Weekly Roundup, Friday 25 September 2020

Three new zero-emission hydrogen powered plane proposals by Airbus. See article below.


Good morning

Another busy week, and happily without a solid diet of smoke.  As is so often the case, after receiving an air purifier one afternoon last week, the very next day saw air qualities back to normal, and the only thing that has been in the air most of the time since then has been water.  We’re definitely into the autumn/fall rains and winds.  Perhaps I should complete my generator servicing before it is next needed!

Today’s newsletter comes with two additional articles.

One is an analysis of Amazon’s Thursday release of assorted new products, mainly enhancing their Alexa range of services and associated hardware.  As you know, I’m generally predisposed to liking most new gadgets, but this time, I’ve a possibly surprising conclusion and suggested approach to buying any of the new Amazon products that might appeal.

The other is Thursday’s Covid-19 diary entry.  Amusingly, I found myself earlier this week wondering if I’d soon run out of fresh news items to include in this twice weekly publication, and was wondering if it might be better to reduce it to a once a week item.  Well, please do have a look at Thursday’s diary entry – lengthy and crammed full of amazing items, most of which, alas, are far from positive.

If you’re not getting the daily or immediate versions of my articles, Sunday’s diary entry is online, here.

Are you a physician?  I’m looking for doctors to read my upcoming Covid-19 book – both to critique/comment on it, and also, if you like it, to provide a quotable quote or two for my publicity.  If you’d be interested, please let me know and I can send you an electronic pre-release copy.

What else this morning?  Please keep reading for

  • The Self-Correcting Air Passenger Trend Line
  • Did the Airlines Misunderstand the A380?
  • Airbus Airplane Ideas
  • Qantas Cashes in on its 747 Stuff
  • Sir Richard Branson Says “Trust Me”
  • And Lastly This Week….

The Self-Correcting Air Passenger Trend Line

I was looking at the chart that compares this year’s air passenger numbers with last year’s, and noticed after its latest up and down blip over the Labor Day weekend, it was back to a steady rise again.  I looked some more, and realized that apart from the occasional blip, there has been an astonishingly steady and even rise in passenger numbers pretty much ever since numbers bottomed out.

I show this with the green line.  About a 6% a month rise.  So, if I had to guess, I’d say the next week will see more of the same.

Did the Airlines Misunderstand the A380?

The A380 started life much the same as the 747 and even the 707 – with the airplane manufacturer and their client airlines marveling at the enormous amount of space on the plane, and fantasizing about filling all that space with shopping arcades, gyms, restaurants, and lounges.

The reality was of course somewhat different.  The plane as built was slightly smaller than originally planned, and most of the planes had nothing other than regular seats in them.

Sure, there were some “suites” in first class, and Emirates famously had a couple of showers and two bars (one upstairs, one down), but in general, the planes ended up as the usual traditional mix of jam-packed coach seats, adequate premium economy, nice business class and luxurious first class seats.  No gyms or shops or taverns.

Typical A380 cabin configurations tended to have somewhere from just under 400 to just over 500 seats – the main reason for such a range of numbers being how many of the seats were first, business, premium economy and regular economy class seats.

The plane itself was certified for 873 people maximum.

Here’s an interesting article that speculates about what would have happened if the larger A380-200 was built in an all-coach-class configuration, and with 966 passengers on board.  Would that have made it more profitable, with twice as many people all contributing to the plane’s profit on each flight?

Actually, probably not.  The thing is that per square foot of cabin area, premium cabin seats usually generate a lot more revenue than coach class seats.  The smaller number of premium seats is more than compensated for by the larger revenue per seat.  A first class seat can bring in ten or more times the revenue of a coach class seat, while costing a negligible amount more in food and drink than in coach class.  Airlines would love to fly all-premium seats, but attempts to do so have never succeeded – there never seems to be enough people wanting to pay matching premium fares, and so the airlines either end up flying half-empty planes, or compromising and ending up with eventually a more or less typical mix of coach and premium seating.

So, no, the airlines didn’t misunderstand that aspect of the A380.  And the occasional ideas I sometimes see of entrepreneurs wanting to buy up several used A380s at bargain prices then cram them full of coach class seats are unlikely to ever proceed, and doubly unlikely to ever succeed.

Airbus Airplane Ideas

Talking about Airbus’s past ambitious planes, the company released mockups of some speculative possible new airplane designs (see picture at top).  Two look fairly normal, with their main innovation being their use of hydrogen for power (via fuel cells) rather than usual jet fuel.

Fuel cells actually have more promise in airplanes (and possibly ships) than they do in cars, because the nature of the power required in a plane is that for most of a journey, the plane is operating at a non-varying cruising speed and power level, which fuel cells can be designed exactly for.  Cars need wide, regular and rapid variation in power outputs.

