Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Trip Report: Newcastle to Birmingham, the Long Way Round

I recently went on a trip up to Newcastle, travelling up by train. When I saw the price of the trains, I though there must be a better way! So I started hunting for flights. BHX-NCL direct flights are available with Eastern Airways but these are pretty steep, instead, for £60 I managed to get a routing of NCL-DUB-BHX - more than the train, but absolutely worth the extra!

Newcastle (NCL/EGNT) to Dublin (DUB/EIDW) EI3355
Aer Lingus Regional (Operated by Stobart Air) ATR 72-600 EI-FAT
The first leg of the journey was on an ATR, my first flight on the type, operated by Stobart for Aer Lingus. I have to say that everything about the trip was quick and efficient, both in the airport and onboard. I breezed through security and the flight left pretty much on time. My impressions of the ATR? It seemed quieter with less vibration than the rival Dash 8, of course the ATR 72-600 is a newer model than the Dash, having first flown in 2009. This aircraft was EI-FAT, first flown in 2013.

The taxi was short, with take off towards the east on rwy 07. The flight took us over the lake district, the Isle of Man, across the north of Dublin and in from the west to land on rwy 10. 

Looking back over the toon
Over the lakes
Courtesy of!
With the ATR particularly, changes in thrust were very apparent during the approach, (as with the Dash) there's no autothrottle. And the ATR approach is noticeably nose down in comparison with other modern airliners. I enjoyed it! Once we'd landed and parked on a remote stand by Terminal 1, we were bussed across the airport to Terminal 2, where passport checks were swift. I was out of the terminal within 15 minutes, and making my way landside back to Terminal 1.

Dublin (DUB/EIDW) to Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) FR666
Ryanair Boeing 737-800 EI-FRI
Terminal 2 is definitely nicer than 1 at Dublin! But then, 1 is the lo-co terminal, dominated by Ryanair. I had a whopping 3 hours to spare, thankfully the views of the airfield are good from inside the terminal so I didn't get too bored. I was to fly on EI-FRI, a brand new 73H, built in April of this year. The aircraft was BHX based, by tracking the FR667 on flightradar24, I watched it land before joining the huge queue that had formed at the gate.

The flight was so full that cabin bags were being moved into the hold at the gate. With only a rucksack, I got away with it! Once onboard, I could tell the aircraft was new - it was spotless, and had the new Boeing sky interior, inspired by the 787. This meant slimmer seats (so more legroom) and mood lighting that changed from white to blue to orange.

Take off was again on time and we soared into the calm evening sky. Calm being the operative word, there wasn't a single bump for the entire flight until landing! The following pics demonstrate why flying back the long way was worth it:

You don't get views like that from a train!

27,000ft over Snowdonia

We performed a little right hand orbit over the city of Birmingham, at a few thousand feet, and being on the right hand side I got a stunning view of the city lights. Then it was straight in to rwy 15 for a 10 minute early touchdown (I had hoped, given the quality of the service so far, that Ryanair had abandoned their silly on time trumpeting, but alas no!). 

To conclude? It may have taken 8 hours total door to door (rather than about 4 on the train), but for just a little extra, flying is absolutely my preferred ride home. I enjoyed the little ATR too - I'd look to fly on those if travelling to Ireland again!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Farnborough 2016

So the orders from Farnborough 2016 are in, and the main deals (orders, MoUs and LoIs) are as follows:

12x A350-1000 for Virgin Atlantic
4x A330-900neo for Arkia Israeli
1x A320neo for Cote D'Ivoire
10x A320ceo for Jetstar Pacific
25x A320neo for Germania
100x A321neo for Air Asia
72x A320neo for GoAir
62x A320neo for Synergy
Norwegian change 30 of their 100 A320neo to the A321neoLR
DHL have signed up as the launch customer for the A330 P2F programme

30x 737-8MAX for Xiamen
25x 737-8MAX for Donghai
5x 787-9 for Donghai
10x 737-800 for Standard Chartered
10x 737-8MAX for TUI
1x 787-9 for TUI
10x 737-7MAX for Kunming
20x 747-8F for Volga Dnepr
6x 787-9 for Ruili
20x 737-8MAX for Air Europa
9x 737-800 for Egyptair

10x MRJ for Rockton
90x ARJ21 for AVIC and CALC (Chinese lessors)
5x E190-E2 for Kalstar
6x E195-E2 for Arkia Israeli
4x E190 for Nordic AC
3x Dash 8-Q400 for Porter

So overall not the best show in history but some significant orders nonetheless, with Airbus the clear winner in terms of numbers. Other intriguing developments include Boeings announcement to stretch the 737-7MAX by 2 rows, and the arrival of the CS100 at Luton  - could EasyJet order the C-Series?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

RIAT 2016

Last weekend I visited the Royal International Air Tattoo - here are some pics!

