Drones and commercial aircraft on a collision course

Flights into and out of Sweden’s Arlanda Airport were delayed Monday night as air traffic control dealt with a new instance of an increasingly common problem: a drone having been spotted in airspace where it posed a collision risk to commercial airliners.

Monday’s incident wasn’t the first time that a drone interfered with air traffic in the region around Arlanda, which serves both Stockholm, 35 kilometres to the south, and Uppsala, 30 kilometres to the north. A 2014 report noted that drones flown in the airspace around Bromma Airport, a smaller airfield used mainly by budget carriers, occasionally caused flights to be diverted. Indeed, Bromma was closed for half an hour one day last month due to a drone being flown in restricted airspace.

While a drone might seem small compared to a jetliner, neither airlines nor pilots care to be burdened with the consequences of one being ingested into an engine, and no one wants to find out what would happen if a drone struck a windscreen, or the horizontal or vertical stabilizer at the back, at flight speeds.

Yet the day is likely coming when an aircraft and a drone will collide, hopefully without any consequences more serious than a smashed-up drone and a bit of superficial damage to the passing aircraft. Consider the following incidents:

June 5, 2015: A Southwest Boeing 737 landing at Dallas’s Love Field passed “a few hundred feet” from a drone being flown uncomfortably close to the arrival flight path. Another aircraft claimed to see a drone flying close to the approach path as well.

May 23, 2015: An Air Canada Embraer 190 taking off from Toronto en route to Saskatoon took “an evasive manoeuvre” to avoid colliding with a yellow- and black-coloured object flying at 2,200 feet above sea level (or about 1,600 feet above ground).

Sept. 1, 2014: A WestJet Boeing 737 was approaching Calgary inbound from San Diego at 7,000 feet above sea level (or about 3,500 feet above ground) when the pilots observed “a remote controlled vehicle crossing their flight path at the same altitude in front of them”.

And perhaps the most bizarre incident of them all:

March 19, 2014: The pilots of a chartered Dash-8 flying at 3,800 feet above sea level (3,700 feet above ground) over the northern outskirts of Perth, Australia noticed “a bright strobe light directly in front of the aircraft . . . [which] appeared to track towards the aircraft”. They took evasive action to avoid a collision with a grey, cylindrical-shaped object that passed about 20 metres off to the side of the aircraft and 30 metres below. The object that nearly collided with the aircraft remains unidentified, and the incident has been classified by Australian air safety investigators as a “serious incident” involving “interference from the ground”.

 

 

Does politics give people the blues?

A clever cartoon in The Economist, depicting how young people seem to feel about politics. (Click for source.)

A clever cartoon in The Economist, depicting how young people seem to feel about politics. (Click for source.)

During the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign, one YouTube video that went viral showed four year old Abigael Evans crying as she tells her mother, “I’m tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney”. The video was still getting views in 2015, when a commenter left a message on the site telling Abigael not to feel bad, as politics could make grown-ups cry as well.

Both she and the commenter were far from alone. A mid-May Economist article noted that young people are so turned off by politics that to even discuss such topics in a social setting is “deemed distasteful” and that it “kills the mood”.

Within a couple of weeks, I stumbled across further information about why that might be while reading Measuring Happiness: The Economics of Well-Being, the English translation of a book written by German authors Joachim Weimann, Andreas Knabe and Ronnie Schöb.* In Chapter 7, they discuss the results of an experiment carried out in a 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index study in which one random sample of Americans were asked to rate their satisfaction with life, while another random sample were first asked about their political views and then about their satisfaction with life:

Beginning January 9, 2009, half of the respondents were asked political questions as usual, whereas the other half were no longer asked any political questions but were asked about their life satisfaction right away. For the latter group, the average life satisfaction skyrocketed immediately after January 9, indicating very strong context effects. (pp. 95-96)

The source of this information was a 2012 paper by Angus Deaton of the Center for Health and Well-Being at Princeton University, who noted that:

People appear to dislike politics and politicians so much that prompting them to think about them has a very large downward effect on their assessment of their own lives . . . [T]he effect of asking the political questions on well-being is only a little less than the effect of someone becoming unemployed, so that to get the same effect on average well-being, three-quarters of the population would have to lose their jobs.

