Monday, July 28, 2014

Cable Snaps on 60 MPH Amusement Park Ride

Cable Snaps on 60 MPH Amusement Park Ride

This is the Skyhawk, a 10-story tall "Screamin' Swing" ride that flings its passengers round and round at up to 60 mph. It's the tallest of its kind, bringing its 40 passengers as high as 125 feet off the ground at the apex of a swing. It's scary enough on a normal day. Last night, one of its cables snapped.


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US Passport and Visa Issuance Computer Crash, Thousands Stranded Worldwide

A story that has gotten some play but not nearly enough is that the system for issuing US passports and visas has broken down.

Passport issue times have slowed down, and visa issuance has broken down as a result. Foreigners looking for permission to travel to (or return to) the U.S. are stuck waiting.

Problems began July 19, although it wasn’t the year’s first system crash.

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) at the State Bureau of Consular Affairs “is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system,”

…The issues, she said, have resulted in significant backlogs. Visas are approved, recorded and printed through the CCD. “Until the system comes back online, we are unable to print visas.

While H1B status can be approved for 3 years (renewal once), the length of time that any given country’s citizen is given on their visa depends on where they’re from. Citizens of most of the world get their Visas for 3 years. That’s true for places like Pakistan. Citizens of Mexico only get visas one year at a time. So a colleague is down in Mexico renewing his visa (or else he wouldn’t be able to travel outside the country and return, as he does tend to need to do). And he’s stuck there. He writes,

I am still in Mexico. The US Bureau of Consular Affairs has been dealing with technical issues that prevents US Consulates to print Visas. That includes mine. There is nothing wrong with my petition/file. It is a worldwide system problem. If you want to be “amused”, look here:

A reader looking for advice on changing flights due to the issue writes,

I have some friends who are in Guangzhou, China now finalizing an adoption. They are working in getting the baby a US visa, but apparently the US consulate there is having technical issues and they have been delayed several days.

The State Department says they’re working on it.

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible.

This is a very big deal, for obvious reasons, and so I will refrain from the obvious snark.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bare iPhone 6 Logic Board Surfaces, Claimed to Support NFC and 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Claimed internal components for the iPhone 6 are beginning to surface with increasing frequency as it is now likely less than two months until launch. In line with those developments, a new set of photos [Google Translate] shared by reveal what appears to be the bare logic board of the iPhone 6, likely the 4.7-inch model.

According to, the source who shared the photos of the parts claims the iPhone 6 will include support for both near field communication (NFC) and faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi, although neither of those claims can be confirmed from the photos themselves. NFC for the iPhone has been rumored for years, but has yet to come to fruition and rumors are once again split as to whether the iPhone 6 will include the technology. 802.11ac seems to be a natural upgrade for the iPhone now that appropriate chips are available.

The logic board bears a number of similarities to corresponding parts from other iPhones, although this part includes a much longer piece extending across what would be the top of the device. Given the larger body size of the iPhone 6, however, it is unsurprising that internal components could see some changes to their design and layout.

iphone_6_logic_board_screw_holesOverlay of logic board and rear shell
Screw holes in the board also appear to line up with ones seen in recent leaks of claimed rear shell parts for the iPhone 6, indicating they are indeed likely from the same device.

iphone_6_logic_board_annotatedAnnotation of likely iPhone 6 logic board component locations
(Click for larger)

With the photos showing only the bare printed board and no chips or other components installed, it is difficult to tell much new information from the part, although the locations of some components can be identified based on their similarities to other iPhone logic boards.

The iPhone 6 is expected to see a similar launch timeframe as in recent years, with a September media event introduction followed by a launch shortly after. While the 4.7-inch model is expected to follow this timeline, an even larger 5.5-inch model is said to still be in flux and may not debut until several months later.

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Century Club: The 100-Year History of Cadillac V-8s

Century Club: The 100-Year History of Cadillac V-8s
Born in France, nurtured in America, the V-8 has satisfied the power hungry for a century.

Blame French communications engineer and aero-engine designer Clément Ader.

