Objects falling from the sky

In so far as I know, no person on the ground has been killed by an object falling from a commercial aircraft in flight. I’m happy to be corrected if that situation has changed. Strangely, in contrast there are plenty of reports of people falling from aircraft and being killed as a result[1]. Additionally, there are cases of parts shed by aircraft that subsequently contribute to an aircraft accident[2].

The most frequent reports of falling objects, in and around airports are not parts of an aircraft but that which is in the atmosphere all the time. Namely, ice. When it hits the ground in the form of a hailstorm it can be damaging. In flight, it can be seriously damaging to an aircraft.

What I’m writing about here are the third-party risks. That’s when an innocent individual finds themselves the target of an improbable event, some might call an act of God. Ice falls are rare. However, given the volume of worldwide air traffic there’s enough of them to be alert to the problem. As soon as ice accretes to create lumps bigger than a kilo there’s a real danger.

Can ice falls be prevented? Here again there’s no doubt some are because of poor maintenance or other preventable factors, but others are just nature doing its thing. Regulators are always keen to collect data on the phenomena[3]. It’s something that goes on in the background and where the resources allow there can even be follow-up investigations.

Near misses do make the newspaper headlines. The dramatic nature of the events, however rare, can be like a line from a horror movie[4]. Other cases are more a human-interest story than representing a great risk to those on the ground[5].

It’s worth noting that falling objects can be quite different from what they are first reported to be. That can be said about rare events in general.

I remember being told of one case where a sharp metal object fell into a homeowner’s garden. Not nice at all. The immediate reaction was to conclude it came from an aircraft flying overhead. Speculation then started a new story, and the fear of objects falling from aircraft was intensified.

Subsequently, an investigation found that this metal object had more humble terrestrial origins. In a nearby industrial estate a grinding wheel had shattered at highspeed sending debris flying into the air. Parts of which landed in the garden of the unfortunate near-by resident.

One lesson from this tale is that things may not always be as they first seem. Certainly, with falling objects, it’s as well to do an investigation before blaming an aircraft.  

POST 1: There’s a threat outside the atmosphere too. The space industries are ever busier. That old saying about “what goes up, must come down” is true of rockets and space junk. More a hazard to those on the ground, there is still the extreamly unlikly chance of an in-flight aircraft getting hit Unnecessary risks created by uncontrolled rocket reentries | Nature Astronomy

POST 2: EASA Safety Information Bulletin Operations SIB No.: 2022-07 Issued: 28 July 2022, Subject: Re-Entry into Earth’s Atmosphere of Space Debris of Rocket Long March 5B (CZ-5B). This SIB is issued to raise awareness on the expected re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere of the large space object.


[1] https://nypost.com/2019/07/03/man-nearly-killed-by-frozen-body-that-fell-from-plane-is-too-traumatized-to-go-home/

[2] http://concordesst.com/accident/englishreport/12.html

[3] https://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/Make-a-report-or-complaint/Ice-falls/

[4] https://metro.co.uk/2017/02/16/10kg-block-of-ice-falls-from-plane-and-smashes-through-mans-garage-roof-6453658/

[5] https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/national-ice-block-falls-aircraft-and-smashes-familys-garden-1078494

He’s still in post!

How to reflect on the week’s national news? A tumultuous flurry of activity reached a peak not often seen. Mass media speculation saturated the bandwidth available. A collapse of support was expected but sequence of events was anything but certain.

Just for fun I’ll start with a metaphor. It was like a series of steppingstones to cross a turbulent and toxic river. Once the political will had been assembled to cross the river the course of events kicked off. Such a moment is difficult to define even if the outward signs were the first big Ministerial resignations. It took a couple of big beasts to take the risk on making the first steps.

The illusive steppingstones shimmered in the media spotlight. Some provided a workable path to the destination. Others appeared and disappeared as opinions were as plentiful as stars in the galaxy. At any moment the turbulent and toxic river could have consumed the whole enterprise.

In the end, step by step, “clownfall” happened. It’s a nice composite word that sums up the fall of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At least it’s a break from the series of this “gate” or that “gate” sagas that were coined.

Going back to my metaphor, after all the stormy kerfuffle a lectern was erected outside Number 10 Downing Street. It’s as if a pontoon had been erected in the middle of the river. The PM nonchalantly breezed out of the imposing black door of Number 10. He then proceeded to pontificate about his great achievements and only grudgingly admitted that he had to go.

