Weekly Roundup, Good Friday 3 April 2015

The average service life of passenger jets is currently 25 years.  See item, below.
The average service life of passenger jets is currently 25 years. See item, below.

Good morning

It is a strange thing in this semi-Christian country.  Easter – perhaps the most significant event in the Christian calendar – is much less a celebration than it was in New Zealand.  Few signs of hot cross buns, and the occasional marshmallow filled Easter Egg is obscured by all sorts of other ‘Easter candies’.

So, with daylight saving once more and the clear promise of spring, a very happy Easter to you, and if you should be rewarded with a day or two off work, so much the better!  Anna has a week off school, but it is not called an Easter break even though I’m sure that is what it was once fearlessly referred to as being.

It is also not called a Passover Festival break either.  But Happy Pesach to all who celebrate it, from today though next Saturday.

I’m continuing to be entranced with the extraordinary revolution going on in the automobile industry.  I often marvel at the speed of innovation that is bringing us self-driving cars in a dozen different forms, and I’m completely puzzled how a small company like Tesla now has a market capitalization that reached half that of General Motors or Ford last year, even though it produces less than 1% as many vehicles.  About the only thing it has in common is the ability to lose impressive amounts of money – last year its profit margin was a negative 10% – it lost almost $300 million, and its share price, around the $200 point, is backed by just over $7 of assets per share.

The other thing about Tesla that surprises me is that in the almost three years since its Model S was released in June 2012 (and with specifications dating back some time prior to that), and notwithstanding various enhancements to the vehicle’s software and other things, there has been no apparent improvement to its battery pack capacity or range.  For a company that prides itself on being on the leading edge of technology, it is very surprising that there hasn’t even been a mild 5% – 10% tweak in battery capacity and therefore driving range.

Don’t get me wrong.  I would dearly love one of the latest 4WD Teslas with their rocket-like acceleration and near fully self-driving abilities, but the $100,000+ price tag attached to such an indulgence has kept me out of their local showroom.  In an attempt to ‘talk myself down’ from this Tesla-fixation I looked at the question that some electric car enthusiasts pretend is the main reason for their indulgence – saving money by using electricity rather than gasoline.  Would any of us stand to save appreciable money with any type of electric car, be it a Volt, a Leaf, or a Tesla?

Sure, these cars all promise miles per gallon equivalent performance of around 100 mpge, and that’s probably three times better than most of us get with our current vehicles.  So, apart from the surely temporary blip in high petrol costs, there’s big money to be saved with an electric car, right?

Well, maybe, not quite so right.  Please see the article attached at the end of the newsletter for an analysis of the financial swings and roundabouts of owning an electric vehicle.

There was a new product announcement by Tesla on Wednesday, albeit, for a change, nothing to do about their cars.  It is a new device they are calling their Model W.

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • WestJet Announces New Boarding Procedure – Seven Times Faster than Before
  • Hard Landing?  Or Crash Landing?
  • Newer Planes.  Relatively Speaking
  • Congestion – How Bad is Your City
  • SkyMall is Dead; Long Live Sky2Buy?
  • How to (Not) Spot a Terrorist
  • And Lastly This Week….

WestJet Announces New Boarding Procedure – Seven Times Faster than Before

Everyone hates boarding their flight – the unregulated free-for-all with some passengers flagrantly breaking the carry-on rules while the flight attendants passively watch, some passengers boarding before their zone, and some passengers taking forever to do simple things and holding everyone else up, always initiated by the strange logic of having the slowest passengers board first.

The airlines hate this too, because the current boarding processes are slow and inefficient for them, just as they are for us.  But, the airlines being the airlines, while the current system that is almost universally in use by all airlines is hated by passengers and no good for the airlines either, there is little chance of anything better being adopted.  This is all the much stranger because most airlines occasionally do studies which clearly demonstrate that other boarding approaches can be up to twice as fast, and are much more appreciated by passengers.

This may be about to change, north of our border, up in Canada.  The highly regarded airline, WestJet, announced on Wednesday a new approach to passenger boarding which it is calling SmartSeats.  They say this will allow for boarding seven times faster than presently, while also offering greater comfort.

Wow!  What’s not to like about that?  Well, ummm, errrr.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let their video do the talking.

Hard Landing?  Or Crash Landing?

