April 5, 2011

To Cut Smog, Navistar Blazes Risky Path of Its Own

Tom Zeller & Norman Mayersohn:

In a testing cell tucked deep in the bowels of Navistar's engine plant and technical center here, a hulking prototype of a truck engine sits behind a large glass window like a patient on an operating table. A snarl of sensors and wires is attached to nearly every part of the humming engine, feeding reams of data to a battery of computers and watchful engineers in the adjacent control room.

One measurement -- for nitrogen oxide emissions, or NOx -- is of particular concern to Navistar. From 2010 onward, all new truck engines must achieve tough, near-zero limits for NOx, a chief ingredient of smog. Virtually every truck maker besides Navistar chose to use an add-on system to their existing engines that uses a fluid cocktail to help neutralize the pollutant as it makes its way out of the exhaust.

Navistar went a different route, deciding to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to refine an engine that produces minimal NOx in the first place. At the same time, the company attacked the competing systems, suing federal air quality regulators and claiming that the add-on technology was so flawed that it failed to meet the clean-air requirements.

Posted by jez at 8:54 PM

March 3, 2011

Oil & Water, Jet Fuel & Labor

William Swelbar:

On June 25, 2008 I blogged asking the question: Is Oil A Cancer Or A Cure? At that time, the price of a barrel of oil had not yet reached its apex of $147 per barrel, but was well on its way. Based on findings by the Air Transport Association's superb economic analysis team led by chief economist John Heimlich, the U.S. airline industry paid the equivalent of $174.64 per barrel [price of a barrel of oil plus the equivalent cost to refine crude into jet fuel (the crack spread)] on July 11, 2008. By December 23, 2008 the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate had fallen to $30.28 per barrel. So far in 2011, we've seen a similar surge in oil prices, but based on current geopolitical events, I am not expecting another $117 drop in the price of a barrel of oil like we witnessed in 2008.

I'm actually wondering what happens if the wave of Mideast political upheaval washes over Algeria? Or Saudi Arabia? Some economic experts say the price of oil could rocket past the $200 threshold.

In 2011, the industry has paid an average of $89.15 per barrel of crude and another $25.80 in the crack spread for a total cost of "in the wing" jet fuel of nearly $115 per barrel. Since February 22, 2011 the industry has paid more than the equivalent of $120 per barrel for jet fuel. On March 1, 2011 the industry paid the equivalent of $132.17 per barrel for jet fuel including the crack spread of $32.54. For all of 2008, the industry paid the equivalent of $25 per barrel to refine crude into jet fuel. In the last five days of trading the crack spread paid by the industry is nearly $30 per barrel.

Posted by jez at 6:04 PM

December 23, 2010

New Interest in Turning Gas to Diesel

Matthew Wald:

Diesel and jet fuel are usually made from crude oil. But with oil prices rising even as a glut of natural gas keeps prices for that fuel extraordinarily cheap, a bit of expensive alchemy is suddenly starting to look financially appealing: turning natural gas into liquid fuels.

A South African firm, Sasol, announced Monday that it would spend just over 1 billion Canadian dollars to buy a half-interest in a Canadian shale gas field, so it can explore turning natural gas into diesel and other liquids. Sasol's proprietary conversion technology was developed decades ago to help the apartheid government of South Africa survive an international oil embargo, and it is a refinement of the ones used by the Germans to make fuel for the Wehrmacht during World War II.

The technology takes "a lot of money and a lot of effort," said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, Austin. "You wouldn't do this if you could find easy oil," he said.

Posted by jez at 2:50 PM

December 17, 2010

Making commuters' lives easier

The Economist:

EARLY this month, a massive new railway tunnel opened for the first time. It was finished six months early and nearly 10% under budget. So by now you know this didn't happen in America (or Britain, for that matter.) No, this feat of modern engineering (and good government) was completed in the Swedish city of Malmö, just across the Oresund bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark.

The project transformed Malmö Central Station, which is actually in the northern part of the city, from a dead end where trains had to reverse course into a through station. The former terminus is now just a stop on a large circular route that cuts underground through the center of Sweden's third-largest city. The construction of the tunnel was accompanied by the construction of two new stations--one in the actual city centre, and another south of the city, in an area targeted for future development. Here's a map:

Much more from Railzone.

Posted by jez at 12:09 PM

December 14, 2010

P2P car sharing

Chris Nuttall:

Google is investing in a start-up that hopes to shake up the vehicle rental industry and change the way people view their cars.

RelayRides.com, which launches in San Francisco on Tuesday after a successful pilot programme in Boston, says it is the world's first operational peer-to-peer car-sharing service.

The Series A round announced with Google Ventures and Valley VC firm August Capital on Tuesday is expected to help it to $5m in total funding to date.

Great idea.

Posted by jez at 10:11 PM

November 17, 2010

The global power of Brazilian agribusiness

The Economist Intelligence Unit

razil is world's fifth-largest country by geographical area and the largest in terms of arable land. Although only a fraction of its land is exploited, the country produces a highly diverse array of agricultural goods. This puts Brazil in a unique position to lead the global agricultural sector in the medium to long term. With an abundant supply of natural resources--water, land and a favourable climate--it has the opportunity to be the largest agribusiness superpower, supplying the world market while also providing affordable food for its own population.

The country already ranks as the top global supplier of products as diverse as beef, orange juice and ethanol, and is expected to continue to expand its exports in other areas as well, such as cotton, soybean oil and cellulose. Its markets are also diverse: China is now the largest market for Brazilian agribusiness products, and sales to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa are also growing rapidly.

To maintain this trajectory, Brazil must build on the significant improvements in productivity that underpin its current success and overcome the barriers to full realisation of its potential. Obstacles range from scarcity of credit to logistical logjams, from protectionist measures in key markets to environmental concerns.

Frontier regions are a testament to what is right, and wrong, with Brazil's agribusiness sector. The rich harvests from the country's vast hinterland have more than paid back public and private investment in research to create new plant varieties adapted to the region's soil and climate. Large-scale production and professional management have helped to offset the high costs and tight margins of farming such areas. Attracted by the promise of growth, investors have both financed agriculture's expansion and provided technological know-how. Yet agricultural endeavours in these regions are burdened by inadequate transport and insufficient storage capacity. Productivity in such segments as beef production and corn remains low. Margins remain tight.

Posted by jez at 9:38 AM

October 7, 2010

Computers & Cars: MyFord Touch

Walt Mossberg
Instead of the usual array of knobs, dials and passive screens, MyFord Touch is dominated by a giant 8-inch touch screen, with large function icons in the center and color-coded corners that you touch to switch the screen among four main functions: multisource audio entertainment, navigation, phone and climate control. There is also a "home" view, combining common functions that can be personalized.

The system also has several other elements. There are twin 4-inch screens on either side of the speedometer. The one on the left presents vehicle information, such as miles traveled, and allows you to customize some of the gauges so that, for instance, you can finally banish that tachometer you never use in favor of, say, a digital readout on gas-mileage efficiency. The one on the right replicates, in simpler form, the main functions of the center screen, so you can select and check things like audio and climate control without looking at, or touching, the main screen.

These smaller screens are controlled by five-way arrow clusters on the steering wheel, like controllers on iPods and other devices usable by touch alone. There also are some large, touch-sensitive buttons below the main center screen for things like setting volume and fan speed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 PM

October 1, 2010

Trains in America, and Elsewhere

The Economist
Fundamentally, without major government commitments to high-speed rail, America simply will not have a high-speed passenger rail network. This should probably be discomfiting, since every other economic superpower (the EU, Japan and China) does have a high-speed rail network. That makes America look a bit backward. The time horizon for building such a network is several decades, and it's interesting to think about what will happen in the middle decades of this century if air transport becomes unaffordable due to high fuel costs and America doesn't have an electric alternative for high-speed intercity transit.

Politically, I would describe what's going on here as a loss of confidence in the principle of government investment and planning, in the face of the demonstrated incapacity of the contemporary American government to do an adequate job of investment and planning. That incapacity is largely due to conservative political opposition to government intervention in the economy, either for ideological reasons or because it entails higher taxes or because it treads on the toes of vested business interests. But the fact that the American government can't get its act together to create a decent modern passenger rail network doesn't mean that governments in general are incapable of doing so, or that it isn't a good idea. Europe, Japan, and China seem perfectly capable of doing this job. A more narrow response to the rail problem, specifically, would be to encourage a BOT deal in which the government uses eminent domain to create the rail corridor and turns to the private sector to raise the capital, build it and perhaps run it. But, again, this doesn't question the need for the government to plan national infrastructure, which seems to me to be pretty hard to gainsay.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

September 24, 2010

A Beautiful Airport Sunset

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 PM

September 9, 2010

What Did We Do, Pre iPhone; Part II

I talked with an iPhone owner during a recent conference. While she was tapping away on email and a variety of apps, she mentioned "I don't know what I did before....".

