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Friday, 29 November 2013

A Doco About Aviation Geeks, by an Aviation Geek

Hi Guys,

I want to give a plug to my half-dozen or so readers about a guy who's trying to finance a doco about "avgeeks". If you have a few dollars to spare (literally, anything over $1 is fine), you can contribute to a very worthy cause! Check it out & support him if you can.

Without further waffle, here's the link straight to his website:  AIRHEADS Documentary

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Perils of Pride

Back in the 1960's, the world was moving very fast. But in the world of aircraft & airliner design, they wanted to move even faster. Obscenely fast; & we're not just talking mildly profane, we're talking really offensive.

The collaborative efforts of Britain & France, through their state-owned aerospace companies BAC & SUD /Aerospatiale respectively, were the first to have a plane on the drawing board, capable of trans-Atlantic crossings at twice the speed of sound (mach 2). Russia's cold war spies were hard at work & soon the Soviets had their equivalent, the Tu-144, taking shape.
The Russians are here too. The Tu-144
The future is here. Enter, The Concord

But in the United States, they had a couple of problems. Firstly, they didn't have state-owned aircraft companies that the Government could pump millions of dollars into. The closest they had to that was NASA, & it was busy trying to figure out how to get to the moon. Secondly, most of the major aircraft manufacturers were busy being the latter half of the Military-Industrial Complex, building fighter jets, cargo planes & tankers for the USAF, Navy & Marines, to be born into battle in the skies over Vietnam. Nothing helps the demand for warplanes more than a war.

But the biggest problem America had was its' national pride. The Brits, the French, &, worst of all, the Russians, all had something that they didn't. Just like with radar & the jet engine, America was once again left behind & late to the party.

But Kennedy was a man of vision & big ambitions, & despite wars & rumours of wars, seemingly stimulated the national pride like no other at the time. He seemed to inspire the attitude that "anything they can do, we can do better". So whilst having challenged NASA to find a way to the moon, he threw out the challenge to aviation manufacturers to build America's own Supersonic Transport (SST) airliner. But forget mach 2; he told them he wanted mach 3.

Airline designers took the baton & got to work. Their plane would be bigger & better than anything the rest of the world could produce. It sounded like something that later inspired the unforgettable opening voice-over to "The Six Million Dollar Man" TV show..."we have the technology...we have the capability...better...faster..."

As ambition gave way to endorphin overload, so the concept of supersonic passenger travel gave way to something ever grander; a hypersonic transport (HST). Forget mach 3, lets do mach 5!

Credit: The Aerospace Project Review Blog
But as drawings led to thoughts of costs & materials, a very real problem emerged. Early flight testing of the Concorde revealed that the airframe would stretch by up to 10 inches during supersonic flight, as heat from friction between the air & the aircraft softened the aluminium. They calculated that at mach 3, it would literally melt it. At the time, the only thing they knew that could withstand mach 3 was titanium, as used in part on the mach 3 SR-71 "Blackbird", & later, the Mig-25 "Foxbat".

The problem with titanium, not to mention its' cost, was that it is very heavy. To build engines powerful enough to push a titanium airliner with 200 passengers through the skies at mach 3 or more, you would need fuel tanks the size of the entire aircraft itself. And then you have the problem that the weight of all that fuel only makes the aircraft even heavier, virtually guaranteeing a self-perpetuating, endless cycle of practical hopelessness. And then finally you would have to convince those 200 passengers to ride in what would essentially be supersonic bomb.

Pretty soon they realised it just wasn't going to happen. And if they couldn't do faster, they would have to settle for bigger. The Boeing 747, originally designed as a cargo plane for the USAF in competition with the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (the latter winning), would soon become the dominant long-haul commercial airliner for the next 25 years.

America's experiment with SST & HST was always fanciful, but at least they saw, as Britain & France soon found out, that it was never going to be financially viable either. The Anglo-French Concorde is an eternal symbol of aviation genius & beauty, but was also a symbol of their national pride as well, & the pride of those who flew on it.

Whether you judge national pride to be a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. It does seem to give birth to endless invention & technological advance. But at what cost?

Friday, 13 September 2013

Black Thai Event

Back in February I wrote a blog about the Alitalia ATR-72 which ran off a runway & not only lost all its pride but also its complete Alitalia livery by the next morning. (Click here:  "The Italian Job: A Complete Whitewash").

Well, it seems the doctrine of "Brand Protection" just goes on & on. Last week a Thai Airways A330-300 suffered a nose gear collapse & went off the runway in Bangkok. Injuries & damage were relatively minimal, but of greatest concern to some in the airline was obviously the brand.

The Thai Airways livery is quite a pretty one. One any planespotting visit to Sydney, my wife will always say, "Look, there's the plane with the pretty purple tail!"
Photo:  flickriver.com
 But seriously, is this any way to treat it?

Photo:  Associated Press
You'd be mistaken for thinking this was a bad photoshopping job, but this crude insult to a beautiful brand was actually done in the name of attempting to preserving it. Go figure.

Photo: Bangkok Post
And whilst the Alitalia ATR was completely repainted, albeit very hastily, this effort, in my opinion, just adds insult to injury. Here's what happened the night before....

And when she was finally back on her feet, the Airbus was sporting something of a black eye.

