Can Commercial Planes Venture Beyond Earth’s Atmosphere?

Abhishek Nayar

01 Jan 2024

As we sit comfortably in our commercial airplanes, cruising at 35,000 feet and marveling at the wonders of modern aviation, a question may cross our minds: Can these airplanes venture into space, even by mistake? In this article, we explore the scientific and engineering limitations that prevent commercial airplanes from reaching the vast expanse beyond Earth's atmosphere.

Aerodynamic Lift: Beyond the Karman Line

A fundamental aspect of flight is aerodynamic lift, generated by an aircraft's wings exploiting pressure differences with air molecules. However, in space, characterized by a lack of air molecules, wings are rendered ineffective, and no lift is created. This limitation sets a clear boundary known as the Karman Line, approximately 62 miles (100 km) above sea level, beyond which space begins.

As commercial airplanes ascend, the air density decreases, affecting lift generation. Most airplanes have a service ceiling between 38,000 and 41,000 feet, and attempting to climb beyond this results in a lack of sufficient air density to support lift.

Combustion and Thrust in the Void

The combustion engines of commercial airplanes, reliant on oxygen in the atmosphere, face significant challenges as altitude increases. Above 45,000 feet, where air density diminishes, the engines struggle to draw in enough air for combustion, limiting thrust. Unlike rockets, which carry their own liquid oxygen, airplane engines rely on atmospheric oxygen, making them inefficient in the low-density conditions of space.

As engines climb, they reach RPM limits, and the lack of air density hinders their ability to produce the required thrust, ultimately restricting the altitude commercial airplanes can reach.

Cabin Pressurization: Breathing in the Stratosphere

Above 12,500 feet, air density becomes insufficient for the human body to survive without artificial pressurization. Commercial airplanes employ High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and compressed air from the engines to pressurize the cabin. However, as airplanes approach the boundary of space, engines can no longer supply enough air to maintain cabin pressure. Without pressurization, passengers would face the risk of hypoxia, a deficiency of oxygen that can lead to organ impairment and death.

Control Surfaces in the Void: Maneuvering Challenges

The control surfaces of commercial airplanes, such as ailerons and rudders, rely on air density to function effectively. In the low-density environment near the Karman Line, these surfaces lose their efficiency. Flight tests near this boundary have shown that traditional control surfaces become nearly useless. To achieve maneuverability in space, a Reaction-Control System, commonly used in spacecraft, becomes essential.

Escape Velocity, Re-entry, and the Melting Point

The escape velocity required to break through Earth's atmosphere is far beyond the capabilities of commercial airplanes. Even if a plane could achieve such speeds, the subsequent re-entry would subject it to temperatures exceeding the melting point of its aluminum airframe. The space shuttle faced temperatures of up to 1650°C during re-entry, while aluminum melts at 660°C.

To survive re-entry, an airplane would need a heat-resistant system, such as silica tiles, but this would increase the aircraft's weight, reducing its payload and making space travel economically unfeasible for commercial purposes.


While commercial airplanes have revolutionized global travel, their design and capabilities are inherently grounded in Earth's atmosphere. The transition into space requires technologies and engineering beyond the scope of conventional aviation. As we gaze out of airplane windows at cruising altitudes, we can appreciate the remarkable achievements of aviation while recognizing the boundaries that separate us from the cosmos.

With Inputs from Pilot Teacher

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BOC Aviation Expands Fleet with Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO Purchase

Abhishek Nayar

01 Jan 2024

Aircraft lessor BOC Aviation has announced a significant expansion of its fleet with the acquisition of four Airbus A321NEO and two Airbus A320NEO aircraft from Airbus S.A.S. The deal, finalized on December 27, marks a strategic move for BOC Aviation, positioning the company for future growth in the dynamic aviation industry.

A Strategic Partnership: BOC Aviation and Airbus

BOC Aviation's decision to purchase the state-of-the-art Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO aircraft underscores the lessor's commitment to maintaining a modern and fuel-efficient fleet. The Airbus A321NEO (New Engine Option) and A320NEO are part of the highly successful A320 family, known for their advanced technology and fuel efficiency.

