Lo Tek or High Tech?

Chiraag from Pardon My Hindi recently posted a video onto YouTube of his harrowing experience flying Air Deccan (via BoingBoing). Says Chiraag:

I dug up this video I shot back in December ’04 when I was aboard an Air Deccan flight from Bangalore to Mumbai. Looked out my window and what did I see, A group of guys repairing the wing with some sort of muthafcukin’ duct tape. There’s some more repairs to the left of the one they are working on with what seems to be the same technique. Crossed my fingers, tossed back a shot of Black Label, and stayed on the flight. [Link]

Honestly, I probably would have reacted the same way, sans Black Label. It looks like a typically desi “Kam Challao” scene – equal mixtures of ingenuity and utter disregard for the principles of safety, like a bus patched together with baling wire, careening down a Himalayan road.

However, looks can be deceiving. This isn’t a 19th century desi solution, it’s a thoroughly modern one. As the comments on Turbanhead reveal, that isn’t duct tape it’s “Speed tape” – it’s specially formulated for use on airplanes (and racing cars and possibly even nuclear reactors). Those employees were actually doing what they would have in any first world airport!

“What you see is the perfectly safe and legal application of some heavy-duty aluminum bonding tape, called “speed tape” in the mechanic’s lexicon. Depending on what a plane’s maintenance manual stipulates — according to the dictates of the FAA — certain noncritical components can be temporarily patched with this material, embarrassing as it sometimes looks. It’s extremely strong, durable, and able to expand and contract through an extreme range of temperatures…” [Link]

Here’s a similar story of a passenger freaking out after watching the application of speed tape on a plane in Seattle.

Poor desi aircraft workers – even when they’re using the most expensive, cutting edge products, we still suspect them of cutting corners and endangering our lives.

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Butter Chicken in Bratislava

Back in the day when your humble servant was but a wee lad, we lived in France with one extended family to visit in the United States and another in India. That made for a lot of intercontinental travel, and since we didn’t have much money, we tended to go for long stays and travel by the cheapest means possible. The result is that I achieved a lot of early experience flying on disreputable airlines. In 1973, my dad took me for my first visit back to India; Iraqi Airways was our carrier. Twelve years later, I traveled solo on Syrian Airlines. There were some sinister looking Syrian security personnel watching us as we boarded in Paris and aboard the plane. But that probably helped keep us safe. At the layover in Damascus airport I remember big empty halls and lots of pictures of Hafez al-Assad.

But the single worst passenger experience was circa 1978, on Aeroflot. Flying from Paris to Moscow was no big deal; a relatively modern aircraft, on time, quick. There was enough business, cultural and diplomatic activity between the Soviet Union and Western Europe to warrant decent service. The Moscow-Delhi leg was another story. Almost everyone on the plane was someone trying to get to India cheap — mainly backpackers and families like us — and our comfort and care were not major corporate priorities. That Ilyushin was one loud-ass aircraft and falling apart inside and out. The food was unspeakable, but the flight was long, and people ate. Mass nausea ensued, and long lines began to form in the aisles toward the rear of the plane. As I recall, we were sitting back there and the aromas were quickly getting nasty.

Amid this scene, the air hostesses, who had until then treated us with glacial Slavic/Soviet neglect, suddenly ran down the aisles toward the back, agitation on their faces, and yelled to the people in line:

“You sit! You sit! Pilot say, airplane TEEPING!”

Ah, travel tales. Well, this joyous experience is what comes to my mind as I learn from the BBC, through a kind tipster on the News tab, that

An Indian-born businessman has purchased a private central European airline for an undisclosed amount.

Harjinder Singh Sidhu, who lives in UK and is a British passport holder, bought Air Slovakia, a small privately owned airline based in the capital, Bratislava last week, it has emerged.

His son, Riqbal ‘Rocky’ Singh, told the BBC News website that his father wants to transform the 60-employee Air Slovakia into a “Punjabi experience”.

