An aircraft depressurization scenario can be a little bit intimidating for passengers, particularly when the oxygen masks drop down from the ceiling. But, in reality, this situation is nowhere near as alarming as it may appear. The question that many passengers would want to answer is how the pilots deal with aircraft depressurization.
In such a scenario, pilots are trained to deal with the problem via a memory drill that is often referred to as an emergency descent. The word ’emergency’ again makes this sound somewhat alarming, but the process is a relatively standard procedure that can be instigated in several different scenarios.
As the name would suggest, an emergency descent involves reducing the altitude of a plane in the shortest period of time possible, taking into account the limitations and safety of the aircraft. Emergency descents are also used when a fire is discovered onboard an aircraft.
In the event of an emergency descent, the crew onboard an aircraft will follow emergency procedures and the manufacturer’s guidance regarding the conduct of the flight and management of aircraft systems. The flight crew and pilots will also immediately wear oxygen masks themselves, once a depressurization incident occurs.
It is notable that emergency descents may feel somewhat dramatic, but this isn’t because anything is awry. It is simply because the airline is descending to the requisite altitude in the shortest possible period of time. The procedure certainly isn’t unsafe.
When recalibrating altitude in an emergency descent, pilots will usually aim to take the plane to around 10,000 feet. The reason for this is that reduced levels of oxygen are known to have little effect on human beings at altitudes of below 10,000 feet.
Air-traffic control will also be informed of the situation, and a mayday signal will be declared. Clearance for descent will be sought, particularly if the aircraft is traveling in an area in which there are several other flights in relatively close proximity.
In addition to these basic measures, depending on the precise situation and the destination of the aircraft, pilots may also consider shutting down one of the plane’s engines in order to extend the range of the aircraft. The plane may also continue to fly at a relatively low altitude for the remainder of the flight.
When oxygen masks fall from a plane’s ceiling, there is certainly no cause for alarm, as there are already simple procedures in place in order to deal with the situation. Calmness is recommended by pilots and cabin crew should this occur, while passengers should naturally put on their oxygen masks as quickly as possible.
One pilot who spoke to The Daily Express newspaper in the UK on the subject also advised passengers “to listen very carefully to the cabin crew demonstration at the start of the flight rather than being on a phone.” So if everyone follows the basics onboard a flight when depressurization occurs, there should be absolutely no cause to be concerned.
What Happened To Flyglobespan?
The leisure market makes up a significant part of commercial aviation in the UK. This sector has seen numerous carriers come and go over the years. However, few, if any, can claim to have served such enigmatic routes as those covered by Scottish low-cost airline Flyglobespan. But what exactly happened to this curious carrier, whose existence spanned less than seven years?
A brief history of Flyglobespan
Flyglobespan’s first services operated in April 2003 out of Edinburgh Airport and Glasgow Prestwick Airport in Scotland. The aircraft it initially used were a pair of Boeing 737-300s, which were provided by Channel Express, which would eventually rebrand as Jet2. Flyglobespan initially served leisure destinations in European countries, such as France, Italy, and Spain.
Within two years, the airline was flying 1.5 million passengers a year, using a larger fleet of nine aircraft. The number of destinations it served had climbed to 15, including Prague, and Spain’s Canary Islands. 2005 also saw it launch short-lived Anglo-Scottish domestic services, although these struggled to compete with established carriers like easyJet, and lasted just nine months.
Over the next few years, Flyglobespan began adding long-haul services to North American and African destinations. This period saw some obscure combinations of destinations being linked with one another, which we shall touch upon briefly. However, increasing financial difficulties, with debts said to be as high as £35 million ($48.5 million), forced the airline to cease operations on December 16th, 2009. It was placed into administration the next day.
Curious city combinations
Listed below are some of Flyglobespan’s more interesting long-haul services. Could the airline have been ahead of its time in terms of operating direct, ‘long thin’ point-to-point routes? That said, certain flights from Knock did make refueling stops when using 737s instead of 757s.