In 1903, this enterprising fellow hoped to make a name for his Société Industrielle des Téléphones-Voitures Automobiles Système Ader by entering a fleet of seven cars in the Paris-to-Madrid road race. His squadron consisted of one V-2, three V-4s, and three V-8 automobiles. Ader’s first V-8s were created by lashing together two V-4s.

Unfortunately, the race was an epic disaster. The starting grid consisted of more than 200 cars and several auto pioneers: Charles Rolls, Vincenzo Lancia, and brothers Marcel and Louis Renault. News reports claimed that more than 100,000 spectators showed up for the 3:30 a.m. start at Versailles. Wild driving, dust, animals on the course, and mechanical failures quickly sent the hapless racers into ditches, trees, and unruly spectators. Over half the field crashed or broke down. More than 100 people were injured, and the death toll numbered at least five racers and three spectators.

The aftermath of Marcel Renault's crash in the 1903 Paris-to-Madrid race.

The aftermath of Marcel Renault’s crash in the 1903 Paris-to-Madrid race.

One hundred or so cars did make it to Bordeaux, where the field was flagged to a halt, loaded on rail cars, and ignominiously returned to Paris. After Marcel Renault succumbed to his injuries, journalists dubbed the event The Race to Death.

Remarkably, all of Ader’s cars completed the 340-mile trek to Bordeaux. That success sparked interest in V-8 engines, and more soon followed. Two years later, Frenchman Alexandre Darracq built a lusty 22.5-liter OHV V-8 to power a racer driven by Victor Héméry. In 1905, this concoction set a land-speed record of 110 mph in southern France. Later, Louis Chevrolet demonstrated the same car in America.

In 1906, yet another Frenchman, Léon Levavasseur, presented a light, compact aircraft V-8 in a car at the Paris salon. Antoinette in France and Adams in England produced and sold a few such automobiles with this design.

The quest for V-8s shifted to America in 1907 when aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss upped the land-speed record to 136 mph with what he called a motor bicycle at Florida’s Ormand Beach.

Back in France, De Dion–Bouton began selling the first series-produced V-8 automobiles in 1910. At least a dozen different V-8 engine designs were built and sold over the next 14 years. Stripped for speed, examples of these V-8 cars finished fourth in Sicily’s 1913 and 1914 Targa Florio.


In 1910, under Henry Leland’s capable guidance and General Motors’ benevolence, Cadillac was the seventh-bestselling U.S. nameplate with a line of cars powered by a 33-hp four-cylinder engine. A half-dozen competitors had already moved to sixes for their top models. Not all were successful, but it was clear that something better than a four-cylinder engine would be necessary for Cadillac to sustain its Standard of the World status.

In 1912, Cadillac introduced self-starting to supplement its highly successful Delco ignition system initiated two years before on its Model Thirty.

A Cadillac advertisement for the then-new Delco ignition system.

A Cadillac advertisement for the then-new Delco ignition system.

Thinking ahead, Henry’s son Wilfred Leland proposed leapfrogging the competition with eight cylinders. Although the term benchmarking didn’t exist yet, his engineering team purchased two V-8s for analysis: one by De Dion–Bouton and a Hall-Scott aero engine.

Toiling in a skunkworks, the brilliant Charles Kettering and Edward Deeds (former Delco partners) constructed their prototype V-8–powered car, which was sufficiently impressive to earn production approval from the Lelands. Engineer D’Orsay White, who brought high-speed-engine experience from Britain to Cadillac, was placed in charge of the development effort.

The resulting Cadillac Type 51 V-8 introduced for 1915 models was a 90-degree L-head design with intake and exhaust manifolds contained between the cylinder banks. (In today’s vernacular, this would be a hot- and cold-V design.) Each head and block of four cylinders consisted of one iron casting bolted to an aluminum-copper-alloy crankcase. A 3.125-inch bore and a 5.125-inch stroke yielded 314 cubic inches. A single Cadillac-made updraft carburetor fed all eight cylinders. The dual breaker-point and coil ignition system was reliable to 4000 rpm. A motor-generator provided electric starting and lighting energy.

