Weekly Roundup, Friday 24 July 2020

The “Wunala Dreaming” paint job of aboriginal patterns on a Qantas 747 added an extra ton of paint, but the result was worth it.  See article, below.

 

Good morning

I had mentioned, a month or so back, that I’m developing a new concept in vacation accommodation (let me know if you’d like to get an investor introduction piece about the project).  It is a combination of several different concepts I’ve been studying for over a year, and made more immediate by the current issues with the coronavirus.  Yes, we all still want to enjoy vacations, but the type of vacation we can consider and enjoy at present is quite different to the choices we had this time last year.

Back in March/April, most people thought the virus would be gone by now.  Now, in July, people are starting to wonder if the virus will ever go.  When will we be able to safely and happily relax in a bar or restaurant, and walk down the street without a mask?  Maybe next year – but also, maybe not.

This makes me wonder if there’s another dimension to add to my new resort concept.  Please would you be as kind as to share your thinking in the reader survey below to help me evaluate this further.

My web server problems have finally been resolved, and so I can now share the article with you that I’d been working on prior to the problems.  It is about the Amazon Kindle ereader – a gadget I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of right from when it first came out in November 2007.  So perhaps the title of today’s article – referring to it as now resting in peace – might surprise you.  Details of course in the article.

And also yesterday’s daily diary entry is also attached (and Sunday’s entry is on the website).  A fairly lengthy entry, with some (to my mind) important commentary on testing for the virus, and possible future vaccines.  Neither topic is overbrimming with positivism, I’m afraid.

What else?  Please continue for :

  • Reader Survey – Avoiding the Virus
  • Boeing 737 MAX Recertification in October?
  • Air Travel Growth Slows?
  • AA and AC – Which Approach Do You Prefer?
  • Airlines are Not Charities (Please tell Vice)
  • The World’s Largest Flying Kangaroo Logo
  • Musk Madness
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey – Avoiding the Virus

The virus and our eventual conquering of it is proving to be a bit like a flight delay.  First, for a flight delay, we’re told of a 15 minute delay due to paperwork.  Then another 15 minutes due to needing to resolve a minor issue.  Then another 15 minute delay due to needing to get a spare part from the other side of the airport.  And so on, sometimes for hours and hours, with a truly impressive series of always different reasons for the next 15 minutes of delay.

The thing is, if we’d been told up front “this will be a four hour delay” we could all plan accordingly.  Take another flight, go sightseeing, relax in a lounge, have a nice meal, or whatever.  But with the series of 15 minute extensions, we never feel we can leave the gate area for fear of coming back and finding the plane triumphantly pushing back without us.

It is the same with the virus.  If we’d been told in mid-March, that the virus would disrupt our lives for a full twelve months, we could make plans accordingly.  But instead we were told of plans to start relaxing the controls at Easter (12 April), then it was going to be in time for May Day, then Memorial Day, then it was going to be definitely in time for July 4th, and so on.  Now we’re at a point worse off than ever before with twice the number of new cases every day than was the case during the first peak in mid April.  If you listen carefully, you’ll hear people like Dr Fauci talking about the virus being with us to stay and our only hope for getting free of arguing about masks every day being a vaccine. If you dig further, you’ll see that while there are 130 different vaccine “candidates” going through various testing procedures, there’s a terrifyingly tangible degree of risk that none of them will work very well.

One thing is clear.  There is no practical way the US can copy New Zealand and become 100% virus free and allow life to return back to normal.  That will only happen with a vaccine and/or the complete global eradication of the virus.  Until that time, we’re locked into an unavoidable imbalance between masks and social distancing on one side, and the virus on the other side.

While the country as a whole can’t rid itself of the virus, a small private enclave could.  It would restrict access and require quarantining for new arrivals, and would have a range of activities and amenities on-site to make it a pleasant place to shelter within, probably in one’s own free-standing comfortable cabin, with the entire development spanning many tens of acres, set in a beautiful low-density rural area.

Residents could come and go as they please of course, but any exit and return would require a fresh quarantine period.  When through quarantine, and within the enclave, you’d be free to meet, mix, and mingle with the other people there, without masks and without fear.  You could eat in its restaurant and drink in its bar, laugh and joke, invite the neighbors over for a barbeque, and enjoy life as it used to be for us all, everywhere.

What do you think?  Good idea or bad idea?  Would you move to such a haven for some uncertain period of time if one were offered?

Please click the answer that represents your thinking.

Many thanks for taking the time to share your perceptions of this concept.  It is always very helpful; I’ll share the collective wisdom received next week.

