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I gave up on CBC Radio right around the time my twenties disappeared into the rear-view mirror. A decade and a half ago CBC’s radio services were much more interesting and thoughtful than they have become in recent times.
But I have to wonder, on behalf of everyone who still tries to practice honest-to-God journalism at the Mother Corp, did they run out of actual radio journalists sometime in the past year? Joe Canadian (of the worst beer money can buy) is the best you could do?
A good understanding of both is helpful, if you are 1) an astrophysicist trying to raise money for a private space launch facility, or 2) the wire services reporter assigned to cover the story.
MONTREAL—The head of the Muhammad Institute for Space Science wants to build a space-launch facility in Canada.
Redouane Al Fakir’s goal is putting the Islamic world back at the forefront of scientific discovery.
But the Vancouver astrophysicist wants all Canadians to be involved in his project.
His proposed commercial space port in British Columbia would be the first of its kind in this country — and Al Fakir says it’s about time.
The way he sees it, if countries like India, China and Japan can launch satellites into space, why not Canada?
The UBC astronomer is out raising money, especially in the Middle East, but he faces a big challenge: Al Fakir estimates that it would take $100 million to build a facility, and $500 million to send up a rocket.
— Canadian Press. “Man raising money in Middle East for Canadian space launch site“. Toronto Star, 5 December 2010.
Let me say first of all that I would welcome the development of a commercial space launch facility, but the choice of Vancouver (and well, Canada in general) presents some significant challenges.
When our American neighbours selected Cape Canaveral as their launch facility, it wasn’t just because of readily available land, and an affinity for alligators. Florida is a lot closer to the Earth’s equator than any other continental American state, and that proximity translates into increased speed for the boosting platform. (Wired magazine’s Rhett Allain has penned a good summary of the physics and constraints of geography.)
To get that speed boost you also need to launch in the direction of the Earth’s rotation (which is from west to east). A booster leaving Florida on an easterly heading takes it out over the Atlantic, which is handy if you have to drop stages or debris and want to avoid killing people on the ground in the process. Launching from Vancouver means the ascent path would take a booster over populated areas of British Columbia and Alberta. Not so good if you have to abort/destroy the booster, or drop stages on the way to orbit.
Then there’s the more prosaic concerns about communications and telemetry, having appropriate tracking resources on orbit so that you don’t have to build an array of expensive ground tracking stations. And making sure the launch facility is sturdy enough to endure our wintry climate, and so on.
Building a launch centre here is certainly not impossible, but it will always be more expensive in fuel and hardware than launching the same booster and payload from somewhere further south. Countries such as India, China and Japan are a whole lot closer to the equator than Canada, and as such will always enjoy an energy (and financial) advantage over something launched from a higher latitude.
These are not insurmountable obstacles, but they’re worth keeping in mind when you’re trying to make money from such a venture.
Paul Wells provides valuable insight into how General McChrystal got burned—and how, given that reporter’s prior history, COMISAF should have seen it coming. Unfortunately it will also tend to reinforce lousy opinions about the media for those of us with a cynic’s view.
I enjoyed this Toronto Star opinion piece on Porter Airlines’ upcoming IPO because it sheds some light on how certain industry analysts think, and that in turn colours how certain journalists think.
“People aren’t as afraid of taking risk,” says Basili Alukos, an equity analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, who adds that there’s “appetite” for airline stocks, appetite being one of Mr. Porter’s favourite words.
Alukos notes the recent loft in the share prices of even some debt-laden U.S. legacy air carriers.
The story Deluce, a pilot and past-president of Canada 3000, will take to the street is the story of the still upstart airline stealing a march on the competition while keeping a lock on what is now called Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
Well, nothing lasts forever, and Bob Deluce knows that. There will surely be other carriers on the island, and Deluce is a practical man. “Airline flying is a commodity,” sighs Alukos. “It’s driven by price. If there’s a new air carrier offering cheaper fares, people will be chomping at the bit.”
If Alukos is right – and I do believe he is – brand loyalty will be weakened, eventually, by price war. Mr. Porter’s adorableness will only take him so far.
— Wells, Jennifer. “Porter Airlines takes a flyer.” Toronto Star, 17 April 2010. [Emphasis mine]
That one sentence tells you right away that the analyst does not comprehend Porter’s business model. Every airline is expensive to operate and generates relatively meagre profits, but almost all of them have refused to adapt their core processes to better reflect new realities of air travel. Low-cost carriers (LCCs) are frequently cited as factor in driving down fares, and that is a valid point. But LCCs alone do not explain air travel’s woes. The bottom line is that air travel has become inconvenient, unpleasant and inappropriately priced relative to the true cost of operating an aircraft.