It might normally be expected that the moment had come to leave. Walking down Downing Street to pass through the gates, wave to the crowd and not return, unless invited. In a normal situation this would be the moment that the person designated as a deputy would take over and manage a transition period. That a line would be drawn, and the business of Government would continue under a temporary management. Not so.

We now have the bizarre and dangerous situation where a discredited man continues to hold the post of British Prime Minister. It’s as strange as it gets. Everyone knows that he is a lame duck leader holding up a lame duck Government. It’s barmy.

NOTE 1: Monday 18th July, Conservative MPs voted to keep the zombie Government in power. With not one Conservative MP breaking ranks to vote against Boris Johnson. Yet, all the candidates to replace him say they would never have him in their Government.

NOTE 2: Boris Johnson’s ‘disgraceful’ plan for 30 new peers | News | The Times

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn: Boris Johnson poised to go ahead with resignation honours list | Boris Johnson | The Guardian

Social media and aviation safety. Part 2.

Reports of aviation accidents and incidents and occurrence reports vary greatly in quantity and quality. Improvements have been made, as legislation has demanded basic data be recorded and retained.

Nevertheless, the one-line narrative is still with us. These reports are frustrating for safety analysts. If a bland statement about an aviation occurrence is received a couple of weeks after an event it can be almost impossible to classify. The good that social media can do is to supplement official information.

In most cases, mobile phone video taken by a passenger or onlooker can be checked for veracity. It needs to have the characteristics that confirm that it was taken at the time and place of the event it depicts. Photographs often have location, picture size, resolution, and device information.

It’s as well to recognise that this work can’t be taken for granted. There is work for aviation safety analysts to do verifying information. Images can be edited by effects that create an exagerated sense of drama.

Image copywrite does have to be considered. Professional photographers make it clear that their work is protected. This is often stamped on the material in some manner.

Impromptu videoing of an aviation incident, that may involve the person taking the video changes its status once its launched on social media. At least that is my understanding of the legal paperwork that few people ever read, namely the common clauses of End-User License Agreements. 

So, advice might be, to try to avoid copyright infringement it’s always a good idea to credit the source of the material used. Using copyed material in good faith is no defence for ignoring ownership.

The pursuit of aviation safety can be argued to be the pursuit of the greater public good. Unfortunately, the lawyers of some newsgathering organisations will not give the time of day to anyone who argues that they are in pursuit of the greater good.

Suprisingly, the subject of who is a press reporter or newsgathering organisation is vague in a lot of national legal frameworks. Protecting free speech is a strong case for not drawing too many boundaries but a complete free for all has a downside as “truth” goes out the window.

On another subject, privacy is a sticky one. Where people are identifiable in randomly taken pcitures or video of accidents and incidents there is currently no protection.

Again, there are questions to be answered in relation to use of social media derived safety information.

NOTE:

Example: Dramatic footage shows firefighters tackling fire on British Airways passenger plane at Copenhagen airport. [Dailymotion embeded video].

An Online Safety Bill in the UK will shake up the regulation of material on-line even if its not designed to address the issue raised in my blog. Online Safety Bill: factsheet – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Social media is changing aviation safety

You may ask, how do I sustain that statement? Well, it’s not so difficult. My perspective that of one who spent years, decades in-fact, digging through accident, incident, and occurrence reports, following them up and trying to make sense of the direction aviation safety was taking.

In the 1990s, the growth of digital technology was seen as a huge boon that would help safety professionals in every way. It was difficult to see a downside. Really comprehensive databases, search capabilities and computational tools made generating safety analysis reports much faster and simpler. Getting better information to key decision-makers surely contributed to an improvement in global aviation safety. It started the ball rolling on a move to a more performance-based form of safety regulation. That ball continues to roll slowly forward but the subject has proved to be not without difficulties.

Digging through paper-based reports, that overfilled in-trays, no longer stresses-out technical specialist quite the same as it did. Answers are more accessible and can reflect the real world of daily aircraft operations. Well, that is the theory, at least. As is often the case with an expansion of a technical capability, this can lead to more questions and higher demands for accuracy, coverage, and veracity. It’s a dynamic situation.

Where data becomes public, media attention is always drawn to passenger aircraft accidents and incidents. The first questions are always about what and where it happened. A descriptive narrative. Not long after those questions comes: how and why it happened. The speed at which questions arise often depends on the severity of the event. Unlike road traffic accidents, fatal aviation accidents always command newsprint column inches, airtime, and internet flurries.

