Weekly Roundup, Friday 29 March 2019

The two subtle changes to the Pilot Primary Flight Displays in the 737 MAX.

Good morning

Did you wake up to notice anything different in the world this morning?  No, neither did I.

It was to be today that saw Britain leave the EU, subsequent to its referendum to do so in June 2016.  Notwithstanding almost three years to plan, prepare, and actually implement their departure, they are in a state of appalling disarray, as indicated a couple of days ago when their Parliament voted on eight different approaches to leaving, ranging from “not leaving and staying in the EU” through various forms of departure and continued EU association to “just leaving, severing all ties, and starting afresh”, and, perhaps an ultimate cop-out, holding another referendum to see if the public still wanted to leave and perhaps, if so, on what terms.

None of the eight different measures were passed!  Today (Friday) sees the faltering Prime Minister offering up the same agreement she has presented to Parliament twice before and which was each time soundly rejected, but this time, the “sweetener” is that if Parliament passes the agreement, she promises to resign.

An underlying problem is Members of Parliament who personally don’t want to see Britain leave the EU.  Even though their electorates voted in support of leaving, and even though in the last general election (after the referendum, in June 2017) most politicians promised to follow their electorates’ wishes and support Brexit, they are now doing no such thing.

While the ruling Conservative party nominally supports leaving the EU (well, it doesn’t, but it supports honoring the referendum result), many of the individual politicians are not supporting the government’s actions, either because they don’t think the deal is a sufficient disentanglement from Europe, or – for an exactly opposite reason – because they feel it is too much of a severing of relations with the EU.  Add to that an opposition (Labour) party that nominally sort of supports Brexit, but as the opposition, is predisposed to oppose anything and everything the Conservatives do, plus significant smaller parties with their own narrow views of what is or is not acceptable to them, and the result is like a ship without engines in a gale, close to a rocky coastline (more on that below….).

While our own politicians attract and deserve a great deal of criticism, they are like obedient and intellectual angels compared to the muddled mess in Britain currently.

As well as keeping one eye on the slow motion car crash that is Brexit, I’ve been fully occupied this week with changes to the website to make it more mobile friendly.  But this has been almost as complicated as Brexit, and I’m not yet at a point of releasing a new version of the site, although in reality, if you never visit the site and only read the newsletters, in theory you’ll not notice any difference at all.

The week also saw Apple hold a special product launch event this week, one of their most hyped events in some years.  But, actually, it wasn’t a product launch at all.  You see, Apple is more or less conceding defeat on the product front, and is now re-inventing itself as a service company, which is sadly something that so much of the US is doing.  Even Boeing is talking in equal terms about selling its services as it does selling its planes.

In the past, in the glory days of Steve Jobs, special launch/release events were huge undertakings, accompanied by mammoth amounts of hype and total secrecy beforehand, and then acres of gushing uncritical press coverage subsequently.  The products being revealed/launched were always very close to being on sale, and all details were offered in terms of price, features and availability.

But this time, the entire event was flat and lifeless, and utterly lacking on specifics about the services being announced.  It left one wondering “why are they holding this event now”.  Most of the new services were only vaguely described, with no details about exactly what would be included, when it would be available, or at what cost.

Does this mark the final expunging of the Steve Jobs era and influence?  And, while clearly a pivotal turning point in Apple’s future, will it be a positive or negative one?  Clearly Apple is hoping to leverage its remaining strong share in the cell phone market, but its services are in no way innovative, and how successful Apple may become in trying to encourage us all to add yet another video streaming service, etc, to our list of things we already pay monthly fees for is now an open question.

I write about this some more in the article following on from the newsletter.

What else this week?  A few more things, of course.  And, please, do consider joining either or both our tours in September.  Scotland’s Highland Highlights and the Loire Valley Land Cruise.

Meantime,  please continue on for :

  • 737 MAX Software Update
  • Is Your Flight Really Confirmed?
  • Electric Passenger Planes in Canada – Maybe
  • Almost a Crash – at Sea
  • Amazon Tablet Bargains
  • And Lastly This Week….

737 MAX Software Update

Boeing has proudly revealed its software update for the 737 MAX family of planes.  There are two new indicators to be shown in the pilots’ Primary Flight Displays (illustrated at the top of the newsletter), one at the top being optional (but free) and the other at the bottom now automatically included as standard.

