British Air-oops & Making Plans for Willie


BA Twitter Feed 

British Airways (BA) is led, it appears,  by a man who could be accused of being both delusional and irrational.  This subjective comment follows BAs server crash and subsequent shutdown which stranded more than 75 000 people across the globe on Saturday May 27th 2017.   I say delusional because Willie Walsh is quoted as saying the criticism of the airline is, believe it or not, unfair.   He’s CEO of the International Airlines Group of AIG.  More about this lot later.

The evidence against BA is incriminating to say the least.  It’s own customer research from December 2016 showed the airline had slunk to a new low of 67% satisfaction from over 80% in two years.  That was before Walsh’s Woe-begones symbolically slashed and burned its customers in the recent long weekend disaster.   Walsh had overseen that fundamental of operational strategies under profit duress,  the cost cut.  That means jobs lost, including IT, where BA suffered a meltdown earlier this month.

But to understand what’s happened in Aviation,  we need to probe this British Airways PR disaster from various directions.   Direction one is BA’s parent company, IAG or International Airlines Group.  The other is cost-cutting Tzar,  Alex Cruz who has overseen a host of what’s being called “slash-and-burn” projects which start at cancelling meals on short-haul journeys to reducing by the hundred its IT engineers and outsourcing operational components.

Courtesy Twitter  – for the interview and a bit of a laugh, click here

BA’s cost-cutting could actually turn into a small bonanza for passengers,  with the airline facing around £150 million in claims caused, apparently,  by a technician unplugging a power cable.   The major question is this :



For a sector that relies on redundancy in all aspects,  how come BA didn’t have backup or redundancy in crucial booking systems? 

Aviation 101 planning comprises the following.  Build a system,  then back it up with something else in case the premium system fails.   Artificial Horizon?  Use secondary source power to allow for limited panel operations when power fails.  Sparkplugs?  Put two in each cylinder in case one magneto fails.  Engines?  At least two,  one of which must be powerful enough to allow the plane to continue flying when the other fails.

But Mr Walsh is now saying that its unfair to point out that BA didn’t have a proper backup system in place in case of power failure?


And he’s the CEO of an airline holding company which ferries millions around the world?  Note to self.  Don’t fly BA into the UK or anywhere until Mr Walsh is fired/resigned/or-wonders-off-this-mortal-coil.   As an ex-pilot of Aer Lingus he should be ashamed of himself.   What other operators could possibly be tainted with this careless CRM brush?  Go check IAG for answers.

Other interesting things to mention.  Qatar Airlines owns 20% of BA,  along with a significant shareholding by Capital Research and Management Company at 10%.  Deutsche Bank,  that rock of ethical financial management (sic) holds just under 3%  and Landsdowne Partners which holds nearly 6%.    Always watch the hedge funds linked companies and Lansdowne are two examples.

The amazing thing about modern incorporated companies is that BA holding company IAG is actually incorporated and listed in Spain.  For tax reasons.  To reduce tax,  which the shareholders love to hear.  Along with cost-cutting.  Are we starting to get a clearer picture of just how British Airways operates?

If I was an IAG or BA shareholder at this point,  the word “sell” may escape my lips.   Yes,  the share price recovered after its bad weekend, but this is not the end of the story.  As this aviation company moves further away from customer service towards financial windfall,  its threatening to eat itself alive.  The hungry shareholder mob orders the CEO and others to increase profits annually which leads eventually to the Amadeus software system failing due to cut back in IT support and planning as some lightweight with an access card to the crucial server room reaches out and cuts 48 hours of operations.  World Airlines spend an average of around 2.7% of their REVENUES on IT – and many regard this expenditure as an burden on their resources and to be managed “creatively”. Shareholders love corner-cutting, it makes the brackets disappear from spreadsheets.

BA customers waiting for IT to sort itself.