Anyone trying to answer such urgent public questions will look for context. Even in the heat of the hottest moments, perspective matters. This is because, thankfully, fatal aviation accidents remain rare. When rare events occur, there can be a reasonable unfamiliarity with their characteristic and implications. We know that knee-jerk reactions can create havoc and often not address real causes.

In the past, access to the safety data needed to construct a context was not immediately available to all commers. Yes, the media often has its “go-to” people that can provide a quick but reliable analysis, but they were few and far between.

This puts the finger on one of the biggest changes in aviation safety in the 2020s. Now, everyone is an expert. The immediacy and speed at which information flows is entirely new. That can be photography and video content from a live event. Because of the compelling nature of pictures, this fuels speculation and theorising. A lot of this is purely ephemeral but it does catch the eye of news makers, politicians, and decision-makers.

So, has anyone studied the impact of social media on developments in aviation safety? Now, there’s a good topic for a thesis.

Safety in numbers. Part 4

In the last 3 parts, we have covered just 2 basic types about failures that can be encountered in any flight. Now, that’s those that effect single systems, and their subsystems and those that impact a whole aircraft as a common effect.

The single failure cases were considered assuming that failures were independent. That is something fails but the effects are contained within one system.

There’s a whole range of other failures where dependencies exist between different systems as they fail. We did mention the relationship between a fuel system and a propulsion system. Their coexistence is obvious. What we need to do is to go beyond the obvious and look for relationships that can be characterised and studied.

At the top of my list is a condition where a cascade of failures ripple through aviation systems. This is when a trigger event starts a set of interconnected responses. Videos of falling dominoes pepper social media and there’s something satisfying about watching them fall one by one.

Aircraft systems cascade failures can start with a relatively minor event. When one failure has the potential to precipitate another it’s important to understand the nature of the dependency that can be hardwired into systems, procedures, or training.

It’s as well to note that a cascade, or avalanche breakdown may not be straightforward as it is with a line of carefully arranged dominos. The classical linear way of representing causal chains is useful. The limitation is that dominant, or hidden interdependencies can exist with multiple potential paths and different sequences of activation.

The next category of failure is a variation on the common-mode theme. This has more to do with the physical positions of systems and equipment on an aircraft. For example, a localised fire, flood, or explosion can defeat built-in redundancies or hardened components.

Earlier we mentioned particular risks. Now, we need to add to the list; bird strike, rotor burst, tyre burst and battery fires. The physical segregation of sub-systems can help address this problem.

Yes, probabilistic methods can be used to calculate likelihood of these failure conditions occurring.

The next category of failure is more a feature of failure rather than a type of failure. Everything we have talked about, so far, may be evident at the moment of occurrence. There can then be opportunities to take mitigating actions to overcome the impact of failure.

What about those aircraft systems failures that are dormant? That is that they remain passive and undetected until a moment when systems activation is needed or there’s demand for a back-up. One example could be just that, an emergency back-up battery that has discharged. It’s then unavailable when it’s needed the most. Design strategies like, pre-flight checks, built-in-test and continuous monitoring can overcome some of these conditions.

Safety in numbers, Part 3

The wind blows, the sun shines, a storm brews, and rain falls. Weather is the ultimate everyday talking point. Stand at a bus stop, start a conversation and it’ll likely be about the weather. Snow, sleet, ice or hail the atmosphere can be hostile to our best laid plans. It’s important to us because it affects us all. It has a common effect.

We started a discussion of common-mode failures in earlier paragraphs. We’ll follow it up here. Aircraft systems employ an array of strategies to address combinations and permutations of failure conditions. That said, we should not forget that these can be swamped by common-mode effects.

Environmental effects are at the top of the list of effects to consider. It’s a basic part of flying that the atmosphere changes with altitude. So, aircraft systems and equipment that work well on the ground may have vulnerabilities when exposed to large variations in temperatures, atmospheric pressure, and humidity.

Then there’s a series of effects that are inherent with rotating machinery and moving components. Vibration, shock impacts and heat all need to be addressed in design and testing.

It is possible to apply statistical methods to calculate levels of typical exposure to environmental effects, but it is more often the case that conservative limits are set as design targets.

Then there are particular risks. These are threats that, maybe don’t happen everyday but have the potential to be destructive and overcome design safety strategies. Electromagnetic interference and atmospheric disturbances, like lightning and electrostatic discharge can be dramatic. The defences against these phenomena can be to protect systems and limit impacts. Additionally, the separation or segregation of parts of systems can take advantage of any built-in redundancies.

