Thursday, January 19, 2017

Farewell President Obama

Tomorrow a change in power takes place.  My youngest child has not known life without President Obama, my two others probably could not recall an honest memory prior administrations. 

Without regard to winners or losers, to how much you liked or disliked President Obama, he has been the president of all Americans for the last 8 years.  He has not been perfect, and I lost hope during parts of his presidency.  But, it is time to give thanks to him for leading us through a very tricky time in our country's history.  For that, credit is due.  President Obama took office on January 20, 2009.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 7,949.09.  Today (January 19, 2017), The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 19,732.40.  In 8 years, the value of the stocks has risen 148%.  That reflects solid real growth in the economy.

Eight years ago the unemployment rate was at 8%, it went over 10% in January 2010, but has since fallen to 4.9%, amongst the lowest in the world.  The GDP in 2008 was $14.72 trillion, but in 2016 rose to $18.56 trillion. The housing crisis has ebbed, and in fact we are facing the reverse problem: our houses have become unaffordable for many.  So, thanks in part to President Obama's leadership, the country has come out of the great recession. 

I commend President Obama for using solid Keynesian economic principles: spend in times of recession, and save in times of growth.  President Obama's stimulus package worked.  While European countries tried austerity measures, President Obama stuck to his guns and passed a huge spending bill.  The rest is history, The USA recovered faster and further than the European countries.  We have been the economic engine that has brought the world from a huge financial meltdown.

President Obama has been committed to his oath of office.  He and his wife are a credit to the office; not a single moral or ethics scandal tarnished him or his cabinet. (I do not include the email and Libya debacle as either moral or ethical, but rather lapses of judgment; I accept that this is open to debate).  Even Congressman Paul Ryan said on January 19, 2017 that President Obama was a good man, they enjoyed talking sports, and commended President Obama on making it through the presidency without the tarnish of other Presidents.   

Certainly, many will argue that our stature abroad has been diminished over the last eight years.  They will argue that we have put a wedge between us and our ally Israel.  Mr. Ryan was very critical of President Obama's foreign policy during his presidency.  Time will of course tell, but President Obama inherited two wars, plus the war on terrorism.  I won't argue he has been perfect, or even good, but he has tried to make the most of a bad situation. 

I want to take this moment and say thank you to President Obama for his commitment to this country.  He has left it a better place than when he arrived. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Did New Runway Configuration Cause the Crash of Asiana Flight 241?

The Boeing 777 has a proven safety record; until July 6, 2013 the triple 7 never caused a passenger death in it INSERT TIME years in service.  So what caused a marvel in technology to crash into the rocky shore of the San Francisco Bay? 

This is what we know:  The runway, 28L, had been under construction in the weeks leading up to the crash.  On June 26, 2013 I was personally on a Boeing 777, United flight 493 from Chicago to San Francisco where we landed on runway 28R.  What I love about United (the few things left I love about the airline) is that you can listen to the air traffic control traffic during the flight.  I especially enjoy listening during take off and landing.   We were single tracking into 28R and I could not figure out why on a beautiful day a plane was not simultaneously on approach for 28L.  My answer came when the 28L came into view: it was under construction and closed.  Large red X's illuminated the runway as the crews worked to lengthen the runway. This is confirmed by NOTAMS

The new runway plans moved the beginning of the runway further into the bay.  I don't have a handle on the length of the extension, but based on areal photographs I've seen, it appears to be a 100 to several hundred yards extension.  Perhaps the changes are to better handle the new larger aircraft, including the Airbus A380.

According to NTSB Chairman Debora Hersman, the instrument glide slope had been shut down since June 2013.  At the 7:30 pst press conference with Mayor Ed Lee, the SFO Airport spokesperson confirmed that 28L had been extended in the weeks before the crash. 

So, to sum up what we know, the pilot of Asiana Flight 241 from Seoul, Korea to San Francisco, California made a visual approach to runway 28L which had been recently reconfigured.  Despite a late thrust of the engines as described by many passengers, the tail of the Boeing 777 hit the rocks on the bank of the San Francisco Bay. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Findings of Air France Flight 447 Flight Recorder From The Airbus A330-203

The Air France flight from Rio de Jeneiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009.  The flight recorder was recently found, and the results released by the Beueau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses, the French agency responsible for investigation of civil aviation accidents or incidents.  The report lays out in detail the last moments of Air France flight 447.

The flight traveled normally as it approached severe weather over the Atlantic.  The Airbus 330-203 is one of the most advanced fly by wire aircraft commercially available.  In fact, a pilot certified in the Airbus 330 is certified in the Airbus 320.  Fly by wire means that every interaction between the pilot and the aircraft is electronically, and digitally in the case of the 330.  Critics of the automated functionality of the Airbus 330 argue that the pilots become disengaged from the aircraft, and are poorly trained to handle in flight emergencies.  They reason that today's pilots don't have the actual flying experience necessary to fly the plane should the systems fail.  They might be right.

Flight AF 447 traveled normally for some time as it approached a system of heavy weather.  The captain was on break, away from the cockpit when the pilot disengaged the autopilot.  The pilots noted discrepancies in the air speed indicator, with readings from 265 knots to 60 knots.  The pilots then disengaged the autopilot and the following actions were recorded by the planes flight data recorder:
  • the airplane climbed to 38,000 ft from a cruising altitude of 35,000,
  • the stall warning was triggered and the airplane stalled,
  • the inputs made by the PF were mainly nose-up,
  • the decent lasted for 3 mins 30, during which the airplane remained stalled.  The angle of attack increased and remained above 35 degrees,
  • the horizontal stabilizer went from 3 degrees to 13 degrees and remained in that position through the end of the flight,
  • the engines were operating and always responded to crew commands.
The horizontal stabilizer is the 'wing' on the tail of the plane.  Based on these findings, authorities suspect the pilots tried ascending, perhaps because they believed their airspeed to be faster.  Likely, by climbing to 38,000 and increasing the angle of attack to 16 degrees, the aircraft stalled.