Then along comes Brexit.  What happens to BA’s Spanish Fly connection?  You can bet your bottom dollar that AIG is making plans and planning makes as we speak.  One option is that it reincorporates in the UK… actually no.  Tax cuts there are unlikely even with the Brexit Bandits considering various options in order to lure big business back.

Qatar is in it’s own dark place with the national Airline forced to fly longer routes in the Middle East around a bunch of countries like Saudi Arabia, thus driving up operational costs.   The Saudi Arabian dopeslap means a lot more cash to cover extra costs in operations until that operator finds some kind of negotiated solution after the costly embargo.

BA is still in a good place, despite the initial shock over its bank holiday long weekend fracas.  It holds over 50% of the prime spots at UK airports for example,  meaning passengers (if they really do take off on their allotted flights) walking a shorter distance from plane to baggage and so on.  While IAG, Cruz, Walsh and the other one percenters  walk away from the customer relations crash,  there are voices being raised warning the company that its entire culture is warped.

Mr Willie Walsh

Paying passengers back their money when some had their honeymoon’s cancelled is just not good enough.  Cost effective,  but hardly customer based.   Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson probably cracked up when he heard about the server shenanigans.  His plan has always been to steal BA’s lunch at some point which may not be far away.   It’s no surprise that in the early 90’s BA paid him half a million pounds as part of an out of court settlement when it became clear just how far the legacy airline had gone in order to demonise the startup.   False stories,  hacking emails.  I mean,  what were the executives of BA thinking ?

Probably that they could get away with it.

So BA’s culture of operations has hardly changed then.

But there’s a bigger picture here which has to be analysed.   As the interesting change in politics sweeps Europe starting with Emmanuel Macron’s emergence in France,  the culture of the shareholder 1% versus the rest of us is going to be scrutinised by more citizens who’re voters.  That’s the moment the very culture underpinning BA and its cohorts will appear both anachronistic and antagonistic to Jo and Jill Soap.

Branson, who’s own Virgin Records IPO  was marred by London investor miscalculations, will attest to the blindness of the elites echo chamber and is ‘making plans for Nigel‘.*  But is IAG making  plans for Willie?


*”Making plans for Nigel” by XTC, a British band which released this song in 1979 and was signed by Virgin Records.









Hot Mauritius Air – Beware The Pressure

So I spent last week in Mauritius filming for a SADC assignment called “SADC Success Stories Volume II”.    Folks,  no anger and vituperation asseblief,  just be nice.  It was hard work,  promise.    Staying in a small apartment in Blue Bay, near the second city of Mahebourg was interesting to say the least, partly because it was almost directly under the final approach of Mauritius’ International Airport so I could watch the planes approaching and taking off at close range.

The airport is also fantastic for aviators or those who like plane spotting because the main road is right alongside the runway, literally a hundred feet away.   Everything is close by on Mauritius which is 60km x 30km in size,  so for us South Africans,   even a drive across from north to south takes less time than from Johannesburg CBD to Rosebank during rush hour.

Mahebourg to Port Louis is a 40 minute drive.

Flying Air Mauritius was also a really interesting experience.  The food is great, far better than SAA or Kenya Air.  I’m surprised they haven’t won the award for best African airline more often.   The planes were also above average,  although on the return journey in an Airbus 319 the seats were small and uncomfortable.   Being on an island nation at the start of the Southern Hemisphere winter was a boon,  a 4 hour flight later and you’re no longer waking up to the 3˙ in Johannesburg but a balmy 25˙.

As you can see from the pictures above,  shot on a GoPro,  I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit it was so warm,  while the turquoise water made for excellent footage we were filming for our client.

There  is a rule for pilots which I assiduously followed on this trip.  In aviation law and medicine there is a golden rule about diving following a flight.  You should avoid diving within 24 hours of flying at high altitude and vice versa, although some try and push this to a few hours.  I’m afraid that a good friend died some time ago precisely because she failed to wait the requisite period and died of an embolism after diving within the 24 hour window after a long haul flight.

