People chose Low-Cost over Comfort with Spirit Airlines

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 20th, 2014

Week in Review

Flying used to be reserved for the very rich.  But after deregulation ticket prices fell.  Allowing most anyone to afford flying.  Flying isn’t cheap, though.  Especially with high fuel costs.  Which has created a bunch of low-cost airlines to keep the price of flying as low as possible.  Something people like when buying their tickets.  Even if they end up complaining about the flight (see Spirit Airlines: nation’s highest complaint rate and highest profit margin by Hugo Martin posted 4/20/2014 on the Los Angeles Times).

It may be no surprise that the U.S.-based airline that has drawn the most complaints per passenger over the last five years is Spirit Airlines.

After all, the Florida-based carrier is known for super-tight seating and dozens of fees, including charges for soft drinks and carry-on bags.

But the executives at the ultra-low-cost carrier are probably not sweating the study results because another report released last week said that Spirit also had the highest profit margin of any U.S. carrier in 2013.

Most people want to get where they’re going and really don’t mind the getting there.  If they’re paying, at least.  If the company is picking up the tab, sure, business class all the way.  But most others are traveling somewhere.  And when they get ‘there’ they want to have as much money left over after getting ‘there’ to make their time ‘there’ as good as possible.  So they will put up with being cramped.  Go thirsty.  And pack light.  They may not enjoy this.  But that’s okay.  As long as they can enjoy their time when they get wherever they’re going.

And this is why Spirit Airlines is so profitable.  For as bad as people may find the flying portion of their travels they like having more money in their pockets when they get there.  So people willingly fill those cramped seats.  Because this airline is offering them exactly what they want.  How do we know this?  Because they are filling those cramped seats enough to make Spirit Airlines very profitable.  Which they couldn’t do if people weren’t filling those cramped seats.  So passengers may be saying they don’t like flying Spirit Airlines but their dollars say otherwise.

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Flying is Quicker and more Cost Efficient than Passenger Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 8th, 2014

Week in Review

Politicians everywhere want to build high-speed rail.  Why?  Because there are maybe only 2 high-speed rail lines in the world that operate at a profit.  All other passenger rail requires government subsidies.  Because the massive capital and operating costs for passenger rail are so great they cannot recover them via ticket prices.  And high-speed rail is the costliest of all.

So passenger rail requires new taxation to support it.  And politicians like new taxes.  Also, building passenger rail requires an enormous infrastructure.  Built and maintained by lots of people.  Union people.  Something else politicians love.  Rewarding their union friends with lots of new union jobs.  Which is why politicians love high-speed rail.  They get a lot ‘thank you’ votes for all that government spending.  No matter how costly or inefficient passenger rail is as a means of transportation.  As we can see here (see I Spent 28 Hours on a Bus. I Loved It. by Eric Holthaus posted 2/4/2014 on Slate).

traveling by plane car train bus R1

The infrastructure between point A and point B for cars and buses is already there.  Paid for with fuel taxes.  Planes need no infrastructure between point A and point B.  But trains do.  A very costly infrastructure.

Trains carry more people than buses.  But not as many as planes.  Which means the far greater cost of passenger rail is divided by fewer ticket purchasers.  Whereas the less costly flying is divided by more ticket purchasers.

Planes can fly around 500 mph.  Passenger rail can travel up to 100 mph on some sections of track.  While high-speed rail travels at speeds of just under 200 mph on dedicated (and very expensive) track.

You add these points together and it’s little wonder that traveling by train costs about 20% more than flying.  While taking 5.8 times as long.  Or a little less for high-speed rail. Making the plane the undisputed champion of long-distance travel.  And it works without massive government subsidies.  Which is the best kind of travel there is.  The kind where the people traveling pay for their travels.  And not everyone else.  As is the case with passenger rail.

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Autopilots and Lawyers take Flying Time away from Pilots, Increase Stalls

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Air craft incidents make the news because they are so rare.  Such as two planes clipping wings on the tarmac.  And any crash is on the news 24 hours a day.  Because they are so rare that statistically they just don’t happen.  But as rare as they are they still happen.  And planes fall out of the sky (see Crash investigator urges stall training for pilots by Bart Jansen posted 10/30/2013 on USA Today).

A federal crash investigator urged a conference of aviation safety officials Tuesday to better train pilots to avoid stubborn problems such as stalls.

Earl Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, recalled four separate fatal crashes over the past two decades that he said involved stalls, with pilots basically pulling the plane’s nose up too much until the aircraft fell to the ground.

“The question in my mind is why did the crew continue to pull back on the elevator all the way to the ground,” Weener told about 300 people attending the Flight Safety Foundation’s International Aviation Safety Summit, rather than leveling off to regain power and speed.

Lack of training is feared to be one culprit…

A NASA study of voluntary reporting by pilots found stalls 28% of the time while cruising at high altitude, Weener said. And an airline database study by the International Air Transport Association found 27% of stalls occurred while cruising, he said.

But a survey found only 26% of airlines trained for high-altitude stalls – even though 71% of stalls occur when the autopilot is typically engaged, Weener said.

