A Word About Photos

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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.