Weekly Roundup, Friday 17 July 2020

An A220 shown in the livery of new US airline startup, Breeze Airways.


Good morning

One of the most interesting things, to me, of the last week was the release of an MIT study showing what the risk is of catching the coronavirus on a plane.  They looked at the risk with the middle seat empty and the middle seat full.  Although UA and AA (and assorted other minor airlines) have told us there is no added risk for being squashed tightly up against each other, the MIT study found differently.  The risk almost doubles.  No word from UA/AA as to if they’ll now stop selling middle seats.

This is mentioned further in yesterday’s Covid-19 diary entry, which is attached to this morning’s roundup.  And please remember – Delta is keeping its moral high ground, with a promise not to sell middle seats, not until some time into/after October (they’re a bit vague as to when).  If you’ve a choice of airlines at present, reward good behavior and choose Delta.

I had a long time reader ask me earlier this week about solar panels as a way for her to have a power backup in the case of power cuts.  My discussion with her reminded me of my unfinished article series about backup power options in the case of power cuts, and so I adapted and added to the emails between us and the result is a new article on solar panels as a possible emergency power source during a power cut.  Whether it is a good or bad idea is somewhat subjective, and for sure, there’s a certain amount of appealing “high tech elegance” to the notion of solar cells.  But what is definitely clear is that it would be a very costly method.  However, as I explain in the article, there’s an interesting way, if you spend a bit more, you might end up with an overall less costly and more effective solution.  The article is also appended to this morning’s newsletter.

I made an “interesting” discovery this morning.  Hand sanitizer stings if you’ve a paper-cut on your hand.  Just another pinprick of (quite literally) pain during these troubled times.  I enviously see pictures of my fellow New Zealanders enjoying themselves, crowded into pubs and shops and on city streets, happy and relaxed, and with not a mask in sight, due to having eliminated the virus entirely, and envy them.  I’m not the only one.  The extensive New Zealand diaspora is reversing direction and many NZers are hightailing it back “home” again – so much so that the country is struggling to find quarantine rooms for them all as they return, and has had to start limiting flights.  So I guess I’ll stay here!

What else this week?  Please keep reading for :

  • Doing This Will Not Speed Up Your Delayed Flight
  • Breeze Airways Launch Delayed
  • When Will Air Travel Return to Normal?
  • Getting Out of Dodge?
  • Another Great Electric Vehicle – But, Of Course, Next Year
  • Also, a Great New Battery – But Also, Of Course, Not Any Time Soon
  • Full Gold?  Or Fools Gold?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Doing This Will Not Speed Up Your Delayed Flight

I think the two things I hate the most about flight delays are the sense of being deliberately lied to – especially when told “the inbound aircraft will be 30 minutes late arriving” when a quick check reveals the inbound aircraft hasn’t even left its last stop, four hours away; and the drip-feed series of small extensions of the delay that culminate in a total of many hours.

But as frustrated as we all get, hopefully you never choose to attack airline gate staff with “phones, shoes, full water bottles and metal signs”.  That’s what three women did when their flight was late leaving in Fort Lauderdale this week.  There is of course video of the altercation at the link.

Random question :  Why do people filming video with their cell phones never rotate the phone so we get normal “landscape” style video?

Breeze Airways Launch Delayed

We’re looking forward to the launch of new US airline, Breeze Airways.  It has great provenance, its founder being David Neeleman, the man behind JetBlue (and three other airlines around the world too).

The startup had been scheduled to take to the air later this year, but even someone as bold as Neeleman wasn’t willing to try to start a new airline in the middle of the virus crisis, so it is now talking vaguely about starting service next year.

It will operate the lovely new A220 airplane as well as Embraer E195 planes, and they say they intend to operate a lot of secondary routes rather than feed passengers through hubs.  The concept is that by doing so, the airline can avoid direct competition with the big guys (assuming the major carriers don’t choose to then start matching flights with new flights of their own, of course).  The fact that Breeze will have new small planes will make it difficult for the big guys to come up with cost effective competition however.

Like all Neeleman’s earlier airlines, it will be a low-fare and low-frills airline, but providing good quality service and decent legroom, or so they are claiming currently.

Here’s some more information on what we expect to be a great addition to the US airline marketplace.

When Will Air Travel Return to Normal?

Tuesday and Wednesday this week saw slightly lower air travel numbers than the previous week, but it will take more than a couple of days to show that the previously steady growth in air travel is pausing.  We would certainly expect and hope that air travel numbers would drop again in line with the move to greater social distancing being adopted by many states at present, and we’re watching the numbers every day to see if there’s any sign of this.

There are rumors that forward bookings for future air travel are “weak”, but we’ve no idea what that means in actual numbers.  Of course, few people would be comfortable booking far ahead at present, making it hard to match up this year’s booking patterns meaningfully with previous years.  For now, we’ll not try to interpret forward bookings and merely report on actual passengers flying each day.

Lots of industry experts are predicting when air travel will return to normal, with a methodology generally based on nothing much more than a coin toss and ouija-board consultation.  No-one can predict anything, because no-one knows, with any degree of certainty, if a safe and effective vaccine will ever be developed, and if so when, and how long after that point it will take for virus concerns to zero out, and how much longer it will then take for the economy to recover and air travel patterns return to normal.

We’re increasingly reading credible predictions, however, suggesting there will be a permanent reduction in business travel, particularly last-minute single-purpose journeys.  With now four months of very little business travel, we’re all finding it impossible to fully suppress the secret truth that some of us have whispered to each other, late at night, in airport bars.  Much of our business travel in pre-virus days was unnecessary.  A two or three day business trip can now be replaced almost as effectively by a two or three hour Zoom conference call.

