Long Saturday – part 1 –

It’s 7 am.

I haven’t woken up this early since my BMT days. Actually, I have, and I never enjoyed it, except during my BMT days when all that “Commando-is-superior-to-everybody-else-in-the-SAF” brainwashing was, I must say, successful. I didn’t sleep to well either – last night’s dinner with Jsen had me feeling all confused. Here was some guy willing to rediscover and restart, and here I was, with my heart still “belonging to someone else” that hates me now. I was conflicted – unsure of what to make of this latest development – give it a shot or let it go too? As you can imagine, it left me mentally exhausted and very much sleep deprived. I couldn’t sleep more, I had an airshow to go to. Although I’m an aviation enthusiast, it has been more than a decade since I last went to an airshow. I had a chance to see it for free during my Army days, but I actually turned it down. My main beef is that the Public Days are merely scraps of the actual Trade Days – I want to be there when manufacturers announce their orders, and often, new aircraft mock-ups are exclusive domains and are kept private from the public eye. This year, I agreed to go mostly because Nethaniel, a fellow member of a transport forum I frequent, said he could get tickets at a discount.

So there I was, in the wee hours of the morning of a pretty overcast day, on my way to the airport to board the free shuttles to the exhibition centre, and as soon as I boarded the Circle Line, I knew I wasn’t alone. With each station, the train grew massively packed with people from all walks of life, carrying cameras already affixed with zoom lenses, supplies like food and water, umbrellas and caps. In comparison, I was unprepared, carrying nothing more than an umbrella and a 18-55 lens, but that doesn’t mean my bag was no less heavy – I had a party to attend to, and had in my bag, another set of clothes, hair wax, hair spray, perfume and shoes (which on retrospect, was a bad idea to tug all those things around). You know something was out of the blue when both Terminals 2 and 3 were sardine-packed on a cloudy Saturday’s morning.

Despite the crowd, everything was manageable with staff and ushers on hand, as well as barriers to guide the crowds to board the buses. Nobody could complain about frequency of buses here because it seemed like SMRT’s armada of bendy buses were all gathered for this momentous event to ferry the large crowds over to the venue. After a drive around half of the perimeter of the airport, we were there.

I must stress that I’ve just started figuring out the “P” (Program) function on my camera. It features a lot of defocus, exposure, so do forgive me if the quality isn’t as good. I’m still a learner.

We decided to check out the exhibitions while the growing crowd was still either mesmerized with the aircraft on static display, or frantically trying to secure the best spots for the aerial display almost forty minutes before time.

First up, EADS, or Airbus as you’ll know them by.

Airbus A320NEO

The Airbus A320NEO (New Engine Option) is the next-generation Airbus A320 which will enter service in 2016. While it will look virtually indistinguishable from the current generation which is operated by airlines on short-haul routes, this is a whole another league of aircraft cost-efficiency wise. The biggest step-change are the engines, which will be about 10 to 15% more efficient than today’s. Leading the revolution is Canada’s Pratt & Whitney who has developed the geared turbofan (GTF) which is said to be the holy grail in turbofan engine development. Instead of using a single turbine to determine thrust (power-up to increase thrust, power-down to decrease thrust, both of which are fuel intensive), the GTF will feature additional unconnected turbines behind the main turbine which when activated, can increase or decrease the aircraft’s thrust without using more fuel than what the main turbofan already uses. This also reduces maintenance costs as the main turbofan will generally spin slower. Besides Pratt & Whitney, the A320NEO will also come with CFM Leap-X engines which achieve similar gains in efficiency not through geared turbofans, but through increasing the aerodynamics of the fan blade to prevent wastage of air that is sucked in by the engine.

The A350 is Airbus’ answer to the Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. With advances in engine technology and relaxations in over flying oceans policy, twin engines have proved to be more efficient than four-engined aircraft, and will be infinitely so compared to the Airbus A340 and Boeing 747. The Airbus A380, however, will remain the world’s most fuel and cost efficient aircraft by default because of its high passenger capacity.

The A350 is Airbus’ answer to Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. The aircraft was initially a warmed-over A330 but was unpopular with airlines who preferred rival Boeing 787 and 777’s flexible configurations of 8/9-across and 9/10-across comfortably in Economy Class as opposed to a fixed 8-abreast on the A330/A340 platform. So, after much public criticism, the A350 was widened and enlarged to its current iteration with three models, -800, -900 and the -1000. The European manufacturer got ambitious, claiming that it could build all 3-models with different wings and weights yet retaining operational commonality, but has admitted it couldn’t do so. As a result, the A350-800 is now too heavy as compared to the similarly-sized B787-9. The A350-1000 also has had its share of criticisms from two separate schools of thought. On one side, airlines want the A350-1000 for its large-capacity, mostly flying medium to long-haul routes (about 5 to 10 hours-flying time). Other airlines want the A350-1000 to be a truly intercontinental long-haul aircraft (10 to 18 hours), but doing so makes it too heavy and inefficient to fly the “shorter” long-haul routes. Right now, the only thing that seems to be just about right, in fact, perfect about the A350, is the A350-900.