Details of the Agreement

The agreement between BOC Aviation and Airbus involves the acquisition of four A321NEO and two A320NEO aircraft. The delivery schedule for these aircraft is set for 2027 and 2028, allowing BOC Aviation to plan for the integration of these cutting-edge planes into its existing portfolio.

Despite the significance of the deal, the exact financial details remain undisclosed. BOC Aviation has not revealed the deal value, keeping specific financial terms confidential. This approach is common in the aviation industry, where companies often choose not to disclose the precise financial aspects of their agreements.

Advantages of the Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO

The Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO are celebrated for their advanced design, incorporating the latest technological innovations to enhance fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and provide an improved passenger experience. These narrow-body aircraft are popular choices among airlines and lessors aiming to optimize operational costs and environmental impact.

The A321NEO, with its extended range and increased seating capacity, is well-suited for both short-haul and medium-haul routes. Meanwhile, the A320NEO offers flexibility and efficiency, making it a versatile choice for various airline operations.

Strategic Timing for Delivery & Looking Ahead

By scheduling the delivery of the newly acquired aircraft for 2027 and 2028, BOC Aviation strategically aligns with the anticipated growth and recovery of the aviation industry. The carefully planned timeline allows the lessor to adapt to market conditions and meet the evolving demands of its lessees.

This aircraft acquisition represents a pivotal moment for BOC Aviation as it positions itself for sustained growth in the competitive aircraft leasing market. The strategic decision to invest in the latest Airbus models demonstrates the lessor's dedication to providing cutting-edge and eco-friendly solutions to its global customer base.


BOC Aviation's agreement with Airbus for the acquisition of four A321NEO and two A320NEO aircraft marks a significant milestone for the lessor. As the aviation industry continues to evolve, BOC Aviation's strategic investment in modern and efficient aircraft positions the company for success in the years to come. With a commitment to technological innovation and customer satisfaction, BOC Aviation is set to play a key role in shaping the future of air travel.

With Inputs from Reuters

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Boeing 737 MAX Resumes Operations in China

Abhishek Nayar

01 Jan 2024

After nearly a year of careful modifications and regulatory approvals, all Boeing 737 MAX jets operated by Chinese carriers have returned to service as of December 29, 2023. This significant development marks the end of a turbulent period for the best-selling Boeing model, grounded globally in 2019 following fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The MAX's return to service around the world began in late 2020, but Chinese airlines only resumed operations in January 2023.

Boeing China CEO Announces Full Resumption

Boeing China CEO Liu Qing made the announcement on December 29, 2023, through Chinese social media platforms, stating that "All China civil aviation 737 MAXs have resumed operations." This milestone involves the return to service of nearly 100 Boeing 737 MAX planes in the Chinese market. The resumption is the result of extensive modifications to the aircraft and enhanced pilot training programs implemented globally to address safety concerns.

Preparatory Activities and Flight Tests

Simultaneously, Boeing is engaged in preparatory activities and flight tests on a number of 737 MAX jets specifically designated for Chinese customers. This has fueled speculation that the U.S. aerospace giant could soon restart deliveries of the MAX to China, a significant development given the strained relations between Boeing and China in recent years.

Potential Breakthrough in Boeing-China Relations

If Boeing resumes deliveries of the 737 MAX to China, it would represent a major breakthrough in the strained relationship between the two entities. The MAX crisis, coupled with broader U.S.-China political tensions, had led to a freeze on new orders from China and suspended deliveries since 2019. A successful restart of deliveries could not only mend ties but also serve as a financial boon for Boeing, enabling the collection of payments for dozens of MAX planes in its inventory.

Recent Deliveries Signal Positive Momentum

In a positive sign for Boeing, the company recently made its first direct delivery of a 787 Dreamliner to China since 2019. This milestone was interpreted by industry experts as a potential prelude to the end of Beijing's freeze on 737 MAX deliveries. Additionally, through November, Boeing delivered eight 777 freighters to Chinese customers, according to company data, demonstrating a broader resumption of delivery activities.

Financial Implications and Market Dynamics

The resumption of MAX deliveries to China holds financial significance for Boeing, allowing the company to fulfill orders and receive payments for a substantial number of aircraft. This development comes at a time when Boeing has faced challenges in securing new orders from China since 2017, amid escalating trade tensions between the United States and China.


