Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Safety In The Air

On 25 April 2010 an Emirates Airline B777 encountered severe turbulence and 20 passengers out of 350 were injured, the aircraft landed safely. On every flight of every airline the PA announcement recommends that one keeps his/her seat belt on while seated, precisely to avoid incidents like this one.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Lounges on airliners were the in thing. Lockheed had lower deck lounges on some of their L1011s and Boeing had lounges on their B747 upper deck. With time the fad disappeared mostly because lounges took up space and weighed heavily and they had to give way to economic realities, this same space was used for cargo and/or seats. Even lower deck galleys disappeared to give way to cargo space.

In the 2000s Airbus comes in with the A380 and sells the aircraft as one where you can have lounges, gyms, bowling alleys and shopping areas (click here) with passengers walking around. Fortunately most of these did not materialize.

Great looking lounge areas for the use of the First and Business Class passengers are very unsafe during an encounter with severe turbulence with passengers standing or sitting around the lounge. They will probably bounce off the ceiling, literally.

It is time to go back to basics and have a review of how safe are these lounges and act accordingly.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

ERP 201 ... Volcanic Ash and Beyond

The last week was a time of revelations, it showed how fragile was the air transportation system was. A volcanic ash cloud over Europe closed the airspace grounding the majority of the airlines in that region. It also affected almost every airline in the world. The losses to the industry was USD 1.7 Billion in a week, imagine if it went on longer. This is what the airline lost and does not account for what other industries that relied on air cargo across the world lost.

That week was in a way an educational week. It showed how airlines and ancillary services reacted, some with compassion others just followed the rule book. Nevertheless, there are several lessons to be learnt here.

1.The airline industry is very global and very vulnerable to disruptions. The closure of the European airspace affected airlines across the world. The industry just stood gawking helplessly, at what potentially was its own demise, as losses mounted at the rate of USD 200 millions a day. No contingency plan or business continuity plan was effective. This was a scenario that no one foresaw, the airlines had no idea what to do with passengers, staff or aircraft. There were no protocols for the testing of volcanic ash and its potential effect on aircraft engines and airframes. The health impact was not even addressed.

2.Emergency Response; I bet no airline Emergency Response Plan catered for such a disruption. The traditional means of communications, although important were not adequate to cope with the scope of the disruption and the amount of queries. The traditional media, print, radio, TV and even websites were not fast enough or real time to respond to an evolving situation which increased in number and complexity, with each day bringing on more stranded passengers to the already chaotic scene. Enter Social Media to the rescue with Twitter and Facebook playing a major role allowing airlines and Eurocontrol to interact with passengers and to give up to date information and responding to questions in real time. Several airlines refined their internal social media processes to meet the challenge.
Every airline must review its Emergency Response Plan to take into account of such or similar disruption. The last time this volcano erupted it lasted for more than a year. However, the most important revision should be in Communications. It is a must that Social Media be acknowledged as a means of responding to crises and keeping passengers and their families and friends along with all other stake holders in the information loop. It should not by any means replace press conferences, call centers and other media channels.

3.Protocols and processes must be agreed by all stake holders (authorities, OEMs and airlines) to test and gauge the safety impact of volcanic ash on people's health and aircraft safety, allowing flights to operate in the presence of the ash.

4.Just like the airlines, Import/Export businesses that rely on air transport for their survival, must look again at their contingency and continuity plans and act accordingly.

Let us not waste a good crises.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Of Things To Come ... Aviation in MENA

I recently attended the 16th Middle East Airline Maintenance & Engineering Conference at Abu Dhabi organized by UBM Aviation. I have attended several of these conferences and even co-chaired one. However, this one was one of the most interesting I have attended. It came at a time, the aviation industry in the region and globally is ready to undergo changes.

Several topics were discussed but the most interesting (for me at least) were

MRO Hubs in the region and the relationship with OEMs. In the last few years OEMs have become more aggressive in setting up MROs in order to generate more revenues, and in the process competed against their own customers. The concept of a HUB MRO, a one stop shop, only works if you are a big airline or one with a big aircraft order, so you can browbeat the OEMs. Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT formerly GAMCO) is one such entity. It has Mubadala and Etihad backing it up and making OEMs bring in technology into the UAE. The other MROin the region are basically into airframe work with some engine works or components thrown in. So it seems MENA will get its HUB MRO.