What's my point? The simple fact is that everyone knows it was a Thai Airways plane. Hiding the brand doesn't make the problem go away; it just makes it worse. You don't see the media reporting, "A mysterious plane who's identity we can't be sure of has crash landed today in Bangkok. But don't worry, I'm sure it's not whatever airline you're flying on to, from or within Thailand."

No, instead, everyone knows it was Thai Airways. In fact, probably several times more people know about it now because the "brand protection" exercise received more formal & social media attention than the actual mishap did.

When will they ever learn?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Aviation & The Search for the Meaning of Life

My name's Ron Lucock & I like aeroplanes. I like looking at them in magazines. I look at them on the internet. I even have fantasies about them.

I'm not into cars. I don't smoke, drink alcohol or play any sport.

I've never actually grabbed a plane by the controls & flown one in the air. Like most people, my life is the product of the resources & opportunities allotted me. Some people might say they make their own opportunities. I say good luck to them. Some people, either by their choices, or through no fault of their own whatsoever, don't even get the opportunity to create an opportunity. Some just have to play the cards they're dealt.

My thing is aeroplanes. The only problem is, I don't know why. And because I don't know why I like aeroplanes, I feel somewhat silly most of the time, even embarrassed.

And then those closest to me will tell me I'm silly for feeling silly about it. They tell me I should just accept & embrace it. You'd think I was coming out or something.

But I'm intimidated by what I don't understand about myself. I don't have to understand big things, like the universe, or gravity, or teenagers. There's so much in nature that I can't understand, yet it absolutely fascinates me. But when it comes to me, I expect to know what's going on. Yet I don't, & it drives me mad.

I can't think of any one event that could have possibly spawned a life-long interest in aviation. My father often talks of the time he took me to Sydney Airport as a little boy, where a replica of Sir Charles Kingsford Smiths' "Southern Cross" hung from the terminal ceiling in honour of the airport's namesake. "Look daddy, it's got wiiiiings!!", I'm told I excitedly yelled. But I can't say that's what got me hooked on aeroplanes. I obviously already knew what a wing was after all.

I'm a man of faith. Is my interest in aviation a gift from God? Are we "given" interests? Do they come pre-installed at conception? I would gladly give up my day job to be a pilot for organisations like Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). But at 45 & no pilots' licence, that aint gonna happen. I think my wife & kids might have something to say about that too. So why was I given this gift, if that's what it is?

Are we given interests purely to have something to be interested in? To have something to do? Is that partly what makes us different from animals & robots? And if man was made in God's image, does that mean God has interests outside of things like salvation for all mankind & the end of the world? 

They're fanatics! Check 'em out.
Alone & isolated, I feel like a complete twit sometimes for being interested in aviation. Then I go to an airshow, or see planespotters at airports, or think about how much money is involved in this industry. Or sometimes it just takes a post from "Aircraft Fanatics" in my Facebook news feed, to remind me I'm not alone. We are legion, for we are many.

So to my fellow enthusiasts, be you armchair or professional, thank you, & may you keep & enjoy the passion, excitement & thrill of what you do. Whether you're making Airfix kits, listening to ATC scanners, planespotting, Tumbling, blogging, or flying for a living or in service to your country's defense, can I encourage you to follow your dream, & keep doing what you love. We might not know why we do it, but do it anyway.


Friday, 23 August 2013

100 Happy Virgins

Firstly let me apologise to anyone who actually follows my blogs. I haven't written much in a couple of months; been too distracted playing airline empires.

But tonight I return, not with any great pearls of aviation wisdom, perception or crap, but just to celebrate with Virgin Australia on the delivery of their 100th Boeing 737.

I know, I know, lots of airlines fly 100 B737's or more. Some fly two or three times more. But Australia is not a big country. Well, actually it is. It's about the same size as the USA, or you could fit pretty much all of western Europe into it.

But our entire national population is only about 22 million. The United Kingdom has three times that number & yet you could fit England, Scotland & Wales into the Australian state of Victoria. And Victoria is one of our smallest states. Let's just say we like to spread ourselves out. Having a great big desert in the middle of your country also helps.

Virgin Australia started with only two leased B737's, only $10m in the bank (courtesy of Mr Branson), & a lot of balls (also borrowed from Mr Branson). They started at a time when Qantas & Ansett dominated Australian domestic aviation in a cosy duopoly, while others who tried to break into it neither lived long nor prospered. Then known as Virgin Blue, their motto was "keeping the air fair".

September 11 2001 was a terrible day for humanity, & the flow-on effects put many airlines into bankruptcy. But what few in Australia knew was that the very day before, September 10 2001, Australia's 2nd biggest & equally iconic airline, Ansett Australia, was already bankrupt. It's owners, Air New Zealand no less, were offering it for a song to Qantas; literally handing them complete domination of the Australian skies. Qantas said they would think about it & get back to them. The next day they decided it wasn't a good day to buy an
airline. And whilst Australians, like the rest of the world, sat glued to their news broadcasts, another lesser story but closer to home suddenly broke - Ansett was gone.

Whilst it was no time to gloat, Virgin Blue realised it had been suddenly thrown a break. And whilst Qantas scrambled to find additional capacity, Virgin Blue humbly stepped up to the plate. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Congratulations, Virgin Australia, on your evolution into a trusted, quality airline. Congratulation in succeeding where many had failed. Congratulations on the success of your engaged, customer-focused management & staff, on the proliferation of your brand, & on your growing network into the regional, low cost & premium airline markets.