The full resumption of Boeing 737 MAX operations in China signals a positive turn for the aerospace giant and has the potential to mark a significant thaw in its relationship with China. As Boeing continues preparatory activities for deliveries and flight tests, industry observers will be closely monitoring developments to assess the long-term impact on the aerospace industry and U.S.-China trade relations.

With Inputs from Reuters

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Aegean Airlines to Wet Lease 2 Airbus A320s from Cyprus Airways

Radhika Bansal

29 Dec 2023

Aegean Airlines will wet-lease two A320-200s from Cyprus Airways under a long-term ACMI deal covering all of 2024. The first aircraft began operating for the Greek airline on December 19, 2023.

5B-DDQ (msn 4055) was ferried from Larnaca to Thessaloniki on December 18 and operated its first flight for Aegean Airlines to Prague Václav Havel the next day, Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows. The second aircraft, 5B-DDR (MSN 3933), will begin operating for the Greek airline in March 2024.

Besides the two A320-200s, Cyprus Airways also operates two A220-300s. The airline is planning to add more A220, considering the type as the foundation of its future fleet. The airline operates in a highly seasonal market that has been heavily affected by the drop in demand from/to Israel due to the war in Gaza, as Israel is a key international market for Cyprus.

Under the terms of the wet lease agreement, Cyprus Airways will also provide pilots and cabin crews to operate the leased aircraft, the first of which is due to be delivered to Aegean in December 2023.  The second aircraft will follow in March 2024, before the busy summer season gets underway for the Athens-based carrier. The agreement was facilitated by aviation and ACMI specialists, Zela Aviation. 

Aegean has also recently been struggling to offset a capacity shortfall caused by the need to ground several of its Airbus A320neo aircraft over the next few months as a result of unscheduled checks that are required on Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines. This is an ongoing issue that has affected a large number of airlines worldwide in recent months. 

"We are very happy and proud to take the next step in our strategic cooperation with Aegean. We already have an extensive codeshare agreement in place where we work closely to offer and optimise our joint products and services," Cyprus Airways' Chief Executive Paul Sies said.

Sies highlighted that Cyprus Airways routes to Dubai International Airport (DXB), Paris Charles De Gaulle International Airport (CDG), and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) performed better, helping the airline compensate for the loss of traffic to/from Israel.

In turn, Aegean Airlines operates twenty-eight A320-200s, sixteen A320-200Ns, five A321-200s, twelve A321-200NX, nine ATR72-600s, and a single DHC-8-100. The turboprops are placed on the AOC of Olympic Air. Besides its jet fleet, the carrier also operates a turboprop fleet of nine ATR72-600s. The turboprops are operated under the Air Operator Certificate (AOC) of Olympic Air. This wet-lease agreement signifies a significant development in Aegean Airlines’ operational capabilities, offering expanded service and efficiency.

Cyprus Airways is the latest incarnation of an airline using that name and has been operating as such since July 2016. The carrier operates an all-Airbus fleet comprising of two A220-300s delivered in 2023, plus two A320-200s registered 5B-DDQ and 5B-DDR. Cyprus Airways serves a highly seasonal market, which has recently faced challenges due to decreased demand from and to Israel, a crucial international market for Cyprus, primarily affected by the conflict in Gaza.

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Brazil' Azul and Gol Secure Financing for Engine Maintenance

Abhishek Nayar

29 Dec 2023

Brazilian carriers Azul and Gol have successfully secured access to substantial financing, approximately $200 million each, to address engine maintenance needs amid ongoing global challenges in the aviation industry. The financing comes as airlines grapple with supply issues affecting engines, resulting in maintenance backlogs, increased costs, and limitations on capacity growth.


Planemakers and airlines worldwide are currently facing significant hurdles in engine supply, causing delays in aircraft deliveries and hindering capacity expansion. The situation has put pressure on maintenance teams and led to rising costs for carriers globally.

Azul's Approval & Gol's Green Light for Financing

Azul announced on Tuesday that it had received approval to access a $200 million government-backed credit facility aimed at financing engine maintenance for its Embraer and Airbus fleet. The maintenance services will be provided by GE Celma. Azul's Chief Financial Officer, Alex Malfitani, emphasized that the new credit facility would help optimize liquidity and streamline the fleet engine maintenance process.

