Thursday, April 24, 2014

UGE Vertical Axis Certification: Behind The Hype



VIsionAIR5-micro-wind-turbineUGE has taken an excellent and necessary step, one most small wind turbine manufacturers never do: they have had independent certification of one of their devices performed. A wholly praising article was published in CleanTechnica on the subject by Tina Casey on April 22, 2014, just a couple of days before this article.

The article, as with most press on the subject, made several positive points about the UGE, some accurate, some slightly less so, but any actual analysis of comparative output of generation and implications for lifecycle costs of electricity was conspicuously missing. This is a fairly critical point when considering wind generation technologies.

Let’s make one thing clear: I like UGE as a company. They sell complete renewable energy solutions including solar, wind, and inverters at a not unreasonable price with packages for residential and industrial settings. The UGE VAWT is an attractive device and some people will be willing to pay a premium for aesthetic values as Ms. Casey’s article points out. I have no problem with people who have lots of money spending it on good-looking objects that generate reasonable amounts of electricity. Personally, I’ve paid a premium based on aesthetic reasons for consumer electronics, vehicles, clothes, furniture, and a number of other things, so people basing part of their decision on that factor is completely reasonable. UGE services a specific subset of the renewables market. It has a solid track record of growth and a partner model which extends its reach. It’s a good business model and the helical vertical axis wind turbine is part of their chosen differentiation.

But feeding the vertical axis wind turbine hype mill as these articles tended to do is a bit more problematic, as it makes it seem as if certification implies equivalence to horizontal axis wind turbines, which isn’t the case. And pretending that this will make a significant difference to wind generation is also problematic.

The UGE certified device appears to be the VisionAir5. It has a published power curve, although it’s unstated whether it is the same one provided by and certified by Intertek. It’s labeled as 5, which implies something in this space, as more often than not numbers in the name of devices denote the nameplate capacity rating in kilowatts or megawatts. However, the VisionAir5 has a listed power output of 3.2 KW in the table of specifications. Even there, some inflation appears to be occurring, as the actual power curve shows an average power of 2.5 KW.

It’s worth comparing this to a power curve for a similarly rated HAWT, but it’s a bit tough as the VA5 is rated at 3.2 KW, which is an unconventional number. However, let’s take the Bergey Excel 10 KW device as a comparison. I would have used the 6 KW Bergey device but the link to the certification report was broken at the time of analysis. At least right now, Bergey publishes their certification report, while UGE doesn’t.

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I’ve scaled the power curves to be easily comparable along the horizontal axis. Something that leaps out is that the Excel 10 actually has a peak power output of 12.5 KW but is labelled a 10 KW device, while the UGE has a maximum 3.2 KW output and that is the referenced output. An apples-to-apples comparison at the same 11.5 m/s wind speed shows that the UGE is actually comparable — by that simple and reductive measure — to a 1.8 KW device, not a 3.2 KW device. UGE claims an average power of 2.5 KW in their power curve material if not their other documentation, which is likely the number that is most comparable.

It’s worth looking at swept area and comparable production as well. While VAWTs tend to be mounted lower with most of UGE’s home material showing very low mounting on rooftops and the like, let’s ignore the mast height for now, assuming if you were serious about wind generation you would put the device as high as possible. The Bergey 10 KW device for example is specified usually with a 30 meter (100 ft) mast. I’ve created equivalent Bergey scaling for swept area assuming lowered power ratings, knowing that power output is linear with swept area all else being equal.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.46.26 PMIt’s pretty obvious from the table that at the maximum UGE power output, the Bergey would require only 74% of the swept area to achieve similar output at its nameplate capacity, an already unfair comparison as this isn’t Bergey’s maximum output but its 11.5 m/s output. The comparison just gets more and more in favour of the Bergey as more realistic comparisons are made at 2.5 KW and 1.8 KW, with a Bergey device only requiring 58% or 52% of the swept area to achieve similar output. VAWTs already require substantially more material — a key factor in cost of manufactured objects — than HAWTs for the same swept area.

Paul Gipe has done this analysis already in his comments on the UGE announcement, so I will quote him.

