Re: A3XX vs B747-600 (was: Airbus lawsuit coming?)

From:         faurecm@halcyon.com (C. Marin Faure)
Organization: Northwest Nexus Inc.
Date:         03 Sep 96 01:16:51 
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In article <airliners.1996.1681@ohare.Chicago.COM>, Chuanga@cris.com (H
Andrew Chuang) wrote:

> What we have been discussing earlier was whether there would be a future
> for the over-600-passenger planes.

The problem with the Very Large Tranport or whatevery you want to call it
is twofold, and the biggest problem has nothing to do with the airplane.
Boeing and/or Airbus and the engine manufacturers will build anything
anyone wants if they're willing to pay enough to make the projects
viable.  The far greater problem is the airports.  An A-3XX or a
747-derivative (neither of which is a foregone conclusion at this time, by
the way) will be able to use the existing facilities at the airports that
will be the most likely destinations for these airplanes.

A VLT or VLA will be MUCH heavier, which means runways, taxiways,and ramp
areas will have to be strengthened and widened.  Gate capacities,
check-in, customs and immigration facilities, parking lots, baggage and
ground transportation systems, etc. all will have to be expanded and
upgraded, which is a very expensive undertaking.  Try driving from London
to Heathrow, or out to the airport at Singapore today.  Now envision
trying to do it with no change in the transportation system, but with
larger planes dumping huge groups of people into the system every few
hours.  Who's going to pay for the airport improvements?  It's difficult
enough trying to add a runway at an airport today (like Seatac here in
Seattle).  Are passengers, who are demanding cheaper and cheaper air
transportation, going to be willing to pay big ticket taxes for the
privillege of sitting on a plane with six or seven hundred other people?
Will the local communities have any luck raising taxes or floating bonds
for airport improvements that will enable VLAs to sail in and out over the
surrounding neighborhoods?

Which brings up the issue of noise.  An airplane this big is not going to
tiptoe in and out of an airport, even with today's quieter high-bypass
engines.  The airframe noise alone is anticipated to be considerably
greater that of a 747, for example.

Yes, these arguments were raised to some degree when we rolled out the
747.  But the situation was different back then.  The environment was not
as hot an issue as it is today. Many airports hadn't yet been hemmed in by
housing developments as they are today.  Airlines were regulated, which
ensured a profit up to a point.  Airlines were not as concerned about
equipment costs as they are in today's competitive, anything-goes
environment.  And back then, people looked at the 747 and thought how
fabulous it would be to go somewhere on it.  Today, most people (in North
America and Europe at any rate) would look at a VLA and think about what a
giant pain in the butt it's going to be to wait in line to get on it, and
then wait in line to get off it, and wait in line to get their baggage,
and wait in line to get to the parking area, and wait in line to get on
the freeway, and wait in line to....

While a few airlines have indicated they would be interested in a plane of
this size, most seem to feel that an airplane that big is not needed at
this time.  The only thing it really has going for it is the ability to
send one plane on a trip instead of two or three, which certainly would
help ease congestion airside, at any rate.  The congestion landside at
today's existing airports would be pretty staggering, however.

Do I think a VLA will ever be built?  I suspect that eventually, as fuel
prices demand moving more people for less cost, and assuming the number of
air travellers continues to grow, making congestion an even greater
problem than it is now, the benefits of VLAs will make the costs worth
it.  By the same token, I believe we'll eventually have SSTs or HSCTs,
once the fuel consumption problem is dealt with, either through new
technology or new fuel.  But it's a ways off yet.  The airplane spotters
who cluster on top of the viewing mound at Munich airport don't need to
invest in wide angle lenses just yet.

C. Marin Faure
   author, Flying a Floatplane