Weekly Roundup Friday 9 August 2013

Rock paintings in the Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sri Lanka - one of the six World Heritage sites we'll visit on our tour next February.
Rock paintings in the Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sri Lanka – one of the six World Heritage sites we’ll visit on our tour next February.

Good morning

We seem to now be firmly ensconced in the ‘dog days’ of summer (a term originally derived from the time when the ‘dog star’ Sirius is prominent in the sky, 24 July – 24 August), and it is great to have a series of lovely warm days unfolding, each after the other.

Talking about lovely warm days unfolding (artful segue here!), my mention of our Sri Lanka tour last week encouraged another couple to join, and also uncovered an embarrassing problem.  The signup form on the webpage wasn’t working.  Ooops!  That is now fixed.  🙂

So if you tried to join last week and were frustrated, please try again now.  And if you’re still thinking, perhaps I can tell you some more about it now.

Our tour is a very complete opportunity to see and experience Sri Lanka’s key sights and attractions.  In particular, we take you to all six of the World Heritage sites of outstanding cultural significance, giving you a a wonderful appreciation of the country’s rich and varied past – in the case of the Golden Temple of Dambulla, dating back over 22 centuries.

Of course, not everything we see and do will be that old.  We’ll also get to see the new energized Colombo, while staying at some of the country’s best hotels.  Full details of our great tour can be found here, and the (now working!) form to join the tour is near the bottom of that page.

What else this week?  There’s a feature article about how, notwithstanding the airlines having their best quarter since 2000, apologists are suggesting there’s no room in US skies for any more airline competitors.  Unbelievable.  Plus, below, articles on :

  • A Couple of Thoughts About the 787
  • 15 Minutes?  Or 3 Hours?
  • The NTSB Makes a Non-Statement About the Southwest 737 Crash
  • JetBlue Going Up Market
  • Air Canada Going Down Market
  • Beware the Fire Fighters
  • China’s Airplane Manufacturing Ascendancy Not Yet A Sure Thing
  • And the Same for Russia, Too
  • Pssst – Hey, Buddy.  Wanna Buy An Airport?  Almost Never Used, Real Cheap.
  • Epic Netflix Fail in New Zealand
  • Senator Durbin Attempts to Kill the US Cruise Industry – Again
  • Disrupting and Energizing
  • And Lastly This Week….

A Couple of Thoughts About the 787

Several readers, over the last few weeks, have written in and theorized that some of the 787 problems may be the result of deliberate sabotage by disaffected union employees at Boeing’s Everett plant.

While it sure wouldn’t be the first time that a union has ‘cut off its nose to spite its face’ I truly don’t think this is the issue here.  If Boeing saw a preponderance of problems with Everett-assembled planes, it would be on its union workers like white on rice.  As best I’m aware, there is nothing to suggest that there are more problems on the Everett assembled planes than the SC assembled planes.

Furthermore, I don’t get any sort of sense, locally (and I live more or less halfway between Boeing’s plants in Renton and Everett) that the union employees would ever consider doing something like that.  The union employees are very concerned at Boeing’s continued steady shift of work out of this area – either outsourcing to another country entirely, or alternatively shifting work to South Carolina or other ‘right to work’ locations in the US.  The union employees are in a quandary – how to keep their good paying jobs?  The answer to that – and I think they have enough awareness to appreciate this – lies more in a positive process of showing the value-add that union members bring to Boeing, compared to the non-union employees in SC.

I don’t even think that many of the problems are to do with assembly issues.  I think they are much broader, and more serious, design issues.

There is also more than meets the eye about the suggestion that the ELT was the source of the fire on the 787 at Heathrow a few weeks back.  Honeywell has now politely cleared its throat and pointed out that its ELTs have special safety features designed to prevent runaway overheating leading to a fire.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why ELTs have never before been implicated in any on-plane fires on any of the other thousands/tens of thousands of planes they are installed on….

In other words, we still don’t really know why the 787 caught fire.  Details here.