1915 Cadillac Type 51 limousine, first model year with a V-8.

1915 Cadillac Type 51 limousine, first model year with a V-8.

Features drawn from the aforementioned French V-8 were a chain-driven camshaft with but eight lobes and roller rockers to actuate the valves. The crankshaft was supported by three main bearings; a knife-and-fork connecting-rod arrangement avoided offset cylinder banks.

To support high-speed operation, Cadillac engineers added efficient exhaust ports and cooling passages; two water pumps equipped with thermostatic valves restricted coolant flow during warm-up. Ages before Ferrari discovered the benefits of a single-plane 180-degree crankshaft, Cadillac incorporated such a configuration in its first V-8.

A smooth 70 horsepower was provided at 2400 rpm and cruising up to 65 mph (roughly 2800 rpm) was possible. The new Cadillac V-8 was a huge success with 13,000 sales in 1915, prompting more than 20 other brands to follow with their own V-8 designs by 1920.

A larger intake manifold was installed for 1916, and two such 77-hp Type 53 Cadillacs averaged more than 70 mph in a 100-mile test conducted by the Automobile Club of America. In May 1916, the great Cannonball Baker and writer William Sturm broke their Los Angeles to New York record by nearly four days, averaging 463 miles per day in a Cadillac V-8 roadster. During World War I, Cadillacs were the preferred car for transporting U.S. and foreign officers; more than 2000 were shipped overseas, including a 1918 Type 57 that was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register this week. In an ironic move, the Lelands left Cadillac in 1917 to manufacture Liberty aircraft engines in a new organization dubbed . . . the Lincoln Motor Company.

1918 Type 57 - U.S. 1257X, currently in the National Historic Vehicle Register.

1918 Type 57 – U.S. 1257X, currently in the National Historic Vehicle Register.

An important improvement for the 1924 model year was Cadillac’s introduction of the first 90-degree, two-plane crankshaft. This eliminated secondary shaking forces that cause the engine to rock on its mounts. (Removable cylinder heads had been introduced for 1918.)

A second-generation, 341-cubic-inch V-8 arrived for 1928 with side-by-side connecting rods, improved lubrication, and a single water pump. With a 3.31-inch bore, 4.94-inch stroke, and a higher compression ratio, this engine delivered 90 horsepower at 3000 rpm.

Cadillac integrated block and crankcase components in a single casting in 1936. Three main bearings were still in use, and a two-barrel downdraft carburetor was added. Output climbed to 135 horsepower. Shortly after an automatic transmission became available in 1941, car production ceased and Cadillac supplied V-8 engines for the M-5 light tanks that it constructed for World War II use.

A WWII-era Cadillac advertisement for the M-5 tank.

A WWII-era Cadillac advertisement for the M-5 tank.

By then work had commenced on a modern overhead-valve V-8 engine to take advantage of higher-octane gasoline and rising road speeds. The new design was introduced for the 1949 model year with a 3.81-inch bore and 3.63-inch stroke yielding 331 cubic inches and 160 horsepower at 3800 rpm. Cast iron was used for the block and heads. The crankshaft was now supported by five main bearings. The new valvetrain had overhead rocker shafts and hydraulic lash adjusters. Cars equipped with Cadillac’s new V-8 finished third, tenth, and eleventh at the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans. That year Cadillac topped 100,000 sales for the first time.

1949 Cadillac 331-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

1949 Cadillac 331-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

Cadillac was strong during the 1950s horsepower race: 250 in 1955 and 270 with dual four-barrel carburetor Eldorados. In ’57, larger displacement and higher compression upped the ante to 300 horses in standard models and 325 in Eldos. A longer stroke for 1959 increased displacement to 390 cubic inches and 345 horsepower with three two-barrel carburetors.

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham 50th Anniversary

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham 50th Anniversary

Trimming weight was the goal throughout the 1960s. A new 429-cubic-inch V-8 for 1964 was lighter than the 1949 design while delivering 340 horsepower. A 1968 redesign brought 472 cubic inches, the first emissions controls, and 525 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Two years later, a 500-cubic-inch V-8 for the front-drive Eldorado delivered a nice, round 400 horsepower.