Diving and  flying are not great bed fellows.  They’re like Donald Trump and the Pope.  Never likely to get along.  The reason is all about the pressure.  At 39000 feet your body is pressurised to between 6000 and 8000 feet depending on the airline.   Then after landing you head off and dive 20m on pressurised gas.  This is a major killer and not to be trifled with.   The body needs more time to settle gases – luckily we were snorkelling which is safer, although I did get down to around 12 meters.

Diving and Flying are not great bed fellows.  They’re like Donald Trump and the Pope.

Air Mauritius is about to take possession of two Airbus A350s of four ordered, with two more to be leased in case of demand,  the latest in a list of European planes they’ve purchased.  I had the opportunity to meet an Air Mauritius Board member during my filming in Port Louis this last week who was excited about the prospect.

The flight to Mauritius a week ago was mostly empty on board the A340 (above left),  while the flight back on a Friday morning was packed to the rafters (in an A319 above right).   Those flying back were larger going to take collecting flights, had business or were commuting.  There were only a handful of tourists,  including two women dentists from Argentina who loved our equipment.  No no, you filthy minded swines,  they were eyeing our photographic equipment.

Note to self :  No more cheesy selfies.  Second note to self : Return to Mauritius ASAP.



Droning On & ICAO 50% Special Gold

FlySafair maintenance Hangar, Lanseria
Yay! South Africa has just scored first in Africa following a two week ICAO Safety Inspection.  While Afro-pessimists may giggle into their mug of Eurospite and bitters, that puts us in 33rd place globally.  Not too shabby.   A big plus is the drop according to ICAO and the Transport Minister,  in the number of non-commercial accidents.  They’re down 50% with the stark numbers really a thumbs up to our training institutions – down to 72 deaths in the last year from 144 in 2012/13.   The audit was conducted between the 8th and 18th of May according to information just released by the Transport Ministry and was covered in a previous blog post (see below).

So another training opportunity has arisen and boy! (or girl!) I’m excited.  I’ve signed up to do CAA certified drone pilot training but its not for the faint hearted.  Because its pretty expensive.   To give you an idea just how expensive – its about a fifth of the price of a full pilot’s license.   If you’re quick enough,  a PPL could cost between R250 000 and R350 000 depending on how many hours you fly and how you compress the training.   Drone training costs R50 000 and that’s before you buy the little thing.   Which costs at least another R10k for the basic piece of kit and around R35-40k for a good aerial vehicle with camera/s.

DJI Mavic
Luckily in my case its about half that price because I have a PPL.  Had I walked into this course without any theory in aviation,  the cost would be significantly higher.   But that doesn’t mean its easy.   The CAA along with civil aviation authorities everywhere has now ordered pilots to be certified when your Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ( UAV) or drone is of a certain size.   Being a videographer come aviator,  the idea is obviously most attractive.  I’ve already filmed quite a bit from the cockpit and even in a Cirrus with its low-slung wing,  so that’s feasible.  And we’ve also shot a few videos from a borrowed drone for a series I’m filming for SADC.

DJI Mavic folded away
But the idea of having our own drone and using it to garner great footage within the law is a real attraction.   News organisations are falling over themselves to use these inconspicuous UAV’s over protests and police action.    This is a quick update ‘cos there’s a need to attend a special safety evening at the hangar and I can’t dilly dally.    Look out for updates on the UAV training on this site in the next few weeks.

DJI Mavic not folded away




ICAO Inspectorate Stages First Visit To SA Since 2013

Yes, boring title but muo importante.  The United Nations body that makes aviation suggestions that are hard to ignore,  a bit like Scarface,  is in the South African house.  ICAO which stands for ‘International Civil Aviation Organisation’ has its safety inspection team prodding South African systems over the next two weeks.  It comes at an opportune time.  SAA Chairperson Dudu “Sleepy” Myeni hasn’t said a word for a few months, which is good news if you value intelligence reports,  and incidents/crashes are down generally over the past two years.   The team in SA are operating under ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP).  Or Use Soap. To keep a clean safety record.  (Groan)


