What next?

When I returned from German, in early 2016, I had no idea there would be a national referendum. Let alone that the referendum on European Union (EU) membership would be lost by a tiny margin and then send the UK into political and economic turmoil for years and years. It was a strange period.

As of me writing these words, the UK has had its fifth Prime Minister (PM) since the Brexit referendum. We’ve had a pandemic, the invasion of the Ukraine and the now an energy and economic crisis, not to mention an on-going climate crisis.

I don’t say it was, but if Brexit was a politically inevitability there couldn’t have been a stupider time to do it in the history of the country. There we were, having all but recovered, remarkably quickly from the banking crisis of 2008 and then we voluntarily threw asunder the UK’s most important trading relationship. There even seemed a time of relative national contentment as London hosted the most spectacular Olympic games in 2012. That was washed away like a flood of foolishness.

As idioms go: “here’s nowt so queer as folk[1]” about sums it up. That could be a political maxim for our times. It may be a particularly English trait. I absent my Scottish, Welsh, and Irish friends from this classification. It goes like this, I’d say, when all’s well it’s a time to do something daft. That feeling should be resisted as much as possible.

The result of 2016’s fantasy is that the relationship between the UK and EU is torn by tension, disputes, and disappointments. Instead of everyone benefiting from the excellent innovations of the Single Market and freedom of movement in Europe, the UK continues to pedal backwards.

There’s coming a moment when change might be possible. I am a great believer in disproportionate relationships. It’s like the statistical curiosity of buses arriving in threes. There are periods of time when things seem to be stuck on a tramline and nothing interesting changes. Then a moment of transition occurs and suddenly new possibility crop-up.

Why do I say this? Well, polls, such as they are, are showing a significant public willingness to reconsider what happened in June 2016[2]. Not only that but because of the “Truss debacle” the advocates of Brexit are on the back-foot. They did trash the economy with little care or concern.

With a UK General Election (GE) looming there’s a strong likelihood that anyone shouting for more Brexit will suffer the same fate as Trump’s red wave (or lack of it) in the United States (US). This will upset hard core Brexiters, but in all fairness, they have had plenty of time to show the benefits of their beloved project. They have shown none. In fact, we continue to go backwards under the yoke of blind Brexit dogma.

The UK and the EU can greatly improve their current relationship if they both choose. We have common problems, common challenges, and common threats. It would be of great benefit to all Europeans if we worked more closely together.

POST: The evidence points to one conclusion Why is the UK struggling more than other countries? – BBC News

[1] This phrase is typically used to emphasise someone’s particularly behaviour. (“Nowt” is a Northern English variation on “naught.”)

[2] https://bylinetimes.com/2022/11/02/brexit-polls-uk-public-want-to-rejoin-eu/


What’s in an accent? It certainly is a point of discussion. However much we pride ourselves in championing diversity there’s prejudices that have been centuries in the making.

I believe, we all want to see inclusive and welcoming environment in every profession and occupation. I’m opposed to all forms of unfair discrimination especially those of class-based prejudices. In this country, a persons accent can so easily be associated with a region or city. Then all the baggage of history associated with that place can form snap judgements about that person.

It was a while ago but a case in point sticks in my mind. A space project that didn’t go as planned resulted in a probe crash landing on planet Mars. The Beagle 2 project[1] was ambitious however ill fated. The bubbling enthusiasm of the project leader Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University was infectious. At the same time, it was impossible to miss his West Country accent. It didn’t impede his inspirational promotion of space exploration, but I do remember remarks made about his accent. They were not always complementary.

Now, you might say that was more than a decade ago. We’ve moved on. I don’t think so. The glorious West Country accent, and I include the city of Bristol in that mix, is still associated with a rural Arcadian dream of country life. This much cherished mythology continues to be promoted in English lifestyle magazines and every part of the broadcast media.

It’s a fantasy where educated, philanthropic and sophisticated citizens move from London to enlighten impoverished country folk. Their hope being to soak in the innocence of country ways but, at the same time, offer erudite advice to the backward locals.

If I have an accent it has all but gone. That said, it does broaden when I return to the West Country. There’s a whole series of words which don’t seen quite right said anywhere but in the rolling hills of Somerset and Dorset. Ways of saying things that I grew up with that are meaningless out of context.

