High-Speed Train crashes in Spain because things moving at High Speeds on the Ground can be Very Dangerous

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2013

Week in Review

Trains are heavy.  Getting a train moving is one thing.  But getting it to stop is another.  Because heavy things moving fast have a lot of kinetic energy.  The energy of something in motion.  In classical mechanics we calculate the kinetic energy by multiplying one half of the mass times the velocity squared.  That last part is really important.  The velocity part.  For as the speed increases the kinetic energy increases by a far greater amount.  For example, a train increasing speed from 30 kilometers per hour (18 mph) to 190 kilometers per hour (114 mph) increases its speed by 533%.  But because we square the velocity the kinetic energy increases by 3,911%.   Making high-speed rail more dangerous than regular rail.  Because of the great amounts of kinetic energy involved.

Airplanes are very heavy.  They travel at great speeds.  And have great amounts of kinetic energy.  Which is why plane crashes or so horrific.  Anything with that amount of kinetic energy suddenly stopping dissipates that energy in great heat, noise and the explosion of solid parts.  But plane crashes, thankfully, are rare.  For when they are travelling at those great speeds they’re up in the air thousands of feet (or more) away from anything they can hit.  And if there is a malfunction they can fall safely though the sky (with enough altitude) until the pilots can recover the aircraft.  For airplanes have the best friend to high speed objects.  A lot of empty space all around them.  Not so with high-speed rail (see Driver in custody after 80 killed in Spain train crash by Teresa Medrano and Tracy Rucinski posted 7/25/2013 on Reuters).

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, was under police guard in hospital on Thursday after the dramatic accident which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

The eight-carriage train came off the tracks, hit a wall and caught fire just outside the pilgrimage destination Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night. It was one of Europe’s worst rail disasters…

Video footage from a security camera showed the train, with 247 people on board, hurtling into a concrete wall at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine overturned…

El Pais newspaper said the driver told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph…

Investigators were trying to find out why the train was going so fast and why security devices to keep speed within permitted limits had not slowed the train…

Spain’s rail safety record is better than the European average, ranking 18th out of 27 countries in terms of railway deaths per kilometers traveled, the European Railway Agency said. There were 218 train accidents in Spain between 2008-2011, well below the EU average of 426 for the same period.

There are no rails to derail from in the air.  And no concrete walls to crash into.  Air travel requires no infrastructure between terminal points.  High-speed rail travel requires a very expensive, a very precise and a highly maintained infrastructure between terminal points.  As well as precise controls to keep the train from exceeding safe speeds.  Planes do, too.  But when you have thousands of feet of nothingness all around you there is time to make adjustments before something catastrophic happens.  Like derailing when speeding through a curve too fast.

Air travel is safer than high-speed rail travel.  Which is why when a plane crashes it’s big news.  Because it happens so rarely these days.  Thanks to good aircraft designs.  Good pilots.  And having thousands of feet of nothingness all around you when flying at speeds close to 950 kph (570 mph).  Unlike having a concrete wall just a few feet away from a train traveling at high speeds.

High-speed rail may work in France and Japan.  The only two rail lines to pay for themselves are in these countries.  But every other passenger rail line in the world needs a government subsidy.  Because the costs of a rail infrastructure are just so great.  Making high-speed rail more of a source of union jobs than an efficient means of transportation.  Which is why they are a fixture in countries with liberal governments.  Who subsidize the high cost of these union jobs with taxpayer money.  In exchange for votes in the next election.



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The Profit Incentive has made Air Travel Safe and Crashes Rare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 7th, 2013

Week in Review

During the height of the Cold War people feared the might of the Soviet Union.  And nuclear war.  As those were scary days.  For the Soviet Union had some awesome military power.  And was the only nation that could threaten the United States.  But you know what was even scarier?  Flying on a Soviet jetliner.

The Soviet Union lost the Cold War because communism is a terrible economic system.  The Soviets couldn’t feed their people.  Or keep enough toilet paper and soap on store shelves.  As their command economy did such a horrible job in allocating scarce resources that have alternative uses.  So you never had the best of anything in the Soviet Union.  Which is why people from the West dreaded flying into the Soviet Union on Soviet jetliners.  For they had a tendency to crash.  The Soviets stole as much technology from the West to improve their technology as they could.  And many of their aircraft designs looked similar to those in the West.  But they were Soviet made.  And Soviet maintained.  In the same economic system that couldn’t keep toilet paper or soap on store shelves.

The problem with the Soviet Union was that there was no profit incentive.  When money is at stake everything is better.  Like in the West.  But when you don’t have profits you don’t have to please customers.  And you don’t.  Everything is like standing in line waiting to renew your driver’s license.  And if a plane crashes it doesn’t change anything.  Planes will keep flying as they were before.  And everyone’s pay will be the same as before.  So everyone will do the minimum.  Just enough to avoid punishment.  This is why Soviet air travel was among the most dangerous air travel in the world.