ICAO also stands for ‘Improvements and Collision Avoidance’  and ‘Instructions for Continued Airworthiness’.  But I digress.  So what’s going to happen?  Well ICAO checks to see if our Civil Aviation Authority is up to scratch,  that Air Traffic Controllers are alert and bushy-tailed, that fuel is available, safety records are kept, maintenance logs are filed, pilots are doing proper training and the hangar ping-pong table has enough green paint along with a long list of other check and balances. Apart from the ping-pong table bit (which is thumb suck) this is a good thing.  ICAO doesn’t make rules,  it has suggested regulations that each nation follows – or doesn’t.  The problem for those who ignore ICAO is their airlines crash and burn.   Or they’re banned.  Or both.

They’re a bit like the inspectors who used to be allowed to check on teachers before SADTU went out of its mind and decided that their so-called maths experts with english as a major shouldn’t be monitored.  Therefore technical education is in a pit,  but not aviation.

ICAO specifications aren’t to be sniffed at.  As a signatory, South Africa has Aeronautical Information Publications that if you search online long enough you’ll find these missives.  These used to be posted to pilots but since the Post office decided it would rather deliver its lower middle class staff easy holidays,  the CAA no longer sends these missives.  Neither does it send NOTAMS to pilots.  Which is a bit of a contradiction because NOTAM means Notice to Airmen (and women).   I loved receiving the NOTAMs in the post,  pages of warnings about airport closing,  runways being resurfaced,  hangars being moved,  tests being conducted.  Now I read it on the hangar notice board when awaiting my flight from CDC Aviation at Lanseria.

Countries are supposed to update AIP’s every 28 days,  which continues to happen in South Africa so I’ve not doubt that the ICAO inspectorate will tick that box.  But that’s not all folks.  ICAO standardises various items in aviation such how to define atmosphere which is at the heart of flying.  Gauges and instruments need to be calibrated according to pressures, temperatures,  density, viscosity and altitude (and a few others we won’t mention here).  Wrong calibration can be terminal.   It also codes airports.  For example Lanseria is FALA and King Shaka in Durban is FALE.   Just to slightly confuse the reader,  there’s another bunch called IATA which has a separate code for FALE which is DUR.  For Durban.  Which is actually iThekweni.

ICAO is also responsible for Aircraft registration.  So tonight, for example,  I’m flying ZS-CTP which is the “tail number” of a Cirrus SR20 aircraft.  Next time you’re bounding onto a plane between A and B,  jot down the code on the tail and search online for its date of purchase, general maintenance issues, and use FlightRadar24 to check its flights over the last week for free.   I look forward to ICAO stamping South Africa free and fair to fly, then having a couple of free margaritas courtesy of South African Civil Aviation Authority Director, Poppy Khoza before jetting back to ICAO-land satisfied with our systems.

If not,  it could mean more than a slap on the wrist.  Out of interest,  the last time the USA had a safety audit was in 2008,  which seems a bit odd as its one of the busiest zones in the world.

SA_USA_icaoAs you can see from the audit results,  while South Africa lags the USA in planning specifically with regard to accidents,  we’re not that far off the world’s empire state.  Long may we remain of high standards as you and I clamber aboard our trusty composite steeds and are whisked hither and thither.






United CEO Grovels, Alitalia Goes Bust (Again) & SAA’s bunga-bunga


Alitalia – the Pope’s favourite flying machine company with a Republican President who did actually read books.  ©Vatican
Yes, its the age of jump on the bandwagon.  At least once you’re on the bandwagon,  its unlikely someone will knock you out and drag you off semi-conscious.  United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s was himself dragged before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this morning to answer questions from really aggressive congressmen and women after an incident where a passenger was forcibly removed from one of his airliners.