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Love in the Time of Terrorism

This newest terror alert and the ensuing security lockdown has come at the most inopportune of times for me. Tomorrow morning at 8a.m. I have to catch a flight to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend my friend Seema’s wedding. First, let’s take a quick look at what I cannot bring with me:

Advice if you’re flying:

1. Liquids are banned from carry-on luggage and cannot be taken through security checkpoints. That includes drinks, toothpaste, perfume, shampoo, hair gel, suntan lotion and similar items. Drinks purchased in the airport cannot be carried onto flights.

2. Baby formula and medications will be allow but must be presented for inspection at security checkpoints.

3. All shoes must be removed and placed on an X-ray belt for screening.

4. Passengers are also asked to arrive at least two hours early to allow for additional screening.

5. Passengers traveling to the United Kingdom should contact their airline for information about any extra security measures or precautions that might be required. Laptop computers, mobile phones and iPods were among items banned on British flights. [Link]

I’m a 30-year-old single male. There are fewer opportunities for me to meet eligible women (according to my parents). A desi friend’s wedding is supposed to be a money venue. But just look at my predicament. I cannot shampoo my hair (hotel shampoo doesn’t count) or apply even a modest amount of styling gel to my hair in order to achieve that proper look between sophistication and slackerdom. Even worse, without my contact lens solution I will have to keep my contacts in my eyes the entire weekend, which will in turn cause me to spastically blink (to prevent the increasing dryness) every time I go to talk to a girl. Even if I make it this far, who will want to talk to a guy that hasn’t been able to brush his teeth because his toothpaste has been confiscated? I didn’t even mention the lack of shaving cream (stubble makes me look like a terrorist) or the lack of aftershave lotion that will make my face itch and burn all night even if I use the hotel provided shaving cream and blade. Also, wearing a suit makes me sweat, a fact that will be obvious since I won’t have any cologne to mask the scent.

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Same old story

It is amazing to me that five years after 9/11 the airlines STILL don’t have their acts together in preventing racial discrimination by their aircraft crews. The latest comes from the Bay Area:

A Muslim father and son from Hayward filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation this week, accusing airline attendants of booting them off a flight because of their appearance.

Fazal Khan, 59, and his son, Mohammed Khan, 28, boarded a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland on Jan. 31 wearing traditional South Asian tunics, white skullcaps and loose trousers. Both men also have long beards

[Shirin Sinnar of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco] said the Khans do not know of anything, other than their attire, that could have agitated the female flight attendant, who apparently expressed concern to the terminal crew about their presence.

“When they got on the plane, she helped them with their bags. That was their only interaction,” Sinnar said.

Sinnar said the two men boarded the flight with no problems. They had been sitting on the plane for about an hour before they were ejected.

Mohammed Khan was sleeping and sometimes reading the Quran, she said, while the father was relaxing awake. They were heading back to Oakland International Airport from a trip visiting family members.

The plane eventually moved down the runway but returned to the terminal as airplane staff announced mechanical difficulties, Sinnar said.

An airline customer service representative walked onto the plane and asked the Khans to bring their carry-on handbags with them and return to the airport terminal, Sinnar said. [Link]

Next comes the most incomprehensible part. You would think that two people that aroused enough suspicion to be kicked off a flight would at least have their bags removed from cargo. Not so in this case. The Khans were placed on the next flight to San Francisco but their bags (minus carry-on) continued on to Oakland aboard the original aircraft:

After escorting them out, the representative was “sympathetic” but said they could not return because the flight attendant was not comfortable with them on board, Sinnar said…

“The strange thing is no one took the bags off the first flight,” Sinnar said. “If there was any thought they were a security risk, certainly their bags should have been removed…” [Link]

Straight-up racial discrimination. The father and son say they were humiliated and will be suing Utah-based SkyWest who were responsible for staff on the aircraft.

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More hot bodies in India’s skies

Yesterday I brought you the story of the competition between airlines in India to have the hottest stewardesses. Today, a blockbuster deal was announced that will put even more attractive, svelte bodies in the Indian sky. Well…at least they are more attractive to this Aerospace Engineer . Boeing announces:

At a signing ceremony held today at Air India’s headquarters, Boeing [NYSE: BA] Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally and Air India Chairman and Managing Director V. Thulasidas formally announced an order agreement for 68 airplanes. The order, placed with Boeing in December 2005, is valued at more than $11 billion at list prices and deliveries are scheduled to begin in November 2006.