Although the association of a rural accent often goes with an unfair characterisation that someone is not too bright, on the plus side it’s linked with friendliness, kindness and warmth. That sounds a bit like a description of a Hobbit. There’s an accidental proof that these prejudices are deeply ingrained in English literature.

I remember early in my career that too much retained from childhood was a barrier to getting a message cross. Slowly but effectively my accent became generic. There’s no doubt this had an upside when it came to technical presentations in front of a mixed audience. Even more important in front of an international audience. It shouldn’t matter but it does.

In a conversation about helicopter safety, a French colleague once lent over to say to me that he knew our Texan partner was speaking English, but he had no idea what he was saying. Is that a case for a standardisation of English – maybe?

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-led-beagle-2-lander-found-on-mars


It’s a space we have control over. Not a house or a room but, most often, a volume of space no greater than what we take up in our human frame. It’s not organic. It’s far from that because its role is security, storage and logistical. That’s the humble suitcase, and a great array of bags and backpacks that help us get from A to B with enough possessions to make life comfortable.

The choice of a suitcase or bag is not a trivial matter. Lessons from experience range from bursting zips to leaking contents that turn favourite clothes into damp rags. The challenge of replacing a cabin bag or case takes research and careful weighing of multiple options.

If traveling by air, there are numerous constraints on size and weight. A completely free choice as far as colour is concerned but that’s about the only characteristic that’s an open book. That said, it’s astonishing how many black cases look like other black cases in the array of black cases.

More than a decade ago airlines started charging extra for hold luggage on top of their basic fares. Since then, flying with hand luggage only has become popular. This trend can be troubling. Watching passengers squeeze unreasonably sized bags into overhead bins is not an entertainment. The expectation that an aircraft overhead bin can take a massive bag is not a reasonable one.

My latest purchase has been made from recycled plastic bottles. Naturally, that conveys a fell good factor. It’s a great way to give new life to the huge numbers of discarded single use plastic bottles that somehow we’ve become dependent upon. In my childhood, I don’t remember any plastic bottles. Plenty of glass but no plastics.

For short journeys, the faff of checking-in a suitcase, waiting to collect at a baggage belt and paying additional fees is a burden that is sometimes not worth carrying. There’s always the delightful experience of never seeing the case and its contents again as it wanders off into the maze of lost objects airports accumulate. Etched into my memory, even after more years than I care to think about, is arriving at a small airport after a tortuous journey of connections and having nothing but the clothes I stood up in. On a Sunday, in 35C degrees of bright summer sun that’s not an experience I want to ever repeat. Especially with a tough meeting planned for early the next day. A free airline toothbrush was no compensation.

So, I now have a new Cabin Max Metz 20 litre RPET backpack. This is an experiment on my part. Can I live out of this tiny space for 4-days? To do so is going to require some innovative thinking. In theory, it ticks all the boxes that I was considering essential. This backpack is lightweight but offers the maximum amount of packing space given an airline’s cabin bag restriction.

The plastic material the bag is made of doesn’t feel nice, but it’s flexible and hopefully durable. The zippers look substantial and should have a long life. Now, the task is mine. How to choose exactly the necessities of life to enjoy the journey ahead. To pack as smartly as smart can be.

Air Taxi 3

Urban mobility by air, had a flurry of success in the 1970s. However, it did not end well.

Canadian Joni Mitchell is one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters and my favourite. She has tapped into the social and environmental issues that have concerned a lot of us for decades. Of her large catalogue, I can’t tell you how much I love this song[1]. The shear beauty of the lyric.

Anyway, it’s another track on the album called “Hejira” that I want to refer. When I looked it up, I found out, I was wrong. The song I want to refer to is on the 1975 album “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”. The song “Harry’s House[2]” contains the line “a helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof like a dragon fly on a tomb.” Without going into what it’s all about, the lyrical image is that flying from a city skyscraper roof was seen as glamorous and the pinnacle of success.

In 1970, prominent aviation authorities were talking about the regulatory criteria needed for the city-centre VTOL[3] aircraft of the future. Then on the afternoon of 16 May 1977, New York Airways Flight 971, a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter, crashed[4] on Pan Am’s building rooftop heliport[5]. That ghastly fatal accident reset thinking about city centre operations air transport operations.