This past Saturday there was an Asiana Air 777 that crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport.  Of the approximate 300 on board 2 people died.  Some were injured.  While many were able to walk away from the crash.  Cable television has been covering this nearly 24/7 since the crash.  Even though only two people died (a terrible tragedy but a tragedy that could have been far worse).  And one of them may have been accidentally driven over by the first responders arriving on scene.  Why the intense media coverage?  Because accidents like this are so rare these days.  Especially when they involve big airplanes.  And the 777 is about as big as they come.

In the aftermath of this crash we can see why flying has become so safe under a profit incentive.  Unlike in the former Soviet Union (see Asiana Air Crash May Bring New Safety Regulations in Korea by Kyunghee Park posted 7/7/2013 on Bloomberg).

“Asiana’s accident is going to damage the image of not just Asiana, but all Korean airlines,” said Um Kyung A, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities Co. in Seoul. “It only takes one incident to undermine years of work Korean airlines have made to get a solid, accident-free record. This will prompt the government to call for stricter safety measures…”

Shares of Asiana, South Korea’s second-largest airline, slumped to the lowest level in more than three years in Seoul trading today. The stock plunged as much as 9.6 percent to 4,630 won, the lowest price since April 2010…

All South Korean airlines, including budget carriers, were ordered to ensure safety, the transport ministry said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The country had no fatal air crashes between December 1999 and July 2011, when an Asiana freighter crashed, the ministry said…

A Korean Air 747-200 cargo plane crashed in December 1999 shortly after taking off from London’s Stansted Airport, killing three of its four crew members on board. That was eight months after the airline’s MD-11 freighter crashed in Shanghai in April and killed eight people, including those on the ground.

The accidents prompted the government to tighten safety standards at Korean airlines, as well as foreign ones flying into the country. It also strengthened regulations on pilot and maintenance licenses.

Pilots were required to be trained and evaluated at an international center, and airlines were required to fly more hours on domestic routes before obtaining a license to fly overseas. The government also strengthened safety regulations at domestic airports.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration downgraded South Korea to Category 2 safety rating in August 2001 following the accidents. The rating was restored to Category 1, which allowed Korean carriers to open new routes in the U.S. and resume marketing alliances with American carriers, in December that year.

In the Soviet Union there was no profit incentive as they put people before profits.  Which made Soviet air travel among the most dangerous in the world.  But look at what happens when there is a connection between safety and profits.  After a series of crashes and a downgrade by the U.S. to Category 2 South Korea tightened safety standards.  To improve their safety record.  For the fewer accidents you have the more profitable you will be.  A very strong incentive to be safe.  Which is why South Korea enjoys a better safety record than the Soviet Union ever had.

When people say that we need government to keep us safe from the greed of corporations all we need to do is look at the former Soviet Union.  And how their government failed to keep their flying public as safe as in countries that use a profit incentive.  For no corporation wants to see their stock price fall 9.6 percent.  Have a nation block them from opening new routes into their country.  Or have people perceive that their planes are not safe.  Things the former Soviet Union did not have to worry about.  As the Soviet people had no other alternative but to fly on those dangerous planes.  But there are many airlines flying between Asia and the United States.  And if one has a poor safety record people will book their flight with another airline.  This is what the profit system gives people.  Choice.  Where people can choose not to fly on an unsafe airline.  Something the Soviets couldn’t do.  Because there were no profits in the Soviet Union.



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FT127: “Obamacare is a lot like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in terms of scaring the bejesus out of businesses.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 20th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Roaring Twenties gave us Automobiles, Electric Power, Radio, Movies, Telephones and Air travel

In 1921 there were 9 million automobile registrations.  That jumped to 23 million by 1929.  An increase of 156%.  That’s a lot more cars on the roads.  In the Roaring Twenties we made cars out of steel, paint and glass.  Inside we fitted them with lumber, cotton and leather.  We put rubber tires on them.  And filled their fuel tanks with gasoline.  So this surge in car ownership created a surge in all of these industries.  Extraction of raw materials.  Factories and manufacturing plants to build the equipment to extract those raw materials.  As well as the machinery to build these automobile components.  And the moving assembly lines in assembly plants to assemble these automobiles.  The plants, warehouses and automobile dealers created a surge in the construction industry.  And all the industries that fed the construction industry.  Including the housing industry to house all these gainfully employed workers.

And this was just the auto industry.  Which wasn’t the only industry that was booming during the Roaring Twenties.  Thanks to the hands-off government policies of the administrations of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge businesses introduced us to the modern world.  Electric power came into its own.  By 1929 about 80% of all installed horsepower was electrical.  And it entered our homes.  Electric lighting and electric appliances.  Vacuum cleaners.  Washing machines.  Refrigerators.  All of this required even more raw material extraction from the ground.  More manufacturing equipment and plants.  More wholesale and retail construction.  And more housing to house all of these workers earning a healthy paycheck.

