ok, so I can’t afford a private suite, and none of the exit aisle seats were available (and I found out what a bassinet seat was and so avoided booking one of those), but Emirates is supposed to be one of the better airlines* so I have high expectations.  I should at least be well entertained.  The external camera views sound interesting.

My flight is not until March and the A380 starts on 1st December, so hopefully there won’t be any hiccups.  Will I be the first transport blogger to fly on an A380?

* Not everyone would agree.

25 July 2008
A380 at Farnborough
Rob Fisher

I went to the Farnborough air show last weekend and took this video of the A380 taking off, flying around a bit, and landing.  The pilot made it climb and turn much quicker than I think it would on a normal passenger flight.  It was very big and very impressive.  Apologies for the shaky camera.

A380 at Farnborough from Rob Fisher on Vimeo.

15 November 2007
It’s all in the timing
Brian Micklethwait

Today, Eurostar cut its timings to and from London by twenty minutes, or whatever it is, and on the very same day, French railway workers go on strike.  Coincidence?  The usual next sentence is: “I don’t think so”, but the truth is that I have no idea.  However, if the striking railwaymen were trying to cause the maximum pain, today was surely the day to choose.  Suddenly those French railways don’t look so smooth and efficient, and the Brits are the ones sniggering and feeling superior.

By the way, the picture here, makes the St Pancras extension look rather better than my first impressions.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of transport related blogging at my place.  See also: this about another viaduct, and this about the A380.

26 October 2007
First commercial A380 flight
Rob Fisher

The first commercial A380 flight happened yesterday.  I chose to link to that particular news source because they have a nice picture of a couple enjoying their private first class cabin with double bed.  It reminds me of the good old days of passenger aviation, when private cabins and restaurants were normal.  It remains to be seen whether this is a short-lived publicity gimmick with private cabins soon to be replaced with extra economy class seats, or whether luxury flights like this can be profitable.

04 October 2007
Transport Bloggers talk about transport
Patrick Crozier

Last night a few of the Transport Blog crew met up in Central London.  Surprisingly enough the subject of transport did in fact crop up now and again.

One discussion we had was over the Boeing 787.  It seems that one of the big advantages of its lightweight construction is that it allows higher cabin pressures.  For some reason, it’s to do with white blood cells apparently, this means that passengers won’t be so tired when they reach their destinations.  It’s amazing how advances in technology can have strange knock-on effects.  I wonder if the Airbus 380 will be similarly blessed.  I suspect not.

Another discussion was over train gauges.  They differ between Spain and France, so how, we wondered did Rob manage to board a train that managed to take him all the way from Paris to Barcelona?  And how did they manage to make the change of gauge without him noticing?  This is how.

03 May 2007
Europeans chase shadows
Patrick Crozier

It’s fun to see the economic lessons of the 1960s being replayed 40 years later.  Way back then you will remember European politicians bet the farm (that was your farm) on speed being the future of air travel.  So, they built Concorde.  Meanwhile, Boeing looked at the numbers and came up with 747.


Now, forty years on, Airbus, Europe’s champion, nothing if not quick to adapt, has bet the farm (that’s…) (probably) on that lumbering giant the A380.  A more apt corporate symbol there has never been.  Meanwhile, Boeing has checked the numbers and worked out that the future lies in fuel efficiency and direct flights to Australia.

Incidentally, in a world where planes and engines are sold separately why all this talk about the 787 being fuel efficient?