Some common-mode effects can occur due to operational failures. The classic case is that of running out of fuel or electrical power. This is where there’s a role for dedicated back-up systems. It could be a hydraulic accumulator, a back-up battery, or a drop-out ram air turbine, for example.

Some common-mode effects are reversable and tolerable in that they don’t destroy systems and equipment but do produce forms of performance degradation. We get into the habit of talking about failure as if they are absolute, almost digital, but it’s an analogue world. There’s a range of cases where adjustments to operations can mitigate effects on aircraft performance. In fact, an aircraft’s operational envelope can be adjusted to ensure that it remains in a zone where safe flight and landing are possible, however much systems are degraded.

Probabilities can play a role in such considerations. Getting reliable data on which to base sound conclusions is often the biggest challenge. Focusing on maintaining a controllable aircraft with a minimum of propulsion, in the face of multiple hazards takes a lot of clear thought.

Safety in numbers. Part 2

Previously, we walked on a path through some simple statistics as they relate to aircraft systems. Not wishing to sound like the next episode of a popular drama, the only recap needed is, that by making a few assumptions we showed that: where P is the probability of failure and n is the number of similar concurrently operating systems:

A total failure occurs at probability Pn

A single failure occurs at probability n x P

It’s as well to distinguish between the total system and the sub-systems of which it comprises. For example, we can have one aircraft normally operating with four engines. Here we can call each individual engine a sub-system. The word “simple” can best be applied for highly reliable sub-systems where there’s only a few and n is a low number.

Aviation is going through a period of great change. A big part of that change is electrification. Today, there are numerous Quadcopter designs. The name gives it away. Here we are dealing with 4 electric motors connected to rotors. Some new aircraft designs go much further with as many as 18 electric motors. That’s 18 similar sub-systems all contributing to the safe flight and landing of an aircraft.

Superficially, it would be easy to say that if n equals 18 then the chances of the failure of all propulsion simultaneously is astronomically low. That’s true but only if considering the reliability of the electric motors providing propulsion in isolation. Each electric motor makes a partial contribution to the safe performance of the aircraft.

Just as we have with fuel systems in conventional aircraft, in an electric aircraft, each of these sub-systems are dependent upon a source of power being provided. If the source of that power disappears the aircraft’s motor count becomes irrelevant. This is referred to as the consideration of common-mode failures. The electric motors maybe independent in operation but they are all dependent upon the reliable supply of electrical power.

Before a discussion of common-mode failures, let’s go back to the earlier maths. We can see that the loss of one electric motor, amongst 18 occurs with a probability of 18 x P. Unfortunately, in these cases the possible combinations of multiple failures increases.

Given that this subject is so much easier to discuss when dealing with small numbers, let’s consider the Quadcopter. Here there are 4 electric motors and 4 groups of distinct failure condition: 1 motor failed, 2 motors failed, 3 motors failed, and 4 motors failed. For the sake of argument let’s say they perform the same function and call them motors A, B, C and D.

Except for the case where all 4 motors fail, 3 cases produce an outcome with a reduced aircraft capability. We have the way of calculating the probability of total failure and a single failure so it’s the double failure and triple failure cases that are of interest.

Let’s step through the combination of double failures that can occur. Here they are A and B, B and C, C and D, D and A, A and C, B and D. There are 6 unique combinations that make up double failures.

Let’s step through the combination of triple failures that can occur. Here they are A and B and C, B and C and D, C and D and A. D and A and B. There are 4 unique combinations that make up triple failures. We can tabulate these findings for our Quadcopter motor failures thus:

SingleDoubleTripleTotal
4P6P24P3P4

There’s a nice pattern in this table of probabilities. The number of possible combinations of multiple failures grows as n grows.  

Now, we get more into the subject of combinations and permutations. The word “combination” is more often in common usage. When we use that word, it really doesn’t matter what order that any failures occur. Often combinations are like other combinations and so each may not be entirely unique in its impact on the flight of an aircraft. Hence the doubles and triples above.

With 4 electric motors there are 24 possible combinations. This is calculated thus:

n! = n × (n – 1) × (n – 2) × (n – 3)

This is pronounced “n factorial”. So, for n = 18 this gets big. In fact, it’s 6,402,373,705,728,000. 

However, as we have seen from the Quadcopter discussion it’s the grouping of failure conditions that we are often most interested in. Afterall, for safe flight and landing of an aircraft we need to manage those failure conditions that can be managed. At the same time reducing the probability of occurrence of the failure conditions that can’t be managed.

