Monday, June 29, 2009

Lego Darth Vader Canteen Incident

This is most likely accurate.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Commuter Airline Safety

The Continental Connection Flight 3407 that crashed near Buffalo has prompted the Senate to initiate changes in the commuter airline industry to improve safety. Gadabout wrote a piece that was published in Military.Com that addressed the inadequacy of pilot experience in the industry and it is reprinted below for reference. Your best bet in the never ending quest for survival when taking to the skies is to fly Southwest – an airline without a commuter partner.

Youngsters at the Controls:

Forecasts are grim for qualified pilots to fill empty cockpits for the airlines. A major shift in pilot hiring practices during the next 10 years is likely as newer technologies are incorporated into aircraft cockpits and as the military pilot production continues to decline and flatten.

In the past, seeking a career in aviation has always been influenced by timing. Hiring by the major airlines is usually cyclic. An applicant lucky enough to be hired at the beginning of a hiring cycle generally enjoys an uninterrupted career and takes home some serious dough. Those who come in on a downward cycle or hire on with a carrier that goes belly up risk personal and financial hardship.
But times are changing. There is a serious pilot shortage looming with age 60 mandatory retirement age limitations. Many pilots will be leaving over the next few years.

Until about 10 years ago the military supplied over half the pilots for the airline industry. Today, that number is about 35%, with the remainder coming from civilian universities, academies, and smaller flight schools. The military, as it continues to reshape its workforce and mission areas, has significantly reduced its aircraft inventories thus reducing the number of pilots required. Increased incentives (hard cash) offered to retain pilots has helped the military to keep qualified pilots, resulting in lowered initial pilot training demands.

Airline pay scales have been slashed during post 9-11 era industry turmoil, and military pilots have chosen to stay the course and enjoy the financial stability supplied by Uncle Sam. Since these pilots remain in the services until retirement, fewer of them seek aviation careers once they finally do walk out the door and hang up their uniforms for a last time. The age of these retirees range from 42-55 years, and after 20 to 30 years of active duty assignments, kids in college and a refined golf swing, the prospect of climbing into a cockpit as a first officer is not appealing. With anywhere from a $40,000 to $80,000 annual retirement income under their belt, why would our freshly retired pilot take a job starting out at the bottom of the food chain taking orders from some young punk captain? Most won’t, unless they possess a deep rooted desire stay in the air and don’t mind packing a suitcase and living on the road 15 or more days a month.

So where will the airlines find replacement pilots? Well, they reduce flight hour, experience, and educational requirements. No, they don’t mess with FAA minimum requirements for certification, but they are hiring pilots with surprisingly low flight hours and throwing them in the right seat of regional jets (RJs). You have flow in RJs, those cute smaller jets that are operated by airlines with “express” after their corporate logo.

“Regional” airlines have always represented a stepping stone for civilian trained pilots to hone skills and accrue flight hours before moving up to the majors (very much like professional baseball). Since major air carriers are under pressure to replace retiring pilots, the regional airlines have become bountiful harvest grounds. These fields are now over harvested, to the point where gleaning has begun, leaving smaller outfits with few choices for replacements.

Today, a young aspiring pilot, if trained in aircraft deemed desirable, might be hired on with as little as 500 flight hours. Ten years ago, 2,000 hours was required before consideration, and pilots had to pay for their own training (training that sometimes exceeding $10,000). I mentioned “training in aircraft deemed desirable” above and that is key to this discussion since civilian training aircraft are rapidly changing to support hungry industry demands. The regional hunger is for pilots that are proficient in aircraft cockpit designs that incorporate integrated multi-function displays and instrumentation. Airlines (and the military to some degree) no longer fly aircraft with dozens of dials, switches and levers. Today’s cockpits have been upgraded with high tech equipment with moving maps, advanced autopilots, integrated GPS and so forth (often referred to as Glass Cockpits) -- really fantastic stuff.