Three months later, another change was made to insert a buffer between the political and life-satisfaction questions for all respondents. Immediately, this showed up as an increase in how well people rated their overall life satisfaction compared to the answers they gave when there was no buffer. As Deaton observed, the jump in reported life satisfaction was equivalent to the expected effects of “a more than doubling of per capita GDP”.

While this says something about the risk that one set of questions in a survey could accidentally influence how people respond to the questions that follow, it also says something about why Canadians and others around the world are tuning out on politics: if having politics on their mind makes them feel worse about life, and not thinking about it makes them feel better, the sensible thing to do is to give politics no more attention that necessary.

Politicians who wish to make the societies they govern happier places to live, and to keep the dreaded it’s-time-for-a-change sentiment at bay until a later election, might find that their best bet is to simply stay out of their constituents’ faces. And as for the large numbers of politically disengaged people, about which there has been much hand-wringing in recent years, the best policy might be to simply leave them in peace.

* – Available at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg at 306 WEI 2015.

Three ways to take the stress out of international summer travel

Passengers wait in line to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 2013. The wait was nearly four hours, according to the person who took this photo. (Click for source.)

Passengers wait in line to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 2013. The wait was nearly four hours, according to the person who took this photo. (Click for source.)

In the summer of 1972, the earliest year for which Statistics Canada keeps numbers, 282,210 Canadians returned from trips to foreign countries other than the United States. It took another 16 years before that number finally cracked the 500,000 mark in the summer of 1988, and 17 more years before the one-million mark was passed in the summer of 2005.

If the people who worked in the airports in that busy summer of 2005 thought it was a hectic couple of months, they hadn’t seen anything yet. During July and August 2014, more than 1.7 million Canadians returned from foreign countries other than the U.S. — a 70 percent traffic increase in just nine years.

If the 2000-2014 trend were to continue, by the end of the decade an additional 300,000 Canadians will be coming home from long-haul foreign destinations every July and August, boosting total returnee traffic during those two peak months past the 2 million mark.

That might turn out to be good for Winnipeg’s long efforts to land more long-haul flights. Not only is demand for international travel continuing to rise, but the additional crowding at Canada’s traditional ports of entry and the upcoming launch of new versions of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families — which will be able to fly nonstop for the first time from Winnipeg to the British Isles, bits of northwestern Europe or Hawai’i  — could make new seasonal services economically viable.

Yet in the meantime, this soaring demand creates a more pressing concern for Canadians this summer: how to keep one’s sanity in airports and on airplanes that are more tightly packed with people than ever.

1. Mind who you fly with. Even though the days are long gone when airlines advertised that they were so much fun to fly with you might not want to leave the aircraft, or showed supposed airline employees singing and dancing about what great service they offer (yes, that’s Suzanne Somers, pre-Three’s Company), there are still some airlines that have better reputations than others. Skytrax annually assesses the world’s airlines on quality of customer service, assigning one star to North Korea’s Air Koryo, the ultimate bottom-feeder, and five stars to the world’s best airlines, all of which are based in Asia or the oil-rich Middle East.

If you’re going to Asia, try flying Cathay Pacific or Japan’s ANA, two of the five-star airlines serving Canada. Air Canada is a safe enough bet as one of only four four-star North American airlines (the others being Porter, JetBlue and Virgin America). Other four-star airlines that partner with either Air Canada or WestJet include China Southern, Japan Air Lines, Korean Air, Air New Zealand, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish Airlines.

2. Mind where you sit. A passably comfortable seat for someone of average height and waistline should be at least 17.5 inches wide, and offer a seat pitch of at least 31 inches, that being the distance from the back of your seat to the one in front of you. But more tightly packed seats previously found on short-haul feeder flights, 17 inches wide at a 30-inch pitch, have been making their way on to long-haul flights as airlines try to pack more passengers into each aircraft. Air Canada Rouge and Austrian Airlines are the worst offenders; though even the regular Air Canada has taken heat for outfitting some of its Boeing 777-300s with 458 seats, compared to just 299 seats on British Airways’ 777-300s.