Lack of training?  With 71% of stalls happening while flying on autopilot try lack of flying.

Most accidents today are pilot error.  Is it because we have bad pilots?  No.  It’s because we’re not letting them fly.  In the risk-averse world we live in today we try to avoid all risk.  We have autopilot systems that are so sophisticated that they can fly a plane without a pilot aboard.  In our litigious society airlines feel machines will make fewer mistakes than people.  So they have the machines fly the plane most of the time.  While pilots monitor the systems.  Entering set-points into the flight computers.  While the computers fly the plane.  And when there is a problem pilots try to get the flight computers working.  Instead of taking the controls themselves.

Before pilots turned flying over to the machines they flew the planes.  They felt the planes.  They listened to the planes.  And flew by the seat of their pants.  If there was an odd vibration they felt it.  If there was an engine problem they heard it.  And if the plane stalled they felt it in the pit of their stomach.  And instinctively pushed forward on the column and applied full power. 

Today, because of lawyers, airlines want pilots to fix the autopilot.  Not take the controls.  So the machines can start flying again as soon as possible.  As they feel they are less likely to make a mistake than a pilot doing some real flying.  Unfortunately, a machine will only fly as well as a human can tell it to fly.  By entering those set-points.  And if the human makes a mistake at data entry the computer will assume that the human didn’t make a mistake.  And follow those instructions exactly.  Even if the plane flies into the ground.  Or stalls and falls out of the sky.

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Skilled Pilots avoid Flying into Parachutists after Picking up their Radio Transmission

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  But there is still the very rare crash.  And the occasional incident.  Most of which are attributable to pilot error.  So we have been replacing the skill of a pilot with automated systems.  That do make flying safer.  But they also make pilots less of a pilot.  And more of a systems operator.  Luckily, though, we still have excellent pilots in the cockpit (see Incident: Rex SF34 at Moruya on Sep 12th 2013, parachutists dropped into departure path by Simon Hradecky posted 9/13/2013 on The Aviation Herald).

A REX Regional Saab 340B, registration VH-ZLJ performing flight ZL-117 from Moruya,NS to Merimbula,NS (Australia), had just taken off from Moruya when the crew caught a radio transmission that a parachute drop had been completed. The crew instantly inquired with the Cessna pilot transmitting that announcement about the location of the drop and received information the parachutists had been dropped 0.4nm west of the aerodrome, which the Saab crew determined was right in their departure path. The crew immediately turned to the left towards the sea, then continued for a safe landing in Merimbula.

In the old days of stick and rudder flying cables ran from the yoke to the control surfaces.  A pilot could rest his hand on the yoke while flying on autopilot and be aware of what was happening to the aircraft.  Any bump or shudder of the aircraft, however small, would vibrate that yoke.  Bringing it to the pilot’s attention.  Raising his or her pilot senses that something out of the ordinary was happening.  And they would take over flying the aircraft.  Review all systems.  And identify a problem.  Before it was a problem.  All from just resting a hand on the yoke.

This is something an automated system can’t do.  Feel a barely perceptible bump or shudder that is out of the ordinary.  Focusing the pilot’s attention on it.  Before something catastrophic happened.  Sadly, an automated system would have to wait for something more perceptible to happen to trigger an alarm.  Leaving less time to recover once something catastrophic happened.

The pilots flying this Saab 340B heard something.  Because they were human they processed what they heard.  And because they were good pilots they understood what that radio transmission meant.  And took corrective action.  When an automated system would have detected nothing.

A bird-strike can bring down a large commercial jetliner.  So flying into a parachutist probably would have brought that Saab 340B down.  But that didn’t happen.  Thanks to a pilot.  Though it is tempting to automate as much of flying as possible doing so may end up making flying more dangerous.  Because a pilot can feel and fly an airplane a lot faster than he or she can analyze systems.  Two recent incidents involved planes that descended too rapidly and crashed short of the runway.  These accidents may not have happened if the pilots were flying the planes instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with the automated systems.  They need to fly more.  And depend on automated systems less.  At least when landing and taking off.  When a gray-haired pilot can sense things no computer can.  Because they can fly by the seat of their pants.  For they have seen, felt and experienced just about everything while flying.

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Trucks, Trains, Ships and Planes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 21st, 2013

Technology 101

Big Over-the-Road Tractor Trailer Trucks have Big Wheels so they can have Big Brakes

If you buy a big boat chances are you have a truck or a big SUV to pull it.  For rarely do you see a small car pulling a large boat.  Have you ever wondered why?  A small car can easily pull a large boat on a level (or a near level) surface.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is stopping once it gets moving.  For that is a lot of mass.  Creating a lot of kinetic energy (one half of the mass times velocity squared).  Which is dissipated as heat as brake shoes or pads rub against the wheels.  This is why you need a big truck or SUV to pull a boat.  So you can stop it once it gets moving.