- Doncaster/Sheffield – Hamilton, Canada.
- Knock, Ireland – Boston Logan International.
- Knock – Hamilton.
- Liverpool – Hamilton.
- Liverpool – New York JFK.
- Manchester – Cape Town, South Africa.
- Manchester – Hamilton.
A diverse, all-Boeing fleet
In its six-and-a-half years of operation, Flyglobespan operated a variety of twin-engine Boeing airliners. The majority of these were narrowbodies – for example, it flew five different variants of the Boeing 737. According to Planespotters.net, these were broken down as follows.
- 737-300 – 6 aircraft, 2003-2009.
- 737-400 – 1 aircraft, 2005 only.
- 737-600 – 4 aircraft, 2005-2008.
- 737-700 – 2 aircraft, 2007-2009.
- 737-800 – 5 aircraft, 2005-2009.
Flyglobespan also operated three examples of the Boeing 757-200 between 2007 and 2009. In terms of widebody operations, the airline’s flagship was the 767-300ER. It operated six of these twin-aisle aircraft on its longer-haul and higher-demand routes between 2007 and 2009.
These planes were Flyglobespans only widebodies, and could fly a capacity of 276 holidaymakers at a time. One of these aircraft has had a particularly interesting life after its time at Flyglobespan. According to Planespotters.net, G-CEOD was first transferred to Kenya Airways in August 2010, after eight months in storage in Shannon, Ireland.
It flew for the Kenyan flag carrier until June 2014, when it re-entered a 14-month storage period in Shannon once again. It was eventually taken up by Icelandair, who presently fly the aircraft with a two-class 259-seat configuration, according to SeatGuru. Simple Flying covered one of its more recent missions in great detail, which saw it fly a team of research scientists to Antarctica. What a contrast from its previous role as a summer-sun leisure workhorse!
Did you ever travel with Flyglobespan? If so, where did you fly, and on what aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Boeing 737 MAX Electrical Fix Gains FAA Approval
Boeing has received approval from the U.S Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for proposed electrical fixes to the 737 MAX. Electrical grounding issues forced over 100 MAX planes to be removed from service over the past month. Affected airlines will now be able to return their MAX jets to the skies.
FAA grants approval for electrical fixes
The FAA has approved Boeing’s proposed modifications for the 737 MAX to fix the electrical grounding issues discovered last month. On Wednesday, Boeing sent out two service bulletins to MAX operators affected by electrical issues. The bulletins provide instructions on how to repair the problem, which will take airlines less than 24 hours per plane.
Boeing told Reuters,
“After gaining final approvals from the FAA, we have issued service bulletins for the affected fleet. We are also completing the work as we prepare to resume deliveries.”
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told U.S. lawmakers that the issue would require a “pretty straightforward fix.” Repair work is expected to take between nine and 24 hours per jet, at a total cost of around $155,000 for all affected planes in the U.S.
Dickson confirmed his full confidence in the safety of the MAX to a U.S House panel yesterday, saying,
“It is performing as well or better overall than any other airplane out there in the aviation system right now.”
On May 4th, the FAA requested proof from Boeing that various MAX subsystems would not be affected by the electrical grounding issues. Despite many airlines expecting a swift solution to the problem, the FAA’s additional requests delayed the process to ensure other systems on the MAX were not compromised.
What exactly were the electrical issues?
The electrical problems are believed to have arisen after Boeing altered its manufacturing process to accelerate production of the MAX. Boeing discovered the issue in early April, issuing a safety recommendation to 16 airlines operating the MAX.
The problem was first traced to a backup power control unit in the cockpit, before concerns the issue could affect other areas of the plane, including the pilot instrument panel. In an airworthiness directive issued by the FAA, the regulator claimed the problem could have resulted in a loss of critical functions.