Changing everything, including education.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:25 PM

August 24, 2010

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone?

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:10 PM

August 10, 2010

Matt Simmons, Author of "Twilight in the Desert" and Peak Oil Speaker, Dies at Age 67

Gail the Actuary:
In his view (and in ours, too), way too many people hear about the huge reported reserves of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, and assume that this oil is really available for extraction. Matt makes the point that these reserves, and many others around the world, have not been audited. In fact, they seem to be political numbers, so we cannot depend on them. He also points out that we also do not have detail data with respect to historical oil extraction from individual fields in the Middle East, so we really do not know how close to decline Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries really are.

In 2005, Matt Simmons wrote a book called Twilight in the Desert. In it, he summarized what he learned about Saudi Arabian oil production by reading 200 academic papers. He concluded from his analysis that the oil extraction techniques being used there were techniques that one might use if the fields were quite depleted. Because of this, he doubted that we should believe stories that Saudi oil production can be greatly expanded. Instead, he raised the possibility that in the not too distant future, Saudi oil production will suddenly decline. Matt's research underlying the book was no doubt behind his concern that oil reserves and oil production rates are not audited.

Another thing Matt is known for is his educational graphics about "what is really going on" with respect to oil extraction. For example, in his talk at the 2009 ASPO--USA conference, he shows this graphic of the amount of conventional oil discovered by decade.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

July 30, 2010

The GM $50,000,000,000 Taxpayer Bailout and The $41,000 Volt

Edward Niedermeyer:
By taking a loss on the first several years of Prius production, Toyota was able to hold its price steady, and then sell the gas-sippers in huge numbers when oil prices soared. Today a Prius costs roughly the same in inflation-adjusted dollars as those 1997 models did, and it has become the best-selling Toyota in the United States after the evergreen Camry and Corolla.

Instead of following Toyota’s model, G.M. decided to make the Volt more affordable by offering a $350-a-month lease over 36 months. But that offer allows only 12,000 miles per year, or about 33 miles per day. Assuming you charged your Volt every evening, giving you 40 miles of battery power, and wanted to keep below the mileage limit, you would rarely use its expensive range-extending gas engine. No wonder the Volt’s main competition, the Nissan Leaf, forgoes the additional combustion engine — and ends up costing $8,000 less as a result.

In the industry, some suspect that G.M. and the Obama administration decided against selling the Volt at a loss because they want the company to appear profitable before its long-awaited initial stock offering, which is likely to take place next month. For taxpayers, that approach might have made sense if the government planned on selling its entire 61 percent stake in G.M. But the administration has said it will sell only enough equity in the public offering to relinquish its controlling stake in G.M. Thus the government will remain exposed to the company’s (and the Volt’s) long-term fate.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:59 AM

July 4, 2010

The Energy Future

Ed Wallace:
The winter of 1979 in southern California reminded people why they had migrated to LA over the decades. The daytime temperatures were in the mid-70s, and the LA basin's summer smog had disappeared, revealing the snowcapped San Gabriel Mountains.

At Neonex Leisure that day, we were brainstorming the recreational vehicle of the future. At the time we built America's largest RV, the Arctic Sun, a combination van/pickup truck pulling a 55-foot-long 5th-wheel trailer. Now Neonex Canada had put our California division in charge of designing the company's next Class A Motorhome.

Each of the other five U.S. managers gave their impressions of the future of the recreational vehicle, disclosing visions of startling grandeur. I was more flippant: "I bet it's a Honda with a Coleman tent." Three months later the Second Energy Crisis hit. We shut down our RV plant in two days flat, and I was back in Texas in five.

My point is that, if you had asked every energy or automotive issues guru what the future would hold for automobiles just before the winter of 1978 - 79, the answer would have been completely different if you'd asked them the same thing just 12 months later. That's what an energy crisis can do.

My joke about a Honda with a Coleman tent was weirdly prophetic. But my fellow managers' visions of million-dollar motorhomes would also turn out to be spot on -- 20 years later.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 PM

Lunch with Luca Cordero di Montezemolo

Richard Milne:
Screaming down the home straight of Ferrari’s test track at 200kmph an hour in a classic red 458 Italia, I suddenly don’t feel like lunch. The Fiorano track near Bologna in central Italy is, at 3km, not long. But, partly in an attempt to impress the test driver next to me with some fast cornering, I feel as if I have left part of my stomach on one of its hairpin bends. Matters fail to improve as, in heavy fog untypical of early summer, I take the car off the track and, rather more slowly, on to the winding roads of the Apennines, heading for Ferrari HQ in nearby Maranello.

I am still spinning slightly when we pull into the car park just before the company’s elegant and aristocratic chairman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, who somewhat incongruously arrives in a small Fiat. He explains that his journey from Rome has been a nightmare as fog diverted his helicopter and forced him to take trains and cars – hence the Fiat. Nevertheless he appears in characteristically enthusiastic mood. “I’ve just been to a conference at the Vatican [on the financial crisis]. Fantastic,” he explains. “Fantastic” is a word Montezemolo uses a lot. Ferrari is “fantastic”, Italian food is “fantastic”, his new high-speed train company, NTV, is “fantastic”, as is the 458 Italia I have been driving.

On my way out he hands me a white postcard. “This is what I give to all new employees at Ferrari,” he says. Looking at it in a Ferrari 599 on the way back to Milan, it looks to me like the perfect credo for Montezemolo. It starts: “The real secret of success is enthusiasm. You can do anything if you have enthusiasm ... With it there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.”
Clusty Search: Luca Cordero di Montezemolo
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:28 AM

June 19, 2010

Holland Tunnel

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:22 PM

May 10, 2010

Brooklyn Bridge - Cold Evening

Clusty Search: Brooklyn Bridge.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 PM

April 16, 2010

The Two Stall Park Trick

Often seen with Porsche, Mercedes, Audi or BMW drivers. The first "Smart Car" driver I've seen using this technique. Perhaps dark humor?
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:08 AM

March 14, 2010

Panorama: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport website. Just in time for South by Southwest 2010.

Click to view the full screen panorama.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:14 PM

December 17, 2009

Global Supply Chain for Boeing's New 787: The DreamLifter in Action

With the recent first flight of Boeing's new 787, I thought it timely to post a photo from it's supply chain: a converted 747 freighter known as the "Dreamlifter" that flies parts from around the globe to Everett, Washington for final assembly.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:20 PM

September 27, 2009

The Truth About the TATA Nano

Sajeev Mehta:
hy is a soon-to-be success story gathering dust at TATA dealers across India? Much like the initial growing pains of the Ford Model T, the $2000 Nano currently lies on waiting list. Given the lopsided supply/demand and construction conflagrations with the government, I reckon enterprising Indians are flipping the Nanos living in parking lot limbo for profit. Still, my precious few moments sitting in somebody’s dusty Nano left me impressed. Not because it was a perfect machine: I saw automotive history in the making.

Rarely in America is a car designed around a vision: witness the overweight performance icons clawing for yesteryear’s glory, car based trucks and globally designed, badge engineered atrocities. Not with the TATA Nano: behold the homegrown hero.

The Nano is born from an undying need for affordable transportation in a country with a growing but repressed middle class. This group needs a family vehicle superior to tube frame rickshaws and 150cc motorcycles carrying four or more people. Yes, really: I saw a family of four riding a motorcycle through the congested, fast paced, life threatening streets of Bangalore. Make no mistake: a car at this price and size is the automotive embodiment of “If you Build It, They Will Come.”

It’s all about the lakhs; the Nano is designed around a price befitting the Indian working class. One look around the beast shows the good, bad and ugly of the situation.

Exterior fit and finish is respectable, until you spot the unfinished rear hatchback seams, hurriedly painted over. That stylish rear hatch is glued shut, so cargo is only accessible from the rear seat. And the list of price-conscious ideas doesn’t stop: three-lug wheels, single arm wiper blade and an adorable looking center exit exhaust.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:39 PM

September 13, 2009

The Ghost Fleet of the Recession

Simon Parry:

The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. Never before photographed, it is bigger than the U.S. and British navies combined but has no crew, no cargo and no destination - and is why your Christmas stocking may be on the light side this year.