Worse, UGE’s data confirms the fundamental disadvantage of most VAWTs, they are much more material intensive than conventional wind turbines. The relative mass of a wind turbine—a measure of its material intensity that includes the rotor and nacelle—is often used as a shorthand for its expected cost. The more the relative mass of a turbine, the more its likely cost. The specific mass of UGE’s VisionAIR is four times more than Bergey’s Excel 6.

However, beyond relative mass for the same swept area, the analysis shows that for equivalent power output, much more swept area is also required, so the additional cost of materials is then further multiplied by a factor of almost two. Mr. Gipe’s analysis of relative mass shows that it’s over four times more.

These pretty basic comparisons show the reason why the lifecycle cost of electricity (LCOE) for horizontal axis wind turbines is always better than the LCOE for vertical axis wind turbines. They have to sweep twice the area with four times the material to achieve the same capacity. Added to this is that they are so often sited in very poor wind resources with masts that are too short because of their ‘advantage’ of being able to catch turbulent air, and the capacity factor drops tremendously.

This is something Ms. Casey got backwards, saying, “the vertical system is far more compact than the now-familiar horizontal axis wind turbines.” It’s true the UGE 3.2 KW device is much, much smaller than utility scale wind turbines, but if it were scaled up it would have to be twice as big and four times as heavy, with a correspondingly more robust tower. The Bergey 10 KW device is also much smaller than a utility-scale wind turbine, but if scaled up would be roughly the same size.

Ms. Casey has it right that the certification raises the bar for the also-ran category of vertical axis wind turbines, making it even harder for this lesser technology to get a foothold. That’s probably a good thing, but it also is a double-edged sword for UGE as they try to convince people that their obviously inferior certified results are still worth investing in.

Ms. Casey fails on the noise issue as well, buying the hype over the substance. UGE makes the claim of being extremely quiet, but what do the numbers say? Well, their published numbers state 38 dBA as the noise of the VisionAir5 device. The Bergey Excel 10 is rated at 42.9 dBA, and the rated 4.9 dBA is an audible difference to human ears although not an enormous one. But that additional 4.9 dBA comes with three to four times the electrical power generation. UGE claims that their uncertified UGE 9M device is <38 dBA at 12 m/s, which is interesting as they scaled it up by a factor of roughly four yet assert lower noise; this is unlikely and certification would clarify this. It is possible of course, as VAWTs just can’t spin as fast due to inefficient capture of airflow, but it’s unlikely.

605_uge1k1s_1274802346This only becomes important in a minor way if you were to put this device on the roof of a house over a bedroom, which UGE implies is reasonable but Bergey doesn’t begin to think is reasonable. The Bergey device with its 30 m mast would see attenuation of noise down to about 40.5 dBA at the base of the mast, which is close to World Health Organization noise recommendations for nighttime noise already, and even then Bergey devices aren’t put right beside homes typically but where the air is cleanest in a paddock. The only real value that the UGE statement of quietness brings is that with a really small, low output device you can put it on top of homes where the wind resource is poor without disturbing peoples’ sleep. This isn’t necessarily a great tradeoff as it takes an inefficient device and reduces its effectiveness further.

It’s great that UGE went the extra mile and became certified. But it isn’t particularly transformative. What will be transformative for the distributed small wind market is the new United Wind offer combining excellent analytics of output and fiscals with Bergey and other certified horizontal axis wind turbines, allowing guaranteed returns and a no-money down lease. But that article is still brewing after my conversation with the CEO this week.

UGE Vertical Axis Certification: Behind The Hype was originally published on CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 50,000 other subscribers: Google+ | Email | Facebook | RSS | Twitter.

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LAX - where special liveries abound

Los Angeles International Airport may not be the frequent traveller's favourite airport (certainly from an international point of view, the immigration times can be very lengthy), but for aircraft photographers, it's one of the best in the world. With such a diverse range of airlines and types visiting LAX, and it being one of the busiest airports in the world, it won't be long before you encounter an airline's special 'themed' livery. Here are a selection all seen on one Friday in April.