Big trucks and big SUVs have big wheels and big brakes.  Large areas where brake pads/shoes press against a rotating wheel.  All of which is heavy duty equipment.  That can grab onto to those wheels and slow them down.  Converting that kinetic energy into heat.  This is why the big over-the-road tractor trailer trucks have big wheels.  So they can have big enough brakes to stop that huge mass once it gets moving.  Without the brakes turning white hot and melting.  Properly equipped trucks can carry great loads.  Moving freight safely across our highways and byways.  But there is a limit to what they can carry.  Too much weight spread between too few axles will pound the road apart.  Which is why the state police weighs our trucks.  To make sure they have enough axles supporting the load they’re carrying.  So they don’t break up our roads.  And that they can safely stop.

It’s a little different with trains.  All train cars have a fixed number of axles.  But you will notice the size of the cars differ.  Big oversized boxcars carry a lot of freight.  But it’s more big than heavy.  Heavy freight, on the other hand, like coal, you will see in smaller cars.  So the weight they carry doesn’t exceed the permissible weight/axle.  If you ever sat at a railroad crossing as a train passed you’ve probably noticed that the rail moves as the train travels across.  Watch a section of rail the next time you’re stopped by a train.  And you will see the rail sink a little beneath the axle as it passes over.

If a Ship is Watertight and Properly Balanced it can be covered in Green Water and Rise back to the Surface

So the various sizes of train cars (i.e., rolling stock) keeps each car from being overloaded.  Unlike a truck.  Steel haulers and gravel trains (i.e., dump trucks) have numerous axles beneath the load they’re carrying.  But these axles are retractable.  For the more wheels in contact with the road the more fuel is needed to overcome the friction between the tires and the road.  And the more tires in contact with the road the more tire wear there is.  Tires and fuel are expensive.  So truckers like to have as few tires in contact with the road as possible.  When they’re running empty they will have as many of these wheels retracted up as possible.  Something you can’t do with a train.

That said, a train’s weight is critical for the safe operation of a train.  In particular, stopping a train.  The longer a train is the more distance it takes to stop.  It is hard to overload a particular car in the string of cars (i.e., consist) but the total weight tells engineers how fast they can go.  How much they must slow down for curves.  How much distance they need to bring a train to a stop.  And how many handbrakes to set to keep the train from rolling away after the pressure bleeds out of the train line (i.e., the air brakes).  You do this right and it’s safe sailing over the rails.  Ships, on the other hand, have other concerns when it comes to weight.

Ships float.  Because of buoyancy.  The weight of the load presses down on the water while the surface of the water presses back against the ship.  But where you place that weight in a ship makes a big difference.  For a ship needs to maintain a certain amount of freeboard.  The distance between the surface of the water and the deck.  Waves toss ships up and down.  At best you just want water spray splashing onto your deck.  At worst you get solid water (i.e., green water).  If a ship is watertight and properly balanced it can be covered in green water and rise back to the surface.  But if a ship is loaded improperly and lists to one side or is low in the bow it reduces freeboard.  Increases green water.  And makes it less likely to be able to safely weather bad seas.  The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 while crossing Lake Superior in one of the worst storms ever.  She was taking on water.  Increasing her weight and lowering her into the water.  Losing freeboard.  Had increasing amounts of green water across her deck.  To the point that a couple of monster waves crashed over her and submerged her and she never returned to the surface.  It happened so fast that the crew was unable to give out a distress signal.  And as she disappeared below the surface her engine was still turning the propeller.  Driving her into the bottom of the lake.  Breaking the ship in two.  And the torque of the spinning propeller twisting the stern upside down.

Airplanes are the only Mode of Transportation that has two Systems to Carry their Load

One of the worst maritime disasters on the Great Lakes was the sinking of the SS Eastland.  Resulting in the largest loss of life in a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.  In total 844 passengers and crew died.  Was this in a storm like the SS Edmund Fitzgerald?  No.  The SS Eastland was tied to the dock on the Chicago River.  The passengers all went over to one side of the ship.  And the mass of people on one side of the ship caused the ship to capsize.  While tied to the dock.  On the Chicago River.  Because of this shift in weight.  Which can have catastrophic results.  As it can on airplanes.  There’s a sad YouTube video of a cargo 747 taking off.  You then see the nose go up and the plane fall out of the sky.  Probably because the weight slid backwards in the plane.  Shifting the center of gravity.  Causing the nose of the plane to pitch up.  Which disrupted the airflow over the wings.  Causing them to stall.  And with no lift the plane just fell out of the sky.

Airplanes are unique in one way.  They are the only mode of transportation that has two systems to carry their weight.  On the ground the landing gear carries the load.  In the air the wings carry the load.  Which makes taking off and landing the most dangerous parts of flying.  Because a plane has to accelerate rapidly down the runway so the wings begin producing lift.  Once they do the weight of the aircraft begins to transfer from the landing gear to the wings.  Allowing greater speeds.  However, if something goes wrong that interferes with the wings producing lift the wings will be unable to carry the weight of the plane.  And it will fall out of the sky.  Back onto the landing gear.  But once the plane leaves the runway there is nothing the landing gear can gently settle on.  And with no altitude to turn or to glide back to a runway the plane will fall out of the sky wherever it is.  Often with catastrophic results.