The tropical waters that lap the jungle shores of southern Malaysia could not be described as a paradisical shimmering turquoise. They are more of a dark, soupy green. They also carry a suspicious smell. Not that this is of any concern to the lone Indian face that has just peeped anxiously down at me from the rusting deck of a towering container ship; he is more disturbed by the fact that I may be a pirate, which, right now, on top of everything else, is the last thing he needs.
His appearance, in a peaked cap and uniform, seems rather odd; an officer without a crew. But there is something slightly odder about the vast distance between my jolly boat and his lofty position, which I can't immediately put my finger on.
Then I have it - his 750ft-long merchant vessel is standing absurdly high in the water. The low waves don't even bother the lowest mark on its Plimsoll line. It's the same with all the ships parked here, and there are a lot of them. Close to 500. An armada of freighters with no cargo, no crew, and without a destination between them.

Posted by jimz at 7:51 PM

August 22, 2009

Sunrise: Fitchburg's New Pedestrian & Bicycle Bridge

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:34 PM

July 28, 2009

Airbus A380 in Oshkosh!

Dave Demerjian:
Of all the planes to touch down in Oshkosh this week, one towers above all others. That’s the Airbus A380.

We’ve written about the 380 before, and it’s tough to call a plane that’s already in service at three different airlines experimental, but today Airbus gave us – and the rest of the crowd here – something much cooler than your typical commercial jet landing. Flying in from Toulouse (via Milwaukee) under the command of test pilot Terry Lutz, the 380 did multiple flybys over the airfield, showing off for the thousands of assembled plane watchers before touching down at 3:15 local time.

As the plane rolled to a stop, it’s four engines still roaring, we couldn’t help but be awed all over again by its sheer size: 239 feet long, 79 feet high, with a wingspan of almost 80 269 feet and weighing in at 610,000 pounds. Seeing the plane in the company of so many other things with wings (some of them not so small themselves) puts those numbers in perspective. And while it might seem silly to call an aircraft the size of the A380 graceful, there’s no other way to describe the way it gently turned and banked as it circled the airfield before making its final approach. We’ve made it clear from the start that we love this plane, and today in Oshkosh we found a reason to love it a little bit more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:19 PM

June 17, 2009

Who Switched the Playbooks

Jack Perkowski:
When I was starting up in China, many experts cautioned me on what I would encounter. “It’s not a free market and there’s no rule of law, they told me. “The government controls the courts, the companies and the banks. Central planners in Beijing, not the marketplace, decide what goods to produce and which companies should produce them.”

“Decisions are made for political, not economic reasons,” they went on to explain. “The heads of China’s state-owned enterprises serve at the pleasure of the Party, the banks are told what loans to make, and making a profit is secondary to ensuring employment. That’s the reason why China’s banks are a mess and full of non-performing loans.”

Occasionally, I would push back, noting the economic progress that China had made since Deng Xiaoping opened the economy in 1978. “You don’t believe the government’s numbers, do you?” they would ask incredulously. “Everyone knows they’re manufactured to convey whatever message the government wants. And, when it comes to financial statements, forget it. Chinese companies have at least three sets of books, and you can’t believe any of them.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:17 AM

February 3, 2009

Bangle Bids Adieu

Robert Farago:
When it comes time to chart designer Chris Bangle's contribution to the BMW brand's aesthetic, few pundits will praise his pulchritudinous perversion of pistonhead passion, or thank him for the aesthetic affectations for which BMW is now known. In other words, the "Bangle Butt" will be Chris' lasting legacy. Of course, this is also the man who removed the words "flame surfacing" from art school and placed them on the tip of his detractors' tongues. That and Axis of White Power. (Oh! How we laughed!) Equally improbably, the Buckeye State native helped the expression "Dame Edna glasses" cross into the automotive lexicon. Yup. It's been a wild ride. Literally.
BMW design boss Chris Bangle is to leave the car industry, it was announced today. In a statement, BMW said Bangle was quitting 'to pursue his own design-related endeavors beyond the auto industry.'

Bangle, 52, was the architect of the often controversial flame surfacing look that transformed BMW design from the Russian doll mentality of the 1990s to the edgy – some would say radical and divisive – styling of today.

The cars Bangle spannered

The outgoing design chief has overseen the launch of the current 1-, 3-, 5- and 7-series saloons and hatchbacks, as well as the raft of niche models that have seen BMW's model range explode in recent years: the Z3, Z4, Z8, X3, X5, X6 and 6-series were all conceived on his watch.
Bangle grew up in Wausau, WI.

I give him a great deal of credit for dramatically changing what is often a very conservative business: car design.

Dan Neil has more.

Gavin Green has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:18 PM

November 25, 2008

Protesters Force Bangkok's Airport to Suspend Takeoffs

Anti-government demonstrators swarmed Bangkok's international airport late Tuesday -- halting departing flights -- as opponents and supporters of Thailand's government fought running battles in the streets of the city.

Minutes after outbound flights at Suvarnabhumi International Airport were suspended, hundreds of demonstrators -- some masked and armed with metal rods -- broke through police lines and spilled into the passenger terminal.

The road to Suvarnabhumi.

Thomas Fuller has more.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:53 AM

November 1, 2008

Quintessential Madison: Halloween 2008

An in-costume cyclist early Saturday morning. Madison, WI.

Another very Madison Halloween image, this time, an older couple:
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:31 PM

October 29, 2008

Flyover Country

Flyover Country; a sunrise view from Fitchburg.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:25 PM

September 1, 2008

Sunrise: Madison "Beltline" Highway

Posted by jez at 12:33 PM

August 6, 2008

Air Travel: 2008 - A Time When Standing Still Dominates

This is one of those moments when a camera in hand meets a scene waiting to be photographed: a beleaguered traveller resorting to solitaire on his PC while waiting for the promised next flight. The blue sky ignores the chaos below. Air travel is certainly, as a fellow passenger lamented, "not what it once was".

Posted by jez at 9:17 PM

July 15, 2008

Flight's 100 Greatest

Flight Global:

It is always a slightly nerve-racking moment for an editor to commission a reader’s poll. Quite simply, what happens if so few people participate that the exercise becomes a farce?

It very quickly became apparent that no such ignominy awaited the 100 Greatest exercise marking Flightglobal.com's print edition, Flight International’s centenary. Votes poured in for your choices in the fields of most influential Civil Aircraft, Military Aircraft, Person, Engine and Moment.

By the time the poll closed on 20 June, no fewer than 18,000 of you had voted – thank you for having taken the trouble to do so and making this a more than worthwhile exercise.

Space is always limited in any publication, so the temptation to write mini-articles on every entry in our list had to be resisted. To those of you whose favourite personality or piece of machinery does not receive the words you feel he, she or it derived, our apologies.

#1: Apollo 11 Moon Landing

#2: Boeing 747

#3: The Wright Brothers

Posted by jez at 3:49 PM

May 29, 2008

Why Rivals Don't Copy Southwest's Hedging

George Anders:

David Carter, an associate professor of finance at Oklahoma State, has an interesting perspective on why rivals haven't caught up to Southwest. Prof. Carter helped write a 2004 case study on Southwest's hedging that is taught in business schools. Although the study details how Southwest uses home-heating-oil futures and other instruments to make its hedges work, Prof. Carter says he has heard from only one other airline that seemed interested in putting that knowledge to work: the German carrier Lufthansa.

Other carriers may have opted for caution because it is psychologically hard to switch strategies when prices are moving against you, Prof. Carter says. Airlines that didn't hedge much when oil was at $25 or $40 a barrel might have felt uncomfortable launching a big hedging program when oil got above $60.

Frequent management shuffles at many airlines also might have made it harder for carriers other than Southwest to jump into hedging in a big way, Prof. Carter adds. A hedging blunder early in a CEO's tenure might overshadow whatever else that boss might be accomplishing.

Southwest's treasurer, Scott Topping, offers another possible explanation of why his airline has stayed ahead of the pack so long: Since the late 1990s, Southwest's hedging strategy has been set by two or three people, rather than by committee, making it easier to act decisively.

Posted by jez at 9:01 AM

May 21, 2008

A Scooter Rant

Peter DeLorenzo:

But I reserve particular ire for the burgeoning scooter movement that’s being written about on an alarmingly frequent basis in the media with every new report of another record price for a barrel of oil. Now, don’t get me wrong, because I have nothing against scooters. I like them, as a matter of fact. They can be fun, efficient and even cool in the right circumstances. But presenting scooters as a viable transportation option for the masses in this country is flat-out irresponsible.

Let me backup here for a second and repeat that sentence: “...can be fun, efficient and even cool in the right circumstances.” Guess what, folks - riding your Vespa down Woodward Avenue, Michigan Avenue or Fifth Avenue does not constitute “the right circumstances.” Americans clearly watched too many Italian movies from the 60s and became enamored with the whole "sweater tied around the neck/sunglasses on top of your head/voluptuous girl hanging on the back of the scooter" thing, and this latest gas frenzy has started to warp their thinking, big time.