Supporting the Australian 2012 Olympic team, a 747-400 of QANTAS:

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Promoting United's fuel-saving initiative, a 737-900 with Eco Skies titles:

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Promoting Expo 2010, Shanghai, China, an A340-600 of China Eastern Airlines:

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Alaska Airlines 737-900 with 'Go Russell' titles, in honour of their quarterback Russell Wilson, and the 12th Russell Wilson Fan Airlift:

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Another Alaska aircraft, this time a Bombardier Q400 flown by subsidiary carrier Horizon Airlines, featuring Oregon State Univeristy's sports teams:

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Air New Zealand's 'Hobbit' themed 777-300, promoting tourism to New Zealand, where the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies were filmed:

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And finally another Alaksa Airline 737, this time featuring Disneyland and the Cars movie:

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All photos by Nigel Howarth

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Facebook acquires company behind Moves fitness app

The team behind Moves, a fitness tracker app on iOS and Android, is joining Facebook. "Since we launched Moves, we’ve been focused on running a simple and clean activity diary that millions of people have enjoyed using," the company said in a blog post today. "Now, we’re joining Facebook’s talented team to work on building and improving their products and services with a shared mission of supporting simple, efficient tools for more than a billion people."

But don't expect to see a step-counter in Facebook's mobile apps just yet. Moves says its app will remain a standalone experience and the company is also looking to swiftly settle any privacy concerns, telling users "there are no plans" to share its data with Facebook.

Moves took a...

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Delta Goes Fully Flat… in Business Class… on Widebodies… on Overseas Flights

Last June, when United announced it had installed flat beds on all of its long haul flights, I published a little guide so people could figure out which seats they would actually get when they flew. That went over well, so I’m doing it again, but this time it’s for Delta which has just made the same pronouncement.

Delta now says it has fully flat beds with direct aisle access in business class on all widebodies on overseas flights. Sounds like a lot of caveats, once again. In this case, however, Delta makes it easier to find what you’re getting. That’s good, because it has multiple different seats depending upon the aircraft type.

Let’s start with what this means overall. Like United it means Delta has fully flat beds in business class on all long haul, or as they say “overseas” flights. Unlike United, Delta guarantees direct aisle access for every seat. United doesn’t have that on any airplane it flies so that is a real differentiator.

Delta’s claim applies to all widebodies flying overseas. That includes the 767-300/400, 777-200, A330-200/300, and the 747-400. But on those aircraft, there are three different seat types. Let’s start with the easiest and work backwards.

777 – Herringbone
Delta 777 Flat Bed

The 777s were the first to get the flat beds and they received herringbone seats. You know, those are the ones that angle in toward the aisle. The design was pioneered by Virgin Atlantic and a bunch of airlines ripped it off. Delta thought it was different enough, but it wasn’t. Virgin kept up the pressure in court and eventually, from what I remember, Delta and Virgin agreed that Delta could install the beds on all 777s in the Delta fleet but nothing else. This is all kind of funny now that Delta owns a big chunk of Virgin Atlantic, but what’s done is done.

747-400 and A330-200/300 – Reverse Herringbone
Delta A330 and 747 Flat Bed

When the time came to replace the old Northwest World Business Class angled bed of torture, Delta opted to go with the reverse herringbone design that’s become very popular. This one has the seats angling away from the aisle. That means the person in the window actually gets to look out the window. It’s generally more private and considered one of the best beds on the market.

767-300/400 – Staggered
Delta 767 Flat Bed

You would think that Delta would have gone with a similar seat on its large fleet of 767s, but you’d be wrong. The problem with the 767 is that it’s not that wide of an airplane. The density suffers dramatically when you install something like a herringbone seat. For example, on a 777, you can do 4 in each row, but on a 767 you can only fit 3. That’s a big hit, and Delta knew it. So the airline decided to focus on providing flat beds and direct aisle access and it went searching for a new seat that fit better on the 767.

The result was one of those staggered configurations you see on airlines like Austrian and Swiss. On this airplane it’s 1-2-1 across where your legs tuck in underneath the armrest in front of you. So sometimes the seats are closer to the window, sometimes closer to the aisle. Regardless, all have direct aisle access with nobody to step over. The biggest complaint I hear about these seats is that there isn’t enough room for your feet to get comfy.

767-300 Domestic
Delta Domestic First Class

That’s it. Easy, right? Hold your horses there, cowboy. Just because you’re on a 767 doesn’t mean you’ll get these flat beds. Delta has a subfleet of 767s that are dedicated to the domestic market and these just have regular old domestic-style First Class seats. These aircraft are almost entirely dedicated to flying between big cities in the US and that includes some long flights like Salt Lake to Honolulu. The good news, however, is that Delta makes it easy to know if that’s what you’re getting because it uses a different aircraft type code.