EU ETS (Emission Trading System) was another subject which is causing controversy globally. In theory ETS is a great idea if it was not that the money collected will probably never be invested in aviation or climate change research. Of course the other problem is that the EU wants to collect on all emissions generated outside the EU just because the flight originates, ends or overflies the EU. This is causing problems for the airlines who in theory will pay several time for emissions by virtue of overflying several countries or territories. Ideally, emissions generated by a flight should be accounted for once.

Other subjects of interest were bio-fuel and greener engine technology. Well Bio-fuels are here to stay. Companies are working on bio-fuels that do not require edible products as the source. It is no good to starve in order to be greener, but are looking at other sources of vegetation or algae. Greener engine technologies are those that relate to the reduction of NOx and Carbon. It deals with design of engine parts that improve fuel burn and reduce engine weight. Such an innovation is P&W Geared Turbofan (GTF) which allows the Low Pressure System and the High Pressure System to rotate each at its optimum speed, thus increasing efficiency and fuel burn and reducing noise and emissions.

Last but not least is the Changing Regulatory Requirements, with the introduction of SMS and all the associated cultural changes that come with it (risk management, reporting regimes, just culture and so on). One topic of discussion was how to deal with regulatory authorities. The relationship between the regulators and the airlines and support activities should be a true partnership. I realize the partnership label is a great buzz word, but it needs to be changed into a reality. The relationship should be mutually supportive so it becomes a true win win system.

Thanks again to UBM Aviation for providing a venue for networking and sharing ideas about the industry.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Protectionist Open Sky

I know, somehow it does not sound right, but bear with me.

In the last few days a row between Saudi Arabia and Egypt Civil Aviation Authorities erupted over traffic authority for NAS and SAMA to operate between Madina and Cairo.

The MENA region is moving towards Open Sky no doubt, however protectionist policies have put a twist on Open Sky. UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt among others have open sky policies.

However, Egypt has always had a protectionist policy towards Egypt Air. The row erupted because NAS and SAMA wanted to operate Madina to Cairo under the terms of the Open Skies bilateral between the two countries. Egypt, has declared that Cairo International Airport does not receive LCC flights, which is a strange way to get into open sky.

Egypt CAA has refused Air Arabia access into Cairo in 2003, forcing Air Arabia to operate into Alexandria's secondary airport Al Nozha. This has actually improved traffic into Alexandria from three carriers (Egypt Air, Lufthansa and Olympics by the way Lufthansa pulled out) to having every regional carrier operating there on daily basis or seasonal summer traffic (Emirates, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Etihad and a few others demonstrating the power of open skies, recently Air Arabia Egypt, with an Egyptian AOC was refused access to Cairo and will operate from Alexandria.

The whole point of restricting LCC and other traffic is to protect Egypt Air. Even Egyptian unscheduled carriers have restrictions imposed on them.

The question is does Egypt Air require protection? Egypyt is a country of almost 80 million inhabitants and a large expatriate population spanning the globe. For a long time the largest Arab carrier and has recently joined the Star Alliance. So why does a world class airline require protection?

Egypt Air did not have the reputation of being an efficient and lean carrier. This has changed and even though they are not the leanest airline in the MENA region they have improved enough to join the Star Alliance and to have a robust MRO that does cater to foreign carriers' maintenance requirements.

So is that an Egypt Air requirement to be protected or is it a government authority that kept doing whatever it was doing for decades. Open Sky is good for a country witness the growth in Alexandria.

It is about time the Egyptian CAA changes its protectionist policy towards Egypt Air (this protectionism does not extend to other Egyptian carriers) and embrace a true Open Sky policy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Memories

It is cool to have an aunt who is a published author. A Nun without a Convent is the first part of an autobiography of my maternal aunt Ms. Nuha Batchone, written in Arabic and published by Dar Ward for Publishing and Distribution. I read the book on a flight back from Amman, I just could not put it down.

Reading about her chilodhood and early adulthood life and by extension my mom's and the rest of their family in Yaffa (Jaffa), Palestine brought tears, smiles, laughs and revelations.
It is nice to know that they were as mischievous as us, even though their ways differed.

The book brought memories of family members who have passed away decades ago, those who I knew when I was very very young, during my teenage years and beyond. It brought memories of gatherings at my grand parent's house and of great aunts and uncles that were in the back of my memory

Their lives were a part of a tragic episode in Arab History, the start of the Palestinian Diaspora and learning how they coped with the difficulties of being uprooted and starting again and what they have endured and how events shaped their lives and eventually mine brought an insight and answers to questions I never knew existed.

