Weekly Roundup, Friday 14 May 2021

Not only did this plane land safely, but its pilot didn’t even realize what had happened. See article, below.


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Good morning

I’ve been busily putting the finishing touches to the three August/September Travel Insider tours that I hope we can enjoy, depending on what Britain does in terms of allowing foreign visitors in between now and then.  At last I now have the three tour detail pages and the three day by day itineraries all completed, and a summary page that provides links to all these pages follows after this morning’s weekly roundup.

I realized a small thing.  When I first started offering tours to readers, almost 20 years ago, my itineraries were very short brief pages.  Each day’s itinerary had a sentence or two of narrative, and a single tiny (200 pixel wide) image.  Now, each day has up to three, sometimes even four pictures, up to 950 pixels in width, and multiple paragraphs of narrative.

The day by day itineraries are miniature travelogs, and can be helpful to you if you’re planning your own self-drive itineraries.  I’ve had readers tell me they do this, that they’ve based their own travels on my group itineraries, and I’m absolutely pleased that you do that.  I’ll think about some way to store an archive of such things as itinerary suggestions for posterity, rather than allowing older group details to just “disappear” into the sands of time.

I discuss the evolving English approach to admitting visitors below.

What else this week?  Yesterday’s Covid diary entry (also below) has a couple of “must-read” items that I urge you to read – they’re in the introductory section, available for all to read.

My diary started off with the concept of recording our mutual shared fight against the virus, but somewhere along the way, during the 200+ articles I’ve published, it has switched to now recording our fight against public health authorities – a more vexing and surely less necessary action than a united fight against the virus.  But, alas, it is increasingly an essential fight, and even when the authorities “give in” (eg the CDC and their removal of mask wearing mandates) the nature of their capitulation creates more questions and problems than it solves.

The hoped for boost in good sense when the administrations changed in January has yet to become apparent – it seems the deck chairs may have been re-arranged, but the Titanic is still being crewed by the same incompetents, and steered by the same venal self-interest groups.

Sunday’s Covid diary entry is online, here.

What else?  Please keep reading for :

  • Air Travel Numbers Heading Strongly Up
  • Travel Insider Touring and the UK’s Entry Policies
  • Chaos at Heathrow
  • Boeing’s Problems
  • Amazing Mid-Air Crash with No Casualties
  • How Could Ford be so Stupid/Greedy?
  • Least Surprising News Story – Virgin Galactic Delays Again
  • More Unsurprising News – New US High Speed Train in Doubt
  • And Lastly This Week….

Air Travel Numbers Heading Strongly Up

A week ago, we were averaging air passenger numbers that were 61.4% of 2019 numbers.  Now, the average has climbed up to 66.6% of 2019 numbers – that’s a very strong rate of growth for the last seven days.

The puzzlement of the slow-down during April remains all the more puzzling because of the strong growth both before and after the April slump, but there’s no mistaking the upward trend at present.

Travel Insider Touring and the UK’s Entry Policies

First, the numbers.  A week ago, the UK was reporting an average of 2,044 new cases every day and an average of 12 deaths a day.  The new daily case number has grown to 2,297 a day (about the same as two weeks ago) but the death rate has dropped further, to 9 deaths a day (remember there is a lag between what happens to the new case numbers and what happens to the death numbers).

This is disappointing, although it seems most people in the UK are considering the new case number, whether it be 2,044 or 2,297, to be wonderfully low and there seems little concern at the 10% rise over the last seven days.  Last Friday the Prime Minister announced policies for allowing Britons to travel out of the country and for foreigners to come in, with three categories of countries.

I discuss this strange announcement and the lack of rational support for the logic apparently behind it in Sunday’s Covid Diary entry.  Suffice it to say that at present, the US is in the middle tier, rather than the “least risk” tier.

But these placements will be reviewed every three weeks, and while the UK numbers have plateaued, our US numbers are rapidly dropping every day, as you can see in the above chart.  If that continues, then our rate will be low enough to justify moving into the least-risk tier well before August.

The other puzzling omission from the PM’s policy announcement was special consideration for people who have been vaccinated.  That’s definitely an omission that needs to be corrected, and of course, travel industry groups all around the world are beating a path to his door currently to discuss that with him.

So the news wasn’t as positive as hoped for, but on the other hand, we never expected Britain to open its borders in May or June.  That’s why we chose tour dates in August and September – to give time for policies to evolve and for US case numbers to hopefully continue to drop further.

So please do go ahead and register your interest for whichever of the tours you’d like to join us on now.  There won’t be any need for deposits until things become more “real”, but it does help to get a sense of numbers now so I can try and pencil in rooms in hotels.

The EU’s promises of opening up to US tourists continue apace, but as yet, there has not been any action to back up their promises with reality.  And that’s exactly as we predicted, too.

Chaos at Heathrow

One point, though.  Whenever you next fly to Britain, we urge you not to fly through Heathrow.  There are up to six, sometimes even up to seven hour delays to get through Immigration at Heathrow at present.  This is appalling mismanagement by everyone concerned – the Border Force immigration department, the airport, and the airlines.  Heathrow and the airlines, together with the Border Force, should coordinate airplane arrivals, exactly the same as they do for air traffic control purposes, to keep the arriving numbers of passengers in line with the processing capacity of the staff managing the immigration booths.