Plus – unlike batteries – hydrogen is weight-efficient.  You get three times the power out of a given weight of hydrogen as you do from a given weight of jetfuel.  As for batteries, well, you get 200 times less power out of batteries than you do out of hydrogen.

That’s not to say you should expect fuel-cell powered planes any time soon, but when you’re an airplane designer and your company has no money for new airplane designs and no customers calling out for them, you may as well indulge yourself in some what-if designs that at least generate some publicity for your company.

The third plane is more futuristic – a blended wing-body plane, with an as-yet unspecified (but also probably hydrogen) propulsion source.

Airbus says its planes could be in service by 2035.  I think the emphasis should be on the word “could” in that statement.  Details here.

Qantas Cashes in on its 747 Stuff

Qantas is being quite innovative at present.  With all its international flying suspended until some time next year, I guess its marketing people have nothing else to do, and their latest idea was selling off the drinks/food carts from the now retired 747s.

That’s a good idea, but what made it a great idea was that Qantas sold not only the used cart, but also filled it with goodies too.  They had 1000 half-size carts offered, each with 80 miniature bottles of wine, a full size bottle of champagne, a few snacks, a couple of amenities kits, pairs of pajamas, and a lovely throw.

The carts, being sold for $974.70 (I think this might be AUD not USD) sold out within hours of going on sale.  Details here.

Sir Richard Branson Says “Trust Me”

You might think Sir Richard Branson has his hands full at present.  He has an airline that is struggling not to go broke.  A high altitude joyride business that is struggling to take off.  He and his holding company have a cruise line that couldn’t have been launched at a worse time, a hotel company that surely must be finding the current business challenging, a health care operation, a mobile phone service provider, two different tour operators (Virgin Holidays and Virgin Vacations), a rail operation, some sort of involvement with one of the hyperloop companies, a motorcar racing team, and assorted other ventures.  As best we can surmise, few of them are currently outstandingly profitable.

But apparently he is seeking new challenges.  Notwithstanding his several dozen current business ventures, and some more dozens of past business ventures no longer operating, he continues to restlessly search for the next big thing.  He is now inviting and asking you to join him in his search, by investing into his new VG Acquisition Corp.  This company hopes to raise $400 million which it will then use to invest in whatever it can find and likes the look of.  Or, in PR-ese, the company says

We intend to search for targets that operate in consumer-facing industries in the U.S. and Western Europe.  We believe that we will have a unique value proposition for our target due to our ability to apply the Virgin brand to fuel its growth and enhance its financial profile.

Not everyone agrees with the value of the Virgin brand – just a couple of weeks ago the company that is planning to operate trains between Las Vegas and somewhere-close-to-Los Angeles ditched its branding agreement with Virgin and is no longer known as Virgin Trains.

And Lastly This Week….

A nostalgia version of this section.

Who doesn’t love old planes?  Well, some of us have an interest in old planes, and a few may even have a love for them.  If you were to draw up a list of memorable old planes that people still think about, the chances are there’d be a few planes for sure on the list – a DC-3, perhaps a 707, a Concorde for sure, a Constellation, and now, increasingly qualifying as an old plane,  a 747 too.

But would you place a DC-6 on that list?  If you’re of a certain age where you can remember flying on one, perhaps yes.  That’s why I’m drawn to the Vickers Viscount, for example – the first flights I remember were on Viscounts in New Zealand.

But for the rest of us, the answer is probably no, and I’ll wager that few people even know what a DC-6 was.  It was an interesting plane because it included a sleeper variant, and was highly regarded, but with the coming of the DC-8 (and the other passenger jets) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, quickly became technologically obsolete.

However, at least one DC-6 enthusiast is out there, and he is restoring a DC-6 just as soon as he can, errr, raise funds to do so.  Details here.  We wish him well.

The world’s oldest surviving “digital computer” (a phrase capable of many definitions) has just taken on a new lease of life.  It had been suffering from an interesting operational challenge.  No-one had a manual for how to operate it.  They’ve now found a manual for it.

Without clicking the link, can you guess which company built the computer?  Its designer built an earlier model and then this one between about 1935 and 1945.  You might be as surprised as I was to learn that the computer is German.

Talking about old computers from unusual countries, how about the Galaksija.  This computer dates to the early 1980s, and hails from what was then Yugoslavia.  The astonishing thing, for me, is how a radio show was devoted to the computer, and it broadcast programs for the computer owners.  Programs as in computer programs.  Because the computer programs were stored as tones on cassette tapes, the radio show would simply broadcast a program as a series of audio tones, and listeners would record the tones to a cassette tape, and – hey presto – an instant computer program, “downloaded” from the radio.

Details here.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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