So, what’s different 50-year on? Proposals for city centre eVTOL operations are much in the News. City planners are imagining how they integrate an airborne dimension into public transport operations. Cars, busses, trains and eVTOL aircraft may all be connected in new multimodal terminals. That’s the city transport planners’ vision for less than a decade ahead.

For one, the vehicles are radically different. Yes, the physics of flight will not change but getting airborne is quite different between a conventional large helicopter and the plethora of different eVTOL developments that are underway across the world.

Another point, and that’s why I’m writing this piece, is the shear amount of safety data that can be made available to aircraft operators. Whereas in the 1970s, a 5-parameter flight recorder was thought to be neat, now the number of digital parameters that could be collected weighs in over thousands. In the 1970s, large helicopters didn’t even have the basic recording of minimal flight data as a consideration. The complexity in the future of eVTOL will be, not how or where to get data but what to do with all the data that is streamed off the new aircraft.

Interestingly, this changes the shape of the Heinrich and Bird “safety pyramid” model[6]. Even knowing about such a safety model is a bit nerdy. That said, it’s cited by specialist in countless aviation safety presentations.

Top level events, that’s the peak of the pyramid, remain the same, but the base of the pyramid becomes much larger. The amount of safety data that could be available on operational occurrences grows dramatically. Or at least it should.

POST: Growing consideration is being given to the eVTOL ecosystem. This will mean a growing need to share data Advanced Air Mobility Portal (nasa.gov)

[1] https://youtu.be/nyj5Be5ovas

[2] A nice cover https://youtu.be/bjvYgpm–tY

[3] VTOL = Vertical Take Off and Landing.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/1977/05/17/archives/5-killed-as-copter-on-pan-am-building-throws-rotor-blade-one-victim.html

[5] https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/16-may-1977/

[6] https://skybrary.aero/articles/heinrich-pyramid

Air Taxi 2

As a quick effort at simple research, I looked at several local government websites searching for Air Taxi or Urban Air Mobility (UAM) or Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). The result was lots of blanks with one or two exceptions[1][2]

There’s numerous articles about e-scooters and how they might be integrated into cityscapes.

Addressing local governments, much of what has been published to date concerns the use of drones. Yes, the use of drones is happening here and now, so this is not such a surprise. However, to me, this was a reminder that the frenetic world of aviation often discussed the future in rooms full of like-minded people. Embracing a wider audience is overdue.

In the case of UAM/AAM, innovations in civil aviation are move beyond airports, upper airspace, and specialist technical interest. If the electrification of flight is to take hold it will touch the lives of many more people than conventional commercial aviation.

These new aviation developments will generate new business models and offer new services. This is challenging stuff. It’s clear to me that, without the agreement of local authorities such enterprises will be dead before they start.

National governments may take a regulatory approach that imposes on local governments. That would be ill advised and ultimately unsustainable. A cooperative partnership would open a smooth transition from transport novelty to accepted everyday part of mobility.

Local authorities will need to adapt their formal local plans to include planning considerations of zoning, land-use, multi-modal matters, environmental impact, construction, utilities/support infrastructure, public privacy and much more.

Local government is a partner in risk management too. Just as highway authorities wrestle with improving road safety so, no doubt, UAM/AAM accidents and incidents will be on their agenda.

Fostering public-private partnerships is talked about but few examples have moved beyond theory and into practice.

POST 1: These issues have been highlighted at ICAO this year Urban Air Mobility and the Role of Air Transport – ICAO 2022 Innovation Fair – ICAO TV

POST 2: The organisation is looking at possible future operations https://varon.aero/

POST 3: People taking a holistic view http://www.supernal.aero

[1] https://www.civataglobal.org/

[2] https://www.urbanairmobilitynews.com/global-map/

Air Taxi

My daily routine once comprised of walking across a bridge over the Rhine to an office in Ottoplatz in Köln-Deutz[1]. That’s in Cologne, Germany on the eastern side of the river.

In the square outside the railway station is a small monument to a man called Otto. A small monument marking a massive transformation that took place in the way transport has been powered for well over than a century. This monument honours Nicolaus August Otto who created the world’s first viable four-stroke engine in 1876.

Today, the internal combustion engine hasn’t been banished. At least, not yet and Otto could never have known the contribution his invention would make to our current climate crisis. But now, rapid change is underway in all aspect of transport. It’s just as radical as the impact of Otto’s engine.

