Tag Archives: travel

The Airbus A330. Make friends with someone who owns one.

25 Feb

When our children were young, their mother and I never allowed them to sit on the knee of  Santa Claus. It seemed contradictory to warn them to beware of over-familiar strangers and then to suggest that they jump on the lap of some old man who has doubtful dress sense, a false beard and offers them presents in return for personal information.

So it was that we encouraged our kids to cling together in unity against the clearly unhinged logic of their parents. Between us both, their mother and I ran a dictatorial regime that, like President Assad’s, was so obviously designed to one day bring about rebellion.

In our case, we wanted them to rebel. We hated the thought of us clinging to power in old age and we also loathed the possibility that our children would grow up to be like ourselves. We couldn’t imagine a greater sadness than to one day discover that we had trained our children to conform, trust figures in authority and respect their wealthy rulers.

And so it happens that, as adults, we realise we must confront life’s contradictions instead of ignoring them. We have to doubt our own wisdom as often as that of others. For example, we have to listen closely to racists instead of ignoring them so that we can learn to question our own assumptions as well as neutralize their arguments. We have to think a lot more than we would wish to because very little of our lives makes perfect sense.

Let me now explain why jet travel is good for the planet.

Most of us are educated and aware that Planet Earth is a huge and fragile ecosystem. As we humans walk its surface and breathe it’s air, we change the way that ecosystem works. By the conduct of our daily lives, we strip it of renewable resources like plants and animals. We take its raw materials and convert them into chemical-based products which allow us to develop and grow our societies.  We use our world’s resources more preciously now than ever before.

There is now hardly a person on this planet who cannot be given a health-enhancing or life-saving drug from a plastic syringe. That syringe can then be recycled and that chemical manufacturer pays for carbon-converting trees to be planted to counter the pollution it creates in making the drug and it’s delivery system. We have moved so far towards protecting the ecological integrity of our planet by simply cleaning up our act. We have started to regain control of the deadly tail-spin of pollution and destruction brought about by our reckless ‘slash-and-burn’ development.

The extremes of Capitalism and Communism have been destructive of this planet. Both systems have turned fertile land into waste ground and contaminated once pure water. Both routinely blight and destroy the lives of some for the benefit of others. Both systems use the words ‘Freedom and Democracy’ as their flag, hanging it from Government buildings as proudly as they drape it over coffins.

But along the way, the social control brought by political stability has allowed innovation and mass production to flourish. One side-effect of an engaged and enthusiastic workforce is that great development projects may be conceived and delivered.

One of these projects has now finally come of age: low-cost transcontinental travel by jet aeroplane.

The 2nd may 2012 will mark the 60th anniversary of the birth of scheduled jet passenger travel. It has taken all those decades for the aerospace culture to truly spread across the world and to create  reliable, cost-effective  and fuel-efficient aircraft designs and a matching infrastructure.

Even ten years ago, most jets in operation were far thirstier and dirtier than today. One ought to bear in mind that although food retailers like M&S talk loudly of their green credentials and initiatives, the delicate and exotic fruit that lines their shelves would tell us a different story if it were able to speak. It has often been flown half way around the world to us by one of those hungry and polluting ‘old-school’ freight planes, long obsolete but too expensive to replace. Just because you grow passion-fruit or pomegranates doesn’t mean you lie awake at night worrying about fuel efficiency comparison data between aircraft operators.

And this is where it starts to get interesting.

Airbus announced a deal with business links to Singapore on 18th February 2012.  Airbus have worked out that 2,700 freighters are going to be needed by the World over the next twenty years. That is approximately one rolling out of the hangar every three days. Airbus has built its latest A3xx range so that it can be converted from passenger airliner to freighter – P2F – when those planes get towards the end of their useful passenger-carrying life. Out of those 2,700 freighters needed, Airbus plans to ‘create’ at least 900 of them from these P2F conversions in Malaysia.

Airbus already has 850 A3xx planes  in service around the world. You can see how they are thinking. The idea is really smart and definitely ‘green’. These birds are gonna be haulin’ more load over more miles than any White Freightliner or Mack truck ever did in the whole history of the American consumer boom.

