Weekly Roundup, Friday 19 March 2021

Ever wondered why airplanes reduced from three to two to one wing? One company plans to reintroduce a triplane (see article below).


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Good morning

Lots for you today.  I occasionally find myself wondering, while alone at home, what would happen if I were suddenly incapacitated and needed urgent help?  Even if you live with a spouse, or room-mates, or other people of any nature, there are surely times when you are alone for potentially hours at a time.  What would you do if something happened and you couldn’t reach a phone?

So, for today’s feature article, I offer a solution to that problem.  I hope none of us ever need it, but it is vastly preferable to be prepared and not need it, than to be unprepared and unable to summon help when desperately needed.

Also attached is Thursday’s Covid Diary entry, and Sunday’s is online here.

On the good news front, after six days in the shop, I finally got my car back once more.  I hope it was just friendliness when the owner said “See you again soon, David”.

A nice collection of other items, below, including the results of our reader survey.

  • Reader Survey Results – Air Passenger Misbehavior Penalties
  • Air Travel Numbers Continue to Rise
  • A Reader Writes of His Delta Problems
  • A New Norwegian to Return
  • Interesting Analysis of Airplane Delivery Numbers
  • A Person Who Should Never Have Become a Pilot
  • If One Wing is Good, are Two Better?  How about Three?
  • A Different Perspective on Designing the Perfect SST
  • Yet Another Airplane Design
  • Might Heathrow Collapse?
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results – Air Passenger Misbehavior Penalties

I asked what type of penalties should be imposed on a passenger who refused to wear a mask and who got into a scuffle with a flight attendant, needing to be “escorted off the plane”, while it was still at the gate prior to pushing back.

Most of you took a serious view of this type of behavior.  You were allowed to suggest multiple penalties, and this first chart shows the types of penalties mentioned :

The second chart shows the specific penalties suggested :

Clearly the concept of “let the punishment fit the crime” saw a lot of people mentioning some type of travel restriction, and as the second chart shows, the most popular travel restriction, by far, was a lifetime travel ban on the airline involved.

People who advocated some jail time generally suggested a week or maybe less, and $1,000 was the most commonly suggested fine.

People who suggested something else tended to usually have a fine or period of ban or jail time that was inbetween two of the values offered, but a couple of people had an interesting point which puts things into a very different perspective.

They suggested treating the “scuffle” as an assault and letting whatever normal assault penalty would apply flow through to the miscreant upon conviction.  A simple assault (or more likely battery) charge is usually a misdemeanor, and in California a battery conviction allows for up to six months in county jail, up to a $2,000 fine, and probation up to six months.  Other states have a similar misdemeanor classification and about the same types of penalties.

These penalties are increased for battery against specific types of occupations/workers, and while not specifically mentioning flight attendants, it would be reasonable to consider this higher level of penalty for them too.  In California’s case, that means up to a one year jail sentence, still up to $2000 fine, and probation up to one year.

Those are the maximum penalties.  I don’t know what a first time offender with no previous criminal convictions for violent acts would likely receive as a sentence, particularly when the victim suffered extremely minimal harm, but my sense is such charges are often plea bargained down to possibly a fine and/or maybe some period of probation, and perhaps a “good behavior” bond of some type that would see a more severe sentence imposed if the guilty party re-offended within a certain time.

It seems possible to equate a travel ban with probation, jail with jail of course, and fines with fines.  So the general level of advocacy for penalties for the mask-wearing refusal and scuffle are quite substantially more severe than for other types of noncompliance and scuffling.

My sense is you’d be fairly strict judges!

Air Travel Numbers Continue to Rise

The last seven days have seen a steady series of rises in passengers traveling, and as of Wednesday’s numbers, we have now, for the first time in a year, exceeded 50% of the 2019 numbers on a rolling average, and for two days in a row.  Wednesday also saw, for the first time, but absolutely not for the last time, daily numbers higher than the same day in 2020.

There seems no reason not to expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future.  The airlines must be starting to breathe a little easier.

A Reader Writes of His Delta Problems

Reader Cary writes

My note focuses on Delta Airlines’ lack of responsiveness to its customers when something goes wrong.

Delta cancelled my Long Beach flight to Salt Lake with just a few hours notice, and rescheduled me for a four hour later flight which was totally inconvenient.  I called about this and had a computer generated voice tell me it would be a 3 hrs. 18 min. wait to speak to a live person to rearrange a better departure at nearby Orange Co. airport.  With the billions the airline industry has received from the government, I find this lack of service appalling.