Before booking, look for the aircraft’s seat pitch and width information on the airline’s web site or on SeatGuru.com. If the seat pitch is less than 31 inches, or the width is less than 17.5 inches, expect to feel squished.

3. Treat schedules as being somewhat like a politician’s promises. The typical flight, believe it or not, arrives at its destination almost exactly on time, or at least within five minutes of the scheduled time — and it’s the typical, or median, travel time that airlines normally use in setting their schedules to maximize aircraft and staff productivity.

While it’s in the airlines’ best interests to base their schedules on median travel times, it’s not in your interest as a traveler to do so, as this could force you to run for your connecting flight or wait in line to be rebooked if that flight leaves without you.

Canada’s two major airlines, Air Canada and WestJet, have been doing a fairly good job of keeping to schedule recently, but it’s still in your best interest to allow enough time in your schedule to handle a 30-minute delay (which will give you about 90 percent certainty) or a 45-minute delay if a missed connection would be more than just an inconvenience (which boosts the certainty level to about 95 percent on most airlines).

Delta and United, the two other big airlines serving Winnipeg, have been suffering some long delays on their worst 10 and five percent of flights recently. If flying Delta, a 30-minute delay allowance will still give you about 90 percent confidence of making a connection; but leave room for a delay of up to 70 minutes if making a connecting flight is absolutely critical.

United Airlines, the least-reliable major airline serving Winnipeg, should be given an even wider margin of error on its schedules. Based on its recent performance, allow for a 70-minute delay if you want 90 percent certainty of making a connecting flight; and for a 90-minute delay if you need 95 percent certainty.

Also beware of United’s tendency to sell unusually short connecting times between incoming international flights at its Chicago hub and onward flights to Canada, some connections being as short as 80 minutes. Your odds of making these connections are poor. All passengers arriving in the U.S., including those immediately continuing on to Canada, must go through full U.S. customs and immigration screening, which has been reported to take two to three hours on a busy day in Chicago due to U.S. government cost-cutting. After clearing U.S. border controls, you will need to re-check your bags, transfer from United’s international Terminal 5 to their domestic-and-Canada Terminal 2, go through security and make your way to the gate, which could easily add another hour or more. (And after all that fun, you’ll need to do the whole border clearance thing again two hours later here on return to Canada!)

Delta’s Minneapolis/St. Paul hub is said to work somewhat better; but even then a minimum connection time of three hours is recommended, not including delay allowances, if you arrive from outside of North America and connect onward to Canada.

If arriving in Canada from abroad at Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, budget at least 90 minutes for immigration, baggage delivery, customs, baggage re-check, security screening and boarding when coming back into the country, on top of the 30-to-45 minute delay buffers suggested above.

The worst economy since World War II? Well, no…

An ad that has been recently airing on Canadian radio stations and paid for by Unifor, a major private-sector union, claims that Canada’s economy has done worse under the current federal government than under any other federal government since World War II. This is a rather bold claim to make. But is it true?

One rough measure that economists use to measure a society’s economic distress is the Misery Index, which is rather simply the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It attracts its share of criticism for giving inflation too much weight and unemployment too little weight: fair enough.

Yet even if one accepts that the weighting could use a little fine-tuning, it appears that recent years have been far from the worst since World War II. That dubious honour goes to a decade-long bout of economic ill health from about 1976 to 1985 (at its worst around 1982) when either high inflation was eating away at people’s savings, or unemployment was wreaking havoc with peoples’ cash flow.

A second difficult period came in the early ’90s, when the misery index briefly spiked and unemployment was persistently greater than 10 percent for a two-and-a-half year period from late 1991 to mid-1994.

Unemployment rates, inflation and the "misery index", Canada, 1976-2014. (Click to enlarge.)

Unemployment rates, inflation and the “misery index”, Canada, 1976-2014. Source: Statistics Canada Consumer Price Index and Labour Force Survey data on CANSIM. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Recent times, by comparison, have been not so bad. Even during the 2008-09 global economic crisis, unemployment rates — which suddenly rose here, as in other countries — were no worse than they were during the mid-to-late ’80s economic boom, and they have been gradually declining since then. Inflation rates have also remained low, much unlike the 1976-82 period when they were trending steeply upward. The only way these could be described as being the worst economic times since World War II is by pretending the tough times of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s never happened.