Dr Dao – assaulted and thrown off a plane after buying a ticket at United Airlines. ©Facebook
It took Munoz a couple of attempts to apologise to the 69 year-old doctor who was summarily removed from a UAL flight in Chicago – but only after two oafs had managed to smack his face against the arm of a seat, removing two teeth and leaving him bloody and dazed.  United has already reached an out of court settlement with Dr Dao who probably can now pay to have the surgery to replace his two front teeth.

Another United Employee about to select passengers for disembarkation (no not really but the meme is funny).
United has now instituted a change in policy, now offering passengers up to $10 000 to give up their seats if the airline overbooks.   If I was on board a plane I wouldn’t accept anything less than $10k knowing that the other passengers probably know what I know.  Imagine the auction.   Here’s a possible script:

Pilot X :  Ok,  I’m going to start at $2000 any takers?

FX :  Silence.

Pilot X : Ok,  we’ll raise that to $4000 – come on everybody!

FX: Silence.

Pilot X :  Ok,  we’ll go the whole way – anyone taking it at $10 000?

FX: The sounds of screams as many passengers clamber over each other to disembark.

This moment needs some thought.  It’s one of those really interesting events where both Republicans and Democrats agree government should intervene.  As the US Secretary of Transport signs away laws diminishing airline responsibility (see this),  events have conspired against light touch government.  That’s because Senators and Congressmen and Women take flights on the same commercial airliners back and forth across the US and have found the experience, let’s say, less than welcoming.

Click for more abuse here.
So both sides of that American political pastiche pie are now calling for action by the government to assist airlines in doing  the right thing.  This has partially come about as competition diminishes and the consumer gets shafted.  I love aviation and what’s just happened in the US is both upsetting and inevitable.   The simple matter is if you give shareholders complete control over business without proper competition,  they cut every corner possible to make a quick buck.  Republican head of the House transportation committee chair, Bill Shuster, has warned that airlines are about to be hit by a one size-fits-all rule to improve customer care.

Alitalia Goes Bust – Again

So its with a heavy heart that I join the Pope in blessing Alitalia because its filed for bankruptcy.  For the third time since 2008.  And its likely to be three strikes and out because the Italian government won’t bail it again and the Pope, who flies Alitalia and blessed the airline in 2008, probably won’t waste his important breath this time around but just shrug and take Lufthansa or Emirates.

Silvio “bunga-bunga” Burlusconi. ©Wikipedia
Alitalia has cost taxpayers a reported seven billion euros in bailouts.  The big issue in Italy is that Alitalia used to be one of the biggest employers in that country,  but its slipped since being founded in 1947.

The ailing airline has been placed in the hands of the administrators who have to turn it around in 180 days, sell or liquidate the operation.  As with South Africa,  citizens are outraged by suggestions that the state should continue bailing out a loss-leader.    It’s Alitalia’s staff who’re not really helping matters by refusing to consider pay cuts or retrenchments.   From the New York Times by way of Il Sole 24 Ore’s Simone Filippetti:

“It seems that Alitalia workers have all gone nuts.  Why did they reject a plan that involved a hard sacrifice but a chance of recovering to instead face the risk of a total company disruption and liquidation, and ultimately all lose their jobs anyway?”

SAA Haggard & Bereft

SAA,  once the darling of African aviation is now the toothless hag.   It’s a blue rinse Afro with the faint whiff of aunty’s spent nickers in charge.   SAA has become most famous in its home territory for the same sins as Alitalia.  To whit – bailouts.

It also failed to submit financial statements for two years and held its results for 2015/16 back after the Treasury refusal to provide an additional R5 billion in additional guarantees against ongoing loans.  Eventually Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was pressured into securing that loan in September 2016.  But the parallels with Italy are noteworthy, both national carrier and national disgrace.   Italy was run by a borderline sexual deviant for years (Silvio Berlusconi),   host of bunga-bunga parties for his echelon of friends who cavorted around mansions on tax-payer’s expense. During his tenure, Alitalia dive-bombed banks for two loans.