The problem is that many flight schools still operate older aircraft, and pilots trained using antiquated equipment are less desirable than those trained in newer aircraft that have converted over to “like” cockpit layouts used by airlines. The number of training aircraft with updated cockpits is accelerating to keep up with demands, but new aircraft are expensive. A glass cockpit Cessna C-172 sells for over $250,000 -- cost that’ll directly affect the price of flight training (per hour).

The solution for the industry is simple; hire glass cockpit trained pilots with fewer flight hours. This is all very well and good to fill empty cockpits, but there may be severe safety implications with these hiring practices. Ten years ago a traveler could take some comfort knowing that the two pilots sitting up front were fairly well trained and possessed broad experience levels. Not today. The pilot in the right seat could very well be the kid who bashed in your mailbox last year. The pilot in the left seat? He bashed in your mailbox three years ago. College degrees? They are desired, but not mandatory.
I’m not saying the airlines are wantonly jeopardizing flight safety. I’m just saying . .

Well, I told you so.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Amy Adams

Gadabout recent shared dinner and a movie with actress Amy Adams. It was an icebreaker date after months of communicating by email and Skype. The couple met after Gadabout accidently strolled by her Washington DC townhouse several times while looking for the Metro station. One of Gadabout’s friends called Amy to chat about the relationship. The following is an excerpt of that phone conversation.

Amanda: Hi, Amy, this is Amanda, Jack’s friend and associate.
Amy: Hi, Jack told me so much about you.
Amanda: Really, what did he say?
Amy: You know, all the regular stuff.
Amanda: Hum. Well, how do you really feel about GJ?
Amy: Amanda, there is no other way to describe Jack except to say—dreamy.
Amanda: Dreamy? Are you sh%$ing me?
Amy: Hey, the guy is the total package. Slender, handsome, worldly; and most importantly, he knows how to treat a lady like a woman.
Amanda: Treat a lady like a woman?
Amy: Well, I think I’ll let your imagination do its work here.
Amanda: You don’t think he is rude, self-centered, self-absorbed, overweight, balding, and OLD?
Amy: Have you ever met someone that swept you off your feet? Would you not like to hang out with, say, Bill Murray? Have you ever dreamed about driving a 1959 Chevrolet Corvette? Have you never looked upon a sunrise and felt the hand of God at work?
Amanda: I don’t know what to say to that.

Monday, June 8, 2009

When Be The Recovery?

The talking heads on CNBC have been making claims that the economy will soon be at an end. Hurray! That was easy, wasn’t it? Just toss some cash at the problem, buy up the private banking system and take over General Motors – presto, problem solved. What a great country we have. We are blessed, indeed.

The problem is that those talking heads are, for the most part, dependent on a recovery for their personal success. About half of the country has a vested stake in a recovery that includes higher retail sales, higher home prices and higher equity markets. The Halves and Haves, and have a great deal of depreciated wealth in their portfolios. These Halves are also part of the chaotic mixture of the Lefts and the Rights, sprinkled with a few in the middle. In this sense wealth transcends political boundaries and both groups have a lot riding on the hopes of a recovery, and both are wishing and praying that it manifests earlier than later. “Wish, wish, wish upon a star.”

The question, though, is whether or not projections and modeling techniques are viable indicators for this particular downturn. The recent “stress-test” applied to the banking system used unemployment data already proved deficient by the recently published 9.4% rate. Moreover, this does not appear to be a “normal” downturn. Normal in the sense that the government has taken unprecedented nationalism tactics to assuage ailing industries. Other differences include: rising interest rates on the heals of a near deflationary period; increased terror threats (we didn’t have that nagging booger in 1982); a rapid decline in our manufacturing base; a very real and healthy Green Movement affecting most aspects of public policy; multiple war fronts; a shrinking middle class; and a marginal line-up of summer movies.

Let’s all move to Wyoming and share in the wealth – maybe there is some mojo over there for the sharing!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

For a Laugh

So I said to him, "Barack, I know Abe Lincoln, and you ain't him!"