Weekly Roundup, Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 2014

What is it?  Art - or artrocity?  See article below.
What is it? Art – or artrocity? See article below.

Good morning

Happy birthday this week to the 777.  It is twenty years ago that the plane was first ceremonially rolled out by Boeing, although the first commercial flight didn’t occur until June 1995 (with United Airlines).

It remains the world’s largest twin-jet plane, and now has received more orders than any other widebody (ie twin aisle) plane.  The 747 still holds the record for the most widebodies delivered, but in a couple of years, it is expected the 777 will pass that record, too.

Although now 20 years old, the plane shows no signs of faltering in the marketplace, and indeed with the new 777X model plane, due out in 2020, it is realistic to expect the better part of twenty more years of life in the plane.

Some 1200 have been delivered to date.  There have only been four ‘hull loss’ type accidents – a BA plane that landed just short of Heathrow in 2008, due to an engine/fuel problem rather than a plane problem per se; an Egyptair 777 that caught fire at the gate in Cairo in 2011; then the Asiana flight that landed short of the runway in SFO, with the reason as yet not officially stated; and lastly, the current mystery, the 777 operated as MH 370, and at this stage, it seems unlikely the plane was to blame for whatever it is that may have happened to that plane.

The first three hull losses saw fatalities only in the Asiana landing (three people).  So the plane has an excellent operational and safety record.

More details here.

Another anniversary this week goes to the video phone.  It was introduced at the New York World Fair in 1964, and at the time seemed to be one of those amazingly futuristic things that promised to bring us all closer to each other.

The failure of the video phone in the fifty years subsequent to its introduction was initially put down to it performing poorly on normal phone lines, and then to conflicting standards and no compatibility between different devices.  But – in my opinion – the true failure of the video phone is that it is too intrusive.

Now that our phones are with us everywhere (if you know what I mean by everywhere, and the chances are you do), there are many occasions when we don’t want to be sending video.  And, much of the time, we’re only half concentrating on the phone calls we are participating in, and while we can obscure the fact that we’re multi-tasking via an audio only line, it is much harder to do so on a video call.

So, although many of us now have the technology for video calling, whether on our phone, computer, or tablet, few of us use it.  Indeed, I always feel a frisson of irritation when someone asks me to turn my video on.

A device which has, however, exceeded most people’s hopes is the eBook.  But the big disappointment has been their cost – the savings that are created by skipping the need to print and distribute books are enormous, but are not reflected in the price of eBooks.

However, there are patches of bargains appearing in the eBook world, and for the last short while, I’ve been downloading one or more completely free eBooks every day, adding greatly to the library on my Kindle.  There’s nothing new about free eBooks, but generally the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ has often been proved true.

But please do read the article attached to the roundup now for information on a great new free service that identifies good books, either at enormous discount or totally for free.  And if you haven’t yet become a convert to the whole eBook world, please do read the first part of the article; it might finally push you forward.

One final anniversary, today.  It is 99 years today since the events in Gallipoli in 1915 that caused New Zealand and Australia to create what is perhaps their most solemn holiday and event of the year – Anzac Day.  I doubt there’s a family in either country that doesn’t have some reasonably close relative who fought there, and we all view those events as a turning point in our young countries’ lives, when we ‘came of age’ and started to throw off the colonial ties to/with Britain.

If you’ve not seen it, there’s a passably good Mel Gibson movie, called Gallipoli.  It can be watched for free on Amazon video if you’re a Prime member, and they sell the DVD for only $5.  A splendid book (but not in eBook format, alas) is Robert Rhodes James’ account, also simply called Gallipoli.  Although long out of print, used copies are available on Amazon for not very much .

Also below, please read on for :

  • MH 370 :  Running Out of Places
  • Alaska Airlines’ Latest Attempts to Stay on Top in Seattle
  • A Puzzling Profit – and Loss – From Delta
  • Red Ink from United
  • The Most Uncomfortable Plane Ride, Ever
  • No More Metal Cutlery on Thai Airways
  • Is it Art?  Or an Artrocity?
  • No Comment – The Picture Says it All
  • And Lastly This Week….

MH 370 :  Running Out of Places

By the time you read this, it seems probable that the underwater search of the broad area suggested by the tracked sonar pings will have been completed, and with nothing found (at the time of writing, 95% of the search area has been checked).