15 Minutes?  Or 3 Hours?

Talking about the 787’s propensity to catch fire for various assorted and generally unknown reasons, the plane continues to be certified as safe to fly as far as three hours away from the nearest emergency landing spot.

Does that mean that if a 787 catches fire in the air, it will officially still be safe and flyable for at least three hours?

Unfortunately, no, its ‘ETOPS’ three hour certification does not mean that at all.  Although a slight over-simplification, the largest part of an ETOPS certification is the implication that bad things are unlikely to happen, rather than that they will be survivable for three hours.

So how long is normal for a plane to remain safe after an onboard fire?  Opinions differ on this, and here’s an interesting article that considers the issue (free registration required to read it).  The article’s two conclusions?  Its headline reveals its first finding – the risk of fire in a plane is increasing rather than decreasing.  To support its second conclusion, it points to a new training video recently released jointly by both the FAA and its UK counterpart (the CAA) which claims that an out of control fire (either out of control due to its location or its intensity) will result in the loss of the plane within an average of 15 minutes.

Ummm – yes.  That’s 165 minutes before an ETOPS 180 certified plane might arrive at a landing place.  Putting the urgency of getting the plane on the ground in the event of a fire in even clearer focus, the FAA said that a delay of as little as two minutes is likely to make the difference between a successful landing and a complete loss of the aircraft and its occupants.

So what are the airlines and airplane manufacturers doing about this?  Nothing, and some experts worry that the new carbon fiber planes are more vulnerable to fires than older aluminum ones.  The only place in a plane with smoke detectors are the toilets, and there is no way to fight fires behind the plane’s wall/ceiling/floor panels.

To be fair, the risk is not new to the 787.  The growing traffic in devices with high energy density (ie lithium type) batteries – variously as battery freight, as devices containing batteries as freight, and as devices passengers bring in either their checked or carry-on luggage, is expected to lead directly to more and more battery initiated fires that are nothing to do with any airplane’s wiring or the plane’s own batteries.  The article, by a highly respected aviation writer, is a good read and worth going through the registration process to access.

Do you still feel good about being three hours from anywhere to land?

The NTSB Makes a Non-Statement About the Southwest 737 Crash

Perhaps responding to various criticisms that it was being unusually silent (in contrast to the Asiana 777 crash), the NTSB issued an update about its investigation into the 737 crash at LGA.

But, if you read their release, all it contains are some trivial statements of didactic fact.  Most people would not realize, by reading it, that it is unusual for a switch in roles between which pilot is flying and which pilot is monitoring the flight when the plane is somewhere less than 400 ft above the runway and mere seconds from landing.

Furthermore, we’re not told about any of the conversations from the cockpit voice recorder.  What did the pilots say at that point?  Why did they switch?  Has the NTSB interviewed the pilots and what did they say in explanation?  Enquiring minds would like to know.

It is curious how everyone was so quick to vilify not just the hapless pilots of the Asiana 777 but also every other Korean pilot, and most other Asian pilots in general, after the Asiana crash.  But now we have an inexplicable accident of an American piloted plane, everyone is politely looking the other way and avoiding any similar commentaries about the standard of US pilots in general, or these two pilots in particular.

Another part of this double-standard is the horror expressed by many ‘talking heads’ (or should I say, ’empty heads’ that the Asiana pilots had little experience landing in San Francisco.  Guess how many times the Southwest pilot had flown into LGA before?  No, not one thousand times.  Not one hundred.  Not even ten.  Just once before, and that one previous time, he was not the pilot on the controls, he was the ‘monitoring’ pilot.  Where are the shrieks of indignation?  Who will be the first to demand there is a law prohibiting pilots from landing a plane at an airport until they’ve landed a plane at the airport a hundred times before (yes, I know the contradiction present in that suggested law!)?

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe there are indeed valid points of general concern about the approach to cockpit management in Korean jets.  But I’d like to see our own airlines and pilots held to the same public standard and scrutiny as is the case of foreign pilots.

Bottom line for now?  The NTSB’s ‘investigative update’ notwithstanding, the public is no closer to any understanding of what went wrong or why, and the media remain passively uncurious.

