Air

14 August 2011
Kulula liveries
Rob Fisher

The South African budget airline Kulula has some amusing liveries:

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Flying 101 livery

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This Way Up livery

Snopes has a video of their quirky pre-takeoff announcement. Novel at first, but possibly annoying if you fly with them all the time. I do like the liveries, though. The side of a plane is an interesting canvas, it’s nice to see some imagination used to paint it.

11 August 2011
A380 airlines compared
Rob Fisher

The LA times has a nice picture gallery comparing the ways different airlines have used the space on their A380s.

I think Emirates first class wins on bling factor alone. The features sound nice, too:

Enclosed suites afford passengers in first class a high degree of privacy. The suites feature sliding doors, a personal mini-bar, wardrobe and a 23-inch wide viewing monitor. The seats recline to form a fully flat bed. A divider that separates adjoining suites can be lowered for passengers traveling together. Like business passengers, first-class fliers have access to an exclusive lounge.

26 June 2011
A trip to Brittany – and more ruminations on Dreamliner World versus A380 World
Brian Micklethwait

I recently spent a week in Brittany (see various postings here, staying with friends who live in the city of Quimper, which at the south west end of the Brittany peninsula, just before you get to the final southern tip.

I’ve stayed with these friends before, and on every trip before this latest one, I’ve flown Ryanair from Stansted to Brest, Brest being about an hour by car north of Quimper.  But the bad news is that Brest airport has recently constructed a swanky new Norman Foster type building, with lots of sloping glass and metal struts everywhere and a general absence of rectangles.  Somewhere in among all these new arrangements, there was a fight with Ryanair, the upshot of which was that Ryanair no long does flights from Stansted to Brest.  Strangely, though, Ryanair still does flights from Brest to Marseilles.

I’m guessing that this either has to do with money or with time, or perhaps a bit of both.  Maybe Brest airport wants to be paid more, or Brest itself wants to pay less, for Ryanair flights to and from London.  Or, the new airport arrangements mean that Ryanair can’t turn its planes around as quickly as it used to be able to.

Also, you can’t help suspecting that perhaps Brest built itself a posh new airport terminal because it wants a better class of persons to come to Brest from London, and from many other classy spots, and the dribble of Ryanair riff-raff to stay away.  Maybe some day soon there will again be flights Brest/London flights, but more expensive ones, containing richer and better dressed persons.  But those are just guesses.

Anyway, whatever may have caused the Brest/London Ryanair flights to end, for this latest visit I had to go from Stansted to Dinard, which is the airport of the port city of Saint Malo, which is at the other end of the Brittany peninsula, to its north west, about four hours drive from Quimper.  Very tiresome.  My hosts kindly collected me from there on the way.  And on the way back, I and Mrs Host were both going to London, so we went by train from Quimper to Saint Malo (changing at Rennes), and then took a bus to Dinard and a taxi from Dinard to the airport itself.  All very cumbersome.

It did give us a chance to wander about in Saint Malo, which was good, and I got to go by train in France, which I’ve not done for decades, unless you count Eurotunnel trips to Belgium, Germany, etc.

While we relaxed in the small bar at Dinard airport, Mrs Host and I agreed about how agreeable these small airports are, compared to huge designer cattle shed airports like Stansted, and such as Brest seems now to want to be.  Mrs Host reminisced about a cheep and delightfully informal flight she once took from a tiny airfield in Kent, to a similar airport not very near to Paris, for about £45 in about 1990, in a propeller driven plane.  Our preference was confirmed hideously when we got to Stansted, at about eleven o’clock at night, to find ourselves at the back of a vast hoard of incomers to London, waiting while too few people indolently looked at everyone’s passport.  Were they seeking a terroristic pin?  If so, we were the haystack.  It was bank queue hell multiplied by a hundred.  Actually, it was over rather sooner than it at first looked like it would be, but first impressions were deeply unpleasant, and are hard to forget.

This experience makes me think that the long-term future of air travel is lots of small airports rather than a few big ones.  The big ones can’t get any bigger, or nastier.  And the bigger the big airport planes (I’m thinking A380) get, the naster it will get to use these airports.

Dinard airport, meanwhile, was a delight.  It’s not quite just the one shed.  An architect was involved at some point in making the ugly boxy building where you congregate, but this feels more like a railway station than an airport, and what is more a railway station that is quite a bit smaller and more relaxed than, say, Rennes railway station.  Dinard airport is small, and shows no sign of wanting to get any bigger.

