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Progress, of a sort

08403v hanno, originally uploaded by A30yoyo.

Professor Karl D. Stephan, author of the Engineering Ethics Blog, shares an interesting observation while reviewing Air Accident Investigation (3rd edition, 2006) by Mr. David Owen.

I was intrigued by a photo of what has to have been one of the largest biplanes ever built, a Handley Page H. P. 42 flown by Imperial Airways in trans-Channel service in the early 1930s. It was about four stories high and had four engines clustered around the fuselage. Owen’s point in including it was that although there were plenty of accidents back then, early commerical aviation was operated so conservatively that in ten years of use, the H. P. 42 never lost a passenger to a fatal accident.

All this changed after World War II, when jet aviation and economic growth transformed the flying public from a few privileged individuals into hordes of airborne bus passengers. Higher speeds and long over-water flights raised the cost of in-flight mechanical failure to the point that surviving a commercial airline crash was a dubious proposition at best.

— Stephan, Karl D.  “Air Accidents in Perspective.” Engineering Ethics Blog, 16 November 2009.

There are a huge number of factors that contribute to increased lethality in crashes of modern jet aircraft.  In addition to increased gross weight, payload, speed, and frequency of over-water flights, there is the nature of the aircraft themselves.

Airports of the day rarely had asphalt or concrete runways, so the H.P. 42 had to be able to operate from semi-prepared grass or dirt airstrips in the middle of nowhere.  Its takeoff ground roll was just over a thousand feet, and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was around 28,000 pounds.

Today’s jet airliners are not capable of operating from 1,200 foot grass strips on a routine basis.  They weigh several times as much as an H.P. 42 (the 737-300’s MTOW is 124,500 lbs), so their takeoff roll is necessarily much longer.  Their gear is not designed to handle operations from rough fields; they need asphalt, concrete, or (with special tires and gear kits) gravel.  Your odds of randomly finding 1000 feet of open grass or dirt in any given spot in Central Europe, Africa or Southern Asia are pretty good compared to your odds of randomly finding 4-5,000 feet of level asphalt or concrete that can also withstand the weight of 125,000 pounds of airliner landing on it.

All that said, jet travel is here to stay, and in spite of the increased risks, it has also grown much safer.  I’d be interested in reading Mr. Owen’s conclusions for myself, so I shall check with the library to see if they have a copy.

SEMI-RELATED: Professor Stephan doesn’t post very often, perhaps once a week at best, but his entries are full of cogent thoughts.  I also enjoyed this post about toxic drywall from China, and what the likely outcome might be for banks and consumers stuck with such toxin-infused homes.  I look forward to reading more.

Category: Aeronautics, Industria  Tags:  Comments off

The World’s Greatest Travel System

There was a time in the Jazz Age when sure-footed Canadian businesses dared tread amongst the world’s titans, and even declared themselves to be of the first rank.  One of these was the Canadian Pacific Railway, which operated a full-blown vertically integrated empire encompassing a railway, steamship line, airline, and hotel chain.  CP gave itself the grandiose title of “World’s Greatest Travel System”, and buttressed the claim with a sheaf of beautiful ad posters.


The powerful Hudson 4-6-4 steam locomotive. Several remain operable; CP Rail still runs one (#2816) on sightseeing tours through the Rockies.

Looking out at Lake Louise from the Chateau of the same name.

An idealised view of Lake Louise from the Chateau of the same name.

RMS Empress of Britain, 42,348 gross tons.  Construction started 1928, launched 1931.  Carried 1,195 passengers (in two classes) in the summer, converted to 700 all-first-class berths in the winter.  Torpedoed and sunk by U-32 off Northern Ireland on October 26th, 1940.

RMS Empress of Britain, 42,348 gross tons. Construction started 1928, launched 1931. Carried 1,195 passengers (in two classes) in the summer, converted to 700 all-first-class berths in the winter. Torpedoed and sunk by U-32 off Northern Ireland on October 26th, 1940.

I don't think anyone has ever had as much fun on a Great Lakes tour as this woman appears to be having.

I don't think anyone has ever had as much fun on a Great Lakes tour as this woman appears to be having. Also, don't slip.

They may have been the world's greatest travel system then.  Today we would settle for an airline aspiring to be world's greatest at something other than frustration and delays.

