Weekly Roundup, Friday 26 February 2021

A reader asks – is there value in PreCheck for the over 75s? My answer, below.


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Good morning

I finally got my car back from its second round of repairs on Friday, and the freeway east finally reopened on Monday this week, so I headed east on Tuesday morning, only to immediately discover that the repair shop, while replacing wheel elements and even re-aligning everything, had not thought to also balance the wheels.  Ugh.  Plus an aggressive lashing from the elements – rain, snow, hail, and wind – for around 600 miles on both Tuesday and (lesserly) Wednesday made for a tiring week, but hopefully a worthwhile one.

As promised, I’ve added a review of a bargain-priced new set of noise cancelling headphones, thanks to Will Allen.  It was a good choice on his part, and at $60, they are a stand-out bargain, although of course, with some small compromises.  The review follows on from this morning’s weekly roundup.

There’s also Thursday’s Covid diary entry, and Sunday’s is available online here.

Plus the usual strange assortment, following :

  • Air Passenger Numbers Waffle Indecisively
  • Boeing Planes and Their Engines – a Bad Week
  • Some A380 Good News
  • Do Older People Need the TSA PreCheck Program?
  • International Travel Update
  • For Sale – 787, One Careful Owner, Lots of Options
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Passenger Numbers Waffle Indecisively

It may be due to the final results of the Presidents’ Day weekend blip finally getting shaken out, but there was no clear movement up or down this week.

I’ve very excited about next week.  They say that small things excite small minds (and, why yes, as a matter of fact I do collect stamps…..) so perhaps I shouldn’t admit to being “excited” by this, but on 1 March, we will have TSA air passenger data for all of 2019 and all of 2020, as well as 2021 as it happens.

When the TSA started their excellent comparison between current numbers and those of a year ago, they started the data series on 1 March 2020, and the comparison data from 1 March 2019.  That made sense during 2020, comparing to the happily normal 2019 numbers, but what number should we compare to now, in 2021?  To the 2020 number, or the 2019 number again?  That has been a problem in January and February already, as you can see above, and of course becomes much greater with the plunge in air travel numbers that happened in March 2020.

I’ll redo how I present the data from 1 March, and expect to show even more data than currently for a fullest analysis of trends and comparisons.  More on that, appearing in Twitter from Monday and here next Friday.

Boeing Planes and Their Engines – a Bad Week

I’m sure you understand that Boeing is not normally responsible for engine failures on its planes – other companies make the engines to hang off Boeing’s wings.  (There may be some element of culpability when Boeing designed cowlings fall off the engines.)

But the spectacular footage of the engine explosion, fire, and pieces falling out of the sky afterwards made for bad optics for Boeing, and the grounding of 777s with the same engines on them didn’t help either.  While there is no innate danger in flying a 777 with one instead of two engines, an “uncontained” engine failure is extremely scary, because the pilots can never be certain what type of damage bits of engine might have caused when they fly away from the engine with much speed and force.  Cutting hydraulic lines that power wing control surfaces, perhaps also causing the undercarriage to fail, are both very foreseeable and sometimes occur – other damage in the form of pieces of metal puncturing the fuselage and passenger cabin are more immediately obvious, of course.

So after an engine failure like this one, there’s definitely a heightened degree of concern all the way down until the plane rolls to a stop on the runway.

Here is an excellent video explaining everything that happened in great glorious detail.

They say bad things come in threes, and it was true for Boeing, with three such incidents in three days this week.  No wonder there are now articles with headlines such as this – “Why Do Boeing 777 Engines Keep Exploding?

Meanwhile, the bad news that won’t go away continues – here’s yet another article on the past problems with the 737 MAX certification process.  We suspect the cited report by the DoT’s Inspector General’s Office is in large part 20:20 hindsight, but it is still another bit of bad press for Boeing and its troubled programs.

And – wait – there’s still more.  The FAA has also warned of the possibility of  rapid decompression of the cabin in 737 MAX and earlier 737 NG planes.  This seems to be the result of some faulty parts being fitted, rather than a design weakness, but it is yet another pinprick of negativity at a time when the bad news items seem to be streaming in steady succession.

Here’s a good analysis of Boeing’s current problems and its urgent need for some new airplane models.

Also of note – Boeing’s space programs are also troubled and behind schedule.  What about military?  Well, there’s the KC-46 tanker which continues to lurch from costly problem to costly problem, giving the company plenty of grief in that business sector too.

Some A380 Good News

We were delighted to see this article about Singapore Airlines reactivating one of its stored A380s as part of a plan to upgrade its entire 12 plane fleet of A380s (another seven are being retired).