What next?  It is unclear if the next move will be to repeat the survey of the area that the pings had suggested was where the black boxes are, or what else might be done instead.  The underwater surveying is a slow process, and without any clues about where to look, the thought of having to slowly search tens of thousands of square miles is uninviting and very time-consuming.

Why did the bearings from the pings, and the area so indicated, not reveal the black boxes or anything else resembling plane wreckage?  We don’t know.

Where should anyone look next?  We again don’t know.  We’re now hitting the 50th day since the plane’s disappearance, with not one iota of wreckage, oil slick, or anything else having been found, even some of the more sober and sensible sources of information are starting to openly wonder if the plane may have not crashed into the Southern Ocean at all, and perhaps some of the more fanciful theories suggesting the plane safely landed somewhere else might be valid.

But if that is indeed the case, trying to find a plane that has now almost certainly been artfully concealed (or even just simply placed in a hangar), with over 500 potential landing sites within the plane’s range, is also a close to impossible task.

This is indeed becoming a most confounding mystery.  But did you know it is not the first time a (relatively) modern jet has totally disappeared?  Just over ten years ago, a 727 disappeared from Luanda in Angola, and has never been seen since.  The plane probably had a range of about 2,000 miles, which could get it to Liberia, almost to Khartoum or Addis Ababa, easily to Nairobi, and to anywhere in Africa south of that arc.

Details here.

Alaska Airlines’ Latest Attempts to Stay on Top in Seattle

Call me cynical if you will, but one wonders if it is just a coincidence that the struggle between Alaska and Delta has anything to do with this week’s announcement that Alaska Airlines is funding a new $2.5 million Aerospace Education Center at Seattle’s excellent Museum of Flight.

Construction starts in September and should be complete early next year.  We look forward to seeing Delta attempt to one-up Alaska as being a similarly good community citizen.

In other responses, this week Alaska Airlines announced that its frequent flyers could get double miles when booking on Emirates flights anywhere across the Emirates network, and special fares too.

This is presumably another attempt to drain international traffic out of Seattle away from Delta’s flights, although notable in this case is the promotion applies to flights from Emirates’ other US gateways, too.

Is this a new level of escalation – Alaska signaling Delta ‘If you don’t ease off us in Seattle, we can make your life a misery in other markets too’?

A Puzzling Profit – and Loss – From Delta

Talking about Delta, it has recently announced its first quarter profit, and like all other major airlines (except United) it had a great quarter, with an estimate-beating profit of $281 million before special items and $213 million after special items.  The same quarter last year saw a mere $7 million profit.

The first quarter is typically Delta’s worst quarter of each year, something that promises great things for the airline over the balance of 2014.

The surprising part of their announcement was that they allowed their own in-house oil-refinery to show a $41 million loss.  Last year, they booked a mere $100,000 loss for the full year from the refinery.

I’m entirely unsurprised the refinery made a loss.  I’ve said as much, all along (see here, here and here for three feature articles written back in 2012 when the refinery purchase was evolving), and stand by my statements that there’s no way an airline could make as good a profit as could an oil company.

On the other hand, they have made good progress sourcing local oil rather than continuing to buy overpriced imported oil, and they are converting the refinery to yield a better mix of products of more direct benefit to the airline.

But, it is surprising that they continue to allow the refinery to record losses.  Maybe they decided that with so much other profit in the corporation overall, it was better to keep soaking up as many charges as possible for the refinery.

One imagines there’s a fair amount of flexibility as to how Delta costs out their refinery and the value they put on the jet fuel they buy from the refinery, so they can probably shift the profit (or, more to the point, the loss) between the refinery and other parts of their overall operations more or less as it suits them.

One last comment about their refinery.  In 2012, Delta was predicting the refinery would make $300 million in 2013.  But in reality, the $300 million profit ended up as a $100,000 loss.  Who has stepped forward to fall on their sword after the discrepancy between the laughably ridiculous $300 million profit projection and the apparent reality of the $100,000 loss?

Red Ink from United

Record, best-ever, first quarter profits have been announced by American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.  Delta also reported an excellent profit.  But United – the other of the big four airlines?  Ooops.  It managed to lose a staggering $609 million, a loss that it blamed partially on bad weather and cancelled flights.

It is true that it cancelled twice as many flights as, for example, Delta, but DL managed to raise its profit from $7 million to $213 million.  American also cancelled lots of flights, but its best-ever $480 million profit compares to a $297 million from the combined AA/US Airways operations last year.

United said its cancellations cost it $200 million.  That still leaves the other $409 million of loss to account for, as well as all the profit that it could have and should have made.  Last year it also made a loss in its first quarter, but ‘only’ $358 million last year.

