Tag Archives: Transportation Tech

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England’s Manston Airport set to reopen for flights and cargo

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Thankfully, news of airports closing down is a rare occurrence, despite the challenges faced by increasing competition and capturing a slice of the passenger or cargo market.

However, for the historic Manston Airport south of London, closure was a reality and since May 2014 the site has been abandoned, awaiting approval for a very different future.

The plan had been to put housing and other development on the sprawling airport site; some had also hoped a small general aviation airfield might be carved out of what remained of the runway.

Now, in a major shift, the new owners of the airport have plans to restart flights and develop it once again as a center for aviation.

RiverOak Strategic Partners bought Manston — the one-time Battle of Britain and Cold War-era United States Air Force airfield near Canterbury — from previous owners Stone Hill Park, with the intention of restarting flights. Stone Hill had planned for up to 3,700 homes on the site, plus a “hi-tech employment space” and other amenities. The company has now withdrawn its application for the site and decided to sell following “considerable debate over the past five years of our ownership.”

There was a public outcry over the closure of the airport five years ago, and a recent planning application for 2,500 of the planned homes was rejected by the local council.

The sale to RiverOak was completed on July 9 for a reported £16.5 million following a protracted period of negotiations. It sees the transfer of 742 acres of the site to the new owners.

The company’s main intention is to develop Manston as a cargo hub, subject to planning and the new local plan. As one of the closest U.K. airports to mainland Europe, situated close to London and the busy English Channel ports at Dover and Felixstowe, it is ideally placed to develop in this market.

Manston also has one of the U.K.’s longest runways, making it ideal for handling the world’s largest freighter aircraft and long-haul cargo flights. Its development could also take some of the strain off Heathrow Airport which is at 99% capacity.

The reopening could attract a large company like Amazon who do not yet have an airport hub near London and could tailor the site to its needs.

Yet the big question on locals’ lips is whether passenger flights would return to Manston. Prior to closure the airport had seen a short-lived, low-cost operation and sporadic charter flights to leisure destinations. The final passenger service was operated by KLM to Amsterdam on April 9, 2014; the airline had served the airport twice-daily since 2012.

Despite its proximity to London and the affluent South East region of England, Manston never really reached its potential with passenger flights.

Nevertheless, Director Tony Freudmann said: “We bought it to turn it back into an airport and it means the development consent order process will continue.” He added: “The current plan is to have the airport reopened in the spring of 2022 for short-haul and cargo flights. We have shown that it is financially viable.”

While the small passenger terminal remains present and could easily be reactivated, it may take some considerable work by RiverOak to attract an operator to invest in flights from the airport.

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Response to Boeing Max 8 groundings includes new aviation leadership

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The Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane model was the most common plane flying the friendly skies — until recently. After several high-profile crashes killing hundreds of people, this model has been withdrawn from use so it can undergo an upgrade with new safety features for its alert system, which is rumored to have contributed to the crashes.

Costing American Airlines $185 million in the second quarter, this aviation development has sent more than ripples through financial markets and manufacturing hubs. As Boeing moves forward to adjust safety feature software and materials, airlines also scramble to compensate for flight cancellations and groundings.

American reports thousands of grounded flights: 7,800 in a three-month period to be exact. The company currently has 24 737 Max 8 planes, with 76 more on order. These planes are grounded through early September, and the deadline is expected to be extended.

Southwest Airlines also uses this model, and it has seen a major impact as well with the groundings. 150 flights daily have been cancelled through October 2019.

A Texas court is currently reviewing a lawsuit initiated by consumer plaintiffs who claim Southwest colluded with Boeing to cover up a fatal design defect.

This lawsuit has been filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, alleging that the companies colluded to cover up faults — resulting in unnecessary deaths, per Bloomberg Law: “More specifically, the complaint alleges Southwest economically propped up Boeing by strategically placing orders for 737s in exchange for early access to new models of the plane. It also claims Boeing rushed the defective 737 MAX 8 to market and Southwest helped to cover up the defect by assuring customers the plane was safe.”

Prior knowledge on the part of both airline and plane manufacturing entities is a hefty charge. Additionally, Southwest pilots are suing the company for losses and legal fees during the grounding.

It’s not just companies involved in these rumored collusions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also challenged to provide leadership at such an important time, and it is now undergoing a nomination process. Former Delta Airlines executive Stephen Dickson is President Trump’s choice for the FAA’s top position; however, some Democrats oppose the nomination due to lawsuits and Department of Justice investigations.

One controversial issue here is “a lawsuit brought by a Delta pilot, Karlene Petitt, which alleged the airline retaliated against her by putting her on leave with pay after she reported safety concerns to Dickson and another executive.” Delta denies the allegations.