Carrying between 20 and 40 tonnes each ride, for up to 10,000 kilometers, at 800 kilometers per hour, the figures start to look fascinating. As a simple example for comparison, we might consider that the Berlin Airlift of 1948 was successfully achieved mostly using planes that could only carry 4 tons at 300 kph.

Check out this link here and drag the little airplane around the screen. Go mad. It is great fun. A picture tells a thousand words.

This class of plane coupled with such sophisticated strategic planning has never before existed. But it is not just a revolution in freight – it affects us humans in so many other ways.

Last week, I flew on a standard pre-booked Easyjet flight from London to Cannes for £25. That is $39 for a 1,000 km journey. Two and a half pennies or 4 cents per kilometer. Compare that price to your local bus. Try cycling for less.

All through the history of our planet, our ability to travel has been strictly limited by time, technology and cost. Now, Free Market economic forces are creating the perfect conditions to move humanitarian aid and humans wherever it is necessary or wherever those humans need to be taken.

As the data from aeroplane manufacturers and the pricing of budget operators make clear, there now exists no logistical or fiscal excuse why either airborne aid or airborne evacuation cannot be made to happen when and where it is needed. When it comes to saving the earth, saving people from genocide also has its place. People are, after all, a most precious resource. Airlifts are being used right now to bring pomegranates to our supermarket shelves.

When it comes to saving humans,  should we demand that civil aviation operators utilize their resources for humanitarian ends or should we put our trust and belief in our politicians…and Santa?


© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

The importance of serving toast correctly

7 Feb


It is 06.47 on a Tuesday morning in Autumn. The timing is important to me. It means that I have two minutes to pull my car over to the side of the long driveway that leads to the hotel. Then, out of public view, I can make sure that the side doors where the passengers will get in are still clean.

The rest of the car can wait. This Toyota Prius was hand washed only fifty miles ago but it already has a fine mist of damp cow dung and clay stuck to it from the last three miles of country road. Sometimes, this damned Prius gets washed twice a day. This is England. England is green and pleasant because it rains a lot.

There  is a finger mark on the back door handle so I polish it away with a tissue, get back in and select ‘Drive’. Six minutes to seven. I have been on the hotel’s CCTV since I turned in from the main road so now the receptionist will be telling the doorman that I am approaching. She likes the chauffeurs who pull over and check their car before advancing into her domain.

As I glide out from beneath the blue misty gloom of the trees that line the drive, the great house appears, lit silver and brass by the dawn sun. Its solid  lines dominate the cow draped pastures before it and one knows without doubt that this is how it was intended to be first seen by its visitors. The finest stone and brick faces outwards, protecting the whitest bedsheets and towels from those who have no business within.

The digital clock on my dash changes to 06.55 as I coast the last fifty metres on electric power towards the giant front door where a valet stands, staring intently towards me. On the raked circle of gravel ahead of me, a silver Mercedes S-Class is loading. Its passengers wait while the driver rushes to open the rear doors and let them inside. I brake to a halt early and flash my dipped headlights at the doorman. He raises one finger in acknowledgement from his white gloved hand to bid me to stop and wait. He brushes his electric blue waistcoat and turns to look to the valet who stands at the top of the great stone steps at the front of the house.

I recognise the driver of the Mercedes. His name is Eric. Eric used to be in business with my boss. Now, he is not. I can guess why. Eric is snatching the cases from the pea-shingle drive and stacking them in the back. He shuts the tailgate and strides round to get in behind the wheel. I can see his passengers settling in the back seat and then Eric is rolling, hard right lock, his headlights reflecting off the low stone wall that make his turn so tight.

The gardener stands with his rake and watches in case Eric’s turn requires the grains of pea shingle to be restored. I take my foot off the brake and roll forward to the Portland stone doorway. The doorman now looks to me, pointing downwards with his finger to exactly where he wishes me to position myself  beside his perfect shoes. I catch a glimpse of Eric’s intense and reddened face as he drives by. He glares ahead to the darkness of the beckoning trees.

I push the button and my window glass drops with a whir and the cold air creeps in. The doorman bows towards me and stares into my eyes. I set the parking brake with my foot.