JetBlue Going Up Market

The battle for premium traffic on the coast to coast routes continues to heat up, with the latest shot being fired by Jetblue.

Until now a one-cabin all-economy airline, early next year will see Jetblue adding four private ‘suites’ and 12 lie-flat seats on its flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Eleven new A321s will be configured with these new accommodations.

Sounds wonderful – and so it should.  Premium class tickets can cost $2000 each way.

Jetblue’s A321s will reduce from their standard 190 coach seat capacity to 159 seats due to the extra space taken up by the first class seats and suites.  But – and there’s always a but, isn’t there.  The space for the first class cabin comes not only from the reduced number of seats, but also, alas, by a tighter seat pitch in coach class, reduced down from the previously generous 34″ to a lesser but still decent 33″.  The new coach seats will be slightly thinner too, so your leg room should remain similar to at present.

American, Delta and United are also adding lie-flat beds into selected trans-con flights.

Details here.

Air Canada Going Down Market

Remember, if you can, the totally inexplicable objections to the A380 as being so huge, and carrying so many passengers that it would overwhelm airports?  We were told to fear massive checkin lines, security lines, boarding delays, and inexorable waits for luggage at the other end.  None of this has come to pass, indeed with three jetways onto an A380, and four aisles on two decks on board, it can load and unload faster than most 737s.

I could never understand why people made such claims, because they were and still are risible nonsense of the worst kind.  It is true that the double-decker A380 is magnificently enormous, but it is not true that it has a disruptive number of seats on board.  A typical A380 has somewhere between 400 and 500 seats in it, a typical 747-400 has about 400 seats.

But now, underscoring still further the moderate passenger capacity of the huge A380, Air Canada deserves congratulations for squeezing 50 more passengers into a 777 (458) than Korean Airlines (407) or Singapore Airlines (409) have in their A380s.

Consider yourself starkly warned.  Avoid Air Canada’s new sardine can 777s, because you would be the sardine.

Details here.

Beware the Fire Fighters

What is the worst thing that can happen to you (apparently) if you have a major fire in Nairobi?  It is the arrival of the fire brigade.

There was a fire at Nairobi airport earlier this week, and the fire brigade’s arrival did little to improve things, according to this article.  Alas, things got even worse when the police arrived.

China’s Airplane Manufacturing Ascendancy Not Yet A Sure Thing

I occasionally predict a future where China starts building its own airplanes and selling them successfully around the world.  Currently its ‘flagship’ new plane project is the C-919, a mid-size single aisle plane that will hold 158-174 seats (the same plane, just different cabin layouts).  They project adding larger twin aisle planes with about 300 and 400 seat capacities further into the future, giving them a broader range of planes analogous to those offered by either Airbus or Boeing.

To date, the plane has received a reasonably encouraging number of orders (about 380, all but 20 from Chinese airlines, and the other 20 from GE’s leasing unit, probably to help sell its engines onto the planes).  But China has now announced just over a year push back in the timing of the C-919’s first flight, although officials are not calling it a delay.  They say that the plane is still proceeding on schedule, but that the schedule was calculated wrongly!

In doing so, China shows that it has already mastered one critical part of being an airline manufacturer – the ability to obfuscate when it comes to describing delays.  Details here.

However, whatever the background and term used to describe the change in flight date from some time in 2014 to now the end of 2015, it is clear that Airbus and Boeing have won at least another year’s reprieve before any Chinese planes become credible competitors to their sales everywhere else in the world.  But they should not relax.  The threat to both of them remains as ultimately strong as ever, just delayed by a year or so.

And the Same for Russia, Too

Whereas China hopes to build a new aviation industry from scratch, Russia hopes to revive its formerly ‘successful’ industry that used to make many planes in Soviet times.

But Russia’s regularly trotted out promises about being about to break into the passenger airplane market again continue to fail to be realized.  Its latest shining hope on the horizon, the Sukhoi Superjet 100, has been met with disinterest in the marketplace and apparently few ‘real’ sales.

