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Archive for the ‘aviation’ Category

A smarter turbulence detection system for the airlines

Posted by evolvingwheel on September 11, 2007

It was Aug, 2001. I took the first flight from Chicago to Columbus on a cloudy morning. 30 minutes into the flight, and the plane started bumping all over as we flew through the layers of dark clouds. Lightning sparked around us as the pilot tried his best to dodge the turbulence. Several of the passengers became nauseated. The ordeal lasted for nearly 30 minutes.

Well, the uncertainty and the pain associated with air-travel turbulence may be coming to an end. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has partnered with United Airlines to test the efficacy of a turbulence detection system that alerts pilots to patches of rough air as they fly through clouds.

The new system uses a mathematical method developed by NCAR scientists, known as the NEXRAD Turbulence Detection Algorithm, or NTDA, to analyze data obtained from the National Weather Service’s network of Next-Generation (NEXRAD) Doppler radars. The resulting real-time snapshot of turbulence can be transmitted to pilots in the cockpit and made available to airline meteorologists and dispatchers via a Web-based display. Clear air turbulence

The algorithm analyzing the data from the Doppler radars is a great leap forward. It has always been difficult to pinpoint turbulence foci in different vertical and lateral cross sections of clouds. The new algorithm analyzes the radar data and is able to create a three-dimensional picture of turbulent patches. If tested properly and launched successfully commercially, it could benefit the airlines industry by saving damage repair costs, injury claims, and fuel costs. The early detection system will be a boon for the ATC and the pilots too.

Read the [article] here.


Posted in aviation, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

A service innovation in the air – SKYBUS

Posted by evolvingwheel on August 28, 2007

When I read the article in popular science, the first thing that crossed my mind was PAY-AS-YOU-GO! SKYBUS is a Columbus, OH based airline startup that is providing airtravel at a very affordable cost – with some trade offs. There are several elements of consideration that the company has implemented. To name a few:

  1. No connecting flights.
  2. No 800 numbers and phone customer service.
  3. Automated check ins.
  4. Fly out of small airports in big cities.
  5. Pay for the services you need – which even include checked baggage.

One particular idea that I liked is – Why should you be made to pay for all those sodas and blankets that other people use that you don’t?  That’s truly a personalized service proposition. Another interesting thing is the ability to handle customer related issues without any live phone accessibility. However, live CHAT online may be a option. For PDA enabled customers, one can connect to customer service over the web. I am not sure if they have that kind of service. Another factor of efficiency added to the model is by accessing smaller airports in big cities. With lower air traffic, there are less chances for bottlenecks and hence delays. However, if the company plans to expand its service 4-5 fold over next 5 years, then they also need to find airports (or improve them to) that can support bigger jets, longer runways, higher volume of baggage processing, and air traffic control. One of the challenges will be when few other competitors start copying this model. Skybus Plane

From the operations standpoint, another consideration will be outsourcing of line maintenance. On the service side, if these kinds of airlines have contract based support crews (air hostess, cleaners, bagage porters), then they have to create a very efficient service-based-resource management systems to track availabilities of workers on a per-demand basis. This just creates a whole new area of business process and efficiency. As time comes and competition increases in this sector, it will be worth noticing the business dynamic. I will definitely keep my eyes open!

Check the following link for SKYBUS rules 🙂


[Read the article here]

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Innovation at Boeing – Dreamliner

Posted by evolvingwheel on July 3, 2007

This can be counted as a continuation of my earlier article on plastic composites for airliners posted on May 18. I just read an article in MSNBC (posted today) about the innovative ways Boeing has employed to rollout its long-awaited 787 Dreamliner. The article briefly touches upon the strategic thinking behind opting out of big fat air cruisers like that of the Airbus Corporation. What grabs my attention is the multi-vendor multi-continent engagement that Boeing pulled off as seamlessly as possible. 

One of the most interesting aspects is the design, development, and procurement of major parts from outside of US. Is the Wal-Mart model going to be a trend in heavy duty airline manufacturing industry in this country? Check this link out: 787 Dreamliner Development Team.