Indeed, if that bar we relaxed in is anything to go by, they positively glory in their smallness.  There are pictures there of old airplanes, with propellers, and of people in goggles posing in black and white or sepia in front of byplanes.  There were things like this ...:

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… and this:

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Boeing having bet their farm on the Dreamliner, a two engined go-anywhere improvement on the now ubiquitous Boeing 737 (which is what Ryanair now uses for most of its flights, including all my Brittany trips).  Airbus have bet their farm on the A380, a four engine enlargement of the Boeing 747.

In the short run, maybe Airbus have a point.  If the current question is: How can we get more cattle through the big cattle shed airports?, then the A380 may well be the answer.  And if the question is: How can we give more legroom to more money-no-object globetrotters, trotting globally from one huge financial centre to another?, ditto.

But what if, in the longer run, the question turns into: What’s the best way to get little clumps of people, inexpensively, from a small airport somewhere in the world but nowhere in particular (like Dinard or for that matter Quimper, which also has a small railway station type airport) to another small airport somewhere else in the world, for the tiny number of people who want that particular journey, yet who don’t want to be treated too much like a herd of cattle?

Maybe if you run the air passenger business, and run airports, the first two questions are what you now obsess about.  But speaking as a passenger, I can tell you that I greatly prefer the latter question.

I want a Dreamliner world, rather than an A380 world.

I see that I have blogged here before about this great commercial Confrontation Of Our Time.  In that earlier posting I quoted someone saying this:

How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?

Exactly.  What I feared was going to happen at Stansted on the night I passed through this week, would happen, at a truly mega-airport like Heathrow, for real.

I could ramble ever onwards, but instead I will say: over to Michael Jennings for more detailed answers to all of my questions, and for many more facts to back up or contradict my speculations.

08 April 2011
Don’t miss Michael’s rant about airport security
Brian Micklethwait

And about how, as a consequence of airport security, he missed his flight to Italy yesterday.

30 March 2011
HondaJet
Brian Micklethwait

Today Instapundit linked to a report about how the HondaJet recently flew for the first time at its maximum speed of close to 500 mph.  Later (or maybe I just missed it the first time around) he added to his posting a link back to a piece he himself wrote a year ago about this airplane.  Good, I thought, because I had been wondering why he considered the HondaJet so worthy of his linkage.

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Here is why:

The HondaJet is the brainchild of Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino. Fujino told me that his first job in the United States was in Mississippi, back in the 1980s, and that he found that wherever he traveled by air - even elsewhere in Mississippi - he usually wound up having to change planes in Atlanta. This seemed wasteful of time and fuel, and made travel iffier, since it created the risk of a missed connection. To Fujino, the hub-and-spoke system makes sense for a country like Japan, where Tokyo is at the center of everything, but much less sense for a country as big as the United States, where important places are widely distributed. For this, point-to-point travel is much better.

This is no secret, of course, to the people who travel by private jet now. But private jet travel is very expensive, which is why it is the domain of CEOs, celebrities and the like. The HondaJet represents an effort at changing all of that, by using technology and design to bring costs down and allow private-jet travel at costs that approach commercial ticket prices. (Fully loaded, Fujino says, the cost per seat on the HondaJet should be roughly comparable to a first-class commercial ticket). To keep costs down, the Honda folks have put a lot of thought into ways to make the plane as small and inexpensive as possible, without sacrificing comfort or speed.

I’m intrigued by the way the jet engines are above rather than below the wings.  This enables the landing gear to be directly under the engines, which means the wings need to do less structural work.  Hanging the airplane from its jets, so to speak, enables everything else to be nearer to the ground, which is convenient in all sorts of ways.  Including, I guess, that it makes the landing gear less bulky, because it has to reach down less.

Clearly, billionaires are a big part of the target market.  Billionaires may buy more - and more expensive - stuff than the rest of us, but at their own spending level they are presumably just as price sensitive as the rest of us.  That they have so much money suggests to me that they have a history of being careful with it.  So, I’m guessing lots of them will like this cheaper private jet, and lots of others will reckon this to be the first private jet worth buying.

But Honda are not expecting everyone who flies the HondaJet to be an owner of a HondaJet, or an employee or friend or relative of such an owner.  They also anticipate something more like a taxi model of USA air travel to develop.

It all sounds very promising.

It’s sort of the opposite extreme to the A380, the ultimate hub airliner.  That is trying to make air travel cheaper by making the biggest planes even bigger.  The HondaJet makes air travel cheaper by making the smallest and most convenient planes, that can still go fast and over long distances, cheaper.  The HondaJet is, you might say, the Dreamliner, only more so.  Or to put it another way, the HondaJet, it is hoped, will do to travel within the USA what others hope the Dreamliner will do for travel worldwide.

29 March 2011
EU to ban cars from cities by 2050
Brian Micklethwait

So says Bruno Waterfield:

The European Commission on Monday unveiled a “single European transport area” aimed at enforcing “a profound shift in transport patterns for passengers” by 2050.