And there was more.  The Roaring Twenties gave us broadcast radio in our electric-powered homes.  Free entertainment, sports broadcasts and news.  Paid for by the new industry of advertising.  Competing with radio was another growing industry.  Motion pictures.  That by the end of the Roaring Twenties were talkies.  And speaking of talking there was a lot of that on the new telephone.  In our homes.  Interconnecting all of these industries was ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even air travel took off during the Twenties.  More raw material extraction.  More equipment.  More manufacturing.  More construction.  And jobs.  More and more jobs.  The hands-off government policies of the Harding and Coolidge administrations created the great Bull Market of the Twenties.  Explosive economic activity.  Real economic growth.  Creating low-cost consumer goods to modernize America.  Increase her productivity.  Making her the dominant economic power in the world.  The Europeans were so worried about America’s economic prowess that they met in 1927 at the International Economic Conference in Geneva to discuss the American problem.  And how they were going to compete with the American economic juggernaut.  Because the free market capitalism of the New World was leaving the Old World in the dust.

Herbert Hoover was a Republican in Name Only that FDR once Admired but Calvin Coolidge Despised

This was real economic growth.  It was not speculation.  This wasn’t artificially low interest rates creating an asset bubble.  Working Americans bought homes and cars.  And furnishings.  Businesses produced these to meet that demand.  They had growing sales.  And growing profits.  Which increased their stock prices.  Investors wanted to own their stocks because these companies were making money.  And with the world modernizing these stock prices weren’t going anywhere but up in the foreseeable future.  Unless something changed the business environment.  Well, something did.

Despite the roaring economy Calvin Coolidge did not run for a second term.  Which was a pity.  For his successor, Herbert Hoover, was a Republican in name only.  He was a big time progressive.  Who wanted to use the power of government to make the world perfect.  A devout believer in the benevolence of Big Government.  He added about 2,000 bureaucrats to the Department of Commerce.  FDR at one time admired him (before he ran against him for president).  Coolidge despised him.  Under Hoover the federal government intruded into the private sector.  His economics were Keynesian.  He, too, worshipped at the altar of demand.  He believed high wages were the key to prosperity.  For people with more money buy more.  And all that buying created demand for businesses to meet.  Even during a recession he believed wages should not fall.  Despite the fact that’s what recessions do on the back side of the business cycle.  Lower prices and wages.  And lay off people.

By the Twenties American farmers were mechanizing their farms.  Allowing them to grow more food than ever before.  Agriculture prices fell.  At first this wasn’t a problem as there were export markets for their bumper crops.  Thanks to a war-devastated Europe.  But eventually the European soldiers returned to the farm.  And the Europeans didn’t need the American food anymore.  Even places tariffs on U.S. imports to their countries to help their farmers get back on their feet.  Add in a bad winter that killed livestock.  Some bad insect infestation in the summer.  Add all this together and you had the beginning of the great farm crisis.  Debt defaults.  Bank failures.  And the contraction of the money supply.  Which the Federal Reserve (the Fed) did not step in to compensate for by expanding the money supply.  Which was sort of their purpose for being in existence.  As there was less money to borrow business could longer borrow to continue their growth.  Because of the time factor in the stages of production to expand production required borrowing money.  To make matters worse the Fed was actually pulling more money out of circulation.  Because they looked at the rising stock prices and concluded that speculators were borrowing money to invest in the stock market.  Thus inflating stock prices.  But it wasn’t speculators running up those prices.  It was an economic boom that was running up those stock prices.  Until the government put a stop to that, at least.

Bad Government Policy didn’t Create the Roaring Twenties but Bad Government Policy ended Them

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was close to becoming law in the fall of 1929.  It was moving through committees on its way to becoming law.  This tariff would raise the tax on all imports by about 30%.  The idea was to protect domestic supplies and manufacturers.  But even in 1929 it was a global economy.  A lot of imports entered the stages of production.  Which meant costs would be increasing throughout the stages of productions.  Greatly increasing the input costs of all those businesses enjoying those high stock prices.  Which would raise their prices (to cover those higher input costs).  Reducing their sales.  And slashing their profits.  Add this to the contracting money supply and it painted a very bleak picture for business.

With demand sure to fall due to a massive new tariff that was about to become law businesses cut back.  To get rid of what was about to become excess capacity.  For they were smart.  And understood what affected their businesses.  And you know who else were smart?  Investors.  Who looked at this tariff and saw a locomotive engineer about to slam on the brakes.  And if Congress passed this into law after 1928 Coolidge wasn’t going to be there to veto the law.  So they all came to the same conclusions.  The bull market was coming to an end.  And they wanted to sell their stock to lock in their stock gains.  Which caused the great sell-off of 1929.  And the stock market crash.  Starting the Great Depression.

People still debate the cause of the Great Depression.  A popular argument is that greedy investors caused it by speculating in the stock market.  Or that greedy businesses out-produced demand.  But the economics of the Roaring Twenties don’t support this.  This wasn’t people buying big houses because interest rates were low.  This was the electrification of America.  Cars.  Telephones.  Radio.  Movies.  Air travel.  This was broad and real economic growth.  Bad government policy didn’t create it.  But bad government policy ended them.  And it was the expectations of even worse government policies that yanked the rug out from underneath the economy.  By causing a business contraction and stock market sell-off.  Much like Obamacare is doing to businesses today.  Scaring the bejesus out of them.  For they have no idea what their future costs will be under Obamacare.  So they are doing their best to prepare for it.  By not expanding their businesses.  By not hiring anyone.  And sitting on their cash.  To prepare for the worst.  Much like businesses did in 1928.  Which explains why the Great Recession lingers on.