Boeing 737 MAX Recertification in October?

Might we see the 737 MAX finally take itself back to the skies in October?  There have been a series of promised dates for this long awaited event ever since the plane was grounded way back on 13 March, 2019, and few of them have had the “ring of truth” about them, and none of them have proven to be correct.

But this article, suggesting October, feels more credible than all the previous claims.  If the FAA truly is about to issue a notice of proposed rule-making with a 45 day comment period, then some time in October for approval would be achievable.

It is important to note that lifting of the flying-ban does not mean all planes would then immediately be able to take off and start operating again.  There’s quite a lot of work to be done, variously in the form of updating some elements of the grounded planes with the required and approved enhancements, and then checking the planes out and returning them to ready-to-fly condition.  The pilots will probably need to be retrained in simulators before they can start flying the planes as well.

Most projections suggest it will take Boeing and its client airlines over a year to get all the currently grounded 737 MAX planes into service, and meantime, Boeing’s new plane production rate is likely to remain at less than half the earlier rate prior to the grounding, while it simultaneously tries to deliver the currently built but not delivered planes and also build some more.  It will be a very long time before things get back to normal for Boeing.

However, it all starts with the FAA recertification.  Other countries will recertify on their own timetables, and that isn’t quite so critical for Boeing initially, because it will be very busy just with US planes.  Let’s hope for October.

Air Travel Growth Slows?

The steady recovery in US air travel seems to have stumbled.  This is unsurprising with the skyrocketing growth in new virus cases and some states reintroducing social distancing controls.

The July 4 weekend, plus the ebbs and flows of each week, makes it a bit hard to see a pattern, but there has clearly been a drop followed possibly by the start of a new recovery.  Wednesday this week had the lowest percentage of Wednesday travel since Wednesday 24 June, Tuesday was the lowest since Tuesday 30 June, and Monday the lowest since Monday 29 June.

It is difficult to exactly see a new pattern, but you can stare at the chart above, as I have done, and try and make your own guess, too.  It will be interesting to review these numbers again in another week’s time.

AA and AC – Which Approach Do You Prefer?

American Airlines is reducing its meal service on flights, even relatively long ones of up to five hours, and even for first class passengers.  This is an extension of cuts that first started back in March.

We of course think this is a wrong-headed move.  Sure, they’re struggling to get anywhere close to corporate breakeven at present, but that is a corporate problem and shouldn’t result in a worse travel experience for the brave souls who kindly risk their health by agreeing to fly on a jam-packed (as in every seat filled, not as in the jam you eat!) AA flight.  If anything, you’d think AA would be seeking to make traveling a more pleasant experience at present in a desperate attempt to encourage people back to their planes.

Keep in mind also that many airport food service outlets are shut.  I’ve not bought a meal on a domestic flight in many years, but I’ve patronized plenty of airport food concessions immediately prior to taking a flight, or during a layover.  If those are closed too, the time between meals stretches still further out, and it is definitely necessary to make a few sandwiches and take them with you.

At the same time, Air Canada is taking the opposite approach.  Here’s an article that reads more like an advertisement for Air Canada than an actual independent commentary, but its clear gist is that Air Canada is trying to improve the quality of food it serves in all its cabins, even in the back row of coach class.

Of course, roll your eyes at the concept, often cited by airlines, of partnering with celebrity chefs.  Celebrity chefs generally have no experience of preparing airline food – they are great at preparing fabulous five-star fresh food in their own kitchen in their own restaurant, but have no knowledge of the process of getting a commercial kitchen to prepare many thousands of identical meals half a day before they are eaten, of meals that will be stored at varying temperatures in arid dry air for hours, and then reheated in a convection oven on a plane, and served over a 30 minute period after being reheated, and eaten at an air pressure equivalent to about 8,000 ft above sea level where one’s taste buds react quite differently to food tastes.

Oh, one other thing too.  The chef’s food budget in his restaurant – maybe $20 per guest (which he sells for maybe $100).  Only the finest/freshest food will do, locally sourced, organically grown.  His food budget for the airline – maybe $2.  Only the cheapest possible, commercially sourced food can be considered.

So it is no surprise that 99% of all much boasted about airline and celebrity chef partnerships end up with no visible/tangible difference in food served.  It’s still “chicken or pasta”.  But with a slightly different sauce.

Nonetheless, we should give AC a morsel of credit, they are taking the high road in contrast to AA.  They should be thanked for that.

Airlines are Not Charities (Please tell Vice)

Airlines are almost universally for-profit organizations.  Sure, at present, they’re all struggling to get even close to break even, and are setting records for “worst quarter ever in their entire existence” type results, but that simply makes them focus more on trying to stem their losses and get closer to break even as soon as possible.

