Cyber

Now, where did that word come from? My earliest recollection is the scariest adversary of Dr Who. The cybermen hit the small screen back in 1966. This fiction of an amalgam of machine and human is particularly scary. This was the fabled monster that drove young children to hide behind the sofa. The BBC hasn’t given-up on this character. Somehow, these fictional metal-men are almost certainly going to retrun to run amok and devastate humanity.

Patrick Stewart being assimilated by the Borg is a mega dramatic cliff-hanger. The Cylons[1] obliterating the colonies sent humanity on a runaway across the endless expanse of space. The indestructible killing machine of the Terminator was a huge box office success. There’s a recuring theme. In the popular imagination the combination of machine and human is thought of as fundamental threat. The enemy is the machine that transforms human mind and body into a single-minded demon intent on mischief or destruction.

By this reckoning you might think that “cyber security” was a Robocop like police force committed to routing out bad cyborgs. Yet, that’s nothing like the common usage of the term. There’s a certain threat, and it does involve digital systems and humans. However, in this century they are not yet[2] wandering around doing unpleasant things to all and sundry.

Strangely enough the term “cybernetics” has been around for a long-time. It’s not about robots. It came into being before modern digital systems and the silicon revolution were kicked-off. In part, cyber was coined as a way of expressing the almost magical qualities of feedback processes. It was wide-ranging, in that this term described natural as well as mechanical systems. In the words’ origins there was nothing sinister or chilling implied.

In 2023, “cyber security” is how we reduce the risk of cyber-attack[3]. Not a great description but let’s just say the notion is dealing with a recognised threats in digital systems.

This wasn’t something that was commonplace until the Personal Computer (PC), its software and the INTERNET connected billions of people. The normal human limitations that constrained our sphere of influence have been extended across the globe. Now, bad actors intentionally doing bad things can be based anywhere on the planet.

Since they are human actors, they are mighty creative and inventive. These people are a constant threat, like the Borg[4] that adapts and modifies what they do so as to counter any actions to defeat them. Our defence can’t be as that of the Battleship Galactica, disconnection, we are going to have to find another way. Unlike some threats there’s little chance this one will ever go away.


[1] https://ew.com/gallery/battlestar-galactica-12-things-you-need-know-about-cylons/

[2] https://www.bostondynamics.com/

[3] https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/about-ncsc/what-is-cyber-security

[4] https://intl.startrek.com/database_article/borg

Fatal accident in Nepal 2

We are now one week from the fatal accident that occurred on Sunday, 15 January in Nepal. Yeti Airlines Flight 691, an ATR 72-500 aircraft, crashed while on approach at Pokhara International Airport in Nepal

We are now one week from the fatal accident that occurred on Sunday, 15 January in Nepal. Yeti Airlines Flight 691, an ATR 72-500 aircraft, crashed while on approach at Pokhara International Airport in Nepal[1]. Sadly, this accident resulted in 72 fatalities. No one survived. Only one body remains to be discovered[2].

This has been Nepal’s deadliest aviation accident in over 30 years.

After years of pandemic-caused travel disruption this land locked nation was hopeful that their new airport would bring the tourists back. The nation’s second-largest city sits in the shadows of a towering mountain range. It’s a picture postcode setting for this tragedy.

Nepal’s government has set-up a five-member committee to investigate the accident.

As stated in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13, Aircraft Accident, and Incident Investigation[3], it’s the responsibility of the State of Occurrence to lead an investigation. The objective of that investigation should be prevention of future accidents and incidents. It’s not the purpose of a technical activity to apportion blame or liability.

Nepal is the State of Registry and the State of the Operator, but they must notify the State of Design, the State of Manufacture (France) of the aircraft and ICAO in Montreal.

There are numerous speculations concerning the cause of this accident. The scant evidence available on social media does suggest that this aircraft accident fits into the category of Loss of Control in Flight. However, that suggestion is purely informed conjecture at this time.

I agree with David Learmount[4] in that it’s likely that this will be found to be a preventable accident. That said, once the accident flight recorders have been replayed there should be a substantially better indication of what really happened on that fateful day.

Whereas it was previously reported the accident recoders were going to France it’s now reported that they are going to Singapotre for replay Black boxes from Nepal plane crash to be sent to Singapore – ABC News (go.com)

Based on the experience of the analysis of numerous accidents it’s unlikely to be a simple single cause. Such fatal aircraft accidents are often combinations of factors that come together. Approach to a new airport plus an unexpected event or error plus aspects of organisational culture can be enough to tip the balance.