We are all vastly more productive now – that’s another rarely uttered truth.  You really aren’t as productive on a plane, even in first class, even with an internet connection, as you are in your office.  With a $1000+ business trip now being replaced by a $0 video call, well, what else is there to say.

I’m not saying business travel will zero out, and no-one else is saying that either.  But I am saying (as are others) that there’ll be a measurable and permanent decline in business travel.

This is an interesting article with a compilation of various predictions for when air travel might return to something close to normal.

Getting Out of Dodge?

Are you feeling that the only solution to the virus problems is to move somewhere safer?  There are times when, all joking aside, we agree.  But, assuming you’re not a New Zealand citizen, what are you to do, and where should you go?

How about Topeka, KS, or Tulsa, OK?  We can’t altogether speak to their virus-safety levels, particularly after a certain political rally with no masks in Tulsa a few weeks ago, but Topeka is offering $15,000 to people willing to move and settle there, and Tulsa is offering $10,000.  House prices aren’t too bad, either.

More details (and information on other places also offering incentives to new residents) here.

Another Great Electric Vehicle – But, Of Course, Next Year

It is an astonishing thing – the number of new model electric cars that are being announced by car manufacturers.  But they are never due to be released this year, they are always scheduled for a release “next year” (or even further out).

This time it is Nissan’s turn.  Nissan is an interesting study – their Leaf, first introduced in 2010, was for several years the best selling electric vehicle in the entire world.  But something happened, and the Leaf lost its market leading position, not only to Tesla, but even, embarrassingly, to General Motors and the Bolt.  The Leaf remained odd-looking, dating back to an era when designers felt they had to make electric cars look weird, and its range remained terribly low at a time when newer cars were getting longer and longer ranges, two or three times more than the Leaf.

Now it seems Nissan is about to bring out a small electric SUV – what is termed a crossover.  But it isn’t expected in the US until some time in the second half of next year – more than a year from now.  It will have a range of “up to” (hate that phrase!) 300 miles, and a presumably starting price of $40,000.

That compares to the new Tesla Model Y, with a 291 or 316 mile range, and $50,000 starting price.  So the Nissan is price-competitive, but if you’re going to spend $40k+ on a Nissan, I can’t help wondering how many people wouldn’t happily spend $50k+ on a probably better in most respects Tesla instead.

Oh, about that Tesla price.  They dropped it $3,000 to this new price point this week.  Could that be anticipating the Nissan competitor?  (Or just guilt over their not yet realized original claim that the Model Y would have a starting price of $40k?)

So, some competition for Tesla?  Yes, but not much.  A real Tesla-beater remains as elusive as ever.

Also, a Great New Battery – But Also, Of Course, Not Any Time Soon

The other thing that happens all the time?  Not just great new electric vehicles “next year” but amazing new battery technologies, also due to enter commercial production “next year” (or slightly further into the future).

Here’s the latest example of a new battery (actually, not very new at all) which is said to be 90% cheaper than Li-ion batteries.  That would slice $10,000 or more off the price of an electric car.  Sounds great – when can we expect to see electric vehicle costs drop by $10,000?

Well, according to this article, the “inventor” (of the not really very new technology) says he expects to start mass production (all together now) “next year”.  He hopes that by 2023 he will be able to product 1 GWhr of batteries a year.

Compare that to Tesla’s Nevada battery plant.  It can produce up to 35 GWhr a year of batteries at present, but is only producing about 24 GWhr a year because that is all they need, currently.  So the new battery’s claimed production of 1 GWhr/year in 2023 is a mere drop in the worldwide battery production bucket.

In other words, another piece of non-news.  Don’t expect that $10,000 price drop any time soon.

Full Gold?  Or Fools Gold?

A 25 floor hotel “fully made up of gold”.  That’s what this article excitedly tells us.

Remember that gold is currently $1800/ounce, or, when building 25 floor hotels, perhaps better to think in terms of almost $60 million per ton – although we are told the gold was cheaper because it was sourced locally, which is a nonsense statement because just like oil or diamonds, these types of items sell at world market prices, no matter where they are mined and what the cost of mining might be.

Amusingly, the series of photos of the “fully made up of gold” hotel are redolent in objects that aren’t gold, or objects we suspect to be nothing other than very thinly gilded with gold – like the picture at the top of the article showing gold on what, based on the texture, are almost certainly regular bricks underneath.  Plus the doors look to be regular grey metal, and the decking looks like Trex style decking, without a single fleck of gold in it.

There are a couple of interesting characteristics of gold.  It is very soft, and it is also very dense.  This means that if your hotel room truly was made out of solid gold, it would be easy to just shave tiny bits of gold off things, and even small little shavings would quickly add up in weight.  A friend gave me a 1/4 ounce gold coin some years ago – it is about half the size of a penny, but worth $450 at present.

The cost per night to stay in the hotel is as little as $250, so a single ounce of gold shaved off the furniture would essentially pay for an entire one week stay.

Yes, this is one of the most ridiculous pieces of hyperbole we’ve seen.

And Lastly This Week….

You’ve doubtless heard of the concept of a “man bites dog” type story – something that reverses a normal situation, making it uncommon and perhaps amusing in the process.

So, man bites dog, yes.  But what about “man bites seagull“?

How is your general knowledge.  Do you know which country in Europe has the most castles per square mile?  The answer surprised us, and you can be surprised (or smug) by clicking the link for the answer.

Still on general knowledge, have you ever heard of the Caproni Ca.60?  Do you even know what type of thing it is?  It is an extraordinary airplane, designed and manufactured in Italy just after WW1, with nine wings (three sets of triple-wings).  Here’s a short video clip, and this Wikipedia article tells you more.

Until next week, please stay happy and healthy





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