That’s a lot of work. It may explain the drive to develop autonomous aircraft systems. The case could be made that managing flight is impossible when subject to the vast array of potential combinations and permutation of failure conditions that can exist within a multi rotor systems, where n is large.

[Do you agree?]

Safety in numbers. Part 1

It’s a common misconception that the more you have of something the better it is. Well, I say, misconception but in simple cases it’s not a misconception. For safety’s sake, it’s common to have more than one of something. In a classic everyday aircraft that might be two engines, two flight controls, two electrical generators and two pilots, so on.

It seems the most common-sense of common-sense conclusions. That if one thing fails or doesn’t do what it should we have another one to replace it. It’s not always the case that both things work together, all the time, and when one goes the other does the whole job. That’s because, like two aircraft engines, the normal situation is both working together in parallel. There are other situations where a system can be carrying the full load and another one is sitting there keeping an eye on what’s happening ready to take over, if needed.

This week, as with many weeks, thinkers and politicians have been saying we need more people with a STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Often this seems common-sense and little questioned. However, it’s not always clear that people mean the same things when talking about STEM. Most particularly it’s not always clear what they consider to be Math.

To misquote the famous author H. G. Wells: Statistical thinking may, one day be as necessary as the ability to read and write. His full quote was a bit more impenetrable, but the overall meaning is captured in my shorten version.

To understand how a combination of things work together, or not, some statistical thinking is certainly needed. Fighting against the reaction that maths associated with probabilities can scare people off. Ways to keep our reasoning simple do help.

The sums for dual aircraft systems are not so difficult. That is provided we know that the something we are talking about is reliable in the first place. If it’s not reliable then the story is a different one. For the sake of argument, and considering practical reality let say that the thing we are talking about only fails once every 1000 hours.

What’s that in human terms? It’s a lot less than a year’s worth of daylight hours. That being roughly half of 24 hours x 7 days x 52 weeks = 4368 hours (putting aside location and leap years). In a year, in good health, our bodies operate continuously for that time. For the engineered systems under discussion that may not be the case. We switch the on, and we switch them off, possibly many times in a year.

That’s why we need to consider the amount of time something is exposed to the possibility of failure. We can now use the word “probability” instead of possibility. Chance and likelihood work too. When numerically expressed, probabilities range from 0 to 1. That is zero being when something will never happen and one being when something will always happen.

So, let’s think about any one hour of operation of an engineered system, and use the reliability number from our simple argument. We can liken that, making an assumption, to a probability number of P = 1/1000 or 1 x 10-3 per hour. That gives us a round number that represents the likelihood of failure in any one hour of operation of one system.

Now, back to the start. We have two systems. Maybe two engines. That is two systems that can work independently of each other. It’s true that there are some cases where they may not work independently of each other but let’s park those cases for the moment.

As soon as we have more than one thing we need to talk of combinations. Here the simple question is how many combinations exist for two working systems?

Let’s give them the names A and B. In our simplified world either A or B can work, or not work when needed to work. That’s failed or not failed, said another way. There are normally four combinations that can exist. Displayed in a table this looks like:

A okB ok
A failsB ok
A okB fails
A failsB fails
Table 1

This is all binary. We are not considering any near failure, or other anomalous behaviour that can happen in the real world. We are not considering any operator intervention that switches on or switches off our system. We are looking at the probability of a failure happening in a period of operation of both systems together.

Now, let’s say that the systems A and B each have a known probability of failure.

Thus, the last line of the table becomes: P4 = PA and PB

That is in any given hour of operation the chances of both A and B failing together are the product of their probabilities. Assuming the failures to be random.

Calculating the last line of the table becomes: P4 = PA x PB

In the first line of the table, we have the case of perfection. Simultaneous operation is not interrupted, even though we know both A and B have a likelihood of failure in any one hour of operation.

Thus, the first line becomes: P1 = (1 – PA) x (1 – PB)

Which nicely approximates to P1 = 1, given that 1/1000 is tiny by comparison.

The cases where either A or B fails are in the middle of the table.

P2 = PA x (1 – PB) together with P3 = (1 – PA) x PB

Thus, using the same logic as above the probability of A or B failing is PA + PB

It gets even better if we consider the two systems to be identical. Namely, that probabilities PA and PB  are equal.

A double failure occurs at probability P2

A single failure occurs at probability 2P

So, two systems operating in parallel there’s a decreased the likelihood of a double failure but an increase in the likelihood of a single failure. This can be taken beyond an arrangement with two systems. For an arrangement with four systems, there’s a massively decreased likelihood of a total failure but four times the increase in the likelihood of a single failure. Hence my remark at the beginning. 