Either or both of these new indicators will help a pilot to realize when there’s a problem with the Angle of Attack Sensors.

In addition, Boeing is limiting how much automatic adjustment will now occur, and won’t allow an ongoing battle between the automatic adjuster (the MCAS) pitching the plane down and the pilots trying to pitch the nose back up again.

Lastly, the company has conceded that maybe some training in this function is needed, and has now created specific training materials for pilots to study.

The software fix has yet to be approved by the FAA or other authorities, but assuming no authorities choose to ask the awkward question “So why does the plane need this in the first place, just how unstable is it?” then it seems very likely that approval will quickly follow and the planes will be back in the air as fast as the software patch can be loaded and the pilots trained.

More details here and a more technical explanation here.

Meanwhile, the first of doubtless many lawsuits has been filed against Boeing, in Chicago, on behalf of the survivors of one of the passengers killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.  Details here.

Is Your Flight Really Confirmed?

I heard from reader Jerry, who reported on an interesting experience he had.

It started off normally enough – he booked a roundtrip on United, and got the booking confirmation from them accordingly.  He entered his credit card details to pay it, and all seemed normal.

But he noticed something many of us might overlook – he didn’t get a second email from United confirming the payment had been charged to his card and the booking finalized.  He checked online with his Citibank card, and it showed a pending charge for the ticket, and that is the point where most of us would stop and happily assume all was well.

Fortunately, Jerry contacted UA just to make sure, and it turned out the reservation had completely disappeared.  The agent said Jerry would have to rebook, and in-between his booking earlier in the day and his call late in the evening, the fare had increased by $150.  Ooops.

After a 55 minute phone call, he eventually got UA to honor the earlier reservation and price.  There is some ambiguity as to what went wrong causing a credit card charge that got as far as being shown as pending on his credit card account to somehow never come to completion, and his reservation to just silently disappear, but the lesson for us all is clear.

You need to get a confirming email from your airline, showing your reservation has been paid for and “tickets issued” complete with ticket numbers.  The concept of issuing tickets is of course a bit meaningless with electronic tickets these days, but the term is still used, and a ticketed reservation is given ticket numbers as the ultimate record of the payment having been made and the booking finalized as a result of payment being applied.

Never mind any other emails you might get, or what it might say on a website page you print out.  The only thing that ultimately counts is to be able to see a ticket number.  This is usually a 13 digit number – the first three digits are the numeric code for the airline that is issuing the ticket (not always the same as the airline that is operating the flight) – in the case of United, it is 016 – and the next ten the number of the ticket issued.

Electric Passenger Planes in Canada – Maybe

Seeking a bit of easy and free publicity, a tiny airline – Harbour Air – that operates seaplanes in the Vancouver and Victoria Island areas of Canada announced its plans to deploy electrically powered planes sometime in the next 1 – 3 years or so.

This is all futuristic and the technology doesn’t even exist yet, so it truly is a case of an airline getting free publicity for doing nothing other than talking up a dream it has of maybe doing something in the future, if the right technology comes along and gets deployed.

Harbour Air is being encouraged in this by a Seattle area company developing battery-powered propulsion units for planes, MagniX.  Their CEO says he isn’t worried even thought at present, it would make no commercial sense to electrify one of Harbour Air’s planes.  He says that by 2022, steady improvements in battery technology will allow for one of the seaplanes to be able to viably/profitably fly as far as to Seattle (a one hour flight).

That’s a great way to plan a major business commitment – “Don’t worry, by the time we need it, someone will have invented it”.

Details here.

Almost a Crash – at Sea

It is not altogether uncommon for a cruise ship to have an engine problem.  Which is part of the reason why they have lots of them, at least one per propeller shaft, sometimes more.  But it is uncommon for a cruise ship to have all engines fail at the same time, other than for reasons such as a fire or other major ship system failure.

But when such an uncommon event does happen, you can be sure it won’t be when the ship is comfortably moored alongside a wharf somewhere, and neither will it be in calm seas far from any hazards.  Mr Murphy is always present.

Which is what happened this weekend when the Viking Sky had all four engines fail while in very rough waters, and very close to rocky shoals just off the Norwegian coast.

The ship sent out an SOS and five helicopters came to try and offload passengers.  But with very rough seas (waves up to almost 30 ft) and strong winds (gusting to 45 mph) this was a non-trivial task, requiring passengers, one by one, to be winched up from the ship to a hovering helicopter.