Live long & prosper. You've earned it.

The photographs presented here are from Virgin Australia's Facebook page & used in full credit, respect & recognition of their uber awesomeness.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

When it comes to my nations' "national carrier" (whatever that means these days), I've tried not to disparage Qantas just for the sake of it. But sometimes I just don't understand things.

This week social media was abuzz with Qantas's announcement of its' 250 Boeing aircraft, which they all seem to think is a big deal. Once upon a time, we all thought the price of petrol reaching $1.00/litre was  big deal too.

An interesting Qantas/Boeing partnership timeline was then presented (click here) which starts off with references to DC-3's & De Havilland aircraft, because "both companies eventually became part of Boeing". Somehow I don't think both aircraft were still in production when that occurred. It also doesn't mention that Boeing only owned De Havilland for 6 years, lost a billion dollars on it, before selling it to Bombardier in 1992.

Both the timeline, & the press statement from CEO Alan Joyce, continue to remind us that Qantas invented Business Class in the glory days of the late 1970's. Unfortunately they didn't patent it & many other airlines have certainly perfected it. The repetitive crowing of their great achievement nearly 35 years ago reminds me of the Barry Manilow song where Lola is still sitting at the bar of the Copacabana, still wearing the same dress she wore 30 years ago when she was a showgirl. She's lost her youth & she's lost her Tony, now she's lost her mind. Qantas may well be feeling the same way.

IN: A "Qantas Boeing" DC-9
And then the timeline brings in Australia's then-Government owned domestic airline, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), which was later re-branded as just Australian Airlines. TAA/Australian operated B727 & B737-300 aircraft, as well as Douglas DC-9's which are also reportedly included in the tally. This was when Douglas was still Douglas/MDC, & DC-9's were still DC-9's, not B717's! 

TAA/Australian itself was never in fact Qantas. At best, the two airlines could be described as "brothers". Both were wholly owned by the Commonwealth Government of Australia; Qantas did the international duties with an all-B747 fleet, whilst TAA/Australian was the domestic airline. Although there was the occasional bit of plane-swapping from time to time, the two airlines were completely separate of each other. It was only for reasons of economic rationalism (ie, privatisation), that TAA was absorbed into Qantas, before the combined package was then sold off.

OUT: A "not-Qantas-enough" B717
But whilst the Douglas DC-9's of a different airline are included in the list, according to Australian Aviation magazine, the tally doesn't include actual Boeing 717's in Qantas colours operated by Qantas subcontractor Cobham Aviation Services. It seems the definition of what is a Qantas Boeing aircraft over time & what isn't is a bit wibbly-wobbly.

And just to make matters a bit more confusing, despite being pictured & mentioned on the timeline, Australian Aviation magazine also reports that the list actually doesn't include the DC-3's. Go figure.

The timeline finishes with mention of the proud pending arrival of the B787 Dreamliner, the first of which will be operated by Qantas LCC subsidiary Jetstar. And whilst the press release thanks Boeing for their support, & Qantas pledges their "continued strong partnership", it seems that Boeing just had to cop it on the chin when Qantas cancelled 35 of their 85 Dreamliners ordered, including many which occupied early production slots reserved by Boeing for Qantas, which was a big deal-sweetener at the time of the order. Just as sweet for Qantas is the compensation payments it now receives from Boeing for delays in the delivery of the remaining 50.

The mothership. Definitely not a Boeing
Regardless of how many Boeing aircraft Qantas has received over the decades, I'm just left wondering what it's all actually supposed to prove. It's true that Boeing make good planes. In the days of the B707 & early B747 models, Boeing was the only maker of planes that could connect our isolated country with much of the rest of the world. Since then, Qantas is also happy to use Airbus A330 & A380 aircraft, the latter proudly now occupying the coveted "flagship" position. Qantas is happy to fleet out Jetstar in A320's & A330's, whilst I'm sure Boeing regards Virgin Australia as an important customer too, operating B737 aircraft as well as the only Australian B777 operator. Qantas rejected the B777 on the basis that it was too little capacity for LA & London, whilst too much for much of Asia. VA chose it in preference to the A340. I'm happy to respect Qantas's decision, but you only have to sit & watch the comings & goings on SYD 34L to see that many of the worlds airlines also have no problem bringing B777's to & from Australia every day.

At the end of the day, Qantas's orders over the years are relatively small compared to some other airlines, particularly the big US airlines. And more to the point, Boeing salesmen would run over their grandmothers to sell planes to anyone, anywhere.

So hooray for Qantas, hooray for Boeing, & thank Heavens for Airbus.

Want to read more?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Excuse me while I run my imaginary airline!

For those who subscribe to my blog, you may have noticed I've been a little quiet over the past month or so. Well, there's a reason, & it's summed up in just two words: Airline Empires.

There are a number of airline simulation games on the web. Many of them cost real money, either to purchase or participate in. Among the free ones, some are pretty lame (eg: www.puffgames.com/airline), some are initially addictive but ultimately pointless (eg: www.takeoffgame.com). Some I've found to be incredibly complicated or slow in their gameplay (eg: www.airlinemogul.com), although that may be just due to my own impatience.