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Steam Locomotive, Diesel Electric Locomotive, Interstate Highway System, Airplane, Air Travel, Refined Petroleum Products and Pipelines

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 21st, 2012

Technology 101

The Diesel Electric Locomotive could pull a Train Cross Country and into the Heart of a City with Minimal Pollution

The 1920s were transformative years.  The Roaring Twenties.  It’s when we moved from animal power to mechanical power.  From the horse and plow to the tractor.  From steam power to electric power.  From the telegraph to the telephone.  From the gas lamp to the electric light.  From crowded mass transit to the freedom of the automobile.  From manual labor to the assembly line. 

You can see a glimpse of that world in 1920’s Steam Train Journey Across the United States – Westward Ho!  The beginning of the modern city.  With modern street lighting.  Electric power and telephone overhead wiring.  Streets crowded with automobiles.  Tractors and mechanical harvesters on the farm.  And, of course, the steam locomotive.  Connecting distant cities.  Transferring the freight to feed the modern industrial economy.  And shipping the finished goods.  As well as all that food from the farm to our grocer’s shelves.  Proving the 1920s were vibrant economic times.  With real economic growth.  And not a speculative bubble.  For there was nothing speculative about all of this technology becoming a part of our way of life.

Of course the technology wasn’t perfect.  The coal-burning locomotives belched black smoke and ash wherever they went.  Which wasn’t all that bad in the open country where a train or two passed.  But it was pretty dangerous in tunnels.  Which had to be short lest they suffocated their passengers.  (One of the reasons why all subways use electric trains).  Making for some long and winding railroads in mountainous terrain.  To go around mountains instead of under them.  Slowing trains and increasing travel time.  And they were pretty unpleasant in the cities.  Where the several rail lines converged.  Bringing a lot of coal-burning locomotives together.  Creating a smoky haze in these cities.  And leaving a layer of ash everywhere.  The cleaner diesel-burning locomotives changed that.  The diesel electric locomotive could pull a train cross country and into the heart of a city with a minimal amount of pollution.  As long as they kept their engines from burning rich.  Which they would if they operated them with dirty air filters.  Reducing fuel efficiency by having the air-fuel mixture contain too much fuel.  And causing these engines to belch black smoke.  Similar to diesel trucks running with dirty air filters.

Airplanes can travel between Two Points in a Direct Line at Faster Speeds than a Train or Bus with Minimal Infrastructure

Trains shrunk our country.  Brought distant cities together.  Allowing people to visit anywhere in the continental United States.  And the railroads profited well from all of this travel.  Until two later developments.  One was the interstate highway system.  That transferred a lot of freight from the trains to trucks.  As well as people from trains to buses and cars.  And then air travel.  That transferred even more people from trains to airplanes.  This competition really weakening railroads’ profits.  And pretty much put an end to passenger rail.  For people used the interstate highway system for short trips.  And flew on the long ones.  Which was quicker.  And less expensive.  Primarily because airplanes flew over terrain that was costly to avoid.

Highways and railroads have to negotiate terrain.  They have to wind around obstacles.  Go up and down mountainous regions.  Cross rivers and valleys on bridges.  Travel under hilly terrain through tunnels.  And everywhere they go they have to travel on something built by man.  All the way from point A to point B.  Now trucks, buses and cars have an advantage here.  We subsidize highway travel with fuel taxes.  Trucking companies, bus lines and car owners didn’t have to build the road and infrastructure connecting point A to point B.  Like the railroads do.  The railroads had to supply that very extensive and very expensive infrastructure themselves.  Paid for by their freight rates and their passenger ticket sales.  And when there were less expensive alternatives it was difficult to sell your rates and fares at prices high enough to support that infrastructure.  Especially when that lower-priced alternative got you where you were going faster.  Like the airplane did.

Man had always wanted to fly.  Like a bird.  But no amount of flapping of man-made wings got anyone off the ground.  We’re too heavy and lacked the necessary breast muscles to flap anything fast enough.  Not to mention that if we could we didn’t have any means to stabilize ourselves in flight.  We don’t have a streamline body or tail feathers.  But then we learned we could create lift.  Not by flapping but my pushing a curved wing through the air.  As the air passes over this curved surface it creates lift.  Generate enough speed and you could lift quite a load with those wings.  Including people.  Cargo.  Engines.  And fuel.  Add in some control elements and we could stabilize this in flight.  A tail fin to prevent yawing (twisting left and right) from the direction of flight.  Like a weathercock turns to point in the direction of the wind.  And an elevator (small ‘wing’ at the tail of the plane) to control pitch (nose up and nose down).  Ailerons correct for rolling.  Or turn the plane by rolling.  By tipping the wings up or down to bank the airplane (to turn left the left aileron goes up and the right aileron goes down).  And using the elevator on the take-off roll to pitch the nose up to allow the plane to gain altitude.  And in flight it allows the plane to ascend or descend to different altitudes.  Put all of this together and it allows an airplane to travel between points A and B while avoiding all terrain.  In a direct line between these two points.  At a much faster speed than a train, bus or car can travel.  And the only infrastructure required for this are the airports at points A and B.  And the few en route air traffic controllers between points A and B. Which consisted of radar installations and dark rooms with people staring at monitors.  Communicating to the aircraft.  Helping them to negotiate the air highways without colliding into other aircraft.  And air travel took off, of course, in the 1920s.  The Roaring Twenties.  Those glorious transformative years.