Posted by jez at 8:57 PM

February 5, 2008

Riding That Train, A Long Commute

Sam Whiting:

At 6 on a Wednesday morning, Jim Bourgart is already 15 minutes into a 175-minute commute by foot, bus, train and foot again. From downtown San Francisco he'll catch an Amtrak motor coach to the Emeryville station, where he'll sit 20 minutes on a hard plastic bench waiting for the 6:40 to Sacramento.

He doesn't mind as long as he is moving. It is the lost sleep time in the waiting room that hurts. Since the Capitol Corridor runs both the bus and the train, you'd think it could tighten the time-cushion allowed for traffic that never appears on the eastbound bridge.

"I could use those extra 20 minutes, or even 10 or 5," says Bourgart, who starts his day with a 12-minute walk in the dark from his SoMa condo to the bus stop at the Market Street entrance to Bloomingdale's. "Every minute counts, especially in the morning."

The Capitol Corridor is a line made possible by the voters, who in 1990 approved Prop. 116 to provide state funding for intercity passenger rail service. Until 1998, there were only four trains each direction per day and the morning commute was essentially westbound only. Now there are 16 roundtrips. The State of California owns the rolling stock, Union Pacific owns the tracks, BART supplies administration, Amtrak staffs the trains and stations and a joint powers authority oversees it. The Capitol Corridor is like Caltrain with more layers of agencies.

Posted by jez at 12:00 AM

January 31, 2008

Technology's Unintended Consequences

Nick Carr:

As GPS transceivers become common accessories in cars, the benefits have been manifold. Millions of us have been relieved of the nuisance of getting lost or, even worse, the shame of having to ask a passerby for directions.

But, as with all popular technologies, those dashboard maps are having some unintended consequences. In many cases, the shortest route between two points turns out to run through once-quiet neighborhoods and formerly out-of-the-way hamlets.

Scores of villages have been overrun by cars and lorries whose drivers robotically follow the instructions dispensed by their satellite navigation systems. The International Herald Tribune reports that the parish council of Barrow Gurney has even requested, fruitlessly, that the town be erased from the maps used by the makers of navigation devices.

A research group in the Netherlands last month issued a study documenting the phenomenon and the resulting risk of accidents. It went so far as to say that GPS systems can turn drivers into “kid killers.”

Carr makes an excellent point. One has to add some common sense to navigation systems. I used a TomTom in Europe last year. I found it very helpful - mostly, however, when we decided to wander around. The navigation system would then provide a route back to the hotel (which I had added as a predefined point prior to our departure).

Posted by jez at 8:46 AM

January 23, 2008


Robb Coppinger:

Virgin Galactic has unveiled a SpaceShipTwo (SS2) design, created by Scaled Composites, that harks back to the NASA/USAF Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar glider of the 1960s, while Scaled's carrier aircraft, White Knight II (WK2) has been given a twin-fuselage configuration.

To be launched on a Lockheed Martin Titan III rocket, Dyna-Soar was for hypersonic flight research but the programme was cancelled before the first vehicle was completed. Some of its subsystems were used in later X-15 flight research and Dyna-Soar became a testbed for advanced technologies that contributed to projects, including the Space Shuttle.

Posted by jez at 12:08 PM

November 6, 2007

Georgia Plant is First for Making Ethanol from Waste

Kathleen Schalch:

for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing energy independence lies in cellulosic ethanol. That's ethanol that could be brewed from things like corn stalks, straw, wood chips — things we normally throw away.

Companies have been racing to find cost-effective ways to make this form of ethanol. A company called Range Fuels in Georgia is scheduled to break ground Tuesday on the world's first plant for making cellulosic ethanol.


Range Fuels website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:17 PM

October 19, 2007

On Air Travel: China vs the US

James Fallows:

Three weeks ago my wife and I flew China Eastern from Beijing to Shanghai and, thanks to traffic miracles on both ends and the absence of the usual Beijing departure hold, made it door-to-door in about four hours.

Today I flew US Airlines from Washington to Boston, a more-or-less comparable route, in just about the same door-to-door time. One difference: Beijing-Shanghai is more than half again as far (576 nautical miles, vs. 343). Another: often I've been loaded onto a 747 for the Chinese route, versus the Airbus 319 that is standard for US Air. But here's the general compare/contrast rundown:

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

October 12, 2007

American Airlines

Dave mentions his recent poor experience with American Airlines. I've had a number of those tight connections / run through the airport / arrive at gate / flight is closed / yet there is 5 or 10 minutes until departure time experiences.

However, I can recall two positive AA experiences:

  • Extremely poor cabin conditions:
    I arrived at my middle seat (9E) for a redeye West Coast to Chicago flight only to find that my left seatmate (9D) was very, very big and had the armrest up while occupying some a portion of my seat. The woman to my right in 9F had a cat under her legs....

    I wrote a letter to AA's CEO (Bob Crandall) and they promptly sent me my money back.
  • Years later I flew through AA's then hub in Nashville. My in bound flight was delayed and I faced a very tight connection to the last Dallas/Fort Worth plane of the evening. I stood up to depart my plane when my name was called. A bus drove me to the departing plane, just in time. That will probably never happen again.
I've also had many good experiences on United and Midwest Airlines. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:38 PM

September 15, 2007

A conversation with Ed Iacobucci about the reinvention of air travel

Jon Udell:

In Free Flight, the seminal book on the forthcoming reinvention of air travel, James Fallows tells a story about Bruce Holmes, who was then the manager of NASA’s general aviation program office. For years Holmes clocked his door-to-door travel times for commercial flights, and he found that for trips shorter than 500 miles, flying was no faster than driving. The hub-and-spoke air travel system is the root of the problem, and there’s no incremental fix. The solution is to augment it with a radically new system that works more like a peer-to-peer network.

Today Bruce Holmes works for DayJet, one of the companies at the forefront of a movement to invent and deliver that radically new system. Ed Iacobucci is DayJet’s co-founder, president, and CEO, and I’m delighted to have him join me for this week’s episode of Interviews with Innovators.

I first met Ed way back in 1991 when he came to BYTE to show us the first version of Citrix, which was the product he left IBM and founded his first company to create. As we discuss in this interview, the trip he made then — from Boca Raton, Florida to Peterborough, New Hampshire — was a typically grueling experience, and it would be no different today. A long car trip to a hub airport, a multi-hop flight, another long car trip from hub airport to destination.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:03 PM

September 6, 2007

First Look at Branson / Rutan's Space Terminal

Bruno Giussani:

Making private space travel possible and accessible to everyone has been a recurring topic at recent TED conferences, discussed by speakers such as Burt Rutan at TED 2006 (watch his speech), Peter Diamandis at TEDGLOBAL 2005, Richard Branson at TED 2007 and others. This week the first images of the central terminal and hangar facility at New Mexico's future private spaceport have been released.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 AM

First Look at Branson / Rutan's Space Terminal

Bruno Giussani:

Making private space travel possible and accessible to everyone has been a recurring topic at recent TED conferences, discussed by speakers such as Burt Rutan at TED 2006 (watch his speech), Peter Diamandis at TEDGLOBAL 2005, Richard Branson at TED 2007 and others. This week the first images of the central terminal and hangar facility at New Mexico's future private spaceport have been released.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:22 AM

August 6, 2007

Waiting for My Air Taxi

Jon Udell:

One powerful force that’s dispersing economic opportunity is of course the Interent. A decade ago there were a few lucky souls who could pull an income through a modem. Today there are lots more, and we’ve yet to see what may happen once high-bandwidth telepresence finally gets going.

But a second force for dispersion has yet to kick in at all. It is the Internetization of transportation — and specifically, of air travel. That’s where Esther Dyson comes in. She’s investing in several of the companies that are aiming to reinvent air travel in the ways described by James Fallows in his seminal book on this topic, Free Flight. In that vision of a possible future, a fleet of air taxis takes small groups of passengers directly from point to point, bypassing the dozen or so congested hubs and reactivating the thousands of small airports — some near big cities, many elsewhere.

There are two key technological enablers. First a new fleet of small planes that are lighter, faster, smarter, safer, and more fuel-efficient than the current fleet of general aviation craft with their decades-old designs.

The second enabler is the Internet’s ability to make demand visible, and to aggregate that demand. So, for example, I’m traveling today from Keene, NH to Aspen, CO. If there are a handful of fellow travelers wanting to go between those two endpoints — or between, say, 40-mile-radius circles surrounding them, which circles might contain several small airports — we’d use the Internet to rendezvous with one another and with an air taxi.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:31 PM

July 30, 2007

A Conversation with Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator

Bruce Schneier:

In April, Kip Hawley, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), invited me to Washington for a meeting. Despite some serious trepidation, I accepted. And it was a good meeting. Most of it was off the record, but he asked me how the TSA could overcome its negative image. I told him to be more transparent, and stop ducking the hard questions. He said that he wanted to do that. He did enjoy writing a guest blog post for Aviation Daily, but having a blog himself didn't work within the bureaucracy. What else could he do?