I guess that passengers could be evacuated at a rate of about one per minute, and you’ve got to absolutely understand that being winched up, in an Arctic storm to a helicopter, is not an experience most cruise ship passengers hope for.

With 1373 passengers and crew on board, it would take 20 hours or more to get everyone off – a timeframe only viable if the ship didn’t actually strike the rocks and founder.  Fortunately the ship managed to get an anchor out that stopped the ship’s movement to the rocks, and after some hours, they managed to restart engines successively.

In total, prior to the point the ship had three engines back online and felt able to continue on its own power to a nearby port, 479 passengers were evacuated by the helicopters.

Details first here then updated here and again here.

As for the reason the ship lost all four engines, we’re told it was due to a shortage of lubricating oil.  But – excuse my cynicism – I don’t believe for an instant that any ship runs out of lubricating oil in the middle of a voyage.

My best guess is that the rough seas caused the lubricating oil to be ‘stirred up’ and therefore get contaminated with sludge at a rate faster than the inline oil cleaners could keep up with.  But until a more accurate explanation is given (possibly, ahem, in a court room….) we’ll have to just speculate and guess.

Amazon Tablet Bargains

A quick note.  If you’re on the lookout for a tablet, Amazon has a heck of a deal on my favorite/recommended tablets, their Fire HD8 and Fire HD10.  Of the two (and I have both), I definitely prefer the HD10, with a very much better screen resolution and screen size.

The HD 10 is currently available for $100 instead of $150 if you’re a Prime member (and if you’re not, get a 30 day free Prime trial and perhaps cancel after buying the tablet).  The HD 8 is $50 instead of $80, again for Prime members.

And Lastly This Week….

In honor of the daylight saving change a couple of weeks ago, reader Tom sent in this video of a gentleman struggling to update his car clock.  While intended as a joke, it is also sadly very true – even something as simple as changing the time on a clock has gone from easy (move the hands) to middling (press the hour button and the minute button as needed) to now something buried in the middle of a dozen counter-intuitive menus.

It also reminded me of how I felt, struggling to use the awful Sony WH-1000X-M3 Bluetooth headphones with their 12 (I think) different flashing light codes that one was expected to memorize.  Remember that the lovely Bose QC25 headphones are only half the price ($179) at Amazon with only one flashing light code (low battery).  Definitely the better way to go.

Fear of heights?  If so, stay away from this new elevator on the Aon Center building in Chicago when it opens in 2021.

Here’s one of these ‘top ten’ lists that I always wonder about in terms of their validity for anything except driving visitors to web pages.  This time it is a list of the world’s best airports.  Singapore comes first, followed by Haneda and then Incheon.  In total, seven of the top ten are in Asia (more or less), with Munich the first non-Asian airport, appearing at number 7, then Heathrow at number 8 (remember when everyone used to hate Heathrow?) and Zurich at 10.

The first US airport doesn’t appear until number 32, which is Denver.  To which I say MAAAAAAGA.  Make All American Airlines And Airports Awesomely Great Again.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, Friday 29 March 2019”

  1. Felipe Ordóñez de Rivera

    David: one of the reasons for the engine “failure” on Viking, as stated by the Norwegian maritime safety bureau, was that the ship was moving so much in the 10m swell from the beam that the lubricating oil also moved/sloshed to the side of the “sump”, at which point the sensors installed therein for the purpose of detecting dangerously low oil levels assumed there was a major problem and shut the engines down. That this happened in the location it did hugely exacerbated the overall situation of the ship, now without power and drifting towards the nearby rocky shore; at this point, another “Costa Concordia” disaster was in the offing. Whether Viking had been running the engines with a less than optimum/desirable oil level, and thereby raising the likelihood of the sensors shutting down the engines is no doubt something that will be investigated in the weeks to come. Viking has already said that it will make some operational changes as a result of this incident, but there is also the question of whether the ship should have been in the location it was when this incident occurred, especially when the Norwegian coastal fleet of Hurtigruten were confined to port.

    One now wonders whether this near-catastrophe will have any impact on Viking Ocean Cruises’ business. Having sailed on one of these Viking ships I know it to be a great product, with a fiercely loyal clientele, but even some of those may be put off by the images of 400+ passengers being winched aboard helicopters hovering above the Arctic waves.

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