Aviation, in itself, is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

A quote of Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930’s. This famous phrase has been reproduced on posters many times.

POST: Here’s some examples of what can happen again and again. Lessons learned from business aviation accidents maybe equally applicable to this case. Lessons Learned from Business Aviation Accidents | NBAA – National Business Aviation Association


[1] https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20230115-0

[2] https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/nepal-plane-crash-search-continues-for-lone-missing-person/article66415303.ece

[3] https://store.icao.int/en/annexes/annex-13

[4] https://davidlearmount.com/2023/01/21/regional-airline-safety-really-doesnt-have-to-be-this-bad/

Still learning leasons

Mobility has transformed society. By land, by sea or by air the world we see around us has been shaped by the technology that has enabled us to move people, goods, and services. Aviation, the youngest means of everyday transport, has radically transformed society in just over a century.

Demand for air transport is linked to economic development and at the same time air transport is a driver in an economy. Nearly all States work to encourage the growth of aviation in one form or another. All States acknowledge the need for the stringent regulation of activities in their airspace.

4.5 billion people moved around the globe by air. Well, that is until the COVID pandemic struck[1]. Even so, there’s an expectation that global air traffic levels will start to exceed those of 2019 when we start to get into 2025 and beyond.

One quote, among many, sums up the reason for the safety regulation of flying, and it is:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

[Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. 1930.]

Here the emphasis is on aviation safety and security as the top considerations. In fact, ask an airline CEO of the number one priority of their business and that’s likely how they will answer, if on the record. Much of that open expression will be sincere but additionally it’s linked to the need to maintain public confidence in the air transport system.

We need to remember that aviation had a shaky start. Those magnificent men, and women in their flying machines were adventurous spirits and born risk takers. That is calculated risk takers. Few of them lasted long unless they mastered both the skill and science of flying.

In the post war era, improvements in aviation safety have been dramatic. As the number of hours flown and the complexity of aircraft has grown so has the level of flight safety. Aviation has been an uncompromising learning machine. A partnership between States and industry.

Sadly, in part, the framework of international regulation we may now take for granted has been developed because of lessons learned from accidents and incidents, many of which were fatal.


[1] https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Documents/COVID-19/ICAO_Coronavirus_Econ_Impact.pdf

Fatal accident in Nepal

My condolences to all those people who have been affected by the catastrophic aircraft accident in Nepal. On-board the ATR 72 aircraft operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines were 72 people – 4 crew members and 68 passengers.

The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at 10:33 (local time) on Sunday. At around 11:00, while on approach to the airport the twin-engine ATR 72 crashed into a riverbed gorge located between the former airport (VNPK) and new international airport (VNPR). Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last contacted the airport at 10:50. There are no reports of distress calls from the aircraft before the accident.

As only a short time has elapsed, it’s good to hear that the accident flight recorders have been discovered[1]. It is reported that they are to be sent to France for replay and analysis.

Sadly, Nepal has a grim record in respect of fatal air accidents. There have been 42 fatal air accidents since 1946[2]. Poor weather and hazardous terrain can often be a problem in this nation. However, in the case of this tragic flight, video circulating on social media indicates clear skies at the time of the accident.

Nepal became a member of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) back in 1960. Nepal’s improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognised by ICAO in 2018. However, Nepal remains on the EU Air Safety List.

Prior to the accident, Yeti Airlines has 6 ATR 72 aircrafts, aged between 11 and 15 years old.

The new international Pokhara Airport[3], was inaugurated on the 1st January, this year by Nepal’s Prime Minister. This was seen as a significant step to boost tourism in the region. The airport project was a cooperation as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)[4]. The new international airport was built to replace the city’s former airport, located 1.6 nm to the West. Flights were gradually being transferring to the new airport facility[5].

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has checked the airworthiness of the ATR aircraft on its register. No technical faults have been found[6].