This interview, conducted in May and June via e-mail, was one of my suggestions.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 AM

July 19, 2007

AirTran's Presentation to the Midwest Airlines Board of Directors

Presentation via www.sec.gov.

Airliners.net extensive discussion.

The demise of Midwest into AirTran will be a dark day for travelers....

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:18 AM

July 13, 2007

Lufthansa Pondering an Economy Class Sleeping Area

Via Airliners.net:

To increase the travel comfort on intercontinental night flights, Lufthansa is thinking about a separate sleeping area within Economy Class. There, you would have the possibility to sleep in beds with an angle of 180� (Full Flat). This option could be booked instead of a seat.

In the future, when booking a night flight with Lufthansa from Johannesburg to Frankfurt, would you generally be interested in booking into the sleeping area instead of a seat in Economy Class?

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:33 AM

July 9, 2007

A Bidet at 40,000 Feet

Michael Mecham:

And Yamamoto may also earned the day's chuckle award for his quip about one of the innovations ANA brought to the 787's design. The airline teamed with Toto to create commercial aviation's first bidet. The subject brings some amused reactions from Boeing executives, but they've included it in their furnishings catalog.

"We will be the first airline to refresh the parts (of people) that other airlines cannot reach," said Yamamoto.

Much more on the new 787 here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:06 PM

June 1, 2007

Milwaukee's Briggs & Stratton Once Had the Lead in Hybrids

Dan Carney:

We are all seeing our personal mobility threatened by rising petroleum prices and dwindling resources. The fundamental appeal of electric cars is that they allow us to use energy sources other than petroleum on the road."

A quote from a major auto maker rolling out a new hybrid concept at a recent auto show?


In November 1979, Briggs & Stratton Corp., the Wauwatosa, Wis.-based maker of lawnmower engines, rolled out its sleek, futuristic plug-in hybrid-electric concept car with the very same motivations and goals as today's car makers. On Earth Day the following spring, the manufacturer hauled it to Washington, D.C. and demonstrated the car running on domestically produced ethanol.

Like today's Toyota Prius, the B&S Hybrid sported hump-backed styling for minimal aerodynamic drag. The forward-looking design was penned by the agency of famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens, who is credited with sketching the Willys Jeepster, Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide, Evinrude outboard boat motor and the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Fascinating story.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:23 AM

May 13, 2007

Recent Rental Cars: 2007 Mazda Miata

The rental car counter presented a simple choice for my "compact" reservation: Mazda Miata or Minivan. I put the top down and began my journey with an '07 Miata. Quick summary: better than I expected, particularly in the acceleration department, but..... uncertain handling at upper end highway speeds.

Decent seats, useful controls, easy to use convertible top and.... 27mpg after a mix of highway and suburban driving. Unfortunately, I've yet to see a rental car without an automatic transmission. A six speed manual Miata would have been much more interesting.

Much more on the Mazda Miata here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:05 AM

I-80: Inverse Traffic Therapy

I read with interest two recent posts regarding Madison's traffic congestion. I, too have a fleeting moment or two when I consider Madison's growing traffic congestion. It is difficult to use the words "Madison" together with "traffic congestion" after one has experienced the real, big city version. The photo above was taken recently while stuck in traffic on I-80. We're a long way from that. Regional growth certainly makes our transportation system a rather useful topic for discussion and action. My dream? TGV type train service connecting Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:44 AM

March 9, 2007

French Airbus Protest VR Scenes

Gilles Vidal posts some well done VR scenes from Toulouse.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

January 1, 2007


Posted by James Zellmer at 6:59 PM

October 24, 2006

Cisco's New Videoconferencing System

Sarah Jane Tribble:
One industry analyst described Cisco's system -- which the company calls ``telepresence'' -- as far superior to other video conferencing products, typically accessed or run over the Internet.

Chambers has touted the new technology as so lifelike that it could replace corporate travel, saying that Cisco will cut $100 million in expenses by reducing travel 20 percent in the next 12 months.

The system uses software the company created and runs on a network powered by the company's own routers and switches. The pictures are displayed on a 60-inch plasma screen with 1,080-pixel screen resolution, which is four times better than the standard television and two times better than a high-definition television.
The increaasing unpleasantness associated with air travel makes these products compelling - along with software only tools like Skype with video.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:10 AM

August 18, 2006

Two Wheelers

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:34 PM

August 1, 2006

Fixed Gear Bikes Illegal in Portland

Cory Doctorow:
An Oregon judge has ruled that fixed-gear bicycles -- which use the rider's leg-power to brake them -- are illegal, and must be outfitted with traditional lever/caliper brakes. The cyclist who was ticketed for the offense fought it in traffic court, and was represented by a pretty sharp attorney, judging from the partial transcript here. It seems obvious that "fixies" should be lawful, since they can satisfy the statutory requirement that bikes be "equipped with a brake that enables the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement. strong enough to skid tire." Nevertheless, the judge ruled against the cyclist -- I hope she appeals.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:17 AM

May 30, 2006

Emerging Airline Industry Trends 2006 - 2011

The Boyd Group [pdf]:
Airline Industry Trends Updat Presentation To Regional Airline Association May 24, 2006
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:59 AM

May 22, 2006

Hauptbahnof Berlin

Germany will next week open Europe's largest railway hub, a vast glass-and-steel station whose platforms offer panoramic views of the heart of reunited Berlin — from the historic Reichstag parliament building to the modern Federal Chancellery.

The German capital's 1.9-million-square-foot Hauptbahnhof, or main station, links the north and south of the once-divided city with its east and west for the first time.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:38 PM

May 10, 2006

A Day in the Life of US Air Traffic Control

NASA, via Edward Tufte.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:46 AM

May 7, 2006

Pull Over Harley, Looks like Honda's on Your Tail

Michael Taylor:
n fact, police in the United States have been using motorcycles since about 1912 when the nascent Harley-Davidson Co. started outfitting a few departments with them. The cycles turned out to be a godsend for traffic enforcement -- they could chase speeders through traffic, and they could get to the scene of an accident far faster than a patrol car. This basic principle still holds true.

For nearly 100 years, Harley has dominated the U.S. market -- the company said last year that its motorcycles "are presently in service with some 2,800 law enforcement agencies nationwide."

Now, however, Honda, the world's most successful maker of motorcycles, is testing the law enforcement waters here. Honda has the largest share of the U.S. civilian motorcycle market, with 26.9 percent of all new bikes sold in the United States, followed by Harley with 23.7 percent and then a handful of other manufacturers, according to figures for 2004 provided by the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:05 PM

March 28, 2006

Evacuating a 900+ Seat Airplane in 90 Seconds

Kieran Daly:
It's Sunday morning and as usual I'm wearing a numbered bib and doing agility tests in an aircraft hangar with 1,000 Germans I've never met before!

As you'll have guessed, the one thing we had in common is that we all thought it sounded interesting to be a volunteer in the first - and probably only - evacuation trial of the A380.

So here we are on a miserable, wet airfield in one of the biggest hangars in Europe at Airbus' Finkenwerder production facility next to the River Elbe.

I'm number 873, proud of it, and with a white bib numbered in black to prove it. We hand in everything in our possession which, though I don't realise it then, is going to make the next five hours pass very slowly indeed.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:13 AM

March 12, 2006

A380 Super-Jumbo Jet: 7 Minute Video of the 12 Month Assembly Process

I doubt that flying with 550 to 900 people packed into a large plane will be all that enjoyable. The plane, is nevertheless, being built and will fly late this year or early next. The brief assembly video clip is rather interesting.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:46 PM

February 6, 2006

ACC Shorts Crash

So why do we keep track (from time to time) of ACC? We like ACC because it's an example of good ole American homegrown ingenuity. ACC's aircraft are Shorts 330s and Shorts 360s, which were once commuter passenger aircraft. Shorts was once an independent aircraft manufacturer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, now no longer building aircraft but instead a parts-manufacturing division of Bombardier. The Shorts factory is at Belfast City Airport, which in recent years has taken an increasing share of traffic into that city (versus Belfast International).
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:42 PM

December 4, 2005

Automakers Lining Up for Aid

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Sholnn Freeman:

Troubled U.S. automakers and their allies on Capitol Hill are seeking billions of dollars in aid from the federal government ranging from health coverage for their workers to extra tax write-offs for themselves.

They're also asking for one rhetorical favor: Please don't call the requests a bailout.

I don't view it as a bailout," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said.