The FAA said the issue,
“… could affect the operation of certain systems, including engine ice protection, and result in loss of critical functions and/or multiple simultaneous flight deck effects, which may prevent continued safe flight and landing.”
Boeing gives the all-clear for affected planes
Boeing has also announced that airlines affected by the electrical issue are preparing to return the MAX to the skies. According to the FAA, 109 MAX-8 and MAX-9 planes were affected, with 71 of those registered in the U.S. Southwest Airlines grounded 30 of its MAX planes in April, with American Airlines and United Airlines grounding 17 and 16 jets respectively.
The announcement comes as a relief for U.S airlines, with a busy schedule and market recovery on the cards over the summer. Other affected airlines worldwide include Cayman Airways, Copa Airlines, GOL Linhas Aereas, Iceland Air, Minsheng Leasing, Neos Air, Shandong Airlines, SilkAir, SpiceJet, Sunwing Airlines, TUI, Turkish Airlines, Valla Jets Limited, WestJet Airlines and Xiamen Airlines.
Do you have confidence in the Boeing 737 MAX? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
The Top 10 Largest Planes Ever Made
What are the largest aircraft flying? We all know the A380 is the largest passenger jet built – and likely will be for some time. We take a look here at this and other large passenger jets, as well as transport aircraft and some one-off developments. There are many ways to measure large aircraft – including length, weight, volume, or wingspan. We’ll take a look at all of this, but bear in mind, others could easily make the list!
It offers a maximum passenger capacity (exit limit) of 853 but a typical capacity of 400 to 550. Such high capacity demonstrates a world-class feat of engineering. But, unfortunately, it has not worked out as well as hoped for airlines.
Emirates has made a success of it with its hub-based model, but most airlines have struggled. The rise in the ability of twin-engine aircraft and the shift away from hub and spoke operations damaged the aircraft’s potential, and the slowdown seen following the events of 2020 has sealed its fate for several airlines.
Sadly, with increasing retirements, it is failing to find a new use. Only Hi Fly has taken on a second-hand aircraft for charter use but even that airline has now retired it. Its potential in the cargo market is limited by its design, and although it would make an amazing private jet or VIP transport, its size and limitations have so far stopped this from happening.
The 747 is, of course, the other very large passenger jet. The latest 747-8 is the largest version offered, coming in just over three meters longer than the A380. But it has a lower maximum capacity of 605 (again, this is the maximum exit limit, with a typical capacity around 450). It also has a much shorter wingspan (68.4 meters compared to 79.95 meters), which has been a benefit as it increases the number of airports at which it can operate.
Until the A380, the 747 was the largest passenger aircraft flying. This has been its hallmark since its launch in 1968. It was developed in collaboration with Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). The airline had seen success with the 707 and wanted to take this further with a new aircraft over twice the size. It was, in fact, originally planned with a full-length upper deck, but this could not be made to work with safety requirements.
As test aircraft are now flying, it seems appropriate to include Boeing’s upcoming 777X. The largest variant, the 777-9, will be the longest passenger aircraft ever launched, at just over 76 meters. And it will offer a typical capacity of up to 426 – not far off that of the 747-8.
Unlike the other passenger aircraft on this list, the 777X, of course, is a twin-engine aircraft. And these new GE9X engines are the largest and most powerful commercial engines ever built – larger than a 737’s fuselage! The 777X will bring in a new era of very high-capacity, very efficient twins. We are unlikely to see four-engine commercial jets again for some time, but there could be more developments in this area.
We still have to wait a while to see the 777X in airline use. Development has been delayed due to engine problems and issues with structural testing. And production delays have also crept in due to the slowdown during the pandemic.
As of February 2021, orders stood at 191 (down from 350 before the pandemic). Qatar Airways currently expects to take its first aircraft in 2023, but Emirates (by far the largest customer) may not until as late as 2025.
Moving away from passenger jets, one of the largest aircraft you will ever see flying is the Antonov An-225 freighter. Only of these is operational, although a second remains partially built. This is the heaviest aircraft ever built and has the widest wingspan of any operational aircraft. It also has six engines and 32 wheels!