Of course, Border Force needs to employ more staff.  That goes without saying.  There’s no excuse at all for inadequate manning – the UK charges a huge amount of fees and taxes for people flying into Britain and can surely afford adding more officers.  But, leaving that issue to one side, until it has adequate staff, Heathrow needs to turn away airplanes that are scheduled to arrive if their passengers can’t be processed within (say) an hour of arrival.

Heathrow has been fussing for years about a third runway to give it extra capacity.  But at present, it has a much simpler capacity constraint to resolve.  Until it does, you should fly to other London airports, or to other airports in the UK, unless you like standing in line for almost as much time as it took you to fly to Heathrow in the first place.

Boeing’s Problems

Do you remember the 777 that had an engine explode, burst into flames, and rain pieces of engine casing over Denver, a month or two back?

The FAA is now requiring some changes to the engines to minimize the risk of another similar catastrophic uncontained engine failure.  That is to be expected.  But what I found amusing was the way the event was carefully described in this article – the engine was “involved in an emergency landing”.  That’s a bit like saying the Hindenburg was involved in an unexpected fire.

But engine problems aren’t directly Boeing’s problem.  Unlike its current problem causing around 100 737 MAX planes to be grounded again for vaguely described electrical problems – an electrical grounding (nothing to do with a plane being grounded ie unable to fly) problem.

This problem has been out there now for many weeks.  A grounding problem is usually not very complicated to fix, which makes me wonder if we’re being given the full story about this problem.  Is there an underlying more serious challenge, possibly to do with the main computers being close to overloaded with control inputs now?

Amazing Mid-Air Crash with No Casualties

You know how bad it is when two cars collide on the highway.  Now imagine what happens when two planes collide in mid-air.

But don’t get carried away with your imagining.  This story recounts how a small plane (a single-engine Cirrus SR-22) collided with a twin-engined Fairchild Metroliner that was being used to carry freight and had a single pilot.

The Metroliner’s pilot didn’t even realize there’d been a collision (but look at his plane in the picture at the top of the page!).  He just thought there was an engine problem and landed with no difficulty.  The Cirrus plane’s pilot realized there was a problem, but wasn’t worried.  There’s a special lever you can pull in a Cirrus plane, which, when pulled, activates a parachute.  The Cirrus floated gently down to the ground accordingly.

Makes you wonder why all planes don’t have parachutes.  There actually is a reason why they don’t – see if you can guess.

How Could Ford be so Stupid/Greedy?

I like Ford.  I joke that the only brand of car I’ve ever owned is Ford (because Jaguar and LandRover were both owned by Ford for a while).  But even Ford can apparently come up with some really bad ideas, like this one – a way of beaming video ads from roadside billboards to the display screen in your car.

That sure sounds not just like a potentially dangerous distraction but also an unwanted invasion into one’s private space.  Ford needs to understand that just because something might be technologically feasible does not mean it should be implemented.

Least Surprising News Story – Virgin Galactic Delays Again

Both the Bezos and Musk space ship projects are proceeding rapidly to a point that they’ll soon start taking passengers up into space on joyride flights.  But what about Virgin Galactic and its endless loop of delays and deferments and broken promises for when they’ll start operating the flights they promised would be operational well over a decade ago?

Ummm – they’ve just announced a further possible delay, making their May target for their next flight unlikely (need I remind you we’re half-way through May already).  Their shares, ridiculously high in February, have now collapsed in price and are trading at about one quarter of their February high of $62.80.

But what do I know.  Analysts are recommending you should buy shares at present.

More Unsurprising News – New US High Speed Train in Doubt

I commented in some detail last week about the inadequate plans and promises for funding future high speed rail developments in the US, even with a very pro-rail President who is just itching to spend money on infrastructure projects.

Even more disappointing is the news this week that a possible ultra-fast maglev train between Washington DC and Baltimore might not proceed, at any cost, because it would have too much impact on people and perhaps parklands along the route.

What is this paralysis which we have inflicted upon ourselves?  While I’m as uncomfortable as anyone when it comes to abusing the privilege of eminent domain we give to the states and federal government, the other sort of eminent domain abuse is refusing to use it.  Clearly, the concept of eminent domain dates all the way back to the drafting of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and it recognizes that sometimes the government has to act unilaterally for the public good.

Isn’t high speed rail – eco-friendly, carbon-friendly, etc etc, a public good?  Are we going to allow a few dozens of “nimby” types to veto this and essentially/potentially any/every other public works project?

Meanwhile, the Europeans look upon us with puzzlement, and the Chinese look upon us with derision.

And Lastly This Week….

An expensive mistake for a mask scofflaw on a JetBlue flight.

It seems we like flying on largely empty planes, and transiting through largely empty airports.  Who would have guessed that?  The latest JD Power survey shows passenger satisfaction with airlines reached a new record high last year.

But does it make your pee glow in the dark?  Authorities have seized over 1,500 bottles of Atomik, a spirit made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

I’ve always had a “healthy respect” for heights, and while I can rationalize the concept of standing on glass platforms way above the ground below, part of that rational evaluation involves a consideration of the country I’m in and their safety standards.  So I feel somewhat vindicated at having well-before decided I’d never stand on any such platform in China, when reading about what happened to this glass-floored bridge, 330 ft above the ground, in China.

A new seven-seater electric-powered plane will list for $2.5 million, according to this article.  That’s all well and good, but perhaps the more pressing question, in view of the earlier discussion of the Cirrus SR22, is whether or not it comes with a parachute.  Oh yes – and a fire extinguisher too.

Until next week, please stay healthy and safe





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