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Geoffrey Thomas’s safety efforts praised

The Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California Najmedin Meshkati, PhD, CPE and former Jefferson Science Fellow and Senior Science and Engineering Advisor to the US State Department, has lauded AirlineRatings.com Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas’s “seminal works” saying they have made an “invaluable contribution to the improvement of aviation safety in the world.”

As a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), Dr Meshkati teaches at and was director of the world’s renowned, 60-year old USC Aviation Safety and Security Program during 1992 to 1997.

Professor Meshkati teaches and conducts research on Human Factors in Aviation Safety; pilot mental workload assessment and situational awareness; crew resource management; cockpit design and automation; Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT); runway incursion; and loss of control in flight.

“Mr. Thomas and his articles have been a major source of information for me and I have always shared them with my students. Furthermore, I consider some of his articles in Air Transport World and Australian Aviation as “seminal” and refer to them in my classes as “must read” for any aviation safety professionals,” said Professor Meshkati.

Mr Thomas is Airlines Editor at Australian Aviation and is former Chief Editor of Washington DC-based Air Transport World.

Mr Thomas’s safety related articles have won numerous international awards and his most insightful, Back to Basics on the problems of cockpit automation deskilling pilots was published just three days before the tragic loss of the Air France 447.

“Geoffrey Thomas [has made] an invaluable contribution to the improvement of aviation safety in the world,” said Professor Meshkati.

 

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Qantas security staff to strike

Qantas Airbus A330
Qantas International has a new chief executive

Up to 80 security screening staff employed by MSS Security in the Qantas domestic terminal are expected to stop work at 2pm for one hour over calls for a better pay deal.

If a deal can’t be struck with MSS today, United Voice assistant secretary Pat O’Donnell says union members could carry out strike action including shutting down some of the security lanes and explosives swabbing on every single passenger.

Mr O’Donnell said the meeting was likely to cause delays for passengers, who were advised to arrive earlier than usual for their flights.

However an emailed statement released by Qantas communications advisor Sarah Algar said MSS, the contractor which provides security screening services for Qantas and Jetstar, has “contingencies in place”.

“We don’t expect this will cause any disruptions to customers at the airport or flight delays,” the statement reads.

Ms Algar would not detail what these contingencies were and MSS did not respond to calls for comment but The West Australian understands MSS will use non-unionised workers to plug the gaps.

The United Voice union, which represents the security workers, claims the company’s Melbourne-based employees have recently been offered a far superior deal to those in WA.

“They recently offered higher increases to Melbourne, penalty rates and better rates for morning shifts,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The action comes during Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce’s visit to Perth.

Mr O’Donnell said it was a happy coincidence the airline chief would be in Perth.

“That was just a bit of luck,” he said.

“We’re quite happy that he is in town.

“Part of the problem with these contract companies is they make profits by paying the lowest amount of wages they can get away with but we think Qantas has to take some responsibility.”

Regardless, they workers will return to work after the meeting wearing shirts emblazoned with “Paid Less in the West”.

Man tried to open exit door on US flight

Passengers and crew aboard the Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland told investigators that 23-year-old Alexander Michael Herrera made “unusual statements” before trying to open the plane’s door, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said.

Flight 132 was preparing to land at Portland International Airport when the Arizona man set off an alarm by pulling the door handle in the emergency-exit row, Steele said.

Witness Henry Pignataro told KGW-TV that a woman seated next to Herrera asked for help.

“I put him in a choke hold and brought him down to the ground,” Pignataro said.

Pignataro said he and another man held down the passenger and asked flight attendants for restraints. He said they brought three sets of shoelaces, which Pignataro and the other man used to bind Herrera’s legs.

The flight attendants then brought extra seatbelt extensions, and the witnesses applied those to Herrera, as well.

Pignataro said Herrera – listed as 100kg his booking information – was then placed into a seat, where he calmly sat “surrounded by big guys” until the plane landed only nine minutes behind schedule.

Herrera was being booked into a Portland jail on a charge of interfering with a flight crew, and was expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday before a federal magistrate.

Virgin gets nod for Tiger deal

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced this morning that it would not oppose the proposed acquisition by Virgin Australia of 60 per cent of Tiger Airways Australia. Virgin Australia is the second largest domestic airline operator in Australia, behind Qantas and has expressed its intention to triple Tiger’s fleet over the next five years. Tiger started operations in November 2007 and services 16 domestic routes with 11 planes.

