Reform

The UK’s recent political calamities make it look like we have a long-run soap opera rather than an example of effective governance. There are examples of good governance. Look at the role played by select committees in holding decision makers to account. That’s a rare example. One reason for the last six years of turmoil is that stultifying lack of innovation and blockheaded belief in MPs superiority. Gradually, Parliament has become disconnected from everyday life. It mimics a theatre of the absurd in its form and manners. 

Parliament will be relevant to people if it’s seen to work for people. Today, any claim that it works raises laughter and sullen looks.

So, I welcome Labour’s former Prime Minister proposing a rewiring of the UK Parliament. The House of Lords (HoLs) in its current form is “indefensible”. Naturally, the tabloid media uses the word “abolish” for its dramatic impact. Better to say that there’s a transformation to be undertaken to bring our democracy into the 21st century.

This is not as new as detractors might suggest. Here I sit not far from a rotten Borough[1] that returned two Members of Parliament at a time when cities like Manchester returned none. Gatton’s disfranchisement was agreed on 20 Feb. 1832. Yes, that’s 192 years ago but in terms of the evolution of the British constitution that isn’t that long ago.

The arguments against the current HoL should not be based on an attack against all its members. There are many who take their role extremely seriously and perform the scrutiny of Government bills with care and diligence. However, out of the large number of members many do little.

It’s the legitimacy and structure of the institution that are highly questionable in the 2020s. The form of the HoLs does not represent the country. It’s manner of working is stuck in pre-history. It’s a sign of reward for a tiny minority.

Both Canada and Australia have a Parliamentary system. Their second chambers are based on a more rational, democratic and effective structure. They provide regional representation as well as scrutiny.  A Senate of the UK makes sense to me.

It’s well overdue that the “Mother of Parliaments” stepped into the world we all inhabit.


[1] https://historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/constituencies/gatton

Pet Peeves

We all have annoyances that set off a cringe. Some of these are individual and some are widely held. A 19th century term sums up these irritations. We can group them together and call them “pet peeves[1]”.

Adding ingredients can make a better bake. It’s the right ingredients, and the right proportions that make the bake work. If words are the ingredients there are some phrases that taste bad regardless.

In German the habit is to composite words. To take two ingredients and add them up to make something new. I think “Fernsehen” for Television is a wonderful example. But here both German and English do the same thing.

Adding words together to convey an idea or emphasis can backfire in producing ambiguous baloney and irritation.

One of my recent pet peeves is the overuse of “laser like focus.” It’s meaningless even though it tries to say that a person focus is heightened in some way. It’s a politician’s favourite.

Back to ingredients. It’s like, instead of saying: it’s a carrot, say it’s a carroty carrot. So, let’s keep one’s eye on the ball and make a mental note of the need for complete and utter focus. Excluding everything else is not only dangerous, but also a deception.

There’s a pollical combination of words that makes me cringe every time I hear it echoed. The two words are “world-beating.” It’s trying to capture the notion of unparalleled superiority. Putting an achievement, policy, or idea beyond comparison, which is clearly nonsense.

Another pet peeves, that’s come up this week is “technology agnostic.” I know what it means but it’s like taking vagueness and making it vaguer.

As the word get ever more complex so words like “sociotechnical” pop-up. In fact, lots of words get composited with tech or techno or technical. Some make sense and other are pure baloney.

There’s “tech enabled” where a thing is boosted by new technology. That’s not so bad. This then means there are such things as “enabling technologies” which is a leap of faith. Point being that all new technology can be enabling something or other.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/why-do-we-have-pet-peeves

Tramline

The time for change is now. It’s not much more than a year before a UK General Election. Sadly, we are seeing only reactive thinking from the two largest British political parties. Both bounce off each other like a game of ping pong. There’s a conversation going on across the country about the need for change, but the Conservatives and Labour Party are stuck on a tram line.

“It’s the economy, stupid.[1]” I remember reading James Carville’s book about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. It’s about the great political motivator of how people feel about the amount of money they have in their pockets. Probably shouldn’t put it like that anymore since we tap every purchase with a card and local bank branches are closing. Cash is no longer king.