Refined Petroleum Products have Large Concentrations of Energy and are the Only Fuel that allows Air Travel

The most expensive cost of flying is the fuel cost.  The costlier it is the costlier it is to fly.  Not so for the railroads.  Because their fuel costs aren’t the most expensive cost they have.  Maintaining their infrastructure is.  They can carry incredible loads cross country for a small price per unit weight.  Without swings in fuel prices eating into their profits.  Making them ideal to transfer very large and/or heavy loads over great distances.  Despite dealing with all the headaches of terrain.  For neither a plane nor a truck can carry the same volume a train can.  And heavier loads on a plane take far greater amounts of fuel.  This additional fuel itself adding a great amount of weight to the aircraft.  Thus limiting its flight distance.  Requiring refueling stops along the way.  Making it a very expensive way to transport heavy loads.  Which is why we ship coal on trains.  Not on planes.

Trains are profitable again.  But they’re not making their money moving people around.  Their money is in heavy freight.  Iron ore.  Coke.  And, of course, coal.  To feed the modern industrial economy.  Stuff too heavy for our paved roads.  And needed in such bulk that it would take caravans of trucks to carry what one train can carry.  But even trains can’t transport something in enough bulk to make it cost efficient.  Refined petroleum.  Gasoline.  Diesel.  And jet fuel.  For these we use pipelines.  From pipelines we load gas and diesel onto trucks and deliver it to your local gas station.  We run pipelines directly to the fuel racks in rail yards.   And run pipelines to our airports.  Where we pump jet fuel into onsite storage tanks in large fuel farms.  Which we then pump out in another set of pipelines to fueling hydrants located right at aircraft gates.

These refined petroleum products carry large concentrations of energy.  Are easy to transport in pipelines.  Are portable.  And are very convenient.  Planes and trains (as well as ships, busses and cars) can carry them.  Allowing them to travel great distances.  Something currently no renewable energy can do.  And doing without them would put an end to air travel.  Greatly increase the cost of rail transport (by electrifying ALL our tracks).  Or simply abandoning track we don’t electrify.  Making those far distant cities ever more distant.  And our traveling options far more limited than they were in the 1920s.  Turning the hands of time back about a hundred years.  Only we’ll have less.  And life will be less enjoyable.



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LESSONS LEARNED #56: “It’s competition in the private sector that makes life better. Not government regulation.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 10th, 2011

Deregulation makes Air Travel Cheaper and Safer

A lot of people bitched about the deregulation of the airlines.  Mostly union people.  Because before they were deregulated it was very expensive to fly.  Ticket prices were out of the reach of most of middle class America.  But, with those high prices, the airlines made a lot of money.  And the unions got a lot of that money.  Union members warned about safety with deregulation.  If they lowered ticket prices so anyone could fly there wouldn’t be enough money to maintain the highly skilled personnel to fly and maintain the airplanes.  If you put profits before safety planes could start falling out of the sky.

Well, they deregulated the airlines in 1974.  Government no longer controlled the price of tickets, air traffic routes or the number of airlines allowed to operate.  Ticket prices fell.  More airlines began operations.  More cities built airports.  More people were flying than ever before.  All people.  Not just the rich.  Deregulation was a huge success.  Except for unions.  For them it wasn’t quite the gravy train it was before deregulation.  So did safety suffer?  No.  Quite the contrary.

In 1959 there were 40 fatal accidents per million departures (at the beginning of the jet age).  That number fell to about 10 in 1960.  During the Sixties it was at or below 5.  The number fell by approximately half during the Seventies.  It fell to about 1 after the Seventies with a spike of about 1.5 in 1988.

At the beginning of the jet age, few in the government bureaucracy knew anything about jets.  So it was mostly the manufacturers and the airlines policing themselves as they developed jetliner travel.  And they did a pretty good job.  After deregulation air travel exploded with the new jets.  They were safe enough that people weren’t afraid to fly on them.  And they did.

Boeing and Douglas lead the way in the Jet Age

Competition drove early jet travel.  Air travel was growing and the airlines needed planes that could carry more people, fly farther and faster.  If they had the planes they could fly the people.  Two of America’s manufacturers stood up in a big way.  Boeing built the 707.  And Douglas built the DC-8.  This competition produced two jetliners that were safe to fly and they moved more people farther than any propeller plane.  There were some accidents in the beginning but they were less compared to the propeller planes they replaced. 