It was originally launched in 1971 to transport the USSR’s equivalent of the Space Shuttle, known as Buran. The shuttle would be carried on top of the aircraft, and parts of the rocket could fit into the large fuselage. It can carry the highest payload of any aircraft – an enormous 250 tonnes (for comparison, the 747-8F freighter aircraft can carry up to 136 tonnes). As such, it has remained in service and seen some specialized uses.
Sticking with the same manufacturer, the An-124 is smaller than the An-225 but is one of the largest commercially developed freighters. It launched in 1982, and 55 aircraft have been built. Until the 747-8 was introduced, it was the heaviest commercially produced aircraft.
As of April 2021, 33 An-124 aircraft remain in use (according to data from planespotters.net). Seven of these are operated by Ukrainian airline Antonov Airlines, 12 by Russian airline Volga-Dnepr and one by each of Libyan Air Cargo and UAE-based Maximus Air Cargo. They regularly see unusual cargo operations, such as transporting Maglev trains from Germany to China.
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Carrying on with large transport aircraft, the C-5 Galaxy is also high up the list for size and payload. It is a military transporter aircraft built by US manufacturer Lockheed and entered service in 1970. It followed other successful transporters, such as the C-130 Hercules, but simply needed to be bigger.
At just over 75 meters long, it is bigger than the A380 and the An-124. It can carry a payload of 127 tonnes and adds inflight refueling for a huge range.
It remains in active service with the US Air Force, although several large transports have followed it. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster is a leading example – it’s big but not as big as the C-5.
Interestingly, Lockheed was also interested in an even larger replacement. The so-called VLST (Very Large Subsonic Transport) was proposed in the 1990s but never developed. A passenger version would have two decks, four aisles and carry up to 900 passengers.
Airbus Beluga XL
Technically, the Beluga XL is not an aircraft type but a modification of the Airbus A330. As such, some may question whether it should appear on such a list. But however you treat it, it is one of the largest aircraft you will see regularly flying.
By volume, it is the largest. It offers a fuselage volume of 2,209 cubic meters. For comparison, Boeing’s Dreamlifter comes in behind at 1,840 cubic meters.
Airbus built the Beluga XL (and its predecessor Beluga) to transport its aircraft components. From its outset, Airbus has split aircraft construction over several locations. It was formed as a consortium of several European manufacturers to take on Boeing.
The Beluga was introduced in 1995, based on the A300 airframe, and used mainly for A340 construction. The Beluga XL, based on the A330-200, followed in early 2000. Its larger size was needed for larger A350 components. So far, three aircraft have been delivered, and six will enter service by 2024.
It was designed to carry Boeing 787 parts from suppliers in Italy and Japan (as well as US locations) to final assembly facilities in Washington and South Carolina. The first Dreamlifter entered service in 2007, and there is now a fleet of four.
It is a huge aircraft, but beaten by others on statistics. For fuselage volume, it comes in behind the Beluga XL. And while it is longer than the Beluga XL and the 747-400, it is beaten by the 747-8. Its four-engine 747 base offers a much higher payload than the Beluga XL but less than half that of the An-225.
Hughes H-4 Hercules
The Hughes H-4 Hercules was one of the largest aircraft ever built but never moved beyond the one prototype version. It is a flying boat transport and was designed for use during the Second World War. It could carry 750 troops or two 30-ton M4 tanks. However, it did not get flying until 1947, after the war had ended.
It has the second largest wingspan ever (after the Stratolaunch), at 97.8 meters, and is powered by eight Pratt & Whitney engines. To conserve metals during the war years, it has a wooden fuselage, hence its nickname of the ‘Spruce Goose.’
The one prototype did make test flights but never entered service. It remains preserved and on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon, US.