We are often paralyzed by different legalities, regulations, and national security issues when it comes to hi-tech design sharing and development with international vendors. However, if Boeing sets an example with the Dreamliner, may be other heavy duty hi-tech companies (Lockheed, Raytheon, etc. – may be they already do – I have not done enough research on that side yet) will follow suit. What will be the implications? Will there be a rigorous international standardization to support such developments? What are the opportunities with the continued product launches? Will Boeing still have a competitive advantage over the long run? May be the depth of capital investments will dictate the abilities to design innovative products and keep the competitive advantage on this side.

This entire article can be a case study. Another exciting knowledge gathered is the way global investment, requirements, and cost feasibility is making old behemoths change their business model. The old ideologies are being replaced by fresh, new outlooks.

Read the [article]. 

Posted in aviation, Innovation, materials | 2 Comments »

High Altitude Wind Power

Posted by evolvingwheel on June 20, 2007

Bryan Roberts, a professor of engineering at the University of Technology, Sydney, has teamed up with Sky WindPower, a San Diego based startup, to generate wind power from high altitude winds. For land based wind mills, the efficiency is often quite low – due to the unpredictability and lack of consistency of wind. However, at around 15000 feet above, the jet stream is consistent and strong. The efficiency of a high altitude based, floating windmill can reach upto 90% at that elevation.

Initially, Roberts was having problem in acquiring the initial funding to develop an operational pilot for his project. The ROI was not considered significant. However, lately Sky WindPower has come forward to commercialize Roberts’ dream. Read the article [here].

The prospect of high altitude wind power looks very promising. However, there could be some cost and implementation related issues with the basic hardware and maintenance. The cost of power (Kw) generated from these devices should be low enough to sustain the commercial deployment and long-term operation costs. The hardware consists of cable that holds the flying mill to the ground. If there are series of such mills flying across a large area, what kind of wear and tear is associated over a longer span of time? Considering that jet stream is pretty strong, the effort to stabilize the position and the orientation of the device will be a significant. Now Roberts says that his rotor based design is capable of maintaining the lift and stability with much ease than a helicopter.

Locating jet stream consistency will be another area of interest. There are various degrees of air traffic at 15000 feet elevation as well. We will wait to see how Roberts dream flies – and may be one day his invention provides a cheaper mean to sustained energy.

Posted in aviation, Energy, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

Thermoplastics for airliners?

Posted by evolvingwheel on May 15, 2007

While reading an article in MSNBC about Boeing 787 being built predominantly from carbon fiber composites, few questions came to my mind. The article discusses the advantage of thermoplastics and carbon fiber composites that are durable, lightweight, and extremely strong. The airliners of future days will be using more of these materials for the load bearing parts and structural components. The article discusses how these composites will enhance the design of the jets by allowing longer hauls, lower maintenance, and considerably lower replacement costs. In other words, the discussion foresees a nearly total replacement of aluminum. Boeing 787 Dreamliner landing

I dug into the subject a little more and found out that carbon fiber based thermoplastics are the new cutting edge composites. Longhaul flights require long-distance airplanes over different atmospheric regions – ranging from very cold, dry air to moist air over vast spans of oceans or tropical lands. These composites will not only be rust less, which in turn will save replacement costs, but will also create a lighter plane and hence less gasoline cost. Currently even the auto industry is looking at the prospect of using carbon fibers for its structural development.

One interesting aspect of adoption of carbon fiber in large scale is the ramification in the aluminum industry. With innovation comes replacement. Replacement of old technology. Efficiency and cost are the primary drivers. Thus, over a span of 10 years, if the industry undergoes a paradigm shift from Aluminum to fibers, Aluminum futures will definitely get hit. The industry will have to adjust accordingly.

An interesting study will be to analyze the impact of the paradigm shift on the metals industry. If the big buyers like automobile industry change their material requirements, then the Aluminum industry will need to adapt to the changing demands, find alternate areas of engagement, and develop more sophisticated alloys. 

Read the [article].

Posted in aviation, Innovation, investment | 1 Comment »