Category Archives: Transport

A Lucky Escape

When I first heard the details of the plane crash at Heathrow yesterday, my first thought was quite what a lucky escape everybody had. The flight was coming in from the east, so would have done the traditional run over central and west London known to so many people – indeed news reports last night were showing this YouTube video of the same approach, on the same kind of plane, to the same runway – which does go to show you quite how populated the areas under the approach actually are. The pilot yesterday managed to get the plane across the perimeter road, and although he hit the ground before the runway, it was within the airfield.

However, the big question now is what went wrong. Reports are saying that the pilot had told an airport worker that all the electronics had failed, and he had lost all power. That would have left the pilot with nothing but the emergency manual backup to the fully fly-by-wire systems to bring the plane in.

It also reminded me of comments that I heard from someone who worked for British Airways on aircraft maintenance for many years, finishing his career working on the 777 fleet, bemoaning the differences with the modern planes. On the older planes the mechanics that keep the whole thing going are fairly straightforward – there is a mechanical link between the pilots controls and the fundamental components that keep the plane in the air. With modern planes such as the 777, the links are electronic – essentially the pilot controls a computer which then controls the fundamental components, and the computer is essentially a black box. Fixing a fault involves removing one black box and putting in another – as he said, you can’t visually check the fundamentals, and you are essentially trusting in the skill of the electronics specialists that what is inside the black box does what it says.

Whilst it could be some sort of power system fault, some component having been improperly replaced, I really wouldn’t want to be a software engineer working at Boeing over the next few days. It definitely makes me glad that the bugs in my software are not a life or death situation like this…

heathrow plane crash 3 originally uploaded by artofthestate.

Flying

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First off, a bit of good news to all of our friends who have got one of my moans over about the past week about the complications of trying to book our next trip to Canada – you’ll be pleased to hear that we’ve now actually booked a trip, so no more moans – well at least not about this! 😀

The problem has been trying to find a reasonably priced flight that fitted in with when we wanted to go. Now there are two competing airlines flying the London to Calgary route I foolishly assumed that it might make the fares more competitive – no such luck, Air Canada were doing their usual mickey take on prices, and the new competition, British Airways were coming back with fares of over £2000 return for both of us to go over on the dates we wanted. I then moved onto Canadian Affair, who are usually pretty good, but they are still running their winter schedule when we were looking, and the only options they had were some seats on a Monarch flight, which whilst it is cheap is a 29“ seat pitch which whilst it is fine for Beth would be torture for me, or a couple of their once a week Air Transat flights that would have significantly cut the length of the trip.

Anyway, the breakthrough came when I tried looking up flights into Edmonton rather than Calgary. In the past it’s not really ever been an option – certainly the only times I’ve flown into Edmonton it has involved a plane change at Calgary, and a trip on the little turbo-prop service that shuttles backwards and forwards between the two cities. However now, alongside the twice daily service to Calgary, Air Canada have added a daily service into Edmonton – and significantly at a rather cheaper cost than the equivalent trip into Calgary.

At this point the vagaries of how airlines actually work out their flight costs really starts to get confusing. Looking at the seating plans for the Edmonton flights, they don’t look any less full than those into Calgary – the journey to Edmonton is marginally shorter granted, but in the grand scheme of things not by much, but the cost of the tickets we were being offered was noticeably less than what was being offered into Calgary. Actually if you really want to confuse yourself, try coming up with a reason why it’s cheaper to fly to Toronto and then on to Calgary than take the direct flight – longer flying time, more fuel used, but still cheaper.

Having got some idea of the costs I then tried to put together the best deal – and discovered that since their take-over by Air Transat, Canadian Affair are really not keen on booking flights with Air Canada – and that was after we’d been through the usual routine over my insisting that we needed to book the car rental with Hertz. (For the reasons why, check out this post about car rental companies and their definitions of â€?off-road driving“.) Thankfully I’ve now discovered that Opodo, unlike Expedia and Travelocity do have a deal with Hertz so I can build a reasonable package with them without too much trouble.

The one final oddity when we were booking on Opodo was down to the BMI codeshare on the flight – as usual the same physical flight was listed twice at different prices – however even more odd, the BMI version of the flight had only four seats left, whilst the Air Canada version had availability marked as â€?good“ – indeed if you look at the flight using the Air Canada reservation system online the flight is only about half full. I’m guessing that there are only a limited number of codeshare seats available – although as it’s all going through the same booking system I can’t imagine it’s too difficult to allow any of the seats on the plane to be sold through any of the codeshare partners.

Anyway all of that aside, after a bit of comparing, we’ve eventually opted to fly in and out of Edmonton on Air Canada for this trip. Even including the cost of the car rental and a hotel for the first night we are there it still worked out cheaper than flying into Calgary!

A Bill But No Detail

Yesterday I had a decidedly interesting bill from Hertz, the people who we rented a car from on our trip to France in the summer. The bill is for an administration charge, for supplying my details to “the relevant authorityâ€? in Switzerland for a penalty charge. All well and good, but it doesn’t actually say what the penalty is for, aside from “Trafficâ€?, nor where it actually occurred – for that part the bill just quotes the reference number for the penalty notice.

Whilst it’s entirely possible that I may have broken some rule or other, what is slightly suspicious is that we weren’t actually in Switzerland for all that long. We picked the car up at about 3:30pm, and headed straight for the border – we were driving in France literally within minutes of leaving the airport.

Anyway, after exchange the bill is only about half what the rental companies charge over here – at about £20. I’ve sent an e-mail off to Hertz customer service, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t have much more detail. I’d only really be bothered (and I suspect will only actually find out what I did when it does) if an actual ticket turns up, and that really depends whether the Swiss signed up to the EU process whereby they can get the DVLA to issue tickets, or whether the Swiss chase up the ticket.

Now I guess it’s just a question of waiting.

Better Late than Never

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Today, the CrossRail project was finally given the go-ahead.

To give you some idea of how long the project has been trying to get the go ahead, it was originally announced when I was still at school and Margret Thatcher was Prime Minister but ever since then nobody has stumped up the cash to actually complete the project.

The basic idea behind the project is simple – getting across London by public transport is very slow. If for example you want to take the train to get from Essex to Heathrow Airport it involves taking a train into central London, then taking the Underground – probably the Circle Line – around to Paddington to catch the Heathrow Express. The line proposed is a new high speed route running under central London on an East/West route – something that would make that journey a lot quicker and simpler.

Back when the route was originally proposed it was a bit more extensive, with a branch running out to Amersham and Watford, and extending as far as Reading. What has now been given the green light is not quite as extensive with the line only reaching as far as Maidenhead in the west, with a branch to Heathrow. Needless to say from a personal point of view that does slightly lessen it’s convenience for us out here as we’d still require a train change at Maidenhead – having said that it certainly will make getting into central London a lot more convenient. Sadly though it won’t be ready in time for the London Olympics – probably the biggest upcoming event that would benefit as the railway won’t be finished until 2017, five years too late.