Gol, a competitor of Azul, also revealed that it had received approval to access a government credit insurance policy for lines of up to $209 million. This financing will be utilized to fund engine maintenance carried out by GE. Gol, which operates Boeing 737 aircraft, specified that the maintenance efforts would focus on its CFM56-7B engines.

Challenges in Engine Supply

Both Azul and Gol had previously expressed concerns about engine supply issues earlier in the month. Azul CEO John Rodgerson referred to it as a "major issue for every manufacturer," while Gol's head, Celso Ferrer, highlighted the maintenance backlog pressure caused by delayed Boeing deliveries.

Government Deal and Industry Impact

In an effort to address challenges faced by the aviation sector, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's administration recently negotiated a deal with airlines. Under this agreement, Azul and Gol committed to capping the prices of millions of domestic tickets. In return, the government provided measures including a federal guarantee for credit operations. Analysts from Genial Investimentos noted that the deal with the government is proving beneficial, asserting that the credit lines would optimize liquidity, enhance operational efficiency, and support the local economy.


The securing of significant financing by Azul and Gol underscores the critical nature of addressing engine maintenance challenges in the aviation industry. As global supply issues persist, such financial arrangements become crucial for maintaining capacity and meeting the robust demand for air travel. The government's involvement in facilitating credit operations reflects a collaborative effort to navigate the complexities faced by airlines, ultimately benefiting both the carriers and the broader economy.

With Inputs from Reuters

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FedEx Express Unveils Tricolor Fleet Redesign to Enhance Efficiency and Profitability

Abhishek Nayar

29 Dec 2023

In a strategic move aimed at optimizing its global parcel delivery operations, FedEx Express has announced a groundbreaking redesign of its fleet structure. The tricolor network, comprising purple, orange, and white tails, is set to cater to diverse parcel priority needs, volumes, and margins. This redesign is a pivotal aspect of the FedEx DRIVE program, which aims to achieve significant cost reductions totaling USD 4 billion by the fiscal year 2025.

Setting the Foundation: Purple Tail Fleet

During earnings call on December 19, 2023, President and CEO Raj Subramaniam emphasized the need to reconfigure the network to prioritize both speed and density. The cornerstone of this effort is the deployment of the purple tail fleet, representing FedEx-owned assets. This fleet will be dedicated to delivering high-priority, high-margin volumes utilizing the existing hub and spoke model, forming the backbone of FedEx's international priority parcel business.

Off-Cycle Operations: The Orange Network

A significant component of the redesign involves re-timing a portion of the purple tail flights to establish the orange network. Operating off-cycle, this network is strategically designed to build density, alleviate congestion at hubs, and integrate seamlessly with surplus networks, including international road networks, FedEx Ground, and FedEx Freight in the United States. This innovative approach is poised to provide FedEx with a distinctive capability to drive profitable, less capital-intensive growth in the expansive global non-priority and air freight markets.

Leveraging Global Partnerships: The White Network

Continuing its commitment to global collaboration, FedEx Express will leverage its extensive global partner network as an adaptive capacity layer, particularly focusing on imbalanced trade lanes. This white network is a crucial element that enhances the overall efficiency of the redesigned fleet structure. By tapping into strategic partnerships, FedEx aims to optimize asset utilization, boost margins, and enhance return on investment and capital.

Tricolor Network Strategy & Positioning for Profitable International Growth

Raj Subramaniam underlined the significance of the tricolor network as the appropriate strategy for FedEx in the evolving air freight market, including the dynamic e-commerce sector. This innovative model allows the company to tailor its services to different markets and customers, ensuring the right network for the right kind of traffic. Moreover, it provides the necessary network agility to adapt proactively as the market continues to evolve.

In summarizing the tricolor network strategy, Subramaniam emphasized that it positions FedEx Express for profitable growth in the international space. By aligning its operations with the changing dynamics of the air freight market and e-commerce trends, the company aims to serve diverse markets efficiently and sustainably.


In summary, FedEx Express's tricolor fleet redesign represents a pivotal moment in its history, reflecting a commitment to innovation and efficiency. As the company adapts to the evolving landscape of air freight and e-commerce, this strategic overhaul is poised to enhance its competitiveness and profitability on a global scale.

With Inputs from ch-aviation