An Australian Royal Air Force A330 tanker
The Breitling wingwalkers
The Airbus A400M
The Red Arrows in formation with a Typhoon and F-35B

An Osprey
The F-35B Lightning, the new STVL stealth jet, to be the mainstay of many air forces around the world. Security was tight!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Jet2 to open Birmingham base

Jet2, one of the UK's largest low cast carriers, will open a base at Birmingham next summer with 4 newly delivered 737-800s. 15 sun and sea destinations will be on offer, to Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece:

This is an interesting move and continues Jet2's southwards expansion. None of the new routes are new to BHX, indeed, all of them are already served by more than 1 carrier - competition on some routes is between 7 (yes 7!) carriers, e.g. Malaga with Monarch, Jet2, Vueling, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Ryanair and Norwegian. It may be good for competition, driving down prices, but I can't see it lasting. With Monarch, Ryanair and the charter carriers being firmly established, I predict Jet2, Vueling or Norwegian, relative newcomers tot he midlands market, will be the first to cut routes or capacity.

Coming soon - the Royal Air Tattoo, Farnborough, and potentially an exciting discovery at CERN!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Trip Report: Vienna and the Austrian Grand Prix

Travel time, and a new country to add to my list, Austria, home of Wiener Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel! The reason for the this 3 day adventure? Partly for the travel, partly to see the Austrian F1 Grand Prix.

London-Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) to Vienna (VIE/LOWW) OS454 
Austrian Airlines Airbus A320 OE-LBX (Star Alliance livery)
Out outbound flight went like clockwork - security was swift, and despite a slight delay in departure, we ended up arriving bang on time. The sky was full of ominous looking showers which you can see in the video below, but we skirted round those! The service onboard was a free snack and drink, not bad considering that this was the cheapest option we could find to get to Austria and back (beating even Ryanair, Eurowings and EasyJet!).

The 2 hour journey was largely uneventful, apart from a 10 minute rough patch during the descent  - there were torrential thunderstorms later that night. Overall, I'd happily fly Austrian again. Here's the flight:

...and here's the routing, courtesy of flightradar24:

The Stay in Austria
Vienna is a large city, and Wien Hbf (the main railway station) is nowhere near the city centre! It's a good 30-40 minute walk, and I'd highly recommend getting a U-bahn (underground) day pass instead. For 6 euros, you get unlimited travel on the U for the that day. Alternatively, you could get the CAT train to Wien Mitte, which is more central (but further from the hotel we'd booked).

On the evening of arrival, it was 30 deg +, and so after gorging on wiener schnitzel...
we hid in a cafe and watched the Italy-Germany match! Unfortunately that meant we got caught in a downpour on the way back, but hey.

Day 2 was all about the race - we got up early and headed south with OBB railways toward Knittelfeld, near Spielberg, Styria, the location of the Red Bull Ring. The journey was interupted and we were told to get off at Gloggnitz - apparently, the rain from the night before had caused a landslide and the line was closed. To their credit, the buses were waiting as soon as we left the station. The issue was that the train at Bruck (to take us to Knittelfeld) was delayed by 1 hour... we flirted with the idea of a taxi (and met a nice group of New Zealanders!) but decided not, with fares as high as 250 euros. Luckily, the delay was 1 hour and no more, and we got there with plenty of time to spare.

The pre-race airshow got underway shortly after our arrival...

The insane flying bulls...

And then, it was time! Lights out and away we go!!

What else would you drink in a place like this?

A good view of the track from up here!

An epic win for Hamilton - being on turn 2, we saw Nico and Lewis approaching the bend side by side - they went out of view - and then they appeared, Lewis ahead, with Nico's car showering sparks! What a final lap!

After all that excitement, the 200Km journey back was sleepy, but despite another bus change, we weren't too late getting back to Wien Hbf. 