The plan also envisages an end to cheap holiday flights from Britain to southern Europe with a target that over 50 per cent of all journeys above 186 miles should be by rail.

Top of the EU’s list to cut climate change emissions is a target of “zero” for the number of petrol and diesel-driven cars and lorries in the EU’s future cities.

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commission, insisted that Brussels directives and new taxation of fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and onto “alternative” means of transport.

“That means no more conventionally fuelled cars in our city centres,” he said. “Action will follow, legislation, real action to change behaviour.”

A bunch of people who think that’s mad respond by saying that that’s mad.  Maybe it is, but how will the anti-maddists stop it?  That argument hasn’t worked all the times it’s been tried before.

The trouble with the “that’s mad” argument is that it doesn’t lay a finger on the “yes but wouldn’t it be nice?” argument.  Opponents of the EU look like grumpy believers in surrendering to “reality”.  The EU, meanwhile, comes across as boldly changing mere “reality” to something nicer.  So, the real argument is: would this actually be nicer?

My argument against might go something like this: it sounds nice, but it would drain all the life out of cities and turn them into museums, rather as the centre of Paris already has been turned into a museum, in that case by not allowing any new buildings other than Presidential follies like the glass pyramid thingy or the Pompidou Centre.  London, in contrast, is a living, growing place, all over.

But then again, although the Kallas plan would drain much of the life out of London that is now there, life of other sorts would move in.  It might indeed be quite nice.  For some, like tourists and tourist crap shop owners, street marketeers, electric motor makers, paving stone makers, road demolishers, etc. etc.

I look forward to comments from fellow TBloggers explaining why this really is a mad plan.

22 March 2011
Immigration officer puts wife on no-fly list
Rob Fisher

Somewhat old news, but news to me via the Risks Digest:

A UK immigration officer decided to get rid of his wife by putting her on the no-fly list, ensuring that she could not return to the UK from abroad. This worked for three years, until he put in for a promotion and—during the routine background check—someone investigated why his wife was on the no-fly list.

This story comes from the Daily Mail:

The Home Office confirmed today that the officer has been sacked for gross misconduct.

This bit is Kafkaesque:

His wife visited family in Pakistan but when she tried to return to Britain she was not allowed onto the aircraft. Airline and immigration officials refused to explain to her why.

But it’s very interesting that one man was able to meddle with the list. We are so often told about these things that there will be “safeguards”.

04 March 2011
Space Shuttle launch seen from a passing airplane – science in space
Brian Micklethwait

Indeed:

“We don’t want anybody to complain that we were late …”

I don’t know quite what “late” means.  Was that the pilot speaking, and did the pilot himself offer everyone free drinks?  Feels more like a private jet with a dozen business execs on board than an “airliner”.

Anyway the upshot of this lateness was that all on board got to see another upshot, in the form of the latest Space Shuttle launch.  The very last one, I think, yes?  Anyway, one of the passengers did a vid.

The latest NASA effort, however, was not so good.

Further to that talk by James Bennett that Michael and I attended, I was reminded that Bennett also focussed on the contribution of private sector near earth orbit flights to scientific research.  It turns out that experiments work a lot better if there’s a guy up there with the experiment.  Private sector space travel doesn’t stay up there as long as clunky old government space rockets, but it is much cheaper.  Think about it.  Little and often and cheap probably makes a lot more sense than one big expensive Hail Mary, have-to-get-everything-right-first-time mega-project.

07 February 2011
Naked scanner UK
Rob Fisher

In the USA you can walk through the naked scanner or you can choose instead to get your junk touched. In the UK, if you decline to walk through the naked scanner, you get to talk to the police for half an hour and told you can’t get on your flight.

Passengers, who are selected at random for the virtual strip search, were at first allowed to opt for a traditional ‘pat down’ check.

But a government rule change now means anyone who refuses to be scanned is barred from flying.

There does still seem to be a workaround:

Mr Bradshaw [...] now says he will fly from an alternative airport which does not use the technology.

24 November 2010
SpaceX gets permission to re-enter
Brian Micklethwait

This sounds good:

Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk’s California-based space launch firm has become the first commercial company to receive a Federal Aviation Administration license to allow an orbiting spacecraft to return to Earth.

I did a piece a while back for Samizdata, speculating about why Obama’s space policies are so bafflingly sensible, which would have been linked to from here, I dare say, had here been in business at the time.

LATER: More transport related bloggery from me here, including (at the end) a question which I would love to have answered, and in particular see (in a picture) answered.

01 November 2010
Air Passenger Duty increase
Rob Fisher

The air passenger duty is due to increase. It’s a rule that taxes like this always increase ("passengers now being asked to pay up to ten times more tax since APD’s introduction"), and always get more complicated:

The new APD places foreign destinations in bands, depending on how far they are away from the UK, increasing the amount of air tax paid as the distance increases.

