ENTER SAA’S A350 XWB
By Robin Rabec
Soon to make it’s an appearance at O.R TAMBO INTERNATIONAL and other international airports to be parked wing tip to wing tip alongside other ultra-modern jet airliners will be SAA’s newest ultra-long-haul carrier, the Airbus A350 XWB.
Labeled as the cornerstone of the Airbus family of modern long-range Extra Wide Body jet airliners (XWB), the all new A350 is planned to replace the four engine A340 airliners that South African Airways has operated for close to two decades on long-range routes.
While the pundits of doom vilify South African Airways about questionable corporate strategies, a core of dedicated personnel within the airline work to ensure SAA continues to function as a respected intercontinental airline.
Geographically isolated on the world travel map, South Africa is regarded among aviation planners as a “long haul out post” for inter-continental flight operations.
With its strategic partners, the presence of SAA represents a vital link connecting Sub Sahara African countries with Europe, the Americas and Far Eastern countries.
Since its inception as an international carrier, SAA has kept abreast of robust competition by offering services with optimum airline equipment.
Looking back over seven decades, the airline operated then what were considered to be modern airliners including the Lockheed Super Constellations and DC 7 piston-engine airplanes, those among other legendary “round engine” airplanes.
With the dawning of the new jet age, the airways linking South Africa with other enchanting countries transformed air transport into classic voyages of discovery.
The introduction into service of what at the time was an impressively large airliner, the B707 airplanes meant South Africans could travel on their own airline in their numbers abroad. The nightly trips between Europe and South Africa were no longer odysseys but compelling choices for business and tourism travel.
By the early ‘70’s staying abreast with travel requirements SAA was among the first carriers outside of the U.S. to commence operating versions of the legendary Jumbo B747 aircraft. The world travel market was growing exponentially passengers were introduced to wide-body, twin-aisle comfort which in the main, large four-engine, Jumbo airliners could offer. For escalating volumes of passengers
South Africa was merely an overnight flight away at jet speed comfort from the Far East, Europe, and the USA.
Currently, SAA’s fleet of A340 aircraft has served the airline admirably through almost two decades on international and transcontinental routes. These airliners are about due to be retired from service and replaced by modern and current versions of twin-engine wide body airliners.. Reliability and performance of four engines on large wide-body airplanes carrying heavy payloads might have been justified against operational costs., but the economic benefit of quad engine airliners in many instances is no longer justifiable.
Dramatic improvements in performance of large jet engines and the incorporation of modern features to the wing designs and fuselage structures have proven that extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS/EDTO) can be extended to beyond 360 minutes.
As a consequence, most international carriers have, or are in the process of reinvigorating their operations with the latest twin-engine airliners with possible options of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner or variants of the Airbus A350 XWB family and or the A330neo family.
The original intention in the design of the A350 was an adaption of the successful A330 fuselage incorporating a new wing design and larger engines fitted to the wing.
The Airbus proposal to produce an airplane in response to their competitor’s product was rejected out of hand by some of Airbus’s traditional customers and publically criticized as a “Band Aid” fix to a supplementary aircraft that should compete against the B787-9 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777-200ER twin-engine wide-body airliners.
After reconsidering the much-vaunted concept of the A350, AIRBUS, the European Aerospace manufacturer committed an estimated $15bn (11bn Euro) to develop a family of twin-engine, wide-body airliners to surpass the competitive products of it’s nearest rivals.
The result, the A350 XWB, the first Airbus aircraft with a fuselage and wing structure constructed primarily from 70% advanced materials including 53% Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) …Plastic ! which supports lower fuel consumption, easier maintenance and increased resistance to corrosion.
During the European summer of 2013, following seven years of development, the A350-900 XWB took to the skies over Toulouse on its maiden flight.
In January 2015, the first of the A350 XWB-900 aircraft ordered by QATAR Airline, the launch customer of the A350 XWB project went into service.
That XWB suffix (Extra Wide Body) refers to the 5.97m diameter of the outer fuselage, which is 33cm wider than the original A330/A340 fuselage allowing for a broader interior and flexibility in planning the Economy, Super Economy and Business Class seating plans.
Airbus entered into the market place with two variants of their technically advanced twin-engine airplanes.
A350-900 XWB to succeed the A340-300 and the A340-1000XWB intended to replace the A340-600 airliner.
ETOPS / EDTO regulations governing twin-engine aircraft operations are considerable for extended long-range routes. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has qualified the A350-900 family of aircraft suitable for up to 370min / 2700nm EDTO which in effect covers 99.7% of the earth’s surface for alternate diversions.