It gets worse.  The Delta app. on my cellphone did not allow me to easily accomplish a last minute change nor arrange for the same upgraded service I had originally booked.  Instead the new flight cost 50% more and the refund for the old one would take 1-2 billing cycles.  I called repeatedly though the weekend and at one time was told it would be an 18 hrs. wait to speak to someone.  Finally by calling before dawn I was able to speak to someone who blamed the delays on “spring break” and offered me $125 credit for the delay.

Southwest gives much better service but is derided by its competition as a “discount airline.”

I totally understand Cary’s frustration, but I have to also note he was semi-fortunate.  At least Delta gave him a chance to wait on hold, albeit for up to 18 hours, to speak to someone.

My pet peeve is calling an airline (or any other company), being told first that due to “the present situation” call times would be longer than average, then placed on hold with the same annoying jingle playing too loudly in my ear, and with an interruption every minute to tell me that my call was important to them, but to suggest that I go to their website instead, then another minute of jingle and the same message again, over and over.  And then, all of a sudden, either there’s just a click and they’ve gone without warning, or else a new voice says “all agents are busy, please try your call again later” and hangs up.

All that time suffering the jingle and message, suddenly wasted, plus of course there’s then the added edge of anxiety when next calling “will this call go through or will they hang up on me again”.

There is no excuse for this type of appalling service.  Certainly in Washington, and possibly all states, insurance companies and possibly utility companies too (but not phone companies) are required to have a “real” person answer every call within half a dozen rings or thereabouts.  Why shouldn’t we require the same for airlines, especially because these days, most of the times when we do need to call an airline, it is for a time-pressing fairly urgent matter.

There is another option, too, although sadly it is a convenience that these days unavoidably comes with a cost associated.  Use a travel agent.

A New Norwegian to Return

One of the saddest airline casualties of the last twelve months has been Norwegian.  Although I only flew them a couple of times, they had great crews, average to good service, and wonderful fares.

News came out this week of Norwegian’s founder, Bjorn Kos, and his plans to start a new trans-Atlantic airline, to be called Norse Atlantic Airways.  It will operate 787s between Europe and the US (and probably Canada), with bargain priced fares.

Not much more is yet known, but the airline hopes to be operational by the end of this year.  We just hope the DoT won’t shamefully stonewall them the same way they did Norwegian.

Interesting Analysis of Airplane Delivery Numbers

Here’s a fascinating analysis of the drop in airplane deliveries.  This table comes from it :

They have several other charts as well in their commentary, with the underlying main message being that although deliveries are way down, and for a new reason, this is not a unique occurrence and is likely to pass, the same way the other down cycles have also been restored back to an otherwise steady increase.

A Person Who Should Never Have Become a Pilot

A Boeing 717 being operated by a Qantas contractor, and flying between Alice Springs and Brisbane, suffered an engine failure less than an hour from landing in Brisbane.  (The 717 has two engines.)

The two pilots continued the flight, and landed safely in Brisbane without requesting an emergency landing or diverting to any closer airport.  No passengers were injured.

Engine failures in flight are something pilots train for all the time, and, in and of themselves, are unfortunate and regrettable, but also non-threatening events.

So, end of story, right?  No.  The copilot is now claiming she suffered post-traumatic stress after the incident and is suing Qantas for $780,000.

The article doesn’t tell us if she is still working as a pilot.  But, for sure, if I see a lady pilot with a name badge saying “Jacinda Cottee” on it, my own stress level will rise appreciably.  I’d rather have pilots up front on my flights who are more like Sully and the many others who quietly resolve a truly dangerous situation without any fuss or subsequent lawsuit.

If One Wing is Good, are Two Better?  How about Three?

The Wright Flyer and other early planes had two wings.  Two wing designs were easier to construct, particularly with the materials and aerodynamic understandings of the time.  But as speeds increased, the greater drag of a biplane became increasingly a factor, and better materials for making wings allowed single wing planes to become practical.  This article has a great discussion on the pluses and minuses of biplanes.

For a while, not only were there biplanes but triplanes as well – planes with three wings.  Think, in particular, of the Fokker triplane used by the “Red Baron” in World War 1.  The three wing concept was most famously represented in the Caproni Ca60 Transaero, a plane with three sets of triple-wings (and eight engines).

But the same problems that hindered biplanes were even more challenging in triplanes, and their life was much briefer, giving way first to biplanes and then to the single winged planes that are ubiquitous nowadays.

But might that be about to change?  As seen in the image at the top of the newsletter, a UK firm has designed a new version of a triplane.  It doesn’t have all the struts that created much of the drag in the earlier types of triplane, and it takes advantage of its design to allow it to create a “closed” wing – something that is increasingly trying to be approximately with the wing tips and sharklets or whatever at the end of single wings.  The closed wing design reduces the turbulence/vortices at the wing edges where the high and low pressure areas interact with each other.

We’re not sure if the benefit of the closed wing is improved by the third wing in the middle, but I’m sure they’ve run the numbers.