The domestic ones use the 763 code while the international ones use 76W. (If you’re on a 767-400, that’s 764 and those all have flat beds.) If you have access to the info in a reservation system, you can see that pretty easily. If you book on Delta.com, they show you what kind of seats you’ll have. And on a site like Kayak, it will show it being a 767-300 or a 767-300 (winglets). The latter has the flat beds. Most third party online travel agents, however, suck, and don’t really show you the difference. So make sure you’re double checking if you’re flying domestically.

What About the 757?
Delta 757 Flat Beds

Delta has been doing a lot with its 757 fleet lately, but as a narrowbody, it isn’t included in this announcement. What’s up with that?

The 757 does fly some overseas routes, including JFK to Dublin, for example. By next summer, that should have flat beds as well. (It’s the same airplane that’s being used for transcon flying.) But these airplanes will not have direct aisle access. Again, it’s a function of the space at hand. It’s just not dense enough to give direct aisle access on a narrowbody like that, so it’ll be 2-2 across. At least it’ll be flat.

There you have it. Even though there are several different seat types, the basic promise is easy to understand. Delta has done a good job with the real estate it has.

[Delta 777 seat photo taken by me. All other Delta seat photos via Delta. Original armchair photo via Shutterstock.]

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New crystal material could lead to shape-shifting displays

Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a type of material that can change its appearance when subjected to light. The material is host to crystals that react to different wavelengths of light, moving into new shapes and patterns on the fly, without the need for an underlying template. The material could be used to make highly mutable displays and signs in the future.

The crystals are suspended in a solution above a semiconducting sheet. The sheet is made of transparent indium tin oxide, a material often used in screens and displays, while the crystals themselves are chemically similar to those found in latex paint. Light shone on the material creates a positive or negative charge, inducing the crystals into specified...

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Pilot reaction to flying the F-35B

Ever since the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter first flew in the hands of BAE Systems’ test pilot Graham Tomlinson in June 2008 we have heard plenty about the easy and precise nature of the jet’s controllability. Commenting about STOVL operations in particular, pilots tend to focus on the ‘push button’ ease of vertical landings compared to the Harrier and the unusual (until you get used to it) ‘walnuts in a blender’ sound that comes from the lift fan.

However virtually everything we have heard so far has been from seasoned military or industry test pilots who were involved in the development and evaluation of the F-35B, or leading instructor pilots assigned to initial training.  But now that an increasing number of regular U.S. Marine Corps squadron pilots are flying the F-35B at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, with VMFA-121, what do they think? Their view is bound to be of wider interest as the JSF is prepared for its first overseas visit to the U.K’s Royal International Air Tatoo and the Farnborough airshow later this summer.

Lockheed Martin’s Code One magazine has produced an interesting piece on F-35B operations at Yuma which includes interviews with some of the squadron’s first cadre of qualified pilots. Numbering 16 by the time of Code One’s visit in March, the roster is still growing to match the number of aircraft now operating from the base. Following the delivery of the first F-35B in late 2012 VMFA-121 now has its full complement of 17 aircraft, the last three of which were delivered in December 2013.


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Preparing for a sortie at Yuma (Code One)

Here are a few snippets from the story:

Transitioning from Harrier/AV-8B and F/A-18 to F-35B:

Capt. Brian Miller, who came from the F/A-18D, explained the transition in simple terms: “In a Hornet, we had a center stick. In the F-35, we have a sidestick. I don’t even think about the difference now. Once I landed and took off in the simulator a couple of times, I was comfortable the stick location.”

Learning the F-35B’s short takeoff/vertical landing procedures:

“You would think former Harrier pilots would have an advantage with the F-35B STOVL modes since they have experienced those modes before,” continued Miller. “They may be more versed in the engineering dynamics and physics of STOVL operations. But in terms of cockpit controls, STOVL mode in the F-35 is almost completely backwards from the Harrier. So F-18 pilots may have an advantage since they don’t have to unlearn STOVL habits.”