As the dust settles on Boeing and airline companies’ responses, the FAA will surely have its hands full.

On July 10, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-12 to appoint Dickson to the FAA post. Now the nomination must be cleared by the full Senate.

34-year Boeing veteran and 737 program leader Eric Lindblad has also announced his retirement as the recovery light at the end of the company tunnel remains dim.

With lost profits soaring and effective leadership in short supply, the months ahead for aviation remain uncertain — to say the least.

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Phoenix Sky Harbor submits 20-year master plan for improvements

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Phoenix is an airport on the move, and if the FAA agrees, it could soon be spending $5.7 billion on upgrades to achieve a new 20-year plan. With aging infrastructure and a hemmed-in location, its owners have decided that now is the time to deal with the issues hindering its potential.

The airport confirmed that the city’s mayor and council voted on June 11 to send its Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Comprehensive Asset Management Plan (CAMP) to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval.

In fact, the FAA mandates that airports keep short- and medium-term plans for their future development, and this plan will cover the next 20 years at Sky Harbor as the airport hopes to double its capacity and improve infrastructure for airport users.

Key to the plans is the relocation of some major parts of the airport layout. First, the cargo facilities currently located in the central and southern areas of the site would be moved to the north side of the airport, freeing up space for future passenger terminal development to the west.

The Air National Guard refueling wing would then be allocated space freed up by cargo users on the south side, allowing this military operation to expand.

Image: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

General Aviation will also relocate to the north side of the site which, combined with the new cargo facilities, will require some work to trench the major railroad running past the perimeter. The airport already owns the land north of the tracks, so it sees great potential in using it and removing the physical barrier to expansion posed by the railroad.

The roadway serving the central terminal area would also receive attention, with particular attention on improving the capacity of Sky Harbor Boulevard as road traffic has increased.

Finally, the older parts of Terminal 4 would likely be renovated to bring it in line with modern standards, and the old Terminal 2 would be demolished.

This site would initially be used as a site for “bus gates” where aircraft park remote from the regular terminal jet bridges, typically used by low-cost carriers, and to give greater scheduling freedom to grow where physical gates do not exist to park airplanes at.

Sky Harbor presently handles around 45 million passengers per year, but has expectations of this reaching up to 80 million by 2039, as well as increases in the amount of cargo it handles. All of this comes at a cost and with significant logistical planning.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said, “The best infrastructure projects anticipate the needs of a community far into the future. Sky Harbor is one of our state’s largest economic engines and, with this unanimous vote, it will continue to drive our economy for generations to come.”

The $5.7 billion funding requirement anticipated for the works will come from airport revenues and federal grants, and not local taxes. With it, each stage of the works will require council approval since the airport is city-owned.

As Arizona’s largest gateway, and one of its largest employers, Sky Harbor must continue to capitalize on the growth demand it has experienced in recent years, which has put it in a similar league to Las Vegas McCarran, ranking 41stbusiest in the world and 13th in the United States. It has a $38.7 billion impact on the state’s economy.

Asked why now is the time to expand Sky Harbor, Jordan Field, Deputy Aviation Director – Planning & Environment said: “With forecasted growth, key facilities, infrastructure and roadways will reach capacity over the next ten years. To ensure the airport’s readiness for this growth, we needed a comprehensive roadmap for asset investment and management.”

Approval from the FAA is expected in the fall before work commences next year.

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Airport slot allocation management is about to get better

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A new governing structure over the way airport slots are allocated and managed has been agreed upon by three industry associations. It is hoped that this arrangement will benefit passengers as air travel increases and more airports feel the pressure of demand.

The agreement came at a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, and sees Airports Council International (ACI) World, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group (WWACG) agreeing to the new structure for the Worldwide Slot Guidelines (WSG) — a set of standards published by IATA for the management of airport slots.

What are airport slots?

A slot is simply defined as a landing or departure time at an airport. It is allocated to an airline for a particular flight at a particular time, and helps airports manage their runway capacity and available space at the terminal gates so that operations do not become too crowded. It is also a useful way of limiting an airport’s effect on its neighbors and the environment.

Slots are particularly common at busy airports where the supply of available takeoff and landing times is outstripped by demand from airlines who want to operate flights (which in turn are usually driven by demand from passengers or intense competition over routes). Such airports are classified as “slot-constrained,” and at present there are around 200 such examples globally.

In these examples where demand is higher than the available number of slots, an allocation process is implemented, which should ensure a fair and non-discriminatory way of giving airlines access to an airport.

How will slot allocation change

Under the new collaboration, airports, airlines and slot coordinators will work together equally to determine slot allocation. The purpose is to modernize the system that has been put under strain as more airports become slot-constrained.