And then, like an oasis in the desert, I discovered Airline Empires. This game is seriously addictive & realistic enough in enough respects. There are various game worlds which usually span a forty year period, some starting in the '60's or 70's (when Fokker Friendships & DC-10's ruled the skies), whilst others might start at 1980, 1990 or even 2000, the latter ones including all models of B787's, A350's & Bombardier C Series aircraft. Game play usually runs at 1 Day = 20 min real world, which means 1 month in the game will take about 10 hours real time, or a year takes about 5 days. And it's totally free.

I do have a few criticisms of it. It doesn't appear that you can do refuelling stopovers, so Sydney to London for example is out of the question if you can't stop over in Singapore or (for QF flyers now), Dubai. The other problem is that you're competing against other online players in real time, many of whom are die-hard, experienced players who take the game very seriously. Many players are also teenagers on the other side of the planet flying airlines in your home country with no idea of the relevance or importance of any of the particular cities. When you start competing against B727's flying between Sydney & Newcastle (think Jetstream 31 territory), you know something is wrong.

But for those looking for an innocent obsession & are interested in airline simulation games, I highly recommend it. And they haven't paid me a cent to say this.

Find the game here: www.airline-empires.com

PS. Just don't mess with Airboss777 or Benevolent Airlines!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

6th Gen Fighter on the Drawing Board

As I've said before, I'd prefer to talk about civilian aviation than stuff that goes bang, but occasionally said stuff catches my eye.

Case in point, the F/A-XX. Whilst the US Air Force is shutting down squadrons left, right & centre (See story - USAF sequestration groundings), & the F-35 is still basically wrapped in cotton wool & years behind schedule, the US Navy has reportedly already put out an invitation to the industrial-military complex to come up with the next big thing.

Without plagiarising someone else's work, see the story here.

It seems the US Navy still has money to burn.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Tiger to Go if ACCC Say No

Somewhere in a government funded office, a small number of employees of the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission (ACCC) are trying to make a decision on the fate of Tiger Airways.

The situation before them is simple enough. Virgin Australia wants to buy a 60% stake in fledgling Tiger Airways for the bargain basement price of about $36 mil. What they'd get for their money is about a dozen A320's, a similar number of routes, & a sledge hammer to knee-cap Qantas at the Low Cost Carrier (LCC) end of the market.

Photo: australianaviation.com.au
Photo: australianaviation.com.au

But the ACCC is worried. They fear a scenario where Qantas & Virgin control the complete Australian airline market spectrum in a synchronised duopoly. As a result, the expected due date for their decision this week was preempted to announce that they need more time, more information, & no doubt a lot more coffee.

At stake in their decision is not just a huge commercial advantage to Virgin Australia. The very existence of Tiger Airways & employment of some 500 staff hang in the balance. Tiger Airways hasn't made a profit since it began 5 years ago, & it's Singaporean masters have pretty much had enough. There's plenty of gossip around that Tiger may be folded if the deal falls through, & I have been personally told by a Tiger Airways pilot that an email has circulated to all staff advising that this is precisely what will happen.

Are Tiger staff about to get their marching orders?
Photo: www.ausbt.com.au
The ACCC is aware of this too. According to The Australian newspaper, "ACCC chairman Rod Sims indicated the commission could approve the merger if there was proof Tiger could fail without Virgin's intervention and there was a commitment to increasing capacity at the financially troubled low-cost carrier to make it a viable competitor to Qantas's Jetstar operation."

Virgin has already stated that they plan to pump cash into the company & increase the Tiger fleet to up to 35 aircraft, but beyond that, seem coy about offering any further "commitment" in such a limited, volatile & potentially fatal business environment. They might be keen, but they're not stupid.

 And whilst a rejection might mean an unfortunate crash landing for Tiger & its staff, I doubt it would be the end of the world for Virgin & its' desire to take on Jetstar. There's been talk within the Virgin Australia boardrooms for years about starting their own "ultra" LCC, but it seemed Tiger was getting in the way of them getting a clean shot.

When Virgin traded in their sexy Embraer 170's for cheaper ATR-72's, they gave the job of operating them to their new friends at Skywest airlines, as they were "more experienced" in operating turboprop aircraft. Skywest now operates the A320, which will soon be flying in Virgin Australia colours since Virgin successfully bought out 100% of Skywest too. The A320 is the LCC aircraft of choice, operated by both Tiger & Jetstar. You see where this is going? I predict, if the Tiger deal falls over, Virgin will lease a whole bunch of A320's, come up with a new brand name, & give them to Skywest to run their LCC against Jetstar whilst the Virgin Australia brand goes after the high end from Qantas. And if Virgin cant have Tiger, they'll simply rub them off the map. 

For the sake of all the dedicated, hard working & committed Tiger staff, I personally hope that the ACCC sees reason & has a little compassion, & sees fit to grant them a new lease of life. Best wishes Tiger.

ACCC Website. What happens now is anyones' guess.


Friday, 22 February 2013

Qantas Profits from NOT Flying the 787

Qantas announced its six-month profit results the other day. Here's the key features as I see them:

Firstly, Qantas seems to make more money NOT flying the 787 than they would if they were flying it! A pre-tax net profit of $223m looks impressive, but more than half of that, $125m in fact, was a compensation payment from Boeing for the 787 delays. It seems it pays to be patient!