As an example of the terrible economic damage that Brexit is doing, we need only look at trade figures between the UK and Germany[2]. There’s been a huge fall in trade between the UK and Germany during the first period of the post-Brexit trading relationship. So far, the impact of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has been negative.

Knowing the facts, the Conservatives and Labour Party still parrot the nonsense that they know how to make Brexit work. It’s a peculiar dance around an economic corpse. Where both political parties point fingers at each other for ruining the dance.

Except for trade specialists, the British media are being inarticulate about the failings of Brexit. It’s as if there’s a distinct fear of being called out and ostracised. Many of those who should be speaking out are sitting on their hands. Maybe this is the dull precursor to change since we don’t know what the public mood will be in a year’s time.

Brexit does not negate the facts of geographic proximity, globalisation and decades of close economic partnership. Close European links will continue and need to be nurtured. Politicians who have wilfully attempted to destroy the bridges built between the UK and the EU belong to the past.

A Government that continues to endanger more than just back pockets and living standards shouldn’t win another term of office – should they? Will people vote for candidates who plan to improve our dismal economic outlook? Those who will tell the truth about Brexit. Today, neither the Conservatives nor Labour Party are telling the truth.

POST: What can we know about the cost of Brexit so far? | Centre for European Reform (cer.eu)


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_the_economy,_stupid

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/56347096

To see

It’s the most difficult of challenges. Trying to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be. I came to that conclusion much because of my work on aviation safety management. Collecting data, doing analysis, and trying to distil what’s important and what’s not.

Data speaks. It tells you things about what has happened in the past. That gives a clue to what might happen in the future. Although, estimates and forecasts are derided by some people they are essential in a technocratic society like ours. Results can be inconvenient and embarrassing. Not paying heed to them can compound any difficulties a thousand-fold.

It’s not sane to use complex technology without doing some projections into the future as to its possible implications. I know there’s a contradiction in that we have adopted digital interconnections without a great deal of thought as to what can happen. That proved to be a very bad move in at least one fictional depiction of the future[1]. The possibility that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could move against our general interests is real.

That aside, my general point was on the more unemotional and objective view that can be taken of evidence gathered for a purpose. Taking that and then imposing dogma and prejudice on what has been learnt can be down right dangerous.

I found a backup for this view coming from British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He provided advice when he was interviewed in 1959 by John Freeman for the BBC’s Face to Face programme[2]. The great man came up with this message to future generations a year before I was born. Russell having been born in 1872 had seen so much change in his life he was well placed to conclude as he did.

Good advice “ask yourself only what are the facts” and what they show. He’s not saying we must be automatons. Judgements must still be made in relation to the facts. There will always be an ethical dimension to those judgments. There are most often multiple choices.

Russell foresaw more societal interconnection and interdependency but left us before the world wide web took-off. In social media venues like Facebook and Twitter tolerance and care for the facts are often found to be lacking. This does have a profound impact on political thinking. It gives legitimacy to complete folly. Dare I bring up the subject of Brexit?

My advice – Try to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be.


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407362/

[2] https://youtu.be/ihaB8AFOhZo

Air Safety List 2

It may seem obvious that there should be an Air Safety List that bans airlines that do not sufficiently met international standards. It’s a right that exists within the Chicago Convention[1]. The first words of the convention concern sovereignty. Every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over their airspace. From the first days of flight the potential use of aircraft to wage war was recognised. Thus, it could be said that the first article of the Chicago Convention existed even before it was written down and agreed.

However, it’s similarly recognised that the future development of international civil aviation has always depended upon agreements between States. Without over-flight and permission to land in another country there is no international civil aviation.

I do remember some agonising over having an explicit list of banned countries and airlines. In a liberal democracy choice is greatly valued. Here the choice concerns passengers being permitted to board aircraft from another country where there is knowledge of safety deficiencies related to the operation of the aircraft of that country. Should the law make that choice for the air traveller, or should the air traveller be free to make an informed choice?