For example, a typical full-service airline will operate its aircraft to and from major hub airports, say from Pearson to LaGuardia, for example. These are both busy, expensive and frequently congested airports. The landing fees are expensive relative to smaller airports in the same metropolitan areas. Many airlines fly into these large hubs, and with greater numbers of aircraft comes greater complexity and opportunities for delays. A smaller airline such as Porter can avoid these potential hassles by choosing to fly into a less-congested airport (Newark, for example) near to the large hub. This allows the smaller carrier the possibility of cheaper landing fees, better on-time performance, fewer delays, quicker embarkation and disembarkation of passengers, and so on.
Any airline could, in theory, switch hubs provided it negotiated appropriately with the relevant airport authority. But most of the large airlines are locked into large, expensive airfields because that is where their partner airlines and connecting flights meet, or their maintenance facilities are located, and so on. The genius of Porter lies in choosing airports which are close to the major cities they serve, but not as congested as the main international hubs. Having to wait in the Customs line behind 1200 people that just got off a trio of arriving 747s can put a bit of a damper in your day. There’s little chance of that happening when you fly into the airfields that Porter serves, and that’s a deliberate choice because they want better a better customer experience.
Which leads me to the next point: Porter’s animating philosophy is business class for everyone. Or to be blunt, a more pleasant flying experience for everyone. Even if the airline’s competitors slash their fares, they will have to match Porter’s convenience and superior customer experience. The average Bay Street exec flying from Toronto to New York is not going to be wooed by a cheaper fare. Let us say that Air Canada Jazz begins operating its Dash 8-100s from CYTZ as they did in former days. The temptation for Jazz’s route structure will be to fly into a major international hub in New York where it can connect with Air Canada proper. Even if Jazz slashed its fare to just above TTC bus fare, it would not destroy Porter’s market share. Sure, a lot of people would give Jazz a shot, but they will soon realise that 1) the equipment is older and noisier, and 2) departure from YTZ might be faster, but extricating oneself from LaGuardia is still slow and painful due to large passenger volume. Students and cheapskates will be wooed by cheap fares; the suits on Bay Street and downtown dwellers in general—arguably Porter’s primary audience—will not. They will opt for a more pleasant and convenient experience even at a greater cost.
Any airline that hopes to eat Porter’s lunch will have to provide a similar level of service and convenience, and that won’t be easy unless they adopt a similar business model (which will, in turn, mitigate against their price being significantly lower). Cheap fares are not the airline-killer; the real killer is cheap fares married to lousy product and great inconvenience. That, unfortunately, describes the bulk of air carriers today.
RELATED: A Canadian Press report in the Star‘s business section gets it right.
Analyst Robert Kokonis of travel consultancy Air Trav Inc. said considering Porter’s stellar reputation, that figure is not out of the question.
He said the offering will generate a lot of excitement among investors because Porter offers a unique business model that focuses on customer service.
“It’s going to ignite a lot of passion and a lot of people to hop on board, so I wouldn’t doubt if this issue becomes oversubscribed,” he said.
“It’s a smart move to put your money into an airline that realizes you’ve got to pay attention not just to the cost line (by cutting costs), but realizes you’ve got to pay attention top line as well, by offering a great product, a great service.”
— “Porter plans IPO.” Canadian Press/Toronto Star, 16 April 2010.
Sort of sad that a “focus on customer service” is considered a unique selling point among airlines. But maybe that’s all you need to know about why Porter’s successful, and other island airport carriers (such as Air Canada Jazz) were not.
…from an unexpected source.
To be fair, the cadets are properly known as Royal Canadian Air Cadets (not Royal Canadian Air Force cadets). But this isn’t the first time USAF’s tried to re-royalise the CF’s air component in its publications.
I think at this point they are just going to keep calling it the RCAF until we change the name back out of frustration.
“My first five years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse,” Palin said during a speech in Calgary on Saturday. “Believe it or not — this was in the ‘60s — we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn’t that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada.”