That smells like a recipe for politicians to engineer their favoured outcomes.

However, the Caribbean is complaining that it has been unfairly hit after it was put in band C despite being only eight hours from the UK. Los Angeles in the USA is in the cheaper band B even though it is 12 hours away.

Malice, incompetence, or trade winds?

The current government wants to double the revenue it earns from aviation tax in the next four years from £28.9bn to more than £56bn. Of course, extra costs to airlines eventually find their way to customers too.

Back to the 70s we go: cheap air travel is doomed. When will the Laffer curve kick in?

Reading through the search results for “air passenger duty” on BBC News gives some sense of the inevitability of it all: Air passenger duty was invented in 1994, and in 2003 the greens were calling for it to be increased. In the 2004 budget it was frozen. There was constant clamouring to increase it, which finally happened in February 2007. Just one year later, MPs were calling for it to increase again. The current increases were planned by Alastair Darling shortly afterwards. The first of these happened this time last year.

Update: Tim Worstall says that airlines who complain that this tax is bad because it will dissuade people from flying are forgetting that this is the point of the tax. So I suppose airlines have to say something like, “dissuading people from flying is bad because the planet does not need saving”. For some reason large companies are reluctant to say such things.

26 October 2010
EU to lift flight ban on carry-on liquids
Brian Micklethwait

Looks that way.  About effing time.  Via Johnathan Pearce at Samizdata.

18 February 2009
Modern Movement
Rob Fisher

Modern Movement seem like good guys.  They are a grass roots campaign group in favour of better, faster, cheaper transport for all.  Who’d have thought it?  Perhaps this is part of the fight back that Counting Cats wrote about.  On February 19th they are holding a demonstration in Parliament Square in support of the Heathrow expansion.

The extension of flying to millions of people has been a liberation. Most of us can now afford to go on holiday and welcome the cheapening of air travel allowing us to fly abroad. The development of aviation infrastructure is crucial to allow ever more people to fly.

This is why Modern Movement will be holding a counter-demonstration at the same time as the anti-aviation groups to show our support for airport expansion and urge on the building of the third runway at Heathrow.

Good luck to them!

15 January 2009
New York Plane Crash
Rob Fisher

An incredible story has unfolded on the TV screen in the bar I have just emerged from. An A320 has landed in the Hudson and floated for long enough for everyone to be rescued.

Until now I had assumed that the life jackets and emergency-slides-that-become-life-rafts were just safety theatre, and that planes broke into small pieces on contact with water. Thankfully I was wrong.

04 November 2008
Supersonic business jet
Rob Fisher

Next Big Future are reporting on a supersonic business jet being developed by a company called Aerion.

28 September 2008
Come fly with me
Rob Fisher

In the first episode of his documentary Big Ideas, James May from Top Gear is in search of a personal flying car.  It’s rather less dumbed down than programmes like this tend to be.  James didn’t shy away from discussing gyroscopic precession in helicopters, for example.  And there are some inventions I hadn’t heard of before, like a nifty helicopter from Japan.  Of course, he covered the Moller Sky Car, too.  Now he’s discussing automated control systems which would make getting ordinary people into the sky feasibly safe.  He’s in a car that’s driving itself so well that it can cope with American 4-way stops.

James finished up with a rant about the reasons he thinks these products aren’t viable already: health and safety and bureaucracy.

The show is repeated next Thursday.  The graphic below should be relevant to your current location and time.

James May's Big Ideas - Come Fly with Me (Season 1 Episode 1) at LocateTV.com

31 January 2008
Airport on stilts
Brian Micklethwait

Weirdness blogger deputy dog doesn’t do capital letters, but on the plus side collects strange structures and circumstances.  His latest weirdness is Funchal Airport, in Madeira, which is mostly not on the ground, but up in the air on pillars.  Lots of pillars.  It was on the ground, but was too short for comfort, and this was how they made it longer, apparently.  Underneath, there’s a big car park, which makes sense.

DD has photos of this, but the best photo of it that I found was this, on Flickr:

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Whenever you find an interesting object, it’s worth looking for it on Flickr, I find.

This elaborate contraption - which looks rather like an aircraft carrier, I think – illustrates what an economic impact aviation can have on a region.  This is the trouble they are prepared to go to just to have airplanes serving them satisfactorily.  See also: Heathrow.

27 January 2008
Presumably they have very nice stewardesses
Brian Micklethwait

Oh dear.  Foreigners are pretty good at devising their own versions of English and good for them, but it seems they’ll never really master English English:

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Go here for the story.  Which is pretty obvious really, except that the airline in question is Turkish despite sounding rather South East Asian.