The company is trying to not only redesign the plane wing, but also re-engine it with a mix of electric and bio-fuel engines.  Unless they have very deep pockets, we’d suggest they make progress one step at a time.

Nonetheless, it is great to see a new innovative approach (if indeed a tri-wing is innovative) to airplane design.  We hope Boeing and Airbus are taking note.

A Different Perspective on Designing the Perfect SST

Depending on which of the assorted plans/projects for new supersonic passenger jets you choose to consider and ignore, there are perhaps three major contenders, each very different from each other :

  • Aerion AS2 – Mach 1.4, 8-10 passengers
  • Boom Overture – Mach 2.2, 65-88 passengers
  • Spike S-512 – Mach 1.6, 18 passengers

And, for comparisons, let’s remember Concorde

  • Concorde – Mach 2.04, 92-100 passsengers

I’ve always derided the Aerion concept as being too small and too slow.  Maybe it will prove practical at the high end of the private/business jet market, but as a plane that an airline like British Airways or United might choose to buy and operate, I don’t see it having much appeal.

I’ve generally felt the same about the Spike concept, too – still very small, and appreciably slower than the Concorde (Mach 2.04) or the new Boom concept which, at least on paper, is the clearest successor to Concorde.

This article is very sympathetic to the Spike plane, and explains its concept as being simply that of recreating a first class experience.  It is true that most airlines are quietly retiring their first class cabins, because they’ve made their business class product as good or better than what first class formerly was, and leaving too little extra in the way of luxury and amenities for first class to justify a massive extra cost in airfare.

So Spike says “here is a new way to create a first class experience – a combination of best quality travel experience, and also fastest possible speed”.  They then note that the typical first class cabin on a 747/A380 was in the region of 14 – 18 seats, and hence the plane’s specification – 18 seats.  In effect, it is a first class only airplane.

But therein lies the problem.  I’m not aware of any airline that has ever succeeded with an all first class or even all business class cabin.  Plenty have tried, but none have succeeded and grown to significant size and over multiple routes.

Just like “one hand washes the other” an airline’s cabins are co-dependent.  Without first and business class, it would be a struggle for most airlines, especially internationally and longer haul, to be viable.  But without coach class, it would again be a struggle.  Both premium and standard cabins are needed.

The other important ingredient in the Spike plane is a quieter sonic boom which it hopes will allow it to fly supersonically over land as well as over the oceans.  I’m not sure the extra routes will compensate for the passenger capacity, but it certainly does give it a lot more choices, although with a relatively low top speed of Mach 1.6 – not quite twice the Mach 0.85 or so that regular planes fly, it is only on perhaps five or six hour flights (at current speeds) that you start to see appreciable differences in travel time (remember that at least an hour of any flight is spent either on the ground, flying at very low speeds at low altitudes, or waiting for air traffic control delays).

With an already stated as “optimistic” entry into service planned for 2028, it will be some time yet before we know if the Spike concept is viable or not.

My money, for now, is on the Boom approach.

Yet Another Airplane Design

Seems to be a good week for airplane design concepts.

Here’s another interesting design – it works well for small sized planes but doesn’t scale well for larger commercial passenger jets, but apparently is very efficient for business jets.

Might Heathrow Collapse?

We hasten to explain that “collapse” means financially, rather than structurally!

This article ponders the question – it is a fairly ridiculous question, to which the answer is either “no” or “who cares” – with the “who cares” answer being in the sense that if the private company owning the airport should fail, there’d be any number of new companies eager to buy Heathrow from the failed company and its creditors.

In the worst case scenario, even though the UK government seems to hate the thought of Heathrow expanding, we’re certain the government wouldn’t stand back and allow the airport to fail and close.

What we did like about the article though were the fascinating charts and data analysis about Heathrow’s traffic and general projections for future air travel numbers.

And Lastly This Week….

Do you remember the “serial stowaway” – the lady who kept getting on flights without a ticket?  She has been quiet for a while, because she was in prison.

Here is a fascinating interview with her.  What I found most extraordinary of all was how she would successfully fly roundtrips to places.  Clearly, her techniques for slipping through security and onto planes without any ticket at all must have reliably worked more or less whenever she wished to use them.

At the end, she tells us she is now cured of her obsession on flying.

But then, barely a couple of days later, guess what….

To return to the concept of crime and punishment, we agree with her attorney.  She doesn’t deserve extended incarceration.  She needs counseling, compassion and support.  We also note that apparently her techniques for getting through airport security and onto flights don’t seem to help her get out of prisons.

There are a lot of unused planes out there at present.  Maybe with a bit of lateral thinking, at least some parts of them could be put to good use.  Such as, for example, this….

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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