— Canwest News Service (with files from Jason Markusoff). “Sarah Palin’s Canadian health care link has critics sick.” Calgary Herald, 8 March 2010. [Emphasis mine]
Some excitable journalists and commentators are trying to insinuate the stink of hypocrisy and covering the story like it’s a giant contradiction, but what it really tells us is that they have no deductive reasoning capability whatsoever. I am no Palin apologist (my impression is that she is an earnest but incompetent politican, like Stephane Dion or John Tory), but surely the woman can not be called a hypocrite for an act she could not have influenced in any way, shape or form.
Let the record show that Sarah Louise Palin (née Heath) was born in 1964. At the end of the 1960s she would be five years old. Hands up, everyone who had the authority to select a sibling’s trauma treatment facility (in lieu of their parents doing so) at the age of five. If you are guessing that Mom or Dad Heath was responsible for sending her brother to Whitehorse for treatment, you’re correct. Now, hands up everyone whose parents made a decision in your formative years that you now, as an adult, find disagreeable.
Canada’s publicly-funded health care system was initiated by some provinces in 1961, but key federal legislation (the Canada Assistance Plan, 1966, and the Medical Care Act, 1966) did not come into force until 1968 (see timeline). Yukon Territory set up a hospital insurance plan with federal cost sharing in 1961, and a more general medical insurance plan with federal cost-sharing in 1972.
It will not surprise you to learn that in that time, non-Canadians were not eligible for our publicly-funded health insurance, so the American Heath family would have paid for any medical services that were provided.
Palin’s father said his family probably boarded the train for the Whitehorse hospital only twice — once when a daughter had rheumatic fever, and once when his son, also named Chuck, severely burned his leg and an infection set in.
“We much preferred to use our facilities because my insurance didn’t cover anything in Whitehorse. And even though they have socialized medicine, I still had to pay the bill, being an American citizen,” Heath said.
Heath worked part-time for the White Pass & Yukon Railroad and had a pass allowing him and his family to ride for free.
— Markusoff, Jason. “Sarah Palin heads north. Er, south. Er, to Calgary.” Calgary Herald, 7 March 2010.
If you want to drag Mrs. Palin over the coals about why the details of this story are eerily similar to another one told previously (where her brother burned his foot and went to Juneau, Alaska for treatment), you may have firmer ground to stand on. It’s okay to dislike a pandering politician; I dislike lots of them. But hypocrisy? Please. Palin was a five-year-old girl, at best, not the parent who decided where their children got treatment. If there’s a contradiction here, it’s why a non-story is garnering so much breathless media attention.
One of my concerns about Col. Russell Williams’ stunning treachery is that it would inevitably create a self-perpetuating media cycle. It is no surprise to anyone who consumes news—whether via newspaper, magazine, television or radio—that sensational crimes beget a lengthy media search and focus for similar events, no matter how tangental the relation.
Thus I have noticed in my “Canadian Forces” news filters a change in focus; instead of largely laudatory items regarding ISAF or humanitarian relief, I see a lot more items focusing on misdeeds and death (training-related or otherwise).
- “Military police officer facing assault charge.” Metronews (Halifax), 1 March 2010.
- “Police investigate 3 sudden deaths at CFB Borden.” CTV News (Toronto), 24 February 2010.
- “Eleven members of Games security unit sent home over disciplinary issues.” Canadian Press, 19 February 2010.
- “Sex charges laid against former top Forces Chaplain.” Toronto Star, 17 February 2010.
These are all, of course, quite newsworthy items on their own. And it would be a huge mistake to infer any wider trend out of these incidents, but because the media focus is inevitably going to be on the CF, member arrests, and deaths on base, we are going to end up getting a steady diet of it until the next sensational item redirects the media’s short attention span.
Where it can create a problem is that even if the pundits and reporters do not draw any inferences themselves, they could end up creating one for the ordinary Joe and Jane just through a steady accumulation of similar articles in a relatively short time span.
It didn’t take very long for a spate of negative attention to divorce the Forces from the Canadian public back in the early 1990s, during the Somalia affair. Subsequent to that there was a long fall-off in defence spending and atrophying of key capabilities.
A perceived fall in public esteem today will likely herald a fall from political grace; which will breed the perception amongst highly competitive ministerial departments that DND is a ripe target with few political defenders. That could mean budget oblivion, something Canadians have seen and regrettably accepted in the recent past.
It will be interesting to see how things play out in the long run, because the CF’s ability to weather this media focus on its bad apples could once again decide the Forces’ future, and the types of roles and missions they are able to execute. One hopes that the brass at NDHQ are cognisant of that possibility.