Secondly - good news folks! Qantas international operations only lost $91,000,000 these past six months! Woohoo!! At least that's better than the reported $171,000,000 loss for the same period last year.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in financial sickness & in health, Qantas management seems to be trying to do everything they can to navigate the iceberg-filled ocean of commercial aviation. I don't always agree with their strategic decisions & management style, but I have to accept that I'm only an inexperienced amateur observer, & they are the ones whose CV's say they know what they're doing. I have to accept that they're doing their best. And I have to be grateful that I don't go to bed with the multi-million dollar headaches that the QF chiefs do. 

I'm making a resolution to try & change my attitude towards Qantas, & adopt that which is shared by the executives, pilots, crews & all staff who actually love their jobs & give their 100% best. I don't know exactly how I'm going to do that, but I guess it's like learning to enjoy broccoli; you just have to try it.

Media resources:

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Sydney's THIRD Airport?

Whilst our beloved politicians & industry representatives wrestle with the politically fatal issue of Sydney's second airport at either Badgerys Creek or Wilton, Wyong Council, on the NSW Central Coast, is quietly envisioning Sydney's third.

Truth be known, they in fact audaciously hoped it would become Sydney's second major airport. According to news reports, secret emails between council staff & advisers certainly referred to it as such, & they decided to deliberately mask the plan as a "regional airport" to avoid community backlash. Upon the media catching wind of it, council officials played the "regional airport" tune exactly to the script, & blamed the media for beating the whole thing up. As they say, never believe anything until it's officially denied.

Bushells Ridge, proposed site for the Central Coast
Regional Airport
According to council, what they have officially done is identified a 900ha site just a few kms north of an existing small aerodrome (which is sparsely used & likely to be sold off to property developers), which they propose be set aside to build a "regional airport" with a single 2,600m runway within the next 10 years.

So just what exactly can you do with a 2,600m runway? Well, to put it in perspective, Sydneys' "parallel" runway 16L/34R is 2,438m. It daily handles anything up to A330s & B767's. Coolangatta Airports' main runway, on the Queensland Gold Coast, is 2,342m, & also handles international Air Asia X A330's & B777's from Singapore's LCC Scoot.

Quite simply, a 2,600m runway could handle just about anything from anywhere except a B747, A380, or anything  Antonov!

But that shouldn't be a problem. The Federal Transport Minister, whilst publicly backing the proposal as a regional airport to serve the region, has stated that Sydney still needs a second major airport in Sydney. Whether it be Badgerys Creek or Wilton, one of them will definitely still happen sometime this century, just not this side of September's federal elections. The Minister might not even be the Minister by the end of the year.

Critics of the plan point out that it's only a stone's throw from Newcastle Airport, which is also keenly trying to increase its presence. But Newcastle Airport is living on borrowed time. What most people chose to forget is that the airport is actually called RAAF Base Williamtown, & is the primary F/A-18 jet fighter base for the entire east coast of Australia. The Air Force is not keen to give the airlines any more slots & would love to see them gone altogether. A Central Coast airport might just be their solution.

What doesn't appear to be on anyone's radar is Illawarra Regional Airport, near Wollongong on the NSW South Coast. It already has a 1,820m runway which could technically handle A320 / B737 aircraft, although the airport would need considerable upgrading to handle the weight & apron movements for such activity. The airport would be a gateway for the entire, rapidly developing south coast of the state, but unfortunately, there just doesn't seem to be the interest or will in making it happen.

Ultimately, having two airports in Sydney, plus the Central Coast isn't a bad idea. If you consider how the three airports on the south east of Queensland function along side each other - Gold Coast, Brisbane, & Sunshine Coast - you can see how Sydney would benefit from the same "three strand cord" approach. Ideally, having three airports comprising Central Coast, Sydney & South Coast would have been ideal to the point of orgasmic. But enough about my fantasies.

Councils are great at proposing grand things but generally poor in actually making them happen. But given the changing face of airline operations over the next 10 - 20 years, this thing might just become necessary. One can only hope.

Media reports:

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Top Gear Chopper Stopper

Ok, I'm not a helicopter pilot, & any technical reports on this don't appear to be surfacing anywhere, which is surprising considering the accident happened almost a year ago. The following video footage however has only just been released in the last 24 hours. Most media outlets showing the video describe what they see, but no one is saying what exactly went wrong, other than "mechanical failure" or that the pilot "lost control". Watch this:

Notice how early in the video, at about 13-14 seconds in, the pilot pulls up & performs a sharp turn to the left, pulling it off quite successfully. After the "race", he performs the same maneuver again, this time to the right. It's during this turn that the aircraft appears to continue straight for just a second or two at a high angle of bank, rather than complete the turn. It loses valuable height (it didn't have much to begin with), & then it appears the pilot is trying to level out the bank, desperate for the rotors to dig in & claw back up again. But there's not enough time, & not enough altitude. 

So what went wrong? Some sources say "mechanical error". One site quotes the pilot, John Lam, as saying,
“The accident was caused by a faulty flight control part known as a servo. This part controls the pitch mechanism of the rotor’s control which is why the helicopter made the turn it did.” (1)

I stress again that I am not a technical expert on the matter, so I cannot dispute or confirm the above statement. But from an observational point of view, it would seem that "the helicopter made the turn it did" because the pilot made it do it; not once, but twice. The turn which led to the accident was a carbon copy of the earlier turn at the start of the video which was performed flawlessly. No one doubts the experience of the veteran retired pilot & all are grateful he escaped without serious injury, but even heros have bad days sometimes. At that angle of bank, at that altitude, with a split second hesitation mid-turn, & it's all over.