Air travel continued to grow.  There was a demand for bigger airplanes.  A bigger plane could move more people at a lower cost per person.  This meant even lower ticket prices.  And made air travel more affordable to the less rich.  Boeing rolled out the 747.  McDonnell Douglas (the merger of Douglas with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation) rolled out the DC-10.  The first of the wide-bodies.  The Boeing 747 went on to become a huge success with an incredible safety record.  It still flies today.  Few airplanes make people feel safer.  The DC-10, on the other hand, did not make people feel as safe.  For a period of time.  And that marked the beginning of the end of McDonnell Douglas.

McDonnell Douglas was a very successful company.  They built thousands of DC-9s and MD-80/90s.  Over 2,000.  These are very reliable and safe aircrafts.  The DC-9 had only 0.76 fatal accidents per million departures (PMD).  The MD-80/90s had only 0.31 fatal accidents PMD.  You’ll still see a lot of these flying today.  It has proven to be a very reliable airframe.  The DC-10, though, had a bumpier road with less than 500 built.  It, too, was a good airplane.  But it was involved with some very high-profile accidents.  And it got a reputation as an unsafe design.

A Close Call with the Cargo Hold Door of a DC-10

The cargo hold door on the DC-10 opened outward.  This allowed room for more cargo.  Doors that open in take up cargo space.  Which reduces revenue.  The more cargo you can carry, the more revenue you make and the lower ticket prices can be.  It’s just one in many ways to reduce the cost of air travel.  And it was yet another thing that made the DC-10 profitable to fly.

Airlines bought the DC-10 and put it into service.  It performed well.  But that cargo door would become an issue.  Doors on an airplane typically open inward.  For a good reason.  Once a plane reaches an altitude of 10,000 feet, it has to be pressurized so people can breathe normally.  That places a lot of pressure inside the passenger and cargo compartments.  The only ‘holes’ in the aircraft have doors that seal tighter at these higher interior pressures.  Because they open inward.  The cargo door on the DC-10, though, needed a special latching mechanism to withstand those pressures without opening in flight.  Because it opened outward.

Closed properly there was no problem.  But sometimes it wasn’t.  In 1972, a DC-10 departing from Detroit suffered an explosive decompression as it climbed above 10,000 feet.  The cargo door failed.  The sudden decompression collapsed the passenger floor and damaged the aircraft’s control cables and hydraulics.  The rudder was deflected full left.  The engines throttle levels slammed back to idle.  The tail-mounted engine control cables were severed completely.  The elevator provided little control.  The pilots varied the thrust on the wing-mounted engines to maneuver the aircraft back to the airport.  They compensated for the deflected rudder with asymmetric thrust on the wing engines.  Without a functioning elevator the nose dropped at lower speeds.  So they landed at a higher speed than normal.  As they slowed the force of the rudder declined and the asymmetric thrust took over, pulling the aircraft off the runway.  It was a tremendous piece of flying by the crew that brought that plane back without loss of life.

A Pair of Crashes Threaten the DC-10 and McDonnell Douglas

The rear cargo door was studied and some changes were made.  Issues with floor strength in the new wide-bodies were questioned.  They just started flying.  This was new territory for everyone.   No significant change was made.  Other DC-10s were flying safely.  This may have just been an isolated incident of human error (closing the cargo door incorrectly).  Then, in 1974, it happened again.  In a series of human errors that doomed a Turkish Airlines plane leaving Paris for London.  A different seat configuration put more people over the floor that collapsed on the Detroit flight.  The explosive decompression tore through the cabin floor, causing greater damage to the control cables and hydraulics than on the Detroit flight.  There was nothing the flight crew could do.  The plane was uncontrollable.  It crashed, killing all 346 aboard.  The largest loss of life to date.  And the first crash of a new wide body.

The subsequent investigation painted the DC-10 as unsafe.  Then in 1979 another catastrophic accident at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  During takeoff.  After passing V1 (the speed the aircraft could no longer abort and stop safely on the runway) the left wing-mounted engine and pylon tore away from the wing.  The pilots had no idea what had happened other that an engine had lost all thrust.  They couldn’t see the wing from the flight deck.  So they followed procedures for a two-engine takeoff.  But the damage to the leading edge of the left wing was severe.  The leading edge slats retracted with the severing of the hydraulic lines.  The left wing now had a slower stall speed than the right wing.  But they didn’t know.  And they had no indication in the cockpit.  The plane was flying.  They climbed out per procedure.  They powered back from take-off power.  And when they did, the left wing started to dip.  In the few seconds they had to understand what was happening it was too late.  The wing stalled.  The plane rolled left and pitched down.  And crashed.  Killing all 271 aboard.

Was this a design flaw?  No.  Again, it was human error.  The maintenance crew did not follow published maintenance procedures.  The left engine and pylon was replaced after routine maintenance.  The maintenance manual called for the engine removal first.  Then the engine pylon.  Some airlines were replacing the engine and pylon as an assembly.  This saved maintenance hours (and cut costs).  And was safer because it reduced the number of fuel, hydraulic and electrical wiring that had to be disconnected and reconnected.  Or so they thought.  Lifting the engine and pylon assembly to the underside of the wing attachment point was a delicate procedure, though.  That’s a lot of mass pressed against the mounting flange.  And in this case, they pushed the assembly up too high into the flange, deforming it and causing a fracture.  No one knew this as they accelerated down that O’Hare runway.  As they approached take off speed the flange broke completely, sending that engine up and over the wing.