“For more than 40 years, the Worldwide Slots Guidelines has managed scarce airport capacity fairly, transparently and independently,” said IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

“This has enabled airlines to make network investments with certainty. But more importantly it has benefitted consumers by ensuring schedule reliability while enhancing competition by providing opportunities for new entrants in even the most congested airports.” He added: “By working together with ACI and WWACG, the time-tested WSG will become even more responsive to evolving market needs.”

With air travel set to double by 2030, and another 100 airports expected to become slot-constrained, this is seen as the right time to improve the system for the benefit of passengers and to provide more transparency in what is often seen as the shady world of slot allocation. How it will pan out in reality is yet to be seen.

At airports like London Heathrow, slots are often traded between airlines or sold for tens of millions, or even used to benefit partners in airline alliances. New entrants can often end up priced out of starting services to these airports, and shorter regional routes using smaller aircraft can rarely make a profit when slots demand such a premium.

The new guidance also must go hand-in-hand with busy airports modernizing their infrastructure to provide capacity for airlines and passengers.

De Juniac added: “It is vital that policy-makers remember insufficient capacity to meet demand forfeits economic opportunities. The new WSG governance will make the best use of what we have — but it is no substitute for investing in modern airports and air traffic management.”

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The thrills and spills of e-scooters create a safety debate

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My co-worker and I stood staring transfixed at the Bird e-scooter. It had been decided that if I were to write about the safety of these things, I’d have to at least ride one.

I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. Images of my broken and balled up body weighed heavy on my mind. I remember asking, “Are these things even safe?”

And as if answered by the universe, a young woman, wearing sun shades and earbuds — stone deaf and blind to the world — floated down the street in front of us on an e-scooter. Travelling at the speed of “whatever dude,” she coasted by at 10 mph, in the middle of the street, with a caravan of irritated drivers honking their horns behind her.

“Yeah,” I surmised, “this can’t be safe.”

E-scooter infestation

I shouldn’t be operating anything that requires even a modicum of physical ability. Yet that’s what I and countless others are being allowed to do in major cities all across America. The e-scooter trend is exploding and has been for at least a year now.

It was in 2018 when things began in earnest. According to authors Joshua Brustein and Nate Lanxon, in an article for Bloomberg, “One of the biggest stories in technology [in 2018 was] the exploding popularity of Bird, Lime, Skip, Spin and Scoot.”

“These startups allow riders to locate and unlock scooters with an app. When they reach their destination, they just walk away. Some drivers and pedestrians see the scooters as dangerous contrivances that must be stopped.”

Bird, which kicked off the industry in 2017, was started by a former Lyft and Uber executive and is currently operating services in 40 cities. Competitor Lime is in 23. Take a quick walk around the city and you can see how their presence could be likened to an Old Testament cicada infestation; they’re both literally and figuratively everywhere.

“[Bird launched] in Santa Monica, California, and suddenly it seemed scooters were everywhere. Scores of unattended vehicles on city sidewalks have resulted in pushback from people complaining of urban chaos, and some cities have started to cap the number of scooters they’ll allow,” Brustein and Lanxon found.

As it turns out, the voices of dissent city safety concerns aren’t the ramblings of spoil sports. The scooters have proven to be dangerous.

According to an April study by the Austin Public Health Department (APH) in Texas, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three e-scooter riders were injured on their first ride.

“Almost half of the injured riders in this study sustained an injury to the head. A traumatic brain injury was experienced by 15%. These injuries may have been preventable. Only one of 190 injured scooter riders was wearing a helmet. Studies have shown that bicycle riders reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by wearing a helmet. Helmet use might also reduce the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of an e-scooter crash.”

“Perceptions may be that most e-scooter riders are injured because of collisions with motorized vehicles. The findings of this study does not support that perception.”

The authors of the study admitted that their numbers were probably underestimated as they were only able to include people who sought treatment after an injury. Countless others may have chosen to treat themselves, so the true number of those injured may never be known.

Also, to be fair, it must be stated that Bird does indeed provide rules for usage, two of them being “wear a helmet” and “no headphones.” Whether people abide by this rules is another conversation.

“This study was limited to investigating only those injured e-scooter riders and non-riders who sought care at a hospital emergency department or had care provided by emergency medical services. These riders are believed to experience more severe injuries compared with injured e-scooter riders whose injuries did not require care from a hospital emergency department or EMS.”

Just like riding a bike?

“How hard can this be,” I remember asking myself as my co-worker and I walked up on an e-scooter laying lifeless at the corner of Reinekers Lane and Prince Street.