As I said, everyone's just glad he was able to walk away from it. Here's further footage from inside the chopper & different ground angle.

If anyone has any further technical info on this, leave us a comment either here or on our facebook page via the link at the top right of the blog.

(1) http://www.wheels.ca/news/top-gear-helicopter-crashes-while-filming-stunt/

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Italian Job: A Complete Whitewash

Earlier this week, an ATR-72 turboprop flying a domestic sector within Italy suffered an unfortunate landing mishap & ended up in a grass ditch. Six people were injured. The pilots are blaming strong crosswinds.

But what's more intriguing than the blame game & paperwork is what happened next. Whilst the plane was left in situ overnight after the crash, the next morning it had experienced a remarkable transformation. Gone were all Alitalia Airlines markings. The only original things recognisable left were the aircraft's registration, & a small Romanian flag. Check out these before-&-after shots:

Why leave a Romanian flag? Because the seemingly Alitalia aircraft, carrying Italians around their beloved country on their proud national carrier, was actually owned & operated by Romanian airline Carpatair. Leaving the flag there was a directly racist statement saying "don't blame us, the Romanians did it." You will also notice that there are no windows left visible after the paint job. It was done so quickly, they didn't even have time to mask them over & paint around them.

According to Uk's Daily Mail Online, an Alitalia executive was quoted as saying:

"Blocking out a carrier's livery is a normal way of protecting a company's reputation, and even more in this case, because it is not an Alitalia plane....This is something that is done by airline companies in many countries and we are surprised that such a fuss is being made. It is a matter of brand protection."

"Brand protection". There's a couple of compassionate words. And whilst that may be one name for it, "tampering with the evidence of a crash site" is another.

"Not an Alitalia plane"? It was the day before when Alitalia was charging passengers to fly on it.

Such confirmation meanwhile of previous instances are rare. One example was an Air Canada landing mishap in 1997, when it was reported:

"Air Canada came in for its own share of criticism the day after the crash when it painted over its logo on the Bombardier-built Canadair Regional jet. A spokeswoman for the airline explained that removing the logo was standard practice after a crash: "The aircraft no longer belongs to Air Canada; it is now in the possession of the insurance underwriter." "

"Normal way"? "Standard Practice"? Do they teach this stuff in airline CEO school? What they attempt to preserve the next day, ie, their brand, does nothing to comfort the travelling public when it's all over the news the night before. In Alitalias' case, distancing themselves from the operator whilst children are in hospital from the crash just seems cold & heartless. But apparently it's not illegal.

Standing by your operators & tending to the tramatised would serve the brand better in my opinion.

Anyone bring the white paint?
And it's also not true that it's normal, standard or common. I've seen numerous photos of wrecked fuselages over the past decades. I've never seen airlines running to hide them.
US Airways flight 1549, which ditched in the Hudson River, proudly on
display in a museum in Charlotte NC, USA.

 I should also mention that the practice of third-party subcontract operators flying airplanes in major airline liveries is standard commercial practice for many airlines around the world. This, in itself, is not necessarily a commercial evil, provided full disclosure is provided to passengers. In Australia, Virgin Australia's ATR-72's are leased & operated by regional airline Skywest (although, in a new development, Virgin Australia has now acquired Skywest anyway). 


Now For Some Comedic Relief

While a couple more meaningful blogs are still on the stove, here's a couple of things to give you a bit of a chuckle. Enjoy.

Lego Top Gun!!
Complete with all your favourite scenes & that unforgettable soundtrack! Just brilliant!

Flight Safety Briefing Rap

There's multiple videos on Youtube of this guy & a few media interviews too. Very cool & creative!

Aviation Memes!

A fun site on facebook with daily updates. I can't guarantee every joke hits the mark, but some are hillarious! Well worth a look.

More blogs coming soon. Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

JetBlue: The Gods Must Be Crazy

In 1980 a South African-made movie came out about an empty glass coke bottle which was tossed out the window of a light aircraft flying over the Kalahari Desert. The bottle was found, unbroken, by a native from a  tribe so isolated they had never had contact with the outside, modern world before. At first they found many uses for this strange gift, but as the gods had only given them one bottle, they soon started fighting over it. In the end, it was decided that the object was more trouble than it was worth, & so the native who found it sets off on a trek to give it back to the gods by throwing it off the edge of the world, wherever that might be. The movie was called The Gods Must Be Crazy, & to this day it remains a cult classic around the world.

In the modern world of the United States, a low-cost airline by the name of JetBlue Airways might also be wondering whether the gods must be crazy. Because that's certainly a word that comes to mind when you look at a series of events over the last several years that seem to have befallen the popular airline.

After using up 3 km of runway, the
aircraft was still perfectly on the centreline.
1. Crazy Plane
In September 2005, a JetBlue A320 encountered what seemed to the world-wide news audience as a rather crazy landing gear malfunction. The nose wheel had rotated 90 degrees after takeoff & was stuck facing perpendicular to the fuselage. With extreme skill & precision, the flight crew landed the aircraft safely. It was later revealed that this was in fact the seventh time this had happened to an A320 globally. The nose gear & various components within it have since been redesigned, & it hasn't happened again since.