Did you hear about the Air Canada A320 which suffered a ‘hard landing’ when it landed at Halifax in a snow storm on Sunday.  The phrase ‘hard landing’ was used to describe what occurred by the airline and also by airport officials, who one might have thought would be feeling fairly negative about the event because the plane took out a power line, killing power to the airport for some time, and also damaged a navigation antenna on the ground,

The plane itself may well end up as a write-off.  It has collapsed landing gear, fuselage and wing damage, a ripped off engine and smashed nose cone.  25 of its passengers were taken to hospital, although all were discharged later in the day.

See an impressive collection of pictures in this article.

It is true that pilots like to say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, but would you really choose to call this just a hard landing?  Or is it a crash landing (admittedly an oxymoron of a term)?  The Canadian airline lobby group says there’s no such thing as a crash landing.

Here’s some discussion about the landing which suggests the appropriate official label would be a ‘collision with terrain’.

The interesting thing in both articles is that while weather has been cited as a possible factor in this ‘landing’, no-one has suggested the pilots are at fault.  Is this another case where a computer could have done a better job of flying the plane than the pilots?  No-one seems willing to seriously address that question.

But, to be fair to the pilots, at least they were at the right airport.  Unlike these pilots, who mistook a field of coal for a runway in Australia and almost landed in it.

That’s not to say that GPS guidance is always infallible either, although sometimes it may be the fault of the person interpreting the GPS data with little thought for the reality about them.  The latest example of idiot drivers not believing their eyes and preferring the GPS to the reality of the world outside their car is this person who drove his car off a closed bridge, crashing 38 ft to the ground below.  The article doesn’t say if the driver is a pilot.

Newer Planes.  Relatively Speaking

Talking about the possible write-off of the A320 that crashed in Halifax on Sunday, here’s an interesting article that analyzes the average lifespan of commercial passenger jets.  The good news is that planes are now typically flown for about 25 years, compared to an all-time high of 30 years in the late 2000s.

This is of course the average lifespan of a plane.  Half have longer lives (and half have shorter).  The last three years have shown a fairly stable average lifespan, which is slightly surprising because with fuel costs declining, some observers had thought there would be less economic pressure on airlines to retire older planes (ie less fuel efficient ones).  Perhaps the opposite side of the ‘lower fuel costs means less need to upgrade inefficient planes’ coin is that ‘lower fuel costs mean greater profits and increased ability to fund the capital costs of new plane purchases.

So; heads – Boeing and Airbus win, and tails, they don’t lose.  A nice business to be in!

I tried to compare this figure to the average life expectancy of a car, but didn’t manage to find any persuasive figures about car lives.  The average age of a car on the road in the US is right around 11 years, and so one might weakly extrapolate from that an average life figure of 22 years, which would be reasonably comparable to that of airplanes.  On the other hand, another measure often used to assess car life is the total miles it can expect to be driven before becoming too costly to maintain – while a fuzzy number, these days it seems to be commonly accepted to be around the 200,000 mile mark (which probably represents maybe 17 years).

In comparison, a typical commercial jet would fly 200,000 miles in as little as a single month.

You might reasonably point out that a plane flies faster than a car drives.  Yes, that’s true.  So here’s another data point. Let’s say the 200,000 miles of an average car’s life takes 10,000 hours to drive (ie an average speed of 20 mph).  A well-utilized plane might fly 12 hours a day, and so would clock up those 10,000 hours in two years and three months.

There is, however, a new reason why some planes might have to stay in operation longer.  A lack of replacement planes.

Of all the unexpected problems for Boeing’s much-bedeviled 787 plane to now be confronted with, it is suffering from a shortage of specialty lie-flat premium class seats.

This is causing almost completed planes to be set aside, pending receipt of seats.  Details here.

Congestion – How Bad is Your City

One of the great appeals of new self-driving cars is they will reduce traffic congestion.  Cars will be able to safely drive closer together, and will behave more rationally, hopefully making for more efficient merging and fewer of the mystery slowdowns that appear and disappear for no apparent reason.

But, until that happens, it is more of the same for most of us.  And just exactly what that means has been recently updated by a couple of traffic tracking sites.  GPS manufacturer TomTom, in a struggle to retain any measure of relevancy these days, has just published its worldwide measures of traffic congestion.  They claim the worst city in the world is Istanbul, followed by Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, then Moscow.  The US is represented by Los Angeles, which comes in as #10.