…and from another pilot Capt. Jonathan Thompson, a former Harrier pilot now with the VFMA-121: “The F-35B is designed to be very intuitive in hover mode,” he explained. “To a pilot coming from a conventional fighter, hover mode is intuitive. Push down on the stick and the aircraft goes down. Pull back on the stick and the aircraft goes up.” Hover mode control in a Harrier, however, is a little different. Up and down movement is controlled with the throttle. Left and right movement is controlled with the stick.

“Whereas I used to pull back on the stick to point the thrust down to land the Harrier in hover mode, I push forward on the stick to land the F-35 in hover mode,” Thompson continued. “That said, the F-35B hover technique is just as easy to learn and just as easy to become second nature. Former AV-8 pilots just have to be more deliberate until STOVL mode operations become more routine. Short takeoffs and vertical landings are some of skills and habit patterns we develop in the simulator.”


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(Code One)

Increased situational awareness:

“The biggest situational awareness enhancer in the F-35 is the radar,” Thompson continued. “The way the F-35 presents the radar picture in the cockpit is most impressive. The ease of use is an eye opener though. The Harrier has the APG-65 radar, which is very old. Still it provided a lot of situational awareness we would not have had otherwise. But I can’t tell you how many times I flew the AV-8 without a working radar. We performed the mission anyway, but without as much situational awareness.”

The F-35’s helmet mounted display adds to situational awareness. “Hornet pilots may have experience with a JHMCS [Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System] before coming to the F-35,” Thompson added. “But the ability to have a contact on the radar and then be able to look out the cockpit and have that contact appear on my visor is as different as night and day from Harrier operations.”


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Old and new - Harrier and F-35B fly by the Salton Sea. (Code One)

Developing future capabilities:

The pilots and planners at VMFA-121 are part of a larger team developing tactics and procedures that capitalize on these new capabilities. “As the radar gets more stable, as the electro-optical targeting system, or EOTS, gets more reliable, as pilots become more proficient, as the flight envelope opens up, we can look at the tactics, techniques, and procedures we can bring forward from legacy aircraft,” explained Miller. “We can consider performing those procedures differently in the F-35 because of all the new capabilities it brings to the fight. We are just starting to break the surface on tactics development.

Similarly pilots are looking forward to a larger part of the flight envelope being cleared. “Flying at 400 knots and pulling 4.5 g’s in this fighter is difficult because it wants to do so much more,” Miller said. “Tactically we are rarely going to be flying the aircraft at less than 400 knots.”

The upcoming Block 2B software provides weapon capability and expands the flight envelope to Mach 1.2, 5.5 g’s, and fifty degrees AOA. The F-35Bs will eventually be cleared to operate at Mach 1.6 and seven g’s.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Building our future

It was another strong quarter here at Boeing, with Commercial Airplanes leading the way thanks to an 18 percent increase in deliveries compared to the same quarter last year. It’s a testament to our people and our plan, as we execute on our production rate increases and drive productivity.

We booked 235 net orders during the first quarter and delivered 161 airplanes, up from 209 and 137 in the same period last year. At the same time, we kicked off some major expansion projects that will play a huge part in our future— developing the Puget Sound into a center for composite technology with our 777X wing facility, and expanding our 737 Delivery Center in Seattle to accommodate 737s being produced at record rates.

Here are some other things I took away from today’s earnings call:

• There’s high confidence in our ability to execute a successful production bridge to the 777X.

• The 787 fleet is flying more than 260 flights per day. Overall dispatch reliability is trending positively at above 98%.

• We remain on track to deliver the first 787-9 to Air New Zealand around the middle of this year.

• Customer interest in the 737 MAX remains very high as we close in on 2,000 total orders.

It promises to be another busy year for us, but we’re up to the challenge. Here’s a look back at our first quarter highlights in photos, and in this video.

737

 First 737 built at the rate of 42 airplanes per month rolls out of the factory in Renton.

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The first 737 at the increased rate of 42 airplanes per month rolls out of the Renton factory.

 Major expansion begins on the 737 Delivery Center at Boeing Field to support increasing production rates.

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737 VP & General Manager Beverly Wyse takes the first ceremonial swing as we make way for an expanded 737 Delivery Center in Seattle.

 737 Configuration Studio is unveiled in Renton to assist customers with interior design and configuration for the Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX.

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A new studio showcasing 737 interiors.

 Alaska Airlines takes delivery of its 100th Next-Generation 737.

