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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

20 January 2012

Boeing versus Airbus

It is interesting to watch the competition between Boeing and Airbus.

On one hand, Boeing has always been the supplier of air-to-air refueling planes for the military (e.g. the KC-135 which is in reality derived from the old model 707). Airbus wanted a piece of that action, and when the contract came up for bid the European company aggressively pitched a version of its own to be built a few miles west of here in Mobile, Alabama. Initially, Airbus won. Boeing appealed, and the Pentagon called for a do-over. Airbus, disgusted with the whole process, declined to participate. Now the entire gulf coast is pissed at Boeing.

In the civilian sector, Airbus designed their huge, double-decker, four-engine A380 to compete with the stalwart Boeing 747. Airbus makes a very big deal about their lower seat/mile costs compared to Boeing, but Boeing counters that their new 747-8 burns even less fuel, resulting in lower seat/mile costs than the A380. Blah blah blah. It’s probably only important to executives who think they can make a profit running an airline. Hah!

Anyway, this guy John Leahy who is “chief operating officer for customers” (whatever that is) for Airbus has publically called the 747 “a dog.” This statement (read it here) made big news in aviation circles. I don’t know whether the 747-8 is “a dog” or not. I do know that Boeing has been building big, solid airplanes since…well, forever.

And now it turns out that the brand-new, super-high-tech Airbus A380 is developing cracks in the wings. (Details here.) Airbus is downplaying these cracks, of course, calling them “tiny.” Airbus says that the cracks are occurring in a non-critical part of the wing. Which causes us to ask: Are there any non-critical parts of an airplane wing? Aren’t they all critical? They know about them; they’re watching and fixing them, Airbus says.

The FAA hasn’t made too big a deal about this, since no domestic U.S. operators are flying the A-380 at this time. But leave it to the news media to dig up somebody who’ll offer a pithy quote. In this case we have a guy named Stephen Purvinas, who is the Federal Secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association. Don’t think that the ALAEA is a federal agency, it’s not. Their website describes themselves as, “…a federally registered Australian organization that represents the industrial, technical and professional interests of Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (“mechanics” in the U.S.)

Anyway, Purvinas is concerned about these “tiny” cracks. He says,

“They (Airbus) have described these as tiny cracks, but every crack starts off as a tiny crack and they can grow very quickly."
Point taken! Purvinas goes on, warming up to the subject.

“Put it this way, I wouldn't put my family on an A380 at the moment ,"

Strong words!

Airbus has an…“interesting” history when it comes to building airliners. You may recall an A300 that crashed just after takeoff from JFK airport not long after 9/11. The NTSB investigated and determined that in response to an encounter with wake turbulence, the copilot (who was flying) got a little too aggressive on the rudder pedals and caused the vertical fin (the big tail piece to which the rudder is attached) to snap clean off! Most of us didn’t believe it was actually possible. But on an Airbus, which has a vertical fin made of composite materials (not metal and rivets like on a Boeing) it most definitely is possible that the fin can snap off like that of a model airplane.

And in the case of American Airlines flight 587, one did just that. When the vertical fin snapped from the fuselage, the airplane yawed so violently that both engines were torn from their wing mounts and flung off to the sides. What a fun ride that must have been.

There is a saying amongst airline people: “If it aint Boeing, I aint going.” It’s moot to me because I do not fly on the airlines anymore. But if I did, I’d probably opt for a Boeing product over something made by Airbus. Just sayin’.


Capt. Schmoe said...

A few years ago, I rode in a KC-135 R. The tail number indicated that the airframe was built/acquired in 1957. It was a little strange flying in something that was three years older than myself.

The B-52s are ancient, there are a few 707s, 727s and 737-200s flying around the world though high fuel consumption and noise have grounded most of those.

I do wonder how the 787 will last, the wing has a high degree of flex, time will tell on the rest of the airframe.

I agree with you, I prefer Boeing, though I'll take an Airbus over walking.

BTW, the A380 is a hideous monster, it's just too ugly to fly.

Craig said...


As a former 135 driver, I'll make the small correction that the 135 and the 707 are actually siblings - both being derived from the Boeing Dash 80. The 135 was the originl B-717.

When my ride on the MD-80 comes to a close as the last ones are sent to Roswell, I'll be opting for the 737 over the A-320/321's my airline has ordered. I'm with ya' - just sayin'.

Mike Morris said...

The 737 has had it's share of rudder issues too. Time will tell if the 787 will develop cracking in it's composites. Don't get me wrong. I like Boeing. It's an American company. It happens to both companies though. I had the opportunity to fly first class in an A320 and it was nice.

Anonymous said...

Respectively suggest you compare the overall safety record of the Airbus fleet versus the Boeing fleet. Also suggest you review the design of the Boeing 787. Pray tell the vertical fin is 100% composite except for the leading edge.

Suggested reading: AA Flight 1, a B707, departing JFK on March 1,1962. Also read up on multiple fatal cases of rudder separating from B737's.

I know you mean well, but...........

Bob Barbanes: said...

Wow, how did I overlook a 707 accident that happened in 1962? What kind of damn journalist am I?!

But wait- the AA #1 accident was caused, not by structural failure but by a fault in the autopilot that was most likely human-related? Maybe I'm dense, but I'm not seeing the connection.

And yes, Anonymous, I'm quite aware of the amount of composites in the 787, including the vertical fin. Its service record remains to be seen.

Greybeard said...

Two close friends are long-time airline Captains. One made the statement and the other nodded his head...
" Airbus makes a Hummer. Boeing makes a TANK."

"Tiny cracks"? That's absurd. Cracks are caused by stress/fatigue. If the wing wasn't weak, it wouldn't be cracking, would it?
Airbus makes a good airplane, but Boeing obviously has made several GREAT ones. It remains to be seen if Boeing's strong reputation remains after their foray into composites.