Don’t get the completely wrong idea.  United still managed to book a $1.1 billion profit for the full 2013 year, before special items that reduced it down to $571 million.  So the airline isn’t exactly on death’s doorstep just yet, but it surely does need some first aid.

The Most Uncomfortable Plane Ride, Ever

Did you hear about the 15-year-old who stowed away in a 767’s wheel well and flew the five-hour flight from San Jose to Maui this week?  Temperatures outside the plane were thought to be about -80° and the plane went as high as 38,000 ft, where there’s almost no air to breath in the unpressurized wheel well.

Surprisingly, but not uniquely, he survived.  This article includes an interesting discussion on how that could be (and clearly was) possible.  But we think we’d prefer a middle seat for our next flight, thank you very much.

The big question is how did the youth manage to get into the secure part of the airport and into the plane’s wheel well.  His path has now been traced back via video recordings, but simply recording video for later analysis isn’t what most of us would perceive security to be.

Should we be checking security footage from Kuala Lumpur airport to see if anyone managed to sneak onto/into MH 370 prior to its departure?  We’ve been focused on the 239 people we know of on the plane – but maybe there were some others, too?

No More Metal Cutlery on Thai Airways

Remember the disappearance of metal cutlery after 9/11?  For a while, we had no knives at all, then plastic knives, and more recently, most airlines have now trusted us with metal knives once more, at least in the premium cabins, although I sometimes come across cutlery sets that have metal forks (great to stab a person with) but plastic knives.

Thai Airways has decided to ‘trial’ the use of plastic cutlery on its planes, after an inflight brawl earlier this month saw three Chinese passengers fighting among themselves, and one passenger getting harmed by a steel knife and fork.

The flight was from Bangkok to Beijing.  So the airline’s response is to swap to plastic cutlery, but only on flights between Bangkok and Los Angeles.  Interesting ‘logic’, for sure.

Is it Art?  Or an Artrocity?

Heathrow’s new Terminal 2, to be known as ‘The Queen’s Terminal’, is costing £2.5 billion, a staggering sum of money for an airport terminal.

It is hard to know where all the money went, but we do know that £2.5 million of it has been spent on a gargantuan 77 ton 260 ft sculpture, known as ‘Slipstream’, and now claiming to be the longest piece of public art in Britain.

What exactly is it?  Well, it is described as

….a simulation of a stunt plane’s flight path and you can almost hear it soaring, twisting and diving through its home in the new £2.5bn Heathrow Terminal 2 building

If that doesn’t give you a vivid mental picture, the statue is shown at the top of this newsletter.

The cost is justified, we are told, not just because it is the longest piece of public art in the country, but also because it will be the most viewed piece of art (due to 20 million passengers unavoidably passing it in the terminal each year).

We’ll concede that it may be the longest, as if that matters.  But the most viewed?  How many people see the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus each year?  How many people see Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square?  With London’s population of 8.3 million, Britain’s population of 63 million, plus 31 million visitors a year, and 4 million people riding the city’s underground train system every day, the 20 million people (including some people multiple times) who will pass through T2 a year are not nearly as many as those who pass Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square each month.

Is it the conceit or the ignorance of the people sponsoring ‘Slipstream’ that is the more notable?

No Comment – The Picture Says it All


And Lastly This Week….

As we age, we sometimes find ourselves lamenting the passing of the ‘good old days’.  Here’s some ammunition for you the next time you bemoan the good old days when people would dress up for flights – a photo pictorial of 40 years of BA first class.

BA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its creation (out of the merger between BOAC and BEA in 1974), and provided these interesting pictures as part of its retrospective.

I have a dog and while there are practical limits to how much money I would or could spend on her, I am utterly certain I’d never find myself acting the way a woman did at LAX this week – abandoning her two dogs at the airport upon deciding she couldn’t afford the cost of flying them with her.

She was retiring to live overseas herself, but apparently it was only at the airport she discovered the cost of transporting her two small dogs, and decided to just abandon them instead.  Details here.

I am unsurprisingly, professionally and personally, fascinated by language, its evolution, and its use/misuse/abuse. Here’s a fascinating article, complete with a sometimes hard to answer questionnaire, about the origins of office/business buzz words.

Should I be proud or embarrassed to have never heard of terms such as ‘ideation’?

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels, and I hope you don’t unexpectedly smell roast chicken on your next flight







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