Weekly Roundup, Friday 3 July 2020

The new N700S model of Japanese “bullet” train started service on Wednesday.


Good morning

There were sounds of explosions and possibly gunfire echoing around the neighborhood the last couple of nights.  Roaming gangs of rioting protestors being met by peaceful albeit protective neighbors?  Nope, people jumping the gun and celebrating 4 July early.

As I explained to my daughter, who wondered why people don’t wait until 4 July to let all their fireworks off, some people find the temptation to make things go “bang” too strong to resist and can’t wait, figuring they can always buy some more the next day to make up for any ones that are detonated early.  I tried not to look guilty when explaining this to her.

Talking about Anna (my daughter), it is now over a week since she wrote a polite email to Amazon asking why she isn’t allowed to post well-written honest positive reviews of books she has bought on their site.  So far, no answer.

A friend commented on a phenomenon that I’ve noticed too.  So many different companies now have messages on their websites and on their voicemail systems saying that due to the present situation, it will take them longer than normal to answer their phone or reply to emails.  They ask us to be understanding and patient.

Well, call me stupid and impatient, but no.  I don’t understand and don’t wish to be patient.  It is now almost four months since the virus blew up our world.  How long can companies keep using the virus as an excuse for bad service?

It will be a strange 4 July this year, won’t it.  I actually hope for bad weather, so as perhaps to (quite literally) put a dampener on festivities and public gatherings.  Plus, my feeling is that rain probably helps to precipitate aerosol droplets out of the air more rapidly, so for every reason, some rain might help keep us slightly safer.

I wrote two more Covid-19 diary entries this week; yesterday’s one is at the bottom of this roundup, and Sunday’s can be found on the website.

What else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Will 4 July See Many People Flying?
  • Boeing’s 737 MAX Moves Closer to Flying Again
  • Qatar Goes One Better than Masks
  • Meanwhile in the US….
  • Japan’s Lovely New Trains
  • Hydrogen Powered Planes?
  • Virgin Galactic Update
  • And Lastly This Week….

Will 4 July See Many People Flying?

The airlines already know the answer to this question, of course, because they know what their bookings are like for travel over the 4 July weekend.  I’d rather not guess, other than to say I expect air travel will be down more, compared to last year, than people driving by car.

People are steadily returning back to the air, however.

As you can see, after reaching a low of below 4% in mid-April, we are now back up at around 25% of last year’s numbers.  That’s still a terrible number for the airlines, but it is also a six-fold improvement from mid-April.

Boeing’s 737 MAX Moves Closer to Flying Again

Perhaps the highest profile step in getting the 737 MAX recertified is the part where the plane goes through a series of official certification flights to “prove” it is safe and compliant with all FAA requirements.  It is a bit of a “for show” process, because half a dozen hours in the air are not likely to cause obscure program bugs and unlikely failures to reveal themselves.

But it is an official formal part of the process, and Boeing has been eager to reach that point for – well, for over a year.  This week, over three days, Boeing and the FAA operated the test flights.  They seem to have been at least superficially successful, and now flight data is being scrutinized to make sure everything is as it should be.

Perhaps, according to Reuters, the FAA might recertify the plane in mid-September.  The process of other countries and their air regulatory agencies is not clear, we expect there to be short delays while other agencies establish their “independence” and make their own evaluations and decisions.

Qatar Goes One Better than Masks

While the US and its airlines agonize over the very simple issue of should people wear masks or not, Qatar Airways is way out ahead.

It is now requiring passenger both to wear masks and face shields too.  Coach class passengers will have to wear them all the time, except for when eating and drinking, business class passengers only need to wear them during boarding and deplaning.

We understand the value and benefit of a face shield, but we worry if they will make it harder to read and watch video.  It strikes us as quite likely they will distort one’s vision, and a long international flight with impaired reading/viewing abilities would be unfortunate.

But perhaps not as unfortunate as getting the virus.  Our thanks to Qatar for taking this seriously and sensibly.

Meanwhile in the US….

Although I’ve now enjoyed 35 good years living in this country, there are times when I realize I just don’t understand many of “my fellow Americans”.  For example, what is this woman all about?

And not only her – YouTube and Twitter are both full of video clips of people “losing it” in stores when politely asked to wear a mask.

Are there any other countries where so many of the people react so violently to something that is simultaneously a display of common sense and courtesy?  Do Americans no longer like to be sensible and polite?

Japan’s Lovely New Trains

Perhaps another dimension of the “meanwhile in the US” puzzlement is how this country is unable to develop a decent rail network.  Sure, people show themselves to be very adept at making promises to build high speed rail lines, and equally adept at making excuses why they don’t, but why can’t we actually do like most of Europe and selected other countries and actually get the train lines built and operating?

Japan’s latest generation of “bullet trains” – Shinkansen to give them their correct name – have just started operating on the line between Tokyo and Osaka.  Their commencement was supposed to coincide with the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but those have been rescheduled until 23 July 2021.  The new trains however have not been delayed.

They have a maximum test speed of 225 mph (360 km/hr) but in service are not expected to exceed 180 mph (285 km/hr).  That makes them fast, but not unusually fast, with trains in China and several European countries having much faster service speeds (eg Italy with 220 mph trains and Spain with 217 mph trains).  Details here.

When can we expect something similar?

Hydrogen Powered Planes?

We regularly read “futuristic” (a polite way of saying “impossible”) stories about battery powered airplanes.  So it made a nice change to read a story about hydrogen powered planes.

A fuel-cell hydrogen powered plane actually could make more sense than a battery powered plane.  It might also be more appropriate than fuel-cell powered vehicles, because unlike cars, airplanes have very little variation in the power they need during their flight.  Apart from some extra boost power at take-off, and a bit more than normal power while climbing, most of any plane’s flying is done in a very narrow band of power settings, and that’s an ideal application for a fuel-cell.

However, as the article makes clear, they presently aren’t as weight/space effective as regular jet-fuel powered planes.  But maybe in the future….

Virgin Galactic Update

I regularly mention Virgin Galactic’s sea of broken promises, stretching back almost 15 years, for when it will start taking people on brief (but very expensive) joyrides up into the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere.

Did you know the delightful irony inherent in where their base is located?  Grandiosely named “Spaceport America”, their base is located in New Mexico, in the town of Truth or Consequences.

That’s a concept Virgin has managed to carefully evade confronting for too long now.

This article reports on their “second successful test flight”.  Nowhere is there any mention of when real passenger flights will commence, nor what still needs to be done.  It does seem though that notwithstanding Sir Richard Branson’s various claims and boasts of going to “space” at some point last year – perhaps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo, the program is still a long way short of commercial operations, and the test flights seem to be selectively testing only parts of the total flight experience.

And Lastly This Week….

Are you missing travel?  Do you wish you were on a plane headed somewhere, right now?  Apparently a lot of people in Taiwan are feeling that way, and so Taipei’s Songshan airport came up with a solution.  Fake flights.

How’s your general knowledge?  You know what the symbol for the Royal Air Force is (the blue, white and red “bullseye” type roundel).  And the USAF (star in a circle in front of a blue, white and red rectangle).  But do you know what the symbol for Finland’s Air Force was from 1918 until it was partially but not completely changed in 2017?  I’ll wager you won’t guess correctly, so here’s the answer.

I do hope you’ll have a lovely day tomorrow.  Fire up the barbeque, enjoy a libation (or two), and watch some wonderful firework displays – but on a nice big screen display at home!

Until next week, please stay happy and healthy





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