Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Editorial: AeroMexico follow-up

About a month ago, I showed you this incident involving an AeroMexico B737 and a catering truck. There was plenty of media coverage of the event, so I won't bore you by rehashing it here. The situation was essentially that the catering truck was stopped for traffic at the intersection of the service road and Taxiway C-10, but because of other vehicle traffic it turned out that the truck was not clear of the wingtip of the airplane at the adjacent Taxiway N. As at least one of you commented, it is the vehicle operator's responsibility to get out of the way of aircraft. The truck driver could almost certainly see the B737's fuselage in his mirrors, but the wing (almost) above his truck . . . possibly not. Meanwhile, the pilots quite likely would not have been able to see the truck as their view aft of the cockpit is pretty restricted -- that's why they have to have "wing walkers" when the aircraft is pulling into and pushing out of the gate.

The underlying issue is that just like LA's freeways, there are a whole lot of vehicles moving around on the ground at LAX. Here are a couple of shots of a recent situation:

By the time I got to the camera, the worst of the situation had already passed, but you can see enough here to get the picture (not sorry). The vehicle drivers have to give/make way for aircraft, and yet they aren't supposed to leave the designated roadway. However, in order to give way to all aircraft, they will stop at any intersection if there's any airplane anywhere nearby, in case that airplane is about to use that intersection. This creates the standard traffic jam, as the vehicles behind also have to stop. A sufficient line of vehicles means that the end of the line may not be able to clear the previous intersection, and while it may have been clear when they approached it, an aircraft may subsequently appear that wasn't a factor before -- which is what happened both in these pictures and the AeroMexico incident.

Periodically, some well-meaning person suggests that the solution is for the Ground Controllers to talk to the vehicles as well as the airplanes. This sounds great in theory, but the reality of the situation is that quite often the LAX Ground Control frequencies are already over-congested with just the airplanes. It is a regular occurrence for one airplane's transmission to block that of another airplane or the ground controller, with the result being that the controller has to reissue the instruction or ask for the pilot to repeat -- thus tying up more time on the frequency. Adding dozens of trucks and tugs . . .

An alternate solution would be to further separate the airplanes and the ground vehicles. Again, that sounds great -- but where would you put them? It's not like LAX has any open space that isn't already used by airplanes or buildings. It has been suggested that tunnels could be the solution, whereby the vehicles operate on a roadway system beneath the terminals, taxiways and runways. This already exists to a small degree; remember that there are six lanes of Sepulveda Boulevard passing beneath the south complex of runways and taxiways. A good deal of the baggage handling system at LAX is also subterranean, and more of it is being built beneath the north-south taxiways along the west side of the TBIT, along with a vehicle access tunnel and a people mover tunnel. While I think that doing this all across the airport might be the best solution, the main obstacle I'm sure is simply the huge dollar cost that it would take to make that happen. Especially consider that there are already all sorts of utility tunnels and pipelines that run under the airport too -- some of which are not well-mapped until some other project unexpectedly encounters them. Consider as well that all of it would have to be resistant to earthquakes (and terrorists), and since we're so close to the Pacific Ocean there would have to be some sort of water intrusion system. And an emergency evacuation system. And, and, and, and . . .

So what is the solution? Low-slung vehicles might solve the wingtip clearance issue, although where would you get catering/fuel/service trucks and buses that are under five feet (1.5 meter) tall? I don't think MINI can make that many vehicles -- although it would be really cool to have an entire airport service fleet of nothing but MINI Coopers scampering about all over the place. And while it's an entertaining idea, that still wouldn't solve the too-many-vehicles-trying-to-move-about-the-airport problem. So, we seem to be left with what we already have: An imperfect system in which well-trained people do their best to make the whole thing work. Nearly always, it does.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Photo Friday

Despite my best intentions, my attempts to reinvigorate ye olde blog have been somewhat lackluster so far. So I'm instigating a new series to keep me more involved with my own creation. I'm calling it Photo Friday, and today is the first entry. The goal is to bring you at least one photo each Friday. There may be more than one photo, and there may be entries outside of the series on some specific topic or other (suggestions/questions/requests are welcome, but I promise nothing!)

Today's post features shots from earlier this year -- I think. I ran across these while looking for a blank memory card for the camera, and so the date is somewhat fuzzy. In any case, I thought each of these of interest in one way or another. Enjoy!

As I write this, it's down to either Paris or Los Angeles for the 2024 Olympics. I think we should let them have it!

I know some who take issue with this statement

I'm not really a baseball fan, but I need to photoshop a version of this with Astros colors!
A rare sighting of a passenger version of the B747-8; I didn't know Korean had passenger B747-8s until this airplane showed up. We see Korean freight B747-8s all the time, but Lufthansa is the only regular operator of the passenger B747-8 at LAX.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Not another "What's wrong with this picture?"