They may have been the world's greatest travel system then. Today we would settle for an airline aspiring to be world's greatest at something other than frustration and delays.

CP would have been the third airline to operate Comets, and actually lost one in service—albiet not on the Pacific routes, and not due to the famous problem with metal fatigue.  On March 3rd, 1953, a CP Air's second Comet 1A crashed on takeoff from Karachi on March 3rd, 1953, killing all 11 passengers and crew.  It was in the process of being delivered to the airline; CP's other Comet was subsequently sold to BOAC.

CP would have been the third airline to operate Comets, and actually lost one in service—albiet not on the Pacific routes, and not due to the famous problem with metal fatigue. On March 3rd, 1953, a CP Air's second Comet 1A crashed on takeoff from Karachi on March 3rd, 1953, killing all 11 passengers and crew. It was in the process of being delivered to the airline; CP's first Comet was subsequently sold to BOAC.

Canadian Pacific’s railway business still survives, of course, while the airline (sold to Pacific Western in 1987, merged with Air Canada in 2000) and steamship line (merged with Hapag-Lloyd in 2005) were not so lucky.  The CP Hotels chain, however, was wildly successful—to the point where it bought up American competitor Fairmont in 2001 and operates under that name today.

Category: Amor Patriae, Industria  Tags:  Comments off

Suggestions for Air Canada Jazz

Dear Air Canada Jazz,

I know you’re probably excited about the prospect of operating from the Toronto City Centre Airport again.  I would like to be excited for you too, but unfortunately I remember how awful your prior service was.

Now that Porter has demonstrated that a regional carrier can be successful operating from the Island, let’s take a quick look at their winning formula.

  • Porter has a shuttle bus to the airport. Jazz had one too, although I don’t remember much about it.  Porter has two buses running at 15 minute intervals; from what I recall Air Ontario (later Air Canada Jazz) had a single bus running once every five years.  I know I was only lucky enough to catch it to the Royal York once; every other time I had to call a cab from the airport’s deserted gravel parking lot.
  • Porter has newer, quieter planes. Porter’s Q400s are fairly new and have not had time to get old, overused and filthy yet.  This is a disadvantage for Jazz because its current Dash 8-100/300 fleet is already old and filthy, and there is no easy fix aside from new furnishings or a new fleet.  The old Air Ontario birds used to carry the Ontario shield on the nose, and be named after a city in the province (i.e. “City of Sudbury”).  I liked those nods to old-school aviation, but for G-d’s sake would it have killed you to vacuum and clean the cabins once in a while?
  • Porter flies to many destinations. Like New York (Newark), Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Halifax, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, et cetera.  Air Canada Jazz used to fly to Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor, London and Newark, but it slowly began cancelling services, and by the time it was evicted from the airport in 2006, only the Toronto-to-Ottawa service remained.  The Port Authority rightly cut a deal with Porter to save the airport; Jazz was only interested in winding things down.
  • Porter has spent a lot of money on infrastructure upgrades. I have flown out of all three iterations of island airport terminal buildings (four if you count the Eagle Aircraft/Shell Aerocentre FBO on the GA ramp)—the original wooden 1939 terminal (“Terminal A“), the ’80s/’90s vintage Air Ontario terminal, and now the Porter terminal.  The Air Ontario/Jazz departure lounge was a dump.  Rows of plastic seats attached to a single underlying metal bar, just like bus terminal seating.  No complimentary food or drinks. On the mainland side, there was no place to wait for the ferry (or the seldom-seen shuttle bus, or a cab) other than an old TTC bus shelter.  Try cramming 30 people in there in the rain.  Porter smartly built a waiting area (with automated check-in kiosks) on the mainland side.  No longer do you have to wait outside in the rain.  Porter’s departure lounge has comfortable seats and free goodies.  The terminal layout makes ergonomic sense.  The only thing I would fault Porter on is the tiny space for baggage pickup.
  • Porter’s animating philosophy is business class for everyone. They have free food and drinks in the lounge.  You don’t have to get to the terminal three days early in order to complete security screening on time.  Porter understands that people will pay a premium for convenience and good service.  In contrast, the Air Ontario/Air Canada Jazz animating philosophy appeared to be third world economy class for everyone.  Especially you, urban dwellers who might want to get someplace in a hurry.  What’s the matter, Pearson’s shiny new terminal, enormous fees, and ridiculous pre-boarding wait times not good enough for you?