There lies the crux of the matter. How do ordinary citizens, without aviation safety expertise make judgements concerning complex technical information? Understanding the implications of failing to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs)[2] is not so easy even for aviation experts.

Additionally, there is the issue of third-party risks. It would not be wise to permit foreign aircraft, whose safety is not sufficiently assured, to fly over a nation’s towns and cities.

Regulatory legislation was framed not only to put airlines on the Air Safety List but to take them off the list too. In fact, sometimes this is harder law to frame. In this case the decisions must be made in a fair, transparent, and technically rigorous manner otherwise the politics of such choices could overwhelm the whole process.

There’s been much success in this endeavour. It’s clear that this is a valuable aviation safety measure. It may have driven some contracting States to improve the performance of their airlines.


[1] https://www.icao.int/publications/Pages/doc7300.aspx

[2] https://www.icao.int/safety/CMAForum/Pages/default.aspx

Air Safety List

A long time ago in a far away place. Well, that’s how it seems, and it was more than 17 years ago.

A flight ban was placed on Turkish airline Onur Air back in 2005. At that time, I was in my first full year in Cologne, Germany building up the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). We were well on the road managing the handover of responsibilities from activities of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) to EASA. However, the European legislation that empowered EASA was in a first and most basic version. This was planned to be so because taking on aircraft certification work was a big enough task to start the new Agency.

The JAA had coordinated an aircraft ramp inspection programme and maintained a centralised database for its members. This was where a member state would inspect an aircraft arriving from a third country to ensure that international rules were fully met. The SAFA programme was launched by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) in 1996. SAFA standing for Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft.

Onur Air failed such inspections, and the Dutch government imposed a flight ban[1]. Similar bans were imposed by Germany, Switzerland, and France. However, if my reflections are correct the airline moved operations to Beligum where there was no ban. As you might imagine this caused concern amongst EU Member States. Where everyone had agreed to cooperate on aviation safety matters there seemed to be a degree of incoherence.

Long before the first EASA Basic Regulation, which by the way, didn’t address this subject, there was Regulation 3922/91[2]. I remember a hastily convened committee composed of representatives of the Member States and chaired by the European Commission (EC). The “3922[3]” committee hadn’t sat for years but then it sprung into action in response to the lack of a consistent approach to airline safety bans across Europe. I was there representing EASA.

So, the EU Air Safety List was born and the associated legislation[4] to support it. Even though the UK has left the EU, and left EASA this safety list remains the basis of the UK’s own Air Safety List[5]. Adding and removing air carriers and States that fail to meet internationally agreed safety standards is work that no one State should do alone.

[For safety’s sake, this should not be one of the parts of adopted EU legislation the UK Parliament wants to sweep away with its planned new Brexit law].

POST: Current list The EU Air Safety List (europa.eu)


[1] https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/dutch-lift-ban-on-onur-air-38258/

[2] Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 of 16 December 1991 on the harmonization of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ%3AL%3A1991%3A373%3A0004%3A0008%3AEN%3APDF

[4] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32005R2111&rid=6

[5] https://www.caa.co.uk/commercial-industry/airlines/licensing/requirements-and-guidance/third-country-operator-certificates/

Bird Strike 2

What makes a bird strike different is that it’s an unpredictable collision. If we talk about aircraft collisions with terrain the outcome is predicable bad. All that kinetic energy must go somewhere. So, a high-speed vehicle hitting something that is immovable is not going to end well.

Now, it must be said that some hunting birds can dive at incredible speeds. More typically, a large bird in flight between feeding sites isn’t going to be traveling fast. In fact, it may as well be viewed as a static object relative to an aircraft in flight. A bird in-flight is unlikely to be able to take avoiding action. For a pilot the action of “see and avoid” may work in respect of other aircraft but a bird ahead is no more than a pinprick in the sky.

These factors make aircraft bird strikes inevitable. That said, the range of outcome because of impacts are rarely at the severe end of the scale. One reason for this is the effort made at design certification to ensure an aircraft is sufficiently robust. Damage can occur but if the aircraft design and test processes have been rigorous everyone should get home safely.