More great news from Dudu Myeni, as she appeared on Facebook recently in trademark Afro sans blue. 
Yes, President Jacob Zuma has created his own plethora of putridity by cadre-deploying into SAA, Eskom, SABC, etc etc etc and left himself ethically stranded like a pirate with a platoon of prostitutes on an island without a shower.

Cmde Jacob Zuma.
One difference is that South Africa’s government has agreed to another round of save SAA Chairperson Dudu Myeni’s face.   In his last budget speech before he was zapped by Zuma,  Gordhan announced that during 2017/18, government will provide some financial support to SAA in a manner that does not increase the budget deficit.

We look forward to seeing how money is thrown at the aviation hole called SAA without increasing the deficit.  Unless it turns around properly,  it won’t be considered a going concern but going going gone and we’re concerned.    The big problem is the airline is now going to have to borrow against an interest rate that is above 8% – or what we generally call “junk”.  But its something to which I’m sure the new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is a social policy expert, is applying his pedagogic mind.

Enough of this comparison fun and games,  some people have to fly.


MH370 Flaperon & Lanseria Pitot Freeze

Flaperon being tested by CSIRO to determine effect of wind and current.  ©CSIRO 

Malaysian Airlines has become the first operator to monitor all its planes using satellites which will track aircraft in real time – this after its MH370 flight with 239 souls on board disappeared in 2014 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.   The mystery of the flight continues to fascinate and horrify aviators with so many of the basic questions unanswered.   Who took control of the flight?  Why?  Where did the plane disappear?  What happened to the passengers and crew?   How did an entire airliner vanish?

After some criticism about the manner of the search,  Malaysian Airlines has now agreed to sign up for the live monitoring of its planes in a new system which exploits satellite and GPS technology.  This is a long overdue decision and the Malaysians must be congratulated in being the first to move its monitoring to a real-time approach.

CSIRO staff floating the flaperon

There is also good news when it comes to the search itself.  We may be a little closer to the answers after the Australian Transport Board published its latest report into the search on Friday 21st April.   From the report:

The only thing that our recent work changes is our confidence in the accuracy of the estimated location, which is within the new search area identified and recommended by the First Principles Review (ATSB2016), and most likely at the southern end of that, near 35°S.

While at first glance this appears to merely confirm previous analysis,  there’re quite a few interesting items in the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation )Oceans and Atmosphere report which was handed to authorities on the 13th April and released publicly today.   Earlier attempts at computer generated modelling were linked to the manner in which buoys floated in the ocean,  and not how a flaperon would react to currents and winds.   This report has painstakingly pulled this specific data into a model which scientists at the CSIRO and ATB believe has allowed for a much more accurate rendering of the location of the fuselage.

The Red indicates the area where CSIRO now believes is the zone which contains the remains of MH370

That’s because the Flaperon reacts like a sail in wind,  and more so because part of the same wing structure would also glide through the water like a boat.  Combine these two aspects and it makes for very interesting data.  The tests found that the Flaperon would move 20° left of the wind at an average of 10cm/s and would account for the Flaperon’s  arrival time of the flaperon at La Reunion in July 2015.  So the report states:

The value of this revised estimate of the flaperon’s drift parameters is that it increases our confidence in the accuracy of the drift model. The earlier simulations of the flaperon trajectory were only consistent with the arrival of the flaperon at La Reunion if a chance encounter with an ocean eddy took the flaperon south. That was plausible but not particularly likely.

While the scientists warn that that doesn’t automatically mean that the debris would DEFINITELY arrive at La Reunion,  they’re now confident about the site of the crash itself.  It’s still a vast area 25000km/squared.   Importantly,  they also now know precisely where the plane WOULDN’T be based on the same modelling.  It’s a bit like the ancient Arab mathematicians discovering that 0 is very important.  Nothing is as important as something sometimes.