“The ACCC’s view is that this acquisition is unlikely to lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the Australian market for domestic air passenger transport services,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said. “Essential to reaching this view was the ACCC’s assessment, made after thorough and extensive testing of the issue, that Tiger would be highly unlikely to remain in the local market if the proposed acquisition didn’t proceed. Absent this conclusion the acquisition raised considerable competition concerns.

“In making this assessment the ACCC had particular regard to Tiger Australia’s history of poor financial and operational performance. In six years in Australia, Tiger has never made an operating profit, and its current losses are large. These losses remain a big drag on the entire Tiger group.” The Virgin takeover will bring security to Tiger Airways staff.

The ACCC also tested the likelihood of Tiger Australia’s performance being improved by either its current owner (the Singapore-based Tiger Airways Holdings Limited) or other potential shareholders or joint venture partners if the proposed acquisition did not proceed.

“The ACCC considered it unlikely given the current circumstances that Tiger Australia would be turned around under any of these scenarios to provide vigorous competition as an independent operator. Instead its key assets, being the 11 Airbus aircraft, would very likely be redeployed into the Asian operations of its parent company,” Mr Sims said.

He added that the ACCC would always prefer to see a greater number of independent airlines competing in the domestic market. “However, our investigations showed that Tiger Australia had been unable to establish itself as a viable competitor despite substantial investment and numerous changes of management and strategy over the years,” Mr Sims said. “We concluded that it was highly likely that Tiger Australia would leave the market if this acquisition didn’t go ahead, and accordingly blocking the acquisition would not serve to protect competition. Virgin Australia now has the opportunity to pursue its stated objective of transforming Tiger Australia into an effective competitor to Jetstar for price sensitive travellers.”

The ACCC consulted widely with a range of interested parties, including other airlines, airports, tourism organisations and industry bodies throughout the course of its review.

Virgin shares were up two cents, or 4.6 per cent, to 45.5 cents at 9am in a broadly firmer market.

 

Welcome to the new world of Digital Airlines

My name is Geoffrey Thomas, author, publisher, commentator and lecturer and together with a team of highly qualified international editors we have designed the ultimate airline information website listing more than 420 full service, low cost and regional airlines across the world.

Airlines are critical to today’s world yet so much about them is totally misunderstood and this was our motivation to build this website.

To bring to life the extraordinary world of air travel. Airlineratings.com provides an objective A-Z portrayal of the global airline industry with an industry first transparent airline safety rating system plus an objective and relevant in-flight product rating system.

Our rating system has been developed and is judged by some of the most highly awarded and respected editors in the industry. But there is far more to this wonderful resource – Did you know, Ask the editors, What plane is it, Lounge and Food reviews, Videos with facts / statistics and so, so much more.

This is a one-stop-shop website designed for everyone who is interested in travelling or air travel. And we invite your participation with our make a difference module and have a chance to win one of many wonderful prizes.

It is with great pleasure that we unveil this site to you.

Testing regime pushes planes to the limit

The view at 10,000ft above Queenstown is simply stunning for passengers aboard our Air New Zealand flight. But in the cockpit, The West Australian and Channel 7’s Today Tonight crew see a very different picture. We’re about to land on a tiny runway nestled between treacherous mountains. Heads are down scanning an array of screens that weave computer wizardry as the plane’s navigation system uses global positioning satellites to pinpoint the dangers that have claimed so many lives in the past or forced planes to divert.

Required Navigation Performance (RNP)
Dubbed RNP (required navigation performance) and introduced in the late 1990s, the system allows pilots to fly in blinding cloud, rain and snow around mountains right to the runway and saves costly diversions. And its accuracy? A few metres.

Queenstown is known as one of the world’s most difficult and challenging airports for landing and takeoff. Air New Zealand’s Airbus A320 fleet manager Capt. Hugh Pearce says RNP is complex and needs 25 different navigation systems and backups to work correctly.

A single diversion can cost as much as $30,000, making the value of RNP compelling. But it’s not just safe landings in airports such as Queenstown that are driving airlines’ push for RNP. Because of its high-precision capability, RNP can save airlines millions of dollars in fuel costs by using much shorter – and mostly curved – approaches to airports.

