Weekly Roundup, Friday 24 February, 2017

What’s wrong with this picture of what is prominently labeled all over as a Boeing 737? See final item.

Good morning

What was to have been the ultimate part of my ‘new era of transportation’ series proved to actually be the penultimate part.  There’s enough left for one more article, next week – maybe more!  But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy what was a curious shift in writing style for me – to switch from critical mode to optimistic and positive mode.  I hope I didn’t overdo it – you can decide for yourself when reading it, after the roundup.

Meanwhile, I see that Tesla have had their year-end conference call and are doubling down on their undertaking to commence production of the Model 3 in July and to meet their extraordinarily ambitious production projections, rolling out 5,000 vehicles a week in the fourth quarter.  They’re talking of the need to build maybe three more ‘Gigafactories’.  Let’s hope all goes well – we’ll all be winners if Tesla does indeed make electric vehicles more a mass market phenomenon.  That’s not to overlook the GM Bolt (which it is thought might have 30,000 – 65,000 units produced in 2017), but if Tesla does reach its production levels, it will be outselling the Bolt many times over.

There continues to be such an ongoing high level of activity with promises of new ‘Tesla killer’ vehicles; if even one tenth of everything promised comes to pass, the auto world in 2020 will be totally different to what it is today (and, my gosh, we’re already into 2017).  As I have said several times before, now is not the best time to make a major investment in a brand new expensive car, because the chances of it being obsolete within perhaps five years goes up almost daily.

Enough of cars.  Also this week, please see :

  • The Best-selling Airplane in the World?  Yes, but…..
  • The Cheapest – and Most Profitable – Airline in Europe
  • If You Can Lift It, You Can Take It
  • Time is Money
  • Some Sense from the TSA
  • The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend
  • The World’s Most Congested City
  • And Lastly This Week….

The Best-selling Airplane in the World?  Yes, but…..

Sure, Boeing can fairly boast that its 737 is the best-selling airplane in the world, ever.  But, in our world of (at least) 50 shades of grey, even something as absolutist as a claim to be the best-selling airplane ever needs interpretation – not the least of which being to qualify the claim as ‘best selling passenger jet airplane’.

First, it is relevant to note that the 737 is also quite possibly the longest selling plane in the world, and without the need for any qualifiers.  The plane started its life back in 1964, 53 years ago, although of course the plane you fly in today is very different to the 737-100 that first flew in 1967.  Boeing’s total of 9,365 deliveries and 4,430 orders yet to be delivered, as of January, has to be seen through the lens of this 53 year period.  Should Boeing really boast of a 53 year (and still extending) life for a plane?  It seems probable the plane will reach 60 years and still be in production.

There are two other things to consider.  The first is that since the competing A320 was launched by Airbus (in 1984), Airbus have sold more A320s than Boeing has sold 737s.  Boeing’s claim to fame is entirely due to its unwillingness to retire the plane and replace it with something new, and its 20 year head start on sales.

Indeed, the Airbus lead over Boeing continues to grow, and this article awards Boeing a mere 39% market share of the latest generation A320neo vs 737MAX narrow body product line up (Airbus has 54% and COMAC/Bombardier share the remaining 7%).

The article also points out something that was news to me.  These days, there are more A320s still in commercial service than there are 737s still in service.  One of the things Boeing loyalists used to insist on was that Boeing planes were built to last, whereas Airbus planes had short service lives.  Apparently that is incorrect, and the A320s are outlasting the 737s.

On the other hand, while Boeing is doing well with its 737 line, not all its other planes are selling quite so well.  For example, the new 787-10 plane, which President Trump rapturously cited as an example of American success when officiating at the roll-out of the first plane, while overlooking the distressingly small amount of US content within it, has only sold 149 units so far.

It continues to seem that Boeing will indeed set a record with its 787 line of planes, though – the most expensive and loss-making airplane model that ever entered commercial service.  No-one is quite sure, but it seems certain that by the end of the 787 series production, there will be a net loss of $6 – 7 billion overall, and possibly considerably more.

The Cheapest – and Most Profitable – Airline in Europe

Ryanair – an airline that one would formerly invariably introduce apologetically as ‘the airline that passengers love to hate’ no longer qualifies for that title.  Astonishingly, it no longer makes a virtue out of being customer unfriendly, and has softened the harsh edges of its image.  Indeed, it seems a very long time since CEO Michael O’Leary last threatened to remove all toilets from his planes, and/or to make them into pay toilets.

