Tag Archives: China

Malaysian Airlines MH370 – dangerous connections?

10 Mar

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The loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 three days ago with 239 people on board is fast becoming a tragedy of ever greater significance as Malaysian official responses flounder in what appears to be a mixture of incompetence and inertia. Despite praise from one US Commander in the area for the Malaysian Forces ability to organise the search areas in detail, both the government and airline are failing under international scrutiny.

The United States, Chinese and Vietnam Navies are applying intensive resources to seeking answers and, combined with other neighbouring countries, have more than forty vessels traversing the estimated crash area. In contrast, very little is being done by the Malaysian authorities to engage either with the mourning relatives – of which there are a great many – or provide more information.

Relatives of the 38 Malaysian passengers who have been waiting in Kuala Lumpur are now being told simply to ‘expect the worst’ – hardly a constructive or compassionate response and days too late to be expressed. Likewise, in Beijing, grieving relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals on the flight are complaining about being unable to find information from officials.

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Malaysian airport security did not check the passports belonging to passengers boarding the flight against the InterPol ‘Lost and Stolen’ computer directory. Both of these passports which were stolen in Thailand and subsequently used by two people to board the flight had been listed there for the last year.

If Malaysian authorities are not checking the movement of suspicious people who pass through their airport hubs, then what exactly are they checking? Until the flight’s black box can be recovered, the suspicion that these two unknown passengers were terrorists remains. But with no terrorist group having so far come forward to claim responsibility, this line of reasoning fades with each passing hour.

But even with what little we know so far, Flight MH370 has more similarities with some previous airliner crashes than are immediately apparent. With the disappearance of the flight being currently so distressing it is not helpful to speculate without reason but below is a very short list of similar tragedies:

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August 1947: BSAA Flight CS59 – Avro Lancastrian

In 2014, global weather patterns are now known to be partly driven by the Jet Stream – a band of super-fast winds that modern jet airliners ‘ride’ to get to their destinations sooner or avoid when going in the opposing direction. Back in 1947, a passenger airliner climbed above the cloud-covered Mount Tupungato on its way to Chile from Argentina. It was never seen again. Conspiracy theories abounded, aided by the mysterious and repeated final Morse signal sent by its navigator – “STENDAC”. Fifty years later, the plane’s wreckage was found in the mountains. It had flown into a snowy peak, causing an avalanche to fall on top of it, covering all wreckage. Not realising that they were flying into the Jet Stream’s strong winds, the crew’s mathematical calculation that they had passed over the mountain did not take into account the fact that, in reality, they were barely moving forward in relation to the ground. Their unforeseeable and tragic demise was unraveled by modern computing and the understanding we now have of the Jet Stream. “STENDAC”? This word puzzle has never been solved but one theory is that the Morse code operator in the Lancastrian was suffering from hypoxia (oxygen starvation – the plane was not pressurised) and believed that he was confirming his DESCENT.

January 1949: BSAA – Avro Tudor MkIVB

The Bermuda Triangle was a bewildering mystery throughout the 1940’s and ’50’s when entire ships and even whole groups of fighter planes disappeared without trace. On a fine day and with an experienced crew and a well serviced plane, this flight from Bermuda to Kingston was effectively an unremarkable and routine flight. The only note of doubt was caused by ten minute blackouts of radio signals that day across the area of sea which was being flown over by the Avro Tudor. Even so, its pilot’s clear messages to gound control were noted and served as confirmation that all was well on board. The plane never arrived at Kingston. Extensive searches found no wreckage. In the 21st century, we now know that the area of sea called the Bermuda Triangle is the location for occasional ferocious and random volcanic eruptions on the sea bed. Gases rise as bubbles to the surface in millions of cubic litres from the under-sea volcanos. If you are a boat or ship on that part of the ocean, you will sink immediately because the water you were floating on is suddenly filled with air bubbles and becomes ‘non-buoyant’. If you are flying above the area in question, the hydrogen and oxygen of the air may be replaced by other gases, either starving your engines or creating massive turbulence. Landing in the sea will give you the same problems as a ship or boat and you will sink without trace.