In pursuit of lower emissions, Cadillac innovated electronic ignition in 1974, followed by fuel injection and catalytic converters in 1975. This division was also ahead of the curve with its modulated displacement V-8-6-4 engine in 1981; unfortunately, it lacked today’s electronic controls and was a dismal failure.

Only a year later, the more carefully engineered High Technology 4.1-liter V-8 was introduced with a die-cast aluminum block topped by cast-iron cylinder heads and digital electronic fuel injection. Output was a modest 125 horsepower at 4200 rpm. Further tuning yielded 200 horsepower at 4300 rpm from 4.5 liters in the 1989 Cadillac Allante.

1993 Cadillac Northstar 4.6-liter V-8

1993 Cadillac Northstar 4.6-liter V-8

Cadillac’s illustrious 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 for the 1993 Allanté, Seville, and Eldorado boasted DOHC, four valves per cylinder, and aluminum-block and -head construction. The aluminum pistons and steel connecting rods were both forged for strength. Use of magnesium and molded-plastic castings helped trim weight. Electronic circuits regulated the port fuel injection and four ignition coils. A limp-home mode allowed the engine to run on four cylinders without damage after a total loss of coolant. With an initial rating of 295 horsepower, this roughly 400-pound engine had a production life lasting through the 2011 model year for front-drive Cadillacs. Adding a supercharger for 2006–2009 V-edition XLR and STS models raised output to 443 and 469 horsepower.

2015 Cadillac CTS-V coupe

2015 Cadillac CTS-V coupe

For the past quarter-century, Cadillac has also employed pushrod V-8s born at other GM divisions. Escalade trucks, for example, began with the Vortec 5700, adding the 6.2-liter Gen IV small-block in 2007. The Corvette’s hot 5.7-liter LS6 V-8 brought 400 horsepower to the CTS-V for 2005; the supercharged LSA V-8 arrived there in 2009 with 556 horsepower. New-for-2015 Escalades have 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8s.

Among its V-8 models available during the layout’s 2015 centennial, Cadillac is sending off the current CTS-V coupe with a run of 500 limited-edition cars. A CTS-V sedan is expected to rejoin the 2016 lineup with a supercharged 6.2-liter making at least 600 horsepower. While hot four-cylinder engines and twin-turbo V-6s are clearly the future, Cadillac has no intentions of saying goodbye to its long-loved V-8 anytime soon.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Airbus and Boeing Finalize Their Future Widebody Plans and One Looks Better Than the Other

With the recent launch of the A330neo, it seems that both Airbus and Boeing have almost fully formed their planned portfolios for the long haul, widebody market. Both companies have created three aircraft families that are expected to serve every airline’s needs. But from a capacity perspective, it looks like Boeing has the more comprehensive option. Airbus might still need some work.

Boeing and Airbus Widebody Capacity

We’ve seen a lot of this come together over the last year. Most recently, Airbus launched the A330neo, but the enhanced Boeing 777X line only firmed up late last year. And the 787-10 didn’t become official until last June. Let’s take a look at how these are supposed to compete with each other.

787 vs A330neo
At the smallest end of the widebody market, we have both the 787 and the A330neo. Originally, Airbus was going to try to use the A350-800 to compete with the smaller 787, but it became very clear that Airbus wasn’t getting a lot of orders and had no interest in making that airplane. So at the Farnborough Airshow, Airbus announced it would spiff up its A330 and offer that to customers. The A330neo will basically take the A330-200 and -300, add -600 to each, and then put on a few more seats. Throw on some new engines, make a few changes to the airplane, and you have a winner. The end result is an airplane that competes with the 787-8 on the small end and falls between the 787-9 and -10 on the upper end.

To me, this move makes sense for Airbus, because now it can go ahead and kill the A350-800 (though that hasn’t officially happened yet). It’s still not perfectly competitive, however. The 787 is a brand new, slightly more efficient airplane. So the tradeoff has to be that an A330neo will cost less than the 787 to make it more attractive. (There are probably also earlier delivery slots available on the A330neo since the 787 has such a big backlog.) Airlines that already operate A330s will be interested. Also, low cost carriers that need an efficient airplane but want lower capital outlay at the beginning will also probably like this plan.