[Please let me know if this is in error or there’s a better way of saying it]

Time & Life

How we experienced the 1970s depends much on age. How we remember too. No rocket science in those words. If, like me you are in your 60s then that decade spanned the ages of 10 to 20 years. Those years are, in anyone’s life, formative and leave a lasting impression. How can they not? It was the steps from dependency as a child to becoming a self-supporting adult.

If you are in your 70s or above, then that decade was fully part of your adult life. If you are in your 50s or younger, then that decade is mostly hearsay and remembered as a child’s eye view.

These simple facts shape how we interpret the myths and legends of that turbulent era in our national story. It was a time of great change ond uncertainty.

Have we reverted? Are the 2020s to be a 1970s style decade? Is it like we are living in a time shifted version of the film Back to the Future? Maybe 50-years passing is a trigger that romanticises the past.

Just as a quick brainstorm, these random 70s events come to the fore in my mind: Moon landings. Cold War. The 3-day week. Strikes. The fuel crisis. Inflation. Arguments over Europe. Massive variety of pop music, from hippies to punk. Black and White TV. Early days of personal computing. Japanese motorcycles. Haymaking, markets, cattle, and pigs. And places: Wincanton, Yeovil, and Coventry.

One aviation event, that did leave a mark, even though it happened a long way from my West Country upbrings, was the Staines air crash[1]. This remains a pivitol event in British civil aviation history. Some good did come out of this tragic fatal accident. I still have on my desk a UK CAA coster celibrating 30 years of the Mandatory Occurance Reporting (MOR) scheme 1976-2006. I wonder if that aircraft accident affected my subsequent career path. 

On the question of stepping back in time, it’s surly true that a repeat of what went before is not on the cards in this decade. Even if reflections show common ground emerging. Aspects of human behaviour do echo down the years. The German philosopher Hegel once said, “The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” I don’t agree with him. Nevertheless, it’s as well to pay heed to this notable quote. It’s as if we collectively take our eyes off our shared history and then the customs, habits and ways of the past take over. This takes us back to treading the lazy path of the same old, same old, again and again. It doesn’t need to be like that but that’s where we are this week.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-61822837

Identity

Britan was never part of the Schengen Agreement[1]. I get that. In the days when I was commuting backwards and forwards between the UK and Cologne, Germany, I always had to show my British passport. So, although we once had freedom of movement in the European Union (EU) that document was essential to prove identity. Afterall, we do not have Identity cards (ID) in the UK. Even inside the Schengen Area[2] it’s necessary to carry personal identification. I remember being told off by a policeman for not having ID, other than a UK driver’s licence, on a high-speed train on the trip between Cologne and Brussels. He was fine about it, but it was a friendly – don’t do it again.

Generally, British people do travel overseas. Many of us travel for holidays and business, and in Europe, Spain is one of the most popular destinations.

The number of British people holding a British passport could be well over 80%. This is way ahead of Americans, for example[3]. This doesn’t take account of British passports that may have expired or been lost or destroyed. However, the remarkably large number of British people with passports does underline our love of travel.

I came back from a week’s sunshine in Grand Canary on Monday evening. It’s the second time I’ve been through the airport on that island. Entering the spacious modern airport, the first part of the process is relatively easy. Check-in and drop bags were shared with a great number of tired travellers. Even the hand baggage security check was straightforward.

It’s not until the gate number came up, and the long walk to the far end of the terminal was needed did it appear that the British experience was different. The departure gates were in a glass box wrapped around the end of the terminal. To get into the glass box it was necessary to go through passport control.

For those, like me there were electronic passport barriers. The ques there were shorter than the manual checks. The electronic passport barriers worked. However, on the other side of the glass wall was another que and a uniformed official checking passport. After that there was a desk where each passport had to be stamped. So, that’s 3 checks and an official exit stamp.

So, what’s the value of this added bureaucracy post-Brexit? I have no idea. What’s more upon boarding the aircraft for the flight home, the gate staff check passports again. So, that’s 4 inspections of passenger identity. 5 if the check-in desk procedure is included. British passports may have thick cardboard covers, and secure bindings but their strength as an international travel document has diminished since Brexit.


[1] a treaty which led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished.

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/pages/glossary/schengen-agreement_en

[3] https://www.newsweek.com/record-number-americans-traveling-abroad-1377787