"We're not looking for a bailout," agreed William C. Ford Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Co.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:52 PM

October 11, 2005

Northern Opportunities

Fascinating article on plans to open polar shipping routes. Reminds me of 15th century opportunism:
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:58 PM

August 19, 2005

Germans make Madison presentation on sustainable environmental policies & transportation

Environmental leaders from Freiburg, Germany will give a presentation at the MATC Downtown Education Center from 7:30 to 9:30 am on Friday, August 26. Dr. Dieter Woerner, Director of Freiburg’s Environmental Department, will give a talk on sustainable environmental policy and Andreas Hildebrandt of Verkehrs-AG will discuss the regional transportation system. Freiburg has developed sustainable environmental policies including extensive use of solar energy, bike trails and mass transit, recycling and urban planning. In 1992, Freiburg was awarded the title “German Environmental Capital” in a nationwide competition.

More information about Freiburg and other German sustainable development efforts visit: http://madisonfreiburg.org/sustainablecity.htm, http://www.solarregion.freiburg.de, http://www.wi-ei.org/germanymission.pdf and http://www.greentierwi.info/green.html

This event is sponsored by the Madison-Freiburg Sister City Committee, Sustain Dane, UWEX/SHWEC, and MATC.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:38 PM

July 29, 2005

Fossett Goes Further

Steve Fossett and Richard Branson announced that the Virgin GlobalFlyer won't retire, but will attempt a 29,900 mile non-stop flight in February.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:26 PM

July 23, 2005

EAA Heats Up: B17 Buzzes Madison

Click on the photos for a larger view.

The EAA's AirVenture starts Monday. Looks like a fabulous show this year with Burt Rutan's White Knight/SpaceShipOne paying a visit. A rare WWII vintage B17 buzzed Madison this morning. I snapped these photos in a hurry. The cell tower fly by is an interesting reflection of today's world vis a vis 1940's technology. More on the B17.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:16 PM

May 1, 2005

My Drive from Los Angeles to LAX

My recent LA visit included the drive from downtown LA to LAX. I captured what I think is LA's essence in this photo essay: The 110 to the 105 to LAX. Screen saver or desktop background version of this photo (900K).
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:59 AM

March 15, 2005

BioDiesel Co-ops

Mark Baard:

Producers of a diesel alternative made from old vegetable oil want to build a network of stations to sell the fuel to motorists. But many find it tough to convince local regulators to approve their efforts. By Mark Baard

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 12, 2005

Wisconsin's Gateway Patrol Gets High Marks

Church of the Customer.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

February 8, 2005

Changing Planes at O'Hare: God Smiles on Me!

I've now experienced this sort of a very pleasant, unexpected airline experience twice.... in 15 years. Changing planes recently at O'hare, I literally jogged from one end of Terminal B to the far end of terminal F in 9 minutes, trying to catch an early flight to Madison. I arrived at the gate with 6 minutes to spare.

The gate attendant waved me through and I walked outside, toward the 50 seat jet. A member of the ground crew then told me that because the Canadair jet's doors had just closed, I had to return to the terminal. During this discussion, the Air Wisconsin (United Express) Pilot sent another ground crew member toward me to walk me to the plane. They opened the aircraft and I walked on board.....

Flying through O'Hare several times the past few months, I noticed that flights are far more reliable and predictable than one year ago. I emailed Kevin LaWare, Air Wisconsin's Vice President of Operations to thank him for this vast improvement in service.

LaWare is in a tough spot, working with a bankrupt major carrier (United Airlines). United is evidently shopping their regional services again (squeezing prices) - putting some more pressure on Appleton based regional carrier Air Wisconsin.

I'm impressed with their service and hope they continue to improve.

UPDATE: The Boyd Group takes apart a recent Wharton Study on the airline industry's problems.

Hot Flash - January 31, 2005

Misinformation. Bad Conclusions. Outright Errors & Idiotic Opinions.
More Reasons To Home-School Kids
Beyond The 12th Grade

Anybody catch the missive put out on the airline industry last week from the Wharton School of Business?

It got great press circulation, which is quite unfortunate for Wharton. If the date was April 1st, we might have an explanation as to why the document was issued. But short of that, all we can say is that higher education in America apparently isn't what it used to be.

The Article, "Why Most Airlines Are Caught In A Tailspin" should have been titled, "Why Are People Paying To Get An Education From This Place?" (If you have the stomach, a link to the article is provided below.)

For those into wild conspiracy theories, it could be a terrorist plot. There's evidence that dozens of university professors have been abducted and forced to live trapped inside the hallowed walls of universities for so long that they've plumb lost all contact with the outside world, not to mention reality. The sinister result is that thousands of American students may be graduating each year without enough real-world skills to properly boil an egg, let alone enter the business environment.

Whatever the reason, it appears that in the rarified intellectual atmosphere of these supposed towers of higher learning, some professors are denied any real counter-input to some of the crackpot ideas they come up with. In their world, they have no competition - they print and say what they will, and if a student disagrees, it's F-city for the kid. This system has produced a whole genre of academics that are so far from reality that they'll need a visa to get back. And, referring to the terrorist plot concept, a lot of what they're teaching our young what can only be described as intellectual el toro doo-doo.

wharton1.JPG (57823 bytes)But, because of the "prestige" of the university, much of this sheer nonsense gets printed as fact. Not just funny opinions, but information that is so inaccurate as to cast doubt on whether some of these institutions aren't really just joking. This past week we were regaled by just such an article.

Again, this is from the Wharton Business School, no less. Not East Upchuck Community College. It's from the school that's just sooo highly rated in cranking out MBA grads in full metal jacket mode to save American business.

Rule One: Get The Grade. Don't Argue With The Prof. In the article, three learned Wharton faculty opined on what's wrong with airlines today, and what must be done to fix them. What they missed is that before one can promulgate solutions, it's always nice to get a grasp of the problem first. One can only hope that their students don't buy into this stuff.

All We Need Is Three. The professors have determined that since there are only three automakers left in America, well, then that's about the right number of airlines we should have, too. "This industry, like others, is an oligopoly," one professor noted. "How many domestic automakers do we have? Three. The airline industry should be like that."

Just three airlines is all we need. And, according to the profs, Southwest is the model. No discussion of the fundamental economic and structural differences between airline systems. No investigation of the reasons that Southwest was profitable last quarter. No, the sages have spoken - just three airlines is all we need. Just like the automobile industry. Come to think of it, when the conclusions from these guys are fully considered, maybe that rule should be applied to B-schools, too.

Don't Argue The Theory: Airline Bankruptcies Definitely Cause Other Bankruptcies. Forget readin' writin' & 'rithmatic, these guys are buried in the wonderful world of theory, often insulated from any taint of reality. In that regard, the Wharton Brain Trust concluded that if one airline goes bankrupt, it will "cut prices" thereby causing non-bankrupt carriers to do so, with the result being that all carriers will be tossed into the murky depths of bankruptcy, too.

Wow, what a revelation. What great theory. What great textbook babble.

And in the real world, as proven over the past two years, it's a giant 55-gallon drum of hogwash.

Gee, it seems that these professors missed the story about United being in bankruptcy for over two years, and somehow their grand domino theory hasn't played out. To start with, they've missed the fact that United has not had any real control over industry pricing. That's because airline pricing involves a whole lot more than just costs at one airline, bankrupt or not. Too bad they don't know this. But the statement, "The government allows a carrier to dramatically cut costs in bankruptcy and then push others into the financial abyss"  has a nice, front-of-the-classroom ring to it. Even if it is total garbage.

Go ahead, students, be sure to remember this idiotic ooze during finals. Get the grade. Tell the prof what he or she wants to hear. Then after you graduate, ignore it, because it's nonsense.

Mired over their heads in academic quicksand, these professors are oblivious to the fact that bankruptcy isn't the only way that airline costs can be pared, union work rules changed, and operational systems made more effective. Too much involved in trying to prove theories instead of learning about the industry, they failed to note that while United wallowed in bankruptcy, other carriers, such as American, Continental, and Northwest, proceeded to get commensurate cost savings without filing Chapter 11. They latter two did so before going to their unions for concessions. If fuel had not jumped 40% in 2004, they likely would not have done so at all.

There goes the sacred textbook theory. It's a shame these guys haven't noticed what's gone on in the last three years. But, they're on a roll...

Chapter 11 As A Blood Sport. Then the Wharton trio danced into glittering generalities. "It's ludicrous to allow a company to go bankrupt repeatedly," one of these academic luminaries declared, implying that the number one O&D market for legacy carriers is to the local bankruptcy court. Here's a fact that their students likely know, but won't say for fear of getting an "F" in the course. Of major airlines, there have been very few "repeated bankruptcies" - Continental being the most obvious before the recent double-header at US Airways - and that was ten years ago.