 Air Canada finalizes an order for 61 737 MAX 8s and 9s.

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Air Canada finalized their 737 MAX order.

 Flydubai finalizes an order for 75 737 MAX 8s and 11 Next-Generation 737-800s. It is Boeing’s largest single-aisle order in the Middle East.

 SpiceJet announces an order, previously attributed to an unidentified customer, for 42 737 MAX 8s.

 SunExpress finalizes an order for 15 737 MAX 8s and 25 Next-Generation 737-800s. It is the largest order in the nearly 25-year history of the Turkish carrier.

 GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) announces an order, previously attributed to an unidentified customer, for 20 737 MAX 8s and 20 737-800s, giving GECAS the most 737 orders in the leasing industry.

 Boeing launches the BBJ MAX family after receiving the first order from an undisclosed customer for a business jet based on the 737 MAX 8.

747

 Cargolux Airlines finalizes an order for an additional 747-8 Freighter, bringing its unfilled orders for the jumbo freighter to five.

 A 747-8 Freighter painted in a Seattle Seahawks livery pays tribute to the team’s first Super Bowl victory with a flyover of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. The airplane also took flight before the game, tracing the number “12” over Eastern Washington in a salute to fans, known collectively as the “12th Man.”

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The 747-8 in Seahawks livery flies past the Space Needle and downtown Seattle.

 747-8 team implemented and certified comprehensive design changes that allow the 747-8 Intercontinental to carry fuel in the horizontal stabilizer, providing enhanced range and payload capability.

767

 Assembly begins on the fourth and final KC-46 Pegasus test airplane for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation aerial refueling tanker program. The tanker uses the platform of the 767.

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Boeing remains on plan to deliver the initial 18 combat-ready KC-46 tankers to the U.S. Air Force by 2017.

 Everett factory receives the first Pratt & Whitney PW4062 engines for the first KC-46 Pegasus test aircraft.

 KC-46 Pegasus test aircraft achieves “power on,” plugging into an external power cart and bringing power into each segment of the electrical system.

777

 Boeing announces plans in February to build a composite wing center north of the factory in Everett to support fabrication of the 777X composite wing.

 High-speed wind tunnel tests for the 777X begin at Boeing’s Transonic Wind Tunnel in Seattle, following wind tunnel tests at QinetiQ’s facility in Farnborough, UK.

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777X wind tunnel tests get underway in Seattle.

 All Nippon Airways (ANA) announces its selection of 20 777-9X and six 777-300ER (Extended Range) airplanes.

 China Southern Airlines receives the first of 10 777-300ER (Extended Range) airplanes.

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China Southern takes home its first 777-300ER.

 Turkmenistan Airlines takes delivery of the first of two 777-200LR (Longer Range) airplanes ordered in 2011.

 777 wins numerous awards including Best Aircraft Type for 2013 (Global Traveler, Premier Traveler, Business Traveler USA and Executive Travel magazines).

787

 Boeing rolls out its first 787 Dreamliner built at the rate of 10 per month. The airplane, a 787-8 and the 155th Dreamliner built, was later delivered to International Lease Finance Corp. for operation by Aeromexico.

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The first 787 at the increased rate of 10 airplanes per month rolls out of the Everett factory.

 Boeing flies the 787-9 to Auckland, home of launch customer Air New Zealand. The flight — 13 hours 49 minutes — marks the 787-9’s international debut and its longest flight since testing began in September.

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The second of three 787-9s dedicated to the flight test program, ZB002, arrives in Auckland, New Zealand.

 ANA announces its intent to purchase 14 787-9s.

 Kenya Airways takes delivery of its first 787.

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Fifth Freedom Under Attack? Italian Government Does a Flip-Flop

On February 20th, Emirates Airline took delivery of their 85th Boeing 777-300ER. Photo via Emirates. CLICK FOR LARGER.

An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER - Photo: Emirates

In October of 2013, Emirates Airline became the first “Fifth Freedom” carrier to fly between New York City and Milan in Italy.  This allowed a stop between New York and Dubai in the Italian city would help to increase services between not only Italy and Dubai, but also the United States and Italy.

Unfortunately, that service has barely been in operation seven months, and Emirates has come under fire from competing airlines, leading to the possible cancellation of the route.