Plane Crashes don’t help Sell Planes or Tickets

With these high-profile accidents the DC-10 got a reputation for being unsafe.  Orders fell.  While orders for the Boeing 747 remained strong.  Even though they had similar safety records.  The early 747s had 1.41 fatal accidents per PMD (the later 747-400 had 0.19 fatal accidents per PMD).  The DC-10 had 1.36 fatal accidents per PMD.  It was as safe if not safer as the 747s that were flying during the same time.  But the public relations damage was done.  Boeing sales grew.  McDonnell Douglas sales fell.  The business founded by Donald Douglas in 1921 is no more.  Unable to compete with Boeing (or Airbus) any longer, McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing.

McDonnell Douglas had a very successful run.  But the Boeing 747 went on to dominate the wide-body market.  And one wide-body paid a lot more bills than a bunch of narrow-bodies.  Commercial planes have only gotten bigger.  The Airbus 380 is a double decker that can carry over 800 passengers.  And is giving the Boeing 747 a run for its money.  Who knows what might have happened if not for these high-profile accidents.  McDonnell Douglas had even floated the idea of a double decker airplane.  By that time, though, it was too late.

Competition between Boeing and Douglas introduced the jet age.  Their continued competition gave us wide-body jetliners.  Average people could fly anywhere in the world.  And air travel got safer through the years.  Government regulation didn’t make this happen.  Yes, the government made some planes safer.  But not until after a crash.  And they were few and far between.  The vast majority of commercial aviation flew safely.  Because manufacturers and airlines have a vested interest in being safe.  For a very good reason.  Plane crashes don’t help you sell planes.  Or tickets.  But they can put you out of business.  Even if they aren’t your fault.  Something McDonnell Douglas knows only too well.



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Government and Unions can Take a Bad Situation and Make it Worse

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2010

If you Think TSA is Dysfunctional and Unpopular Now, Wait Until it Unionizes

Question:  How do you make a bad situation worse?  Simple.  Add more government.  Or a union.  And if you really want to make things worse, add a government union.

The TSA is not very popular these days.  What with their nude imaging leering and their groping of our naughty bits.  They say it’s for our security.  But it feels more like we’re living in a police state.  But at least we can fire those who cross the line and enjoy these sexual assaults a little too much.  Well, for now, at least (see How to Make Air Travel More Infuriating by John Fund posted on 11/26/2010 on The Wall Street Journal).

But if you think TSA is dysfunctional and unpopular now, wait until it unionizes. This month, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that 50,000 TSA personnel will be allowed to vote on whether or not to join a union with full collective bargaining rights…

Imagine if every change in procedures had to be cleared with union shop stewards. While it is not easy to fire TSA personnel now, just think how difficult it will be to remove bad employees if they are covered by union job protection agreements.

I think I see something questionable in your groin, ma’am.  By the power invested in me, I will need to take a closer look.  We have no female agents available, so I will have to insert my man-hands into your panties and feel around in the name of national security.  But you can trust me.  I work for the TSA.  And if you have a problem with this, tough.  I’m union protected.

If You’ve been Sexually Assaulted, it’s Best that You don’t Wear Pantyliners During TSA Security Screening

Sure, I’m being silly.  I mean, what could be suspicious in a woman’s panties (see Sanitary Towel Prompts TSA To Grope Sexual Assault Victim by Steve Watson posted on 11/25/2010 on Prisonplanet.com)?

I recently traveled via air, and was subjected to that new scanning device. “No problem,” I thought. I was wearing jeans and a linen tanktop, bra, panties, and one camouflage pantyliner.

No doubt common for women to wear bras and panties.  And pantyliners.  Should be no big deal.

These new scans are so horrible that if you are wearing something unusual (like a piece of cloth on your panties) then you will be subjected to a search where a woman repeatedly has to check your “groin” while another woman watches on….

Well, I guess in the name of security we must make some women uncomfortable.  What’s the worst that can happen?  A mild case of embarrassment?

But what ultimately happened is that I was subjected to search so invasive that I was left crying and dealing with memories that I thought had been dealt with years ago of prior sexual assaults.

Oh.  It can be that much worse.  We can traumatize a woman by invoking memories of a sexual assault.  Maybe we should revisit TSA screening procedures.  Come up with something that won’t traumatize people.  Maybe look for bombers instead of just bombs.  Use psychological behavior to narrow down the number of invasive bodily searches.  You know, as long as the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t object, of course.

Doctors to Save Medicare by being Screwed by Government

All right, we know what a train wreck the TSA is.  Surely there are things that government does well, aren’t there?  Well, let’s take a look at a big government program.  Medicare.  The government is cutting Medicare payments to doctors.  The program’s spending is so out of control that these cuts are pretty steep.  How steep?  Enough to make doctors drop Medicare patients (see Doctors say Medicare cuts force painful decision about elderly patients by N.C. Aizenman posted 11/26/2010 on The Washington Post).