What Ryanair has been very busy at doing, however, is growing and making money.  Its growth trajectory has brought it to probably the fourth largest airline in the world in 2016, based on passenger numbers, and if it continues, it might become number one in 2020.

Here’s an interesting article that looks at some of the underlying metrics of Ryanair.  I found two things of particular interest.  First was the disclosure that while Ryanair has no intentions of making good on O’Leary’s occasional and transparently insincere statements about plans to start flying to the US, what it is doing is partnering with Norwegian, to provide feeder service between Norwegian’s European hubs and other points in Europe.  That greatly strengthens the reach of Norwegian’s service, and its continued low cost.

The other interesting thing is the comparison in figure 6 between Ryanair’s costs and those of Southwest.  Per passenger, Southwest pays nine times as much in staff costs.  Nine times!  Southwest is something close to ‘low cost’ in the US, but Ryanair, paying European wages, is nine times cheaper.  Southwest also pays three times as much for the owning and care of its planes, and six times as much on sales and marketing.

My point is simply this.  Ryanair’s total costs per passenger come to €28; Southwest’s total costs come to €92.  I think both costs might omit the cost of fuel.  But – and here’s the thing – what would happen to the US market for air travel if a carrier came into the market with costs a mere one-third of Southwest?  Would you fly more frequently if air fares halved?  Would you pay twice as much to continue flying your ‘preferred’ US carrier over flying Ryanair?

If You Can Lift It, You Can Take It

One of the most stressful moments for me, on any flight, is when checking in with an airline that imposes a ridiculous weight limit on carry on bags.  Some airlines (Air NZ, Emirates, Qantas, Qatar, and very many others) restrict the weight of your carry-on bag to as little as 7kg (15.4 lbs) and a few insult us with a 5kg/11 lb limit (Aerolineas Argentinas, Air China, Air Tahiti, XL Airways France, and a number of others).  Sometimes there’s ambiguity as to if that is the weight for just your official carry-on bag, or the weight of your official carry-on bag plus your ‘one other smaller item’.

My carry-on bag weighs almost 7 lbs, empty, and roll-aboard bags can weigh as much as 10 lbs, empty.  Add a 5 lb computer, a power supply, other bits and pieces, and you’re very quickly way past 15 lbs.  The stressful part of this is that I really don’t want to have to transfer my laptop – my life – to a checked bag and risk its delay or damage or loss – all being things the airline would refuse to reimburse me for, saying ‘we refuse to cover valuable and fragile items in checked baggage, you should carry such things onto the plane with you’.

It is true that, many decades ago, the overheads were designed for hats and coats and nothing much else.  They weren’t really strong enough to carry a densely packed series of heavy bags, but these days, they are all realistically designed to carry whatever we can fit into them.  There is no reason for this weight limit, other than trying to force you to shift weight to your checked bags and pay a greater weight based fee.

With the ever greater focus on extracting every possible penny from passengers, this is a problem that one worries is likely to only get worse.

So it is with enormous appreciation that I record Air Canada’s change in policy.  They’ve now abandoned their weight restriction on carry-on items entirely, and say “If you can lift it, you can take it”.  Bravo, ehh.

Time is Money

Sometimes when I’ve been engaged in competitive and complex activities that in total span a considerable time, my fellow team members have not always fully understood my obsession with short seconds.  What is a second here or there, they wonder, for a total task involving half a dozen repetitions of a 15 minute process – 90 minutes or 5,400 seconds in total.

But as you know yourself, any sort of race or competition often ends up with only a second or two between the winner and the losers.  An obsession with seconds is an essential part of winning.

A case in point is cited in this article.  It says that if you can shorten the gap between planes coming in to land by a mere 6 seconds, an airport could handle another 11 landings an hour.  If you were the manager of Heathrow airport (and with landing slots valued at tens of millions of pounds), surely the ability to add another 11 landings an hour – say 150 extra a day, is something you’d want to obsess over.

A new process that allows for tighter airplane spacing would also allow for better routings along a journey, shortening travel time and reducing fuel burn.  NASA developed the technology and handed it over to the FAA in 2014.  The FAA will begin deploying it in 2019.

