Airplanes, Airlines; Pictures


The free pictures of aircraft on this webpage were taken at Zürich Airport, except for the last row of four which show (left to right): a light plane landing on snow, photographed near Maennlichen (above Wengen in Switzerland;) then the last 3 pictures are of flying boats landing on Lake Luzern, close to Luzerne (Lucerne) city itself.

Airline numbers
There are around 5,000 airlines (2017) registered with the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the UN. According to one estimate, they fly about 23,600 passenger and cargo planes, and between them own another 2,500 aircraft in storage (figures by Ascend, 2017). Only 275 airlines belonged to IATA (the International Air Transport Association based in Montreal and Geneva) in 2017, and many of the world’s low cost airlines are not members, so their passengers do not have the same level of cover when they fly. Between them IATA members carried 84% of the worldwide total of nearly 3 billion passengers in 2017, and it is predicted that demand for air travel will double every 15 years! The top 5 carriers in terms of airplane numbers are all American, with American Airlines the largest with 1,789 planes. Then comes Delta Air Lines with 1,330 planes, and United Airlines close behind with 1,229 aeroplanes, flying to 374 destinations. These giant organisations contrast greatly with the smaller companies, some of which have just one plane. The largest European fleet is that of Ryan Air, with 349 aeroplanes. (Figures from June 2016)

Airline names
The oldest airline currently flying is KLM, the Dutch airline founded in 1920. Its full title, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines reflects the fact that many countries have (or used to have) government-owned “flagship” airlines. Other airlines with “Royal” in their name, are Royal Air Maroc, Royal Brunei Airlines and Royal Jordanian Airlines. One called simply “Royal Airlines” is a charter and cargo company based in Pakistan.
Since its founding with the support of the Dubai Royal family in March 1985 Emirates, based in, and flying most routes through, Dubai, has been growing rapidly until by 2017 it has become the 4th largest carrier in terms of passengers and the 2nd largest for freight. Another Middle Eastern airline company, Etihad, has been based in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi since its foundation in 2003, and by 2017 was operating over 1,000 flights a week carrying 14.8 million passengers a year in 2015 to all corners of the world.

Airline and Airport Codes
Starting in 1947, airlines were given 2 letter codes by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the UN, with their HQ in Montreal, Canada.). As airlines joined IATA (the International Air Transport Association) so IATA took over the 2 letter code: Swissair was SR, and American Airlines was AA. Then in the 1980s so many new airlines were born that the ICAO changed to a 3-letter system, but IATA didn’t follow their lead. So American Airlines was designated AA according to IATA, and AAL according to ICAIO. British Airways’ IATA code, which was BA, became BAW for the ICAO. (Swissair no longer exists, so their 2 and 3 letter codes are disused; the Swiss airline now is just SWISS, IATA Code LX.)
IATA also gives 3 letter codes to cities and their airports, which they call ‘location codes’. So London is LON and Geneva is GVA. But cities these days often have more than one airport, so London Heathrow is LHR, and London Gatwick is LGW; but Geneva International is the only airport in the city, so the code is the same as for the city, i.e. GVA, while the Grand Resort Airport at Lake Geneva is XES – so sometimes the city code and the airport code are the same, and sometimes not, depending on how many airports there are at that location.

Aircraft manufacturers
Most of these airlines’ commercial passenger jets are built by one of two companies, Boeing, based in Seattle USA, and Airbus, with headquarters in Toulouse, France, and their two most numerous families of airplanes in service are the 737s and the A320 respectively. But these two aviation manufacturing giants will not have it all their own way in future, as China and Russia develop their own aviation industry. The Chinese state-owned aerospace company is called Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and in 2015 it had a workforce of 536,000. The demand for air travel in China is enormous, and there are 55 airlines taking 500 million passenger-journeys a year (2017). The Russian aircraft manufacturer is Irkut, owned by the state controlled United Aircraft Corporation. In 2017 it produced a new airliner, the MC-21 (also called the MS-21) which it claims is better than similar twin-engined, medium-range aircraft built in the West. Being made of lighter composite material rather than metal, the MC-21 can fly routes up to 6,400kms (nearly 4,000 miles) non-stop. The plane is being produced in Siberia and will be delivered to airlines from 2018.

Airline names
While many airlines highlight their home country in their title, like Air France, British Airways or SWISS, some smaller companies have more entertaining names. In Fiji, for example, you will find the charmingly named Turtle Airways and Sunflower Airlines. Nepal has Buddha Air and Singapore has Tiger Airways. Charter and budget airlines often have interesting names, like White Coloured By You, a Portuguese charter company, or Carnival Airlines, an American low cost and charter airline. A few airlines have names that tell you what they are about, like Valuair or Cargolux, while others choose prestige names like Monarch or Champion Air.