“How does this thing work?” I muttered like an old man, slapping and jabbing at the scooter as if I were trying to get a cathode-ray tube television to work. Meanwhile, my co-worker downloaded the app, worked out my payment and asked one more time, “Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah,” I reasoned, it can’t be any harder than riding a bike.

I would soon find out it is a lot harder than riding a bike. According to Ed Benjamin, chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA), the reason is simple.

Compared to bicycles and electric bicycles, e-scooters small design can cause problems in of itself. “The small wheels mean that they do not surmount obstacles easily,” he noted in a statement.

He also noted that electric mini-scooters often are being used by inexperienced riders. The mixture of these two factors — design and rider inexperience — and you have a natural recipe for injury. This is unlike e-bikes, which according to Benjamin, “have about the same safety record as normal bicycles.”

Bikes, and therefore e-bikes, were designed for road travel. There are versions that are designed for streets, roads, mountain paths and — in the case of motorcycles — the highway. The design for bicycles have stood the test of time.

Scooters, until recently, have only been seen as toys.

“So yes,” Benjamin concluded, “[LEVA’s] stance is that e-bikes are pretty safe. Electric mini scooters that you stand on … not so much.”

He and his criticisms of the technology aren’t alone. There have been calls in the media for regulation and all-out bans, as well as for scooters to be replaced by the aforementioned bicycles.

We take flight

I waited at the red light, staring across the intersection’s early rush-hour traffic in the bike lane. To my left was a line of idling cars whose drivers seemed mildly uneasy with my presence.

“When the light turns green,” I yelled back at my co-worker, who was filming, “I’m going to go!” While I didn’t have a helmet, I decided to follow the rules I could and stick to bike paths on the road and away from sidewalks. That means riding alongside actual traffic.

I counted down in my head and when the light turned green, I gunned it and off I flew.

I have to say, in that moment, hitting that straight away: I totally understood. The feeling of freedom you have while zipping along with traffic at speeds you couldn’t normally travel was exhilarating.

Sure, the maneuverability isn’t perfect, but the pick-up in speed is great. Once you master the brake and throttle, you can move about as you wish with little to no apprehension.

This was all, of course, before I ran out of bike lane.

Being emptied out into late afternoon traffic, I was suddenly aware I was riding a vehicle that, in the ‘50s, would’ve come with tassels and a milk crate attached. I soon found myself leading a long line of after-work drivers, all becoming increasingly angry at the weirdly large child up front, creeping along at 15 mph toward Duke Street.

That’s when the honking began. I waived some people passed then said screw it, yelling, “bail bail!”

I stopped in the middle of the street, picked the scooter up and began sprinting like a maniac toward and down the sidewalk. I had made it three blocks on the scooter, before my nerves had got the best of me.

I tried to ride with traffic several other times that afternoon before abandoning that plan for fear of being turned into Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear at the end of “Toy Story 3.” I found myself on sidewalks, going down one-way roads the wrong way, breaking every rule I could for the sake of transport, simply because I could and because — for me at least — it was safer.

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Boeing confirms alert system malfunction in 737 Max 8

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In the grand scheme of deadly airline problems, Boeing’s latest crash debacles rate high on the list. Whenever an airplane crash occurs, there’s wild speculation concerning who and what to blame, and such is the case in the instances of downed Boeing 737 Max 8s.

We first heard of the Boeing 737 Max 8 troubles when a plane went down in Indonesia, killing 189. Then, months later, in Ethiopia, the same plane model killed 157 people in another crash.

As if 346 dead is not enough cause for alarm, take this weekend’s news. In Jacksonville, Florida, a previous model of the 737 slid off the runway into a river.

While it is too soon to determine the cause of difficulties in Florida, the company has come forward admitting to a safety feature malfunction that could have caused the high-profile, high-fatality crashes.

737 Max 8 software includes an alert system that informs pilots about problems and malfunctions in-flight. The problem is that an important alert light feature was sold to Boeing customers as “optional.” Now, Boeing has issued a statement acknowledging the missing light, which is linked to the Angle of Attack (AOA) alert system.

The issue here is whether or not Boeing’s decision to list the light as an optional feature that customers would have to purchase as an add-on is to blame for faulty crashes. It has been reported that the company has had knowledge of the light feature issue for at least one year.

As previously stated, the company acknowledges that this safety feature was listed as optional; however, it denies that it’s a direct cause of the plane crashes.

When activated, the sensor light informs the pilot of discrepancies in the AOA reading, according to Business Insider: “…the company said that AOA indicator and AOA disagree alert were not crucial safety requirements to the 737 Max, and that there were other indicators which identified the plane’s speed, altitude, and engine performance which should have allowed flight crews to safely operate the aircraft.”