The case against knighthoods

Those who know even a little bit about Canadian history will know that the country’s first prime minister was Sir John A. Macdonald. “Sir”, of course, wasn’t his first name: the man who might otherwise have simply been known as plain old John Macdonald was made a knight of the British crown upon taking office on July 1, 1867.

The tradition of knighting prime ministers, and other Canadian dignitaries, continued for half a century. Seven of the country’s first eight prime ministers would be bestowed with the “Sir” honorific, the exception being Alexander Mackenzie, who rejected the offer of a knighthood on three occasions in a show of his egalitarian ideals.

The knighthoods largely came to an end in 1919, when the House of Commons adopted the Nickle Resolution, limiting the awarding of knighthoods and similar titles in Canada. This occurred under the government of Sir Robert Borden, who accepted a knighthood of his own but never cared much for it, and thus left instructions that his tombstone simply identify him as “Robert Laird Borden”, minus the “Sir” part.

So, aside from a brief policy reversal under Richard Bennett’s 1930-35 government, that was that for nearly a century. Even John Diefenbaker, a staunch Anglophile, left well enough alone as far as knighthoods were concerned during his 1957-63 premiership.

Who would have guessed that talk of restoring knighthoods in egalitarian Canada would resurface in the second decade of the 21st century?

The issue was first raised by an obscure guest on an equally obscure CBC Radio program in 2014, but was given a more visible platform this past Thursday when Jamie Carroll, a former national director of the Liberal Party, published an op-ed in the National Post calling for the restoration of Canadian knighthoods.

Carroll writes:

Yet in 2009 New Zealand restored knighthoods and damehoods after a nine-year hiatus, allowing recipients of the country’s top honours under the New Zealand Order of Merit to convert these into titles. Last year, Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, moved to do the same, enduring a significant attack on his leadership in the process. He survived, and recipients of the senior rank of the Order of Australia are now also entitled to the prenominal Sir or Dame.

Abbott’s survival should be a cautionary tale, however. By awarding an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip without consulting his cabinet or caucus — a move described as a “captain’s call” — he offended many Australians’ egalitarian and, in some quarters, anti-monarchist sentiments.

A little more than a month later, he emerged from his party’s caucus room not so much a triumphant victor as a man rescued from the gallows at the last minute, as his fellow caucus members defeated a motion to dismiss him as party leader and prime minister by a 61-to-39 vote. The message was clear: you’re forgiven this time — but don’t confuse ‘forgiveness’ with ‘getting away with it’.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand prime minister John Key had tread more carefully on the matter of knighthoods and royalty. Yet a 2014 study by Konrad Raff of the Norwegian School of Economics and Linus Siming of Italy’s Bocconi University found that knighthoods have had mixed economic effects in New Zealand, benefitting some but weakening the economy for others.

Knighthoods, of course, tend to benefit those who are already socially connected to those who decide who gets one of these illustrious prizes. Chief executives of large organizations enjoy particularly favourable odds of getting a knighthood in those countries that still hand them out. Thus, Raff and Siming decided to test how the withdrawal, and then restoration, of this perk affected CEO behaviour in New Zealand.

They found that taking away the knighthood perk in 2000 had both a negative effect and a positive effect. CEOs who had suddenly lost their shot at a knighthood became more like those CEOs who never had a shot at a knighthood in the first place: they became more likely to reduce staff, a negative outcome, but improved the profitability and productivity of New Zealand businesses, a positive outcome.

When the knighthoods were restored in 2009, New Zealand chief executives who stood favourable odds of a knighthood once again showed a change in behaviour, hiring more staff (a good thing for those who happen to get those jobs) but more willing to let productivity and profits drop (a bad thing for job-creation in the rest of the economy); while CEOs not in line for a knighthood continued more or less as before.

