Weekly Roundup, Friday 11 January 2019

Bet you don’t know what this is, where it is, and what it does (did)? See final item.

Good morning

It has been an exciting week, with our “next generation” daily news curation service taking shape behind the scenes.  Part of this is a new and more active Twitter feed.

If you’re on Twitter, please do follow our new Twitter account, @TheTvlInsider.  If you were following our earlier Twitter account, feel free to unfollow that one, and please now follow our new @TheTvlInsider account.

The new Twitter feed promises to be livelier and much more interactive than the news site and the older Twitter feed.

I’ve already been unfairly reported to Twitter by a tobacco industry lobbyist complaining that our feed was a “bot” rather than real person (because I dared to report on an e-cigarette that caught fire on a plane), and I’ve had a group of malcontents attempt to “Twitter-bomb” me (with no measurable result) when I mildly pointed out that ATC and TSA employees were not working for free.  While disagreeing with the appalling concept of government shutdowns (do they happen anywhere else in the world?) I simply pointed out that although no pay checks were being received at present, when the government re-opens, backpay will then compensate these people.  Currently unpaid, yes.  Terrible – definitely!  But “working for free”?  Not so much.

A happy three feature articles for you this week.  A look at the success (or otherwise) of electric vehicles in 2018, a roundup on this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, and details of our firearms safety/training course just out of Vegas at the end of March.

There’s not a lot of leadtime for the firearms class/course, so please let me know as soon as you can if you’d like to come on that.  Whether you like or hate “guns”, whether you’re an expert or a novice, whether you’re old or young, or anything else, you are certain to find the experience informative, educational, and fun.

Next week I hope to be able to reveal details of our French “land cruise” in the lovely Loire valley in late September.

So, with those three other articles, not a lot this week, but here are a selection of things to keep you amused and entertained.

  • Trans-Atlantic Air Shares
  • Some Strange Math in the Annual Airbus vs Boeing Match
  • First Gatwick, Now Heathrow
  • Boeing Gets Approval for Embraer Joint Venture
  • Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Powered Train
  • And Lastly This Week….

Trans-Atlantic Air Shares

There’s an interesting article in UK’s Daily Telegraph speculating on the possibility of JetBlue starting service across the Atlantic.  We hope they do, although we note that if/when they do, it will probably not be for another two or three years, due to it being reliant on new airplanes received from Airbus, and would likely start off with limited service only from JFK and BOS, and (surprisingly) perhaps to LHR.

The very interesting thing was a table in the article showing market shares, as measured by the number of seats flown across the Atlantic by airlines.  The largest ten carriers were BA (1.97 million seats for winter 2018) followed by UA (1.80),  DL (1.75),  LH (1.46), AA (1.45), Norwegian (1.33), AC (1.06), AF (0.93), VS (0.91), and KL (0.64).

Now, you might think that’s plenty of good competition with reasonably similar market shares and no single dominant carrier, but reduce it down to alliances, and instead of ten airlines, you get three alliances and one independent carrier :

Oneworld (BA AA)          3.42 million seats for winter 2018
Star (UA LH AC)           4.32 million seats
Skyteam (DL AF (VS) KL)   4.23 million seats
Norwegian                 1.33 million seats

And before you feel too bad about Oneworld being smaller than the other two, don’t forget that some of the other lesser affiliated airlines should also be included, especially Aer Lingus (a member of the same airline group as owns BA).  Adding their 0.55 million seats brings Oneworld to 3.97 million miles.  If we were to add Iberia as well (another BA associate) that brings Oneworld up to 4.29 million seats, the same exact size as the other two.

We could also do similar calculations to the other two alliances, slightly boosting their totals too.  You still end up with three very similarly sized groups, which between them control nearly 90% of all seats across the Atlantic.

The first non-aligned independent carrier is Norwegian, which has only one-third or less the share of each of the three alliances, and Norwegian is currently on very financially shaky terms.  We’re not only very unsure about their continued rapid expansion, we’re worried about their ability to maintain their present levels of service.

The next independent airline after Norwegian in terms of size is Icelandair, which has a 0.35 million seat capacity – making it less than one tenth the size of the three major alliances.  The next independent airline becomes WOW, with an uncertain future and perhaps best not considered (for sure it will be reducing capacity into the future) and then the next is Air Transat (0.16 million seats) which is about 1/25th the size of the major alliances and with about a 1% market share in total.

So, healthy competition?  Or an oligopoly where new entrants struggle against the majors?  And, the most difficult question of all – what would be JetBlue’s chances of profitably breaking into that market?

Some Strange Math in the Annual Airbus vs Boeing Match

It sounds like the sort of math problem my daughter might have been given a few years ago.  “If I have 7,256 marbles in a bag, then take out 800, then add another 747 into the bag, how many marbles do I now have in the bag?”  You’d quickly note that more marbles were taken out than replaced, and so you’d expect the answer to be less than the original number, right?  To be exact, the answer is 7,203.

But let’s swap the marbles for airplanes, and the bag for Airbus’ back order list.  At the beginning of the year, they had 7,256 airplanes back ordered.  During the year, they delivered 800 and sold 747, but at the end of the year, they say they have 7,577 planes on back order.  Instead of their back order list reducing by 53 planes, it has grown by 321.