“Having fun…?” I make a cheesy grin up towards him. His mouth is already forming his first words to me but he stops and straightens, looking back to the house. I can hear the valet’s voice. The doorman nods and then bows to me again. He speaks.

“No, I am not. Go round again. We are all out of sequence now…” The frustration in his voice makes me click the handbrake off without delay but his gloved hands still hold on to my door so I keep my foot on the brake.

“Give way to the black BMW that is just arriving, come in back here as soon as he goes, yes…?”

“Yes.” I make to move away but he still keeps his hands on my door. I look back at him. He is staring after Eric’s Merc. He speaks softly.

“That couple…” He struggles for words. “…they got drunk last night and then cancelled Eric’s car. Then, this morning they start screaming at us, asking where he is. They couldn’t remember a thing. Eric only just raced back from Heathrow now. They only had to wait half an hour but…my god…they made sure that everybody knew!”  He stares at me.

“Now…” he continues,  “…I have a gentleman who ordered that BMW for seven fifteen and then changed it to seven…then I do you…”

“What about my seven o’clock…?” I ask.

“She’s just enjoying her toast.” He makes a cheesy grin back to me and he winks. He drops his gloved hands from my door and gives me a dry smile. “Go, go, go…”

A black BMW 740 is approaching fast in my mirror and I glide out of  its path, swinging right lock as it stops on the gravel where I waited a second before. The doorman bows forward to the driver and speaks with him. I drive off and turn again in the staff car park. I wonder how long it takes to eat toast and if I can get a little more door cleaning fitted in.

A warning light in my head tells me not to stop and I swing back into the arrival point for the second time. It is just as well that I do because the black BMW 740 is just pulling away with the  gentleman  inside. The doorman stands, pointing to the ground by his feet, giving me a stiff nod. I coast up and stop a second time.

“Here she comes. One suitcase. Get the door for her and I’ll load you.”

I leap out as he strides to the tailgate. The great hotel facade reflects in the gloss black paintwork of my car. There is a patch of manure and straw stuck on the freshly waxed rear tyre. I scoot around the car and I pull my new passenger’s door open and she gets in without breaking her step or acknowledging me.

The doorman helps the valet who is struggling to fit her huge suitcase in over the lip of the tailgate. I close her door and I pull the boot lid down. A white Range Rover appears behind us and stops short, waiting for me to leave. Two slim businessmen are now standing in the hotel doorway, flanked by the valet and the doorman. They are holding identical carbon fiber briefcases and both wear a small enamel lapel badge, probably identifying their employer or the private society to whom they belong. They are glaring with disapproval towards me. I am in their way.

I pull full right lock and I am facing back to the long avenue of trees that line the drive. The Range Rover pulls up in my vacated space and the parking valet leaps out, holding the door for the two men who get in the front and slip sunglasses on in unison.

I greet my passenger.

“Good morning…!” I try to sound as welcoming as possible. ” Heathrow, terminal five..?”

I haven’t noticed that she has already got her earpieces in and is making calls on her Blackberry. She cradles it in her lap. Her crisp voice cuts across my last words.

“David, its me. Do Vogue America have our proposal on their desk…? Good…I’m in the car going to Heathrow now, so they only have forty minutes to speak to me…”

I curse myself in silence for my failure to spot the white wires that snake up the side of her neck into her blond hair. I push the car hard down the narrow drive. This will make it float better over the bumps and it will also show her that I am not wasting my time. The fallen leaves swirl behind us, sucked up by the car and left to tumble in wait for the Range Rover. I don’t want the two spooks in the Range Rover crowding my rear end at the junction.

Far ahead, a black Chrysler pulls over into the passing bay, flashing me to let me know that I have priority.

“Well…that is their problem, David. Make them sweat and I’ll call you when I am in the air…lousy…book me in somewhere else  next time David…dreadful….the toast was cold again…yes…I had to send it back twice, would you believe…?…I don’t care, David, anywhere that understands how to serve toast…”

I flash my headlights to the Chrysler as I pass him and I begin to brake for the cattle grid at the gate house.

She settles back in her seat and looks out of her window.

© 2012 and 2014 Loop Withers   Roadwax.com

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