I look forward to the second part, her life and work in Bahrain, that is when I come in.

Thanks Nona



Monday, April 5, 2010

Royal Jordanian, the Brand

To start with I am biased, I have worked for Royal Jordanian eighteen (18) years but I left fourteen (14) years ago. Further, I have not flown with RJ for almost three (3) years. Having said all this, I will try to be as impartial as possible.

I traveled from Dubai to Amman and back on a Y/J ticket (staff ticket with a confirmed economy seat upgradeable to Crown Class subject to load).

At Dubai I checked in and requested an upgrade, the RJ supervisor was very courteous and I got my upgrade on the spot. The Crown Class was full I must have taken the last seat.

This was a morning flight on an A321 which had leather seat and IFE. The aircraft could have looked better, but it was clean and bright. The breakfast service was a little bit disorganized, but the Cabin Crew smiled and were very courteous. One thing I missed on that flight was the Ya Hala Service (the cabin crew wearing a modern traditional dress) which branded the Crown Class for years.

At Queen Alia International Airline I checked in at the Crown Class Check in which took a few minutes. I was invited to the Lounge pending the change of my boarding pass. The Crown Check in has its dedicated security check point and takes straight to desk 1 at immigration. the whole process took a few minutes and everyone was friendly.

The new Crown Lounge is awesome, spacious and overlooks the apron. It has a game room with a pool table and kids playing room. Hot food and snacks are served. It is a great improvement over the previous lounges and provides free wi-fi and dedicated TV viewing stations. It is a pleasure to spend time there.

The flight back was a night flight, the service was similar to the breakfast service and the Cabin Crew were as courteous, efficient and friendly as their colleagues.

The service and equipment are great and it is a far cry from what they offered a few years back.

However, Royal Jordanian needs a more definitive Brand, something that will make it stand out in the crowded MENA region and among its partners in One World.

Kudos Royal Jordanian, keep it up




Sunday, April 4, 2010

AMMAN

I never knew how much I have missed AMMAN until this visit. No work , no meetings and no audits, just visiting.

AMMAN has changed new buildings, new areas were developed yet it is still the same.

I remembered what I actually was missing. The weather is warmer than usual, windows were open to allow a gentle cool breeze, no rumbling of air conditioning as yet and in the early morning one wakes up when the sun filters in along with the sound of birds. The chirping of birds is what I missed most. Throughout the day, as long as the window is open, you hear that natural twittering.

I grew up in AMMAN, a chaotic city with underlying order. The streets that resemble village roads, no lane dividers yet there is some kind of an insane order. I fell in love here and raised a family.

AMMAN is where I lived my formative years, both as a child and as an adult and a professional.

I will never forget these hills, the houses surrounded with trees and most of all the quietness accompanied with the songs of birds.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Turning Points

I always maintained that as long as the itch for doing something new, exciting or innovative persists one will endure all difficulties. However, as life goes on and we navigate through it, the challenges grow and one is pushed to the limits.

Recession is a good excuse for incompetent management to hide its inadequacy, just dump on your staff. Remunerations are cut in the name of savings and unrealistic targets are set at a whim and every one is left to his own devices without leadership. The leadership is busy undermining its staff.

Professionals manage, they know what they have to do and they will always find a few who will carry the day and meet the challenge of an impossible target. Sadly, success is met with silence at best or petty complaints and childish outbursts.

As long as the itch persists you don't care, you are still loving the challenge and actually enjoying the work. Until, incompetency and delusions of power and grandeur set in and they, they being very senior management, stop listening, or use selective listening (only what they want to hear) and believe their own version of reality.

What goes round comes round and sometimes faster than we like, what was great a few months back like savings, cutting down and not listening to those who deliver, catches up with them. The impossible target was delivered and the rest of the organisation that was taking it easy failed to deliver. The project is at a standstill and we are in headless chicken mode trying to recover the situation.

The nightmare starts, tantrums and outbursts become the norm and one is faced with a TURNING POINT, is what remains of that itch and the challenge worth the crap?

Turning points are terrible things, they hit and arrive at the wrong time. Nevertheless, they are good, they provide us with the opportunity to reassess things, do we zig or zag. Going through life is like navigating the Mississippi, you never know what is behind each turn.

Yes, a turning point is upon us and will see......


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