21 December 2007
Air France launches in-flight mobile phone service
Brian Micklethwait

Yes!  Soon the person sitting next to you on that interminable flight from Greece to London will be able to make continuous phone calls!  “Hello, I’m just a quarter of an hour out from Heathrow, so I should be in Croydon in about seven to nine hours!  How are the kids?  Let me talk to them!” etc.  Presumably it will cost a lot, and will be how airlines of the future make any money.

Via engadget to whom thanks.  I tried copying and pasting from the story they linked to but all I got was idiot adverts for mobile phones.

18 December 2007
Playing with fire
Brian Micklethwait

David Thompson links to stuff about scramjets:

Recent breakthroughs in scramjet engines could mean two-hour flights from New York to Tokyo.

And it looks like a Dan Dare Spaceship:

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Cool.  Well, not really.  It has to work inside a fire, which is what happens when something travels at Mach 6, and they test it by firing a big blowtorch at it to simulate this.

I love this from one of DT’s commenters, even if it is off the transport topic:

I notice Ted Taylor gets a mention. He worked on the early atmospheric tests in Nevada and famously used a parabolic mirror to focus the glare of a 14 kiloton explosion and light his cigarette. Which, I guess, makes him a real hombre and the coolest guy on Earth.

I suppose people playing with fire have to be ultra-cool, so it doesn’t set fire to them.

03 December 2007
Move Heathrow to the Thames Estuary!
Brian Micklethwait

From time to time I buy The Week, and via the latest edition I came across a piece by Kit Malthouse, saying that Heathrow should be moved.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  This was published ten days ago, but far better to link to this late rather than never.

You need two vital ingredients for a successful international airport: the right wind and loads of space. Heathrow has neither. The prevailing wind in London is westerly. Aircraft have to land into wind; so all those massive beasts (and they are getting bigger every year) have to turn in right over Central London. The noise they cause means only a limited number of flights can land before 6am or after 11.30pm. But as the residents of Wandsworth or Ealing will tell you, it only takes one plane coming over at 4am to wake you up and ruin your day.

Heathrow is also trapped. Hemmed in by the M4, M25 and the A30, surrounded by thousands of residents, our premier airport has nowhere to go and can only cram more and more into what little space is available.

Add to this some truly idiotic planning decisions from the 1950s (Who decided to put the terminals in the middle of the airfield, so the main access had to be through a tiny tunnel?) and you have what is commonly regarded as one of Britain’s greatest planning disasters.

Adding Terminal 5 and also a third runway and a sixth terminal, as the Government wants in its proposals published yesterday, will only make the airport even more of a mess and nuisance. So let’s move it.

The Thames Estuary, he reckons, is where London’s main airport should be.

The Thames estuary is only four metres deep in parts and it would be relatively simple and cheap to construct an artificial island with a beautiful modern airport on it. All the planes would come in to land over the North Sea, which would mean a 24-hour operation, with no disturbance while expanding capacity, at a stroke. In fact, the airport could easily accommodate all the flights from Gatwick as well, meaning we could probably close it too.

A bullet train on stilts or in a tunnel could link the airport to Central London in 20 minutes or so, and a branch line from the new high-speed Eurostar link nearby could connect the airport with the Continent.

Malthouse reckons that the receipts from selling Heathrow off to housing developers might even cover the immense cost of all this.

03 July 2007
Airliner simulation on the PC
Rob Fisher

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767 Virtual Cockpit
”Airline pilot” is the answer you would have received on asking me, many years ago, what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Myopia and a talent for computer programming meant I never pursued that ambition, but lately I’ve been discovering just how thoroughly it is possible to play at being an airline pilot at home on a PC.

There are two versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator currently of interest.  FSX is the brand new version with extra prettiness and extra behind-the-scenes realism, but it requires a fairly beefy PC, so there is the previous version, FS2004, to fall back on.  Being an incurable computer geek, I naturally have a machine NASA are jealous of and that generates so much heat that I suspect it has a carbon footprint about the size of real airliner’s.  Having a powerful computer helps if you want the latest and best of everything, but isn’t essential.

It turns out that Microsoft Flight simulator falls short in various areas, and this is where the wonderful world of flight sim add-ons comes in.  For a start, if you want to simulate an airliner with enough fidelity that it can be flown just as it would be in real life, you need to buy an add-on aircraft.  The best are PMDG’s 747 and Level-D’s 767.  These are meticulously researched using data from the manufacturers and input from real airline pilots, many of whom use these products themselves.