2. Crazy Flight Attendant
In August 2010, after landing in New York, a flight attendant had a reported altercation with a passenger in which he claimed he was hurt. Frustrated by certain passengers ignoring his requests to remain seated until the aircraft stopped at the terminal, the flight attendant began ranting over the public address system & verbally quit his job. He then grabbed two bottles of beer from the airplane's stock & activated the emergency escape slide at the rear door. He slid down the chute & ran across the tarmac. An hour & a half later, he was arrested at his home.

3. Crazy Pilot
In March 2012, an A320 captain suffered what was believed to be a complete mental breakdown mid-flight. After incoherent conversations with the First Officer & erratic behaviour in the cockpit, he ran out of the cockpit, screaming & yelling about "religion & terrorists" in front of the passengers. He then tried to re-enter the cockpit but the First Officer had already locked him out & changed the security code. The ranting continued whilst various passengers tackled him to the floor & sat on him whilst the First Officer, with assistance from a third off-duty pilot onboard, diverted the flight to the nearest suitable airport. They were on the ground within 20 minutes. The captain was removed in an ambulance stretcher.

4. Crazy Passenger
And just last week, an "unruly" passenger caused a cross-country flight to be diverted as well. An economy class passenger whose seat-back TV was not working, was offered an alternate seat in a special couple of rows that also offer extra leg room. Passengers pay extra for this small luxury, & one such woman already seated there objected violently to the man being given the seat at no extra cost. After abusing the other passenger & physically "interfering" with cabin crew, an onboard US Air Marshall intervened & restrained her whilst the plane diverted to Denver, where she was taken off the plane by police. Neither the airline, nor the passenger however, wished to press charges against the woman & she was subsequently released to find her own way home.

 JetBlue is in fact an amazing airline. 

They've won multiple awards over many years for high levels of customer satisfaction, & it's not hard to see why. The airlines' five official core values are "Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun & Passion", & their mantra is to "throw in a little thing called humanity". That's a huge call, considering most low-cost airlines barely get past throwing in a little thing called "service". And whilst some cynical person will always have a gripe or a bad experience they can't wait to tell, you just have to read the feedback on their facebook page to see comments like "you guys are awesome", or "your staff are always great", "your customer service was the best!", & "you always take care of me like family". And when the occasional negative comment is posted, they're on to it straight away in a friendly, courteous manner, discussing compensation & looking for solutions. In researching this article, I was even contacted by an Australian passenger who was planning a trip to the US. And there was only one airline she was interested in flying on - JetBlue.

Happy workers, happy customers - JetBlue customer support. Photo JetBlue

In the daily business of transporting millions of Americans, which the rest of the world knows are all crazy anyway, stuff can go wrong anywhere, anytime, on any airline. The airline business is a crazy business, & no airline is immune to the problems. Many others have suffered much worst than the events mentioned above. Personally, I think the gods think we're the crazy ones for thinking we can take air travel for granted, as the scale & perplexity of what we have today would have been unimaginable only 100 years ago.

And personally, just personally, I wish JetBlue all the very best with it.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Keeping The Peasants Out Of Business Class

Business class passengers pay a premium for peace & quiet, & above all, to be separated from the general riff-raff of air travelling humanity. But sometimes simple folk just need simple solutions.

Seat plan, United B767-300
Take the story of a guy called Mr Pollock, flying from Zurich to Washington DC on United Airlines on January 2. For some reason, he & his wife were seated on opposite sides of the twin-aisle airplane. Maybe that's just how they each get their own peace & quite, who knows. Anyway sometime into the flight, he decided to "stretch his legs" & go visit her. He had two options; walk to the rear of the plane, cross over to the other side, & walk back up, or go a shorter distance forward & cross over through the galley area behind business class. Obviously being a practical minded man, he chose the latter.

The only problem was, between him & the galley, was a curtain specifically designed to separate the haves from the have-nots, with a sign forbidding passengers to enter the business class area.

He told a flight attendant of his plan but was denied entry beyond the curtain. He took out his phone & began recording his conversation for legal purposes (an in-thing apparently), which the flight attendant swiftly confiscated. The next thing he claims is that he was pushed up against a counter with his hands held behind his back by two federal marshals. ("I'll be there in a minute darling...").

Whilst the US leads the world in maximum security airports & airline regulations & practices, it got me wondering whether the same thing would have happened on an Australian airline. Surely we Aussies aren't so highly strung.

So I asked Qantas. To my surprise, I got an email back within about 15 minutes. Whilst they "appreciated" the opportunity to comment, they declined to do so on the grounds that my question was "speculative". I think that's corporate-speak for "I don't know". Having gotten someone's attention however, I pressed the question further, asking if economy passengers were prohibited from entering business class, even if just for brief or practical reasons. They curtly replied that "business class cabin is reserved for business class passengers". Make of that what you will.

I also asked Virgin Australia & they seemingly declined to comment too. Not so much in those words; they just never got back to me.

So in conclusion, it seems that indeed, the freedoms of the few will be defended at all cost by those paid to do so. Everybody else can just sit down & shut up. Please enjoy your flight.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Spectacular Boeing 747 Crash "Photo"

Wanna see photographic evidence of a Boeing 747 crashing onto a freeway? This seven minute work of art will show you how you can make your own.