Last on our list is the Stratolaunch aircraft (with the full name of the Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch). This huge double fuselage plane has the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever – an amazing 117 meters (the closest behind this today is the An-225 at 88.4 meters).
It was designed to carry a rocket, weighing up to 250 tonnes, between the fuselages for launch into orbit. Much of the technology, and its six engines, are based on the 747-400. The two fuselages are each 73 meters long – and in case you are wondering, the pilots sit in the right-hand cockpit. The left side is unpressurized and used just for equipment.
There have been delays to the program, most notably following the death of its founder Paul Allen in 2018. The new owner, Cerberus Capital Management, decided to shift the role of the aircraft to be a launch vehicle for reusable hypersonic flight research vehicles. After a two-year delay from its first flight, the Stratlauch flew again in April 2021. We’ll keep an eye on future developments for this exciting aircraft.
We are airborne! pic.twitter.com/6jTkkqfjKd
— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) April 29, 2021
Hopefully, this has been an interesting look at some of the largest aircraft around. Remember, there are many ways to measure such aircraft and several others could have made the list. Feel free to discuss the listed ones, or any others, in the comments.
How Do Aircraft Navigate?
Different vehicles have different levels of navigational freedom. Trains are very restricted, with their movements dictated by the rails on which they travel. Cars and other road vehicles enjoy greater flexibility, with the freedom to take several routes depending on the driver’s preference. But what about the factor of altitude comes into play? Aircraft travel further and faster than these vehicles, and at a range of different heights. So how exactly do they navigate?
In the air
How aircraft navigate while in the air is influenced by whether they are flying under Instrument (IFR) or Visual (VFR) Flight Rules. When flying under IFR, pilots will navigate their aircraft using aspects such as radio and satellite navigation (GPS), as well as, as the name suggests, the plane’s cockpit instruments.
Meanwhile, when flying under VFR, such aids are generally only used as supplementary features. For the most part, VFR flight tends to rely on observational navigation, in which pilots visually calculate their position relative to another fixed point, sometimes with the aid of maps.
In years gone by, aircrews would sometimes feature a dedicated navigator in addition to the two pilots (and sometimes also a flight engineer). However, as technology has improved over the years, the need for this role has been eliminated. The navigator’s presence would allow pilots to concentrate on other tasks, at a time when fewer aspects were automated than today.
On the ground
Pilots also need to know their way around when taxiing their aircraft between the gate and the runway. At smaller airports, or ones with which the crew is familiar, this may not be the most challenging task. However, at large or unfamiliar airports, it is paramount that pilots can still find their way around without making a wrong turn that could cause delays.
The Points Guy reports that aircraft are often provided with a paper map of the airport in question. This will feature conspicuously-labeled gates and taxiways to ensure that even first-time visitors know where they’re going.
Additionally, modern aircraft also often have a computerized moving map for ground movements, similar to a car’s GPS. This is useful when there is low visibility, either during the hours of darkness or due to inclement weather.
A crucial safety aspect
An aircraft’s navigation systems are a vital aspect in terms of ensuring its safe operation. As such, failures are often taken very seriously, resulting in diversions. Simple Flying covered two such incidents in 2019.
The first of these, in August that year, involved an Icelandair Boeing 757. This aircraft had been en route from Reykjavík-Keflavík (KEF) to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). In this instance, the aircraft encountered issues with its LNAV (lateral navigation) and VNAV (vertical navigation) systems while cruising at 34,000 feet near Greenland. It eventually landed safely in Reykjavík.
Then, in November 2019, a similar incident befell a Delta Air Lines Airbus A220. Funnily enough, this flight had also been bound for Seattle, although its origin in this instance was Denver, Colorado. Having encountered problems with the navigation systems 36,000 feet over Idaho, the crew elected to divert to Salt Lake City, Utah, where, thankfully, they also landed safely.
Were you aware of the different ways in which aircraft navigate? Perhaps you’ve seen some of these systems in person on flight deck visits? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
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