British Airways Marks 50 Years of Auto Landing Capability

BEA Hawker Trident - Image provided by British Airways
BEA Hawker Trident – Image provided by British Airways

I bet there are a lot of people out there who didn’t even know that some planes are capable of landing themselves. Did you know that? I knew that – but what I only recently learned, was that it has been happening for fifty years! Auto landing fully automates the landing procedure of an aircraft’s flight, under the watchful eye of the pilots, of course. Wikipedia says auto landing was designed to be used in situations where visibility is too poor for a visual approach, usually less than 600 meters Runway Visual Range, though each aircraft has specific operating parameters.

Image provided by British Airways
Image provided by British Airways

Today (June 10th) happens to be the 50th anniversary of the first auto-landing of a commercial airline flight. The act was performed by British European Airways (now British Airways) flight 343, from Paris to London. The aircraft was a Hawker Siddeley Trident 1 (pictured), with Captain Eric Poole at the controls. Captain Poole and BEA’s Chairman, Sir Anthony Milward signed a special certificate for each passenger as a memento of the day (pictured above).

Throughout its history, British Airways has been at the cutting edge of technology and passenger services in the airline industry. In 1952, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was the first airline to operate a jet – the De Havilland Comet. BOAC was also the first airline to offer trans Atlantic jet service, with the Comet 4. British Airways is also known for having operated the Concorde, and having installed the world’s first fully flat beds in Business Class.

Portland is the Next Red Bull Flutag Site, and You Have 2 Weeks to Apply

Image via Red Bull
Image via Red Bull

You build a homemade airplane and launch it off a ramp, over a body of water, using only human power… what could possibly go wrong? Now, add in costumes, music, and the world’s most popular energy drink, and you have the world-famous Red Bull Flutag.

In German, “Flutag” translates to “Flying Day,” and Red Bull has announced that the Flutag will be returning to Portland this year, on August 1st at the McCall Waterfront Park. Flutag events have been held worldwide for 23 years.

Flutag teams are comprised of five members. Teams are judged not only on flight distance, but creativity and showmanship as well. In case you were wondering, the world record Flutag flight distance is 258 feet. Perhaps Portland’s proximity to Seattle (site of Boeing’s assembly plants) will influence some true aviation engineers to get involved. For design inspiration, the Flutag videos on YouTube are pretty incredible, and hilarious!

Image via Red Bull
Image via Red Bull

Flutag events are known for drawing 50,000-80,000 people, and they look like an absolute blast! I’ve never attended one, but I am hoping to make it to PDX for this one, so consider this a PSA. Applications for PDX Flutag teams opened on March 18th, and close on May 12th, with only the first 500 applications being considered. You can apply online at redbullflutag.com. More information about the event is also available on Facebook at the Red Bull Flutag Page.

Image courtesy of Red Bull
Image courtesy of Red Bull

Red Bull’s Air Race World Championship continues this year, with eight stops. In this year’s first race, held in Abu Dhabi in February, Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain took First Place – and along with it 12 points toward the World Championship. The next race will be held May 16-17th in Chiba, Japan. You can purchase Air Race tickets and find out more information about the series here. 

Don’t Even THINK About Planespotting in the United Arab Emirates

Emirates A380, by Kurush Pawar (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
Emirates A380, by Kurush Pawar (Flickr / CC Commercial License)

Over the past decade or so, Dubai has grown into one of the world’s most eccentric cities, perhaps second only to Las Vegas. The home of the world’s largest building and one of the world’s most decadent hotels is also home to one of the world’s fastest-growing and most luxurious airlines, Emirates. But in spite of Dubai’s push into tourism, there’s one activity they are not friendly toward — planespotting.

Planespotting is an activity popular throughout the world, and had grown even more in recent years due to digital photography and social media. Aviation enthusiasts are constantly on the look-out for the newest aircraft, or those painted in one-off special liveries. Many airports are friendly toward planespotters, creating parks or observation areas that are conductive toward viewing aircraft movements at the airport.

Emirates 777 in Dubai - by Raihan S.R. Bakhsh (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
Emirates 777 in Dubai – by Raihan S.R. Bakhsh (Flickr / CC Commercial License)

Two British plane spotters recently served a two year prison sentence after photographing planes at Fujairah airport in the United Arab Emirates. Their arrest occurred on February 21st, under suspicion of espionage. Police found Conrad Clitheroe, 54, and Gary Cooper, 45 and an expatriate friend taking photos and making notes about planes at the airport. The men pled guilty, knowing it was against the law.

But why was it prohibited, if the men made their observations from public areas? You don’t even need to be at an airport in person to track the comings and goings of aircraft. Spartphone apps and websites such as FlightAware allow anyone to see which flights are arriving and departing, by broadcasting information from aircraft transponders. This information includes altitude, heading, speed and registration. The UAE’s national carrier, Emirates is owner of the world’s largest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s – two huge, modern aircraft that are both an obvious draw to aviation geeks. In addition, there are scores of photos of these aircraft easily available online. If there is potential harm to be done by allowing people to track what planes are around a commercial airport, I’m not seeing it.

Air New Zealand Chooses Houston for First U.S. Expansion in 11 Years

photo by hans-johnson (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
photo by hans-johnson (Flickr / CC Commercial License)

On April 15th, Air New Zealand announced its first new U.S. destination in eleven years – and Houston (Bush Intercontinental) was the chosen city. Houston is only the fourth U.S. destination for the airline, along with Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The route will be originate in Auckland (AKL) and be served by a completely retrofitted Boeing 777-200ER.