A plane has a lot of mass.  And a lot of velocity.  Giving it great kinetic energy.  It takes long runways to travel fast enough to transfer the weight of the aircraft from the landing gear to the wings.  And it takes a long, shallow approach to land an airplane.  So the wheels touch down gently while slowly picking up the weight of the aircraft as the wings lose lift.  And it takes a long runway to slow the plane down to a stop.  Using reverse thrusters to convert that kinetic energy into heat.  Sometimes even running out of runway before bringing the plane to a stop.  No other mode of transportation has this additional complication of travelling.  Transferring the weight from one system to another.  The most dangerous part of flying.  Yet despite this very dangerous transformation flying is the safest mode of traveling.  Because the majority of flying is up in the air in miles of emptiness.  Where if something happens a skilled pilot has time to regain control of the aircraft.  And bring it down safely.

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Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is Probably as Good an Idea as High-Speed Rail

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 18th, 2013

Week in Review

We transport heavy freight over land by train.  And transport people over land by plane.  Have you ever wondered why we do this?  Especially you train enthusiasts who would love to travel by train more often?  Here’s why.  Cost.  Railroads are incredibly expensive to build, maintain and operate.  Because there is rail infrastructure from point A to point B.  And at their terminus points.    Whereas planes fly through the air between point A and point B.  Without the need for infrastructure.  Except at their terminus points.  Making railroading far more expensive than flying.

If planes are so much cheaper to operate than trains then why don’t we use planes to transport all our freight?  Here’s why.  Price.  Trains charge by the ton of freight they transport.  And they can carry a lot of tons.  An enormous amount of tons.  Which makes the per-ton price relatively inexpensive.  A plane can carry nowhere near the amount of freight a train can carry.  It’s not even close.  Which makes the per-ton price to ship by plane very, very expensive.  So only high priority freight that has to be somewhere fast will travel by plane.  Heavy bulk items all travel by train.

We may be having an obesity problem but in the grand scheme of things people are very light.  But take up a lot of volume for their given weight.  The space their body physically occupies.  And the greater space around them containing the air they must breathe.  That holds the food and drink they must consume.  And the toilets they need to relieve themselves.  Now let’s look at a 747-400 with 450 passengers on board.  Let’s say the average weight of everyone comes to 195 pounds.  So the total flying weight of the people comes to 87,750 pounds.  Assuming flying costs for one trip at $125,000 that comes to $1.42 per pound.  If we add 15% for overhead and profit we get a $1.64 per-pound ticket price.  So a 275-pound man must pay $451 to fly.  While a 120-pound woman must pay $197 to fly.  Of course we don’t charge people by the pound to fly.  At least, not yet.  No, we charge per person.  So the per-person price is $224, where the lighter people subsidize the price of the heavier people.

The 747-400 is one of the most successful airplanes in the world because it can pack so many people on board.  Reducing the per-person cost.  Now let’s look at that same cost being distributed over only 28 passengers.  When we do the per-person cost comes to $4,464.  Adding 15% for overhead and markup brings the per-person price to $5,134.  A price so high that few people could afford to pay for it.  Or would choose to pay for it.  And this is why we transport people by plane.  That can carry a lot of people.  And we transport heavy freight by train.  That can carry a lot of tons.  And why this idea will probably not work (see Elon Musk Is Dead Wrong About The Cost Of The Hyperloop: In Reality It Would Be $100 Billion by Jim Edwards posted 8/16/2013 on Business Insider).

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s plan for a space-age Hyperloop transport system between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost only $7.5 billion, he said in the plans he published recently…

But the New York Times did us all a favor by calculating the true cost of the Hyperloop: It’s going to be ~$100 billion…

The Hyperloop is a pressurized tube system in which passenger cars zoom around on an air cushion, at up to 800 miles an hour.

There is no greater infrastructure cost between point A and point B than there is for high-speed rail.  Because these rails have to be dedicated rails.  With no grade crossings.  All other traffic either tunnels underneath or bridges overhead.  These tracks are electrified.  Adding more infrastructure than just the tracks.  All of which has to be maintained to exacting standards to allow high-speed trains to travel safely.  Which is why high-speed rail is the most costly form of transportation.  Why there are no private high-speed rail lines as only taxpayer subsidies can pay for these.  And for all these costs these trains just don’t transport a lot of people.  Making high-speed rail the most inefficient way to transport people.

The Hyperloop will be more costly than high-speed rail as this is an elevated tube system of exacting standards.  Requiring great costs to build, maintain and operate.  While transporting so few people per trip (28 per capsule).  Not to mention high-speed travel is very dangerous.  Unless it is up in the air separated by miles of open air.  But on the ground?  When a high-speed train crashes it is pretty catastrophic.  And it can tear up the infrastructure it travels on.  Shutting the line down.  So traveling 800 miles an hour inside a narrow tube is probably not the safest thing to do.

Of course the biggest fear in a system like this is some politician will pass legislation to build it.  Because of all the taxpayer-subsidized union jobs it will create.  As they are constantly trying to build high-speed rail for the same reasons.  For the politics.  Not because it’s a good idea.  For any idea requiring taxpayer subsidies is rarely a good idea.