When an aircraft stalls it means it is no longer flying but falling.  An aircraft stalls because it does not maintain a certain threshold airspeed.  After the likely stall, the plane dropped at a vertical speed of -10,912 ft/min (terminal velocity for a skydiver falling to earth is roughly 10,000 feet/min.). The 38,000 foot decent lasted 3 minutes 30 seconds.  These findings and other details of the crash are contained the BEA report recently published.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't tail gate that big-rig.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently found that the rear underride guards on big-rig trailers fail to protect automobile occupants from injury even in low speed crashes.  The rear underride guard is a fancy name for the slim iron bar that attempts to prevent your car from sliding underneath the trailer of the truck. 

I've often traveled down the highway at normal freeway speeds and noticed that if we were to run into the trailer for some reason, we would be guillotined.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety confirms my suspicions.  Current underride guards are wholly insufficient to prevent an obvious hazard.  Manufactures, carriers and brokers for years have resisted any type of regulatory change, which has resulted in the continued use of unsafe underride guards. 

The continued use of the known hazardous underride guards will result in unnecessary wrongful death, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, spinal cord injuries, and other catastrophic injuries. 

The technology is available that would keep all of us more safe on our nation's busy highways, but many operators and carriers do not require the safer and stronger underride guards.  The result of unsafe underride guards can be seen in the photo results of the test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

 Clearly, the passenger in the top photo has a much better survival chance then in the lower photo.  Unsafe underride guards were used in the bottom photo.  So, the next time you are staring down a metal bar on the back of a big-rig, back off the gas a little and be aware that there is little preventing your car from going underneath the undercarriage of a big-rig.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Double whammy: High Gas Prices and Fuel Efficient Supply Chain Disruptions

The Toyota Prius is the new fuel efficient leader, again.  After a brief tarnishing from the sudden acceleration fiasco, Toyota Prius is once again the darling of car buyers.  According to APM's Marketplace, Toyota of Hollywood was paying their sales force a $500 bonuses for every used Prius they produced.  Prices of fuel efficient cars increased with the cost of gasoline. 

The price of a gallon of gas in California was at $4.22/ga as of April 25, 2011.  Not long ago, the price of a gallon of gas was over $4.00, and then just as now we bought primarily fuel efficient cars.  The recession helped ease the demand of oil, and the price dropped.  That dropped resulted in Americans once again buying bigger cars.  Now that oil is reaching new heights in the markets again, we will see more people buying fuel efficient cars.  This increased demand alone is enough to boost prices for the more desirable cars.

However, Japan is reeling from the earthquake and its aftermath.  Japan suffered its worse drop in industrial production ever: a 15.3% drop.  Toyota's production alone dropped 63% in March.  Experts don't expect production to return to normal levels until October.  This is the supply side hammer that will send the price of fuel efficient vehicles through the roof.  If you own a fuel efficient vehicle, it appears the best time to sell it will be in about two months, what with fear mongers suggesting $6 plus/gallon this summer.  However, the best bet might be to just hang onto that fuel efficient car and just save a buck or two on gas.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Airline Passenger Rights Go Into Effect

The Department of Transportation issued new regulations to protect passengers on April 20, 2011.  The new regulations will go into effect in about 120 days (depending on when they are printed in the Federal Register).  The following is a summary of the salient new regulations:
  • Bumped Passengers are entitled to compensation of double their ticket price up to $650 when delayed domestically from 1-2 hours, and quadruple their ticket price up to $1300 when delayed longer.
  • An airplane must cancel a flight after a four hour tarmac delay.  After two hours, the airline must provide food, water and toilet facilities.
  • The list price of a ticket must reflect the actual cost (including bag fees, government fees, and other surcharges).
  • Ban post purchase fare increases (a very dubious practice).
To submit comments regarding the new regulations, or to read a detailed analysis of flight delays, passenger delays and costs go to

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What caused the Southwest Boeing 737 to open in midflight?

Southwest grounded 79 Boeing 737 to perform inspection and maintenance of the outside skin of the aircraft after Flight 812 developed a hole while at cruising altitude.  The airline is concerned about a condition known as aircraft skin fatigue.  The crack developed through the body of the fuselage over the wings of the aircraft. 

Metal fatigue, a larger category to aircraft skin fatigue, is a known problem in modern aircraft design and maintenance.  Metal fatigue is a condition that occurs in airplanes because the exterior metal skin endures expansion and contraction of the aircraft every time it reaches cruising altitude and descends again.

The strange twist involving the Southwest Boeing 737-300 is that the manufacturer did not expect any metal fatigue, nor require any inspections for metal fatigue until the aircraft reached 60,000 takeoff and landing cycles.  The aircraft of Southwest Flight 812 had only about 40,000 cycles under its belt.  Boeing has since lowered the threshold from 60,000 cycles to 30,000 cycles to inspect the 737's skin for signs of metal fatigue.

Boeing does not have an explanation for how the crack in the skin of the aircraft developed, nor any rational for recommending additional inspections.  While many at the FAA believed Federal Regulations solved the metal fatigue problem, this recent Southwest incident raises concerns over the current inspection regimen.  I once heard an aviation crash investigator make the obvious but profound comment that "aviation does not like mysteries."  In other words, until we solve the mystery of exactly why the skin of the Boeing 737-300 failed on the Southwest flight over Arizona we are at risk to repeat the incident, but with far worse consequences.