Day 3! Time to investigate the city of Vienna. My impressions were that it was very clean, the architecture was fancy, and some of the people were either unfriendly or trying to fleece you. For example - on the train back, a woman wouldn't move out our reserved seats, we were ushered out of a museum because "our bags were too big" (we had to leave entirely as they wouldn't fit in the lockers), some refugees conned us out 10 euros (for a rose!) and a waiter gave us a 5 minute lecture on why they're paid badly and should get a large tip. Suffice to say we didn't tip him. I'm sure most the folk there are friendly, and maybe a group of 4 'lads' gives people the wrong impression, but I have to say it was the least friendly place I've brexit feelings maybe?!

Regardless, the city itself was nice. We visited Demel cakes, the palace, and the aforementioned war museum. 

Alas, it was soon time to head back to Wien flughafen.

Vienna (VIE/LOWW) to London-Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) OS457
Austrian Airlines Airbus A320 OE-LBS (Eurovison livery)
The check in and security was once again rapid with no complications. I was disappointed to find that all the seats had been chosen and we were stuck without window places, but never mind! Once we got into the terminal 3 G gates departure lounge however, we had a nasty surprise - a 2 hour delay! I immediately took to flightradar24 to find out what our scheduled aircraft had been up to. That day it had flown Sofia-Vienna-Cairo-Vienna and had arrived on time from that last leg, so it wasn't our aircraft that was the problem. I looked at the Vienna arrivals, and there was one delayed arrival - from Larnaca - which was due 2 hours late. So that was it - the crew were late inbound! Interestingly, two other flights were also delayed by 2 hours, perhaps the Larnaca crew were going to disperse across them?

Once we started boarding, the reason was indeed given as a late crew arrival, and we set off for our night flight across Europe, landing at 23:45 BST (scheduled as 21:30). The service on this flight was 3 rounds of free drinks - to make up for the delay perhaps? The routing, with arrival on 27R:

Overall then, Vienna was a nice looking city, and Austria a nice country, particularly down in the alps. The F1 was certainly an experience, and with ticket+flight+hotel being the same price as a Silverstone ticket, it just made sense to go abroad to watch a race. Shame about the few unfriendlies we met, and the travel delays, although these were dealt with well. As for Austrian Airlines, like Aer Lingus, British Airways, Air France etc, they are decent flag carrier with competitive fares who I'd happily fly with again.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The EU referendum.

I don't know how many people will read this, and if you were expecting something to do with aviation then I can only apologise, but I felt like this would be a good platform for me to collect my thoughts during this historic period of time. 

I am a young university graduate, who studied science, from an affluent area. The only way I could've been more likely to vote remain would be if were Scottish too! And yes, I did vote remain. But I did think about it, long and hard in fact. I came to the conclusion that the free movement of people is no bad thing as it works in both directions - I value the ability to travel freely and the opportunity to work wherever I like. I decided that, on the world stage, 28 countries surely have more influence than 1. I believe being part of the common market is a good thing for the economy. Closer to my personal life, I think the EU make scientific collaboration easier. But I also have a problem with the fact that too many people with positions of power in the EU are not elected and are largely unaccountable.  On balance though, from looking at the wider picture, I believed remain was the best decision. The problems the world faces - energy, food and water security, the threat of extremism - these are global issues that require global cooperation. 

But, the UK has decided now and we're out. My initial reaction was one of anger, particularly towards an older generation who primarily voted leave, and who have denied the young of Britain the future they wanted. I do however respect the result, not least because the turnout among young voters was low. Following the collapse of the Labour party, and a lack of an immediate plan from the Tories, I realise now why a chunk of leave voters voted that way. They are disenfranchised with the political class. All but one major party campaigned to stay - for many, particularly those in previously Labour strongholds, this was a vote to punish the politicians. In these poorer communities, people feel left behind, with nothing left to lose. This is reflected in the fact that wealthier areas voted remain - they felt that, if it ain't broken, why fix it? But of course it is broken.

So that is part of the leave vote, a protest. Another chunk came from people with legitimate concerns about the EU, such as a sovereignty, and the negative impacts of immigration locally. The issue I have here is with the politicians. Both sides exaggerated the effects of staying or leaving, but leave straight out lied. In the days following the result, we have admissions that the £350 million figure was untrue, and that immigration will likely not change (because to be part of the EEC, a condition is free movement of people, just as in Norway and Switzerland, and leaving the EEC would truly be economic suicide!). Boris has even said that the only changes will be to do with how we make our laws. That is not what many leave voters were signed up for, largely because Vote Leave and Farage's campaigns, at times, became hard to distinguish. Farage in particular, I find repulsive. He had the nerve to say "we won without a shot being fired", the week after a remain supporting MP was shot dead. We have been lied to, fed propaganda, the result is based on disinformation, with many leave voters are already regretting their decision. I dare say that if it were held again tomorrow, the result would swing the other way. Furthermore, if leave voters think that Boris and Farage are voices of the people, they couldn't be more wrong. Boris is just about as big a toff as you can get! 