Another discussion paper by Andrew Mell, Simon Radford and Seth Alexander Thévoz of the economics department at Britain’s Oxford University discusses the perception that British honours are not necessarily given out on the basis of merit but, much like Senate appointments here in Canada, are a patronage tool to reward prolific party fundraisers and others with outstanding political IOUs.

Britain had been the home of a “cash for honours” scandal in 2006, when the revelation that “100% of all Labour party donors of over £1 million since 1997 had been offered either a knighthood or a peerage” forced a police investigation of the then-Labour administration. The investigation found insufficient evidence to prosecute, but the damage was done.

The Oxford group set out to mathematically test the presumption that 27 of 779 major party donors nominated for British peerages between 2004 and 2015 could simply have been politically active people who had the good luck of being chosen for an honour without anyone taking into consideration how much money they brought in.

Their findings, in classic British understatement:

As is frequently claimed by all parties accused of selling peerages, it is of course perfectly possible that it is pure coincidence that “big donors” are disproportionately likely to be nominated for peerages. However, the odds of it being pure coincidence are roughly the same as those of entering Britain’s National Lottery five consecutive times, and winning the jackpot on each occasion. Whilst coincidence is theoretically possible, this explanation does stretch the limits of credulity.

Restated later:

As stated, we have no proof that any of the parties indulge in the sale of peerages, but the odds are overwhelmingly likely that such donors would stand an astronomically disproportionate chance of eventually being nominated for a peerage.

If knighthoods are ever reintroduced in Canada, don’t count on them being handed out purely on the basis of merit. Naturally, our elected representatives will be all too happy to nominate a loveable public figure from time to time, whose being bestowed with a knighthood generates a bit of favourable publicity for the government.

But more often than not, you could count on these honours being handed out much like Senate appointments: as incentives and thank-yous for party fundraising, and as consolation prizes for those whose political careers have come to an untimely end. As the Oxford findings show, you can literally bet on it.

Think of the CMHR not as a destination, but as an add-on

Images depicting the Northern Lights, as shown on the "Everything Churchill" web site. The Northern Lights are a fascinating part of the Canadian experience for visitors from Europe to Australia. (Click for source.)

Images depicting the Northern Lights, as shown on the “Everything Churchill” web site. The Northern Lights are a fascinating part of the Canadian experience for visitors from Europe to Australia. (Click for source.)

Since before the building even started to go up, there has been widespread confusion about the role that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) would play in Manitoba’s tourism industry. This was exemplified by a 2013 news release suggesting that the city would “welcome [a] surge of visitors” once the Museum opened — and by the disappointed tone of the news this week that a “measly” and “mere” one percent of visitors last month were international tourists from countries other than the U.S.

In fact, this one percent figure is entirely unsurprising, not least because only one-third as many foreign visitors enter Canada on a typical March day as arrive on a normal day during the July-August peak. Travel Manitoba’s latest annual report shows that non-U.S. international visitors made up one percent of tourists in Manitoba in 2012, so international visitors to the Museum are at the level one would expect.

By flipping through that report, it is not difficult to guess what draws many of those international visitors who, at $772 per person-visit, spent twice as much money here as interprovincial and U.S. visitors, and nearly eight times as much as intra-provincial tourists.

Visitors to Manitoba by source, and how much they spent. (Source: Travel Manitoba annual report)

Visitors to Manitoba by source, and how much they spent. (Source: Travel Manitoba annual report)

As many of the images in the report illustrate, Manitoba’s wilderness is the province’s number-one tourism advantage.

Let’s say you’re Derek and Laura, a fictional couple of empty-nesters in their late fifties from Nottingham, England, who have decided to finally splurge to take a Canadian rail holiday. Or Stefan, a 25-year-old German from Stuttgart, completing his first year of full-time office work and looking to take a holiday with his buddies that will really impress their friends following them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Offhand, Winnipeg is to them what Nottingham and Stuttgart, two cities similar to Winnipeg in size, are to us. Sure, there are some nice things to see and do in each, such as Wollaton Hall and the Robin Hood Town Tour in Nottingham, or Palace Square and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. But unless you have a compelling reason as a Canadian tourist to go to these places, you’re probably not going to take time away from Europe’s much bigger draws to visit these medium-sized cities.