As the electrification of road transport gathers apace so does the electrification of flying. That transformation opens new opportunities. Ideas that have been much explored in SiFi movies now become practically achievable[2]. This is not the 23rd Century. This is the 21st Century. Fascinating as it is that in The Fifth Element the flying taxi that is a key part of the story, has a driver. So, will all flying cars of the future have drivers?

I think we know the answer to that already. No, they will not. Well, initially most of the electric vehicles that are under design and development propose that a pilot (driver) will be present. Some have been adventurous enough to suggest skipping that part of the transition into operational service. Certainly, the computing capability exists to make fully autonomous vehicles.

The bigger question is: will the travelling public accept to fly on a pilotless vehicle? Two concerns come up in recent studies[3][4]. Neither should be a surprise. One concerns passengers and the other concerns the communities that will see flying taxies every day of the week.

Public and passenger safety is the number one concern. I know that’s easy to say and seems so obvious, but studies have show that people tend to take safety for granted. As if this will happen de-facto because people assume the authorities will not let air taxies fly if they are unsafe.

The other major factor is noise. This historically has prevented commercial public transport helicopter businesses taking-off. Strong objections come from neighbourhoods effected by aircraft constantly flying overhead. Occasional noise maybe acceptable but everyday operations, unless below strict thresholds, can provoke strong objections.

So, would you step into an air taxi with no pilot? People I have asked this question often react quickly with a firm – No. Then, after a conversation the answer softens to a – Maybe.

[1] https://www.ksta.de/koeln/innenstadt/ottoplatz-in-koeln-deutz-eroeffnet–das-muss-nicht-gruen-sein–2253900?cb=1665388649599&

[2] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119116/

[3] https://www.easa.europa.eu/en/newsroom-and-events/press-releases/easa-publishes-results-first-eu-study-citizens-acceptance-urban

[4] https://verticalmag.com/news/nasa-public-awareness-acceptance-of-aam-is-a-big-challenge/


The right choice. Liverpool will make the best of best hosts for the 67th Eurovision Song Contest[1]. Last night, Liverpool was chosen as the location of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.

Don’t get me wrong. Glasgow would have done an excellent job too. It was a difficult choice to make between the two front runners. On balance, Liverpool can offer the excitement Europe needs after what will be a gloomy winter.

In 2008, Liverpool woke everyone up with its year as European Capital of Culture[2].

Being a long-standing political activist, I’ve participated in party conferences up and down the country. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know the heart of a city. Yes, I know it’s a superficial exposure in terms of seeing conference venues, hotels, and shopping centres but even so, the sense of a place comes across.

Party conferences are held in locations across the UK, at conference and convention centres that offer big enough venues, in fact the whole package, hotels, public transport and a good atmosphere. I’ve conferenced: Blackpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Eastbourne, Gateshead, Glasgow, Harrogate, Liverpool, Southport, Torquay and York in springtime and autumn.

One of the most enjoyable conferences in my back catalogue is Liverpool. It’s a city that surprises. It has cultural and historic depth. It’s that mix of the city’s strong sense of identity and the pivotal role it has played in our collective history.

I had a, not all too uncommon, southerners’ ignorance of Liverpool. That was quickly dispelled by being there and enjoying its welcoming invitation, even when it’s raining.

What could be better? Liverpool has been twinned with Odessa in Ukraine since 1957. Fittingly, the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest is to be a Ukrainian celebration in the UK.

Also, Liverpool has been twinned with the German city of Cologne for more than 50-years. That’s a European city that feels like a second home to me.

Congratulations Liverpool. It’s a massive #Eurovision to look forward too.

[1] https://eurovision.tv/story/liverpool-will-host-eurovision-2023

[2] https://www.cultureliverpool.co.uk/

Foot shooting

In the 1970s and 80s, Europe’s aviation industry strove to create common airworthiness codes. In 1983, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed that bring together 11 national authorities, including the UK. These countries agreed to improve European safety regulation; develop common codes and common interpretation of those codes and extend cooperation.

Given the immense efforts the UK applied to creating the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) and subsequently the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) it is unsurprising the hope of continuing involvement remained until the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed.