The three dimensional representation of a Boeing cockpit makes for an immersive experience, but when every knob and switch does exactly what it does on the real thing, you may just wonder which to turn or press first.  Mike Ray is a retired pilot who writes informal guides for real pilots to use to revise for their regular “check-rides”.  These are great for reference, but Mike has also written a more introductory tome especially for flight simmers.  Another company makes step-by-step DVDs that take you through the whole process of a flight from planning to arrival at the gate.  If you still have questions, there is an active community ready to help who treat their flight simming as a serious hobby; no mere computer game.

For flight planning there is a plethora of tools available.  You can download up-to-date charts, including standard departure and arrival routes for every airport.  You can look up the routes taken by real planes in the last few hours (or even track planes on a map in real time), and there are tools that let you calculate the correct amount of fuel and other parameters needed to set up the aircraft correctly.

An extra touch of realism comes from air traffic control, which Flight Simulator is by default notoriously bad at.  One product simulates air traffic control with recorded voices, while another allows you to talk to real people who will watch your progress on a simulated radar display and give you instructions by voice over IP.

Finally, there are products that add realistic traffic and real-time weather to the experience.

Playing with all these toys has provided me with hours of entertainment.  I now feel like I have well and truly got inside the mind of an airline pilot, and should have all kinds of added insight into what’s going on next time I fly.

22 April 2007
BA self-inflicts more Branson humiliation
Brian Micklethwait

This is amazing:

British Airways has removed a shot of Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson from the in-flight version of the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

Sir Richard was seen briefly in the original film, passing through an airport security scanner, but can only be seen from behind in the new edit.

“Many films are edited in some way on board,” said a BA spokesman.

Daniel Craig’s debut last year as 007 became the most successful Bond movie at the worldwide box office.

Sir Richard was given a cameo after supplying a plane for use in the film.

The British Airways edit also obscures the tail fin of a Virgin plane that was seen in the original.

As I like to remind the universe every year or two, because it is one of the most interesting things about me, I was at the same Prep School as Richard Branson, and the guy was a force of nature.  He used to run straight through bigger boys on the rugger pitch, on account of being willing to die rather than yield.  And that was just silly rugger games.

So imagine what it has been like for British Airways, whom Branson took against some years ago, when he started quarreling with them about something or other that I can’t remember.  Landing slots at Heathrow, was it?  I don’t known.  Anyway, they thought they were big and Branson was too small to hurt them, and I remember at the time thinking that these people had no fucking idea what was about to hit them.  Sure enough, ever since then Branson has made the lives of the upper management of British Airways a living hell, and they hate him with an intensity that makes perfect sense to me, given that he has been trampling all over them and totally humiliating them for the last decade or more, but which most other people don’t understand.  That’s because most other people didn’t go to school with Branson, and they just don’t know what it’s like to have him on the opposite team against you.  Every time British Airways tries to take a swipe at Branson, they end up stabbing themselves, and each time this happens they get that bit more insane in their hatred of the man.

The above goes some way to explaining the truly cretinoid insanity of this latest self-administered BA stab wound, about which Branson must be grinning even more widely than usual.

12 April 2007
Foolish Virgin
Brian Micklethwait

Jackie D goes for Virgin Atlantic:

I just booked a flight on Virgin Atlantic, and every step of the booking process was full of overtures to book an upgrade to Premium Economy, because now you get your own dedicated cabin, better seat, etc. Except you don’t, not necessarily: They’re only just rolling out the new, improved Premium Economy service, and it is only available on a few flights. “Read the fine print,” you grumble. Actually, there is no fine print involved. Virgin Atlantic is flat-out lying to people . . .

It would all be a total scam were it not for the fact that Virgin’s basic non-Preimium service is pretty good.  Maybe they are losing money on that, which is why they want people to pay quite a lot more for very little more.

All of which makes no sense whatever to me.  RyanAir to France is my limit these days.  Sit in a flying armpit for three hours, pay RyanAir about ten quid, and various governments another thirty, for RyanAir Cattletruck Class.  That’s air travel for me.  Actually, I quite like RyanAir, provided I can sit by a window and take stupid photos of the engines, and slightly more sensible ones of Channel Islands, the Millau Viaduct etc.

Anyway, on this Virgin thing, Adriana is apparently the source on this, and she must blog about it Very Soon, according to Jackie.

04 April 2007
BA least favourite for baggage mishandling
Brian Micklethwait

I remember a great bit of graffiti on a poster for British Airways.  The poster said something like: “Breakfast in New York - Lunch in London”.  And someone else had spray-written at the bottom: “Baggage in Bermuda”.  I’m guessing that this was in the days of Concorde, but only guessing.

Anyway, it seems the graffitist was right:

British Airways lost more than one million pieces of luggage in 2006, making the national carrier the worst baggage handler in Europe.