Next, we look at COMAC, China’s answer to Airbus and Boeing.

The C919 is a 150 to 200 passenger short/medium-haul jet in development by China’s Commercial Aircraft Corportation or COMAC. It is probably the world’s first genuine attempt to break the monopoly long-held by Airbus and Boeing. The 150-200 passenger jet segment is the world’s largest market, with a demand of approximately 10,000 jets within the next ten years. It is therefore no surprise that Airbus’ and Boeing’s offerings, the A320 and Boeing 737 are also their best-selling aircraft of all time. However, the C919 is being closely watched by both Europe and the USA. In international trade, countries tend to buy the same monetary value of products from each other to prevent a trade imbalance. However, China is so self-sufficient that it has to buy products from both the EU and the US not because it needs to, but because it has to respect the trade laws, and the only thing China thinks is worth buying, is commercial jets. If COMAC is successful in its attempt, China may stop buying Airbus and Boeing, which will lead to a trade imbalance. Good for China, bad for Europe and the US, whose economy, reserves and finances are increasingly dependent on the Chinese.

The Chinese themselves know what they’re capable of, and don’t seem to expect that the C919 will be flying off the shelves. When China’s carriers only announce commitments for just 100 aircraft just once, compared to a constant annual order of 200 A320 and B737 aircraft, you know the faith in the C919 is simply not there.

Below, the ARJ21 is COMAC’s attempt to crack into the 80 to 130 passenger regional jet market.

Next up, the Sukhoi Superjet 100.

The SSJ 100 is modern Russia’s first attempt to break into the aviation industry. Under the Soviet Union, Russia’s aviation industry was perhaps second only to America’s Boeing but obviously, Cold War politics limited the industry within the CIS countries. The 70 to 130 passenger “regional jet” market is a lucrative one that is now dominated by Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer, a notion that was unthinkable a decade ago. The Superjet 100, whose professional consultant is Boeing, has entered service, and has garnered hundreds of orders. The aircraft is getting rave reviews, being cheaper than both Bombardier’s CRJ 1000 and Embraer’s E-Jets while being more efficient, and there are calls for Sukhoi to create a family of aircraft.

Russia, in a bid to protect its own almost non-existent tech, aviation and space industries, places a heavy tax on foreign-built aircraft. The tax is not only placed on the aircraft, but individual components as well, and the Sukhoi Superjet 100, which features components built from Italy and France to the US, is affected by this. When the aircraft was first announced, that rule wasn’t actually in place. However, when flight testing of the Ukrainian Antonov 148, which was fitted out with almost entirely Russian components, was clearly yielding specifications vastly inferior to the Superjet 100’s, the Russians quietly abandoned Antonov, chastised Sukhoi and created a new aircraft manufacturer, UAC to build a new and better aircraft.

The result, is the Irkut MS-21, which is an attempt to reclaim glory. The Russians reckon that if “they” could build a Superjet 100 (yes, the one they’re distancing themselves from) which is cheaper and yet more efficient than Embraer and Bombardier’s, then they could technically build a 140 to 220 seat passenger jet which is cheaper and yet more efficient than Airbus A320NEO and Boeing 737 MAX.

Enough of the underdogs, here is Boeing.

This is the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, the American manufacturer’s answer to the Airbus A380. The aircraft however, has not been popular with many. For airlines, the A380 does everything better, while the Boeing 777-300ER, when configured “properly”, seats more passengers in a lesser amount of space, which is great for airlines. So far, only Air China, Lufthansa and Korean Air have committed to the B748i, and to make matters worse, the latter two will operate A380s in larger numbers.

Then we have Boeing’s answer to the A320NEO – the Boeing 737MAX.

The A320 and B737 have always been locked in a close fight, and are almost complete substitute products. However, the latest reiteration of these models, will put the NEO at a slightly wider advantage than the MAX. While the two aircraft will use similar engines, the MAX’s Archilles’ Heel is the Boeing 737’s low undercarriage. The aircraft will use CFM LEAP-X engines, which aren’t geared, but will achieve similar efficiencies. Even so, with the 737’s low undercarriage, the turbines are smaller than optimized, which will make it less efficient than say, the larger turbofans which will hang off the A320NEO, Russian MS-21 and COMAC C919. Then again, aircraft purchases are hardly made with an objective mind, so the 737MAX will see success.

Aerial displays!

And static displays…

Singapore Airlines brought a B747-400 to the airshow to mark its last flight soon.

And just to prove that Nethaniel isn’t somebody I made up…

After almost 5 hours, it was time to leave…

I must admit, it was kinda cool… to ride a SMRT bendy and be dropped off at the Singapore Airlines’ Business Class drop-off point at Terminal 3. Haha! After that, Net and I had a very, very late lunch at MacDonald’s at Changi City Point. I thought the mall was cool, as it was primarily an outlet mall with stuff from Hush Puppies, Crocs, Esprit, Nike, Adidas, Cotton On and more. Sure, it’s no Citygates at Tung Chung, but it was cool.

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