I remember paying particular attention to the zonal analysis done by several major manufacturers. In my experience the most difficult designs are for those of business jets and large helicopters. One of the design challenges in both cases is the limited physical real estate within the aircraft structure. Weight is another big consideration. This leads to cramming essential avionics and electrical systems and their interconnections into confined spaces.

Zonal analysis is about ensuring there’s segregation between different systems. Afterall what’s the point of having two Attitude & Heading Reference Systems (AHRSs)[1] and putting them next to each other in the nose cone of an aircraft. That’s not a good design strategy. One damaging impact must not take out two essential independent aircraft systems.

It’s just as important to ensure an aircraft’s wiring isn’t all bundled togther and taken through one connector. That may save money on electrical parts but it’s not going to work after being hit hard by a 5kg goose.

These issues will need particular care in the new electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that are on the drawing boards. Choosing a safe architecture, manufacturers must balance the use of creative design solutions, to produce a competitive product, with limited physical space.

A couple of key words in the certification requirements concern hazards that are anticipated. Bird Strike is hazardous and aircraft systems and equipment must “perform their intended function” should it occur. See EASA Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft, Subpart F[2].

POST: Good to see the bird strike criteria Joby’s airworthiness criteria: A blueprint for the nascent eVTOL industry – Vertical Mag


[1] https://helicoptermaintenancemagazine.com/article/layman%E2%80%99s-guide-attitude-heading-reference-systems-ahrs

[2] https://www.easa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/dfu/SC-VTOL-01.pdf

Bird Strikes

I watched two rather aloof Branta canadensis in our local park the other day. They seemed oblivious to all the other birds on the priory pond. I’d certainly describe these two birds as being well fed. Given their stature and size, they looked formidable. These resident North American visitors are not to be messed with and are only eclipsed by the Swans on Reigate’s pond.

This species of bird has adapted well to living in urban and suburban areas and are frequently found on lakes, ponds, and rivers. I used to see large flocks of them gather on the river Thames. That was only a couple of miles from London Heathrow.

Even though they are numerous in the UK these birds are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[1]). Today, the population numbers may be as high as 62,000 breeding pairs[2]. Although these birds have the capability to fly great distances they tend to hang around where there’s a reliable source of food. Bird populations are changing their behaviours as a result of climate change.

Geese fly in the typical V-formation which is called a “wedge” or skein. From time to time, I see them fly over my house at a few hundred feet as they move between local lakes and ponds. They are easy to spot and often noisy as they elegantly traverse the sky.

Birds and aircraft share the same airspace. This is not a beneficial relationship for either. Strikes occur around the world every day. In the history of aviation, there have been hundreds of aircraft accidents and more than 47 fatal aircraft accidents caused by bird strikes[3].

It must be said that most bird strikes cause little damage to aircraft but that is highly dependent upon the size of the unfortunate bird and their habits. The story can be very different when an impact is with a Canada goose. Their large size and tendency to fly in flocks can have a devastating impact. On 15 January 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 aircraft[4] ended up in Hudson River as the result of an encounter with such birds.

The risk of collision between birds and aircraft have always been part of aircraft operations. As a result, measures are taken to certify aircraft to be robust in the event of such collisions. Additionally, there’s a great deal of effort made at major airports to keep birds away from active runways.

Most of the bird threat to aviation safety exists when travelling at speed at relatively low altitudes. Bird strikes happen most often during take-off or landing. This makes me think that bird strikes are going to be a regular feature of the operations of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) / Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). The use of use highly automated aircraft may offer the opportunity to provide sophisticated bird avoidance features. However, so far, I’ve detected no talk of such features.