RNP is just one of many new technologies that have dramatically improved airline safety, resulting in the lowest number of accidents since 1945. Last year, there were only 475 deaths from 23 accidents while the industry carried 2.9 billion passengers.

Compared with traditional cockpits, the improvements in computerised cockpits are significant with the elimination of up to 600 dials and gauges. And procedures are cut. If an engine catches fire, a pilot now needs to take four actions instead of 15.

Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)
Two of the greatest advances in the cockpit are the traffic collision avoidance system and the enhanced ground proximity warning system. TCAS provides pilots with collision protection if there is a failure by air traffic controllers. It tracks all planes by picking up their identity transmission and warns of an impending collision and what action is required. It has saved thousands of lives.

Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS)
EGPWS shows pilots the world’s terrain database on their computer screens and colour-codes mountains relative to the plane’s altitude. And the gadgetry doesn’t end there. There is a 3-D weather radar that detects turbulence and an auto-land system that has an accuracy of just a metre.

Aircraft testing improves safety
Another critical aspect of keeping passengers safe is testing the planes, an extremely sophisticated and expensive process. When Boeing built the 365-seat 777, it had to prove that the 777 structure could carry the maximum design load in the most extreme conditions over the life of the plane.

Enter the ultimate torture chamber. Applying the torture were 96 hydraulic actuators which punished the 777 in 120,000 simulated flights – double its expected life span. The most dramatic testing was done on the wing. After simulating two lifetimes of testing, engineers bent the wing upwards 7.31m – equal to a load of 120,000kg – before it fractured.

But testing wasn’t always that sophisticated. In 1932 the Douglas Aircraft Company used a steamroller to test the structural integrity of its DC-1 wing.

And there are a host of operational tests. One of the most impressive is the velocity minimum unstuck test which determines the plane’s minimum lift-off speed. The test pilot tries to get the plane to take off at the normal speed, which results in the plane “sitting” on its tail before lifting off. Another torturous test is rejected take-off. The 777 was loaded to its maximum take-off weight and brought up to take-off speed. Without using reverse thrust, with worn brakes the pilot must bring it to a stop using brakes only. After stopping, the brakes became so hot they glowed red. However, no action can be taken for five minutes, representing the time taken to get emergency vehicles to the plane.

Another test is the cold soak, where the plane is left for three days in a blizzard before start-up. And the engines that power these giants of the air have to endure even worse. General Electric’s GE90 – the world’s largest engine that develops 76,000hp – had to soak up 4.5 tonnes of water and 1.5 tonnes of ice a minute, along with an assortment of dead birds. But testing is just one aspect.

Expensive maintenance
Maintaining a plane is extremely expensive. Airbus A380 tyres cost $92,000 each and must be changed about every six months. The A380 has 32 of them. An A380 windscreen-wiper blade will set an airline back $1000 and a complete overhaul every five years lasts two months, takes 40,000 man hours and can cost more than $6 million. The improvements in cockpits are significant with the elimination of up to 600 dials and gauges.

Super-size kitchens rule

Every day 7.5 million people board 84,000 flights across the world. It’s a sign that flying has become an ordinary part of life for many people. Far less ordinary are the mind-bogglingly complex systems needed to look after the millions of passengers. Keeping them fed and watered is a hugely important part of an airline’s operations as The West Australian and Channel 7’s Today Tonight found out when they visited two of the world’s biggest kitchens.

Jorg Kubisz and his team at Cathay Pacific’s kitchen in Hong Kong produce a staggering 63,000 in-flight meals every day. “We have very big numbers here on a daily basis: 15,000 portions of rice, 800 steaks, 80,000 bread rolls, buns and pastries and five tonnes of fruit” Mr Kubisz says. The kitchen includes 17 different sections to produce most cuisines – western, continental and Mediterranean, Japanese, Korean, Indian and South-East Asian as well as a bakery and halal and kosher kitchens.

The kitchens are a hive of quiet and controlled activity as everyone works to tight schedules. A huge wok sizzles and throws up flames as a chef cooks 60 portions of stir-fry at once – 60 per cent of the food made in Cathay Pacific’s kitchen is Chinese food. A big vat of delicious smelling curry bubbles away as a chef uses a spoon the size of an oar to stir it. Some tasks are done by hand – lettuce leaves are sorted, omelettes are flipped and pies are egg-washed. Other tasks are done with some help from technology.

