Print Edition - 2015-03-15  |  Free the Words

Grits again

  • The NAC’s new A320 has run into problems even before it begins operations
- Hemant Arjyal
Grits again

Mar 14, 2015-

Pailo gaas mai dhunga’ is a Nepali saying, which roughly means a nasty surprise that everyone must have had. Obviously, no one enjoys grinding grits with their teeth, but it is even more abhorrent to get them in the very first bite. This is exactly what happened to the passengers of the first-ever Nepal Airlines flight to New Delhi from Kathmandu in its new A320. Making matters worse was the fact that it was a much-hyped inaugural flight. But again, there was nothing new about it, as both the Chinese MA60 followed by Y12 also had bad starts. There can be nothing worse for an airline than having its aircraft stuck on the ground.

Blaming others

The problems, as reported, were: lack of English speaking trainers; lack of an English manual; inadequate administrative paper works concerning spares and repairs, and lately, lack of pilots. All these reveal a severe lack of homework on the part of the airline, the ‘flag bearer’, as they often call it.

It is always easy to shift the blame on others and the NAC was seen to be doing so in all three instances mentioned above. But how can anyone else be blamed for such inadequate preparedness? The onus squarely lies on the organisation and the people manning it. Donning business suits and occupying an expensive executive chair does not make one a good manager.The cancellation of the A320 flight for the lack of a particular spare part required frequently as reported in the Post is another glaring example of the ‘forward’ planning the NAC management is capable of .

Strangely, since its arrival on  February 8, the A320 had apparently been grounded. That apart, it was strange not to see any training or familiarisation flights doing the rounds in the interim as we saw during the introduction of the B757s long ago.

Engines and wings

Issues that have nagging implications for any airline are the cost of fuel and shortage of pilots. Airlines are in a better position with regards to fuel now, but one cannot expect the prices to further fall down to the level comparable to the good old days. So, in the long run, an aircraft with efficient engines is the most preferred option. Earlier, neither airlines nor engine makers bothered much about fuel costs as power was paramount to the extent the noisiest jets were tolerated. Things have since changed and airlines have been exerting pressure on engine makers and demanding not only top-notch and fuel-efficient but also substantially quieter engines. That apart, reducing fuel consumption by installing non-traditional empennage in the form of bent up wing tips has been catching up fast in the last five years.

Though functionally the same, Airbus has termed these  ‘sharklets’ while the Boeing calls them ‘winglets’. That is not all; it can be retrofitted as well. The B757s can have them too, provided it is beneficial cost wise. Unlike in the bent wings that are built in, retrofitting offers limited advantage. It is because the aircraft becomes a little heavier by doing so, negating the advantage to some degree. The original A320 had tiny sharklets, the first of its kind then. But these have got much bigger and bolder lately. Basically, these help produce much smaller wingtip vortex lessening the drag component, which is good aerodynamically.

Difficult transition

Given the manner in which the aviation sector is expanding, there have been forecasts of pilot shortage in the near future. The issue has become critical for airlines that cannot afford to pay better, if not at least a remuneration comparable to other airlines in the region. Poaching pilots from competitors is a common phenomenon these days. A qualified A320 compatible pilot is in great demand elsewhere. The issue becomes a little more critical for the NAC because of its nearly three decades of stagnancy. This problem was compounded by a change of aircraft brand, from Boeing to Airbus. It became evident when three senior pilots who had gone abroad for training left it midway and headed home instead. This complicated the situation by further reducing the number of pilots available to fly the only A320. While we have not heard about the reason for it as such, it can be guessed that having been accustomed to B757s for so long, they found it arduous to make the transition to A320.

As per a B757 first officer, having gone through quite a few A320 simulation sessions, the person felt that things are very different in the A320. The terminologies are different to start with, the switches on/off positions are just the opposite and most importantly, the A320 has an extremely high computer control system than in a B757. Many acclimatised to the traditional yoke, as in the B757, find it difficult to get in the habit of using the ‘side stick’ which is said to be extremely sensitive to the manner it is handled in. From an aviation safety angle, perhaps, it was wiser to have realised personal incompatibility earlier on than to have remained stuck with an A320 under compulsion.

An alternative

Though new and fuel-efficient, the A320s neither have the range nor the seating capacity of the B757s. It accommodates about 18 percent less than the existing B757-200 with the NAC. But the B757 is still a darling of some airlines because of its good range, very powerful engines that operates with ease from high and dry airports, and for its good looks. The Airbus A321neo/LR (new engine option/ Long Range) will be an extended version of the upcoming A321neo. Its range has been increased to 4000nm from 3650nm for the standard A321neo. The A321neo/LR is an attempt to gain some of the long-range single aisle sector, in which the aging B757 remains dominant. For that reason alone, A321neo/LR is a very attractive replacement, they say. Wonder if it would be interesting enough for the NAC, as and when, the B757 exits.

Arjyal writes extensively on aviation

Published: 15-03-2015 08:46

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