POST: Teams of aviation experts, including those from ATR and EASA are on their way to Nepal to help in the accident investigation French team starts probe into Nepal plane crash (msn.com)


[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/search-resumes-four-people-missing-nepal-after-deadly-air-crash-2023-01-16/

[2] according to Flight Safety Foundation data

[3] http://pokharaairport.com.np/

[4] https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/nepals-pokhara-airport-was-inaugurated-two-weeks-ago-and-built-with-chinese-assistance/cid/1910031

[5] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/safety-ops-regulation/yeti-airlines-atr-72-crash-nepal-kills-least-68

[6] https://nepalnews.com/s/nation/caan-carries-out-technical-tests-on-all-atr-aircraft-operational

Artificial Intelligence

In an on-line event, I listened to Professor Dr. Saskia Nagel of Aachen University[1] speak on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Ethics last evening. It’s a topic that arouses a lot of interest amongst engineers and just about every other profession.

The talk was a round robin of the subject touching on points of debate that are far from resolved. Her talk provided an overview of key present ethical questions spanning the development and uses of “AI” technologies. It’s interesting that even the title of the talk was questionable. The debate rages as to what is encompassed in the commonly used term “AI”.

Scientific and technological advances have consequences that are best anticipated, in so much as we can. Far too often, as in the case of mobile phones, a capability has been launched onto humanity because of its great utility without much thinking through of potential impacts.

In a way, our collective mindset remains stone age. We do things because we can rather than asking the question as to whether we should or not. The Australian movie and musical Muriel’s Wedding captures this nicely[2]. “You Can’t Stop Progress” was the election billboard slogan of politician Bill Heslop in the story. The same theme might be posted as “Growth, growth, growth” in the current economic climate.

To an extent that’s what’s happening in the more audacious parts of aviation innovation. Different ways in which AI technologies can be used to facilitate autonomous flight are being explored and promoted. There’s no doubt such technology can process massive amounts of information in no time at all when compared with you or me. That advantage is only one side of the story.

Investigating questions of autonomy quickly leads to discussions on accountability and responsibility. In flight, there’s inevitably complex interactions between people and machines. On the normally rare occasions when this results in harm it’s essential to be able to say what or who was responsible.

It goes further than that too. Even to persuade a passenger to ride on an autonomous vehicle a good deal of confidence must be built-up. A fear of flying is often counteracted by arguments based on the long history of safe flight and the trustworthiness of those operating a transport system.

A question is: how do we trust something we don’t understand? Not a new question. Few members of the flying public may understand how a modern transport aircraft works. We put our faith in independent knowledgeable professionals asking difficult questions of the designers and builders of aircraft. We put our faith in rigorous controls and processes. If the internal workings of a complex machine are not explainable to those independent professionals, we have a problem. Thus, another key topic of explainability.

This is a fascinating research area. I’ve no doubt there are workable solutions, but we are some ways from having them to hand at the moment. Applied ethics are part of the toolbox needed.


[1] https://www.ethics.rwth-aachen.de/cms/ETHICS/Das-Lehr-und-Forschungsgebiet/Team/~fcnwz/Saskia-Nagel/

[2] https://fb.watch/h-uoLokeaY/

Poor law making

If you thought the Truss era was an aberration, and that the UK’s Conservative Party had learned a lesson, then please think again. Wheels set in motion by the ideologue Jacob Rees-Mogg MP are still spinning.

The Retained European Union Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is trundling its way through the UK Parliament. The Government Bill will next be prepared for its 3rd reading in the House of Commons[1]. The Conservative Government has brought forward this Bill to revoke, reform or revise all the remaining law in the UK that was formerly derived from the UK’s membership of the EU. This turns on its head the normal approach to changing UK legislation. Revocation is automatic unless there’s an intervention by a Minister.

UK civil aviation depends on several thousand pages of legislation derived from EU law[2]. Much of this law was created with considerable contributions from the UK. There’s hardly any if any advocates for automatic revocation of current aviation legislation. Even the thought of this action sends a shiver down the spin of aviation professionals. Generations of them have worked to harmonise rules and regulations to ensure that this most international of industries works efficiently.

Unless amended, the Government’s EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill[3] could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Even those who have an irrational wish to eliminate any and every past, present, or future link to Europe must come up with a practical alternative and do this in an incredibly short time. Without a consistent, stable, and effective framework civil aviation in the UK will grind to a halt. Again, even those who have an unsound need to change for change’s sake will be hitting a vital industry hard, as it is only just getting back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and now setting out to meet tough environmental standards.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this poor Bill reaches the House of Lords. Once again, the country will be relying on the upper house to add some common sense to this draft law.  