Two chefs stand at an intriguing contraption – it looks like something out of a Wallace and Gromit animation – which rotates a dozen hot frying pans underneath a nozzle which squirts oil, then an egg mixture that is cooked, flipped and dished up by the chefs. “We have to do this because we cook 8,000 omelettes a day” Mr Kubisz explains.

More important than what goes in the food is what does not or should not. With 63,000 meals being churned out a day, the opportunity for something to go wrong is big and the consequences even bigger. “Foreign objects in food are a reality” Mr Kubisz says. “If a passenger notices, he will complain. Then we have to prepare a report and that number is captured in our performance.” Cleanliness procedures are tight. Regular handwashing is a must and everyone uses hair nets, face masks, white coats and bootees.

Cathay Pacific’s kitchens are impressive enough, but to the west in Dubai, Emirates airline is leading the charge on air travel expansion. Sprawled across the hot desert is the world’s biggest kitchen, producing about 120,000 meals a day. “Our biggest challenge is logistics. It’s putting it all together and getting it on to the plane” head chef James Griffith says. The quantities he and his team handle are huge – 13 million croissants and three million muffins are baked on site every year, 300 tonnes of Australian lamb is cooked and 250 tonnes of watermelon is prepared. With 1000 flights taking off from and landing in Dubai every day, the smooth running of the kitchens is crucial to keep flights on time.

Emirates’ head of catering Duncan Davies says there is little room for error. “To help us handle the tremendous volume coming in at the peak period, one way is to automate and we have various automated systems” he says. “We have our team working around the clock, so if there’s a breakdown, immediately they can respond.”

Airline meals have long had a bad reputation as being inedible, flavourless fare. Terri Higgins, from Qantas catering, says times have changed, thanks in part to new technology. “I think airline food’s really changed from the stigma it used to have in the early 60s and 70s” she says. “The equipment we have on board nowadays, it’s not just ovens. We have toasters, toasted sandwich makers, espresso machines.”

But there are foods that don’t fly well and airlines have learnt to leave them off the menu. Anything raw, such as sashimi and oysters, is a no-no. So is anything liable to dry up when reheated or at altitude. “For your main courses, the best options are things in sauces – the stroganoff, the stews. Risottos don’t work well – they’ll go mushy or hard goop,” Mr Griffith explains. Also, dry cabin air and high altitude means passengers lose a third of their sense of taste. It means, Mr Griffiths says, that the food has to be more intensely flavoured. “Tomato sauce works very well.”

Wine is also affected by weakened tastebuds, but there is another factor. Vibrations from the engines alter the wine’s structure. Cathay Pacific’s Charles Grossreider says consequently wines have less flavour when drunk mid-air, so he chooses more complex wines to be served on flights. It’s costly for the airlines, which may make only $3 profit out of a $300 airfare. Faced with the huge task of feeding 7.5 million passengers every day, you could argue that it is these kitchens that really rule.

Rocky’s trip from pot to overseas plate

Bobbing on the blue waters of the Indian Ocean off the WA coast before sunrise, fisherman Brent Thompson and his crew are pulling up their pots containing their latest haul of rock lobster. The ocean off Cervantes feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of Perth international airport and the world’s multibillion-dollar air cargo business.

But these small red crustaceans are a highly prized delicacy worldwide and make up a crucial part of WA’s airfreight export market. WA rock lobsters are exported live globally in a quick and efficient operation that delivers them to their foreign destinations fresh.

To find out how this impressive process works, The West Australian and Channel 7’s Today Tonight followed one WA rock lobster, named Rocky, on its journey from a Cervantes lobster pot to a Hong Kong restaurant dinner plate. The lengths taken to ensure Rocky’s safe arrival illustrates the value of WA’s $183 million rock lobster industry, much of which is imported live to China and South-East Asia and cooked to Europe.

Rocky’s journey also shows how air cargo is just as important – if not more so – as passengers to airlines. Without cargo in the bellies of planes, passenger airfares would increase by up to 20 per cent and many flight routes would be unsustainable.