Just as more news emerges about missing sensor lights, more Boeing safety news circulates. Before the recent plane crashes, Boeing was changing its quality control plan in a program it has launched called “QA Transformation.”

This plan seeks to restructure how product quality inspections are handled, and controversially includes replacing 900 inspectors with machines that can supposedly do a better job than their human counterparts. At least 451 inspector positions are up for transfers, with another 450 to follow next year.

Boeing employees’ union, Seattle-area Machinists Union Local 751, has responded to the QA Transformation initiative with its own strategy: a Verification Optimization Plan, won in bargaining: “Our VO site reps will be reviewing data for every area Boeing has already or plans to remove inspections. They will perform spot checks in areas where inspections have been or propose to be removed. If, due to verification optimization, quality degrades, our VO site reps will use that information to propose reinstating inspection in those areas.”

The message here is clear: the crashes indicate that just as Boeing should be taking inspections more seriously, the company is moving forward with a new experimental inspections model that has the machinist union nervous enough to institute its own inspection program.

Overall, Boeing has already paid $1 billion since its 737 Max 8 model has been grounded. Some experts have predicted that the world’s most common aircraft may not be back in the sky until October, leaving analysts speculating that this cut in deliveries could cost the company upwards of $10 billion.

Cash shortfalls and the added reputation of a shoddy inspections overhaul pose an uphill battle for Boeing. Meanwhile, the company also faces wrongful death lawsuits from families of recently deceased crash victims.

These lawsuits allege that Boeing rushed certification of its 737 Max 8 model since the company has a cozy relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): “…the FAA has been captured by the industry it is supposed to regulate. Industry lobbying focused on elevating corporate profits over passenger safety does not promote certification of safe airplanes.”

The FAA has received safety complaints about the 737 Max 8 from at least four different whistleblowers. Now, it struggles to regain an independent image as investigations into Boeing’s mishaps continue.

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Istanbul Airport’s great move completed

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The story of one of the world’s biggest airport projects took a huge step forward this month as the transfer of operations to the new Istanbul Airport was completed over a two-day period without any major problems.

Set to become the world’s largest airport, the new site north of Istanbul opened on Oct. 29 last year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Since then, Turkish Airlines has operated a small number of daily departures from the facility ahead of the complete transfer this month.

Originally planned for December, the full transfer was set back by operational delays. However, the move has been hailed a complete success by all those involved, with 1,800 personnel and 47,300 tonnes of equipment transferred in 33 hours over April 5-6.

This was 12 hours under the target set for the move, which aimed to have minimum disruption to the airline’s schedules or its passengers.

The move also saw hundreds of aircraft, carrying many personnel, taking off in succession for the short flight from the old to the new airports.

Atatürk Airport has continued to act as the main hub for Turkish Airlines and the majority of other carriers serving Istanbul, but with the move has now been closed to airline traffic and will ultimately be redeveloped.

With the phenomenal growth of the national carrier, which now serves more countries than any other airline, this original airport had become increasingly crowded and constrained, with passengers forced to use remote gates and wait in lengthy lines for security and immigration. It was also one of Europe’s worst for delays and cancellations.

The new airport features the world’s largest airport terminal, built with space and passenger comfort in mind. It includes five piers, A, B, D, F and G, and has a capacity of 90 million passengers per year. Additional remote piers will eventually bring its capacity to 200 million passengers.

Image credit: Istanbul Airport/iGA

There are two runways operational at present, with a further four under staged construction as the airport grows. A new Metro link will also connect the airport with central Istanbul from 2020.

An early visitor to the new terminal was travel expert Ben Schlappig, who commented, “Make no mistake about it, the new terminal is beautiful, as you’d expect. The airport has really high ceilings and breath-taking design.”

However, from a functionality standpoint, he added: “This is the world’s biggest terminal, and there’s not a train system connecting any of the gates. You have to navigate all 15.5 million square feet by foot, or using the moving sidewalks, of which there aren’t even enough.”

While some of Turkish Airlines’ flights still operate from the secondary Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, it is planned that ultimately all flights will operate from the new airport.

Turkish is putting its hopes in this new home, allowing them to continue growing into one of the world’s largest carriers. It is understandably proud of its new home and the achievement in successfully transitioning.

The captain of one of the crew transport flights from Atatürk to the new airport told those on board: “We no longer fit into the place we were born. Now we’re moving to the world’s biggest airport together. Welcome to Istanbul Airport — our new home.”

The first flight from the new Istanbul Airport following the “Great Move” was, like at Atatürk 86 years ago, to the Turkish capital at Ankara.

With the transition of operations to the new Istanbul Airport also comes a transition in IATA airport codes. The new airport inherits the IST code from Atatürk, which itself now becomes ISL.

