Saturday, August 27, 2005

My favourite aircraft

Since I travel a lot I have developed quite strong preferences for certain types of commercial aircraft to fly on.

My all time favourite is the Boeing 777. It's got a great feel in the air, excellent overhead bins, and is new enough that even the lesser airlines have reasonably modern facilities in them.

The aircraft I'm really excited about is the Boeing 787 or "Dreamliner" due to enter service in 2008. I'm looking forward to the improved cabin environment, especially the higher humidity levels that will be possible with an all composite construction (since there's no metal to rust, they don't have to worry about condensation).

The one I'm not looking forward to is the new Airbus A380. It's bad enough travelling on a 747, with huge queues of people at the boarding gates, immigration and baggage claim. I can't imagine what it's going to be like with another hundred or two hundred people on the same plane.

Apart from the fact that I don't think this is going to be an especially comfortable aircraft to fly on, I think Boeing is on the right track and Airbus are pursuing a very limited strategy with their focus on bigger planes flying hub to hub. I'm a big fan of point to point services, especially when it means avoiding busy hubs like Chicago, JFK, Sydney or Heathrow. My wife and I flew Singapore to Los Angeles direct last year on the extended range Airbus A340-500. Having flown Singapore to the US multiple times before, always with a connection through somewhere else, I have to say this was absolutely the way to go (although it helped that we treated ourselves to Singapore Airlines business class!)

Here's a more complete ranking of the various aircraft I've flown on:

  • B787 (in anticipation)
  • B777 (when fitted out 3-3-3, not 2-5-2 like United does, or even worse 3-4-3 like Emirates does)
  • BAe146 (as small as you can get with all the comfort of a 'real' jet)
  • A320 (wider than the 737 with the same 3-3 configuration)
  • B737 (especially the newer variants)
  • A340 (but watch out for the window seats because the fuselage curves in at about shoulder height)
  • Dash-8 (all we have in Steamboat in the low season. Great scenic value on a clear day since it doesn't fly all that high and with 37 seats not much of a queue to check in or board!)
  • Dash-7 (is a four engine STOL version of Dash-8 which used to fly in to Steamboat Springs' Bob Adam Field)
  • A330
  • B767 (the least reliable type in my experience, especially the Qantas fleet)
  • B757
  • A300
  • B707 (I'm actually not that old, but MEA were still flying them in the mid-90s when I flew one from Beirut to Geneva. One of the classic planes in aviation history)
  • Fokker F28
  • DC9/MD80/B717
  • B747 (too many people)
  • Embraer RJ-145 (I'm 5'8" and I could barely stand up in this. OK as a substitute for a turboprop on a commuter route, but when airlines start using these on medium haul flights they've lost the plot)
  • A380 (way too many people)
  • DC10/MD11 (this was such a lemon it basically finished the manufacturer as a major player in the commercial aircraft industry)
  • B727 (lots of speeding up and slowing down on approach resulting in considerable airsickness)
  • Fokker F50 (the vibration is like having a dentist's drill for hours on end)
  • Dornier 317? (don't mention the war!)
  • Shorts 360 (a shipping container with wings, designed for the sole purpose of inducing airsickness)
  • ...and last of all, the Lockheed C130 Hercules (yes this is a military aircraft, and it's a 'rugged' way to fly to say the least).

Of course business class in the worst aircraft type is better than economy class in the best!

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