POST 1: A useful safety booklet Large Flocking Birds (skybrary.aero)

POST 2: A recent Boeing 737-800 serious incident LinkedIn

POST 3: An example of what can happen from 2019 Ural Airlines Flight 178 – Wikipedia

POST 4: Another useful safety booklet Bird strike, a European risk with local specificities, Edition 1 – Germany | SKYbrary Aviation Safety


[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69

[2] https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/waterfowl/canada-goose

[3] https://www.skybrary.aero/sites/default/files/bookshelf/615.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

House of the past

Legacy. So, many of our problems are because we carry the millstone of the worst of the past. It would be nice if the best of the past guided us forward but that’s not the English way.

In 1990, we were treated to a television feast. A wonderful political thriller that echoes down the years. House of Cards[1] reflected and exaggerated the twists and turns of life in a fictional Westminster. It was the post Thatcher era. Surrounding succession, intrigue, and dastardly goings on filled the corridors of power and Parliament.

One of those sayings that keeps bouncing back in respect of politics is: “under a tall tree nothing grows” and variations on that theme. In essence it can mean that the aftereffects of having had a powerful leader, or a period of unchallenged power is inevitably a desert of ideas and imagination.

Ian Richardson’s portrayal of Francis Urquhart is masterful. House of Cards depicts the scrabbling for power, for the sake of power that consumes British politics from time to time. It shows how the greedy, incompetent, and foolish can be manipulated by a clever person with devilish intent.

32 years on it is surprising, although it shouldn’t be, how much of the series resonates with the political turbulence of 2022. The 1990s were different times. No social media. An infant digital world as mobile phones were just starting to impact daily life. That said, untrammelled ambition adapts to whatever technology is available.

What’s missing this year is any British politician that can be said to be charismatic. We are blighted by a cohort of dreary managers, automatons, and greasy pole climbing jobs worths. This adds to the reason that we need a General Election. Not for more turbulence and squabbling but for a clear out and to bring in new thinking.

What might happen on the other hand is that those who still have the potential to thrive outside Westminster will jump ship rather than suffer defeat. That means the good and the bad. Case in point being the former pensions secretary Chloe Smith Conservative MP for Norwich North, who will be standing down.

The shadow of the Thatcher era haunts the Parliament. It’s about time to open the curtains and let in the light in. There’s a stale mist hanging over the House of Commons. The remaining Eurosceptic vampires need to be consigned to the vaults.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0082dzs

Migration

Should we dismiss Sunak’s and Starmer’s recent statements as political posturing as they look towards the next UK General Election (GE)? There’s an effort to stand on a tight rope or draw nil – nil. Both by softening attitudes towards the European Union (EU) but at the same time throwing the occasional policy red meat to the entrenched Tory and Labour Eurosceptics.

It’s a strange game of chicken? Both major British political parties are fractured by Brexit. Both would wish to see that fracture grow in the other.To date the bigger fracture is in the Tory party. That should not be a surprise given the large number of UKIP and Brexit Party supporters it has integrated into its core. Old fashioned “one nation” Tories must feel lonely indeed. Then again, former Corbyn supporting Labour socialists must feel an equal loneliness.

It’s like, it can be said that all new cars look the same. The migration towards one political formula, that is believed to be mainstream, even if it isn’t, has become irresistible by Sunak and Starmer. It’s a 180-degree change in political strategy, putting the Truss debacle behind them both blue and red now want to occupy the same political space.

There’s no doubt we all want a more prosperous society. It’s how to get there given the perceived political constraints that becomes a great barrier. The power to make changes rests with businesses, industry, and those in political office. This week the CBI’s membership has invited both blue and red to make their pitch[1]. Two days of high-profile speeches are taking place in Birmingham. Both parties are aiming low.

Listening to Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy there’s little to choose between Labour and the Tories. Against freedom of movement. Both pandering to their Eurosceptics. Both peddling policies that look like variations on a theme. Playing as if the stands are empty. As if no one is watching.

Today, indications are that there will be a large anti-Tory vote at the next GE. They deserve to loose. However, if between now and then both blue and red make themselves look the same to the electorate, the winning gap may be smaller than expected.

There’s a crucial role for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to offer a real choice of real change.


[1] https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/cbi-annual-conference-2022-watch-the-keynote-speeches-live/