Interestingly, while the 787 seems able to suffer any number of near-disastrous events without any impact on the desire of airlines to buy the plane, the Superjet 100 has suffered two incidents, one almost certainly pilot rather than plane error, and the other of uncertain underlying cause, and that has been enough to dampen interest in the plane.

Here’s an article that explains the current failures and disappointments in the Russian aerospace industry.

Pssst – Hey, Buddy.  Wanna Buy An Airport?  Almost Never Used, Real Cheap.

Perhaps suffering from runway length envy, the city of Ciudad Real in Spain built itself a huge airport.  The city has a population of about 75,000, and is well served with transportation, having a high-speed rail link with Madrid, about 100 miles to the north (45 minutes by train), and is close to major motorways and toll-roads.

Nonetheless, any city with any aspirations of course wants to have its own full-size international airport, and so local developers proceeded to raise money and build an airport capable of landing A380s.  Very impressive, and the airport cost €1 billion to develop.

There was a small problem.  Although the developers doubtless studied the potential for self-enrichment very closely, no-one seems to have bothered to investigate the viability of the airport itself.  A ‘Field of Dreams’ airport?  Alas, that was not the way it turned out.

After minimal service to/from the airport for a while, the airport ended up with no airlines flying to/from it at all.  It has now fully closed.  Creditors hope to auction it off, perhaps for €100 million plus an assumption of the project’s debts, but if that doesn’t happen in the present round of reserve-priced auctions, it will end up going to the highest bidder with no floor price at all.

So, a wonderful airport, almost unspoiled by passengers or planes.  If you’re tempted, you can read more details here..

Epic Netflix Fail in New Zealand

I occasionally express gloomy concern about the viability of the Netflix ‘all you can watch for $8/month’ video streaming service.  Sure, I love the service and use it myself all the time, but there’s a huge vulnerability lurking just around the corner, ready to spring out and destroy Netflix.

I am referring to the cost of receiving the streamed movies – data charges that might be levied by our ISPs if we start to ‘abuse’ our ‘unlimited fair use’ monthly streaming accounts.

With the slowly rolling out Netflix enhanced HD video stream, watching video can now consume up to 2.3GB per hour of movie.  That will move us much more quickly towards triggering ‘excessive use’ penalties.

The situation is already bad in NZ.  It seems that in New Zealand, it is common to be charged for data used, and in particular, if you are staying in a NZ hotel, you might find yourself being charged by the GB rather than by the night for your internet data use.

So, there you are, staying in a NZ hotel, and you decide to watch a standard two-hour movie on Netflix.  At the (not very) Good setting, that would be 0.6 GB of data.  At the Better setting, it would be 1.4 GB.  At Best, it would be 2 GB, and at the new HD setting, it would be 4.6GB.  How much would it cost to watch?

I’m shortly to be staying in a NZ motel that charges $25/GB.  That’s maybe an okay price to pay for normal internet access, downloading emails, etc.  But to watch that movie?  It would cost NZ$15/35/50/115 to watch a single movie (ie from US$11.50 – $90).  I’m sure not going to be watching much Netflix during my time in NZ!

The ‘good’ news, such as it is, is that the $25/GB rate is the motel’s rapacious over-charging.  Most residential customers in NZ pay 50c – $1 per GB of data over their initial allowance, dropping the cost of a two-hour movie down to no more than NZ$4.60.  But even that becomes appreciable, and discourages people from watching videos whenever they wish.

As we add more and more data-hungry devices into our lives, and consume more and more data, and as the earlier massive unused bandwidth carrying capacity around the nation starts to fill up, it seems almost inevitable that we’ll start being charged for data usage on our home internet connections, just the same way we’ve seen ‘unlimited’ data plans on phones disappear.

Senator Durbin Attempts to Kill the US Cruise Industry – Again

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is at it again, trying to kill our cruise industry.  He has re-introduced his ‘Clean Cruise Ship Act’ – an act that would prohibit cruise ships from discharging any wastewater, no matter what degree of treatment it had received, within 12 miles of the coast, and restrict the discharging of wastewater all the way to 200 miles from the coastline.