So I'm not angry with all leave voters, of course not. Their demographic is wide and there aren't 17 million racists in the country. I am, however, angry with the politicians in charge of the leave campaign, for being fundamentally dishonest on such an important matter, and there are many leave voters who at this time agree with this sentiment.  I am angry with the political class as a whole, because they have become so out of touch with so many people. And I'm not impressed by anyone, a leaver or remainer, who didn't really think about their decision and made it on a whim. 

But most of all I am concerned, scared, in fact. Not about the economy, I'm sure in the long run it'll be fine. Not even about dealing with global issues or scientific collaboration, we can make that work whilst being outside the EU. 

I'm worried about the minority of leave voters who voted from the wrong reasons. As I've heard it put: "not all leave voters are xenophobes, but all xenophobes are leave voters". Since the result there has been a spate of racially motivated attacks and abuse. I'm not saying such things are common, but they seem to have increased. The Britain First brigade, and others of their school of thought, see the result as a victory for their way of thinking. Of course it isn't, but they claim it as such. They feel as though the 52% secretly agree with them, and use this to legitismise being openly racist and intolerant. "Make Britain white again". Neo-Nazi signs being put up. I can see elements of 1930s Germany in 21st Century Britain, and it worries me deeply: There are similar loud, far right minorities across Europe, such as Le Pen in France.  

We have voted to leave and we must respect that. However, I think it's obvious, that without the far right vote, and with a more honest campaign, we would be staying in the EU. What we must do now is unite as a society. The next government needs to acknowledge that there are millions of people who are unhappy, for whatever reason. They need to negotiate the hell out of talks with the EU to get a good deal for the UK, they have a duty to do so. And they need to be held accountable for misleading the people. 

But most of all, decent people, the 95%, need to unite against bigotry and hatred. The racist behavior towards people who are "not like us" must be confronted and silenced. That is not what Britain is about, it's more akin to ISIS ideology, and a spread of such ideas is a step backwards into darker times. Encouragingly, I have seen politicians on both sides, from all parties, making this crucial point. 

We have, and always will have, more in common that what divides us. Perhaps the mantra of "we still love EU, regards, the 48%", should now be, "we are not all racists. Regards, the 95%".

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Embraer roll out the E2

Embraer have rolled out the first prototype of their updated E-Jet series, starting with the E-190 E2. The E2 series benefits from next generation geared turbofans, specifically the PW 1000G series, which is also in use on the Mitsubishi MRJ, Bombardier C-Series, Irkut MC-21 and as an option on the A320neo. Other changes include the replacement of winglets with raked wingtips (but a larger overall wingspan), and the introduction of a full fly-by-wire system. The E175-E2 and E195-E2 are both slightly longer than their E1 counterparts, while the E190-E2 retains the same fuselage as the E190-E1. Current airline customers include Skywest of the USA, Air Costa of India, Tianjin of China and Azul of Brazil.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Planet Nine: The Hunt Begins

So it was recently announced by researchers at Caltech that they believe the solar system does  have nine planets, and that the ninth planet is not Pluto, but in fact a 10 Earth-mass world orbiting up to 1200 times further out from the Sun as the Earth.

The world has been dubbed 'planet nine' and the method used by the folk at Caltech to infer its existence is robust. They have studied the orbits of several KBO's (Kuiper Belt Objects). The Kuiper belt is like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but far bigger in extent, and contains several dwarf planets such as Pluto and Eris. Comets originate from this outer region of the solar system. By tracking the orbits of KBO's, they have determined that there must a 10 Earth-mass planet out there, exterting a gravitational pull, in order to explain the KBO orbit shapes. The image below shows the KBO orbits and the hypothetical orbit of planet nine:

This method has been used before to infer the existence of previously unknown worlds, most famously by Adams and Le Verrier in the 1800s, when they both predicted where Neptune should be before it had been observed. The problem with planet nine, is that even though it isn't a tiny planet, it is stupendously far from the Sun. This means the amount of reflected sunlight will be minuscule and even the worlds best telescopes might struggle to find it - even if they know where to look. Regardless, the hunt is on!

The publication in the Astrophysical Journal can be found here