Affordability Seen as Key in Next-gen Airliner Tech Written 22 June 2015

Panelists: moderator Christoppher Stonehouse, senior vice president, customer service; Jack Arehart, president, MRO Services, Delta TechOps; William "Bill" Meehan, chief operating officer, Frontier Airlines Inc.; Bart Roberts, vice president, flight operations, JetBlue Airways; David Seymour, senior vice president, technical operations, American Airlines

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

Panelists in the discussion, "The Voice of the Customer – Designing the Right Aircraft" at the 2015 AIAA AVIATION Forum.

Airlines, manufacturers and maintenance providers must welcome new technology, but always with an eye toward affordability.

That was the message from a panel of industry experts at AIAA’s AVIATION 2015 forum.

Session moderator Chris Stonehouse, senior vice president of customer service at Airbus Americas, cited “airframe, aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, systems, avionics, navigation, innovative materials” as key areas for consideration. He said that all need to be “cheap to maintain, provide a high rate of return during operations, be secure from cyber attacks while allowing passengers to connect seamlessly to the world.”

Referring to some of today’s top challenges to overcome in order to get to the “next, new aircraft,” Bart Roberts, vice president of flight operations at JetBlue Airways, said that it ultimately comes down to airlines being able to find and produce safe aircraft, as economically as possible, while attempting “to meet some of the mandates the world has placed on the aviation industry as a whole.” Roberts said the industry requires designs that are “easily adaptable to change over multiple decades because we’re finding that these aircraft are lasting much longer sometimes than we ever imagined.”

David Seymour, senior vice president for technical operations at American Airlines, said three key items need to be looked at carefully when selecting aircraft: “Labor, fuel, and maintenance costs.” He said ultimately economics will decide what type of aircraft an airline will go for, “and whether that next aircraft will work out for our needs.” Seymour said great benefits are being realized from new engines but that “the maintenance side is one of the frontiers we haven’t engaged in.”

Jack Arehart, president of Delta TechOps MRO, said Delta likes to “sit in the background and really watch the new technology come into life and see how it performs before we step in.” He said labor and maintenance costs are of special interest.

Arehart also suggested that when designing new aircraft, “the more the initial airplane is designed so that you can plug in different solutions as they come down the road, new technologies, the better it is for all of us.”

Referring to a potential future of green, environmentally friendly aircraft, Seymour of American Airlines said “it’s something that has to pay for itself.” American Airlines needs “to see some return on investment in order to start heading down that path.”

Bill Meehan, chief operating officer of Frontier Airlines, said that a large percentage of technology upgrades to existing aircraft are not visible to the general public because they occur on the flight deck. In the last 15 years, he said, “the level of safety that has been enhanced has been phenomenal.” In particular, he cited traffic collision avoidance systems, wind shear avoidance technology, navigation improvements and weather radar.

Stonehouse of Airbus Americas reminded the audience how far the aviation industry has come. “As an industry, we move millions of people around the world every day, we have exceedingly safe aircraft. I don’t think there’s another industry which is quite as safe as our own, occasionally there’s a mishap, but when you look at the numbers of people being moved, it’s phenomenal,” adding that “the passenger experience is greatly improved over what it was 20 years ago."


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