But there’s one other issue for Airbus. The A330-900neo is just about the same capacity as the A350-900. Why have that kind of overlap? The tradeoff here is between price and range. The A330-900neo costs less than the A350-900 but its range is also a short 6,200nm (nautical miles) versus the A350′s 7,750nm. If range matters, you’ll buy the A350. If price matters, you’ll buy the A330. And of course, it also depends on what other needs you have, whether going bigger or smaller, to see which family fits best.

787 vs A350
When the A350 launched, the -900 was bigger than Boeing’s biggest planned 787 (the -9). And then Airbus had the A350-1000 which was going to push into the 350+ seat range. Boeing had a gap, but it wanted to protect sales of the 777, so it wouldn’t grow the 787. Boeing has finally given into pressure and last year committed to the 787-10. At 323 seats, it’s still smaller than the A350, but that’s because Boeing has a bigger airplane that can compete with the A350 on the upper end. We’ll get to that in a minute.

This does hurt Boeing’s chances of selling the smaller 777-200s that exist today, but let’s face it. Those are pretty much dead anyway. Both Airbus and Boeing have good families here, but Airbus serves a slightly larger market.

777X vs A350
Here’s where the biggest issue lies in the Airbus portfolio. Boeing has decided to go forward with the new 777X, and that will be its big widebody twinjet. The -8 will seat 350, about the same size as the A350-1000. But the -9 will seat 400. This gives Boeing a bigger airplane to which Airbus has no answer. Of course, the 777X will be a derivative of the original 777 design so it’s not likely to be the most efficient option at 350 seats.

The A350-1000 should be a rock star in that regard, but if you want something moderately bigger, Airbus has nothing to offer. Just look at Emirates. The airline canceled its order for 50 A350-900s and 20 A350-1000s last month. Then it turned around and ordered 35 777-8Xs and 115 777-9Xs. Emirates, like a lot of airlines, wants to have a mix that skews toward bigger jets. Airbus didn’t have anything to offer in that area. (I’m talking moderately bigger. We’ll get to the behemoths later.)

There’s been plenty of talk about Airbus moving into an A350-1100, and that would compete. But none of that is official at this point. It also remains to be seen if the A350 can be stretched that far and still be an efficient airplane. It wasn’t designed to be that big so there could be some real structural changes required to make it work. I don’t know, but I’m sure the engineers over there do.

747 vs A380
Up at the top end of the market, we still have the A380 and 747-8 lumbering along. Frankly, I don’t see a big future for either of these airplanes. Airbus continues to make noise about lowering raising the floor to allow for more seats. And this whole idea of an A380neo seems crazy to me, though Emirates obviously likes that idea. Other than Emirates, however, there’s just not a ton of demand at the high end. The same goes for Boeing and its 747-8, which hasn’t sold many of those in passenger configuration.

At this point, both airplanes are in production so they should try to sell the heck out of them. But they should realize that there’s a limited shelf life for both. Further development efforts should go into smaller airplanes.

In the end, we have two manufacturers with good options. The only thing that really seems to be lacking is an Airbus twin that can compete with the new 777-9X. If Airbus develops the A350-1100, that solves that problem. Then both manufacturers will have pretty much every tool they need to appeal to nearly every airline. And airlines will be happy to make them beat each other over the head as part of the negotiating process.

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Airliners & Missile Defense: A Pilot’s View.

US Army “Spyder” missile launch.


After an apparent missile strike brought down Malaysia Air flight 17 over the Ukraine with senseless, tragic loss of life, public focus has included possible defensive systems for airliners. From my perspective as an airline captain, I believe the discussion is good, but in my opinion, fruitless.

First, my disclaimer up front: I’ve never flown any aircraft with defensive systems, and I haven’t flown a military aircraft since my last flight as an Air Force pilot in 1985. Even then, our strategy was simple: avoidance of threat areas.

So what I know about aircraft missile defensive systems is from three sources: discussion with engineers who design such defensive systems at Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin, former military pilots who did evade missiles in flight, and industry publications such as Jane’s Aircraft and Weapons and Aviation Week & Space Technology.