Air India’s order consists of 23 777s, including eight 777-200LR (Longer Range) Worldliners and 15 777-300ERs (Extended Range), and 27 787-8 Dreamliners. Air India Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air India, will receive 18 Next-Generation 737-800s.

Here is the sugar in the coffee:

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said the US aircraft maker had agreed to spend nearly two [billion U.S. dollars] on reciprocal deals.

‘Boeing has a counter-trade… amounting to (1.9 bln usd) over the next 10 years, which would mean that Boeing will buy from India a range of goods and services,‘ Patel said.

The aircraft maker will also spend 75 mln usd on training pilots and another 100 mln in maintenance and repairs to the aircraft, he said. [Link]

So basically Boeing gets a huge contract from India, and in return outsources some of its production line there, which will result in a very positive economic impact. I hope some of you purchased Boeing stock before the closing bell. PRI’s Marketplace has a nice audio summary of the specifics.

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Q: What is more difficult than NAVY SEAL training?

Last month the BBC had an article about the stern warning issued by Air India to its cabin crews:

India’s state-owned airline Air India has threatened to ground its overweight cabin crew unless they shed their excess pounds over the next two months.

Some 10% of its 1,600-strong cabin crew are estimated to be overweight or suffering from obesity.

S Venkat, Air India’s general manager public relations, told the BBC that the airline would strictly implement the directive.

We have a tolerance limit that cannot be exceeded,” he said.

Although the Air India Cabin Crew Association welcomed this decision, they didn’t say anything about the fact that the “tolerance limits” were different for men and women. Quite simply the airline wants hot stewardesses in order to compete in the always cut-throat airline business (see the Kingfisher Airlines picture on the right). Want more proof? Check out the BBC’s most recent report (quite humorous) from freezing cold Delhi:

Delhi can be mercilessly chilly during the opening weeks of January.

Central-heating devoid houses constructed to withstand the furnace-like temperatures of high summer seem more like well-upholstered cold rooms…

So imagine my surprise the other afternoon at finding my favourite outdoor swimming pool absolutely teeming with glamorous young people, in what looked, from a distance at least, like a cross between spring break in Cancun and a Mumbai movie premier.

Swimsuits, stilettos and Speedos abounded. [Link]

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Your palace on the ground

An Air India flight Monday from L.A. to Delhi turned into a comedy of errors which delayed the passengers by two whole days (thanks, Saheli). First day, a tire blew out on takeoff:

As the plane took off, Gursharan said, it shook after a tire burst, startling passengers. The Boeing 747-400 flew over the ocean and circled, dumped fuel and then returned for a bumpy emergency landing. The landing gear dug into the runway, leaving a 7,000-foot-long field of debris that took 40 employees hours to clean up… [Link]

And the Concorde proved that runway debris is murderous.

… the teenager and his family turned on the news to see footage of their plane landing amid a shower of sparks… Airport officials said the pilots made a wise choice to take off, explaining that, if they had aborted, they might not have had enough runway to stop the heavy, fully fueled aircraft. [Link]

Next day, different plane, an engine problem led to a minor passenger revolt:

Flight 136 pushed back from the gate… 2 1/2 hours late… one of the four engines was malfunctioning… the flight crew didn’t provide more detailed information, passengers said, leaving them trapped on the packed jumbo jet for about five hours… Finally, Wenz, the professor, said he just walked through a door that attendants had opened. He climbed down the stairs and off the plane to wait on the tarmac. Other passengers, he said, followed. [Link]

Taking a Delhi-to-Chennai train would’ve been faster than this flight. Last year, an Air India crew forgot to drop landing gear. So if you’re flying Air India, here’s a cheery thought: it may not be Jet Airways, but it sure beats Aeroflot.

Related posts: Air India more efficient than ever, Open skies and Air India

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