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The best museums for planes, trains and automobiles

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America has a long and proud history of being at the forefront of transportation technology. Examples include the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight, Henry Ford’s Model T, the Transcontinental Railroad, the Panama Canal, and, of course, the first lunar landing.

The movement of people and commerce has been integral to our country’s development and history from the beginning. A diverse transportation system utilizing land, sea and air evolved, connecting all points of the compass, shipping supply to meet demand, and connecting farms to urban tables and Mother Earth to outer space.

Thankfully, the rich, colorful history of transportation in America has been preserved at a number of fine museums across the country. Read on to learn about eight of them that are well worth a visit.

California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, California

California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) is the nation’s largest train museum, and it serves as a world-class tribute to the role of the “iron horse” in connecting California to the rest of the country.

Prime among its exhibits, displayed both indoors and outdoors, are 19 meticulously restored steam locomotives, plus dozens of vintage passenger and freight cars, some dating to the 1860s, that help visitors understand how railroads shaped the West.

A current exhibit features a high-speed train simulator that allows guests to experience the sensation of piloting a modern high-speed train. A variety of excursion train rides are available to the public year-round. www.csrmf.org, 916-323-9280.

Maritime Museum of San Diego, San Diego, California

Fun and informative for kids and adults alike, this waterfront museum is the focal point on San Diego’s historic Embarcadero promenade. Comprised of a number of painstakingly restored historic ships, it enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellence in restoring, maintaining and operating historic vessels.

Among its collection is the world’s oldest active sailing vessel, the 1863 Star of India and the 1898 Berkeley, the first propeller-driven steam ferry on the West Coast. Both are State and National Historic Landmarks.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego hosts a number of special exhibits, events and sailings aimed at engaging visitors through bringing the histories of its ship to life. www.sdmaritime.org, 619-234-9153.

Courtesy National Automobile Museum

National Automobile Museum, Reno, Nevada

This museum is an absolute must-see for auto enthusiasts. The 100,000-square-foot building in Reno houses one of the largest and finest collections of antique automobiles to be found anywhere.

It displays a significant portion of the late gaming pioneer Bill Harrah’s collection of 1,400 vehicles. Cars are grouped by age in street settings appropriate to their time. Real-life backdrops such as Burma Shave signs and vintage gas stations add to the atmosphere.

Classic cars make up most of the collection but there are rare prototypes and unusual one-of-a-kinds, along with cars either featured in films or owned by celebrities — such as John Wayne’s Corvette and a Caddy once owned by Elvis Presley. Reasonable entry fees are a plus. www.automuseum.org, 775-333-9300.

Trainland U.S.A., Colfax, Iowa

Today’s kids are geared to video games, but those who visit Iowa’s Trainland U.S.A. quickly become converts to old-fashioned toy trains.

“Many youngsters come in wide-eyed and can be halfway down the aisle before their parents get in the door,” says Judy Atwood, who has run the model train museum with her husband Red for the past 36 years.

Designed to depict the development of railroads across the United States, it features 2,600 square feet of display space, coursed by nearly a mile of HO gauge track. At any given time, up to 25 vintage locomotives, including turn-of-the-century steam engines hauling freight and 1950s diesels pulling streamliners, can be seen in action at this family-friendly attraction. www.trainlandusa.com, 515-674-3813.

Courtesy National Museum of the United States Air Force

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is home to this amazing complex that serves as the official museum of the United States Air Force. It also ranks as the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world.

With more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display, it’s a major tourist attraction, drawing more than a million visitors a year. The museum’s collection includes many rare aircraft of historical and/or technological importance. Among them is the only surviving North American XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, one of four remaining Convair B-36 Peacemakers and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki during the last days of World War II.

At home here, too, are several presidential aircraft, including those used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. www.nationalmuseum.af.mil, 937-25-3286.

Virginia Museum of Transportation, Roanoke, Virginia

Originally formed in 1963 as a partnership of the Norfolk & Western Railway and the city of Roanoke, this excellent museum houses more than 2,500 objects showcasing Virginia’s rich history of rail, air and road transportation.

While all modes of transportation are represented, the museum focuses on Roanoke’s railroad heritage. Its collection includes more than 50 pieces of rolling stock — locomotives and other rail cars — including the largest array of diesel locomotives in the South.

The star of the show is No. 611 — an impressive Class J passenger steam locomotive from the 1940s — that was capable of pulling 15 cars at speeds up to 110 mph. Road-related exhibits present a history of transportation ranging from horse-drawn vehicles to cars, truck and buses from every decade of the 20th century. www.vmt.org, 540-342-5670.