Also recently updated is the Traffic Scorecard from Inrix, a ‘behind the scenes’ company that collates and distributes traffic information that is then incorporated into traffic apps in many GPS services.

Their worst cities list is quite different to that from TomTom.  Coming in as worst city is Milan, followed by Honolulu, London, and then Los Angeles at #4, which is the only city to appear on the ‘worst ten’ lists of both providers.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu fought it out for the worst three US city ‘prizes’ in both lists.

Of particular interest on the Inrix data are monthly charts back to 2010.  The worst year, for the US, was 2010, then 2011.  Does that mean congestion is improving?  Well, no.  2012 was the best year of the data series, but 2013 started to deteriorate and as far as they’ve collated in 2014, things were returning back to 2011 levels.

SkyMall is Dead; Long Live Sky2Buy?

Apparently none of us ever bought anything from the SkyMall catalogs in our airplane seat back pockets, but we all enjoyed browsing through it as a way to pass time on a boring flight.  The company filed for bankruptcy in January with over $50 million in debts, and a number of companies expressed interest in buying it.

The winning bidder has now been announced, a NJ company, C&A Marketing.  C&A offered $1 million in cash and $900k in promissory notes.  That leaves a lot of the $50 million debt unsatisfied.

One wonders how serious their due diligence was prior to making the offer; in this article when asked by the interviewer, C&A’s executive vice president admitted he had not had any discussions with airlines about the practicality of returning a new SkyMall catalog to the skies!

Absent from the bidding for SkyMall was Scott Jordan and his ScotteVest company, noted for its range of multi-pocketed capacious travel garments.  He had earlier expressed interest in bidding on SkyMall, but decided instead to go his own way and create a new SkyMall type company and catalog, to be known as Sky2Buy.

Scott says that unlike C&A, he did speak to the airlines, and found that the debts SkyMall had run up with them more than neutralized any goodwill that might have existed, and he felt it better to start completely afresh, mixing together the best of SkyMall with an infusion of fresh ideas, too.

The catalog will offer a range of practical and impractical products, much like SkyMall did so distinctively, and offers the ability to buy online while passengers are on their flights, with some articles capable of being delivered to meet an arriving flight, or later that day in the arrival city, or whatever.  They also will have a special discount offered to purchasers only while they are in airports or on planes.

Scott says he’ll have his new magazine on at least some airlines in test markets in June or July this year.  He isn’t telling us which ones, but did say he has been having discussions with three major US carriers.  Gee, that’s almost all of them, isn’t it!

We look forward to reading his new catalog.  More details about this re-imagining of a product we loved but never patronized, here.

How to (Not) Spot a Terrorist

If you’re recently shaved off your beard, maybe you should wait a while before flying.  Any indication of recently shaving off your beard elevates the possibility you’re a terrorist, according to a revealed list of what the TSA looks for.  If you got up very early to get to the airport in time for your flight, and they catch you yawning, that’s another point against you.  And if you over-compensated by drinking too much coffee once getting to the airport, then your widely opened eyes earn you two more points on the terrorist spotting scale.

If you’re flying to an important meeting and are wearing a suit that you don’t usually wear, you might get another three points for ‘appearing to be in disguise’.  Time to bend over and listen to the snap of the rubber gloves….  While enjoying the procedure that follows, try not to dwell on the fact that repeated studies have shown these guidelines to be completely nonsensical and have been proven useless at catching terrorists.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

Talking about the risible nonsense of TSA procedures, this ‘candid camera’ style prank feels uncomfortably close to the truth for those of us who spend too much time going through TSA security lines.

I mentioned WestJet’s new SmartSeat initiative above.  Did you also know about their Kargo Kids product, too?

Until next week, please enjoy a lovely Easter and safe travels.






1 thought on “Weekly Roundup, Good Friday 3 April 2015”

  1. Although the boarding process is always hard to figure out, I usually find all are on board and seated at least 5 – 10 minutes before push back. Even Southwest that has 25 – 35 minute turnarounds seems to get people on and seated well before push back. They usually start the boarding process within 10 minute after the last inbound passenger has deplaned. I do not know why other airlines take so long to get the plane ready to start boarding. In short, I think the time to get passengers off and on usually does not cause flight delays.

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