SAA became the first Airbus operator in the world to be granted beyond 180 min ETOPS approval for the A330.
With this ETOPS operational expertise, SAA has applied to the SA regulator SACAA for 300 minutes ETOPS approval for the A350
South African Airways has acquired two A350-900XWB airplanes on a short-term sub lease agreement with Hainan Airways a Chinese operator and is possibly considering an additional two more aircraft from an alternate source.
The first two A350 aircraft that SAA will operate have “Cargo Hold Fire Suppression” options installed that allow for ETOPS with a maximum diversion time of up to 300 minutes under EASA regulations.
Fuel consumed by the A340-600 on the JNB-JFK-JNB route is an average of 135 tons of JetA1 whereas the new A350-900 is expected consume 90 tons of fuel for the same route schedule, appreciably a 20% fuel saving for this route
The A350-900’s are planned to replace the A340-600’s operating nightly on the 15hour non-stop service between Johannesburg and New York.
Other possible long-range routes that the A350 aircraft is suitable for include the services to Perth, Sao Paulo and Hong Kong.
The seating arrangement of these aircraft present a standard configuration for a total of 339 passengers.. Business Class is however limited to 30 seats. Economy Premier seating with improved legroom has 63 seats and Economy Class seating is for 246 passengers.
Although there is commonality with Airbus products, the A350-900 is far removed from the A340 type aircraft which SAA pilots and engineering crews are accustomed to.
A group of Seventy (+) SAA Line Pilots and Training Captains underwent formalized Airbus training on simulators in Toulouse, Miami and Singapore to become rated on the aircraft supposedly more advanced than any other Airbus airliner.
Future simulator training and re currency checks for pilots are to continue in Toulouse, Miami and Singapore.
SAA will however be contracting with relevant parties for more permanent arrangements regarding simulator availability, or if necessary add to the Flight Simulator units presently in service at Airways Park in Johannesburg.
Weighing in at a MTOW of 275ton including the 113tons of fuel consumed at 5.8tons/hour for max range 15000km (8100nm).
The new generations of A350 airplanes are an advancement of safety features surpassing all other Airbus passenger airliners. Designed with advanced levels of redundancy for automatic transference of systems in event of critical emergencies. Backed up by 3 Air Data Computers, if for example, possible icing in the Pitot System restricts critical air pressure, the computers will acquire information from other sources including as a last resort pressure reflected at the inlet to the compressor stages of the engines which will be compensated to equivalent Air Speed tolerances.
The Auto Emergency Descent Function activates in event of unanswered loss of cabin pressure predicting cabin altitude to rise above 14000 feet within 15 seconds.
The system is a result of a new flight guidance function using combined vertical and lateral modes to perform an Emergency Descent.
The auto emergency descent function automatically engages the AutoPilot and Auto Thrust to “ON”, arms the TCAS and performs the TCAS RA traffic avoidance manoeuvre if conflicting traffic is encountered during the emergency descent.
Taking into account possible altimetry corrections including lower temperatures and lower atmospheric pressure the aircraft will descend to an altitude between FL100 or corrected MORA for the area. In the event of possible crew incapacitation, the Transponder automatically resets to 7700 while the Speed Brakes extend and retract automatically.
The fuel tank inerting system features “Air Separation Modules” generating Nitrogen enriched air to reduce the flammability of fuel vapours in the tanks.
Furthermore, lessons learnt from previous Lithium battery incidents have been heeded and the chosen option has been for Nickel Cadmium Batteries for energy storage capacity.
The new, 46,000m2 specialist facility in the North Factory at Airbus Broughton in Wales has been constructed with support from the Welsh Government which is a significant part of the multinational European collaboration that the airplane manufacturer has developed for the manufacturing Airbus aircraft components. The composite wings cladded by Carbon Fibre and Plastic incorporating the uniquely curved Airbus A350 winglets, spanning across 64.75meters are designed to “morph” in-flight accounting for optimum flight configurations
Fitted to the wings are two Rolls Royce Trent XWB -84 engines each producing 84000 pounds of thrust. With the wing swept at 31.9degrees the aircraft cruises at Mn 0.85 and coherent for Mn 0.89.Max
Following delivery to South Africa, these aircraft are initially scheduled to operate on a daily schedule between Johannesburg and Cape Town. The mandatory domestic flights under the supervision of SAA Training Captains to ensure both cockpit and engineering crews are perfectly familiar with the aircraft, its complex software and I.T infrastructures before operating into the U.S and other international airspaces.
An interesting airplane that will take pilots and aircrews into the crescent of 21st-century models in aviation safety.