Courtesy National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

Since opening on the National Mall in 1976, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has become the hub of all things flight. The museum (along with its second location, the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia) contains the most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts (more than 60,000 objects) in the world. It draws almost 6 million visitors annually.

A massive renovation of the museum’s exhibits will be taking place during the next several years, but the museum will remain open throughout the project, with phased closings/openings of galleries.

Museum favorites will remain on display during the renovation including the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, North American X-15 and the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia. In addition to its exhibits, the museum features an IMAX theater and a planetarium. www.airandspace.si.edu, 202-633-2214.

Tallahassee Automobile Museum, Tallahassee, Florida

Although it’s not among the nation’s best-known automobile museums, this Florida repository of vehicles both antique and unique is a dandy. Employing a solar-powered two-story, 100,000-square-foot showroom, it currently displays more than 160 wildly diverse vehicles and a vast collection of Americana.

It’s an eclectic hoard that ranges from typewriters to telephones and cash registers to the country’s largest collection of Case knives. Special, too, is a stunning collection of Steinway pianos — said by the company to be the “finest private collection of Steinways in the world.”

It’s the exotic autos, however, that draw the crowds. They range from an 1894 Duryea, one of the first autos manufactured in the U.S., to a fleet of modern muscle cars. The museum also displays a trio of original Batmobiles, including the cars seen in the movies “Batman Returns” and “Batman Forever.” www.tacm.com, 850-942-0137.

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What’s next for plane manufacturing after Boeing 737 Max 8 fallout?

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Airplane safety statistics remind us accidents are extremely uncommon. 2018 saw a slight increase from 2017 in plane crash deaths globally. According to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN): “The ASN recorded a total of 15 fatal airliner accidents in 2018, leading to 556 deaths, compared with 10 accidents and 44 lives lost in 2017, the safest year in aviation history.”

Then on March 10, a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed in Ethiopia, killing 157 people. This happened only months after the same type of plane went down in Indonesia, killing 189 people. This leaves much cause for discussion regarding Boeing and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) complicity in the accidents.

Was the 737 Max 8 rushed to market, resulting in hundreds of deaths? Crash victims’ families are filing lawsuits while the Justice Department probes the 737’s FAA certification, given the model’s deadly faults.

The plane manufacturing world has been rocked, possibly causing “the first decline of corporate earnings since 2016,” according to Reuters.

The official word is that pilot error is not the cause of the Ethiopian crash, so Boeing must recognize its manufacturing culpability. Boeing’s CEO has apologized for the crashes while rumors circulate the model’s anti-stall system software’s “faulty sensor readings” is to blame.

The FAA’s response was to ground its 737 Max 8 planes until further investigation. Boeing’s usual 737 Max 8 production has been cut by 20 percent, negatively impacting the aviation world.

For example, American Airlines has cancelled 90 flights through June 5. Southwest Airlines also flies these grounded planes, and its current plan to retire a fleet of old planes might be delayed due to recent events. The company just announced a week delay in its 737 pullout.

While production is scaled back, it looks as if some parts production will continue, impacting workers less, according to Moneycontrol.com: “two main suppliers of Boeing, CFM International and Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc, indicated that they would continue their operations at record pace regardless of Boeing’s plans.”

Renton, Washington; and Wichita, Kansas, are two manufacturing cities with Boeing-related workforces. Renton is Boeing’s main production hub, while Wichita houses Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures shipset parts.

Spirit AeroSystems has stated that it will continue to produce its usual number of 52 shipsets for later use in the 737 Max 8 planes. General Electric makes Boeing LEAP jet engines, and also reports it will maintain its usual production plan of 5 percent overall engine sales to Boeing.

The prevailing assumption is that parts suppliers, all the way down to factory workers, will not face layoffs since routine production levels are maintained.

Some Boeing suppliers even anticipate potential benefits from the 737 groundings. Heico Corporation, for example, supplies engine parts. If older plane models are flying due to the 737 Max 8’s grounding, they will need parts, maintenance, and servicing — thus increasing demand in some areas.

But there may not be a silver lining on this cloud. One recent editorial in Bloomberg challenges suppliers plans to maintain production levels without losing money: “The longer the grounding lasts, the more unlikely it is that suppliers will emerge from this debacle unscathed. They risk losing revenue from lower demand and cash-flow hits should their investments go unneeded.”

Prior to the March 10 Ethiopia crash, Boeing planned to increase 737 production levels. Machinist unions were already irked by recent “quality transformation” changes that automate manufacturing — with “precision machining” and “robotic riveting” — and streamline quality assurance processes. Quality inspections, conducted by skilled shop floor machinists, may be reduced in the process.

Machinists Union District 751 has requested workers describe incidents where they were discouraged from reporting assembly line problems.