POST 1: The 3rd reading debate makes it clear that the Government is unsure which laws are covered by the Bill. If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can anyone expect civil servants working on this legislation to know the full extent of change? A most strange state of affairs Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third si – Hansard – UK Parliament

POST 2: Retained EU law lays down rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations in the UK Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012 laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (legislation.gov.uk)


[1] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3340

[2] https://www.eiag.org.uk/paper/future-retained-eu-law/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-retained-eu-law-revocation-and-reform-bill-2022

Digital Hazards

I agree[1]. The INTERNET information super highway isn’t so different from the highways we use to get around. Both have traffic. One presents hazards that are not always obvious and the other is riddled with hazards, many of which we can see. They are similar hazards, in that someone raiding your personal data can have just as devastating an impact as your car running off the road.

Giving people mandatory training before they venture out into the world of INTERNET banking, and the mad whirl of social media has merit. This will not reduce serious problems to zero, but it can mean fewer people suffer financial misfortunes and reputational nightmares.

I know this thinking is hard for anyone with an inbuilt downer on the notion that Governments should intervene to protect citizens from every threat. This is fine. There should be a reasonable threshold set before rules and regulations are grasped as a weapon against potential harms. Everyone has a responsibility to look after their own health and safety to the greatest extent that they can. That’s where there’s marked limitations in the case of the digital landscape.

Even for those aware of live digital threats the means to address them are not well known or easily accessible. The human factor plays a part too. Many people are reluctant to admit that they may have been dupped or take for a ride in the wild west of the INTERNET.

On another subject, but not unrelated, is that we live in a world of gurus and commentators. This predates social media but that has heightened the trend. It’s as if well-informed person A says, “don’t stick your finger in the fire” and nobody listens. However, when well-known person B says the same everybody listens. All the time the facts remain the same.

Sadly, this works with disinformation as well as the truth. There’s a propensity to wish to agree with people that we imagine others agree with at the same time. It’s a cosy security blanked. There was once a saying that; nobody ever got the sack for hiring IBM. This phrase captures the belief that those others can’t all be wrong and even if a choice is wrong for me, I’m not alone.

Such blame avoidance is pessimistic thinking. It elevates the fear of failure and places it at the heart of decision making. A balance is better. Awareness of hazards is the first step in managing risk.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qj9z

Single Pilot Operations

Single Pilot Operations is not new. What’s new is considering this way of working for everyday public transport operations of large aircraft

Research is of fundamental importance. It seems obvious to say so given the benefits it has given us. When proposals come forward to exploit new technologies there needs to be that moment when everyone steps back and takes a long hard look at the implications of its use.

In basic technical research it’s not the most important consideration is to focus on the drivers for change. They can be multifarious: economic, environmental, social, safety, security, political, and maybe just a matter of preference. Policy directions are taken by the industry and governments not constrained by what is happening now as much as what might happen tomorrow.

Research has delivered incredible safety improvements in aviation. This is not only in the basic design and construction of aircraft but all aspects of their operation. So, to see that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sponsoring research to study the implications of aircraft Single Pilot Operations[1] is a wholly good measure.

My history goes back to the early days of fly-by-wire aircraft systems. This is where the mechanical and physical connection between an aircraft pilot’s actions and the control surfaces that determine flight are replaced by digital computers. Back in the 1980s, a great deal of research and experimental flying proved the technology to make fly-by-wire work. It first found favour with the military. One reason being that an aircraft’s capability could be extended well beyond what was formerly reached. This change was introduced with caution, analysis, testing and much detailed risk assessment.

At the time, there was a significant body of professional pessimists who predicted a diminishment of aviation safety. Today, four decades on, studies show that even as air traffic has increased so civil aviation safety has improved. A momentous achievement. An achievement that has, in part, been because of the well-regulated adoption of advanced technologies. 

It is important to look at potential changes with an open mind. It’s easy to come to an instant opinion and dismiss proposals before a detailed study has been conducted. The detailed technical research can then be part of the challenge and response that is necessary to before approval of any major change. First difficult questions need to be tabled and thoroughly investigated.