Somebody Call AA's CEO - Quick. He's Been In Chapter 11 - And Didn't Know It. But having a working knowledge of the airline industry may not be a prerequisite for professorship at Wharton. One noted, "Continental and American, both of which restructured in bankruptcy, should be able to keep flying." Hello, Ivory Tower. Continental came out of bankruptcy a decade ago, which makes the challenges it faces now a non sequitur regarding how it restructured back then.

And American has never "restructured in bankruptcy" as these professors so confidently declared. Real world to the Wharton Brain Trust: You don't know that? Y'all should be pretty embarrassed spouting out stuff that proves you don't know what's going on in the industry. Do you really teach students this inaccurate drivel?

More Trendy Panaceas. The professors in the article worship Southwest, which is okay. But they kept implying that every airline should be like Southwest. "For instance, Southwest pioneered the concept of standardizing its fleet - using only Boeing 737s and thus saving on training and maintenance costs..."   It would be nice if they had any idea what a "737" is.  Or more correctly, what 737s are.The fact is that Southwest, until it retired its last 737-200 last week, actually had three types of aircraft. The -200s, the -300/500s, and the 737-700s. They look a lot alike, but there are fundamental differences in these three types.

What these guys - who, shockingly, are actually teaching our children - don't understand is that a "standardized" fleet has mission limitations. The 737 low-cost model can't deliver system passengers and revenue from Bangor or Beijing. If all airlines were like Southwest, or just two out of the three these clowns think are all that's necessary, over half of all US communities that now have scheduled air service would find themselves singing the blues.

News Flash, Professors. There's Something Called Alliances. These professors just kept on coming with statements that proved beyond doubt that maybe MBA degrees aren't all they're cracked up to be. Get this gem of wisdom: "I'm sure a foreign carrier would buy US Airways because it would like access to the US Airways network," one stated.

What we're sure of, professor, is that you need to get up to speed on what's going on in the airline industry. Hello, up there. US Airways is having trouble accessing the traffic on its own network. Oh, and by the way, have you ever heard of the Star Alliance? Well, we'll go slow so you can keep up. The Star Alliance is a system that already allows foreign carriers, like Lufthansa, to get access to the US Airways network. They don't need to buy US Airways to get access to that lucrative Elmira-Athens traffic. If you had a clue about the subject matter, you'd never have made such a moronic statement.

And, It's Those Union Rules, Too. No academic paper from the intellectual stratosphere is complete without a perfunctory attack on those nasty, bat-wielding labor unions. "For instance, legacy carriers are saddled with union rules that boosted salaries..."  Heck, let's not pop their bubble. We won't suggest that these guys take the elevator down to where 2+2 really equals four. They don't need to identify those "union rules" and whether they even exist in many cases after three years of concessionary contracts at carriers like American, United and others. Or how Continental and Northwest had success in paring operational costs before the recent spike in fuel costs, and how they did it before asking for any labor concessions.

We won't suggest they take a gander at the current maintenance contracts at Southwest and at, say, American. Or, the fact that some of Southwest's contracts could be a real challenge for the carrier going forward. No, we won't rain on their parade. Facts need to be set aside and made secondary to sacred theory. This is academia, right?

If you're interested in visiting intellectual fantasy land, click here to view the entire article.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:02 AM

January 25, 2005

Dave Zweifel on Madison's Rail Service

Dave Zweifel keeps the flame burning on Madison rail service. I do think it is time for a serious run at this, perhaps funded by an increase in the gas tax (money that currently funds roads). High speed rail that links Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago would be a wonderful public good AND help to improve the O'hare morass.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

December 14, 2004

Marquette Interchange Website

Today the Milwaukee Journal has a story about the state's no bid
website for the Marquette Interchange project. $685,000!!!!?

Posted by at 1:50 PM

November 28, 2004

More on Microjets

Sara Kehaulani Goo on Microjets or Very Light Jets (VLJ's) and the emerging air taxi system ($6/mile):

The fledgling industry is "going to be looked upon like the Wright brothers in 1903," said Ken Hespe, a spokesman for the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility, a nonprofit group that has been studying and developing new uses for the nation's tiniest airports and for small jets with NASA, which estimates a market for 8,300 microjets by 2010. "It's going to be a revolution in the transportation industry," Hespe said.

Analysts say microjets will appeal to a cross-section of customers including corporations, which might add planes to their fleets, and wealthy travelers who are looking for a less-expensive alternative to owning a jet. Since 2001, companies such as NetJets have grown by providing access to planes around the world for members who pay for fractional ownership of aircraft. Aviation experts say air taxis with all-microjet fleets could serve as an even more affordable version of the fractional ownership aircraft model.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 7, 2004

The Next "Big Thing" in Travel - Good News for Madison

Jay Palmer on the booming world of private jets; or why the emerging micro jet based air taxi services will improve Madison's transportation options:

It used to be that if you wanted to use a private jet, the only choice was to go out and buy one, and that's still the way that most of the 25,000 corporate aircraft in the U.S. are operated. Out-and-out ownership is still rising, but the biggest growth is coming elsewhere.

Aircraft charter activity, for instance, is booming. Todd Rome, president of Blue Star Jets, claims 350% annual growth in business since the company's founding in 2001. Other schemes are also taking shape, particularly the idea of small "air taxis" that you could simply summon to a local airport for a quick hop at a reasonable rate.

Don Burr, founder of the erstwhile air pioneer People Express, and former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall have joined ranks to set up such a service in Connecticut and southern New York state, with plans to eventually expand down the Eastern seaboard. Finance permitting, Pogo, as the company will be named, will start next spring using a new breed of four-passenger "micro jets," which are less expensive to manufacture and operate than traditional jets. Though a round-trip fare will be higher than a first-class commercial ticket, it will be far less than chartering a private jet.

But such deals remain small beer compared with the real action, which is in fractional ownership schemes -- a form of time sharing at 30,000 feet. NetJets, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is easily the world's biggest operator of business jets, with a fleet of than 535 planes, including some based in Europe and a small fleet in the Middle East. Its three big rivals are all owned by the major corporate jet builders, Bombardier's FlexJet, Raytheon's Flight Options and Textron's CitationShares.

Now, if we could only get wireless internet access at the Dane County Airport (it is nearly 2005, after all).

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:04 AM

November 4, 2004

Passing time at O'Hare

Walking from gate to gate at O'Hare recently, I observed two mischevious fellows (dudes?) using a string to tempt travellers with a $1 bill tied to a string - tied to their cell phone. They told me that during the past 45 minutes, 20 people chased the dollar bill...... click on the photo to view a larger version

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:54 PM

October 8, 2004

Spaceship One Photos

Alan Redecki just posted some gorgeous photos from SpaceShipOne's most recent flight. Somehow, I doubt that NASA tows its vehicles with a pickup truck. Classic.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:10 AM

September 22, 2004

Madison Air Travel Update

The US DOT's Air Travel Consumer Report (300K PDF) summarizes quality of services issues for national frequent flyers. The Dane County Regional Airport reported the following for July, 2004:

  • on time arrivals: 66.5%

  • on time departures 79.6%
In a related note, former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall discussed the industry's woes and announced his new air taxi service (Pogo) during a speech yesterday at the Wings Club.

I believe "Pogo" type services will be the rule, over time, particularily for short routes.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:25 PM

July 29, 2004

Portland Aiport Gets Free WiFi

Nigel Ballard of Personal Telco reports that Portland International Airport will have free Wi-Fi: Ballard told an audience at a meeting of the community wireless group this evening that the Port of Portland will turn on 25 access points by Oct. 1 to offer free service at gates and check-in areas. They're committed to covering the cost of operation for the first year, and then re-evaluating whether fees would be added. Ballard is part of the Portland Telecommunications Steering Committee, and an active community networker and commercial infrastructure builder....

The Dane County Regional Airport, unfortunately, plans to (finally!) add WiFi. However, it will be rather unfriendly - users will have to pay via credit card to use the service (Editors note: I wonder if the cost to administer the paid service will be covered by the small amount of revenue that DCRA WiFi will generate. The airport is just not that big and frankly, flight delays are likely the only time most people will sign up). Send a note to Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk if you'd like to see another approach. Albuquerque's Sunport also takes an enlightened position: WiFi is free to all. The DCRA position makes no sense.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:17 AM

July 15, 2004

TSA Flight Security Comments

Paul Saffo forwards comments from a senior carrier pilot on the airport security morass:

In consideration of the change in flight crew procedural response, armed pilots, air marshalls, and especially the reinforced flight deck door, there is no reason to screen passengers for anything other than explosives, and we do not have the effective means to do that. Screening for nail clippers, scissors, and any other portable implements including guns is meaningless
We in Madison are generally fortunate that the security lines at MSN are nothing like those at SFO, LAX, CVG, LGA (Friday night!) or other major airports.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:34 AM

July 1, 2004

Madison Air Service - Update

Mike Ivey nicely summarizes the current state of Madison Air Service. The Northwest Airlines request for Wisconsin subsidies is humorous - They've received extensive subsidies in Minnesota. Perhaps the Gopher state will subsidize Air Wisconsin and Midwest Air...