The union acknowledges “current employment levels will be maintained” despite production setbacks. Pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions have voiced concerns about the 737 Max 8 planes’ overall safety.

The recent crash has more people listening, watching, waiting — and perhaps changing those early summer vacation plans, too.

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Travel2020: Reimagining the airline seat of the future

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Small may not be so beautiful for airline passengers. That is, if current concepts in economy seat design get a foothold in the airline industry.

The airline seat of the future may not be a seat at all. In fact, if Italian seat designer Aviointerior has its way, it may be more of a, well, perch. While it may not be the first time such concepts have been proposed, perhaps the scary part is that this concept of stand-up airline seating keeps coming back to live another day.

The latest version has passengers propped up on bicyclelike seat, with surrounding seats blocking the passenger into a clean and cozy fit. The model is the Skyrider 3.0, an improvement, they say, on the Skyrider 2.0 that debuted last year at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Germany.

According to CNN reports, the design company stresses that this concept is not about creating a “cattle class,” perhaps a notch below basic economy, and cramming in as many passengers in as possible.

“The message is, we do not want to put thousands of people in the cabin, we want to offer a multi-class configuration, which is nowadays impossible if you want to reach the maximum load of passengers,” Gaetano Perugini, engineering adviser at Aviointeriors, told CNN.

However, the Skyrider seat offers much less space than the average economy seat — just 23 inches — so airlines could, indeed, create a cattle car economy class. Current comparable measures in airline economy class seats run from 29 to 32 inches.

“So that means that in the same cabin, you will have standard economy, premium economy or business class and ultra-basic economy — which is an innovation for the airline and the passenger,” Perugini said. “This is the true reason for the Skyrider.”

The design was first proposed back in 2010, but had some structural issues that prevented it from taking off. Indeed, Ryanair proposed a type of vertical seat in 2010 that never made it off the drawing room floor, although some 42% of those polled said they would book the seat if it were at half-rate.

The design would have allowed the airline to cram an extra 40 or 50 passengers into the cabin. Similarly, Airbus came out with a patent for a saddle of sorts in 2014, which became the target of jokes but never made it into the cabins. The current model, as with the others, does not bode well for every body type, perhaps any body type.

“If you read the specification of the A380 or the A320 — or the A321 or the 737, you read that it’s not allowed to be installed at a pitch of less than 28 inches,” the engineer explained in the report.

The seats look similar to a bicycle seat but with back support. But like other designs before it, this “ultra-basic economy” is getting a lot of stares but not picking up a lot of interest.

Even more recently, something called “the Move” was introduced by London design firm, LAYER. The seat looked more like lawn furniture you might find under an awning than a prototype of what the airline seat of the future should be. However, this seat debut had much more to it than form. It actually behaves like a robot of sorts with sophisticated systems of technology woven into seemingly simple fabric.

Image credit: LAYER

Designed for Airbus use on short- and medium-haul flights, the seat design is enabled with smart sensors that allow passengers to control their seat settings via an app on their phone. Flyers will be able to work with seat temperatures and find the sweet spot for back support as sensors calculate their height and girth.

The Move, via a downloaded app, will “communicate” with occupants, telling them when to hydrate and when to stretch. The seat will even offer a massage setting.

“Throughout the journey, the Move seat automatically adjusts based on passenger weight, size and movement to maintain optimal ergonomic comfort,” said LAYER founder Benjamin Hubert in a press release. “This is made possible by passing current through the conductive yarn to vary the seat tension.”

The Move was 18 months in the making, thanks to a partnership between Airbus and LAYER. The prototype presents a lightweight perforated composite frame with a knitted, one-piece sling seat suspended over it. The digitally knitted seat cover weaves into a smart textile with integrated conductive yarns of various densities that offer different levels of support.

The seats do not recline, rather, they “mold.” Passengers can choose from four different “seat modes,” that wrap and adjust to the passenger’s shape without infringing on the personal space of other flyers. The Move app can respond to positioning needs, such what is needed for dining and what is needed for sleep.

The seat can tell if the passenger leaves the seat, or has left something behind in the seat back pocket. The tray table, stored vertically, is height-adjustable and can be fully extended or folded in half for more seat space.

“All too often, new concepts for flying are focused on innovation in business class,” Hubert said. “We were excited to take on this project with Airbus to find ways to improve and add value to the economy class experience — for both the passenger and the airline.”

While we do not know whether economy cabins of the future will look more like buses with poles and dangling straps to grab, a compendium of customized integrated technology to dazzle customers but mostly confuse, or a surprisingly comfortable and relaxing appointment that will make flying all the more pleasant … the jury is out — way out — at present.

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