[1] https://www.easa.europa.eu/en/research-projects/emco-sipo-extended-minimum-crew-operations-single-pilot-operations-safety-risk

Voters

It’s one of those things I do, most years. For the greatest part, I can predict what I’ll be doing in March-and April. It started back in the 1980s. At the time we lived in Cheltenham[1] town. Putting leaflets through doors. Knocking on doors. “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of …….” was usually the introductory line. With prepared words not only did I remind the town’s residents that there was a local election in May but let them know the name of the best candidate.

I’m writing this as credentials. Yes, I know a thing or two about the nitty gritty of local elections in the UK. My experience has been accumulated over nearly 40-years. Lots of cold early spring evenings and weekend delivery rounds to get a message out in a short space of time.

One of the biggest changes, in terms of practical organisation, has been a change that has affected all parts of life. In 1985, everything was paper based. If I said: “Shuttleworths[2]” to a 21st century campaigner there’s a good chance they will not have a clue what I’m talking about. These were paper pads used to record names and addresses of supporters.

Local campaigning has undergone a digital transformation. However, in the British electoral system paper is still at the heart of everything that is done. The ballot paper is sacrosanct. Voters put a cross in a box set against a name and a logo. It remains inclusive in that there are few people who cannot manage that basic act.

In all my time campaigning, I can remember no voter fraud or corrupt activities. Yes, over enthusiastic, or idiotic behaviours pop-up now and then, as they do in all walks of life. It’s always an important function but also amusing to check spoilt ballot papers at an election count. A small number of voters can be creative in the insults and images they draw on ballot papers.

So, listening to last night’s Parliamentary debate on new Voter ID Regulations was distressing. The Conservative Government plan is to spend £180 million on solving a problem that doesn’t exist. This law is being pushed forward aggressively at a time when local Councils are cutting services due to lack of funding. The Local Government Association (LGA)[3] is saying that there’s not enough time to make the demanded changes before next May.

Ministers are ignoring such advice. Additionally, these regulations seem nonsensical. They impose new requirements on the operation of polling stations but do nothing in respect of postal voting. The natural suspicion for the forceful timescale is that this act is to suppress votes at a time when Conservative candidates are expected to loose in great numbers next May.

A further reason to be sceptical that Voter ID can prevent instances of electoral fraud is that convictions for voting offences have overwhelmingly related to postal votes, not personation at polling stations. Measure that create a barrier to voting in person will lower local election turnout. That’s a voter turnout that is as low as 29% of registered voters in my Borough.

This is a sad day for British democracy.


[1] https://www.visitcheltenham.com/

[2] https://www.libdemvoice.org/how-did-shuttleworths-get-their-name-40299.html

[3] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/lga-statement-parliamentary-vote-plans-introduce-voter-id

Cold Data

It’s cold. The numbers on the energy meter keep clocking up and getting to new highs. Compared with last year my energy bill is going to be horrendous. Add to that inflation on just about everything else and it’s hard work to make it a winter of good cheer. Smart energy meters are useful in that they give real time feedback on household energy use. I’m not sure they have an impact on behaviour, but meters do forewarn of astronomical bills to come. Comparing Christmas past, present and Christmas future gave author Charles Dickens an idea.

Looking at media reports this year’s Christmas looks more Dickensian than ever. That is without the transformation that Mr Scrooge[1] underwent. It’s certain the attitudes of Ministers resemble that of Mr Scrooge. Protect the moneymen in their obsession with money and penalise the ordinary working soul. This story is being played out up and down Britain.

The fact that it’s not seen as strange to be talking of freeing up the City of Lonon from regulation at the same time as restricting and controlling working men and women is a bad indication of these difficult times. The Prime Minister may look like a busy light-hearted mouse, but he has a heart as cold as the winter mists.

As the Government has said it wants to collect data from our smart meters, I wonder what can possibly flow from that intrusion into our privacy. In so far as it might guide national policy and reminds Ministers of the benefits of insulating homes, data collection could be helpful. However, there’s a dangerous precedent set when Governments collect every bit of data homes produce.

There’s a creeping tendance to always ask for more data. Mr Scrooge can then compile a leger on the comings and goings of every citizen. Don’t believe for one moment that GDPR will protect our data. Personal information such as names, addresses and bank details are not stored on a smart energy meter. However, computing capability being as powerful as it is, relating energy data to its point of collection and thus bill payer isn’t so difficult to do.

To me, this recalls the saying about knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing[2].


[1] Ebenezer Scrooge, character in the story A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens

[2] Oscar Wilde’s famous definition — someone who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”