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One Passenger Airline charging by the Passenger’s Weight may offer new Funding Idea for Obamacare

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2013

Week in Review

When the price of oil soars it doesn’t affect the railroads that much.  Because fuel costs are not their greatest cost.  Maintaining that massive infrastructure is.  For wherever a train travels there has to be track.  It’s different for the airlines.  The only infrastructure they have is at the airports.  And the traffic control centers that keep order in the sky.  Once a plane is off the ground it doesn’t need anything but fuel in its tanks to go somewhere.  And because the flying infrastructure is so much less than the railroad infrastructure fuel costs are a much larger cost.  In fact, it’s their greatest cost of flying.  So when fuel costs rise ticket prices rise along with them.  And they start charging more bag fees.  As well as any other fee they can charge you to offset these soaring fuel costs.

Boeing made their 787, the Dreamliner, exceptionally light.  To reduce flying costs.  They used a lot of composite materials.  Two large engines because they’re lighter than 4 smaller engines.  They even used a new lithium-ion battery system to start up their auxiliary power unit.  And made it fly-by-wire to eliminate the hydraulic system that normally operates the control surfaces.  They did all of these things to fight the biggest enemy they have in flying.  Weight.  For the greater the weight the more fuel they burn.  And the less profitable they are.

Freight airlines charge their customers by the weight of the freight they wish to ship.  Because there is a direct correlation between the weight of their freight and the amount of fuel they have to burn to carry that freight.  In fact, all shippers charge by the weight.  Because in transportation weight is everything.  But there is one mode of transportation that we don’t charge by the weight.  Passenger air travel.  Until now, that is (see A tax on overweight airline passengers: a brutal airline policy by Robin Abcarian posted 4/3/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

When teensy-weensy Samoa Airlines debuted its pay-by-the-kilo policy in January, I doubt it expected to set off an international controversy about fat discrimination.

But that’s what happened when news seeped out this week after the airline’s chief executive, Chris Langton, told ABC News radio in Australia that the system is not only fair but destined to catch on.

“Doesn’t matter whether you’re carrying freight or people,” explained Langton. “We’ve amalgamated the two and worked out a figure per kilo.”

Samoa Air, he added, has always weighed the human and non-human cargo it carries. “As any airline operator knows, they don’t run on seats, they run on weight,” said Langton. “There’s no doubt in my mind this is the concept of the future because anybody who travels has felt they’ve paid for half the passenger that’s sitting next to them…”

“Samoa Air, Introducing a world first: ‘Pay only for what you weigh’! We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air’fair’, you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fees, or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple. The Sky’s the Limit..!”

One bright note to this policy: Families with small children, who often feel persecuted when they travel, stand to benefit most from this policy. Since Samoa no longer charges by the seat, it will cost them a lot less to fly than it did before.

The appeal of this policy depends on your perspective.  If you’re of average weight sitting next to someone spilling over their seat into yours it may bother you knowing that you each paid the same price for a seat and resent the person encroaching on your seat.  But if you paid per the weight you bring onto the airplane then that person paid for the right to spill over into your seat.  Which they no doubt will do without worrying about how you feel.  As they paid more for their ticket than you paid for yours.  So the person who weighs less will get a discount to suffer the encroachment.  While the person who weighs more will have to pay a premium for the privilege to encroach.

Under the current system the people who weigh less subsidize the ticket prices of those who weigh more.  It’s not fair.  But it does save people the embarrassment of getting onto a scale when purchasing a ticket.  So should all airlines charge like all other modes of transportation?  Or should they continue to subsidize the obese?  Should we be fair?  Or should we be kind?

Chances are that government would step in and prevent airlines from charging by the weight.  Calling it a hate crime.  Even while they are waging a war on the obese themselves. Telling us what size soda we can buy.  And regulating many other aspects of our lives.  Especially now with Obamacare.  Because the obese are burdening our health care system with their health problems the government now has the right to regulate our lives.  And they have no problem calling us fat and obese.  But a private airline starts charging by the weight of the passenger?  Just don’t see how the government will allow that.  For it’s one thing for them to bully us.  But they won’t let these private businesses hurt people’s feelings by being fair.  So the people who are not overweight will continue to subsidize the flying cost of those who are overweight.

Until the government determines obese people are causing an unfair burden on society.  The obese have more health issues.  Which will consume more limited health care resources.  Also, flying these heavier people around will burn more fuel.  Putting more carbon emissions into the air.  Causing more breathing problems for everyone else.  As well as killing the planet with more global warming.  So while the airlines may not want to weigh people when selling them a ticket because of the potential backlash, the government won’t have a problem.  To cut the high cost of health care and to save the planet from global warming caused by carbon emissions they may even introduce a ‘fat’ tax.  Like any other sin tax.  To encourage people to choose to be healthier.  And to punish those who choose not to.  If they can force us to buy health insurance what can stop them from accessing a ‘fat’ tax?  Especially when they do have the right to tax us.

