Techno nerds, this brief post is for you. I chose to write about this subject as it interests me. I had to learn a lot about aircraft flight ranges, loading, and specifications while working for Cascade Airways. Operating aircraft is MUCH more involved than walking down a jetway, sitting down, and watching your luggage trundle up the conveyor belt. The following information is by no means complete or entirely correct.
We are scheduled to fly on an Airbus 330-300. It is possible that the airline may substitute a Boeing 777, but not likely. This would probably be a result of a maintenance requirement or an unexpectedly large booking of passengers. Like a tour group.
For greater detail, follow the link above.
This is an Asiana Airbus 330-300 sitting on the ramp in Seoul, Korea. It seats 275 or 290 people (ours will be the 275 seat version) and has a usable range of about 6,400 miles, depending on the winds aloft. Our flight across the Pacific will be a little over 5,200 statute miles, roughly 8,300 kilometers. The amount of weight a wide-body aircraft can lift off with and the distance it can haul it is amazing. Maximum take off weight of an A330 is 530,000 lbs, 265 tons or 5 fully loaded semi tractor/trailers!
An A330-300 burns around 10,582 lbs per hour of fuel, about 2,116 gallons or .588 gallons per second. The jet can hold 25,740 gallons (175,000 lbs or 79,400 kilograms) or about 12-13 hours worth of fuel. My calculations give 12 hours or so, but they obviously can go further. With the long hours at cruise altitude, the range can be extended. And yes, 175,000 divided by 10,582 equals 17 hours of fuel. But it doesn’t quite work that way. Jets, or any aircraft for that matter, burn a large percentage of their fuel load taking off and getting to cruise altitude, especially at maximum gross takeoff weight. As the flight time extends, fuel is burnt and weight is reduced, making the aircraft much more efficient.
Airlines have different aircraft to cover different routes and distances. Asiana’s short haul jet is the Airbus 320, with a range of 3,200 miles. The longest hauls go to the Boeing aircraft. The Boeing 777 200ER has a range of 8,900 miles, the 747-400 has a range of 8,350 miles. Asiana is purchasing Airbus 350 aircraft that will most likely replace the Boeing jets for the extra long haul flights. These jets will be delivered sometime in 2017-18.
The longest scheduled flight in the world is on Singapore Airlines flight 21 from Newark, New Jersey to Singapore. An Airbus A340-500 covers an astounding 9,535 statute miles on a route near the north pole. At almost 19 hours, this would be torture. 12 hours is bad enough!
The shortest route to Asia from the US is in a great circle over southern Alaska. A link to the Seattle to Seoul track is displayed here. As I write this, the Pavlov volcano is misbehaving in southern Alaska. It is possible that our flight or any flight could be rerouted. This would involve extra flying time and we could end up having to stop for fuel somewhere. Worst case scenario is cancellation. Remember what happened in Europe when there was severe volcanic activity in Iceland.
On the last trip, our route was slightly west and we flew over eastern Russia. It was the first time on the trip I could actually see the ground as there was clouds the whole distance from Seattle to past the Bering Sea. But, there was nothing to see. That was the bleakest landscape I’ve ever seen in my life. There were no roads, no towns, no trees, nothing, for over 1/2 hour. That is 250 miles of wilderness. Finally, I saw some mining activity and a small town, with roads radiating out from both. Desolation.
Continuing on, we skirted North Korea to the northwest and flew over eastern China for a while. Then turned east and crossed the Yellow Sea, circled the airport, and touched down from the east in Seoul. One odd thing to me was the length of the day. We left Seattle at around 2:00pm and arrived in Korea at 6:00pm (2:00am in the western US) the same physical day, but the following day on the calendar due to the crossing of the international date line.
Here is an almost live link to our FLIGHT TRACK that you can follow if you are sooooo bored on the day of our flight, you can check in. Or, if you don’t have a life and like to watch little lines being traced. I will post this again later. The tracking follows about 10 minutes behind the aircraft. It may be more interesting to look at the next day when our route is traced across the northern Pacific.
There is very little to see on the return trip. We will leave Seoul at about 6:00pm and the only thing visible are city lights in Korea and Japan. Dawn will be about 6 hours later somewhere in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. Nothing but blue water for hours until we fly over the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.
I mentioned earlier that it is possible there would be a stop for fuel because of an unexpected occurrence. Strong headwinds westbound or a diversion due to a volcanic eruption could create that situation. But what happens if there is a mechanical problem while en-route?
Obviously there are very few incidents that make the news. But diversions are safely made fairly frequently on land. Say…you’re flying over the ocean. Where do you go other than Davey Jone’s locker? (Yes, and I know the names of the other Monkees by heart, I used to watch the show; Michael Nesbit, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz.)
Aircraft operate under a system called ETOPS, or, extended operations. Twin engine aircraft meeting reliability criterion are given certification to operate over the oceans or poles as long as they are within their certified time of a diversion airport. The great circle mapper that I linked earlier has a drop down tab for diversion times. Other than the obvious stops of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Honolulu, Tokyo, Taipai, and Seoul…
Magadan (UHMM), Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (UHPP), Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (UHSS), Khabarovsk (UHHH)
King Salmon (PAKN), Cold Bay (PACD), Shemya-Eareckson (PASY), all in Alaska and Midway Atoll (PMDY) and Guam (PGUM) in the northern Pacific pelagic zone. [I left the airport designator codes if someone wants to look at these airports, it makes for an easier search. There really isn’t much to see, though. I looked.] Notice that I didn’t mention the Alaska peninsula. Those airports have tricky approaches through mountainous terrain, the weather needs to be cooperative on a good day. Not good for planning emergency landings.
Some of these diversion points are regular passenger airports. Others are old military bases, some built for World War II. My guess is…if there is a big emergency, an open military base would allow a landing rather than the deal with the bad press of an avoidable disaster.
Enough on this subject. Unless a person is interested the minute details, this gets rather dry. The reason I went to all this trouble is to give my readers some inkling on how technically advanced air travel has become. 100 years ago, this same trip was ocean based and lengthy. 200 years ago, it was very difficult. 300 years ago, very dangerous not a reliable way to visit Asia. We now take it all for granted.
Next post will be about the tying together of the jillion little details that need to be covered. An extended vacation abroad is a large undertaking. Unless you don’t mind dealing with the items you missed or forgot to take care of before you left!