A report by the Air Transport Users Council (AUC) revealed that BA mishandled 23 bags for every 1,000 passengers, losing about 3,000 bags every day. Overall, that meant the “world’s favourite airline” lost 1,047,750 bags last year.

Hundreds of thousands of BA’s 45 million passengers began their trips without clothes, toiletries, presents, valuables or climbing or skiing equipment. Many have never been reunited with their belongings.

BA, whose problems led to 28,000 suitcases piling up at Heathrow in January, described its performance as “unacceptable”. “We fully apologise to customers who have been affected by delayed baggage in the past year,” a spokesman said.

“Fully apologise” sounds like they do other less fulsome apologies.  Like: “We apologise a bit, but not really.” “We partially apologise.” “We apologise but only if the government apologises as well.” Etc.

03 March 2007
Train cakes and vapour trails
Brian Micklethwait

Here at Transport Blog we have a tradition of featuring food that looks like transport.  We have, that is to say, had postings about food that looks like transport.  One anyway.

So, news of a cake mold that cranks out cakes in the shapes of a railway train:

This is one little locomotive no one will want to miss! Our ingeniously designed cake pan bakes a complete nine-car train that’s ready to decorate and eat. From engine to caboose, there’s no limit to the colors and decorative details imaginative young bakers can add to each train car. Made of durable cast aluminum by NordicWare, the pan bakes each little cake to perfection every time. The premium nonstick interior turns out cakes with beautiful detail and is easy to clean. Hand-wash. 6-cup cap.; 15 1/2” x 9 3/4” x 1 3/4” high. A Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

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Cake tin
I stumbled upon this by a route so random that it does not signify, but once I found it, how could I not pass it on to TB readers?

On a more serious note, I now have a special category at my person blog for Bridges,and have dug up and thus categorised as many earlier bridge postings that I could find.

I’ve had a Transport category for some while now.  In my opinion, this quite recent transport related posting, about a dirty-looking vapour trail, is actually quite profound.

06 February 2007
A pilot would get in the way
Brian Micklethwait

Unmanned Everest rescue helicopter from a New Zealand company working with this organisation, both enterprises having been started by Trevor and Glenda Rogers.

Why an unmanned rescue vehicle? For high altitude rescues a pilot actually gets in the way. The pilot is not acclimated for the altitude or prepared for the extreme cold so they must stay inside the aircraft and cannot help in the rescue efforts. Also, the elimination of the pilot-support equipment leaves room for more rescue gear.

Thank you engadget.

03 February 2007
Another flying car!
Brian Micklethwait

Inevitably the YouTube promo for this gizmo concentrates on its public service abilities.  It can rescue people (but only one at a time) from burning skyscrapers.  It can be an aerial ambulance, even if there are traffic jams.  It can catch criminals.  There’s no mention of air jams.  But that last bit got me thinking.  What this really is is the perfect getaway car.

Thank you Gizmodo.

Basically, this is a couple of small person pods attached to about seven fan heaters without heating of various sizes, and pointing in various directions.  A helicopter for dummies, you might say.  It reminds me a bit of a lawnmower, of the sort that has a big fan for chucking the grass cuttings into a big bin, or just elsewhere.

22 November 2006
What’s now flying?
Brian Micklethwait

Here‘s an interesting site.  It tracks all the passenger airplanes in the air in the USA at any one time.  Quite what you can learn from this, aside from what planes are in the air in the USA at any one time, I’m not sure, but it surely has its uses, for more than planespotting.

It’s useful, for instance, if you are hoping to meet a plane, I guess.  Or blow one up.  I can’t quite work it out, but I think it tells you if a plane is running late, while it is still airborne.

I tried to find similar info for Europe, but all I could get to was cheap flight offers.

I got to this site via this guy, who I got to thanks to an email from Michael Jennings, pointing out this, but that’s another story.  (In my opinion the iPod toilet roll holder, which I had already viewed before Michael clocked it for me, is not tasteless enough.)

20 November 2006
From air back to ocean
Brian Micklethwait

e-Cargonews Asia reports on a switch back from air freight to shipping.  Key explanatory quote:

Imbriani pointed to a combination of factors that have made shipping lines a viable alternative to air freight. Sailing schedules have become more reliable, capacity is up, and the use of special equipment and containers, such as temperature and humidity control devices, have made it possible to move electronics in ocean containers, he said.

And of course, this will help too.

17 November 2006
Penis at Number 2 Terminal
Brian Micklethwait

I can’t remember how I found my way to this transport related controversy, but I did.

Taipei - A giant wooden sculpture of a penis on display at Taipei’s international airport has stirred up controversy among some foreign visitors and flight crew, who have demanded its removal, media reported Tuesday.