A bit puzzling, for sure.

Airbus sold 747 airplanes in 2018 and Boeing sold 893.  Airbus delivered 800 airplanes, and Boeing delivered 806.  So a clear win this year for Boeing in both orders and deliveries.  Well done, Boeing.

If you’d like to see a data series stretching imperfectly back to about 1989, we’ve been maintaining this on our page here.

First Gatwick, Now Heathrow

I’ve been meaning to write an article about the extraordinary several days when Gatwick Airport was closed due to drone activity in/around the airport, last December.

The part that I find most delightful about the entire episode and the hysteria surrounding it is in two parts.  First, the suggestion that perhaps there never were any drones at all.  And secondly, a suggestion that perhaps some/all of the drones were actually police “anti-drone drones”.  Both suggestions have been little more than inadvertently disclosed comments that were quickly walked back by official spokesmen, but both had a very clear ring of truth about them.

The possibility of no drones is made more likely by the fact that there has been no-one charged, despite the confident assurances that this was going to happen at any minute, and the enormous police and military resource deployed to the Gatwick area.

After arresting an unfortunate couple who were then “named and shamed” (complete with photographs) in Britain’s popular press, the police then had to backpedal and release the couple and completely exonerate them from any suspicion.  Things like the guy being at work, in a totally different part of the country, at the time a drone was in the air doubtless played a part in establishing their innocence – a shame the two people had to spend 36 hours in police custody and endure intense questioning prior to such incontrovertible proof of their innocence being accepted.

But the part I found most unbelievable were the assurances, first by Gatwick, then by other airports and the government, that the entire country had instantly been enveloped in such sophisticated protection that similar events could never happen again.

Which brings me to this week, and the closure of Heathrow, albeit only for a couple of hours, due to a drone sighting near the airport.

Boeing Gets Approval for Embraer Joint Venture

Politely being referred to as a joint venture rather than take-over, Boeing has now cleared the first of several regulatory hurdles to allow it to create some new type of commercial relationship with Embraer relating to Embraer’s line of regional jets.

This alliance was made essential to both Embraer and Boeing after Airbus bought out the Cseries regional jet program from Bombardier (now known as the A220).

At first, Brazilian pride seemed to be interfering with it handing its aircraft manufacturing industry over to Boeing, but now it seems Brazil recognizes that it doesn’t really have much choice.

It is sensible for both Airbus and Boeing to extend their model ranges down as low as 100 seats.  We never understood why they overlooked it for so long.

Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Powered Train

We don’t believe that fuel-cell powered cars make any sense at all.  The unavoidable inefficiencies and costs of creating and transporting hydrogen, then converting it to electricity, are woefully worse than those in a battery electric powered car, and the nature of a fuel cell (it works best creating a steady amount of power, not the varying amounts required by a car) provide another frustration.

But for a train, which is marked by much less variation in load requirements, some of these challenges are surmounted.  News came this week of some passenger train units in Britain being converted from diesel to fuel-cell operation.  The glowing article reports on how much better than diesel the trains will now become.

That may be true, but it isn’t a fair comparison.  The fair comparison would be to compare fuel-cell powered trains to battery-electric (and even classic catenary/overhead-electric) trains.  The article and supporters of the hydrogen fuel-cell train are conspicuously silent on these points.

Which tends to confirm our observation that fuel-cells only work in heavily subsidized environments and can’t/don’t compete head-on with battery-electric solutions.

And Lastly This Week….

I wrote last week about the woman who provided the underlying voice recordings for Siri.  Reader Mellanie wrote in to report that there are a number of people who provided Siri voices, in different accents and languages, and she knows the Australian equivalent.  She says :

And, here is my good friend, Karen Jacobsen, the Australian Siri and GPS Girl!  Many of us love Karen’s voice so much that we use the Australian voice rather than the American voice.   Here is an article about the three Siri’s.

I was writing about Kindle books not long ago, observing that it is possible to get so many e-books at greatly reduced prices or even for free.  Free books are not only “junk”, they can also be older classic works on which the copyright has expired.  Here’s an interesting article on how to download all the books which had expired copyright on 1 Jan.

I wrote about several Airbnb experiences over the course of last year.  They were a mixture of good and not quite so good experiences, but on balance, I’ll happily use Airbnb again in the future when the situation warrants it.  Here’s an interesting article which takes a less neutral and more negative view.  I don’t fully agree with it, but it is helpful to understand the negative aspects of Airbnb before choosing to take that option.

Time for the annual ritual of Disney upping their park admission prices and us all bemoaning the increase.  One interesting statistic astonished me, though.  According to this article, the price of a single park admission has more than trebled (in Anaheim) between 2000 and now – from $43 to $149.  Now, before you go excusing that as due to inflation, you might want to know that inflation is 45%, in contrast to the 346% increase in park admission.  A Denver friend said he found it cheaper to take his children to London than to Disneyland.  It seems unlikely, but when you add in all the other costs of a day at Disney, maybe it is close to true.

Truly lastly this week, a fascinating bit of architectural/technological trivia.  Britain’s 1920s era “sound mirrors”.  Article here (and image at the top of the page).

Until next week, please (a) consider following our new Twitter feed @TheTvlInsider, (b) join us for the firearms course/class, and (c) as always, enjoy safe travels.





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