Sunday musings: Impact of space travel, wrong security savings, world’s busiest air routes surprise

by Charlie Leocha on April 28, 2013

ISS-30_Manicouagan_Reservoir_in_Quebec,_Canada

We take a look at our planet from a new perspective, one that more tourists will be visiting in the coming years. Pilots react against the newest cutbacks in security. And, we note the surprising list of the world’s busiest airports. (Where’s the USA and Europe?)

The impact of space travel

Phil Plait in his Bad Astronomy blog, notes the way that space travel might change our perspective of our planet. To him, this is enormously important. In this post he explains the Manicouagan impact crater that from earth is unimpressive, but from space unique and noteable.

But look again. To the right, see that big circle, like a giant Q stamped into the land? It looks like a circular lake, or, to be more accurate, an annular (ringlike) one. But that’s no ordinary lake. That’s the Manicouagan impact crater.

A little over 200 million years ago, an asteroid or comet the size of a small mountain (maybe five or so kilometers across) slammed into the ground about 200 kilometers north of where the St. Lawrence is now. The impact was massive, and left a complex, multi-ringed crater over 100 km (60 miles) across. The lake is actually filling the inner ring, which is about 70 km (40 miles) across.

President’s budget slashes in-flight airline security program

The Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program has been training volunteer pilots, flight engineers or navigators in use of firearms, use of force, defensive tactics and other survival procedures. These FFDO-trained crew members provide a last line of defense in the air should a flight encounter a problem.

The President’s budget cuts layer out our security system.

Federal Flight Deck Officers are sworn and deputized federal law enforcement officers commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security/TSA Law Enforcement Division. It is one layer of security that should probably stay with the elimination of the ban of knives onboard. It seems that a firearm will trump a two-and-a-half inch knife.

“While it is unlikely that the President’s budget will be adopted as written, any attempts to defund an effective, cost-efficient program should be flatly rejected by Congress,” said Mark Richardson, SWAPA President. “Our union and pilots will continue to make the case that this is simply one of the best federal programs to protect passengers, pilots and staff, and the general public from acts of terrorism.”

Top 10 busiest air travel routes in the world

A report from travel-tech and GDS company Amadeus shows that 300 “super air-travel routes” carried 22 percent of the world’s airline traffic last year. The most surprising news is that none of the Top 10 routes are in North America or Europe!

businest_airports

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  • http://astro.dur.ac.uk/~gelbord/ Jonathan_G

    Regarding the busiest “airports” study:

    (1) The study considers origin-destination pairs, not airport usage. Transit points (i.e., hubs and other connection points) are not factored in. Thus, a lot of traffic at places such as ATL, ORD, LHR, AMS, etc does not count.

    (2) The linked press release doesn’t say how origins or destinations are defined. Are these by airport or by city? Are LHR-JFK and GTW-EWR itineraries counted together as flights between the same cities or separately as distinct airport pairs? If the latter, this would create a strong bias in their rankings against busy cities/regions with multiple alternative airports.

  • http://astro.dur.ac.uk/~gelbord/ Jonathan_G

    Personally, I think that if cuts have to be made somewhere, I’d rather drop the FFDO program than, say, furlough air traffic controllers or reduce staffing at passenger screening (I’m firmly of the belief that a lot of passenger screening is security theater, but if we’re going to have to undergo the process, lets at least not make it take even longer. An extra 5 or 10 minutes at security may not seem like a big deal, but multiply that by every passenger at every airport and it translates to a lot of lost productivity/wasted time. That is a real cost that affects our lives and our economy much more than the security blanket of FFDO…)

    I don’t think the FFDO program makes us significantly safer. It’s designed as a last line of defense against another 9/11. It would have been great if the flight deck crews on 9/11 had been armed, but that is a battle we lost more than a decade ago. Terrorists won’t make the same attack again. They will go for the low-hanging fruit. Things like the bombing at the Boston Marathon are much more likely to succeed and achieve their goal of terrorizing the public.

    It would be much more difficult to pull off another 9/11 today, whether or not anyone in the cockpit is armed. This is mostly due to the hardening of the cockpit doors and, most importantly, our collective experience. Now that we know that terrorists might try to turn planes into weapons, passengers won’t all be compliant sheep thinking “Damn, a hijacking? How long will it take to get back from Cuba?” and pilots will keep the cockpit doors locked no matter what may be going on behind them. In fact, if the pilots were armed, there might be a greater risk that the cockpit could be breached because an armed crew member might open the door thinking he/she could play the hero.

    The FFDO program does not act as a deterrent. If terrorists are determined to attempt another 9/11, they’ll still try. If half of all flight decks are defended by armed crew members, that just means that the terrorists need to attack more planes at once. In 2001 they attacked four planes; if they upped this to six or eight planes and half were thwarted by FFDO, the terrorists would still have succeeded in turning some planes into weapons and spreading terror.

    My opinion is that the only thing accomplished by the FFDO program is that its participants feel more confident and in control, and that some members of the public may feel safer (only a fraction of the public even knows about the FFDO program and a fraction of these will think it improves their safety). There is some value in this, but I think our tax dollars are better spent on things, like medical research or repairing structurally-deficient bridges.

  • Charlie Leocha

    I received a comment and private emails asking whether the headline noting busiest airports was indeed accurate since the study only listed busiest airline routes. Thus, I changed the headline to note airline routes rather than airports. The study did not reach any conclusions about airports and their business.

    However, the conclusions of the report are just as startling whether referring to airports or routes. The growth of Asia has been amazing.

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