The opportunity was always there for a downtown air carrier to survive, if not thrive; what Jazz lacked was a fundamental appreciation of their customer base.  Getting from Point A to Point B in Greyhound style doesn’t appeal to the execs and middle management that might have to make those trips frequently.  The fact that Porter thrives in the same spot where Jazz failed abysmally should be an obvious and compelling object lesson to Jazz management.  Let us hope they do not squander a seldom-given second chance.

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Comac C919

Comac 919 pre-show media image. (Ben Sandilands/Plane Talking)

Comac 919 pre-show media image. (Ben Sandilands/Plane Talking)

Ben Sandilands of Plane Talking has some images of China’s challenger to Boeing and Airbus market dominance, the Comac C919.  China unveiled the model at Hong Kong’s Asian Aerospace ’09 trade show.

The aircraft is expected to enter service in 2016.  Although Western companies are competing for engine contracts, another state-owned Chinese firm (AVIC) is said to be developing its own alternate engine.

And, of course, the company says the C919 will be cheaper to own and operate than comparable offerings from Boeing or Airbus.

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When statists “get” capitalism

Russian state subsidies to its aircraft manufacturing industry have increased twentyfold over the past five years.  Now everyone’s favourite buff Russian politician, Vladimiar Putin, is warning that the gravy train will come to a shuddering halt unless things improve.

Putin gave the sector an Oct. 1 deadline to propose recovery measures and singled out state-run United Aviation Corp — created three years ago to spearhead the revival of Russia’s domestic aviation industry — for signing unprofitable deals.

‘I would like to warn you against the illusion that the state will cover losses indefinitely, pull you out of debt and correct management’s mistakes,’ Putin told a meeting of industry managers and government officials at the MAKS aerospace fair near Moscow.

… ‘We understand that the situation is difficult and your competitors are using their governments’ support, but you should not repeat somebody else’s stupid mistakes.’

— Bryanski, Gleb.  “Putin says Russia will not save plane builders.”, 18 August 2009.

Is it too late to nominate this guy to the General Motors board of directors?

Category: Aeronautics, Foreign Affairs, Industria  Comments off

Our fascist friends across the sea


….have just copied several terabytes of avionics and design data for the F-35 Lightning II.

WASHINGTON — Computer spies have broken into the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project — the Defense Department’s costliest weapons program ever — according to current and former government officials familiar with the attacks.

Similar incidents have also breached the Air Force’s air-traffic-control system in recent months, these people say. In the case of the fighter-jet program, the intruders were able to copy and siphon off several terabytes of data related to design and electronics systems, officials say, potentially making it easier to defend against the craft.

The latest intrusions provide new evidence that a battle is heating up between the U.S. and potential adversaries over the data networks that tie the world together. The revelations follow a recent Wall Street Journal report that computers used to control the U.S. electrical-distribution system, as well as other infrastructure, have also been infiltrated by spies abroad.

— Siobhan Gorman, August Cole and Yochi Dreazen.  “Computer Spies Breach Fighter-Jet Project“, Wall Street Journal, April 21st, 2009.

So let’s see, China has stolen data on every nuclear warhead in the US inventory, the space shuttle, the C-17, and Delta IV medium/heavy-lift booster.  But don’t worry, our geopolitical geniuses assure us China doesn’t actually mean us any harm.  Because they hold a lot of U.S. dollars.  And aren’t at all working to undermine it as the world’s most popular reserve currency.

Might as well send them the dirt on F-22 thrust-vectoring and supercruise now, along with its ISR systems.  If they are going to rip off all of our good ideas they may as well make one really kick-ass fighter out of elements from both systems.  And then sell it for about one-quarter of JSF’s cost to other “good friends” like Iran and North Korea.

UPDATE: Lockheed says nuh-uh, nobody got their mitts on any secret F-35 goodies.

“We believe the article in Wall Street Journal was incorrect in its representation of successful cyber attacks on the F-35 program,” Lockheed spokeswoman Cheryl Amerine said in an e-mail. “To our knowledge there has never been any classified information breach. Like the government, we have attacks on our systems continually and have stringent measures in place to both detect and stop attacks.”