Brent Thompson followed his father Dave Thompson, who owns the Indian Ocean Rock Lobster company in the town, and his grandfather Dave Thompson Sr into lobster fishing. Since becoming a skipper four years ago, the 26-year-old has watched his industry go through upheaval, largely because of the introduction of a catch limit on the fishery designed to protect the rock lobster population, which was hit by lowest-ever breeding levels in 2008. But fishermen can now pull pots all year round after the State Government abolished the seven-month season last month.

The rock lobsters are weighed, graded and checked – too many missing legs or feelers make a lobster unsellable. WA rock lobster export markets, which are mainly in China, Japan, the US and Europe, tend to favour smaller lobsters, which are worth about $45/kg, while the biggest lobsters are worth about $30/kg.

Some rock lobsters are cooked before export by steaming for 45 minutes. A consignment being prepared to be flown to Paris, has to arrive in France at a temperature of between minus one and 4C, otherwise French officials send the cargo back to Cervantes.

The rock lobsters, including Rocky, destined for live export are stunned in chilled saltwater, between 6C and 9C, for up to five minutes to put them into a deep sleep for their flight. “We find, comfortably, they’ll do 24 hours pushing it out to about 30 hours in that condition,” Dave Thompson said. “Any longer, you start to get high mortality. Also if they wake up midstream, they tend to get agitated and they lose their limbs.”

Once stunned, the lobsters are packed in sawdust-lined eskies and before long they begin their 240km journey to Perth international airport and air freight travel agent Worldlink’s depot, which handles up to 18 tonnes of live lobsters daily. Worldlink director David Wilkins said many airlines flying out of Perth relied on the live lobster trade for their cargo revenue. “Air cargo is very, very important to airlines, particularly out of Perth,” he said. “You’ll find that a lot of airlines have scheduled their aircraft movements in and out of Perth to coincide with the availability of cargo.”

More than 40 per cent of world trade by value is carried in passenger or freight planes each year. It adds up to a staggering 50 million tonnes of cargo worth more than $5 trillion. As passengers board a midnight Cathay Pacific flight at Perth international airport, Rocky and his mates are being loaded into the belly of the aircraft for the seven-hour, 6,000km journey to Hong Kong.

The next morning, seafood importer Wilson Yuen takes carriage of his latest live delivery and unpacks Rocky and the other lobsters. Wriggling and kicking, the lobsters are well awake as they are put into the tanks at his seafood market shop. “In Chinese tradition, we like to eat fresh seafood, live seafood. We don’t want to see something frozen. It has no value, you know, in the market,” Mr Yuen explains. It is early evening in Hong Kong and the seafood market comes alive with people who come out to buy their dinner, as fresh as if it had just been plucked out of the Indian Ocean.

Rob Broadfield, The West Australian‘s food editor, joined Rocky’s journey to Hong Kong, ending when the chef-cum-critic cooked the well-travelled lobster in a wok with ginger, garlic and soy, helped by a Hong Kong restaurant chef. “Because it was fresh, it tasted extraordinary and the light cooking the Chinese like just allowed all the flavours to sing,” Broadfield said.

Qantas triples profit but misses mark

qantas

Qantas has nearly tripled its first half profit as it begins to realise the benefits of recent tough decisions, its chief executive says. Qantas made a net profit of $111 million in the six months to December 31, up from $42 million in the previous corresponding period. The result falls below analyst expectations of a net profit of $138 million.

“The operating environment remains complex and volatile, but we are now beginning to realise the benefits of the tough decisions that we have made over the past 18 months,” chief executive Alan Joyce said in a statement.

The airline’s underlying profit before tax, which excludes one-off financial items, was $223 million, up 10 per cent from $202 million in the previous corresponding period. Qantas in November forecast an underlying profit before tax in the range of $180 million to $230 million. All parts of the airline’s business were profitable in the period, except for its international division, which made a loss of $91 million in the six months to December.

That was an improvement from a $262 million loss in the previous corresponding period. Changes to the business, including a proposed alliance with Emirates, were expected to return it to profit, Mr Joyce said. “Qantas International is well advanced in its turnaround plan,” he said. No specific guidance for the full year was provided, due to economic uncertainty, Mr Joyce said. Qantas said it would again not pay an interim dividend to shareholders.

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