That background, plus my 29 years (and counting) of uninterrupted flying as an airline pilot lead me to the following questions, for which I find no good answers:


1. Who? As in, who would operate such defensive systems, not only in cruise flight, but as importantly, in the low altitude structure on approach and departure when both the crew workload and vulnerability to even shoulder-launched missiles is highest? A passive system might (heavy on the “might”) do an adequate job detecting an impending missile threat (launched, launch-ready, or targeted) but then who–especially on a two-man crew, will analyze the threat and devise the defensive tactics to defeat the weapon or tracking system?

Some analysts point to the industry-standard TCAS (Traffic Conflict Avoidance System) as an example of an already operational avoidance system, but that overlooks one major flaw: TCAS is designed to detect potential flight path intersections of two flying bodies, then to compute and issue avoidance instructions to each. Besides the fact that one party in the impending collision–the missile–will not respond to avoidance instructions, the fact is, for the other aircraft, the instructions would be insufficient to avoid a missile. That’s because TCAS conforms to the design limitations of the airliner, stopping short of any maneuvering loads that would damage or destroy the aircraft.

So, who on board the airliner will be operating any defensive systems that would monitor threats, analyze incoming missiles or antiaircraft fire and devise evasive tactics? In a word, it can’t/shouldn’t/won’t be the two whose full attention better be on the approach or departure.


2. What? As in, what defensive systems? There are some systems designed for large aircraft that mask the infrared signature of the engines to foil heat seeking missiles. But, as in the case of MH17, the missiles weren’t heat seekers anyway. They were radar guided, against which heat-masking is largely ineffective. The simplest countermeasure against radar guided missiles might be chaff, which is essentially shredded foil that is ejected when a missile launch is imminent or in progress to disrupt targeting radar returns, but step two after dispensing chaff is to aggressively vacate the airspace the missiles were targeting. That brings us back to the limits encoded in TCAS: design limitations to prevent damage or structural failure preclude anything other than lumbering maneuvers in the air, hardly sufficient to avoid a missile traveling near the speed of sound.

3. Where? As in, in flight (see above) or on the ground? Regarding the latter, consider the recent destruction of 9 passenger jets on the airfield by terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan. Even if there were aircraft-based defensive systems, the fully-fueled, barely maneuverable or even parked jets are sitting ducks for explosive destruction–with hundreds of innocent lives at stake.

Which brings us the recent FAA ban on flight into Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. In my opinion as just one individual airline pilot, that FAA restriction was a mistake, for a couple of good reasons. First, I believe it was an over-reaction by the FAA that contravened the airlines’ own internal safety and security analysis and strategy. Worse, the one-size-fits-all restriction was hasty and clumsy, creating economic and political liabilities for our most staunch ally in an already volatile region.


I don’t advocate unthinking flights into a dangerous area, I just believe that the individual airlines are fully capable (and unceasingly, painfully aware of liability) when it comes to determining whether or not to continue airline service.

I’m fully informed on the risk of what is typically an unguided rocket (vs. missile, with a guidance system that could be defeated) being lobbed by dumb luck onto the airport. But the risk assessment should be left to the individual airlines to evaluate and resolve with sensible policy.

Passengers, of course, can decide for themselves whether to fly or not–but crewmembers are assigned to flights. I believe they should be given a choice whether or not to fly into a hostile area, but that’s a completely different decision level way below the FAA blanket ban and its attendant political and economic liability to the host nation.

4. Why? This is a “big picture” issue: why even discuss defensive systems for airliners, beyond the “warm fuzzy” (recall the short-lived “office parachutes” that appeared briefly after 9-11) even if unfounded, when we realize–as with my last Air Force squadron–that avoidance is the only way to make a large aircraft safe when any offensive weapons are in use.

Again, while the FAA is prudent to issue air route restrictions (route were modified/restricted–not prohibited) over war zones like the Ukraine, blanket bans such as the Tel Aviv landing prohibition are senseless and politically, reckless.

Let airlines, passengers and (this should be ensured) crew decide what risk makes individual sense. And leave the missile defense to the pros, which in the case of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, certainly the Israelis are the best in the world. It would be my personal choice to fly there myself for that reason, and I’d rather both pilots were focused on civilian flight duties when we do.


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