Aviation codes and abbreviations
All IATA member airlines have 2-letter designation codes and airports have 3-letter codes. So Air France is AF, Air New Zealand is NZ and SWISS is SR.
London Airport is LON, Berlin is SFX and New York is NYC. Zürich, where most of the pictures were taken, is ZRH.
ASN is the Aviation Safety Network, and JACDEC is the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre, which analyses airline safety globally, and publishes an Index of the safest airlines.

Some airlines decorate their planes in unusual or entertaining ways, so making good opportunities for photos. Kulula Air of South Africa has labelled its Flying 101 bright green 737 with the parts of the plane, like “nose cone” and “engine #1”, along with witty remarks like “mile-high initiation chamber” on the outside of the toilet. Sometimes this visual branding has a more direct commercial purpose, as with the Taiwanese airline EVA Air which has decorated three of its planes with “Hello Kitty” images in collaboration with a Japanese toy manufacturer. Alaska Airlines and All Nippon Airways have both run competitions for designing the decoration for the outside of one of their planes, with the winning design being painted on the plane.

Kulula Air is also noted for the sense of humour of its cabin crew, with announcements like: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed in Cape Town. Please take all your possessions. Anything left behind will be shared equally between staff. Please note we do not accept unwanted mothers-in-law or children" and "If you are caught smoking, you will be asked to leave the aircraft".

Because most airlines give top priority to passenger safety, flying is now relatively safe. 2012 was the safest year for air travel since 1945, and the number of accidents a year continues to fall. There is roughly one fatal airliner crash for every 2.5 million flights, according to the independent Aviation Safety Network in the Netherlands, and of the 23 accidents that did occur last year, only 11 involved passenger flights. In view of the relatively small numbers involved it is quite difficult to make a league table of the most dangerous airlines, but Africa is the least safe continent to fly in, and many developing nations use older aircraft no longer wanted by European and North American airlines.

The environment
Many people worldwide are concerned about the impact on the environment of so many flights. Airplanes emit noise and pump gases and particulates into the atmosphere. CO2 emissions average 353 kg per passenger on an average 3,200 km flight, and many airlines now offer customers the chance to off-set the effects of their travel by paying a voluntary levy which is spent on measures to counteract the increase of CO2. In 2009 KLM made the first commercial flight using bio-fuel, and other airlines are known to be currently exploring the potential of biomass for reducing their effect on our environment.

No ‘fear of flying’
In spite of worries about the effect on the environment, Man’s fascination with flying continues, shown by the numerous airplane museums all over the world; the great popularity of air shows, at which both historic planes and the latest aircraft can be seen flying, is further evidence. And in spite of great concerns about environmental damage, our obsession with air travel continues: the busiest airport in the world (Atlanta) carries close to 90 million passengers a year, and Europe’s busiest (London Heathrow),
sees 65 million pass through.

Early aviation
It seems difficult to believe that the first ever non-stop flight across the Atlantic was made as recently as 1919, when Alcock and Brown flew from Canada to Ireland to win the Daily Mail prize of £10,000 for a non-stop crossing in less than 72 hours. Alcock and Brown’s time to complete the 3,000 kilometre flight in their converted Vimy bomber was almost 16 hours; by the 1970s the Anglo-French supersonic passenger airliner Concorde regularly crossed the Atlantic in 3.5 hours, which in itself was twice as fast as ordinary scheduled flights of that time.
Similarly amazing is the short time since the first really successful powered flight of 24 miles by the Wright brothers, and the first moon walk by Armstrong and Aldrin, while Collins manned Apollo 11 in lunar orbit.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were certainly partly responsible for the fantastic pace of development in flight, since they took a scientific approach, in contrast to some of the earlier more romantic attempts to “imitate the birds”. After studying the history of flight, the brothers used a wind tunnel to learn about wing shapes, and then, in 1902, moved on from gliders to explore the required propulsion system. Taking it in turn to pilot their ‘Flyer’, they managed a flight of almost a minute in 1903, and then worked on the design for two more years before ‘Flyer 3’ covered 24 miles in 39 minutes on October 5th 1905; the flight only ended because the plane ran out of fuel.

The Wright brothers’ airplanes had two pairs of wings built on a frame of wood, covered with cotton cloth and held together with bicycle spoke wire. They carried one man, the pilot, lying down on the bottom wing. Just a century later, Boeing’s newest plane, the 787 ‘Dreamliner’ wide-bodied jet can carry 290 passengers over 15,000 kilometres (9,320 miles) with less environmental impact than rival jets, due to its hi-tech efficiency. Military aeroplanes have taken the development of flight technology much further, with ‘stealth bombers’ and fighters designed to avoid Radar, and pilotless ‘drones’ controlled by computer operators thousands of kilometres from the battlefield. What with war, business travel and tourism, there is no sign that Man’s love affair with flight is ending any time soon….

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