But if you’re Derek and Laura, taking a wobbly old train into the wild Canadian frontier to see polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights might just sound like the adventure of a lifetime. And for Stefan, being a young avid angler with money to spend, the idea of a week at a middle-of-nowhere fishing lodge angling for northern pike and walleye might sound like a fantastisch idea that could never be replicated in Germany.

And that’s where the CMHR could make sense for international visitors to Manitoba. Naturally, no one will visit Winnipeg just to see a museum any more than anyone would visit London just to see the Imperial War Museum.

But if you happen to be in Winnipeg anyway, it makes sense to go see the CMHR for a mere $15 more. If you’re Derek and Laura, you’ll want to allow the train at least a twelve-hour margin of error on the return trip — this isn’t Europe, where a 15-minute delay is considered “severe” — which might mean having a couple of days in Winnipeg during which to see a few sights.

And for Stefan and his buddies, Winnipeg would be a logical jumping-off point to the North, again allowing for a short stay in the city.

Now might be a good time to mention, however, that while the CMHR might have made it on to TripAdvisor’s list of Winnipeg attractions (at #19 as of April 28), the Museum gets no top-level mention on Frommer’s listing of Winnipeg attractions, and is similarly obscure on Virtual Tourist’s site. And as far as Fodor’s is concerned, Winnipeg doesn’t even exist. With the summer high season rapidly approaching, the marketers might want to get on the case, pronto.

The Good Life

A Statistics Canada study released Monday on how Canadians assess their satisfaction with life in general produced what appeared to be, on the surface, a middling finding for Winnipeg, whose citizens rated their life satisfaction 7.9 out of 10 on average, slightly below the national average. The highest scores were in Saguenay, Trois-Rivières and St. John’s (average rating: 8.2 out of 10), and the lowest scores were in Toronto, Windsor and Vancouver (7.8 out of 10).

Yet in the bigger picture, Winnipeg was only in the lower-middle of a very narrow spread, in which the average score given in the highest and lowest ranked cities only differed by four-tenths of a point.

In terms of the percentage of residents who rated their life satisfaction as an “8 out of 10″ or better, Winnipeg’s 67 percent was at the lower end of a similarly narrow 66-to-73 percent range that 26 of the 33 metro areas were part of.

The more interesting part of the Statistics Canada report was the discussion of what makes people more likely to feel contented with their lives. A regression analysis, focused on how closely related several personal factors were to respondents’ feelings of well-being, showed that people were most likely to be satisfied with their life if:

  • They were not unemployed: Statistics Canada’s analysts found this had a “strongly negative” effect on life satisfaction.
  • They could enjoy the company of others: Single, separated, divorced or widowed people expressed lower average life satisfaction. Those who knew their neighbours and felt a sense of connection to their community tended to be more satisfied with their lives.
  • They were healthy: Statistics Canada found that “[i]ndividuals rating their health as ‘excellent’ have life satisfaction scores a full point higher than those rating their health as ‘good’, and almost three points higher than those rating their health as ‘poor’.”
  • They were making a sufficient income: The biggest gap in life satisfaction was between households with incomes of less than $30,000 annually and those in the $30,000 to $59,999 range. While average life satisfaction tended to increase as one got into the higher income levels, the gaps between income categories were not as large.

Thus, there is something to the old saying that “the best social program is a job”, which some Winnipeggers have difficulty obtaining because of low education or literacy, difficulties with arranging child care or transportation, or because of the bureaucratic nightmare associated with getting foreign degrees, diplomas and work experience recognized in Canada.

But for those who are working yet looking for a little more happiness nevertheless, the best solution might be a gym membership — preferably at a facility with a shared social area, such as a hot tub or sauna — which offers the ability to get fit and to meet others at the same time.

 

Related posts on this subject:

“Social tolerance, freedom of choice and faith among keys to happiness, say researchers” (May 10, 2009)

“Six resolutions that could help make your New Year a happier one” (Dec. 27, 2010)

“How the Scandinavians (and Swiss) got to be so ‘on the ball’ — and how we can be, too” (Jan. 12, 2014)

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