So, imagine you’re an airline executive.  You’re operating a regular flight between two countries at present – let’s call them Qatar and Australia, in a wide-body plane with first class, business class, premium economy and regular coach class seating.  But the Australian government has told you that even though your plane can hold 300 passengers, you are only allowed to fly 50 people per flight, because of the limits on quarantine capacity for arriving people into Australia.

Your fares range from $10,000 for first class down to less than $1,000 for coach class, and now you can only sell 50 seats per flight, no matter what the fare.  You’ve a crush of people all wanting to fly.

So, what do you do?  Do you sell your perhaps 16 first class seats and then another 34 business class seats and leave the rest of the plane empty?  Or do you sell 50 coach class seats and no premium seats?  Or do you proportionally ration the seats and sell 4 first class seats, 12 business class, and 34 coach and premium economy seats?

The right answer is the first answer.  As an airline exec, your obligation is to your airline and its shareholders.  You’d be crazy – and unemployed – if you allowed a person to buy a $1,000 fare when there is another person alongside offering to pay $10,000 for the right to fly on the flight instead.

This is obvious and simple.  It is the way the free market operates – pricing per the law of supply and demand.  But the Vice website seems to think it is unfair.

The World’s Largest Flying Kangaroo Logo

The SP was the only 747 that could takeoff and land in Wellington.

My fellow New Zealanders probably hate me for my several-decade-long love affair with Qantas; nowhere better exemplified than by the many dozens of extraordinarily lovely flights on its lovely “Longreach” model 747-438 planes I enjoyed during the 1990s.

My most exciting flight ever was not on Concorde, it was on a high performance Qantas 747SP, flying very low and very fast over the Southern Alps of NZ prior to landing in Wellingon in, I think, 1980.  Because there was so little distance between the mountain tops and the airplane, there was an amazing sensation of already high speed (the 747SP was the fastest of the 747 family and the Qantas pilots enjoyed flying fast).

I consider the Qantas livery to be the most stand-out and attractive of any airline company in the world, with its “flying Kangaroo” logo in bold red covering the airplane tail in a stylish depiction of the ultra-Australian kangaroo – a brilliant association between an animal known for its graceful and unique motion, and an airline.  Even the worst flight crew, on a bad day, still give you an immediate feeling of “Australia” some 15 hours before you actually arrive, and the consummate professionalism of the pilots and the excellence of their airplane maintenance, backstopped by the “unbreakable” nature of the 747, always gives you the confidence you need prior to a 15+ hour over-the-ocean flight.

Qantas these days is showing itself to be a brilliant master of public relations.  It earned enormous amounts of positive publicity with its carefully staged “test flights” between New York and Sydney and London and Sydney – trivial meaningless and irrelevant from an operational point of view, but earning the airline miles of column inches of excited gushing “news” from journalists who couldn’t get over the excitement of being on a flight that was just an hour or so longer than other flights.

Qantas is again showing its mastery of the media with its slow and long-drawn out farewell to its fleet of 747 airplanes, culminating this week in the final flight from Sydney up to Los Angeles, before then a short hop on to an airplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert.

The logo created by the final Qantas 747’s flight path after leaving Sydney.

The nicest part of the final flight was an unannounced but clearly planned detour shortly after take-off to draw its flying kangaroo logo in the record of its flight path – a huge logo measuring about 170 miles by 170 miles in size, and taking 90 minutes to fly.  What an amazing plane – it can fly nonstop between Sydney and Los Angeles and add a 90 minute detour en route as well (although admittedly it was easier to do so on this flight, it had only six people on board).

Over the 49 years of having 747s in its fleet, the Qantas planes carried over 250 million people.

Progress is a funny old thing, isn’t it.

Musk Madness

Elon Musk’s Tesla company – you know, the world’s most valuable auto company – announced its most recent quarterly results this week.  The good news was the company manage to turn a nice $104 million net profit.

But there’s a bit of fine print associated with the profit.  While it is hard to directly say where profit comes from, it is significant to note that essentially every penny of Tesla’s profit came from government subsidies – Tesla’s selling of emission credits that it earns from its electric cars to other companies who need them and don’t get them from their gas-powered vehicles.  This has essentially been the total source of all Tesla’s profit, all the time, and in quarters with no profit, it has greatly reduced the loss that would otherwise have been reported.

If the government stopped this scheme, Tesla’s profit would zero out and it would be staring at huge accumulated losses.  Is this really what the government intended – to subsidize what has become, as a direct result, the world’s most valuable car company and its major shareholder, Elon Musk, into the world’s fifth richest person?