Doctors across the country describe similar decisions, complaining that they’ve been forced to shift away from Medicare toward higher-paying, privately insured or self-paying patients in response to years of penny-pinching by Congress.

Not only that, but the system is forcing doctors into specialties, depleting the ranks of the primary-care doctors.

On average, primary-care doctors make about $190,000 a year, kidney specialists $300,000, and radiologists close to $500,000, figures that reflect the income doctors receive from both Medicare and non-Medicare patients. The disparity has prompted concern that Medicare is contributing to a growing shortage of primary doctors.

But can you blame them for going into specialties?  Being a doctor is hard.  All that schooling.  Long hours during residency.  And they’re saving lives.  For which they get paid Bupkis.  Shouldn’t we pay them well after they go through all that hell?

“The argument that doctors literally can’t afford to feed their kids [if they take Medicare’s rates] is absurd,” said [Robert] Berenson [a Commissioner of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent congressional agency]. “It’s just that doctors have gotten used to a certain income and lifestyle.”

Easy for a government bureaucrat to say.  But look at the life of a doctor.

But, “the whole system would need to change. … I graduated medical school $100,000 in debt. I worked 110 hours a week during my residency for $30,000 a year and sacrificed all through my 20s. And even now, you’re still seeing people all day, with meetings and paperwork at night, on top of the emotional side of worrying when the patients you care for aren’t doing well. This is life-and-death stuff. And I feel like that should be compensated.”

This doctor failed to mention the lawyers constantly nipping at the heels of doctors.  And malpractice insurance ain’t cheap.

Doctors are Paid too Much?!?  Have you seen what Members of Congress Pay Themselves?

All right, let’s take a closer look at some of these doctors’ critics.  Members of Congress pay themselves pretty damn well.  And they don’t save lives.  Or work hard.  They get a lot of time off.  Lots of travel.  Lots of perks.  We can describe doctors as angels of mercy.  We describe a lot of these politicians, though, as scum of the earth.   And look at their salaries (see Boehner under fire: First cut should be lawmakers’ salaries by Jordy Yager posted on 11/5/2010 on The Hill).

The base pay for House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000, while majority and minority leaders each make $193,400 per year.

A run of the mill member of Congress makes almost as much as a doctor.  Considering what little a member of Congress does for that paycheck, who out there can say this is fair?

Unions and Government

The problem with unions and government?  They make life for the average Joe that much harder.  They protect their own.  And force others to pay for their elevated lifestyles.  And they abuse their power.  Always have.  And always will.  At least nothing in history has suggested otherwise.   

It sure gives you a warm fuzzy when you think about Obamacare coming down the pike, doesn’t it?



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Happy Thanksgiving (Once we Pass through the TSA, of course)

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 25th, 2010

When You want to Hire the Best

The TSA and their nude imaging and handsy pat-downs are big news this holiday season.  But it’s all for our own good.  To make air travel safer.  Nay, to make all Americans safer. 

So when you travel this holiday season, rest comfortably knowing that America’s best are standing on the last line of defense before you board that aircraft. 

We know this because of the selective recruiting program used by the TSA.  They choose only the best of the best for their intensive training program.  Because our safety is serious business.

I don’t know what that training program is.  But I know where it starts.  On a pizza box (see TSA using pizza boxes to recruit new workers by Ed O’Keefe posted 7/14/2010 on The Washington Post).

“A Career Where X-Ray Vision and Federal Benefits Come Standard,” reads a TSA ad appearing on pizza boxes across the Washington region.

“Washington Reagan National Airport and Washington-Dulles International Airport are now hiring Transportation Security Officers,” the ad said. “See yourself in a vital role for Homeland Security. Be part of a dynamic security team protecting airports and skies as you proudly secure your future.”

But isn’t that limiting your reach for the best of the best?  I mean, what about the ones that don’t eat pizza?

The boxed ad campaign was developed last year in an effort to reach a broader applicant pool, according to TSA spokesman Greg Soule. The agency routinely uses ad space on Metro trains, at gas stations and in newspapers or buys ad time during movie previews.

I can remember the days when recruiters came to college campuses.  But you know the kind of weirdoes you can find there.  No.  It’s better to advertise on a pizza box. 

Besides, if they’re eating a pizza, chances are someone delivered that pizza.  That means they know how to read (a menu).  And can operate sensitive electronic equipment (a telephone).  And who says the TSA isn’t brilliant?

I wonder if this is how the bad guys recruit suicide terrorist bombers.

Be Thankful for our Military.  And Family.

While we suffer the indignities of the TSA this holiday season, take a moment to think about those who can’t.  And thank them.  Our men and women serving in the armed services away from home.  In harm’s way.  Keeping the fight away from our borders.  Making America safe.  So safe that the only one violating us these days is our own TSA.

Please do what you can for those serving in our military.  And their families.  They’re sacrificing so much for us.  Show them how much we appreciate them.  And how anxious we are for them to rejoin their families.  So they can enjoy what we are enjoying this holiday season.  Family.



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