July 1988: Iran Air Flight 655 – Airbus A300B2

290 Iranians (including 66 children) and 38 souls from other countries had just left Bandar Abbas on a half hour flight to Dubai, having originated at Tehran. The Airbus was transmitting “IFF” signals (International Friend or Foe) and was expected to be where it was and it was flying its agreed route. Eight minutes into its flight, the Commander of the United States guided missile destroyer ‘Vincennes’ (nicknamed ‘Robocop’ by his fellow US Naval officers for his apparent lust for seeking conflict) decided that this particular A300 Airbus was instead an Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter, trying to attack him. He ordered the firing of two anti-aircraft missiles into it. The passenger jet disintegrated. Although its black box was never found, the Vincennes itself was loaded with all the data necessary to prove beyond doubt what had happened and the United States inquiry uncovered weak leadership, inexperienced crew and ignored warnings of the A300’s true identity to have conspired to create a ‘regrettable accident’. The United States denied guilt but payed millions of dollars in out of court settlements.

December 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 – Boeing 747-121

A few months later, on its way from Frankfurt to Detroit, American Pan Am flight 103 took on more passengers at London and departed for America. With its 259 occupants (189 American, the rest from other nations) settling in as they flew through the darkness above Scotland, a bomb in the luggage hold exploded and the airliner disintegrated. The inquiries and assertions of both British and United States investigators were widely doubted from the start. There were and still are deeply held beliefs of many relatives and political commentators that the tragedy was dishonestly blamed on one man – a Libyan Intelligence Officer put forward by Libyan Colonel Gaddafi as responsible. The man, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was arrested and jailed in Scotland. In 2003, Libya admitted responsibility but not guilt and settled multi-million dollar compensation claims to the relatives of those who died – in return for political and economic sanctions being lifted. Although this Boeing 747 flew in Pan Am’s colours, it in fact belonged to the United States Civil Reserve inventory of aircraft. One of the earliest Jumbos built, it had been completely overhauled and modified two years earlier to allow it to carry out diverse alternative roles such as freight carriage. The case has so many astonishing and unbelievable  inconsistencies within it that a new inquiry is due to be set up in 2014.

June 2009: Air France Flight 447 – Airbus A330

228 souls passed on when this plane – an Airbus A330 – left just a few pieces of wreckage on the surface of the Atlantic when it crashed. The black box was not recovered until much later on but – almost immediately after the airliner ‘disappeared’ – Airbus confidently announced that blame lay with the crew: human error. How were Airbus so sure? Well, the A330 is the aviation equivelant of your friend who is always on their iPhone. Flight 447 sent a string of messages back to its manufacturers – Airbus – as it flew, alerting them to the fact that things were not going well on the flight.

The plane used ACARS – the Aircraft Communicating and Adressing System – to transmit data over the last three minutes before it crashed. Airbus certainly possessed that information three days after it had crashed.

Does the Malaysian Airlines Boeing  777-200ER use the ACARS system?

Did it send messages to Boeing?

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The amazing future of Asia’s growth needs flight security from today’s West.

Over the next 20 years,  the Asia Pacific area is predicted to account for almost 50% of the world’s growth in air traffic. Both Airbus and Boeing are anticipating delivering nearly 13,000 new airliners to operators in this zone. Airbus is heavily investing in Indonesian refurbishment centres and cabin conversion operations.

This level of investment is truly staggering in its size and implications for mass transit. It also illustrates the shocking contrast in standards between the established manufacturers and operators’ commitment and the seemingly casual incompetence of Malaysian airport security.

Malaysian Airlines operates more than 100 modern jets and flies to over 80 worldwide destinations each day. It has a good safety record.

Millions of new cars remain unsold. Join the dots…

8 Feb

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As more than 10 MILLION brand new cars join the ever increasing backlog of unsold stock across the World – four million cars in Europe alone – factory closures are now to become a reality.