The data map of possible wreckage flow based on CSIRO computer modelling 

“Nothing” was what my airspeed indicator read half way along a ground roll at Lanseria last week which was a real surprise.  After all the checks (double checks in my case because I’m extra cautious), power run up and physical inspection,  I still had a frozen pitot tube problem on ground roll.   One moment power is 2500 RPM and airspeed is coming up nicely,  past 23-30knots then suddenly – ZERO!



The SR20 had accelerated quickly at first and felt good but my airspeed indicator then read “——”   indicating  I had stopped when it was clear we were approaching V1 speed along Runway 07 at Lanseria.

The years of training kicked in,  power back, brakes on, off at Alpha 1 and report to ATC that my flight was aborted due to technical problems.  He asked as per the book if I needed assistance and I said no,  trouble with airspeed and returned to the hangar.

The dew that was to cause the problem.  I took the picture to show the extend of the dew fall on the morning of 16th April 2017.  

After shutting down I looked into the tube but saw nothing.   An instructor Michelle Roe arrived and turned on the pitot tube heat.  After five minutes steam began to blow out of the tube and it was as right as rain but I had missed the window for my flight.

A typical light aircraft Pitot Tube

While the end of this story is positive,  I sat there thinking about the Air France Flight 447 in 2009 that crashed because its pitot tube that was frozen, leading the pilots to take the instrument reading as correct when the real story was the plane was falling in a flat stall straight down into the Atlantic.   In my case it was daylight and I knew immediately what the problem was because after seeing the computer flight display indicate zero on speed,  I looked at the backup analogue old fashioned airspeed indicator which also read zero.  At that point I knew that the pitot tube was blocked.  But had it been at night and at 5000 AGL there would have been problems.

Pitot Tube on an airliner of jet would look something like this.

If it had been at night,  the only solution here would be at first try the pitot tube heat while changing to autopilot,  then if the airspeed failed to reappear,  to pull the CAPs lever or Cirrus parachute system.  The water in the pitot tube had actually frozen on a sunny day while on the ground and accelerating – I could only imagine how difficult it was for the Air France pilots.  In my case the temperature at the time was 12˙C and the dew fall had been extremely heavy in the morning.  The water was dripping off the plane as I did the checks and I noted at the time (see the picture above!) that the pitot tube cover had not been used on the Cirrus overnight,  even though it was parked outdoors.

Usually the thing that concerns me most is the worry that an insect had crawled into the tube.  But a visual inspection indicated the tube was not blocked by a wasp or similar.  I just didn’t see how much water had flowed into the tube,  and during the ground roll more water must have entered the tube leading to the block.

The design of the pitot tube goes back a hundred years or more with the basic principle a comparison of air pressure inside a controlled machine vs the changing air pressure outside.  That produced a number of things,  airspeed,  rate of climb or descent,  and altitude.   So had I decided to ignore the zero reading on the pitot tube and taken off,  my flight would have probably entailed a violent altercation with the granite cloud.

An accident.

Instead because we’re trained properly,    CCT was flying an hour later quite safely.

Unlike Air France Flight 447.

The physics of a Pitot Tube courtesy of NASA 


Welcome to United Graf Zeppelin Airlines & Poker Playing Dr Dao (69)


United parading Vets it didn’t beat up and throw off their plane. (United Airlines promo pic)

Gone are the days.  When aviation was the stuff of class and happiness, where handsome lads and equally handsome lasses leapt into machines of loving grace and invited others to join.  Now we have Chicago police goons knocking out 69 year-old passengers to remove them after an airline booking error.  This latest insult to pax global is not just a miasmic foolhardy disaster for United Airlines,  its symbolic.  We are squeezed more and more tightly into the machines that are now indispensable to modern life because we have become dependent on being whisked from A to B ASAP.

So its a dependency that leads to shareholder value and profits while negative moments occur where citizens interact with airline trolls in the form of rank and file staff suffering from delusions of grandeur.  Previously the worse case scenario would be some ground crew lackey perusing a list of passengers along with a manager would pick out those likely to be least likely to sue after discovering the flight was overbooked.  Then when you present your ticket for final boarding,  you were told “Sorry your seat is double booked.  For $800 and a free hotel stay would you mind stepping aside for this nice captain to make his way to St Louis (this being Chicago) so that he can fly another plane from there with 80 passengers.”