Emirates Airline Boeing 777-200LR with GE-90 engines. Photo by Brandon Farris.

Emirates Boeing 777-200LR at LAX – Photo: Brandon Farris

For those of you not familiar with the fifth freedom, it allows airlines to fly from one city in their home country to another city in a different country, while making a stop in a third country along the way. Passengers are then able to purchase tickets for any of the legs. An example is Air New Zealand’s flight from Auckland to London, but stopping over in Los Angeles, where tickets can be purchased all the way through or via one of the legs.

On April 10th, 2014, the Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR) in Italy upheld an appeal to the fifth freedom rights granted to Emirates by the Italian Aviation authorities (ENAC) to operate between Milan and New York.

TAR upheld an appeal to the rights, stating that fifth freedom rights should only be offered to other EU countries, not the Gulf carrier.  Fifth freedom flights are one of the most common ways for airlines to utilize extra capacity on routes between third-party countries.  Opening up the route from New York to Milan to Emirates brought about a fare drop that saw true competition for the first time.  Of course, the airlines that currently fly this route were not all that happy about it.

Bonus: Read about Fifth Freedom flights, and how good they can be for transcon flights

Although no specific airlines were named in the court appeal, Assaereo, the Italian Association of Air Transport Operators, applauded the outcome.  Who does Assaereo represent? Well their biggest member would be their largest airline, of course; Alitalia.  But this is where things get confusing.

Alitalia has been in financial difficulties for many years, with plenty of deals to sell the airline failing at the last minute.  At one point, KLM/Air France were going to buy them out, but that failed.  The current suitor for the distressed Italian airline is Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based Gulf carrier.  So this new ruling by the court would effectively cut off any benefits that Etihad might have sought in the future, using fifth freedom rights between countries to add revenue.

Of course, the US-based airlines such as Delta are also applauding the outcome, but that is not at all surprising.  Delta wants to protect their interests on what can be a highly lucrative route, and with the Gulf carriers expanding rapidly, legacy American carriers want to block this as much as possible, in order to protect their bottom line.

An Alitalia Airbus A330 Arriving into New York's JFK Airport

An Alitalia Airbus A330 arriving at New York’s JFK Airport

Since the TAR ruling was made, Emirates has already released a statement that they have appealed the ruling, and as ENAC have not yet overturned the fifth freedom flights, they will continue to operate until further notice.

Is this the end of a great fare battle between legacy carriers and a new entrant?  Or is this just the opening salvo in what could be a fairly substantial battle between Emirates and the Italian government?

Malcolm Muir – Managing Correspondent

Mal is an Australian AvGeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

 @BigMalX | BigMal's World | Photos

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Testing the fare predictors. Badly.

The stats/data group FiveThirtyEight has made a big deal recently about expanding their analysis and coverage into more and different types of research. Earlier this week that took the form of trying to validate the fare predictor service offered up by Kayak.com. And wow did they do it badly.

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There are pretty charts and even some data included in the report, but it is far from a coherent or even reasonably structured. I’ll forgive that the search started only two weeks out from travel, even though that limits the value of the analysis. Even with that limit there should still be some tracking on what changes are happening in the fares. And that’s where the research really falls apart. He didn’t follow through on tracking the data.

I started my test on March 29. I searched for non-stop economy fares on Kayak for 32 of the most popular domestic routes, including New York to Chicago, San Francisco to Seattle and Los Angeles to Miami, specifying a departure of April 12 — two weeks out —  and a return of April 18. …

Kayak issued immediate “buy” recommendations for 17 of the 32 queries. Given that I would have accepted the 14-day-out prices anyway, using Kayak made no difference for these routes, and so I stopped analyzing them.

So we don’t really know if Kayak was correct on those 17 recommendations. That the fare was acceptable to the customer is fine, but that would have been the case without the recommendation engine. And we have no idea if the fares ended up lower at some point the in following two weeks. Just having a fare that is acceptable doesn’t mean that it is the best fare offered in the timeframe.

There’s also the part where purchasing a ticket skews future fares and without actually completing the transactions we cannot know if the fare prediction was true or not. Then again, the researcher stopped tracking the fares after deciding it was okay so this wasn’t really in play for a variety of reasons.

I’d love to see some better research and validation on this topic. I think there is probably some decent data to be gathered and mined. If only I had the time…

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