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:40 PM

Spaceship One Photos

Richard Seaman posted some beautiful photos of last week's historic spaceship one flight.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:04 AM

June 28, 2004

The Grim Drive Around Chicago

My father and I drove, rather started and stopped numerous times last week, as we attempted to navigate our way around Chicago. We slowed to a stop about 20 miles east of Illinois on I-90, routed around the stalled traffic on a combination of Indiania 912, US 41/12, the Chicago Skyway (also under construction), State Street, Lake Shore Drive, then finally back to 90.... I've never seen it worse than last Thursday. Larry Sandler discusses the gory details of driving around Chicago. Lake Express is an option....

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:36 PM

June 22, 2004

Free WiFi at Texas Highway Rest Areas

A smart idea:

To encourage drivers to take more frequent breaks, the Texas Department of Transportation wants to set up free wireless Internet access at rest stops and travel information centers.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:45 AM

May 31, 2004

The 70's/early 80's are back....

Without question, the 70's/early 80's are back. This car, an early 1980's Oldsmobile Cutlass, seen on a recent Saturday, morning confirms it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:55 PM

May 30, 2004

Madison Airport "Leaking Passengers"

I've written a bit about Madison's air service. Marv Balousek writes today about Madison "leaking" passengers to Milwaukee and Chicago. Leaking means passengers driving to other airports in an effort to obain lower fares. Airport Director Brad Livingston cited one example, Orlando:

115,142 people flew to Orlando, Fla., last year from the Dane County Airport's market area, just 59,024 or 51.3 percent flew from the Madison airport. Orlando was the airport's most popular destination.

This is not a big surprise. Visit to travelocity.com and search a number of city pairs from Madison to Orlando, Austin, San Francisco, Boise, Denver and other major markets.

In some cases, fares are attractive from Madison, others they are not. (Madison to Minneapolis is a great example): on June 2, 2004 a typical business roundtrip (fly up at 7:00a.m. and return around 6:00p.m.> Northwest has a nonstop fare of $403 plus taxes and fees. Interestingly, on the same day, Southwest flies from Dallas to Houston (a similar distance) for a roundtrip fare of $197.20 (planning ahead will save money).

There are a couple of reasons for this discrepency: Northwest has no competition on Madison-Minneapolis flights; while Southwest does from Dallas to Houston. There's also a philosophical difference between Northwest's business approach (charge the highest prices possible) and Southwest's (let's grow traffic by charging low, friendly fares).

Finally, the only time major airlines reduce fares and increase frequency is when they are faced with low fare competition.

Southwest is the only game changer for Madison...

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:37 AM

May 26, 2004

More on Madison's Air Service

Mike Ivey updates us on Madison's Air Service (and the possible entry of Southwest):

Livingston said Southwest Airlines has expressed some interest in coming into this market but said the low-cost carrier hasn't committed to anything. Southwest is one of the few airlines that has remained profitable despite the fallout from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the slow economy and soaring jet fuel prices.

"They aren't telling us much, only that Madison is one of 350 cities they are looking at," he said.

Southwest makes a great deal of sense for Madison, both from a cultural and service perspective.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:58 PM

May 20, 2004

Corporate Culture & Travel

I've written before about Madison's air travel challenges and opportunities.

I continue to believe that only the arrival of Southwest will truly change Madison's air transportation opportunities. The "Southwest Effect" is just what Madison needs: the average fare decreases and the number of passengers dramatically increases when Southwest enters a market.

I recently phoned Gary Kelly, Southwest's CFO to encourage them to fly to Madison. Southwest gets major points for having a real person answering the phone and playing good music while the call is being routed around the company.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:40 PM

May 19, 2004

More on Madison Air Service

Marv Balousek writes that Northwest may add some non stop flights from Madison (to destinations other than their fortress hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis):

Northwest's Jim Cron said the growing popularity of regional jets also could inspire a competitor to begin offering more nonstop flights from Madison. He said leisure destinations like Florida and Las Vegas might be the most successful.

Brad Livingston, Dane County Regional Airport director, said he plans to meet next month with airline scheduling officials, including Northwest, to talk about improving service to Madison. He said the number of Dane County Airport passengers rose 13.6 percent in April over March and is 6 percent higher this year than in 2003.

I would be very surprised if they did this. The only reason they've added non stop flights in Milwaukee is to kill off Midwest airlines. Like other major airlines, once the competition is gone, we're back to connecting via the fortress hubs.

On the other hand, this is possibly good news. However, the announcement smells like a request for local airline subsidies. I still think the best approach for MSN is to do everything possible to bring Southwest to town.

UPDATE: Northwest doesn't like Wisconsin's tax subsidies for Midwest Airlines and Air Wisconsin (I don't either). Keep in mind that NWA has benefited greatly from Minnesota subsidies.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:53 AM

May 11, 2004

Madison Air Service

There's been some media discussion recently about the state of Madison's Air Service, specifically, United Express (regional carrier for United Airlines). Many of United Express's flights are served by Appleton based Air Wisconsin.

I experienced these service issues firsthand this past winter. The random number generator that is United Express service between Chicago and Madison became so bad that I phoned J. Kevin LaWare, Air Wisconsin's Vice President of Operations. Service examples include

  • Incorrect Gate Information
  • Incorrect departure time information
  • Last minute cancellations ("weather")
  • Gate agents who were left in the dark as operations personnel moved planes and schedules around (leaving the flying public further in the dark and irritated)
I asked LaWare if their random number scheduler would continue to plague Madison passengers (and therefore I should not bother to purchase any tickets on United).

Surprisingly, he called me back several weeks later (February, I recall) and mentioned that

  • O'hare had become over utilized (again!). This makes sense. The number of large aircraft flights has likely gone down while regional jet service to and from O'Hare has exploded.
  • The FAA has allowed AA and UA to coordinate schedules to and from O'Hare, which should improve things.
I appreciated his call and can report that in fact service has become more reliable (I would say that schedule reliability is better. However, there is still room for improvement). You can periodically see how they are doing by viewing daily inbound and outbound (Chicago) flights.

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:22 AM

April 23, 2004

Albuquerque's Enlightened Airport

ABQ or Albuquerque's Sunport features free wireless internet access (WiFi). This enlightened approach makes it very easy for passengers and visitors to check email, surf the web or use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), things not possible at our local airport (MSN). I find it astonishing that a supposedly tech savvy area has non existant airport connectivity.

UPDATE: Sharyn Wisniewski in County Executive Falk's office left me a voice mail today that the Madison Airport will be accepting bids shortly for a paid WiFi service, to be installed this summer. Better than the current situation, I find Albuquerque's tech friendly approach to be superior (just works, vs digging out a credit card, signing up and going through the login process). The County should rethink this plan (we're not talking about much money - I would imagine that the administration of a 3rd party contract is more expensive than installing 5 DSL lines with wireless access points).

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:10 PM

April 11, 2004

Roanoke's O. Winston Link Museum

Virginia Postrel writes about the new 0. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia (Link recorded the waning years of steam locomotives)

The museum is in the former Norfolk and Western train station, which famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy redesigned in 1947. As Modernism's Victoria Pedersen writes: "He completely transformed the 1905 neoclassical station, adding 22-foot ceilings, marble walls, terrazzo floors, a futuristic wall of horizontal windows and a dome. He also designed a concorse leading to the train platform that featured the first passenger escalators in the Roanoke Valley, cutting-edge technology for the period." The new station was the epitome of streamlined modernism. But what that meant in the Virginia of a half century ago is spelled out in the letters above the door in these photos from the Library of Congress collection, the first of which Modernism reprinted

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:21 AM

April 7, 2004

New Madison Air Service: Liberal Air!

David Brooks pens a too funny look at the proposed Liberal Air and it's counterpart Right Wing Express. The faculty seating arrangements are too funny....

On a more serious note, I recently received an email from County Executive Kathleen Falk regarding non stop air service to and from our local airport. She also attached a note from Brad Livingston, our airport director regarding their current initiatives (non-stop service to and from Atlanta along with potential incentives to increase service).

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 AM

March 31, 2004

Jet Packs, Flying Cars; How will we get around in the Future?

Duncan Walker of the BBC writes:

The prospect of a revolution in air travel has been raised by Nasa's successful test of a 5,000mph plane. But are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport?

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:20 AM