This is where national health care can take us.  When they begin paying the bill for health care they will have the right to do almost anything if they can identify it as a heath care issue.  Because it’s in the national interest.  They’ve painted bulls-eyes on the backs of smokers.  And drinkers.  With tobacco and alcohol taxes.  And you know they would love to tax us for being fat.  Perhaps even having our doctors file our weight with the IRS.  So they can bump our tax rates based on how obese we are.  If the tax dollars pay for health care they will say they have that right.  As the obese consume an unfair amount of those limited tax dollars.  Anything is possible with an out of control growing federal government faced with trillion dollar deficits.  Especially when they can call it a health care issue.

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Air, Low Pressure, High Pressure, Lateen Sail, Flight, Wing, Lift, Drag, Leading Edge Slats, Trailing Edge Flaps and Angle of Attack

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 10th, 2012

Technology 101

There’s more to Air than Meets the Eye even though it’s Invisible

When you take a shower have you noticed how the shower curtain pulls in towards you?  Have you ever wondered why it does this?  Here’s why.  Air has mass.  The water from the showerhead sends out a stream of water drops that also has mass.  So they fall to the floor of the shower.  Pushing air with it.  And pulling air behind it.  (Like drinking through a straw.  As you suck liquid out of the straw more liquid enters the straw.)  So you not only have a stream of water moving down alongside the shower curtain.  You also have a stream of air moving down alongside the shower curtain.

As the falling water sweeps away the air from the inside of the shower current it creates a low pressure there.  While on the outside of the curtain there is no moving water or air.  And, therefore, no change in air pressure.  But there is a higher pressure relative to the lower pressure on the inside of the shower curtain.  The low pressure inside pulls the curtain while the high pressure outside pushes it.  Causing the shower curtain to move towards you.

There’s more to air than meets the eye.  Even though it’s invisible.  It’s why we build modern cars aerodynamically to slice through large masses of invisible air that push back against cars trying to drive through it.  Making our engines work harder.  Consuming more gas.  And reducing our gas mileage.  While race cars will use spoilers to redirect that air up, forcing the weight of the car down on the tires.  To help the tires grip the road at higher speeds.  We even design skyscrapers to be aerodynamic.  To split the prevailing winds around the buildings to prevent large masses of air from slamming into the sides of buildings, minimizing the amount buildings sway back and forth.

We put the Engines on, and the Fuel in, the Wings to Counteract the Lifting Force on an Aircraft’s Wings

Air can be annoying.  Such as when the shower curtain sticks to your leg.  As it steals miles per gallon from your car.  When it shakes the building you’re in.  But it can also be beneficial.  As in early ship propulsion before the steam engine.  Large square-rigged sails that pushed ships along the prevailing winds.  And triangular lateen sails that allowed us to travel into the wind.  By zigzagging across the wind.  With the front edge of a lateen sail slicing into the wind.  The sail redirects the wind on one side of the sail to the rear of the boat that pushes the boat forward.  While the wind on the other side follows the curved sail creating a low pressure that pulls the boat forward.  Like the inside of that shower curtain.  Only with a lot more pulling force.

Harnessing the energy in wind let the world become a smaller place.  As people could travel anywhere in the world.  Of course, some of that early travel could take months.  And spending months on the open sea could be very trying.  And dangerous.  A lot of early ships were lost in storms.  Ran aground on some uncharted shoal.  Or simply got lost and ran out of drinking water and food.  Or fell to pirates.  So it took a hearty breed to travel the open seas under sail.  Of course today long-distant travel is a bit easier.  Because of another use for air.  Flight.

Like a lateen sail an aircraft wing splits the airflow above and below the wing.  And like the lateen sail an aircraft wing is curved.  The air pushes on the bottom of the wing creating a high pressure.  While the air passing over the curve of the top of the wing creates a low pressure.  Pulling the wing up.  In fact, it’s the wind passing over the top of the wing that does the lion’s share of lifting airplanes into the air.  The low pressure on top of the wing is so great that they put the engines on the wings, and the fuel in the wings, to counteract this lifting force.  To prevent the wings from curling up and snapping off of the plane.  Planes with tail-mounted engines have extra reinforcement in the wings to resist this bending force.  So those lifting forces only lift the plane.  And not curl the wing up until it separates from the plane.

To make Flying Safe at Slow Speeds they add Leading Edge Slats and Trailing Edge Flaps to the Wing

Sails can propel a ship because a ship floats on water.  The wind only propels a ship forward.  On an airplane the wind moving over the wings provides only lift.  It does not propel a plane forward.  Engines propel planes forward.  And it takes a certain amount of forward speed to make the air passing over the wings fast enough to create lift.  The faster the forward air speed the greater the lift.  Today jet engines let planes fly high and fast.  In the thin air where there is less drag.  That is, where the air has less mass pushing against the forward progress of the plane.  At these altitudes the big planes cruise in excess of 600 miles per hour.  Where these planes fly at their most fuel efficient.  But these big planes can’t land or take off at speeds in excess of 600 miles per hour.  In fact, a typical take-off speed for a 747-400 is about 180 miles per hour.  Give or take depending on winds and aircraft weight.  So how does a plane land and take off at speeds under 200 mph while cruising at speeds in excess of 600 mph?  By changing the shape of the wing.