Onboard, guests can enjoy Air New Zealand’s award-winning “Sky Couch” in economy. Sky Couch is a row of three economy seats, which fold out into a 61×29-inch bed. The Business Premier class offers lie-flat beds, Kiwi-inspired cuisine, a selection of New Zealand wines, and over 1,800 hours of on-demand entertainment.

To those who do not live in Air New Zealand destination cities, the airline has made a name for itself on social media over the past few years, with a series of highly creative Hobbit-themed safety videos.

As a Star Alliance member, Air New Zealand will offer easy connections for United Airlines passengers from U.S. hubs such as Newark and Chicago O’Hare. At the announcement, Air New Zealand VP of the Americas Chris Meyer said:

“We are thrilled to open service to Houston and share our Kiwi spirit and award-winning service with The Lone Star State and beyond. This expands our reach into a thriving part of the country and also acts as a great feed to the East Coast, meaning a gateway to New Zealand is now less than three hours away from numerous U.S. cities. We’re also excited about the prospect of bringing New Zealanders to Texas and other southern and eastern states via Houston.”

This Thursday (April 30th), Air New Zealand will celebrate its 75th anniversary. The 7,415 mile flight from IAH to AKL would almost crack the top-20 of the world’s longest flights. If you’re looking forward to flying this route, tickets are planned to go up for sale in May, with flights beginning this December, five days a week.

There is Nothing More Geeky than a Star Wars Dreamliner

Image via @flyana_official
Image via @flyana_official

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has just revealed a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, painted in a special Star Wars livery! Check it out!

Image via @flyana_official
Image via @flyana_official

The plane was announced today in Anaheim, California, and will begin making international flights later this year.

Op-Ed: Alaska Air’s Snoozing Bag Handler Isn’t a Security Issue

photo by Paul Thompson
photo by Paul Thompson

In the fallout of the recent accidental stowaway of an Alaska Airlines baggage handler, (who was employed by a contractor service, by the way) “safety experts” are saying the incident should serve as a warning to carriers, calling it a security risk.

Not so fast! Every person working around planes on the ground (an area called “the ramp”) is authorized to be in, on, or under that aircraft by way of a background check and a identification badge called a SIDA badge (Secure Identification Display Area). And just to get to the ramp, the employee has to pass through several layers of security including personal bag searches, badge scans, fingerprint scans, and visual badge verifications be airport security personnel. Many of those checkpoints are also in view of surveillance cameras.

Safety consultant and former airline pilot John Cox told the Associated Press the concern is “How do you have something in the cargo bin that you don’t know is there?” But where is the risk, when all employees are eligible to be there, and all baggage and cargo is fully screened by the TSA?

Bags in the bin

Experts want more accountability from the airlines, to make sure every crew member is accounted for, before the flight departs. That is a fine idea, in theory – but it adds to the complication of the operation. Every airline does things differently, but there are always more agents there when the plane arrives than when it departs. Many airlines utilize employees to cover several gates, and when an agent is done with one flight, he or she often goes on to the next one before the first plane departs. To require the whole crew to stick around throughout the entire “turn” from start to finish would be an irresponsible waste of personnel resources. In addition, everyone working flights is an adult, and accountable for his or her own actions. They don’t need babysitters, and they shouldn’t be required to report to to a supervisor to say “Hey, I’m going over to Gate 34 now.”

I’ve worked in the belly of hundreds of planes, and I’ve seen guys take short naps under there while waiting for connecting bags to arrive. You may not realize this, but it’s not unusual for ramp agents to be on the clock for sixteen straight hours or longer. Airlines try to operate with as few staff on hand as possible, in order to cut costs – but when something like bad weather happens, the folks who are already at work are forced to stay past their normal clock-out time. The employees get paid extra, but it compounds work that has already left them physically and mentally exhausted.

If someone has the opportunity to catch a brief cat nap during down time, I think it actually makes things safer, because it helps revive them and make them more alert. The baggage contractor for Menzies Aviation who fell asleep in the bin of Alaska Airlines flight 448 on Monday isn’t a security risk. Not to make excuses for the guy… he should be held responsible for his actions, and possibly even fired. The plane was only in the air for fourteen minutes, but it wastes a lot of time and money to have to return the plane to the airport – not to mention the negative publicity. Let this serve as an example of irresponsibility, not a scary security risk.

Watch Air France install their new La Premiere cabin

AF Premiere 2

Air France began installing these gorgeous new private La Premiere Business Class suites on their Boeing 777 fleet last summer. Notice the privacy curtains on each side… I think this is great, and adds a touch of elegance over the bulky, motorized partitions we usually see with seats similar to this.

Each 777 will get four La Premiere suites. Each suite features a 30-inch wide seat that folds out into a 6′ 5″ long bed. While the seat is upright, you can be joined by a guest in your suite, who can sit on an ottoman, and even join you for a meal at a table which can be installed.

AF Premiere 3

For entertainment, hundreds of on-demand video and music choices are at your fingertips, which you’ll enjoy on a 24-inch screen.

I’m a big fan of the lighter color motif. The light grey fabric and light tan leather accents make the space feel more vibrant in comparison to the standard dark wood and brushed nickel accents we are used to seeing lately.

Photos courtesy Air France