Well-hidden and secure compounds across Europe, Asia and America are the usual first home for newly-born cars awaiting shipping to dealers. But these are now so full that dealers themselves are having to store cars in their already-packed yards.

The backlog of stored new cars in Europe now runs to four million. US sources point to a similar figure for America and things are so bad in China that Mercedes Benz are offering as much as 30% discount on some new models (S-Class, anyone?) as an attempt to shift stock.

No matter how politicians of all persuasions in all car-making countries try to dress it up, the fact is that production lines and whole factories now stand to be closed as a means of reducing output to match the drop in demand.

As Jorn Madslien’s BBC article here points out, the 7 – 10% annual drop in European demand since the Banking crisis of 2008 is set to continue through 2013 according to industry analysts.

There is no evidence to suggest that this trending reduction in demand will halt. Unemployment, static wages and financial insecurity continue to keep potential customers away from showrooms.021roadwax

What many ordinary people have overlooked in the last three years is the part that national politicians have played in this unfolding catastrophe.

Anxious to deflect criticism of themselves from voters already outraged at the corruption within the financial industry that has wrecked economic prospects, many political leaders have persuaded car giants to keep production at a steady level to avoid redundancies.

In the last three years, American car-making states have seen the quite shocking sight of trains loaded with brand new cars leaving the factories bound for the deserts – where the cars are simply off-loaded and parked up – as an alternative to laying off workers or reducing pay-packets.

Now, this temporary vote-buying strategy has resulted in such high levels of surplus vehicles that the need to close whole factories has replaced the idea of cutting the odd work shift. There is now no other option left.

Discounting of new car prices at dealership level is now rising into thousands of dollars. Some makes and models are almost dead in the water, effectively having so few interested potential buyers that they may as well not be offered.

Chrysler, for example, has more than six months worth of 2013 Dodge Darts parked up right now, as the Wall Street Journal’s article here reveals.

Six months worth of Dodge Darts. At what point does a ‘new’ car technically become an ‘old’ new car? Can a car that has sat out in the open for most of a year still be described as ‘new’? One can easily imagine the challenges that car manufacturers now face.

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But showroom price discounting – especially up to amounts like 30% – can wreak havoc with the residual value of that car’s marque. The prices of ‘nearly-new’ second-hand versions plummet at auction and fleet clients and Hire Purchase customers can become saddled with a kind of negative equity on their own vehicles. Fleet News made this point six months ago in their article here.

Some commercial vehicle manufacturers have been hit really hard as savvy fleet operators have held onto their trucks for an extra year or two to avoid this depreciation risk. One major truck maker sold zero units of its product in the UK in 2011 as regular clients simply sat tight.

General Motors has only now struggled back into profit in the US after years in the red with an unloved product range. Desperate for small cars it didn’t have, it hastily re-badged Asian Daewoo products, slapping a ‘Chevrolet’ badge on them and shipping them into America.

Now, it is watching as its twin European badges – Vauxhall and Opel – fight a desperate war to survive. It is abundantly clear that 7-10% over-capacity plus some ageing and inefficiently designed production facilities cannot be propped up at all cost.

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In this situation, the cost will be production line workers. There are no deserts in Europe to hide millions of unwanted cars.

The emerging giant economy of China fueled the revival of hopes in 2009 for top marques like BMW, Cadillac and Rolls Royce. Dying on their feet as Europe and America struggled with a banking collapse, these big names spearheaded a rush to satisfy Chinese auto sales volume growth of 46% in that year.

But by 2010 that figure had dropped to 32% and in early 2011 it slumped to 2.5%.

We are not supposed to use the word ‘problem’. The fashionable and politically correct word today is ‘challenge’.

The ‘problem’ is over-production of depreciating consumer goods.

The ‘challenge’ for today’s politicians is to find unemployed workers jobs that can generate their family a surplus income. Enough to buy yet more depreciating consumer goods and certainly more than enough to live on.

If today’s politicians actually have a solution to this challenge, then they are keeping very quiet about it.

 

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