Just remember this, the next time you’re paying your taxes.  You’ve contributed to Mr Musk’s $74 billion fortune, and the $280 billion market capitalization of Tesla.

In other Musk news, his Boring Company – the one that digs tunnels – released some visualizations of their tunnel system for traveling from one end to the other of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This is a system that seems guaranteed to disappoint.  It claims to reduce a 15 minute walk to a one minute commute.  That is an utter nonsense claim.  Whereas the 15 minute walk is timed from when you start walking from wherever you are, until whenever you stop walking at wherever you want to be, the one minute claim ignores the time to get to one of the three stations, to take an escalator down to the station, to wait for then getting into a car, and at the other end, to get out of the car, back up the escalator, and to your final destination.  When you add all these extra elements to the totality, depending on where you are and want to be relative to the station locations, it is conceivable that this $53 million system might reduce your total walk from 15 minutes down to 14 minutes.

Or maybe even not, especially if there’s a line of people waiting their turn to travel.  The other issue I struggle with is the claim it will have a capacity for handling 4,400 people per hour.  This begs two questions.  First, is 4,400 people an hour enough?  And secondly, will the system actually be capable of moving that many people?

The sketch shows eight Tesla cars at a station ready for loading.  4400 people is 73 per minute.  Assuming each car has four people in it (they can accept five, but will depart with any number down to one, and for sure, five adults with bags is a squash) that means, one car departing every 3 seconds.  That’s not a lot of separation between cars, especially at 150 mph, but putting that thought quickly to one side, is it possible to load up the cars sufficiently quickly?  With eight cars, that works out to a rotation of all eight cars every 24 seconds.

My guess, based on the speed with which people move, and the hassle of getting into a not overly large Model 3 Tesla, particularly when clutching bags of brochures and other junk that you get at trade shows, and allowing time for unloading as well, plus putting on seat belts and who only knows what else, there’d be a struggle to turn around each car in a minute.  So while 2,000 passengers an hour seems achievable (cycling each car once a minute), growing to 4,400 seems like a stretch.

Let’s also think about 4,400 people an hour.  Take the “worst case” scenario of a show like CES, the biggest show hosted each year.  They have 180,000 attendees.  At peak times – when the show is opening or closing – it is foreseeable there’ll be 50,000 people all arriving or departing within the same hour, many of whom will want to get to the other side of the LVCC as part of that.  4,400 people is a trivial number compared to 50,000.

During the day, there’s a steady flow of people through the halls.  Perhaps half the people move very little (especially the people who are manning the booths), but some people move quite a lot.  Each hour, 2,200 people can move in one direction and 2,200 move in the other direction.  That doesn’t seem like much when you’ve over 100k people across a convention in total.

I guess it is a good thing the tunnel system is so inconvenient to get to – most people will prefer to walk.

One other Musk related item.  A new Tesla-competitor; this time a car that even the most ardent Tesla enthusiast would surely love – a 1400 hp sports car with seven electric motors.  It is a Ford Mustang, believe it or not.  Alas, it is a one-off concept rather than a new production model.  The “real” electric Mustang, which – like every other electric vehicle is of course promised “next year”, will develop a more modest 459 horsepower.

That sort of sums up the difference between Tesla and other car companies.  If Musk was helming the project, he’d not only build the 1400 hp concept version, but he’d put it into production.  Ford is too staid, although for sure the electric Mustang they are releasing promises to be a nice car, too.

And Lastly This Week….

When you finally start traveling again, you might have a lot of built-up desires for memorable experiences.  So why not go to Chongqing and try out the world’s tallest “swing” at speeds of up to 80 mph, while swinging out over the edge of a 2,300 ft cliff.

Or, perhaps, you’d like to splurge and treat yourself to some ultra-luxury.  In that case, you could indulge yourself in a game of “Let’s Pretend” and try to believe the ridiculous claim that the Burj Al Arab is a “seven star” resort.  Just because it boasts of having the most expensive cocktail in the world doesn’t actually make it seven star (or even five star).  Note to the newly rich and profligate – very expensive isn’t the same as very good.

What do you do when your flight attendants go on strike?  Well, and flight attendants take note – now is not a time when you have a great deal of bargaining power with your employer.  If you are Icelandair, you phone up all your furloughed pilots and tell them the good news.  They can return to work, but as flight attendants.

However, as soon as Icelandair threatened to replace the flight attendants with willing pilots, the flight attendants had a change of heart.  Details here.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe

 

David.

 

 

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