Peculiarly, the standards he would have imposed on cruise ships are appreciably more stringent than the standards imposed on shore based enterprises that discharge waste water into the sea.  If passed, the impact on the Alaskan cruise industry in particular could be somewhere between massively harmful and fatal.

He has tried this before, unsuccessfully, in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.  To date, he has yet to amass any co-sponsors or measurable support for his latest go-round.

Oh – the strangest thing about Durbin’s obsession with killing a profitable industry that employs a large number of Americans, both on the ships and ashore?  The Democrat senator hails from Illinois, and his state is at least 1,000 miles in every direction from any ocean or cruise port.

Disrupting and Energizing

I was having a pleasant chat with a member of the local police department’s bomb squad this week, and learned a couple of delightful new terms.  They don’t ‘blow up’ or even ‘detonate’ bombs.  They either ‘energize’ or ‘disrupt’ them.  The guy said, only half-joking, that it was easier to get approval to disrupt a bomb than to detonate it, to energize it rather than to blow it up.

Two floors of Palm Beach Intl Airport were closed for 2.5 hours on Sunday while police decided if they needed to, ahem, disrupt or energize a suspicious package that started beeping in the terminal building.  Apparently the authorities have been watching too many cartoons, where of course, bombs always beep before exploding, and so the local bomb squad came and investigated the package (with an alarm clock inside) before deeming it safe.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

The camera never lies?  Well, that’s nowadays more a joke than a truth, but at least we understand that a photocopy of a document is, to the limits of the copy quality, an exact ‘photograph’ of the original document, right?

No.  Wrong.  Some particularly ‘clever’ photocopiers, with a digital rather than analog system for taking the image off the platen and transferring it to a sheet of paper, now do some ‘helpful’ things to ‘improve’ the image quality.  Like, for example, using OCR to read the text and then using built-in fonts to print the text onto the copy for better quality.

Unsurprisingly, the result is that some Xerox model photocopiers are being too ‘helpful’ and are ‘correcting’ numbers and changing them from what they truly are to what it thinks they should be.

I’m a Notary Public and one of the things I occasionally do is certify documents as being true copies of originals.  To date I’ve done that by scanning the documents and making sure they look the same in general terms; and maybe overseeing the photocopying myself.  But now I’ll have to line by line, character by character, proof read the original and the copy.  Or refuse to certify photocopies any more.  Thanks, Xerox.

Most of us have a vague understanding of what computer hacking is, right.  It is something we read about, perhaps while seated on our ‘throne’ in the smallest room in our house.  Thank goodness at least some places in this high-tech society remain sacred and inviolate, safe from all these new high-tech problems.

But – wait.  Maybe nothing now is safe?  Details here.

Truly lastly this week, they might be having problems building airplanes, but they sure can build buildings.  Here is a set of stunning before and after photos of the world’s fastest growing city – growing at a rate of 10% each year for the last 20 years and now home to 23.5 million people.  Shanghai.  Whether you simply admire the photographic skill in matching up the shots, or whether you are stunned at the transformation, it is well worth a look.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







3 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 9 August 2013”

  1. Pingback: Weekly Roundup Friday 16 August 2013 » The Travel Insider

  2. I posed the question about need for ammunition on another forum and one person reminded me that the Federal Air Marshalls fall under TSA and they are indeed armed, and should therefore need rounds for practice. Makes sense to me.

    1. Hi, Ed

      Your comment makes sense, and it is amazing how quickly 3.454 million rounds can be eaten up in practice.

      But. The TSA’s ammo purchase needs to be viewed in the context of the DHS’s own purchasing of billions of rounds of ammo (yes, that’s not a type – billion rather than million). When asked about this, the DHS claimed it was purchasing ammo for its daughter agencies – the TSA is a subsidiary of the DHS and the FAM program a subsidiary of the TSA.

      So it seemed that the ammo need was already being covered by the much larger DHS purchase. Are they now ‘double dipping’? Who knows!

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