Yup, time is money if you’re an airline or airport, both of which are keen to obsess over a few seconds.  But apparently not so much if you’re the FAA, where the seconds blur into lazy years of inactivity.

Some Sense from the TSA

Earlier this week, eleven passengers walked through an unattended checkpoint at JFK.  Three of them even set off the metal detector, but of course, with no TSA staff present, they then proceeded to their gates and to their flights.

This is not the first time such things have happened.  Some sort of slip up results in one or more people bypassing the screening process.  Until now, the normal response has been to push the big red ‘Panic!’ button, and evacuate the entire terminal (or terminals), rescreen all passengers, and search the terminals to make sure that no weapons have been hidden anywhere.  This results in hours of delays, missed flights, and general chaos and confusion.  No terrorists are ever detected.

This has always been a nonsense response.  What are the odds that a random oversight by the TSA caused the first ever terrorists since 9/11 to slip through our screening?  They’re as close to zero as anything ever gets.

Astonishingly, someone at the TSA has now realized this, and so when it was realized that 11 people slipped through, unscreened, including three who sounded alarms, the TSA yawned, said that s**t sometimes happens, and went about their business.

Sure, the TSA did review security camera footage to try and find the 11 passengers, but by the time they had traced what happened to the three who sounded alarms, they were already on their plane and the plane was in the air, on the way to San Francisco.  The other eight passengers were never identified.

But, try as they might, the TSA has yet to eradicate all of their idiocy.  The three passengers on the flight to San Francisco were screened – after they had landed in SFO.  You’ll be unastonished to learn that nothing dangerous was found on them.

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

Here’s an interesting example of the inroads electric-powered vehicles are making.

Until now, the biofuel and oil industries have seen themselves as on opposite sides of most issues.  But now they both feel threatened by the present and increasingly prominent future impacts of electric vehicles, and so they are joining together to coordinate their lobbying efforts on such issues.

Details here.

The World’s Most Congested City

As a relevant side-bar to my current article series on alternative means of transportation, a new study has been released that shows Los Angeles to be the world’s most congested city.

In addition to all the time Los Angelenos spend driving in whatever passes for ‘normal’ traffic, they spend 104 hours each year in congested traffic.  The second worst city is Moscow (91 hours) and third is New York (89 hours).  San Francisco, Bogota, Sao Paulo, London, Atlanta, Paris and Miami rounded out the list of the ten worst cities.

Being stuck in congested traffic costs the average US driver $1400 a year, and $300 billion for all drivers in the US in total.  Congestion got worse last year.

You might think “$300 billion!  Why can’t the government spend that on road/transportation improvements?”  But the problem is this isn’t a direct cost the government is suffering.  It is a largely notional cost of the value of the time we are wasting in traffic, so it doesn’t really directly cost any of us much in the way of cold hard cash.  And for the government to address the problem, they would have to spend ‘real money’.  So it isn’t going to happen.  Alas.

And Lastly This Week….

A Boeing subsidiary, ILS, posted an ‘infographic’ on their website this week, boasting of Boeing’s long and storied history.  The ‘hero shot’ at the top and bottom is apparently of a Boeing 737 (see the image at the opening of this newsletter, and here’s the entire infographic).

Or is it?  Actually, no.  Someone was clever enough to Photoshop the Boeing 737 labelling onto the plane, but sufficiently stupid as to do so onto the image of an Airbus A321.  Details here.

We often count our blessings, when traveling the world, for having been brought up in an English-speaking nation.  So much of the rest of the world speaks English as a second language, making it possible for us to travel conveniently without knowing much of other languages at all.

For example, pretty much everywhere in Europe, English is the second most common language spoken, and certainly in places such as Germany and Austria (and even, although the French would like to pretend otherwise, in France too).

Or is it?  While indeed, France, Italy, and many other countries have English as the language most likely spoken after their native tongue, that is not the case in Germany and Austria.  Here’s an interesting map of the world showing the most common second languages, country by country.  In Canada, it is French, in the US, it is Spanish.  In Britain, it is Polish.  In Australia, it is Mandarin.

And, as for Germany and Austria?  Überraschenderweise ist es türkisch.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels (or, for those of you reading this in Germany and Austria, Lütfen güvenli seyahatlerin tadını çıkarın)





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