— Edmond Lococo and Tony Capaccio. “Lockheed Says F-35 Security Hasn’t Been Breached“,, April 21st, 2009.

Image: PLAAF propaganda, 1964.  Text reads “It doesn’t matter whether enemy airlpanes come in broad daylight, or the dark of night, from high or from low, all must be destroyed!”  Source: Stefan Landsberger’s Chinese Propaganda Poster pages.

Propane and propane accessories

…going boom in the night

The noise and shockwave from this thing (visible at 0:06 in the embedded video) shook our condo and bed, and woke me up at about 0350 Eastern.  I am a little amazed to learn that it was 10 kilometres almost due north, and yet the noise and vibration carried that far.

It kept up a steady drumbeat of secondary (but much smaller) explosions for at least 10-15 minutes afterward.  I thought it was a bit of thunder at first, but there was no hint of rain outside.  When I checked the King City weather radar there was no precip within miles of us.  Didn’t figure it was worth turning on the news since they’ll only have cameras and reporters on-scene a half-hour later.  We face the lake to the south, and so I couldn’t see the big fireball and titanic flames rising from Keele and Wilson.  Looked downtown and saw everything was still there, so I went back to bed. 

Good to know that despite the enormous evacuation, there was only one fatality.  Could have been much, much worse.

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Canadians still successfully ignoring elephant in the room

So, potential iPhone customers in Canada will get the shaft, via the carrier’s wireless data plans.  Don’t be too surprised—we’ve been getting gouged (relative to our southern neighbours) on dairy products like eggs, milk, butter and cheese for decades.  And we’re all much more likely to buy any of those items.  Yet dairy lacks the sex appeal of cell phones, so instead of getting angsty about the essentials, people get angsty about the toys.

I am a little sympathetic to the situation, since I am also required to be a hostage to the nation’s only GSM service provider. But I’m not going to blame Rogers for taking advantage of their monopoly situation, which was, after all, blessed by the CRTC and thence by politicians.  Companies, large or small, always adapt to market conditions—otherwise they go out of business.  It has always been thus.  More appropriate targets for popular agitation and reform might be:

  • Various federal politicians and their departments, who protect sectors of Canadian industry from the hurly-burly of unfettered interaction with foreign competitors.
  • Voters, who have consistently elected protectionist politicians.  There is still a widespread notion across all major parties that Canadian firms cannot hope to survive against global competitors.  They must therefore be protected by the regulations and restrictions of our artificial economic hothouse.

On a global playing field, you can have protectionist safeguards to preserve local industry, incurring potential costs of stagnation and non-competitive pricing.  Or you can have innovation and competitive pricing at the potential cost of losing your local industry.  It is an either/or proposition.  You can’t have protectionism accompanied by innovation and competitive pricing, because competition is the very thing that spurs companies to innovate and stay nimble.

To be blunt: lack of competition is a structural problem afflicting large sectors of the Canadian economy.  The CPRP and OECD say so.  It is not mere avarice on the part of one company, or even one industry.  It is the natural, logical result of trying to protect companies from the very catalyst that forces them to improve.

So by all means, write angry letters to Rogers, the CRTC, your MPs, et cetera.  But don’t expect an awful lot of change unless you’re prepared to let certain sacred cows die first.

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Eeeexcellent, Smithers!

CUPE threatens disruption if TTC declared an essential service.

This is just pure gold:

Sid Ryan, the head of CUPE, Ontario’s largest union, said he won’t sit idly by and watch people’s right to strike be taken away.

“The right to strike is a fundamental right in any democracy,” Ryan said in a news release issued late Monday. “If you take that right away, workers are little more than indentured servants. We are not prepared to allow that to happen to any workers in Ontario’s public or private sectors.

Ryan promised the special designation would result in province-wide labour unrest.

— CTV Toronto, “CUPE promises labour unrest if TTC deemed essential“, April 29th, 2008.

