Boeing’s new fuel-efficient airplane

Boeing’s rival to Airbus’ giant A380 – the new modern, fuel-efficient version of the 747 – made its first public appearance in the US this month and the first is due to be delivered in the fourth quarter of this year. German airline Lufthansa, a partner of SAA in the international Star Alliance, which now flies the A380 daily between Frankfurt and Johannesburg, is a launch customer for the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, which is claimed to have 12 percent lower costs than the old Boeing 747-400.

With oil prices soaring again as a result of the revolutions in the Middle East, costs are even more important to airlines, and so are environmental factors. According to Boeing, the new plane provides 16 percent better fuel economy, gives out 16 percent less carbon dioxide and makes 30 percent less noise than the 747-400. It also shares interior design features with Boeing’s new Dreamliner which, according to Boeing, give passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, and provide more room for personal belongings.

SAA has started taking delivery of six new 250-seater long-range Airbus A330-200s to be used on routes including London, South America and the increasingly important destination of Accra in Ghana. We have been promised that they will make some flights from Cape Town. There are now more than 750 A330s being flown by 90 operators in 50 countries, and so many orders have been received that production is being increased to 10 a month by 2013.

But it already makes sense to make fewer flights with larger aircraft to particularly congested airports such as Heathrow, and Airbus is hoping SAA will order the A380 in addition to its new fleet of 330-200s. British Airways is due to take delivery of its first next year. In view of this, Boeing is certain to offer its new 747 to SAA.

Hong Kong, to which both Cathay Pacific Airlines and SAA fly daily from Johannesburg, is also a particularly busy airport. Built on a manmade island to replace an older airport, it was planned in 1992 to handle 87 million passengers and nine million tonnes of cargo. But, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), growth has been much faster than predicted and the airport, which handled 51 million passengers last year is now working at 90 percent capacity. IATA is urging the Hong Kong authorities to start planning now for a third runway to handle further expected growth.

Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive and director general of IATA, also said that air traffic management problems in the industrial Pearl River Delta – frequently visited by buyers from South African companies who import goods from China – urgently need to be fixed with new, shorter routes to cope with the rapid growth in air travel.

The old airport, which the present one replaced, had one of the most challenging approaches in the world. Planes flew between skyscraper blocks to reach it and a large target was painted on the side of one building to show pilots exactly where they had to make a sharp turn. One might think it was a nightmare for pilots – but, in fact, they loved it. I flew into Hong Kong for the opening of the new airport and found the pilots all regretted the loss of the exciting approach.

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