The one-metre-long sculpture in the Number 2 Terminal is part of an exhibition of artifacts of the Thou tribe, one of Taiwan’s ten tribes. But some foreign visitors and crew find it offensive and have demanded its removal, according to the Liberty Times.

Sadly, I am unable to locate a picture of this masterpiece.  The nearest I got was this picture, of a Taiwanese citizen who, in 2003, deployed a giant penis on the coast of Taiwan, in response to five hundred mainland Chinese missiles.

Perhaps one day someone will design a train that looks like a penis.  Imagine that going into a tunnel.

10 November 2006
Airship over London
Brian Micklethwait

Yes, yesterday afternoon, an airship flew over London, and many other British landmarks.

It has very good fuel economy, apparently:

The Spirit of Dubai is the world’s largest commercial airship and is managed by Airship Management Services, Inc (AMS). The Spirit of Dubai will operate at around 1,500 to 3,000 feet with a cruising speed of around 30 to 50 mph - the airship can reach speeds of up to 70 mph (or faster, with a tailwind!). While cruising at 30 knots The Spirit of Dubai airship consumes 8 gallons (48 lbs) of fuel per hour. During a week of operations The Spirit of Dubai will consume less fuel than a 767 uses to simply move away from its gate to a runway!

It was only when I read this posting today that I was reminded that I had also photoed this beast.

09 November 2006
The White Elephant versus the Dreamliner
Brian Micklethwait

Time to kill off the A-380? - asks the New York Times blog.

Floyd Norris briefly lays out the pros and cons of this “overpriced white elephant”, i.e. he’s con.

Personally I like flying but hate all the hideous delays before and after.  So anything that minimises the number of airports you go through – the Boeing Dreamliner goes from anywhere to anywhere and always cuts it to two – is good.  Plus, delays are less horrendous at small airports than at big ones.  The Deamliner connects all small airports to all other small airports.  No days wasted at “hubs”.

Or, as Norris puts it:

How would you like to line up at customs having just gotten off the back of the second or third A-380 to arrive? Would passport control take longer than the flight?

Incidentally, the NYT calls it the A-380, but in the picture they show, it’s A380, minus the hyphen.  Odd.

Being anti-EU, I want the A380 to be a disaster, because if an air of disaster settles upon “Europe”, my country is more likely to free itself from “Europe”, which I would like.

Ooh, Instapundit links to a Popular Mechanics report on the same topic.  They call it the A380.

On the other hand, these two media organs are both American, and as such the hired lackeys of Boeing.  I wish I was a hired lackey of Boeing.

Final thought: I have long noticed that whenever a company is trying to interest actual people in a piece of electronic gadgetry, as opposed to merely trying to interest other companies, they stop calling it the PQ9132X(2) and instead call it the Zippopod, or some such.  That Airbus call their bus the A380, while Boeing calls theirs the “Dreamliner”, says to me that Airbus reckons that other companies will decide this thing, while Boeing reckons it will be people who ultimately settle it.  Speaking as a person, I hope that Boeing is right.

Final final thought: Maybe they’ll change the A380’s name to “While Elephant”.

08 November 2006
Emirates first to offer in-flight calls. They've beaten Ryanair to the punch, apparently. Engadget have their links in a twist, but one of them is to this BBC report.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirAir MiscellaneousLow cost airlines
02 November 2006
The rules are being relaxed, but they're still silly:

The anti-terror ban on carrying liquids onto flights is to be relaxed from next week - but will lead to more confusion and delays at airports, security experts have warned.
Jackie D (to whom thanks for the link) is also not happy.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirTerrorismSecurity
24 October 2006
Gloomy transport ruminations from Julian's great uncle.

Sir Geoffrey Ingram Taylor may, says Julian, have been the first man ever to have jumped out of an airplane in a parachute.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)AirAir Miscellaneous
23 October 2006
Airport eavesdropping
Brian Micklethwait
Dave Barry has a rather alarming Atlanta Airport Update today:
So I'm waiting to get on the plane, and the pilots arrive at the gate, and as they walk past, one of them says to the other - this is a direct quote - "Hey, it flew in, it'll fly out."
That's it. That's his entire posting. As I say, rather alarming.

I was a bit surprised that the RyanAir plane that took me home from Brest to Luton a few weeks back had just been taking a load of people from Luton to Brest. If the Luton to Brest bit was delayed, so was Brest back to Luton. No maintenance, and hardly any cleaning. I suppose they do enough maintenance for about five trips, at night.

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That A380 image
When I was a kid, passenger airplanes were called "liners". Now an entire major airplane making enterprise comes straight out with it: they're buses. Here's an Airbus snap I took recently in Brittany, through the grubby window of a travel agency. And I've another Brittany transport picture here, along with a London duck, which is also for transport.