First let me play against type by stating that I support the proletariat’s right to strike.  I recognise that even in our modern age, there may be certain situations in which the labour pool needs to express its dissatisfaction by hitting management where it hurts.  Fine.  Conversely, I believe that management also may need to stress its point of view via lockout, termination, or the like.  And finally that consumers can also express their displeasure for either (or both) by refusing to purchase the goods or service, and impoverishing management and labour alike.  And of course any of these parties may be subject to entirely justifiable public ridicule as a consequence of their actions.

That said, ATU 113’s weekend strike was legal but incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid.  After promising 48 hours forewarning and giving only 2, they stranded a few thousand people all across the city at 10pm last Friday evening.  Note to strikers: failing to keep your word rapidly drains the public’s reservoir of goodwill.  Who relies on weekend transit?  Shift workers, students, the elderly, people who can’t afford cars (or the routine use of cabs).  Note to strikers: disproportionately affecting the young, the old and the poor rapidly drains the public’s reservoir of goodwill.

After that stunning display of good judgment and shrewd public relations skill, CUPE has decided to back up their transit brethren by threatening labour unrest should Toronto City Council move to declare the TTC an essential service.  Well-played, CUPE.  Backing the strikers who have disproportionately affected the young, the old, and the poor is a marvellous public relations stunt.  Threatening the public’s duly elected representatives (and its citizens) with more labour disruption is frankly hilarious when one considers how thoroughly the strike antagonised transit supporters in Toronto.  If a vast right-wing conspiracy were formed to brand public-sector unions as greedy, overprotective and out-of-touch with the common man, they could hardly have crafted a better response.  If such a conspiracy existed, I would be a charter member of it; instead, I’m trying to do you a favour here.

So here’s a hint, CUPE.  ATU 113 lost the PR war, and it lost badly.  Transit staff may have had the legal right to strike, but they ceded the moral high ground completely by breaching their word and subsequently stranding people all over town.  Whether or not the TTC ought to be considered an essentual service is, quite properly, within the purview of our elected officials.  Trying to strong-arm them on behalf of the ATU makes you the bad guys in the story, too.  Think twice.

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IKEA: Swedish for “Up yours, Denmark!”

I heard some amusing news about IKEA on Friday, but forgot all about it in my rush to get home during the snowstorm.  Fortunately, I made it home in one piece and didn’t have to cut the tauntaun open and spend a night braving the elements on ice planet Hoth.  Anyway, on with teh funnay:

DENMARK is fed up being treated like a doormat by the Swedish furniture giant Ikea: Academics in Copenhagen claim to have discovered a pattern at Ikea whereby high-end items — chairs, beds and home furnishings — are named after Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian towns whereas doormats, draught excluders and runners are named after Danish towns.

“Swedish Imperialism,” claims Danish academic Klaus Kjller of the University of Copenhagen. Together with his colleague Professor Trls Mylenberg of the University of Southern Denmark, he conducted a thorough analysis of the names in the Ikea catalogue. They concluded that the Swedish names are reserved for the “better” products, and that even Norwegian names manage to make it into the bed department. But the “lesser” products bear Danish names such as “Roskilde” and “Kge”.

— Alan Hall, “Scandalised Danes say they won’t be Swedish Ikea’s doormats“.  The Age, March 8th, 2008.

Behind the smiling blonde faces, bikini teams and excessive use of birch veneer, furniture apparatchiks have quietly resurrected Karl XIII‘s dreams of pan-Scandinavian imperial glory.  IKEA’s PR flacks deny it all, of course, but then they would even if IKEA were a front company owned by Hank Scorpio.

I have to say that I am disappointed that our own Hudson’s Bay Company—the continent’s oldest commercial corporation—didn’t think up such a brilliant, underhanded way of insulting its neighbours and competitors.  Let me give you a hand, HBC.  In order to foster national cohesion, I propose the following naming conventions for your wares:

  • Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Office etc: Towns in Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories
  • Rugs, Doormats, Sanitary Products: Varies per province.  In Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, these products will be named after towns in Ontario.  Alberta will also have its own special line named after members of the Trudeau family.  In Ontario, they will be named after neighbourhoods of Toronto (i.e. Rosedale, North York, Scarborough).  In Toronto, they will be named after suburbs of the GTA (i.e. Markham, Burlington, Pickering) and famous Americans.  You get the idea.

If you do it right, you could boost sales through the roof.

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