We determine the amount of lift by the curvature and surface area of the wing.  The greater the curvature the greater the lift.  However, the greater the curvature the greater the drag.  And the greater the drag the more fuel consumed at higher speeds.  And the more stresses placed on the wing.  Also, current runways are about 2 miles long for the big planes.  That’s when they land and take off at speeds under 200 mph.  To land and take off at speeds around 600 mph would require much longer runways.  Which would be extremely costly.  And dangerous.  For anything traveling close to 600 mph on or near the ground would have a very small margin of error.  So to make flying safe and efficient they add leading edge slats to the front edge of the wing.  And trailing edge flaps to the back edge of the wing.  During cruise speeds both are fully retracted to reduce the curvature of the wing.  Allowing higher speeds.  At slower speeds they extend the slats and flaps.  Greatly increasing the curvature of the wing.  And the surface area.  Providing up to 80% more lift at these slower speeds.

At takeoff and landing pilots elevate the nose of the aircraft to increase the angle of attack of the wing.  Forcing more air under the wing to push the wing up.  And causing the air on top of the wing to turn farther away for its original direction of travel as it travels across the top of the up-tilted wing.  Creating greater lift.  And the ability to fly at slower speeds.  However, if the angle of attack it too great the smooth flow of air across the wing will break away from the wing surface and become turbulent.  The wing will not be able to produce lift.  So the wing will stall.  And the plane will fall out of the sky.  With the only thing that can save it being altitude.  For in a stall the aircraft will automatically push the stick forward to lower the nose.  To decrease the angle of attack of the wing.  Decrease drag.  And increase air speed.  If there is enough altitude, and the plane has a chance to increase speed enough to produce lift again, the pilot should be able to recover from the stall.  And most do.  Because most pilots are that good.  And aircraft designs are that good.  For although flying is the most complicated mode of travel it is also the safest mode of travel.  Where they make going from zero to 600 mph in a matter of minutes as routine as commuting to work.  Only safer.

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Airbus proposing Measures to Reduce the Aviation Carbon Footprint that may make Flying more Dangerous

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 9th, 2012

Week in Review

Airplanes are very complex machines.  They fly at speeds 3-4 times the speeds they land and take off at.  Which requires leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps to curve the wing more at low speed to increase lift.  While flattening it out more at high speeds to reduce drag.  When landing pilots put the engines into reverse thrust to help slow the plane down.  So they even use fuel to slow down.

And speaking of fuel it’s expensive.  Airlines carry as little of it as possible in their airplanes to reduce weight which reduces costs.  Sometimes bad weather forces planes to go to an alternate airport.  Sometimes there are strong headwinds.  Sometimes they fly into Heathrow and have to circle for a half hour or so to land.  Because they only have two runways.  Compounding this problem planes are getting lighter and engines are getting more efficient.  Allowing airlines to carry even less fuel.  So it is not uncommon for a pilot to declare a fuel emergency because of unexpected additional flying time.

When flying in the air highways air traffic controllers keep airplanes separated by large distances.  To keep them from running into each other.  The more distance the better so they can take evasive actions to avoid bad weather cells.  Or allow a plane some leeway in case they have a system malfunction (like plugged pitot tubes feeding false air speed and altimeter readings into the autopilot) that takes the plane off course.  Or in case a plane flies into some clear air turbulence (CAT) and it drops out of the sky 1,000 feet or so.  Or rises 1,000 feet or so.  Two things that allow a plane to recover from unplanned events like these are empty skies around you and altitude.

Aviation has come a long way.  And Boeing and Airbus are making some incredible airplanes.  So they know a thing or two about flying an airplane.  And it shows in their planes.  Which makes it hard to take them seriously when they talk about ways to reduce their carbon footprint by making flying more risky (see Airbus To Present Measures To Reduce Industry’s Environmental Footprint by Jens Flottau posted 9/6/2012 on Aviation Week).

Airbus on Sept. 6 will unveil five measures it says will make the aviation industry environmentally sustainable by 2050 despite projected growth for global air transport…

Airbus also foresees a new method for takeoff, with renewably powered propelled acceleration allowing aircraft to climb steeper and reach cruise altitude faster. This in turn would allow airports to build shorter runways and minimize land use.

Once in cruise, aircraft should be able to self-organize and select the most efficient routes, says Airbus. On dense routes, aircraft could fly in formation, like birds, to take advantage of drag reduction opportunities.

In Airbus’ vision, aircraft will descend without using engine power or air brakes and would be able to decelerate quicker and to a lower final approach speed enabling them to use shorter runways…

Fuel is a key component of Airbus’ proposal, and the manufacturer says the use of biofuels hydrogen, electricity and solar energy will be required to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.

You simply can’t build shorter runways.  Because planes aren’t perfect.  Sometimes things happen.  If we had shorter runways what would happen to a plane landing with damaged leading edge slats or trailing edge flaps?  And they have to land at a higher speed than normal because they can’t curve the wing to create more lift at lower speeds?  And what if a plane’s thrust reversers failed to deploy?  This is why we have long runways.  To give planes with problems a better chance to land safely.