The failure of airlines to embrace the A380 (prior to the Covid event) remains one of the big mysteries and disappointments of 21st century aviation.

Do Older People Need the TSA PreCheck Program?

A reader wrote in this week asking

Hi David: Question on TSA PreCheck. Can you help?  My TSA PreCheck is about to expire. I usually only travel domestically these days (and not much of that due to the pandemic).  I recently turned 75 which exempts me from some of the regulations.

Is it worth renewing my Precheck or does my age effectively do the same as PreCheck?  I would be interested in your opinion.

It is a good question.  The TSA have a vague program in response to occasional negative press articles featuring them patting down senior citizens in their nineties, forcing elderly grandmothers out of their wheelchairs and to go through screening on their own steam, and so on.  You can see their official but far from specific statement about what this program is here, with it applying to people 75 and older.

My guess is the experience for the over-75s varies greatly from airport to airport.

But the PreCheck service is much more consistent, and in the best possible way.  If you qualify for it, you get very short lines and very little waiting to go through security, and a lovely friendly hassle-free experience, going through a metal detector rather than whole-body-imager, not needing to remove shoes or belts, and being treated decently at every step of the way.

Maybe older people do sometimes get a better-than-standard experience when being screened, but there is still the long wait in the regular line before that.

The PreCheck program costs $85 for five years of membership.  I recommend it to everyone, no matter what their age, including for people over 75.

International Travel Update

Qantas says it doesn’t expect to resume international travel until the end of October, at the earliest.  In other words, expect Australia to stay effectively closed until November.

Here’s a headline claiming “no end in sight” for travel restrictions in Europe.  However, we expect Europe will open sooner than Australia, because their summer travel season is of course from June, whereas Australia’s summer peaks don’t come until the end of the year.

Europe and its EU is struggling to come up with consistent policies to fight the virus, a struggle made worse by different countries suffering at different times to different degrees.  The concept of the open borders in the Schengen region make things more difficult, and in total, it is very difficult for Europe to come up with a sensible and coordinated series of policies across the 27 EU nations and sundry other affiliated countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and of course, Britain.

So we continue to be doubtful about the potential for easy convenient travel in Europe this summer.

We also wonder just how desperate people are to start international travel again.  On the one hand, we in the US in particular are very fortunate to be in a huge country of amazing natural beauty and of great variety, and almost all readily reached and affordably enjoyed.  There’s a wealth of domestic travel experiences for us all.  On the other hand, though, some people are willing to give up almost anything in exchange for some international travel.

Whether it be international or domestic travel, the TSA is expecting a busy summer.  It is currently advertising for another 6,000 screeners in time for the summer travel.

For Sale – 787, One Careful Owner, Lots of Options

Mexico has been trying to sell its Presidential jet for three years now, but has yet to find a buyer.  The plane is a 787, and was purchased from Boeing at a cost of around $220 million, being delivered in 2016.  But the plane was not new – it was one of the original test 787s, entering Boeing’s test fleet back in 2009.

A change in President in 2018 saw the new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, describe the plane as a wasteful extravagance and he resolved to sell it, preferring instead to travel, often in coach class, on regular flights.

The plane’s fit-out, as a VIP aircraft, makes it unappealing for all regular airlines, and apparently the cost of refitting it to a commercial specification, and possibly the plane’s age and any associated issues with it being one of the first original test planes, mean there has not been any takers, other than an offer of $120 million that mysteriously fell through.

So, if you’ve always wanted your own 787…..

And Lastly This Week….

Another Tesla competitor, due to launch in the future……  How many times has that been promised before, with nothing ever eventuating – at least not in any impactful measure?  This time the company is Lucid Motors, already slated to release a high-end electric car this year, and now promising a less pricey “Model 3” competitor in maybe 2024 or 2025.

The continued snail’s pace of developing competitors to Tesla remains as astonishing now as it was a year, two, three, and more ago.  It makes one wonder, which will come first – Virgin Galactic finally carrying passengers on its pretend-space-flights, or a viable substantial Tesla competitor changing the EV marketplace dynamics.

Meanwhile, the seemingly impenetrable myth of the magic of Tesla vehicles continues to be chipped away at, most recently by the latest JD Power vehicle dependability survey, reporting on 2018 model cars.  As a proud Land Rover owner, I’ll “not see” the bottom of the reliability chart, but I do see Tesla’s almost-as-bad result.

This article is long, but very interesting, about noted director Peter Jackson and an airplane thief.

Here are some fascinating images of national borders.  Just because we can’t cross many borders at present doesn’t mean we can’t look at pictures and dream…..

Until next Friday, please stay healthy and safe





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