Thanks for the Money, Keep Your Airline

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce refused to do business with him; his predecessor & original Qantas mentor had become his nemesis. Within the boardrooms & hallways, there was talk that their former boss might just be coming back - not just as CEO again but somehow as owner of the airline! It's amazing how a 1.5% stake can get millionaire executives so paranoid & the media salivating for a good story.

But last week, the so-called "private investors consortium", which included former CEO Geoff Dixon, former Qantas senior executive Peter Gregg, advertising tycoon John Singleton, & possibly also retailing king Gerry Harvey, cashed in their syndicate shareholding of nearly 25 million shares for a reported $37.8 million. The net profit on their six-month or so investment was a cool $18 million.
"Thanks for the money. You can keep your airline now."
So Mr Joyce can breathe a little easier, while some of the richest men in Australia can just keep laughing all the way to the bank.
"Seriously, who'd want this job anyway?"

Friday, 25 January 2013

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Improvements

In the world of domestic airfares, whenever there's a fight to the bottom, someone always gets hurt. Usually it's the customer. Cheap seats, offset by hidden fees & poor service.

In Australia, new-comer Tiger Airways has been battered & bruised itself. Firstly from the belligerent competition from Jetstar, which in true Gandalf style, drew a market share line in the sand & said "You shall not pass!" And then secondly, a string of bad days in the office forced the Australian regulator to take them out of the skies completely & make them sit in the naughty corner till they could get their act together.

Photo: Wikipedia.org
But since then, whilst Qantas has dominated most of the headlines (they don't need the regulator to ground them, they can do it themselves), Tiger has been slowly creeping back.

In fact, in the latest statistics comparing Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar & Tiger, Tiger achieved the highest rate of on-time departures, highest rate of on-time arrivals & the lowest rate of flight cancellations. Jetstar came last. (1)

To add insult to Qantas group injury, Virgin Australia bought up a controlling 60% share of the airline in October last year, pumping cash & much-needed inspiration & reputation into the airline.

But whilst the numbers are going up & the fleet size increasing, that other factor in the airline business - customers - are not all yet feeling the love. And the bane of much of their problems appears to be their offshore call centre. We all know what they're like. So to their credit, Tiger today announced it was doing something about that too, posting this message on their facebook page:

"We want to apologise to our customers, we are extremely disappointed with the current levels of service you are experiencing when trying to call our call centre. We are moving to a new call centre provider on 1st February to ensure you receive the standards of service that you deserve and thank you for your patience in the meantime."

Is this where dream holiday plans end up?
Photo: news.com.au
Whilst many took the apology as an opportunity to voice past grievances, many also took it for what it was - an admission of a problem, an apology, & a solution. Such things are rare in the corporate world. I wonder to what extend Tiger's new masters had been involved in this.

My only dissapointment is that they have to use a foreign call centre provider at all. Obviously its considerably cheaper to contract out rather than hire the staff yourself in-situ & pay all the associated local labour costs. I hate it, but I get it. I'm not racist; foreign workers are no less valuable as human beings, so on a global level, the airline is creating jobs & giving people their own sense of dignity. But if you want to really enhance the customer's experience, here's the tip: most people expect to talk to people from their own country, in their own country, when travelling in their own country. Provide that, Tiger, & you'll be Australia's favourite airline.

(1) http://www.bitre.gov.au/statistics/aviation/otp_annual.aspx

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Why I Love Airbus So Much

In the dog-eat-dog world of high-end global industry, a defective product from one manufacturer will often hand big bragging rights to a competitor. Enter the Boeing 787.

In press comments this week by Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier however, the European plane maker said:

"It's not our place to give Boeing lessons, we've had our own problems in the past. I honestly wish all the best to my colleagues at Boeing to put this aircraft back in flight. I don't bet on the difficulties of a competitor in order to build Airbus' success." (1)

I love this humility. He calls his rivals "my colleagues". He's not out to score points or rub Boeing into the ground.

Bregier is relatively new to the top job at Airbus. But this is not just his sentiment. This is the Airbus culture. Maybe even the entirely European culture. 

Photo: Planebuzz.com
When Boeing rolled out the first 787 for the worlds' cameras, prematurely but deliberately on 8 July 2007 (07/08/07 in American date speak), both Boeing & Airbus knew it was only held together with the airplane manufacturing equivalent of sticky tape. Nonetheless, then Airbus CEO Louis Gallois sent this message to Boeing CEO James McNerney:

“On behalf of the global Airbus team, I would like to offer you and your Boeing colleagues our congratulations on the rollout of your first 787 aircraft. Today is a great day in aviation history. For, whenever such a milestone is reached in our industry, it always is a reflection of hard work by dedicated people inspired by the wonder of flight. Even if tomorrow Airbus will get back to the business of competing vigorously, today is Boeing’s day – a day to celebrate the 787.” (2)

How many companies do you see "celebrate" their opponents product launch? Do you think Boeing has ever returned the sentiment? No. 

And note that all this was happening at a time when Boeing was dragging Airbus through World Trade Organisation litigation. Nonetheless, Airbus chose to bless those who cursed them. I know a higher authority than the WTO that would smile on that.