Leaving the European system of aviation safety regulation is a consequence of the political choice of a hard Brexit. Exiting EASA membership was not accompanied by leaving other European institutions. However, the implications of no longer being an EU Member State have rippled through out the whole aviation system. As the UK becomes less Eurocentric so the rest of Europe becomes more Eurocentric. Yet, the UK will surely wish to continue to exercise influence within regional bodies. This is incongruous but it is a political choice, and such choices have consequences.

Another case of immense efforts, the UK applied, was to collaborative working in aerospace research. UK organisations and academic institutions benefited significantly from participation in the Horizon Europe project and its predecessors. This is being run down despite assurances given in the TCA. An impasse has arisen over the political shenanigans related to the Irish border.

Now, the lawyers have got involved there is surely nothing good that will come if it[1]. The overall message is negative. With Conservative leadership candidates stirring up anti-EU sentiment just to get votes, it’s hardly likely there will be a reconciliation any time soon.

Yet again, the UK is perfecting the art of shooting itself in the foot. A sad situation. By the way, I do think this situation will be resolved in the fullness of time. The EU published a Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe in November 2021. To quote:

(g) Global engagement: Develop a coherent global engagement strategy and common tools, promoting shared European values and principles for R&I in terms of international cooperation and capitalising on the attractiveness of research in the Union; ensure the Union’s scientific and innovation strategic autonomy while preserving an open economy; promote a level playing field and reciprocity based on fundamental values; enhance R&I partnerships and strengthen, broaden and deepen collaboration with third countries and regional organisations.

The last line ties in nicely with the TCA and creates a need to solve the issue of UK engagement. That would be wise for both parties in the end.

POST 1: The consequences are real Thanks to Brexit, I lost a €2.5m research grant. I fear for the future of UK science | José R Penadés | The Guardian

POST 2: Grants lost At least 115 UK researchers to lose their ERC grants – Research Professional News

[1] https://sciencebusiness.net/news/uk-launches-legal-case-against-eu-over-horizon-europe-association

In praise of the BBC Proms

I’ve only done three, so far this year. That’s two in the arena and one in the gallery. The Royal Albert Hall is the place to go for the BBC Proms[1]. I’m an amateur. I stand at the Proms. This is my 4th year.

I say, I’m an amateur because the guy I was standing next to, a couple of evenings ago, has been Promming since 1967. It seems to be a bug that once it’s bitten you escape becomes impossible. Promming tickets are released on-line on the morning of the day of a concert.

Music has a power that transforms this Victorian citadel of culture into a centre of magical experience. It’s as if the world ceases to exits and all there is becomes engulfed in that wraparound auditorium. As if it were the centre of the universe. It’s the impact of the soundscape, the people, and the building that produces a mysterious combination. It’s a unique mix.

Live performance has a transformative effect. Post-COVID it’s one of those experiences that was most missed during the pandemic. It’s so evident how dull and grey the world becomes without it.

Acoustically the hall is flawed. Nevertheless, wherever I’m standing, or occasionally seated, there’s a special feeling as oceans of sound flood over the audience. Yes, there are superior concert halls. I was lucky to live within walking distance of the Koelner Philharmonie[2] when in Germany.

The Royal Albert Hall is in a league of its own. It has a heritage and creates an atmosphere that is unmatched both for the things that work and those that don’t. Yes, you need a bank loan to buy a beer and the wiring looks as if its 150 years old.

I’m not musically knowledgeable, or did my education point me in that direction. Our dishevelled music teacher desperately tried to interest my cohort of 1970s kids, but he was pushing a rock uphill the whole way. He knew his unfashionable message, dusty texts and scent of smoke and alcohol were way out of sync with his students. Discipline wasn’t his speciality either.

In fact, I discovered a lot in the school music room by it was nothing to do with music, or its history. Ironically, at the time, music was a huge part of our lives as T-Rex, Bowie, The Who, Slade, glam rock, and disco hit their peak. If I could advise my younger self, it would be to say; learn an instrument. Anyone would do. It really doesn’t matter which one. It really doesn’t matter how well. A skill acquired as a teenager carries throughout life.

By the way, I’d recommend the tour of the hall[3].

[1] https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/proms/bbc-proms-2022/

[2] https://www.koelner-philharmonie.de/en/

[3] https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/tours-and-exhibitions/royal-albert-hall-tour/

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