I was going to use this for another "What's wrong with this picture?" post, but apparently it was a slow news day and so the incident received national media coverage. This is how it appeared from the tower.

Some media links:


Air Transport World



My News LA

Sunday, May 7, 2017

So long, Mad Dog

Dear reader: You did not know it, but you've been waiting nearly a year to read this entry. I started work on it last summer (2016) when it occurred to me that we weren't seeing as many MD-80s at LAX as we had been in years past. American had announced that they would be gradually withdrawing the MD-80 from their fleet, but it was a news item that the airline was going to retire twenty of them in one day that really drove the point home. That was the genesis, but thanks to my ability to be easily distracted ("Oh look - a heffalump!") the gestation took quite a while longer. So here it is, updated for the date I hit the "Publish" button. Thanks for waiting.  CV

For several decades now, the MD-80 has been a workhorse in the fleets of airlines around the world. Over 1,100 of them were built in five variants, most in McDonnell Douglas's Long Beach factory. The MD-80 was developed from the DC-9, which first flew in 1965. Nearly 1,000 DC-9s were built before production shifted to the MD-80. The DC-9 has virtually disappeared from the fleets; Delta was the last major airline to operate DC-9s, which it had inherited from Northwest. Delta's last DC-9 flight was in January, 2014. The last DC-9 that I recall seeing at LAX was at least a year ago in the form of a USA Jet DC-9 cargo flight.

Over the last year or two, the MD-80 has been disappearing from the fleets of major carriers. At LAX, the biggest operator of MD-80s in recent years has been American. As I write this, American still flies MD-80s. but they are being retired rapidly; twenty were retired in just one day last year. At this point, they're down to fewer than a hundred left, and American expects to park its last MD-80 sometime next year. We hardly ever see American MD-80s at LAX anymore; the last one I personally saw is shown in the opening photo, which was taken in last summer.

The other remaining MD-80 operator at LAX is Allegiant, who still has a fleet of around 50 MD-80s. At one time, Allegiant operated all five models in the MD-80 family (MD81, -82, -83, -87, and -88). Even Allegiant has started phasing out the MD-80s in favor of Airbus 319s; I don't think I've seen more than one or two Allegiant MD-80s since the beginning of the year. The much newer Airbuses are more fuel-efficient and require less maintenance, while also offering a much greater range - over 3,000 miles, to the MD-80's 1,500.

Unlike the Boeing 727, which had an extended life in the cargo world, the MD-80 is not likely to be as prolific flying freight. The primary reason is that the standard narrow-body cargo containers do not fit in the MD-80's fuselage, which (like the DC-8 and DC-9 before it) featured five-across seating compared to the Boeing's six-across. Thanks to the DC-9 series, there are special cargo containers designed for the smaller fuselage, and these will also fit in the MD-80. Truthfully, there don't seem to be many DC-9s flying freight anymore either. Granted, at LAX we're possibly not as likely to see them as most freight demand here requires larger aircraft.

In fact, most B727s are also history in the cargo fleet, as they've been replaced by the B757s and B737-400s that airlines are phasing out in favor of newer models of the A320/A321 and B737-800/-900. The B727, B737 and B757 have essentially the same cabin cross-section, and so the standard containers work equally well in all of them. Not so the MD-80; cargo conversions of the Mad Dog are not nearly as common as they have been for the Boeings. That said, there is a company that offers a cargo conversion for the MD-80 series. I did read that they've had disappointing sales because the acquisition price of used B737-400s has come down quicker than expected. According to one article I read, they were also considering creating a cargo conversion for the MD-90, which is the ultimate version of the DC-9/MD-80 family, but dropped it because there are fewer than 100 MD-90s in the world, and most of them are in Delta's fleet -- and Delta has not indicated any intention to get rid of them any time soon.

Speaking of Delta, at this point they are the dominant operator of MD-80 and related aircraft in the world. While we don't see them at LAX anymore, Delta has the largest remaining fleet of MD80s and MD90s. But thanks to Delta, the MD-80 heritage is alive and well at LAX, in the form of their Boeing 717s. The 717 started life as the MD-95, intended to replace the smaller DC-9s, and became the 717 after Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Delta is also the world's largest B717 operator, as it acquired all of the AirTran B717s after Southwest took over that airline in 2012. At LAX, we see Delta B717s daily on flights up and down the west coast.


Airways article: American retires 20 MD-80s

Airways article: Countdown to Retirement

Dallas Morning News article: Retiring the MD-80

USA Today article: Super 80 Send Off

Wikipedia MD-80 article

Wikipedia B717 article

Forecast Int'l archived article: Boeing MD-80/90 series

Delta Airlines: aircraft fleet

Wikipedia: Delta Airlines fleet 

Wikipedia: AirTran Airways

Aeronautical Engineers Inc MD-80 cargo conversion

Aviation Week: MD-80 freighter conversion in pictures

Air Cargo News article: No MD-90 cargo conversion