By the way,  you can still say no.  It’s up to the airline to find someone who is motivated by the cash.  Legally at that point airlines can force you off,  but if your disabled daughter is waiting at home and in danger that can be a very stupid thing for an airline lackey to do.

That’s before you step aboard.  After you step aboard,  any attempt by the airline to remove you unless you’re drunk or refusing to listen when you’re told to stop smoking or reading your Kindle is tantamount to abuse, crass stupidity and in Mr David Dao’s case,  apparent assault with a deadly weapon, intimidation, libel, defamation and wanton brand suicide.

United in blood, two overtrained blackshirts drag an unconscious 69 year-old Dr Dao off a domestic airliner just because he was naughty. (Facebook)

He’s 69 years old for goodness sake!

United is in deep doodoo for having a medical doctor who’s Asian of origin summarily knocked unconscious and then dragged backwards off the airliner.  Like that poor pilot in Black Hawk Down, dragged by his feet through the streets of Mogadishu and the outpouring on social media has been no less ferocious.  The public doesn’t like this sort of thing.  We don’t like it United because it’s the action of an unaccountable dictator.

No two ways about this. Dr Dao, whatever his previous life,  is going to take the airliner for a lot of money.  And quite rightly.  Maybe he’ll retire to a large mansion near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago monstrosity in Florida.  But what about the aviation experience?  It’s now the equivalent of torture for many as they are hustled through security like sardines,   prodded and shoved about by aggressive bandits of airport security while they smirk.

Add to this odious practice it appears the service aboard many flights is no more.  You’re thrown a bag of crisps and if you’re lucky,  a bottle of warm water by a frowning/sneering philistine dressed in blue polyester and matching eyelashes.

The coast is clear for the return of the Graf Zeppelin or similar.  Put me on a floating dirigible for two days from South Africa to the US as we glide across the ocean with butlers serving crisp lettuce, smoked salmon and the onboard theatre alive with options while the viewing room allows one time to take in the stars surrounded by tightly dressed beautiful people of the globe romancing and discoursing.


This bout of flying apocalypse has to be stopped.  We are not chattel bottled up in the fuselage and thrown off at the destination like capitalist slaves.  No, we’re the folks who pay commercial aviation shareholders their profits and I guess its time to remind those who own airlines that there’s a limit to abuse.

Seriously folks,  United has three immediate problems.

  • Evidence A : The damages they’re going to pay Dr Dao
  • Evidence B:  Brand damage by being the butt of constant references on memes, jifs and live social Snapchat bad PR.
  • Evidence C: The PR bit has already led to $1 billion wiped off their share value all because a couple of black-shirted overtrained cretins.

Big trouble in Chicago, bigger trouble on Wall Street, major issue in court despite United’s CEO grovelling. Oscar Munoz initially said staff acted in accordance with airline policy which is a bit like saying United’s next policy is enforced food poisoning.  Now Munoz has changed his tune calling it “a horrific mistake” and says policies on the removal of passengers are being reviewed.  Would he have said its horrific if his company hadn’t lost $1 billion in value?  Perhaps not.   I think something along the lines of “I am resigning”  or “I have fired x” is now an urgent statement we should hear from Meneer Munoz.

Just in case we forget, this is what Dr Dao looked like after he was knocked out and dragged off a United flight.  (Facebook)

In addition, if United is smart they’ll immediately offer Dr Dao money, free rides for life and whatever else he demands.  If they’re dumb, they’ll obsess about the fact that he previously was suspended as a doctor,  has a narcotics charge, and plays poker and decide to go the legal route against said doctor.

Social Media will take down this management team if its not careful while Dr Dao’s poker playing prowess should really scare them too.

I’ll raise you $1 billion, United,  and see you.