Flying commercial jets in formation?  Not a good idea.  One of the most dangerous things to do in the Air Force is aerial refueling.  Where two large planes get real close to each other.  If they bump into each other they could cause some damage.  Even cause them to crash.  Flying in formation would be exhausting for a pilot.  Or they could entrust their formation flying to an autopilot.  But if they hit some CAT and get thrown around in that airspace they could get thrown into each other.  Even while flying on autopilot.  Planes also make their own turbulence.  Which is why there are larger distances between the big planes (i.e., the heavies) and the small ones.  So the small ones don’t get flipped over by some spiraling wingtip vortex turbulence off the heavy in front of it.

Solar energy?  Really?  How?  It’s not going to propel a jumbo jet.  And if they think they’re going to save on engine emissions by using solar panels on the wings to produce electricity for the cabin lights and electronics I don’t think that will work.  The emissions from the electrical load on those engines may be negligible compared to emissions they make producing thrust for flight.  And if they add more weight (solar panels) that will only take more fuel for flight.  Which will release more emissions.  Finally, a lot of planes fly at night.  When there is no sunshine.  What then?

Trying to reduce a plane’s carbon footprint will only make flying more dangerous.  It’s one thing to throw money away building solar panels and windmills on the ground.  For that’s just ripping the people off.  But applying this nonsense to aviation may end up killing people.  It’s hard to believe that Airbus is serious with these suggestions.  One wonders if they’re just proposing this to get those proposing that carbon trading scheme to back off as it will increase the cost of flying.  Which will reduce the number of people flying.  And reduce the number of planes Airbus can sell.  Perhaps by dangling this green future of aviation they may buy some time before the carbon trading scheme kills the aviation industry.

Fighting nonsense with nonsense.  It’s just as good an explanation as any.

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The High Cost of Labor Contracts and Environmental Regulations cause Planes to Run Low on Fuel

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 26th, 2012

Week in Review

Here is a lesson in basic economics.  There is a tradeoff between costs and safety in aviation.  You could hire thousands of additional mechanics to give an airplane a complete overhaul after each flight.  And double their pay rate just to make sure they are especially happy workers.  You can have a couple of chase planes follow a passenger airliner on every flight to observe the outside of the aircraft so they can warn the pilot of any problems.  And you can top off every fuel tank on an airplane just to be extra safe.  These things would make flying safer.  But they would also make it very expensive to fly.  So expensive that few people would fly.  Thus reducing the amount of airplanes in the sky.  As well as the number of flight and maintenance crews.  Which illustrates the ultimate cost of generous union contracts.  The more they ask for the more they put themselves out of a job.

But these unions are powerful.  Margins are so thing in aviation that a strike could turn a profitable year into a money losing year.  So to avoid a strike they cut costs where they can.  And the one cost that gives them something to work with is their fuel costs.  Because an airplane only needs enough fuel to fly from point A to point B.  Plus some reserves.  So they are very careful in calculating the fuel requirements to get from point A to point B.  But sometimes weather can enter the picture and add a point C.  And this can sometimes cause a fuel emergency (see Pilots forced to make emergency landings because of fuel shortages by David Millward posted 8/20/2012 on The Telegraph).

Pilots have had to make 28 emergency landings because they were running low on fuel according to figures compiled by the Civil Aviation Authority…

Although the total represents of fuel-related emergency landings is a reduction on 2008-10, when there were 41 such incidents, some pilots have warned the airlines are operating on very narrow margins as they seek to cut operating costs…

One retired pilot told the Exaro website that he and his colleagues were under pressure from airlines because of the industry’s need to keep costs down.

“There is pressure on pilots by airlines to carry minimum fuel because it costs money to carry the extra weight, and that is quite significant over a year…

“The way in which aircraft are being developed in becoming more fuel efficient, there is less need for fuel.

We make jet fuel by refining petroleum oil.  And two things make this an expensive endeavor.  Higher environmental regulations.  And reductions in supply.  Often due to those same environmental regulations.  If they allowed the American oil business to drill, baby, drill, it would be safer to fly.  Because fuel would be less expensive.  And airlines could more easily afford to carry the extra fuel weight.

Airlines don’t have much power over controlling the price of jet fuel.  It is what the market says it is.  They have a little more luck in keeping their capital costs down thanks to the bitter rivalry between Boeing and Airbus.  Who are both eager to sell their airplanes.  Cutting their labor costs is another option they have but it comes with great political costs.  Usually it takes the specter of bankruptcy to get concessions from labor.  So when it comes to cutting their operating costs the least objectionable route to go is to cut fuel costs.  By loading the absolute bare minimum required by regulations.  And for safety.  Airlines want to save money.  But having planes fall out of the sky to save fuel costs will cost more in the long run.  In more ways than one.  (It’s hard to get people to fly on an airline that has a reputation of having their planes fall out of the sky.)

So there are only two practical options to fix this problem of skimping on the fuel load.  Either you drill, baby, drill.  Or you get labor concessions to lower you labor, pension and health care costs.  The very same things that are bankrupting American cities.  So you know the costly union workers are all in favor of drill, baby, drill.  Because the lower the cost of jet fuel the less pressure there is on their pay and benefits.

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